April 30th, 2007
Three Johann Theodor de Bry engravings from Michael Maier‘s 1618 alchemical arrangement, Atalanta fugiens, as reprinted in Stanislas Klossowski de Rola’s essential anthology of alchemical engravings, The Golden Game. The Hermetic explanatory text below is also de Rola’s.
“Emblema VIII. Accipe ovum & igneo percute gladio. ‘Take the egg and strike it with a fiery sword.’ The egg is the Subject of the Art, which must be struck by the martial igneous agent wielding the ‘double-edged sword’ of the Secret Fire. Mars thus comes to the help of Vulcan, and from the ensuing darkness of Putrefaction (Nigredo) the hermetick chick will hatch. Raymund Lull, quoted here by Maier, stresses in several places that the fiery sword is a sharp lance, because Fire, like a lance, pierces bodies, rendering them porous and permeable, so that Water may penetrate them and turn their hardness into softness” (p98).
“Emblema XX. Naturam natura docet, debellet ut ignem. ‘Nature teaches Nature to vanquish fire.’ ‘The way of Nature when it seeks the perfection of any work,’ writes Maier, ‘consists in making one thing come out of another, the most perfect from the least perfect, and to activate its potential.’ This is exactly what we see in the gesture of the mercurial heroine speeding the Knight on his way to do battle against the tyranny of Fire. The Knight is the Fixed Sulpher that the flame can no longer vanquish” (p99-100).
“Emblema XLIX. Infans Philosophicus tres agnoscit patres, ut Orion. ‘Like Orion, the Philosophick Child acknowledges thee fathers.’ Mythographers relate that Orion had not one but three fathers. Most accounts tell how Jupiter, Mercury, and Neptune granted the wish of their host Hyrieus to give him a son. Accordingly, the gods urinated in the skin of a heifer which was then buried. Nine months later, Orion (the name is a pun on the Greek ouron, urine) was born. Here, Maier names Orion’s fathers as Apollo, Vulcan, and Mercury; but, as usual, circumstances contrary to nature must in alchemy be understood to be the cloak of hermetick allegory. The Stone’s first father is Apollo: a celestial occult virtue (of the Sun) which fecundates the Matter of the Philosophers and gives her a son who will, ultimately, grow even more splendid than his father. Vulcan, symbol of Fire, is its second father (or mentor). Its third is Mercury, who lends it his own volatile Matter (or Mercury). To those three must be added the figure on the left, who is the attentive Artist, and as it were the fourth father. Towering above the others is Mars, whose presence is indispensable: without his action, the Body would not be dissolved. He is the symbol of the metal which, joined to the mineral Matter, attracts the magnetic influence of Phanes: Light, Spirit, Fire, personified in Apollo” (p104).