IMMERSION IN THE BATH
A new motif appears in this picture: the bath. In a sense this takes us back to the first picture of the Mercurial Fountain, which represents the “upwelling.”
The liquid is Mercurius, not only of the three but of the “thousand” names.
He stands for the mysterious psychic substance which nowadays we would call the unconscious psyche.
The rising fountain of the unconscious has reached the king and queen, or rather they have descended into it as into a bath.
This is a theme with many variations in alchemy.
Here are a few of them: the king is in danger of drowning in the sea; he is a prisoner under the sea; the sun drowns in the mercurial fountain; the king sweats in the glass-house; the green lion swallows the sun; Gabricus disappears in the body of his sister Beya, where he is dissolved into atoms; and so forth.
Interpreted on the one hand as a harmless bath and on the other hand as the perilous encroachment of the “sea,” the earth-spirit Mercurius in his watery form now begins to attack the royal pair from below, just as he had previously descended from above in the shape of the dove.
The contact of left hands in figure 2 has evidently roused the spirit of the deep and called up a rush of water.
The immersion in the “sea” signifies the soZwta’o -“dissolution” in the physical sense of the word and at the same time, according to Dorn, the solution of a problem.
It is a return to the dark initial state, to the amniotic fluid of the gravid uterus.
The alchemists frequently point out that their stone grows like the child in its mother’s womb; they call the vas hermeticum the uterus and its content the foetus.
What is said of the lapis is also said of the water: “This stinking water contains everything it needs.”
It is sufficient unto itself, like the Uroboros, the tail-eater, which is said to beget, kill, and devour itself. Aqua est, quae occidit et vivificat-the water is that which kills and vivifies,
It is the aqua benedicta, the lustral water, where the birth of the new being is prepared.
As the text to our picture explains:
“Our stone is to be extracted from the nature of the two bodies.” It also likens the water to the ventus of the “Tabula smaragdina,” where we read:
“Portavit eum ventus in ventre suo” (The wind hath carried it in his belly).
The Rosarium adds: “It is clear that wind is air, and air is life, and life is soul, that is, oil and water.”
The curious idea that the soul (i.e., the breath-soul) is oil and water derives from the dual nature of Mercurius.
The aqua permanent is one of his many synonyms, and the terms oleum, oleaginitas, unctuosum, unctuositas, all refer to the arcane substance which is likewise Mercurius.
The idea is a graphic reminder of the ecclesiastical use of various unguents and of the consecrated water.
The dual substance mentioned above is represented by the king and queen, a possible reference to the commixtio of the two substances in the chalice of the Mass.
A similar coniunctio is shown in the “Grandes heures du due de Berry,” where a naked “little man and woman” are being anointed by two saintly servitors in the baptismal bath of the chalice.
There can be no doubt of the connections between the alchemical opus and the Mass, as the treatise of Melchior Cibinensis proves.
Our text says: “Anima est Sol et Luna.”
The alchemist thought in strictly medieval trichotomous terms: anything” alive and his lapis is undoubtedly alive -consists of corpus, anima, and spiritus.
The Rosarium remarks (p. 239) that “the body is Venus and feminine, the spirit is Mercurius and masculine”; hence the anima, as the “vinculum,” the link between body and spirit, would be hermaphroditic, i.e., a coniunctio Solis et Lunae. Mercurius is the hermaphrodite par excellence.
From all this it may be gathered that the queen stands for the body and the king for the spirit, but that both are unrelated without the soul, since this is the vinculum which holds them together.
If no bond of love exists, they have no soul.
In our pictures the bond is effected by the dove from above and by the water from below.
These constitute the link in other words, they are the soul.
Thus the underlying idea of the psyche proves it to be a half bodily, half spiritual substance, an anima media natural as the alchemists call it, nation of I and You, and these show themselves to be parts of a
transcendent unity proves.
There the philosophers are shut up with the brother-sister pair in a triple glass-house at the bottom of the sea by the Rex Marinus.
Just as, in the primitive myths, it is so stiflingly hot in the belly of the whale that the hero loses his hair, so the philosophers suffer very much from the intense heat during their confinement.
The hero-myths deal with rebirth and apocatastasis, and the “Visio” likewise tells of the resuscitation of the dead Thabritius (Gabricus) or, in another version, of his rebirth descensus ad inferosz descent into Hades and a journey to the land of ghosts somewhere beyond this world, beyond consciousness, hence an immersion in the unconscious.
In our picture the immersion is effected by the rising up of the fiery, chthonic Mercurius, presumably the sexual libido which engulfs the pair
and is the obvious counterpart to the heavenly dove.
The latter has always been regarded as a love-bird, but it also has a purely spiritual significance in the Christian tradition accepted by the alchemists.
Thus the pair are united above by the symbol of the Holy Ghost, and it looks as if the immersion in the bath were also uniting them below,, i.e., in the water which is the counterpart of spirit (“It is death for souls to become water, says Heraclitus).
Opposition and identity at once a philosophical problem only when taken as a psychological one!
This development recapitulates the story of how the original man (Nous) stepped down from heaven to earth and was wrapped in the embrace of Physis a primordial image that runs through the whole of alchemy.
The modern equivalent of this stage is the conscious realization of sexual fantasies which colour the transference accordingly.
It is significant that even in this quite unmistakable situation the pair are still holding on with both hands to the starry symbol brought by the Holy Ghost, which signalizes the meaning of their relationship: man’s longing for transcendent wholeness. ~Carl Jung, CW 16, Pages 249-245