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Marie-Louise von Franz (1965) The Idea of the Macro- and Microcosmos in the Light of Jungian Psychology,


THE title of this paper, which seeks to combine such widely separated subjects as alchemical symbolism and modern psychology of the unconscious, might perhaps cause surprise.

For the benefit of those unacquainted with the work of Jung I would therefore like to make just one point in advance, which is that modern psychology of the unconscious, as a branch of medicine, is a late descendant of that scientific spirit which, at an earlier date, manifested itself in alchemy, so that when we modern psychologists take an interest in alchemical symbolism we are actually looking back to the historical roots of our own approach.

Moreover we largely concern ourselves with the same subject, that unknown, living factor which the alchemists thought to be the animating power in matter and which for want of a better name we now call the unconscious.

In doing so we must leave the question of its relationship to matter open.

Actually it is quite possible that it is a question of the self-same reality which, looked at from within and from without is described by depth psychology and by physics respectively.

In the oldest yet known alchemical texts the idea is already developed that the formation of the Philosopher’s Stone represents an analogy to the creation of the world.

Specific traces of an analogy between metallurgy and the creation of the world exist even as far back as Babylonian thought!.

The minerals about to be smelted in the furnace are called Ku-bu in the Babylonian texts of the library of Assurbanipal.

The translation of this word is disputed and may mean either embryo or foetus.

Either the ores are Ku-bu, or they were heated in the smelting furnace together with such Ku-bus.

The monstrous body of the primal goddess

Tiamat is also called Ku-bu after she has been killed by Marduk, when he uses it for the creation of the world.

Ku-bu therefore also indicates the primal substance of the universe, so that an analogy exists between the embryonic primal substance of the world and the ore used in the earliest metallurgy.

The same analogy emerges again in the oldest specifically alchemical texts, i.e., the Greek documents of the third century A.D. and is more clearly developed there in relation to the approximately contemporaneous so-called Hermetic scriptures (third century A.D.).

Thus, for instance, it is said in the Corpus Hermeticum, lib. 8. 5.3 that man is formed after the image of the cosmos and later it is said that the cosmos is a son, and man a grandson of God.

In this way they are all formed after the same likeness. In the compilation of the older Greek texts, most of which are attributed to Democritus the following is quoted from Olympiodorus:

“Hermes calls man the small cosmos because he too is endowed with all that the cosmos possesses.

The great cosmos has land and water animals. Man has fleas, lice and worms.

The great cosmos has rivers, wells and oceans, so equally man has his intestines.

The macrocosmos has the dwellers in the air, man has mosquitoes. The macrocosmos has breath which ascends as wind, man has the same.

The macrocosmos has the sun and moon, man has his two eyes; the right eye corresponds to the sun, the left to the moon.

The macrocosmos has mountains and hills, man has his bones. The macrocosmos has the heavens, man has his head.

The heavens have the twelve signs of the zodiac, from the Ram as the head to the Fishes for feet.

This is the cosmic image so often mentioned by the alchemists, of which Zosimos also speaks in his book.

It is also the basic earth of the cosmos.

We must therefore mollify and project i.e. carry out the basic alchemical operation on-man himself for, says Zosimos ‘I have brought evidence out of the cosmic analogy that it is the egg’.

And in the text called “The Pyramid” Hermes uses the egg symbolically when he says that the substance of silver and chrysocolla is the egg.

Earlier he also calls the egg the golden-haired cosmos, for he says that in reality the cock is ‘a man cursed by the sun … .’ ”

This absolutely fundamental text certainly requires a little elucidation.

First, a simple parallel is drawn between the structure of man and that of the universe which requires no explanation.

It is maintained, however, that this is the idea of the cosmos of the alchemists and the earth or basic substance of the cosmos itself.

Accordingly, the parallel itself is not only an idea it is also a substance, indeed it is man who is the material to be worked on in the alchemical opus.

But this does not appear to be the actual empirical man, the alchemist himself, for instance, but a “substance” which is somehow also man.

The whole range of similes is actually used to describe this human substance, that he is a cosmic egg, the cock (in the egg) or the mole (in the earth) or the “man cursed by the sun”.

No doubt the alchemist in his capacity of worker would, psychologically, be the ego.

The cosmos-accursed-man appears, however, to be also identical with him, but is somehow not the same thing either.

It is probably a sort of Anthropos in the Gnostic meaning of the term.

The text connects him with Adam, the first man who, according to contemporary doctrine was, like the universe, created from the four elements.

Therefore his name signifies virginal earth, fiery earth, carnal earth, red earth and bloody earth.

According to the above mentioned alchemist Zosimos of Panopolis there existed a Gnostic doctrine in Egypt in the third century A.D. concerning this Adam, which Jung has already published and commented on in his book “Psychology and Alchemy”,  so that I need only summarize it briefly here:

The first man, Thoth or Adam, is a divine man, his name is called virginal earth, carnal earth, fiery or bloody earth, and the four letters of his name are associated with the four elements and the four points of the compass is first name means “Light”. In Paradise the so-called powers of destiny and the elements persuade him that he should incarnate in the outer, physical, mortal Adam, who is composed of he four elements.

By this means he becomes

Man, enslaved and suffering, but he only appears to suffer, turns back to his Father who dwells in the realm of light, drawing to himself all those enlightened men who belong to him. At the same time he throws his mortal body to the evil powers as an offering.

According to Zosimos’ interpretation the alchemical work is clearly concerned with this Primal Being, who also resembles the cock (-sun-bird) concealed in the egg, which must be hatched out.

Therefore Zosimos even calls the work oPVt8oyovLa,the begetting of the bird. From these texts we chiefly perceive the following facts, man is an image (replica-fLLfL7JfLU) of the cosmos, but this is not just an analogy, for the parallel itself is something concrete.

It is, so to say, a substance, the earth of the Universe, which is also called the primal matter of the Cosmos.

This primal matter is, as other texts declare, characterized by opposites; masculine-feminine, or it consists of chrysokolla and silver etc. It is the Anthropos, the egg, the cock (in the egg).

the mole, a “man cursed by the sun” and a carnal substance.

This analogy, seen as matter, is latent as the “Divine Man” within every single human creature.

We must keep sight of the problem of how a parallel, that is something which appears to us to be an abstract conception (i.e., a content of consciousness) can at the same time be something concrete, a kind of cosmic primal substance.

But first I would like to discuss a few more passages from old texts.

We have already seen that an analogy can be perceived between the first man Adam, the primal substance of the world (this recalls Tiamat’s body Ku-bu) and the basic material of the Lapis, which was described among other things as an egg.

Therefore a text attributes the four elements to the eggs.

“They called the egg because it is an image of the Universe and contains the four elements in itself.

They also called it the stone which the moon rolls, the stone which is no stone, the alabaster stone that is found in the brain.

It is also called the living creature of the philosophers”.

Another text says of the stone “They call it the ore-bearing stone, the stone in the brain, the Egyptian stone or replica of the Cosmos.”

We hear still more concerning this same egg from Olympiodorus1o, namely that it

is also the dragon biting its own tail, which is full of dots (stars) whose order

corresponds to that of the celestial stars; it exists before the four elements and is the most universal, the Mediator, the Divine, the Egg, the immutable, infinite and at the same time the finite origin.

Just as the raw material of the alchemists represents an analogy to the primal substance of Creation, so equally the alchemistic work forms a similar parallel. Thus Zosimos says that as the demiurgic Nous (the world-soul) has separated Heaven and Earth, so too in the work must body and soul be separated.

The question arises here as to whether he is referring to the world soul or the individual soul.

The first view is supported by the following passage, where he says; “For those who wish to save and purify the divine soul”, which is bound in the four elements, or who seek to rescue the divine Pneuma from out of the body, a symbol of chemistry may be deduced from the Cosmogony, for then the following analogy holds good; as the sun is the heavenly blossom of fire and the right eye of the Universe, so also is the ore, when

through the purification it is brought to its flowering, an earthly sun, a king upon earth, as is the sun in the heavens”.

This passage supports the view that the “soul” is here referred to in a cosmic sense. There are however also some subjective aspects as we shall soon see.

The meaning of the analogy varies from pure parallelism to an even more precisely determined relationship between the macro- and microcosmic aspects of the Opus.

A direct connection, which goes further than the conception of pure analogy, is to be found in the idea, appearing since the earliest times, that the magically correct moment for the chemical operation should be taken into account.

This idea is already present in the previously referred to Babylonian text1which says Sacrifices, libations and purification ceremonies are also mentioned.

“Le jour favorable” accords with the basic tenet of nearly all magic, to take the time into account.

Here, since we are dealing with Babylon, we might think more specifically of an astrological connection.

The magically propitious moment plays a very important role in the work of Zosimos and other early alchemists.

With Zosimos this goes so far that he speaks technically of tinctures subject to the Ka£p.

This text is important, for before Zosimos advances the above quoted doctrine of the Anthropos he speaks in the same treatise of the secret, spherical, two-fold primal substance as the “round element” which, in exoteric language means Ocean, origin of the gods, but whose esoteric name is not knowable.

This round element comprises the knowledge of the divine water.

The tinctures would, however, have made his book on the furnaces ridiculous, Zosimos continues, since certain people would have been favoured by their Daimon and would have obtained tinctures, so that they then made fun of Zosimos.

But, says Zosimos, one could not bring them to reason until their own Daimon “transforming itself according to the Heimarmene, should bring them to misfortune”.

Such people are unreasoning followers of the Heimarmene, (the compulsion of the stars), in contradistinction to those who, following the Divine Man, overcome this compulsion.

The text clearly shows that in this context carries the meaning of a transformation of metals engendered through a propitious astrological constellation.

According to Zosimos however, such effects come about through the co-operation of the individual Daimon who is subject to the compulsion of the stars, and is therefore not to be relied upon in the end.

For which reason one should raise oneself above such astrologically and demonically restricted lucky results and strive for the higher power of the gnosis of the “Divine Man”.

Through this relationship to the astrologically definable moment a relationship to the emotional situation of the alchemist is also indirectly implied, since through his Daimon he himself stands in relation to the astrological constellations.

For which reason certain temperamentally introverted alchemists tended from the first to take the positive influencing of the individual psychic state as the starting point of the alchemical opus.

For they correctly perceived that this is precisely the point of the unification of the inner and outer events in the great cosmic pattern, the place where man could most easily set to work with his influence in a direct manner.

Zosimos carries this insight so far that he even rejects the astrological connection in favour of the inner gnosis, i.e. growth of consciousness, for the former brings constraint, while the latter makes freedom possible.

The following text for instance makes this clear.

Zosimos says to his spiritual friend Theosebeia, “Do not hasten around in order to seek God, Oh Woman, but rather sit thyself down at home, and God the All seeing will come to thee, and not only a locally bound demon.

When thou hast seated thyself bodily seat thyself also in regard to the emotions inordinate desire, lust, anger, grief and the twelve thousand demons of the dead.

And when thou hast so attuned thyself (8t£v8vvovua) then call the Divine unto thyself…. And when thou so labourest thou wilt also achieve the real and natural KatptKal.

Do this until thou hast perfected thy soul all round.

When thou perceivest however that it is perfected, then relinquish the natural aspect of the substance and hasten down to the Poimandres, immerse thyself in the krater and hasten upward to thine own kind”.

This relates as Jung shows in “Psychology and Alchemy” to the doctrine of the Hermetic sect of Poimandres, according to which God despatched a vessel filled with (awareness, enlightenment) to earth, in order that the souls which immersed themselves therein should be enlightened.

The hastening upward to one’s own kind means the return once more to Paradise, to the Divine Man.

This is a final stage of an inner transformation which begins with the so-called real material transformations, but which finally leads far beyond it.

This quotation of Zosimos’ which is also transmitted in other versions, refers especially to the already mentioned idea that the work on one’s own individual psychic condition is of essential importance to the Opus, and this throws a new light on the previously referred to quotation concerning the separation of body and soul.

It shows that this separation is also to be understood as an inner psychic event, a microcosmic happening, a mystical mortification and spiritualization, the “mors voluntaria” as a much later writer calls ip.

A similar interpretation is to be found again and again in certain alchemists.

To summarize the foregoing we can accordingly speak of the following aspects of the micro- and macro cosmic ideas in alchemy; four analogous things are set up, God, the Universe, Man and the Stone.

The comparison is always made to the same symbolic image, which is that God created the Universe and man after his own image and that man creates the Lapis after the same pattern, the God-image which he carries within himself.

This parallel is however also a material reality, not a mental perception.

It really exists in the form of the Anthropos-image, in the Divine Man, the egg, mole etc.

In addition to this analogy is also a relationship between the astrological constellations

in the cosmos and the alchemical work on the one hand, and between the inner psychic condition and the alchemical work on the other.

The latter is the place where the individual has definite freedom, and where perhaps the most intimate relationship between alchemy and the psyche of empirical man exists.

A further train of thought which seems to arise more indirectly out of the texts followed these reflections: man himself in his own body is composed of the same elements as the Macrocosmos and consequently by becoming aware of his own physical being he can reach the mystery of living matter.

This understanding is not, however, obtained from “without”, through dissecting corpses for instance, but through meditative introspection, through sinking down into the endo-somatic psychic feelings and sensations, so to speak.

As Eastern yoga arrived at an inner psychic pattern of physical processes, so also did alchemy.

A fine example of this is offered for instance by the following text of Morienus, which probably dates from the eighth century A.D.l9:

“This stone is that thing which is found more in thee (than in any other way) created by God, and thou art its “prima materia” and out of thee will it be drawn, and wherever thou mayest ever be, so will it ever remain with thee–.

And as man is composed of the four elements, so also is the stone, and so it originates in man and thou art its “prima materia” by virtue of the process, and out of thee will it be extracted, to wit, through the separation; in thee it abides inseparably on account of the science.

Otherwise expressed the thing works secretly in thee, that is to say in the Mercurius of the philosophers.

Thou art its “prima materia”, in thee it is enclosed and thou guardest it in secret and out of thee will it be extracted, since it will be redeemed and reduced to its essence by thee.

While without thee it cannot be completed, and without it thou canst not live, thus the end of the beginning is called to mind, and vice versa”.

The old idea that the Lapis is to be found in the brain also indicates an inner psycho-somatic origin whereby the site of the soul and of consciousness was projected into the brain as still often happens today.

The Arab mystic and alchemist of the tenth century, Mohamed ibn Umail, known in the West as Senior, also arrived a similar formulations.

According to his statement God created all things from water.

This water is the Arche of the world (Caput mundi) and of the microcosmos.

It is the one living thing that does not die so long as the world lasts, and which revives all dead things.

It brings the hidden colours to light and hides away the manifest ones, every man needs this water, which is within him, and without which he cannot exist.

It is also the “red egg’ between Heaven and Earth which contains all the four elements and by Hermes is called a microcosmos.

In another part of his “Starry Earth and Silvery “Vater” Mohammed ibn Umail explains further that the water is that which could transform the things from their potential-and into their real state of being.

Thus it is clear that his term “Water” describes a mystical, divine, world-creating principle.

In man this water becomes semen and therefore the primal substance of the origin of man.

The water (semen) coagulates in woman, who serves as vessel to the masculine substance and thus becomes a completed child which steps forth into the world.

All this, Senior proceeds, is the description of the preparation of the stone.

In such texts that unknown substance about which the alchemists concern themselves is, as it were, brought physically closer to man, being as it were a mystery bound up in his body.

“When one makes an overall comparison of numerous alchemistic texts it is clear that the relation of micro- and macrocosmos occurs especially in two phases of the work.

Firstly, right at the beginning, with the description of the raw material, I will merely call to mind the examples of the cosmic egg and the water, and secondly, in the last phases of the work, when at the end of one of the oldest texts the “Art” is compared to the rotation of the heavens.

In a text “Komarios and Cleopatra”, which might date back even to the first century A.D. the soul is described calling to the body; “Wake up out of the underworld and arise from the grave, clothe thyself in spirituality and godliness, for the voice of Resurrection has reached thee, and the elixir of life is brought to thee.

Spirit, soul and body will then become one, and of one unchangeable divine substance”.

The text then turns to the mystery of the “whirlwind”, which is the body and at the same time the art, which resembles the wheel which is above it, meaning the celestial pole with its constellations.

It becomes clear that this text establishes an identity with the upper heaven, and that this lower heaven is also an elixir permeating all bodies.

In other texts the substance in the retort is directly equated with the dead Osiris in his lead coffin, and the treatment of the metals is called mummification.

This is of importance for our subject because in the final stage of the work a unification of spirit and body takes place, and above and beyond this a union with the macrocosmos, for the final product is an all permeating breath-body-substance. All this probably goes back to the chemico-magical procedure of embalming in the Egyptian ritual of the dead, in so far as this could be interpreted as the preparation of an indestructible body and, at the same time as the becoming one of the dead, as Osiris, with the Universal God.

This idea of the human being becoming one with the cosmos, mostly projected into the time after death, runs right through the whole of alchemistic tradition, and is still clearly expressed by the alchemist and pupil of Paracelsus, Gerhard Dorn, for instance.

For him alchemy consists of the following basic process; extraction of the soul from the body and uniting it with the spirit (unio mentalis).

This says Dorn, is what all Christian mystics understood as the separation from the body, the “Mors voluntaria” and the surrendering of the instinctual desires to the spiritual part of the soul.

As the final result, however, the separated body lies there lifeless.

So Dorn outlines a “unio corporalis”, which goes further than the Christian idea, in which the body is again re-included in the inner unification.

This comes about through an alchemical procedure in the retort.

At the same time there results a further unification of the soul-spirit-body triad (already combined into one) with the “unus mundus”, the one world, by which Dorn meant the

potential totality of the macrocosm of which existed in God’s mind before the


This idea also explains the previously mentioned Morienus text, according to which “Beginning and end clasp hands”.

At the close a return to the state of unity with the primal substance take place on a higher, that is a more spiritually conscious level.

If we do not wish to collect these data as historical items only, or as curiosities

in the history of ideas, then naturally the question arises as to their possible validity today, and concerning the feasibility of a modem interpretation of these concepts.

Here we cannot avoid referring to the parallel discoveries of the modern psychology of the unconscious and especially to those of C. G. Jung, who was himself the first to place the above quoted alchemistic documents in the forefront of scientific discussion.

He endeavored, cum grano salis, to do the same as the alchemists, to undertake a purely empirical introspection, as unprejudiced as possible by a religious or philosophical attitude, into the unconscious psychic processes of modern man.

Condensed and reduced to the most essential, he came to the following results:

The psychic reactions in man, including his intellectual functions, are influenced and energized in the background by the so-called complexes, the emotionally toned clusters of ideas and mental images which group themselves around a central “nucleus”.

Certain of these complexes appear to be acquired through particular life experiences, many however seem to be structurally inborn in every human being, as is shown by the similarity of emotions and feelings, and associations of ideas which arise without any outer influence in people of the most varied times and places.

These general, one could almost say normal complexes, which function as dynamic “nuclei” in the human psyche, are called archetypes by Jung.

Among other things they engender similar or analogous Symbolic images in the souls of people of the most diverse races and cultures.

As, in spite of all individual differences, man everywhere has an upright posture, two eyes, a nose and so forth, so equally he appears to possess fundamental structural elements in his psychic make-up which constitute the relative similarity of his psychic functioning.

Jung calls this basic layer of the human psyche the collective unconscious. Its contents are, on the one hand the cause of psychic Symptoms of disintegration, as may be seen in schizophrenia, but on the other hand they are also the therapeutic healing factors. par excellence, since they act as liberators of the instinctual reactions similarly to the “patterns of behaviour” in the animal world.

During this period of his discoveries Jung left the question of the relation of these archetypes to the bodily processes open, and proceeded next to the study of the phenomenology of the psyche from the hypothesis that it is a entity existing for itself, whose nature we do not however understand.

The fact though, that there are psychogenic illnesses and psychogenic cures of physical pathological Symptoms permits us from the start to conjecture a connection with the bodily somatic processes, about which, however, we know just as little or as much as does psycho-somatic medicine as a whole, i.e. we know that a connection does exist, but we cannot yet give an accurate causal description of its details or of the laws governing its functioning.

It was almost to be expected that this psycho-physical aspect of the unconscious should be discovered within the framework of scientific psychology.

Nevertheless another aspect which was wholly unexpected and surprising came to Jung’s notice through the treatment of the unconscious problems of his patients, namely the fact that with the intensive constellation of an archetypal complex, events were observed in the outer vicinity of the individual concerned which appeared to stand in a meaningful connection to the inner processes which were reflected in symbolic images.

For such meaningful “chance” coincidences of inner and outer occurrences Jung coined the term “synchronistic” phenomena.

It is a question here of a combination of events through a realized similarity of meaning and not through casual conditioning.

It is probable that Zosimos meant just such synchronistic occurrences.

The statement that the connection of two events is meaningful is however, an anthropomorphic interpretation.

But we cannot see, at least today, what precisely this meaning may be in itself. Chinese philosophy also arrived at the same conception of something rational lying hidden in the objects themselves.

This also accords with the later Peripatetic doctrine of the “nous”, world consciousness, which was treated as a part of natural science.

And Dorn says too: “Indeed the form, which is the intellect of man, is the beginning, the middle and the end of the process, and this form will be made manifest through the yellow colour, by which it is plainly indicated that man is the greater and the essential form of the whole alchemical opus”.

This corresponds with the idea of a meaningful disposition of events in the universe, which is similar to human consciousness.

When causally unconnected outer world happenings coincide to produce patterns of events which affect man as being “meaningful”, this actually pre-supposes that a knowledge or latent consciousness exists, not only in the collective unconscious and its archetypes, but that these can also appear outside of man.

This pre-supposes an a priori psychophysical “orderedness”, the archetype being the inner psychic aspect of this order.

What these alchemists describe as the image of God, the egg, water, the primal Divine Man and the beginning and end stages, corresponds exactly to the empirically demonstrable fact of the collective unconscious within ourselves, or it is still symbolized by the same images in the dreams of modern people.

The unconscious does not, however, appear to consist of a chaotic accumulation of archetypal “nuclei”, but it exhibits a structure which crystallizes around a centre which Jung has named the Self.

This central content of the collective unconscious manifests itself empirically in various God-images and symbols, such as the Oriental Mandala, the Dorje, or in the West the Philosopher’s Stone.

This content also shows more outstandingly than others that “meaningful disposition”, that factor similar to consciousness in inorganic, material, outer-world events.

The anthropomorphic meaning of outer-world happenings is however, not only a formal factor, but also a reality which, alas we are not yet any closer to defining, but can only describe.

By way of example I wish to give a brief psychological interpretation of the previously mentioned Morienus text, in order to point out the psychological parallels.

“This stone is that thing which more than elsewhere is found in thee”.

The Self is in the unconscious psyche of man as the most powerful manifest operative factor. “It is created by God”, the Self is an imago Dei.

“And thou art its ‘prima materia’ “.

Human individuation is the starting point of those experiences which lead to the coming to consciousness of the Self. “Out of thee will it be extracted”.

\When we make an unconscious content conscious we draw it up or extract it out of ourselves.

“And wherever thou shalt be, so shall it remain inseparably with thee”.

He to whom such a content becomes conscious through experience is forever united with the impersonal centre, it is a transforming event which remains unforgettably with the individual.

“That is what the alchemists call the fixatio’ “.

Religious and traditional symbolic concepts and dogmas serve moreover as instruments by the use of which the content may be brought over and integrated into consciousness.

“And as man is put together out of four elements, so also is the stone”.

Self a well as consciousness exhibits a quaternary Structure.

“And thou art its ‘prima materia’, by virtue of the process, and out of thee will it be extracted, to wit through the separation, and in thee it abides inseparably on account of the science”.

Here the earlier ideas are repeated and varied.

As Jung says, the end of the text shows a repetition of the original condition.

That is exactly what happens in the psychic process of becoming conscious, in that there too the primal unconscious predisposition to wholeness develops into the conscious experience.

All the symbols which I have mentioned, the egg, the stone, the Divine Man, Adam, and so on, are symbols of the Self, and from these according to Zosimos, the correctly understood emanate as meaningful synchronistic events.

Should the Jungian idea of synchronicity prove to be a serviceable hypothesis for science we would unexpectedly witness a rehabilitation of the concept of the correspondence between macro- and microcosmos in modern empirical science.

Furthermore this idea appears (in modern psychology) not only as a concept but also as the manifestation of a concrete living principle which cannot be described either as dead matter, nor as “only” psychic (with the implication of not being connected with matter).

It is a power which brings forth acts of creation in time. In this principle, still entirely unknown to us, the macro- and microcosmos actually merge into a total psycho-material or human-cosmic unitarian reality in that the remotest so-called chance events happening in the universe manifest themselves in meaningful connection with the inner psychic constellations in individual human beings. ~Marie-Louise von Franz (1965) The Idea of the Macro- and Microcosmos in the Light of Jungian Psychology, Ambix, 13:1, 22-34, DOI: 10.1179/amb.1965.13.1.22