Psychology of Yoga and Meditation
5 MAY 1939 Lecture 2 Psychology and Yoga Meditation
Tantric symbolism Hermetic symbolism
- Shûnyatâ (= void, ávidyâ)
- Four elements
III. Mount (Meru)
- Four-part, four-headed vajra
- Lotus (=yoni)
- Moon with lingam
- Civitas, castrum
- Quaternity, quaternarium
- Golden flower
- The white woman, femina alba,
- Conjunctio solis et lunae
- Domus thesauria, vas hermetis
XII. Lapis, hermaphroditus, lux
Last time we traced the symbol series of Tantric yoga.
Today I want to give you a brief résumé of what we discussed in part last term, namely the second series.
This is a short overview of the symbolism from medieval natural philosophy, the so-called hermetic philosophy, which became known particularly in the form of alchemy.
As you know, the opinion was generally held that alchemy was a formidable piece of nonsense.
A modern book on it begins with the affirmation that this is a narrative of the greatest errors.
But this comes only from the scientific perspective.
All researchers of alchemical history have overlooked the fact that the main point in what they said and thought was not the making of gold.
The most important and most interesting thing is that it is a Western form of yoga.
This has been completely overlooked apart from a few exceptions.
I say this for the sake of historical justice.
In the first half of the nineteenth century there were a couple of alchemists still living who practiced this philosophy in the proper ancient manner.
An old English private scholar and his daughter practiced this yoga, and when the father felt that he was getting old he was convinced that these yoga experiences should be shared for posterity.
He proposed to his daughter that she should report on these exercises in her own way, without any influences from him, and he wished to do the same in his own style.
They had a large house with two separate wings, with one of them inhabiting each of the wings so that they could write down their history of these experiences separately from each other.
After a few months the daughter had finished her writing, and she brought it to her father contained in a respectable volume.
He was delighted with it and confided in her that he had also been writing, but in verse.
So the old man collected his experiences in poetic form, his daughter in scientific language.
But no sooner had this been published than the old man became concerned that he had committed a terrible sin by revealing the secret of hermetic philosophy.
These are exactly the same scruples that an Eastern philosopher gets when he wants to publish a sacred document.
This is why everything remains secret and is only gradually coming to the surface.
He got into such a state of panic that the daughter felt obliged to withdraw all of the copies.
So they burned as many printed copies as possible.
But nine copies were not returned.
The book was written in 1850 and the daughter died at a great age in 1909 or 1910, I believe.
Then the admirers of her work published her writing after her death.
This work represents a first attempt in modern times to shed light on this extremely curious school of thought for Western
Although the Western spirit gave rise to the entire tradition, there are only allusive philosophical or psychological explanations about it within actual hermetic philosophy.
One must seek out rather onerously the allusions to it in the ancient texts.
The relevant book is called A Treatise on Alchemy by Mrs. Atwood.
It can be found only on rare occasions in antiquarian bookshop; it is a rather rare book.
I would not advise you to rush to read this book.
It is rather indigestible, permeated with theosophy, and one must know quite a lot about alchemy oneself to be able to understand what it actually means.
Until the last few years the book remained rather obscure except in those circles in which alchemy is still practiced.
There are still ancient alchemists.
I noticed this when I wrote a small text on “Notions of Redemption in Alchemy” for the Eranos Yearbook of 1936.
I got hold of some texts then.
Among them were certain alchemists who complained that I had not understood the true meaning of alchemy: it was really about gold making.
Looked at from its outward contents, alchemy is of a rather contemptible character, but its inner content is more interesting.
In order to understand the issue, we must descend inwardly far more into our unconscious to understand what is happening.
You see the table here: a complete parallel.
By way of introduction I have given you the salient points of the hermetic process.
- It begins with the chaos, the massa confusa, the compound in the primeval sea, the genesis, where the original water was brooded over by the spirit of God.
These primal waters are expressed by the chaos.
I will return to this and explain the psychological significance to you, but I will first give you a further explanation of the series of symbols.
This is a dark, watery chaos.
- Then comes the tetramery, the division into four, the attempt to de-compose the compound.
They wish to divide this compound of the darkness into the original four parts in such a way that a certain differentiation emerged, a discriminability.
This happened with the assistance of fire.
Some sort of material—described as prima materia—was heated and separated into an upper and a lower part.
One could say that it is a reiteration of the work of the creator, based on Genesis.
Thus something firm arose below. Vapors arose from the matter; if mercury, then it was Hg vapors.
Since the materials with which the medieval chemists operated were never pure, all sorts of vapors arose.
So what was above was described as volatile, the spiritus, the ephemeral; what was below as the corpus.
In these and similar processes, such as distillation, sublimation, and whatever they were all called, the ancients were so immersed and yet understood so little of what they were doing that they projected their own unconscious state into this activity.
And then they had visions.
You must imagine: these people lived in great isolation and worked in secret, as this was a forbidden activity as far as church doctrines were concerned, and so there was a danger that one would get a reputation for being a gold maker or magician.
This was very unpleasant; one did not want to be denounced as a magician.
So they poured tremendous hope into their chemical operations and saw something within them that can no longer happen to us today.
They saw all their unconscious expectations in process.
There were actually Latin texts that contain descriptions of such visions, and that is the origin of alchemy’s curious metaphorical language.
- They described what towered above the annealed body as a mountain.
They also named the upper part of the retort where the clouds gathered as mountain.
The deposits on the retort were described as rain or dew.
This is where the idea of the mountain comes in. It is considered the carrier of precious substance, which is supposed to come into being through this process.
Upon the mountain lies the treasure: the lapis philosophorum as the elixir of life.
Alternatively, the wonderful medicinal herb grew upon this mountain.
That is why the mountain was also compared with all the saints, not least with Christ himself.
They could do this all the more easily since Christ too was described as mountain, as the small stone that was hewn without hands from the mountain (Book of Daniel).
So a Christian allegory. This was known to the alchemists.
A series of alchemical tracts are attributed to the Church Fathers Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, although it has been proved that neither Aquinas nor Albertus Magnus in fact wrote either. But what is certain is that they engaged with them.
The Church Fathers practiced and spoke an enormous number of metaphorical and symbolic languages.
One who was most involved with this was Alanus de Insulis (Alain de l’Isle), a general doctor, philosopher, and theologian who lived from 1128 to 1213, secluded in Citeaux.
He made use of an exceptionally lively metaphorical language. Such tracts were also attributed to him.
The philosopher’s stone was also equated with the cornerstone, which is another allegory of Christ.
- Upon the mountain lies the city, the idea of the civitas or the castrum.
This is the idea of the vessel in which the precious substance is enclosed and protected from external effects so that what is within does not escape.
It is important in alchemy that what is cooling and vaporizing does not disappear.
The vapors must not evaporate. Nothing may escape from what is going on within.
- Then follows the quaternarium, i.e., the four elements into which the primal material is dissolved, but in a new meaning.
Here, a coagulation appears: solidification, freezing, coagulation; here the four are put together again.
This corresponds to the vajra with the four heads. This composition takes place upon the mountain.
Above, the spiritus make a compound together, not the bodies.
These elements that make a compound through the coagulation are the essences of the elements.
These essences are compounded, resulting in the quinta essentia as the medium inter quaternas.
This middle one naturally has a highly symbolic meaning, just as we also see in Tantric yoga out of which the lotus develops.
It is also the uterus in which the divine birth takes place.
(6) Out of this quaternarium arises the quinta essentia in the form of the golden flower, flos auris. The blossom of gold.
This is a typical expression in alchemy. In chemistry, we also now still describe certain precipitations as sulphur blossoms; they are just such efflorescences.
The saltpeter or salpetre that oozes from ancient walls is one such efflorescence.
All these results were described as golden flowers—remarkably not only here in the Middle Ages but also in Chinese alchemy, hence also the Secret of the Golden Flower.
(7) When this flower has manifested itself, then what follows this blossom is the moon and
(8) the sun, also in tantrism. In alchemy, the golden flower is considered a vessel, chalice, or bath in which sun and moon unite.
And this is why: tetramery is not the only division that is possible, for masculine and feminine also exist.
For the original division was one into two: clouds above—water below, spiritus considered masculine above, the watery below being feminine.
“The spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
One could almost say that the spirit of God brooded over those waters.
The ancients also dreamt that the water was impregnated with the seed of God.
So the golden flower is a vessel in which the opposites of the sexes are united, not only the four, but also the two.
When this unification is complete, it always manifests in the form of a personification.
There is no objective unification as in chemistry.
(9) Usually the moon is described as a white woman: femina alba. In Arabic it is al-baida.
The Arabs passed Greek alchemy down to us, although there was a Greek codex in Venice: the Codex Marcianus.
But in the Middle Ages no one in Europe understood Greek. Not until the time of the humanists, when Byzantium was conquered from the
Turks, did part of this Eastern spiritual culture arrive in the West.
The white woman al-baida was changed into Beya.
There was a famous myth of Garbricus and Beya.
Gabricus comes from the grouping of Arabic words: el Kibrit, i.e., sulphur, and Beya is white, i.e., silver or mercury.
Thus, these come together: sulphur is yellow (red), i.e., the sun which is fire, sulphur being plainly identical with fire—and the moon, i.e., mercury or white.
(10) This was the famous alchemical wedding of Gabricus and Beya, described as conjunctio. It is the union of the fiery with a cool, watery substance.
There is a Latin tract with Arabic influences from the sixteenth century, the Consilium Conjugii, seu de Massa Solis et Lunae (Counsel for the Marriage of Sol and Luna).
I have brought you a series of old visual representations in which you can see how this is depicted.
A conjunctio now becomes the ultimate composition. Even the difference between the sexes is removed.
I must add that the difference between sun and moon is not thought of as physical.
For this reason alchemy never tired of stressing: “Our gold is not the it is the essence of gold.” This was their secret.
Despite the palpable symbolism, the conjunctio is not to be thought of as a physical connection, but rather as a unification of the spiritus, the subtle body.
(11) Now follows the holy enclosure, the house, the secret chamber.
The monastery vihâra corresponds to the mysterious vas hermetis in alchemy in which the conjunctio took place.
In the Chinese Book of the Yellow Castle it is described as the “purple room in the Nephrite city.”
It was also described as a secret crystal in which a very small sol and luna in union could be seen.
This means nothing other than the final removal of opposites, this being an ultimate composition. A union of the mutually warring.
It must be protected as if in a cloister or a building, a treasure house, where the precious substance is enclosed and concealed.
(12) Then, at last, in the Tibetan text the lord of the whole appears, the personality, the end product: identification with the Buddha.
This is where the identification with Christ logically follows. Alchemy compared Christ with the lapis.
Conversely, as in the language of the church, the lapis is allegorized by Christ, namely the highest figure is also described as hermaphroditus in which the masculine and feminine have completely unified in a perfect being.
It has probably struck you that the representations of Christ are always exceptionally feminine, a very feminine man.
This corresponds not only to the general flavor, but also to the meaning that all opposites are united in him.
This is that secret, feminine influence.
He is also sometimes symbolized by some of the Church Fathers in a feminine way, as “the woman” (mulier), for he could not be the savior if man and woman had not been united in him.
All opposites had to fuse within him. That is where the psychological secret gathers itself home. This form is also a child.
There is an alchemical text: The Hermaphrodite Child of the Sun and the Moon.
This is the homunculus, a tiny thumbling, considered very small because he is on the inside of man.
The philosophers say of this stone that it consists of body, soul, and spirit, just like a man.
An ancient text says: “you are the stone.”
It is also described as lumen or lux moderna, as a “light that has arisen in the darkness” or as “sun of righteousness, descended from heaven.”
And there is also always the idea that the stone cannot be thought of without the intervention of divine grace.
“It cannot be made apart from the grace of God.”
It is therefore also known as opus magnum, as a great work, because God himself is manifested within it.
This is the intervention of the divine in the experience of the laboring alchemist.
In the Greek alchemists, in particular with the philosopher Zosimos, a gnostic from the third century, we encounter the symbol of light: phôteinós, i.e., of the luminous one or the man of light.
This plays a great role in gnosticism: the man of light is a spark from the eternal light that has plummeted into the darkness of matter (scintilla, i.e., the spark).
Man is to redeem light out of the darkness.
As you will see, in alchemy the reigning idea is that salvation results ex opere operato, out of works carried out, in contrast to the church’s belief where salvation depends utterly on the gratia dei.
Alchemy has this belief in common with the East, as you will see: the individual works at what is necessary in order to deliver himself into the state of salvation.
This belief also prevailed in alchemy, and it would be mistaken to say that the alchemists were unacquainted with it.
There is evidence that some of these ancient philosophers really did hold this belief, in which this process and the unconscious were so intermingled that it also had a psychological meaning.
While these people worked with their chemical materials, they did so with such hope and expectation that the effort also had a psychic effect upon them.
This is hard for us to understand.
If you can envision primitive man who knows nothing of psychology and sees nothing but the world as he animates it, then it won’t surprise us that such was still the case in the Middle Ages in an area where still one knew nothing.
Men encountered within dead matter what it would now be impossible for us to experience.
We can only empathize with it psychologically or metaphysically.
Nor do we these days know anything of metaphysics either. That gives you the whole alchemical series.
Now I will supply you with a psychological parallel to the two series of symbols:
- The original state corresponds to ávidyâ, unconsciousness. We all assume we are not unconscious.
But in a certain respect we are all unconscious. We are not conscious of all of our contents by a long shot.
Because we don’t know these matters, we also don’t know that we are unconscious. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”
If someone does not know that America exists, then for that person there is simply no America. But of course others notice it.
(2) If you encounter a person who for some reason has had a shove from the unconscious, who “has a screw loose,” they must be shown that this reason is not unconscious but are close at hand, even if those affected resist learning of it.
Here begins the tetramery, because something presses to be brought back into order, if, for example, someone complains that people do not understand him, or is troubled by difficulties with his wife and child, he does not know why, then something is out of order. He is not conscious of how all of this could have happened.
As if overcome by hypnosis or by being drunk.
Here, there is a dark unconscious state that we must bring to light. So he requires analysis.
That is why Freud named his work psycho-analysis, i.e., the dissolution of the dark state.
In that way one manages to bring a bit of order into the situation. And this bit of order is always a system of four.
Of course, with such a dissolution, the image that one had of oneself also completely dissolves.
There are those who have a very high idea of their ability and their qualities, who experience no self-doubt.
Despite all that, everything goes pear-shaped, and others have to suffer him and complain about it.
When these people land in a neurosis, one is faced with the unpleasant task of showing these people that not everything about them is made of gold, for all sorts of dross has accumulated.
For sure, when the generous man gets to discover where he is greedy, and the upstanding man where he is disreputable, people experience a lot of self-doubt.
An unsatisfactory, secret condition in which one can completely lose oneself.
(3) Yet somewhere there is a firm place—where one can say: this is how I am, I see exactly that here I am upstanding, here not; clear here, dark there; right here, completely wrong there—at least this is what I am.
Something clearly emerges, like a mountain, like Mount Ararat did for Noah’s ark in the flood. Finally, there is an instinctive foundation.
At last he sees: I am not completely right but also not completely wrong. This is the mountain: the sure conviction that emerges.
At first it is a small island that comes up out of the flood.
Then something becomes manifest that one can describe as the actual Self of the person.
All this means that one actually knows very little of oneself—that there is no ground for certainty—yet a certain
instinct is present, which ultimately decides.
One can call to mind one’s own foundations: “At root, I am simply like this or like that.”
(4) This insight is precious and promises much because it is a new attitude for the person. Hence the symbol of the city.
It is like a magic circle that one places around oneself so that no one else prattles their way into it, not even one’s own reason.
One requires a certain inner and outer protection against all of that. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Yoga Meditation, Page 186-197