Lecture XI 31st January, 1941
At the end of the last lecture we were speaking of the history of alchemical literature and we will continue this subject today.
I will not mention very many of the treatises by name, as they are probably mainly unknown to you.
There is considerable uncertainty about some of the Greek texts, which have come to us through the Arabs; in some cases the Arabic texts no longer exist, and in many cases it is difficult to be sure whether they were translated from Greek into Arabic, if they are of Byzantine origin, or if they were written by the Arabs themselves.
The Greek names have been badly mutilated by the Arabs (partly on account of the differences in the letters of the two languages), they speak of Rosinus, for instance, and mean Zosimo’s; and there is a treatise attributed to Micreris, which is simply a corruption of Mercury.
And furthermore the Latin translators encountered similar difficulties with the Arabic language; so that the whole of this literature swarms with corrupted Greek names and is altogether very confusing.
There is also a series of medieval texts which are all in Latin, but are very Arabic in style.
These are the so-called “arabizantes” and it is uncertain whether these texts were originally Arabic, or whether the authors only imitated the Arabic style of writing.
I will only mention one book among these, attributed to CALID.
It is the story of a Christian hermit, called Morienus, Morienes, or Marianus, who was said to understand the art of alchemy.
As I have already told you, certain Arabic texts were translated into Latin as early as about the tenth century.
An independent Latin alchemistic literature developed soon afterwards (circa twelfth and thirteenth centuries) and several works were written in this period which remained in use for many centuries and had a considerable influence on later alchemy.
Among these, there is a treatise which is attributed (probably correctly) to ROGER BACON (circa 1214-1294), the famous scholastic who was called “doctor mirabilis”.
Some other treatises are ascribed to ALBERTUS MAGNUS (1193-1 280) , the famous philosopher and Bishop of Regensburg.
It is interesting that the author speaks in his philosophy of the principium individuationis” as a quality of the materia.
He assumes that life in the “materia” is the substratum for form, which is a thoroughly psychological definition.
There is also a treatise by ALAIN DE !’ISLE or ALANUS in Latin (1114-1 202) , and a certain HORTULANUS commented on the “Tabula Smaragdina.”
All these authors wrote in Latin and were more or less contemporary.
There were also many anonymous writers in those days, one of the best of these was the author of the “ROSARIUM PHILOSOPHORUM “.
It is sometimes difficult to understand why there is so much secretiveness in alchemy, such as anonymous authors.
There is also an earlier Latin treatise (which belongs perhaps to the thirteenth century) the AURORA CONSURGENS (the rising dawn) or the Aurea Hora, (the golden hour).
This is a long and interesting volume and it is of local interest to us here in Zurich, in that the Central Library has a codex of it, the “Codex Rhenoviensis”, with very important pictures.
Unfortunately it is incomplete, the first four chapters are missing.
There is a complete copy of the Aurora Consurgens (Aurea Hora) at the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
In a printed edition, the first part was omitted, on account of its blasphemous content.
This naturally incited me to look for the first part, and I found it in Paris.
It is not blasphemous in the usual sense of the word, but is interesting in that the Christian doctrine of salvation is described in terms of the alchemistic doctrine of salvation.
With the sixteenth century we come to the time of collections of the alchemical writings.
We do not know if the manuscripts were assembled into volumes,
I have never seen such a volume, but a good many such collections appeared with the age of printing.
Three of the oldest are: “De Alchemia” printed in Nurnberg in 1541; it contains the first printed edition of the “Tabula Smaragdina “.
Another collection was printed in Basel in 1561: “Verae Alchemiae”. Tract. Coll. and the “ARTIS AURIFERAE ” (two volumes) which was printed for the first time in 1572.
It contains the “Rosarium Philosophorum”, the ” Turba Philosophorum ” and many other of the texts which we shall meet later.
The first really big collection is the “THEATRUM CHEMICUM “, there is a copy in the Central Library in Zurich.
It consists of six volumes which extend into the second half of the seventeenth century.
A good many collections appeared at that time, but most of them are included in the “Theatrum Chemicum”.
The so-called “Musaeum Hermeticum” (1678) is especially interesting for the philosophic aspect of alchemy.
DR. MAN GET’S “Bibliotheca chemica”, two volumes in folio, is the culmination of all these collections and the concluding apotheosis.
In England, Elias Ashmole (1617-92), founder of the Ashmolean Library in Oxford, made a collection of the writings of the British alchemists in the “THEATRUM CHEMICUM BRIT ANNICUM”; and German treatises were collected in the same way, by Scholz in the middle of the eighteenth century.
One of the earliest of these collections, the “Aureaum vellus” (the golden fleece) , by SALOMON TRISSMOSIN, was printed in Rorschach (Switzerland) in 1598.
This edition also contains a history of the life of the author.
Alchemistic literature began to degenerate in the seventeenth century and it practically came to an end in the eighteenth century.
With a few exceptions, the treatises became more and more worthless in the age of enlightenment.
One of these exceptions is a treatise by a Benedictine Father A. J. PERNETY, who sums up the whole of ancient mythology from the alchemistic point of view.
He was very pleased with the way in which mythology lent itself to alchemistic interpretation.
But he did not realise that alchemy had largely originated in mythology, so that it was naturally easy enough to bring it back into its original form.
The book is interesting in this respect.
Though the literature of alchemy ceased in a direct form, alchemistic ideas continued to produce after effects.
The greatest alchemistic opus of this kind is the second part of GOETHE’s “Faust “, which rises from the very spirit of alchemy.
We find a more recent echo in “Prometheus & Epimetheus”, by our Swiss poet, CARL SPITTELER.
You will remember the story of the treasure brought down to earth by Pandora, that treasure plays the role of the “lapis philosophorum “.
One could also mention GUSTAV MEYRINCK in this connection, the author of “The Golem” and “The Green Face”.
He translated a treatise which was erroneously attributed to Thomas Aquinas.
In his introduction to this translation, Meyrinck describes his own alchemistic experiences with a great deal of involuntary humour.
It is not a very savory story, but he was really convinced that he was on the way to making gold.
He bought an old privy and extracted the lowest layer of its contents and put it into a retort.
He then sealed the unappetizing mixture hermetically, according to the prescriptions of the alchemists.
Eventually the cover flew off in his face, but there was a yellow substance in the retort and he was convinced that this was a pre-stage of gold.
This is quite in the medieval style.
There is a still more medieval story which took place quite recently in England.
This is the touching story of Mrs. Atwood, whose maiden name was Mary Ann South.
She was the daughter of an English country gentleman, and lived with her father for many years at his country seat.
He had a wonderful library, which contained many of the old alchemistic treatises.
She was evidently extremely intelligent and very well read.
I do not know what experiments they undertook together, but anyway they both read a great many of the old Latin texts.
This is absolutely in the style of the old philosophers, in antiquity and the Middle Ages; this father and daughter were a pair, such as Zosimos and Theosebeia, or Nicholas Flamel and his lady Peronelle, and many others.
The father played the role of the old wise man and Miss South was the daughter-pupil acquiring wisdom.
After twelve years’ study she had gained a deeper insight, and her father proposed that they should each write a book and publish the secrets which they had discovered.
As they did not want to influence each other, they retired into separate wings of the great house and wrote separately.
She produced an intellectual and learned work, whereas he wrote in verse.
Her volume was finished first, and she handed a thick manuscript to her father.
As he had not yet finished, they decided to publish her book first.
This was done in 1850 but when nearly 100 volumes were already in the hands of the booksellers, the old man suddenly became afraid that they had betrayed the mysteries.
This is the old fear of the alchemists, they may say a little, let fall a few hints, but on no account may they say too much, or they will be cursed by God and cast into hell.
Old South was caught by this fear in a completely medieval way, so he persuaded his daughter to withdraw the edition and, as far as possible, they bought back the volumes already distributed.
They then arranged an auto-da-fe, and burnt all the books; the old man topping the pile with his manuscript.
Only about a dozen of his verses have been preserved, which were quoted by his daughter, but judging by these, the manuscript was no great loss.
She did not go on writing after this; and, after the death of her father, her inspiration failed completely.
In her despair she married a parson, Mr. Atwood, but neglected his parish and went on reading.
She did not succeed, however, in becoming an Annie Besant or a Madame Blavatsky, though she lived to the age of 93 and died in 1910.
A few copies of her book had escaped the fire, and in 1918 a friend of alchemy had it printed again, and it was re-printed in 1922.
I have read the book, which is called “A suggestive Enquiry into the Hermetic Mysteries”, and I saw no particular reason why it should have been either burnt or preserved from oblivion!
It is by no means unintelligent but she certainly does not betray any mysteries.
It is really, in common with most alchemistic treatises, an attempt to say what the author does not know; and that is always interesting, because things come out which are unknown to the writer.
It is extremely intuitive and emotional, we should say in psychological language, that it was written by an over-flowing animus.
We could say that the Souths were the two last alchemists, yet such people still exist.
When I published a paper on alchemy a few years ago, I received a letter from a man in Germany, whom I did not know, telling me that what I wrote was all very well, but that it missed the point,
the real secret.
The man turned out to be a believer in alchemy.
It is a peculiar fact that, whenever an alchemistic book comes on the market, it is at once sold.
There are still secret libraries even today, I know that as a fact; there is one in London, where many rare alchemistic books are kept behind locked doors; and such a private library in Germany recently found its way into a public library.
We may conclude, therefore, that there is still a secret, underground, alchemistic, movement, and there is certainly something about alchemy which is eternally fascinating to human phantasy.
We will now turn to the consideration of the content of the alchemists’ ideas.
For this purpose I have decided to take the leading themes, and to read you passages from the authors themselves, so that you may see what they say about alchemy, and how it appeared to them.
It will be necessary to consider a great many authors in order to achieve this.
We will begin with:
I. The Meaning of Alchemy
I have collected a considerable numb er of passages in which the alchemists speak of the meaning of their art, and we shall see from these how they understood it.
We will begin with MORIENUS, who lived in the eighth or ninth century.
“The art is the secret of the glorious God.”
He means that alchemy is not just a human science, but that it also contains the mysteries of God.
We cannot know what secrets God has, and it would be very presumptuous for us to assert anything about them.
We can only assume that this art, being of a psychical nature, seemed to the alchemists to transcend their consciousness, they felt that it lay beyond their grasp, and therefore Morienus says it is God’s secret.
We should say more modestly, that part of it lay somewhere in the unconscious.
An Arabic author of the eight century, DJA.BIR IBN HAYYAN, said that alchemy was:
“Superior to the other sciences.”
He adds that the other sciences specialize, whereas alchemy is really the mother of them all, so you see that he had a very high opinion of his art.
The “CONSILIUM CONJUGII”, a treatise of the fourteenth, or possibly thirteenth, century says:
“One should possess a mind purified by God, because it (alchemy) is the gift and mystery of mysteries of God, and it is a sister of philosophy and the philosophers, as it derives its existence from God, through inspiration.”
This tells us that the arcanum, the real secret of alchemy, is inspiration.
A knowledge of the ultimate things in alchemy can only be attained through divine inspiration, that is, it comes from the unconscious, from the unknown.
It is those essential contents in the art of the alchemists which transcend human consciousness.
The “ROSARIUM PHILOSOPHORUM” says that the purpose of alchemy is:
“raecipuum humanarum rerum statum aperire.” (to reveal the most important foundation of human things.)
“Est donum Spiritus Sancti” (is the gift of the Holy Ghost.)
“Et scias, quod haec est longissima via.” (Thou shouldst know that this is a very long path.)
The way which leads to the goal is very long and troublesome.
“Aurum nostrum nonestt aurum vulgi.” (Our gold is not ordinary gold.]
The Rosarium contains quotations from treatises, which are no longer available.
One of these, which comes via the Arabs, says:
“The food of him, who finds this knowledge, will be legitimate and eternal.”
This language refers to the fruits of the philosophical tree, a kind of apple of the Hesperides.
Curiously enough Spitteler used this same simile in the second version of his “Prometheus and Epimetheus” (the poem: “Prometheus der Dulder” ).
Pandora gives an apple to the sick and reclining god for his refreshment.
In 5 the first version this daughter of the god takes the treasure down to earth to alleviate the suffering of mankind.
This treasure is a real panacea in the alchemistic sense.
Another quotation in the Rosarium is from the so-called letter of Aristotle to Alexander, an attribution which is certainly an inventio!It says:
“0 how wonderful is this thing, it contains everything which we are searching for. ”
“This thing “, then, is the answer to the highest endeavours of man. And further:
“It is a divine mystery, the gift of God, and there is nothing in the world more sublime, with the exception of the ‘anima rationalis’.”
The “anima rationalis” is the reasonable mind of man, which is really the highest form of the human psyche, worthy of immortality.
But with this one exception there is nothing higher than the secret of alchemy.
Another author of the “arabizantes” treatises is GEBER.
He must not be confused with the Arab Dj abir, whose name is often spelt Gahir.
Geber was a Latin writer and in his “Summa perfectionis” (sum of perfection) he says:
“This excellent gift of God is kept for you alone.”
But turning to the others he adds:
“But ye, ye ignorant sons of injustice, ye evil wishers of infinite depravity, flee ye from this science. ”
This i s a moral restriction. Evil-doers are excluded from this science, and they should shun it.
The “LIBER QUARTORUM ” is a text which comes to us through the Arabs and which was translated later into Latin, it probably belongs to about the ninth century.
“And he, who has recognised our purpose and the efforts of its religious contemplation, has already become rich. And, like old Plato, he will seek his salvation all his life in this thing.”
The writer means, that as Plato found his consolation in philosophy when he was growing old, so the alchemist must search for his salvation or consolation in the arcanum of Hermes.
Pseudo-Aristotle says in the “TRACT ATUS ARISTOTELIS”:
“And this is the greatest secret, reserved to the counsel of God: in this purified and nourished serpent, as also in man who is created in the image of God, the cause (essence) and the medicine, which is superior to all other substances, can be found; but it has in itself the most perfect quality, efficacy and grace.”
This is a very interesting passage.
The purified and nourished serpent in al alchemy is the mercurial serpent, the Ouroboros, which is connected with the round thing.
It is one of the basic symbols in alchemy and refers to Mercury, not as ordinary mercury or quicksilver, but to the god or spirit Mercury.
The serpent is a Gnostic symbol for the spinal cord and the basal ganglia, because a snake is mainly backbone.
Snakes are weird and strange, and on account of this they have been used as a symbol for the unconscious since olden times.
If the unconscious can be localized anywhere it is in the basal ganglia, and it has the same uncanny character.
The snake really represents the vegetative psyche, the basis of the instincts, if one may express it in that way.
It is here (and in this place in the human being) that the greatest secret is to be found, the panacea, the universal medicine; and, according to the text, fortunate indeed is the man who finds it.
There is a very interesting text, the “ALLEGORIAE SAPIENTUM”, which may perhaps be attributed to the thirteenth century, and we read there:
“Do ceo igitur te art em a uri, quod est caput mundi ex vilissimis.” (I teach thee the art of gold making, which is the principle and beginning of the world, from the most vile.)
This is somewhat obscurely expressed, and as you see the Latin text itself is very obscure, but if you compare it with other texts you see more or less what it means.
The “art of gold making” is a sort of creating of the world, or it is based on the pattern of the creation of the world, and, as in Genesis, a cosmos is fashioned from the chaos.
This is what alchemy also does in a small way; it fashions a world from the prima materia, the unknown chaos.
We find a quotation from Hermes in the same old treatise, which says:
“He who drinks the remedy outwardly dies, but he who does so inwardly lives and rejoices.”
Outward drinking is ordinary drinking, one can drink the tincture or aurum potabile, but one dies of it.
This means, applied to alchemy, that it is death to take alchemy as an external occupation, but the man who regards it as an inward experience, can live and rejoice.
A further passage in the same treatise is in the form of a sequence of four sentences, which begin “Item” (likewise).
The sequence begins:
“How beautiful is the path of wisdom. Item. Sow then Thy wisdom in our hearts and expel from them apathy, corrupt gall and seething blood; and lead us in the paths of the Blessed, whose spirit has been purified. Thou art almighty and what Thou desirest Thou bringest to pass.
“Item . . . I bear witness, that the stone will remain with you, and will not be separated from you, neither by the earth and sea nor by any other means.”
These passages show us, in a way which cannot be misunderstood, that alchemy is not concerned with making ordinary gold, but that it is a moral and philosophical matter, dealing with the human mind.
The assurance that the stone will remain with us seems to be directly related to Christ’s promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. ” (St. Matt. XXVIII. 20.)
And to the words of St. Paul: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans VIII : 38 & 39.)
The wording of the passage in the “Allegoriae Sapientum” is really very similar, and indeed it is probable that the author was strongly influenced by Christianity. ~Carl Jung, ETH, Lecture XI, Pages 91-98