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).

3 Responses to “Geometry of the Opus Alchymicum”

  1. M. Says:

    The epigram underneath Emblema XXI reads:

    -Around the man and woman draw a ring,
    From which an equal-sided square springs forth.
    From this derive a triangle, which should touch
    The sphere on every side: and then the Stone
    Will have arisen. If this is not clear, Then learn Geometry, and know it all-

    A truly enlightening image:

    The male & female are the primordial duality/conflict. Drawing a circle around them means accepting the fruitful dialectic of the Yes/No, and the beginning of the Work. From this Work spring forth the BALANCED SQUARE of Four Elements (The Four Zoas in Blakean symbolism), creating the Harmonious Man. The four are indeed the visible/material expression of the Tria Prima, which must be separated and unified to create the last circle, the ONE-IN-THREE, the Perfect Stone.

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