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On Alchemy: An Appreciation of its Religious Ideals
Kerry A. Shirts
In translating this Qabalistic Sephiroth diagram from the 18th century Rosicruscians Gehemie Figuren der Rosenkreuzer, Altona 1785, one needs to keep in mind that the German "s"s in late Medieval times looked like "f", and hence that is how I spell it in the German. The German word for water = "waffer" in the manuscript, but in German water is spelled as "Wasser."
Some of the words are quite muddied because this document dates from the mid 1780s. Its age has made it impossible to perfectly preserve this, but there is enough here that we can comprehend the ideas being presented, once we take a closer look. I wont pretend to exhaust the study of this document.
Another aspect of the late Medieval Qabalists is their desire to cram as much information into as little a space as possible. There is a mixture of various languages and many symbols from various traditions on many of these Medieval types of manuscripts, mostly Latin, Hebrew and German in the German manuscripts. There is also archaic spellings in these manuscripts.
I will translate the inscriptions as I have labeled them. Then I will explore and interpret the Qabalistic, Magical, Alchemical, and Religious symbols, and finally try to give an overall assessment of this most interesting document.
Most of the upper inscriptions go across the central symbolic figure, being broken up because of the central symbol. The inscriptions read across as I have illustrated in the diagram.
Because I work with Qabalistic and some Medieval documents, which include religious symbols from numerous traditions I need to explain something. This examining of documents does not declare my religious preference. These are not my religion. Far from it. But I have found in working with these astonishing documents there is a majesty, a power as it were, a spiritual intuitiveness which the late Medieval scholastics and religious folk had which is not a whit behind what we enjoy today. I merely point out the obvious.
This is an astonishing conglomeration of religious and philosophical symbolism which taps into the root and runs into the branches of religious belief the world over. It is always delightful to study someones other faith on its own grounds giving it serious attention, respect, and the benefit of the doubt, instead of trying to show why it is inferior to our own. True, others faiths are inferior to our Mormonism in some respects, but they are equally superior to our Mormonism in other respects. This, I cannot help but think, would have made Brigham Young smile. He said we want the truth no matter where it is nor who has it, implying that truth has been scattered all over the world for us to search for, find, and enjoy. Herein is my appreciation of Alchemy as a fantastic symbolic system of divine ennobling truths for us to benefit from. These are obviously not a replacement of our own sacred truths as we find in our churches or temples in the Endowment. There are truths of Gods children from other areas of the world, and from other cultures, equally as important to God, and hence equally as important and true for Gods children. After all, we Mormons do, indeed, teach that God is the God of the whole world, not just Salt Lake City.
1. Figura Divina Theofoph. Philofoph. Cabalift. nec non Magica & Chymica.
The Divine Theosophical, Philosophical, Cabalistic, Magical & Chemical Figure
2. Die Ewige Sonne in ihrer göttlichen Natur und Kräften
The eternal sun in its godly nature and strengths (note the interesting plural).
3. Deus Triunus exivit ex Centro in Centrum
The Trinity comes forth from the Center and returns to the Center
4. Verftehe nach der Philofophia Coelefti und nicht terreftri
Understood according to the Celestial (Heavenly) Philosophy and not the Terrestrial (earthly)
5. Ewige unfichtbare himmlifche H. (Heilige) Dreyfaltigkeit
Eternal invisible Heavenly Holy Trinity
6. Nichts weiters ift, nichts weiters ift gewefen, nichts weiters wird auch fenn, in Ewigkeit und Zeit.
There is nothing more, there has been nothing more, there also will be nothing more in eternity and time.
7. Zeitliche fichfbare Irdifche H. (Heilige) Dreyfaltigkeit
Temporal visible earthly Holy Trinity
8. Gott wird Natura durch fein Ausfprechen
God becomes Nature through His pronouncement (word)
9. Deus & Natura nihil faciunt frustra
God & Nature. Nothing is made in Vain
10. O Natura du bist ein wahrhaft erfchaffenes Ebenbild und Gleichniß deines Gottes
O Nature! You are a genuine created image and simile of your God.
11. Natura atque res omnes ex Centro in Centrum.
Nature and every matter (thing) is from the Center and goes toward the Center.
12. Die erfchaffene Sonne in ihrer Wirkung und Eigenfchaft.
The Created Sun in its effect and quality.
13. Die ober = groffe bewegende geifst Welt.
The Gigantic (oversized?or possibly just Great?) stirring spiritual world.
14. Der Natur himmlifche Refidenz und geiftlicher Pallaft
Natures heavenly residence and spiritual palace.
15. Heiffer Sonn kalt waffer und Mongenfchein, ftoffen manchen Ofen und Glaser ein.
Hot Sun, cold water, and moonlight, penetrate many a furnace and glass.
16. Ich war todt, und fiehe nun bin ich wieder lebendig.
I was dead, and see now I am alive again.
17. Folget Explicatio.
It follows the explanation
18. Die unter = kleine ruhend leibl. (leiblich) Welt in ihrem Centro
The small, quiet physical world reposed in its center
19. Der Natur irdifche und leibliche Wohnung.
Natures earthly and physical dwelling (house).
20. Wiewohl ich deffen nicht fchuldig bin, Urfach ift der Sophiften Sinn.
Although I am not guilty of it, but the reason is what the Sophists had in mind.
21. Was anfangs mein Leben war, das ift auch endlich mein Tod.
That which began my life is also finally my death.
22. Explicatio wird folgen da die 2800 Theile in einem Weizenkornlein beschrieben werden.
The Explicatio will follow as the 2800 parts are described in a kernel of wheat. The Germans do not say corn as we Americans do. Corn for them is a kernel of wheat, hence "weizenkornlein" is a kernel of wheat, not corn.
The inscriptions in the uppermost circle:
Central Ring Portion:
Ewige unerfchaffene Natur
eternal uncreated Nature
GEIST - Spirit
Gottliche Prima Materia
Godly Prima Materia
GOTT - God
Effentia Tria Principia Divina Perfona tres unius
Essential trinity principle of the divine persons three yet one
WORT - Word
Lich Leben Mensch gottlich FeuerHeit Licht Gott Geift
Light life of man, Godly state of fire-light, Spirit of God
Three figures between words associated with the number 4. Notice there are only three of them, one for each member of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit.
The 6 Pointed Star directly below the uppermost circle:
The Center Circle:
Ewigkeit gebietet Natur und Zeit
Eternally mastered Nature and Time
The words in each of the 6 points, beginning at the top point:
HGeist Holy Spirit
Letters in the points of the star:
FIAT Creation of God by Divine Fiat
Inscriptions in Circle below the First 6 pointed Star and Diamond surrounding the Circle:
The Center of the circle:
Hyle Proto-matter of Chaos
Naturen Nature (it is misspelled in the ring because they expect you to play with the word, sometimes it being hidden)
All the rings have the water glyph going off into four directions.
In the Diamond surrounding this second circle:
Hebrew: Ruach Elohim The Spirit of God
German: Schwebete ob dem Wasser Hovered over the waters
Prima Creation Prime Creation
Aqua - Water
Ein geift One Spirit
ein leben one life
ein Feuer one Fire
ein Licht one Light
Lower Left to lower right outside the Diamond:
LUMEN NATURAL Natural Light
Kommt her zu mir alle, die ihr mein Geheimnis begehret, ich will euch erleuchten und erquicken.
Come here all of you, who want to know my secret. I will enlighten and refresh you.
Circle on horizontal arrangement, on the left:
On the innermost circle:
HYLE Proto-matter of Chaos
Astrological signs in 2nd Ring:
Cancer, Libra, Capricorn, Gemini
Semen Animal, Semen Minerale, Semen Vegetable, Semen Coeleft. (Coeleftial) - The seeds of animal, mineral, vegetable, and heaven.
In between are the astrological signs of Taurus, Scorpio, Aquarius, Leo.
Gott Macht Himmel u. (und) Erden u. (und) der Geift Gottes Schwebete auf dem Wasser.
God made the Heavens and the Earth, and the Spirit of God Hovered over the waters
Natura Elementa Quinta Effentia Prima Materia Nature -- Element -- Quintessence -- Prima Materia
The astrological signs are Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces, Ares.
The Second Star in between the two horizon circles:
In the Points:
Superius on top of center of star: Inferius on bottom of center of star.
Unus substantia, tria princ. (principia) One substance, three persons
In the center of the star: CHAOS of the 4 elements signified by the four triangles. Upper pointed triangle = Ignis (FIRE). The Upper pointed triangle with the horizonal bar through it is Aer (AIR). The downward pointed triangle is Aqua (WATER), while the downward pointed triangle with the horizontal bar through it is Terra (EARTH).
Below the Star, the inscription:
Der Philosophorum fechs eckigter Signat Stern The six cornered Signature Star of the Philosophers.
Below this Inscription another Inscription:
Mercurius Philosophorum aqua vitae. This is the Prima Material that needs to be dissolved in the aqua vitae (vital water). This is an alchemical process, hence this inscription is above the legions of circles depicting what is called the Magnum Opus, that is, the Great Work of Alchemy, the Transmutation of Lead to Gold, which Jung said was an inner process for our own psychology, souls, and spirits.
The Circle to the Right of the Second Six Pointed Star:
Iron, air, earth, copper, water, fire Combination of elements and metals, important components of Alchemy, not to mention Creation itself.
The kokab sphere of Mercury, the sign of Antimony, the sign of Sulphur, and the sign of the Magician (see Whitcomb, Magicians Companion, 234, under the Rune, "M", bottom, at the Tarots Trump.)
Luft, Waffer, Erde, Feuer 4 elements, air, water, earth, fire.
Aeterifch Aetherial, the Aether.
Forma Materia What the 4 elements are formed into.
The signs are those of Mercury, Tartaric Acid (?), and the Spirit.
The small circle underneath the Second 5 pointed star:
Separatio non-Separatio The separation and unification.
In the small circle we see three figures with the signs of Mercury, Water, and sulphur in plumes of smoke? Or perhaps pillars of fire as the inscription directly below this small circle says:
O! rohes Feuer! Gros Abenteuer macht manchen fcheu
O! Rough Fire. Great adventure turns many a person shy (or afraid?)
The Alchemical Opus The Great Work
The Sun (Male) on the left (Anima) as opposed to the moon (Female) on the right (Spiritus). The Hieros Gamos (Sacred Marriage) is the uniting (Coniunctionis) of the opposing elements, opposing thoughts, opposing doctrines, all opposites will become One. This is what is called "The Great Work."
The two spheres on the inside of each of these, (the sun and moon) are the "Sulphur Philosophorum" and the "Sal Philosophorum", or sulphur and salt, two very important elements in alchemical work.
The central upper inscription reads:
O! rohes Feuer! Gros Abenteuer macht manchen fcheu
O! Rough Fire. Great adventure turns many a person shy (or afraid?)
This is our great adventure, this entire alchemical process. Why does it make some shy or afraid? Read the inscription to the right of Sal Philosophorum. It reads:
hüte dich, es tödtet dich Be careful! (Or) be on your guard, it kills you.
In Alchemy, the process of the separatio can kill and is itself a form of death. The separation of the elements, people, spirit from the body, etc. = death. That causes some of us to be shy or afraid of this whole thing. It is not to be taken lightly or as a frivolous walk in the park.
The main part of the alchemical process is, of course, the marriage of the man and woman. We see them in the center two circles, labeled conveniently as, of course, mann and weib. Their coming together, the "Confunctio amborum" in the inscription results in "Conceptio" (below the man) which in turn brings about the Infantium Mond Kind, the baby Moon Child, the result of their Hieros Gamos. This is the circle directly below and between the man and woman. It is a most interesting thing to observe.
The "infantium Conceptio" = Mond Kind.
Look at the Moon Child and what do we see? Symbols! The same symbols as in the circles of the mann and the weib. The triangles as well as sun and moon are all united in the circle of the Mond Kind. It is not a child as such, but the uniting of opposites, the male and female, black and white, up and down, left and right, air and water, fire and earth, wet and dry, which all unite in the very center as the cross, a most appropriate symbol of the unifying process of all things, the mystical savior. This is the Philosophers Stone. The Philosophers Stone is a remarkable object, deserving an entire paper on its own. It can mean many things. For now, this explanation will work. Ill devote a separate paper on the lapis Philosophorum.
Through various other processes, no one knows in what order or the correct or exact number of steps, as most all of this varied between alchemists, we had putrefication, calcination, coagulation, Augmentation, etc., and from the alchemical oven we get the Tinctura through all of this, matter was made into a spiritual substance both quantity and quality. Corruption in matter was separated, hence putrefied, and then cleansed in the oven, and coagulated back together, and hence purified of all its dross. This is the alchemy. This is the Magnum Opus. This is what the symbols of Alchemy are trying to depict.
As the inscription next to the "Tinctura" of the oven says:
"Archaeus der Natur Schmideknecht fpricht: Geftändigkeit ift meine Ruhe und Feyerabend" Archaeus, the Metalsmith of Nature says confessed steadfastness is my peace and rest. Feyerabend means something like the end of your work, hence I translated it as rest here. Hes done. In other words, after proceeding through the work, he is finished. Archaeus is another name for the Ascending Spirit also. He is the power who can individuate all things, i.e. the alchemical "Separatio." He is the Divider of the Elements. The astral seed.
Right at the bottom in the center is a very small inscription, quite hard to read which is interesting as well.
The German of this reads:
"Warnung. Hast du das so danke Gott, fchweige [ ] oder du kommst in Angst u. (und) Noth."
Warning If you have this then thank God. Be silent or else you will come in great fear and dire straits.
The actual symbols this document utilizes is staggering in number. I cannot pretend to anything like exhaustive analysis here, but wish to give some generalities, and allow the intelligent reader his or her own research and further conclusions. I accept the responsibility here of my own speculating and will label it as such. I may see things here other will not. Others may find things I do not. I am open to differences of possibilities, which is the pure delight of Medieval Alchemical symbolism in the first place.
The first thing of interest that one ought to be aware of is this. This symbols shape is the upside down position of the Qabalah Tree of Life.
The number 10 Sephiroth on the bottom of the Tree of Life corresponds to the first circle at the top of this 1785 Medieval Qabalah figure.
I believe there is a significant reason for this upside down turning. Because being upside down like this, it now represents another very important shape, or symbol as it were. It resembles the Alchemists oven.
Comparing this figure with the one of the left, which is from Thomas Nortons alchemist poem "Ordinall of Alchemy," 1477. Notice how the lower portion is the infernal world, while the middle area is the 4 elements of Creation, and the upper area is the heavenly realm. This same threefold division is what our figure has on it also, except with differing symbolisms.
The Tincture of Alchemy was also thought of as divine water, the vessel of the tincture (the oven) was the vessel which held the water for initiates to be baptized into! This is the divine vessel which Hermes stated to Thoth was filled by God with the Nous (Pneuma) of God. (Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, p. 297f). This way the participant partakes of the higher state, or higher consciousness, and is enlightened by Gods quickening spirit, which gives one rest, as our inscriptions so aptly state. This shape is important to keep in mind, even when studying the divine vessel of the Sephirothic Tree of Life in the right side up position.
Another thing I noticed with this figure is the truly remarkable condensing of opposite within its parameters. It is to the central opposites I wish to briefly turn your attention to. You can find many others besides this as you study this out. This one to me, is the greatest one. In # 1 you see the heavenly circle and star which rests on the earthly circle and star. In #2 you see the heavenly lemniscate and the earthly lemniscate. In # 3 when they are joined (Coniunctionis! The marriage of heaven and earth, the Hieros Gamos)
we see the remarkable figure of the Caduceus, the symbol of life climbing up and down the earthly/heavenly ladder right in the center of our figure. Fantastic symbolism in this, my own interpretation. It originally may not have signified this whatever to the artist, but I would have strong suspicions if it did not. I have no way of proving it either way, so am happy to point it out to you as what I understand this to signify.
But there is something even more to this. We also have the Hieros Gamos of the heavenly and earthly caduceus! We also note a horizontal caduceus opposed to the vertical caduceus, forming an upside down T or cross. But remembering our figure is upside down in the first place, turning it rightside up reveals the upside cross, actually cleverly hidden in our figure, the Cross of the Mystical Savior.
It is, to say the least, rather perfect that the head figure in this upside down cross is the rohes Feuer, the "rough fire" which could very easily represent the halo of the mystical hidden Savior of this figure. This "fire" may very well be the fire in the head of the genius which in Old Germanic belief was the soul appearing as a flame. (R. B. Onians, Origins of European Thought, p. 155).
So here I have performed a Separatio of the various elements of this symbolic figure and found some seriously beautiful spiritual "elements" on their own, when joined back together into a whole figure again (Coniunctionis) shows a powerful religious and spiritual achievement for the Alchemists point of view.
There is much, much more to discuss concerning this figure, which I will get to another time.