Lecture XIV 21st February, 1941
The last lecture came to an end before I had finished commenting on a quotation from Dorneus, where the treasure is personified as a woman.
The end of the passage is an obvious reference to Christ’s words: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. XI. 28.), from which one may conclude that this figure was thought of by Dorneus as a parallel to Christ.
The treasure of the alchemists is a saviour, though not the Church saviour.
“Pervicos acclamans” (It is calling through the streets) is a very peculiar remark.
When the bride in the “Song of Solomon” is searching for the bridegroom, she says: “I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth.” (III. 2.)
So on one side we have a reference to Christ, and on the other an allusion to the sponsa (bride), who, as we know, was understood to be the Church.
So as you see Christian ideas are used here to characterise this strange treasure.
Dorneus also says: “In this citadel of truth that real treasure is lying, which will be taken away from here after death.”
What is it that will be taken away “from here”, from this world, after death?
Is it the immortal soul, the “anima rationalis”, the soul gifted with reason, which is taken from the body at death and led over into the other world?
But this was a generally admitted fact in those days, everyone believed it, and the author would take it as a matter of course.
So it cannot be the soul in the Christian sense which is meant here, or the whole effort and mystery would make no sense; it must be something different which is kept in the “citadel of truth”.
What can this be?
There is another possibility, that of the subtle body, a fine material veil of the soul, which cannot exist so to speak without a body.
This is the “corpus glorificationis ” (glorified body), the transfigured body, which is our future portion.
If it is this which is meant, one could say that the art of alchemy is concerned with putting together this immortal, incorruptible body.
This idea would agree very well with the idea of an incorruptible substance, an incombustible form, which can survive the flames of Hell or Purgatory and which does not perish with the body.
This is just a hypothesis, but there are other sayings of the alchemists which also point in the same direction.
Yet one more quotation on the thesaurus from Dorneus:
“Ye who search for treasures with such manifold efforts, draw near, and recognise the rejected corner stone, which has become the head of the corner.”
This obviously refers to the Gospel text:
“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner : this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?”
(Math. XXI. 42.)
This is an allusion to Christ’s own fate, who was rejected like .such a stone and yet became the “head of the corner “.
And the alchemistic stone is similar, it is despised, thrown out on to the streets and kicked about, and yet it can be spoken of as an analogy to Christ.
In as far as these authors were Christians (and believing Christians, as they often emphasize), it is not possible that this thing can coincide with Christ, or there would be no need to make a secret of it.
They never say it is Christ, but that it is like Christ, so it must b e a parallel to Christ, a concealed parallel. a secret.
I will not read you too many quotations about the “thesaurus”, but will rather briefly summarise what we have learnt from those which I have read.
This treasure can be found in the sea, or in a treasure house, or in a citadel, often on a mountain, well protected.
And this treasure is sealed up by God himself and is reserved for the chosen.
It is an incorruptible substance, something which is taken into the Beyond after death.
You will remember the stage direction in the second part of Faust, where, after his death the angels ascend: “Faustens Unsterbliches entfiihrend”, that is they rescue the immortal thing in Faust from the devil.
Goethe originally wrote: “Faustens Entelechie.”
The entelechy represents the realisation, the becoming actual of Faust’s form or his special being, in other words of his Self.
It is the result of his life which is rescued by the angels and carried into the Beyond.
Goethe’s peculiar expression: “Faustens Unsterbliches” is very remarkable.
One usually says the immortal soul, but here it is a neuter, a substance, the immortal thing in Faust.
This is an alchemistic idea, and Goethe was very much influenced by alchemy; though this fact escapes general knowledge owing to alchemy itself being so unknown.
To anyone who knows it well, it is obvious that the whole second part of Faust is permeated with alchemy.
We heard further that this most precious substance is also the cheapest, it can be found everywhere and is yet the most valuable thing there is, another analogy therefore to Christ.
So this substance can be personified, it can appear as a human being.
One can only say, it is a person and yet no person, it is cheap and yet the most expensive thing, it consists of opposites.
This can be said throughout of the secret of alchemy, it is a union of the opposites.
Another word which is used very often is “arcanum”, the secret or the concealed substance.
We read in the Rosarium: “Plato: This is our material and our secret.”
” Noster” (our) always means: in the alchemists’ sense of the word; so “our materia “must be the substance used by the alchemists in their work.
“Our secret” refers to this mysterious, concealed substance; what the materia of the alchemists was is their secret.
Another text, the Allegoriae Sapientum, says warningly:
” Hide this work from men, as the word on thy tongue or the fire in thine eye. Do not speak of it even to thyself, that the wind should not carry thy words to another, and so bring injury up on thee.”
Obviously the idea here is that the secret must be well guarded.
It must not lie on the alchemist’s tongue, or be seen in his eye, for if he should betray it, or another who is not chosen should guess it, it could hurt the alchemist.
So we must conclude that it is also a dangerous thing.
We read in the Rosarium:
“Therefore the solid should become volatile. And again the volatile solid, and in this manner the most precious secret (arcanum) becomes fulfilled, which is higher than the secret
of any science of this world, and is an incomparable treasure (thesaurus).”
The formula here is that everything which is tangible, solid, coarse and material should become volatile and vice versa; which is apparently characteristic of this arcanum.
This changing over is a condition of the opposites, one opposite turns into the other. Heraclitus called this process enantiodromia.
When the small becomes big, the big small, or when a damp condition becomes dry and vice versa, the opposites become each other.
This is characteristic of this mysterious substance, which goes from a cheap into a precious condition, from a material into a spiritual, and vice versa.
It is evidently a substance which can change in a mysterious way, it lies on the boundary of the things which we can perceive with the senses, and is therefore half metaphysical.
The Rosarium Philosophorum also expresses it in a verse.
The alchemists sometimes expressed their wisdom in very nice Latin verses, rather in the style of the Victorines.
This special verse is distinctly less attractive when translated:
“Est lapis occultus, in imo fonte sepultus, Vilas et ejectus fimo vel stercore tectus.”
(A stone is concealed, buried below the fountain,
cheap and rejected, covered in dung and muck.)
Covered in excrement apparently.
Such allusions play a considerable role in alchemy, it is often assumed that the manure heap and cesspool belong somehow to the mysterious process.
One can only hold one’s head in despair, and ask oneself what on earth this supreme secret has to do with a cesspool?
Yet, as we have already heard, the arcanum is something impure, cheap and rejected, belonging to the lower half of man, and which yet becomes, or contains the most important thing, which is however very easily misunderstood.
We must note, therefore, that the secret of alchemy, which must be kept a secret, is characterised by its very great liability to misunderstanding.
Perhaps it is here that the danger lies, we must at any rate keep this aspect in mind.
Another text says:
“If therefore the people knew what a great treasure they held in their hands, they would not slander it as the cheapest and at the same time the most precious thing. But God has hidden that from the people in order that the world should not be devastated.”
So if this secret were known, the world would be in danger of being devastated!
We find a very curious remark about the origin of the arcanum in Dorneus.
“Adam left two stone tablets behind, on which the arcanum was engraved. Noah rediscovered one of these tablets on Mt. Ararat.”
This peculiar statement is at first very obscure.
It has nothing to do with the Old Testament, of course, so it must come from some extra-canonical source.
But here actually were some peculiar medieval books about Adam which appeared about the sixteenth century.
A lot of unknown MSS., concerned with secret traditions, came to light with the dawn of printing, some were fakes but many were very ancient.
Among these we find a tradition concerning Adam and we can trace the existence of a pre-Christian text, the Henoch or Enoch book, (there are references to it through the centuries) in which we find the idea of a mystical Adam.
This idea was revived by the Gnostics, and the mystical Adam is referred to by Zosimos, in the form of a primal man, who was really a man of light, and who knew the divine secret and the secret of the world, and who had been enlightened by the Deity.
There is also a Sabian tradition of the same kind.
The Sabians were a remnant of the Hellenistic Gnostics, who flourished in Mesopotamia till the tenth century.
They claimed that Adam wrote a book of a thousand pages, about the qualities of plants, climate and all kinds of scientific subjects .
The Arab author Mas’udi reports a similar tradition, and says that Adam received thirty-one leaves from heaven, covered with the secret knowledge.
There are analogous traditions among the Jews.
Moses Maimonides in his book: “Moreh Nebuchim” (teacher or guide of those who have gone astray), says that the Sabians declared that Adam wrote books and left them on earth, and that they still possess such books.
Adam had a golden tree from India, and one made of stone, with incombustible leaves, which he also brought from that country.
This was the secret which Adam possessed, and which he set forth in his writings.
the medieval book SOHAR, one of the chief works of the Cabbala, we meet this conception again, and we find a legend about Adam of which I should like to read you a passage:
“When Adam was in Paradise, God told the angel Rasiel, the keeper of the higher secrets, to give him a book, in which the superior, sacred wisdom was described. Seventy two kinds of wisdom were described in this book in six hundred and seventy sections. By means of this book fifteen hundred keys of wisdom were given to him, which were not known to the upper saints, and were kept secret until this book came to Adam. So; when Adam had received this book, the highest angels gathered round him, in order to hear wisdom from him, and said: ‘Be thou exalted, 0 God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth.’ (Ps. 57.5.)
Then the holy angel Hadarniel appeared to him and said: ‘Adam, Adam, keep the treasures of thy Lord secret, for none of the highest angels are allowed to know so much of the treasures of thy Lord as thou.’ From then on he kept this book hidden and secret, and, until he was driven from Paradise, he used this treasure of the Lord daily, through which he discovered the higher secrets, of which even the most excellent angels did not know. But when he sinned, and broke the law of God, this book escaped from him. Then he smote his head, and descended into the River of Gichoe (Gihon, one of the four rivers of Paradise. Gen. II. 1 3.) and remained up to his neck in water, till his body was covered in rust, and his figure was entirely changed. Then God beckoned to the angel Raphael, who returned the book unto him, and he read in it diligently, and bequeathed it to his son Seth. From Seth it came to Chanoch and from him, through the generations, to Abraham, who also learnt to know the greatness of his Lord from it.”
We have here the story of how Adam came to leave a book behind him.
The peculiar remark, that he went into the water of the river and stayed there till he was covered in rust, refers to the descent into the darkness of the world.
Adam was the man of light, he consisted entirely of light till he entered the body which veiled his light from him.
The book was taken from him when he entered the body, though it was given back to him later.
There is a still earlier tradition, the so-called “Ethiopic Book of Adam”, which was preserved by the Ethiopians: God s ent three angels to Adam on the third day of his exile from Paradise, who brought him
The angel Michael brought seventy golden rods or branches, which should lighten the darkness of his cave; the angel Gabriel brought him incense, in order that its pleasant odour should give him pleasure (the Holy Ghost is credited with a sweet smell).
The angel Raphael brought him myrrh to console him in the morning of his exile and the eclipse of his light.
We see from all this that Adam originally possessed the perfect and divine Gnosis, but lost it through his original sin.
Some part of it, however, was given back to him, in order that he might pass it on, as secret tradition, to his children and children’s children.
This peculiar saga corresponds to a psychological fact which we can observe empirically with children.
The dreams of early childhood contain mythological motifs which the children could not possibly know of.
These archetypal images are the primeval knowledge of mankind, we are born with this inheritance, though this fact is not obvious and only becomes visible in indirect ways.
There are distinct formulations in the unconscious, which, if they were more visible, would look exactly as if we had been taught certain things, though this could not possibly be the case.
But it is as if an inkling of the original structure of the human mind were contained in these unconscious remnants, but it disappears in the mists of the outer world as the child’s consciousness develops.
These things are then lost to consciousness, and must be found again in the course of life, at the cost of infinite effort, if God is kind enough to send us a neurosis (that special gift of grace) to
accompany us on life’s journey.
For if there is no neurosis one does nothing about it!
So we can assume that these old masters were plagued with every kind of psychic suffering, or they would not have been so diligent with their retorts.
THEOBALDUS DE HOGHELANDE says of the arcanum:
“The secret of everything and life is in a water . . . . the greatest secret is in water.”
Here again we have the water motif which we have met before in the images of the sea, the fountain; and under the fountain.
This secret lies hidden in the water. KHUNRATH says of this secret:
“God has, for certain reasons, strictly forbidden the betrayal of the secret to anyone.”
And MYLIUS says:
“But in lead there is dead life, and this should be emphasised as the secret of secrets.”
I will not give you any further examples, the ones already quoted are sufficient.
They must have shown you that the arcanum is something very similar to the thesaurus, it is always a matter of the central secret.
Here, for the first time, you heard a very serious injunction to keep silence.
This thing must be concealed, it is not only a secret but a secret which must be guarded.
If one knows, one must not betray that it is concealed in water or lead.
Curiously enough lead also contains the secret in Chinese alchemy: “the lead of the water region, so there you have lead and water together.
In the Greek texts also lead is a very special substance: Saturn.
A peculiar characteristic of Saturn in those days was that it was related to the sun, in that it was also believed to circle round the earth.
Gradually in the course of centuries, it spun the lead into the earth as the sun in the course of its revolutions spun gold into the earth.
So lead has the characteristics of Saturn.
It is said that Saturn and lead are cold outwardly and fiery inwardly.
Even the dove of the Holy Ghost is to be found in the lead.
The old Greek masters also said that a demon lived in lead which sent people mad, a very dangerous demon.
Evidently lead is the symbol of heaviness, depth, darkness and concealment.
Set, in the Osiris saga, when he fastened Osiris into the chest, covered the lid in lead, so that Osiris was buried in lead, so to speak.
This expresses the same idea, that the worthless substance of lead contains the most precious substance within.
Thus lead or water is often a symbol for those psychical contents which have sunk into the depths of the unconscious, the lead of the water region refers to the things which are hidden in the depths.
Mylius writes that the “dead life” in the lead is the “secret of secrets” and Dorneus says that the “arcanum philosophorum” is the lapis.
It was also Dorneus who wrote of the opposites of life and death in the image of the human mind.
This image was neither alive nor dead, so “dead life” is neither life nor death.
It is something on the boundary between life and death, a thoroughly mysterious thing, so that we must really ask ourselves, can we imagine what it is?
Did the old masters know what they meant, or did they make a mystery of something which had no firm foundation?
But when we consider their industry, and the endless number of books which they wrote, and the fact that they were anything but fools (Albertus Magnus, for instance, wrote undoubtedly authentic Alchemistic treatises), we are bound to conclude that there must be something in it.
If it had just been an epidemic, and hundreds of books had appeared in the course of twenty years, and then disappeared like a flash in the pan, we could say: “That was just a mental epidemic, we also have such things.”
But alchemy lasted for over two thousand years, and great genuises, such as Goethe, were caught by it. Goethe never got away from it, once it gripped him.
Its “schwankende Gestalten” (wavering phantoms) approached him in all his best and highest hours and possessed him.
His greatest masterpiece, the second part of Faust, is an alchemistic confession.
So perhaps we may safely assume that it is no mystery making, but a real secret, a “mysterium” perhaps.
The alchemists indeed often call it this themselves.
This brings us to our fourth theme:
“The mystery is the stone. The stone, that is likened to a sign which is contradicted.”
That is the “petra scandali” , the “stumbling block”, which you know from the New Testament.
So here again is an analogy to Christ.
The secret is certainly an analogy to Christ, but what it is remains dark. Khunrath again says in the Amphitheatrum:
“The mystery is the stone, that is the most ancient salt. Salt was not decked with the epithet of wisdom by wise men without good reason.”
This refers of course to the New Testament: “Ye are the salt of the earth.” (Matt. V.13.)
And in another passage Khunrath says:
“The mystery is the conception of the saviour and redeemer, of the macrocosm as well as the microcosm, respectively of the human species.”
The expression “microcosm” in the medieval authors always refers to man, and ” macrocosm” to the universe.
It was Khunrath who said that Christ is the saviour of man, whereas the mysterious substance of alchemy is the saviour of the universe, not only of man but of nature.
Another author of the sixteenth century says:
“The admirable mystery of the macrocosm is the sapphire blue flower of the hermaphrodite.”
This author also speaks of the mystery of their saviour, who is evidently the saviour of the macrocosm, and who is of super-human nature in which we participate through the body and perhaps also through
The saving substance is called a sapphire blue flower here, this is of course the celestial blue flower.
You will remember the blue flower in romantic poetry, which belongs to the same idea.
This flower appears again spontaneously in this very obscure text, and as the flower of the hermaphrodite, which unites male and female.
It is analogous to Christ and the sponsa, but united in one figure. ~Carl Jung, ETH, Lecture XIV, Pages 115-122.