Alchemist as Anthropos

October 29th, 2007

Back from a particularly rectifying weekend. Hence an etching from Basil Valentine‘s 1603 Occulta philosophia, again reproduced in Fabricius (see previous post).

Alchemist as cosmic man

The figure presents Valentine’s “vision of the great stone, the Benedictine superman supporting as Atlas the cosmic globe with its multitude of stars, the earth occupying the centre. The Sun is in Pisces, the moon in Aquarius, the circular work at its end. The inscription reads: ‘Seek this poster with diligence: therefore it has been shown to you. The earth is the source of the elements; they come forth from the earth and return to it again.’ The flying scroll is inscribed: ‘Visit the interior parts of the earth; by rectifying thou shalt find the hidden stone'” (p208).

“The three-headed bust of an antique philosopher conveys ‘prudence,’ the infans philosophorum with ABC ‘simplicity.’ The union of these modes testifies to the Benedictine’s attainment of the highest lucidity of which the human intellect is capable. The state of mind is that of child and genius. Says an alchemical treatise: ‘The work is not brought to perfection unless it ends in the simple… for man is the most worthy of living things and nearest to the simple, and this because of his intelligence’ [Liber platonis quartorum]” (p208).

The woodcut “is accompanied by the verse” (p208):

I am the one who carries heaven | and earth
While studying both with the utmost diligence.
First I display prudence, | then simplicity,
That my day’s wages may follow soon.

“The stone… may be amplified by a passage in the ‘Rosinus ad Sarratantam Episcopum,’ one of the oldest alchemical texts in Arabian style: ‘This stone is below thee, as to obedience; above thee, as to dominion; therefore from thee, as to knowledge; about thee, as to equals… This stone is something which is fixed more in thee [than elsewhere], created of God, and thou art its ore, and it is extracted from thee, and wheresoever thou art it remains inseparably with thee… And as man is made up of the four elements, so also is the stone, and so it is [dug] out of man, and thou art its ore, namely by working; and from thee it is extracted, that is, by division; and in thee it remains inseparably, namely by knowledge. [To express it] otherwise, fixed in thee: namely in the Mercurius of the wise; thou art its ore: that is, it is enclosed in thee and thou holdest it secretly; and from thee it is extracted when it is reduced [to its essence] by thee and dissolved; for without thee it cannot be fulfilled, and without it canst thou not live, and so the end looks to the beginning, and contrariwise’ [Artis aurif.]” (p208).

Geometry of the Opus Alchymicum

October 21st, 2007

Three etchings reproduced in Johannes Fabricius’s Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and Their Royal Art.

Riddle of the sphinx

Emblema XXXIX of Michael Maier’s 1618 Atalanta fugiens (see earlier post).

“The foreground figures illustrate the riddle of the Sphinx: What is that which walks on four in the morning, on two at noon, on three in the evening? Answer: Man. The geometrical signs inscribed on the three foreground figures refer to the opus and to the composition of the philosopher’s stone [says Maier]: ‘The true meaning is: first one should consider the square, or the four elements; from there one should advance to the hemisphere, which has two lines, the straight and the curved one, representing Luna, who is made white; after that one should pass to the triangle, which consists of body, soul, and spirit, or Sol, Luna, and Mercurius'” (p32).

Basil Valentine’s Tenth Key

Basil Valentine‘s Tenth Key, 1599. The Latin inscriptions read: ‘I am born of Hermogenes. Hyperion elected me. Without Jamsuph I am compelled to perish’.

The above “shows Basil Valentine’s emblem of the third coniunctio and the production of the stone. Its trinitarian design merges the sun and moon (top corners) in the sign of Mercurius philosophorum (bottom corner). The Trinity is inscribed with a radiant double-circle… symbolizing the philosopher’s egg. Its ‘nesting’ in heaven is expressed by the name of the Highest inscribed in the stone’s centre”.

“Basil Valentine’s ‘election’ by Hyperion is a reference to solar rebirth, Hyperion in Greek mythology representing the Father of the Sun. The text reads: ‘In our stone, as composed by me and by those who have long preceded me, are contained all elements, all mineral and metallic forms, and all the qualities and properties of the whole world. In it we find the most powerful natural heat, by which the icy body of Saturn is gently transmuted into the best gold. It contains also the highest degree of cold, which tempers the fervent heat of Venus and coagulates the living Mercurius, which is thereby also changed into the finest gold. The reason for this is that all the properties are infused by nature into the substance of our great stone, and are developed, perfected, and matured by the gentle coction of natural fire, until they have attained their final perfection'” (p165).

Squaring the circle

Emblema XXI of Michael Maier’s 1618 Atalanta fugiens. ‘Here followeth the Figure conteyning all the secrets of the Treatise both great & small’.

“Above, the alchemist performs the squaring the circle [see earlier post], thereby turning the two sexes into one. The motto repeats a saying of the ‘Rosarium’: ‘Make a circle out of a man and woman, derive from it a square, and from the square a triangle: make a circle and you will have the philosopher’s stone.’ As informed by the text, the triangle denotes the unity of body, soul and spirit. Of this operation Petrus Bonus says: ‘In this conjunction of resurrection, the body becomes wholly spiritual, like the soul herself, and they are made one as water is mixed with water, and henceforth they are not separated for ever, since there is no diversity in them, but unity and identity of all three, that is, spirit, soul and body, without separation for ever'” (p198).

Two prints by William Blake from his c. 1790 The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, reproduced in The Illuminated Books of William Blake, Volume 3.

liberating flames

On the operation of Fire (plate 14, p166):

The ancient tradition that the world will be con
sumed in fire at the end of six thousand years
is true, as I have heard from Hell,

For the cherub with his flaming sword is
hereby commanded to leave his guard at tree of
life, and when he does, the whole creation will
be consumed, and appear infinite. and holy
whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.

This will come to pass by an improvement of
sensual enjoyment.

But first the notion that man has a body
distinct from his soul, is to be expunged; this
I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by
corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and me-
-dicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and
displaying the infinite which was hid,

If the doors of perception were cleansed
every thing would appear to man as it is, in-

For man has closed himself up, till he sees
all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

More on the ‘doors of perception’ (plate 15, p168):

A Memorable Fancy

I was in a Printing house in Hell & saw the
method in which knowledge is transmitted from gene-
-ration to generation.

In the first chamber was a Dragon-Man, clear-
ing away the rubbish from a caves mouth; within, a
number of Dragons were hollowing the cave,

In the second chamber was a Viper folding round
the rock & the cave, and others adorning it with gold
silver and precious stones.

In the third chamber was an Eagle with wings
and feathers of air, he caused the inside of the cave
to be infinite, around were numbers of Eagle like
men, who built palaces in the immense cliffs.

In the fourth chamber were Lions of flaming fire
raging around & melting the metals into living fluids.

In the fifth chamber were Unnam’d forms, which
cast the metals into the expanse,

There they were reciev’d by Men who occupied
the sixth chamber, and took the forms of books &
were arranged in libraries.

eagle holding serpent

Dee’s Line and Circle

October 6th, 2007

A figure from John Dee‘s 1564 Monas Hieroglyphica (see Latin scans, English translation by Hamilton-Jones).

Monas Hieroglyphica

InTeLlectus iudicat veritatem. Contractus ad Punctum. Vulgaris, Hic, Oculus caligabit, diffidetque plurimum.

Which Josten translates, “Intellect judges the truth. Contracted to a Point. The vulgar eye will here be blind and most distrustful” (Ambix XII, 1964).

Three illustrations by Molly Bang from Picture This (1991).

“Pictures are two-dimensional, whereas we live in three-dimensional space, with many more dimensions added by our passions and intelligence. When we translate or reform our multifaceted experiences into this flat, rectangular format, we play with space” (p114).

“[This] picture contains a space all its own. We exist outside the picture” (p114):

Space all its own

“until our eyes fix on and ‘capture’ an object inside it like prey — but the prey in turn draws us to itself inside the picture space” (p116):

Prey in space

“The edges and corners of the picture are the edges and corners of the picture-world” (p88).

Escape from flatness

“I find that when I cover up the red shape in [the above] picture, the space becomes much flatter. It’s only when I see the red box break out of the frame that I’m aware that the other two objects can escape it, too” (p88).