An Understanding of Nature

March 15th, 2012

A painting from Pseudo-Aquinas‘s 15th century Aurora Consurgens (McLean’s edition).

Appearing in the prologue to Book II, p49. Click for larger version.

“Those who wish to master this Science therefore need to sharpen their wits most subtly and ingeniously; to ponder and deliberate as much as possible upon both the inner and the outer meanings of the words of the Sages; and to show a willingness to examine them from various points of view… [For] like the dust that the wind raises from the face of the earth are the operations of those who perform such actions without intellect and an understanding of Nature… As Alexander says, ‘If you try to dissolve snow with coldness then you only coagulate it the more, and if you try to freeze water with fire then you only heat it the more, and if you change any nature into its opposite then you simply corrupt the Work all the more'” (p47-48).

Two prefigurations described in Julius Evola‘s The Yoga of Power (Lo Yoga Della Potenza, 1968).

“Some texts of Tibetan Tantrism mention technical details pertaining to specific visualizations. I will mention two exercises. The starting point in both exercises is the realization of the form of the vacuous body, which contains the caduceus formed by the pingala [the masculine, solar channel of life force, or prana, found in occult corporeity], ida [the feminine, lunar pranic channel], and sushumna [the channel through which kundalini ascends after having been awakened]” (p171).

Tibetan short a, p171.

“In the course of the first exercise, some letters of the Tibetan alphabet are used as the support and as the instruments of the magical imagination. These letters are the short a, which corresponds to Shakti [the feminine form of the divine], and the long a, written ham and pronounced hum, which corresponds to Shiva [the masculine form of the divine]… The two letters, shown in the illustration[s] above [and below, respectively], must be visualized in this fashion. The feminine a is inside the muladhara-chakra, at the base of the spine, and is brown. The masculine a is located in the sahasrara-chakra, at the top of the head, and is white.  In the course of this exercise, one performs a short retention of breath between inspiration and expiration. During inspiration the apprentice should visualize his breath to run down, through the pingala and ida, and finally to reach the letter a that is located in the muladhara-chakra. When the breath reaches the muladhara-chakra, the letter takes on a more vivid color and becomes bright red, just like a fiery charcoal turning into flame. The apprentice is supposed to concentrate on this image and to feed it with prana especially during the retention of breath. After that, he must exhale, while imagining his breath ascending along the sushumna in the form of a blueish current” (p171-2).

Tibetan long a (ham), p171.

“In a second set of exercises the apprentice must imagine a vivid, vertical flame rising vortically from the letter a located in the basal center (chakra). After each breath this flame grows by an inch, so that after ten complete breaths it has reached the chakra located at the naval. After ten more breaths it has reached the heart; after ten more, the larynx; and thus all the way to the top of the head, where the apprentice must visualize the flame becoming one with the masculine letter ham

“The second exercise differs from the first only in a variation of the visualization process. Soon after imaging a flame emanating from the muladhara-chakra, the apprentice imagines that the letter situated on the top of the head is beginning to melt, dripping a substance that feeds the flame and that makes it rise higher and higher. Eventually the flame fills the entire sushumna up to the sahasrara-chakra, in which the fusion, of better, the transfiguration, of ham takes place. The forced then assumes the nature of bodhichitta, according to Vajrayana terminology” (p172).

“In the abovementioned Tibetan exercises, the repeated visualizations are supposed to originate a process of induction and of arousal. The images, which are prefigurations of the real process, work to make this process real. Thus, at a given moment, they are substituted with real states and with real manifestations of powers. The texts insist, however, that between the prefiguration and the experience there will always be a hiatus, and that the moment of awakening represents something discontinuous and unforeseen. The images will be transformed and act of their own initiative, as if they were animated and carried around by an extraneous force. When the process of visualization eludes the control of one who starts it, awakening is near” (p173).

Nazari’s Genealogical Tree

March 28th, 2010

A woodcut diagram by Giovanni Battista Nazari from his 1599 Three Dreams on the Transmutation of Metals (McLean’s edition, translated by Doug Skinner).

Narrates the dreaming protagonist before Raymundus’s arch: “Although I looked over this construction with great delight, and reflected upon its occult secrets, my mind could not climb high enough to discover its meaning. Lost in these thoughts, I raised my eyes again toward the divine edifice; and saw, in the circular frieze of celestial lapis lazuli, these words, engraved and gilded: OUR SON THE KING HAS THREE FATHERS: THE FIRST CAUSES GENERATION, THE SECOND MULTIPLICATION, AND THE THIRD PERFECTION; AND OUR SON IS A POWERFUL KING, WHO FEARS NO OTHER KINGS.

“These words stimulated my desire to understand all of this; so that I could go no further. I gently asked the blessed Damsel to explain the structure, and she replied, ‘Pilgrim, follow me behind the locked door, and I will show you the explanation that you ask.’

“When we arrived, she opened the door with her occult secrets; we entered, and she showed me a large stone of  polished marble, on which I saw a description of the genealogical tree of the aforesaid king, with this diagram” (p119).

Nazari’s genealogical tree, p122. Click for larger version.

“The more this picture confounded me, the more I wanted to learn its meaning. Whereupon the gracious Damsel, seeing me so puzzled, said, ‘I know, my Pilgrim, that you would like to learn the meaning of the structure that you saw, and I find this desire of yours worthy of your request. Listen, then, and know that my explanation of it will also clarify the wonderful work that you saw in the middle of the flowering field; for those words engraved in the frieze of the circular lapis lazuli are the writings of our faithful compatriot N.; which concern the nature of those three fathers, who you can see inscribed on the tree, marked with the letters D, E, and F.’

“‘But come to the fundamental point of our argument: first you must know who engendered these fathers, who they are, and the nature of them. To begin with, then, let me tell you that our Chaos (B) begat the first father, and that this Chaos is the son of Nature (A). This first father was already mother of the second father of our king, Chaos (B) being the father. This mother (G) does not generate; the father does.’

“‘Let us proceed to the second father, who is the cause of the multiplication of the son, our king. And I tell you that he is the son of our Chaos (B). This son is the father and brother of the first father: thus, the first and second fathers are brothers; they are not, however, only two sons, two fathers, and two brothers to our king, but also one son, one father, and one brother. This father was also the mother of the third father, Chaos being the father: for this mother does not generate; the father does.’

“‘The third father is the cause of the perfection of our king, our son; this father is generated from the second father, by means of Chaos (B), his father and brother, but is still brother to the second father. Therefore, they are not only three fathers and three sons to Chaos (B), and three brothers, but a father to our king, a brother, and a son to Chaos (B). Our Chaos (C) has six sons, who are not only his sons, but brothers and sons.’

“On hearing the excellent Damsel’s obscure explanations, I felt as if I too had become a Chaos, from my confusion; for her words scaled the highest limits of the natural art of philosophy, to heights that reason can barely attain. Eager for a clearer explanation of all this, I humbly asked the gracious Damsel, who gently replied as follows.

“‘You will learn, Pilgrim, that these three Fathers, united with their wives (who are begotten by the fathers of our king, our son), and who are not only three, but one single wife, and one husband, beget this son, our most powerful king, who is very fertile in the begetting of countless offspring. And this divine mystery happens in this way: the first youthful father (D), united with his wife and daughter (G), who is white when hidden and black when revealed, is the cause of generation.’

“‘The second father, similarly united with his wife and daughter (H), who is red when hidden and white when revealed, is the cause of multiplication: that is, he is the reason that our king, our son, is so gifted in virtues, and so filled with good, that he can multiply the virtues and good of his other brothers, and destroy their every infirmity.’

“‘The third father, not unlike the others, united with his wife and daughter (I), who is citron when hidden and red when revealed, is the cause of perfection: that is, he is the reason that the king, our son, is born of such perfection that he can perfect his imperfect brothers by the power of his own perfection.’

“The Damsel pursues her explanation; for greater clarity she gives the meaning of each letter or number noted on the tree sculpted on the stone, as follows.

A. Nature generates our Chaos B and C. The former begets the three fathers D, E, and F; the latter generates six sons.
B. Our Chaos has three sons and three daughters, who are sisters and brothers.
C. This Chaos has six sons, who are brothers and sons.
D. The first young father, generating his wife, is the cause of generation.
E. The second father, generating his wife, is the cause of multiplication.
F. The third old father, generating his wife, is the cause of perfection.
G. The first young wife, to the first father.
H. The second middle-aged wife, to the second father.
I. The third old wife, to the third father.
K. Chaos, father of the daughters, fathers, and sons of our Chaos.
L. The third powerful king, contracting, multiplying, and perfecting his brothers.
1. The mother alone.
2. The father alone.
3. Because of them.
4. The first father, young and saffron.
5. The second father, virile and pure white.
6. The third father, old and white.
7. Chaos B and K: the same thing.
8. The first wife, born in Aries.
9. The second wife, born in Cancer.
10. The third wife, born in Libra.
11. Chaos B and C: the same thing.
12. Because of the fathers.
13. Because of the mothers.
14. The white brother.
15. The red brother.
16. The black bother.
17. The sparkling white brother.
18. The ashen brother.
19. The pure white brother.

“When the honest Damsel had finished speaking, I, unable to fully understand her explanation, asked for an example to clarify it. And she, willing to satisfy my request, replied:

“‘My Pilgrim, if you consider the profound secrets of nature, you will see that this king, our son, is generated by the first father (D), multiplied by the second (E), and brought to perfection by the third (F); although there is but one father, who generates, multiplies, and perfects. But let me offer an example.’

“‘Water and flour without yeast is not true bread; thus bread requires water, flour, and yeast. In like fashion, just as neither flour and yeast without water, nor water and flour without yeast, nor water and yeast without flour will generate bread; so too we cannot make our bread without our water, our flour, and our yeast, all first created together. We see, therefore, that our water is the cause of generation, our yeast of multiplication, and our flour of perfection; all of which bring our bread into being. And because our flour and water are created together, and our yeast with our flour and water, we can determine that our water is our flour, and that our flour and water are our yeast, except for their form…’

“‘It was not without some mystery that N. had the aforementioned sentence inscribed into the circular stone. Furthermore, you should know that Raymundus has put all of the science of my magistery into the aforesaid structure, in imitation of the alter to the god of Hermes, which you saw earlier. But this work of Raymundus’s explains that of Hermes, and vice versa; therefore, if you know the hidden secrets of the numen of Hermes, you need no further explanation. But let us move on'” (p119-124).

Its Vegetable Nature

December 22nd, 2009

An emblem from Honoratus Marinier’s ca. 1790 Alchemical Manuscript of the Seven Keys (McLean’s edition).

From key two, the wedding of Apollo and Diana (p16). Click for larger version.

“This [emblem] shows Diana [the moon goddess] seated on the tomb of her dear husband Apollo [the sun god], where his ashes have been enclosed, which she swallows as a sign of the overwhelming love she bears him. Her garments shine with all the colours found in nature. Hercules is to be found on one side of the sepulchre, and Vulcan on the other. I shall explain what takes place in the glass sphere during the multiplication, which lasts about nine or ten months. Here Vulcan represents the external fire and Hercules the patience of the practitioner which overcomes all obstacles. The fixed remains in the bottom of the egg and all the liquid gradually becomes viscous, but before its total coagulation one may see through the view holes of the athanor or furnace, in a glimmer of light, all the colours of nature. One must not dwell on these, especially as they are not real, proceeding as they do from a reflection of light. It is after the conjunction of our two beautiful and precious substances has taken place that can be seen in due time in a far more marvellous fashion all the colours of the rainbow, mainly the blessed green, an infallible sign of the vegetable nature of our Stone…” (p17, translated from the French).

The Mercurial Bird

September 13th, 2009

Three illustrations of Mercurial birds, representing the volatile nature of alchemical work.

Emblem 9 (of 12) from the 1752 Hermaphrodite Child of the Sun and Moon by unknown alchemist L.C.S., reproduced by Adam McLean (p42).

Translates Mike Brenner in McLean’s edition: “A soaring eagle with heart aflame, with the Sun and Moon at the threshold of its wings, bears tokens of dominion: the crown of influence, the sceptre of the king, and the globe of the empress.

“Its buoyancy in flight and its flaming heart show the ethereal nature of this eagle: wet outside, fire inside. It is our Liquid Mercury.

“The Sun and Moon seek solace under the shadow of these wings, basking in the pleasing radiation from the flaming heart.

“To win the Crown of the Earth, fuse the power of the sceptre and the globe…” (p42).

Copperplate 7 (of 19) from Johann Conrad Barchusen’s 1718 Elementa chemiae, appearing in Johannes Fabricius’s 1976 collection, Alchemy (p18).

Comments Fabricius: In plate 7 “the deluge [cf. the biblical Flood] leaves only a small patch of land, on which the Hermes bird descends [beneath the symbol of Mercury]. The chaotic situation is emphasized by the emergence of the seven planets on the horizon, a symbol of universal disorder. As indicated by the sign of sulphur, the sinking island is set on fire by sulphurous flames from the hellish interior of the earth. Yet the alchemist’s sinking island is ‘supported’ by a sealed chest of drawers emerging from the sea and containing immense riches of silver and gold. Although the adept’s world has become a sinking island, it has been simultaneously transformed into a treasure island” (p18).

Second woodcut of the 1550 Rosarium philosophorum, also appearing in Fabricius’s Alchemy (p24).

In this depiction “the king, standing atop the sun and representing the spiritus, meets the bride of his choice, resting on the moon and representing the anima. The rose branches crossed by king and queen bear out their mutual love, but the court clothes suggest the restrained nature of their initial encounter.

“The two roses at the end of each branch refer to the four elements, two of which are active and masculine (fire and air), while two are passive and feminine (water and earth). Their ordered arrangement in a ‘rosie cross’ suggests the abatement of the prima materia and its warring elements. The fifth flower is brought by the dove of the Holy Ghost, a parallel of Noah’s dove carrying the olive branch of reconciliation in its beak. Descending from the quintessential star, the bird reconciles the masculine and feminine elements, just as its third branch equates the rose branches with the three pipes of the mercurial fountain, now transformed into a stem of roses.

“The dove is the agent effecting the rapprochement between king and queen, just as the bird indicates the spiritual and heavenly nature of their love. The unusual character of this affair is further stressed by the partners’ left-handed contact. This uncustomary gesture points to the closely guarded secret of their infringement of a general taboo. Actually, the royal couple engages in ‘unnatural’ and illegitimate love, the secret of which is of an incestuous nature: the bride is the king’s own sister. Hence the ‘Rosarium’ admonishes: ‘Mark well, in the art of our magisterium nothing is concealed by the philosophers except the secret of the art…'” (p24).

Five paintings from the Pneumo-Cosmic Manuscript, an enigmatic sequence of 52 such alchemical illustrations. Neither the author nor the date of the work are known (although the paper establishes a terminus a quo of mid to late 18th century), and no explanatory text is provided beyond a brief introductory paragraph (see below). The present edition was reproduced from a manuscript in Glasgow University’s Ferguson collection and hand-bound by Adam McLean.

“A work of natural magic, fashioned with an admirable brush of pneumo-cosmic nature. The characteristics of the universal prototype of Chaos, through the artful ape of Nature, have been represented to itself in many images, and preserved to eternity the memory of this matter” (title page, from the Latin).











Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica

June 11th, 2008

John Dee‘s Monas Hieroglyphica, which I have redrawn, from his 1564 book of the same title, translated from the Latin by C. H. Josten (in Ambix vol. XII, nos. 2 & 3, 1964).

“The Sun and the Moon of this monad desire their elements, in which the denarian proportion will be strong, to be separated, and that this be done with the aid of Fire” (p161).

monas hieroglyphica

Constructed with the geometric proportions detailed in Theorem XXIII (p201-205).

“Our hieroglyphic monad possesses, hidden away in its innermost centre, a terrestrial body. It [sc. the monad] teaches without words, by what divine force that [terrestrial body] should be actuated. When it has been actuated, it [sc. the terrestrial centre of the monad] is to be united (in a perpetual marriage) to a generative influence which is lunar and solar, even if previously, in heaven or elsewhere, they [sc. the lunar and solar influences] were widely separated from that [terrestrial] body [at the centre of the monad]. When this Gamaaea has (by God’s will) been concluded… the monad can no longer be fed or watered on its native soil, until the fourth, great, and truly metaphysical, revolution be completed. When that advance has been made, he who fed [the monad] will first himself go away into a metamorphosis and will afterwards very rarely be held by mortal eye” (p135-137).

Stolcius on the Stone

March 2nd, 2008

Four emblems from The Hermetic Garden of Daniel Stolcius. This 1620 collection includes 160 emblems appearing in Mylius‘s Opus Medico Chymicum, each accompanied by a four line Latin verse composed by Stolcius. The present edition was hand-colored and -made by Adam McLean.

The selection of emblems below concerns the Philosophical Stone.

Emblem 27: Mitigo, the Philosopher.


However men and beasts despise the Stone, yet it is loved by the wise.

However men and beasts trample the Stone,
It still takes no notice of them all.
For only at the hands of philosophers is it investigated;
These it loves and delights in them especially.

Emblem 62: Author of the Philosophical Rhymes.

Philosophical Rhymes

You shall visit the interior of the Earth.

He who seeks the Stone shall search the interior of the Earth.
And there shall find where the Medicine lies hidden,
There recognize the many headed Dragon,
There see what may become the Lion by our Art.

Emblem 100: Petrus, Monk and Philosopher.


The fiery little light lives in the Earth, and water cannot extinguish it, for it is heavenly.

This heavenly radiance is hidden in caverns in the ground.
Yet still the moist wave cannot put it out.
Seek it. Revolve the whole world, like Atlas, in your mind.
Perhaps you will find it.

Emblem 107: Hortulanus, Philosopher and Chemist.


Only he who knows how to make the Philosopher’s Stone, understands what they say concerning the Stone.

Only he who knows how to produce our Stone,
Hears the mystic words of the hidden chorus.
Then, in the amazing, different cycle of the Elements, he perceives,
And obtains by entreaty, the longed for riches of Hermogenes.

Hazelrigg’s The Sun Book

December 12th, 2007

Two diagrams from John Hazelrigg’s The Sun Book (1916), which reconciles astro-theology, alchemy, and the allegory of Christ.


Man is a “fourfold unit as concerns the elements of his constitution, each of which acts through the threefold essences of his being [Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt; or Spirit, Soul, and Body]; and expressed accordingly each by a triangular symbol, thus: ? Earth, ? Fire, ? Water, ? Air… The field enclosed by the basic lines of these four ideographs is an equilateral square (base of the pyramid), typifying the human cosmos as a reflection of the fourfoldness of the Microcosm. With these folded over, as with an envelope, the apex of each centers at the navel, which is the All-Seeing or Psychic Eye.

“These again are summarized in the… interlaced triangle — the Solomonic Seal — the three lines composing the upright symbol signifying Spirit-fire-air, the masculine trinity; the one inverted is Soul-water-earth, or the feminine trinity; — not separate identities, but differentiations or diverse modes of activity of the One Essence. Combined, these two symbols represent Man-Woman as the substance of the six days of Creation… The seventh day, or the central point equidistant from the six apices of the triangles, signifies not a state of rest, but of equilibrium or repose in the formative processes, and whereat — the investment completed — is inaugurated a new departure in the realms of becoming” (p156-8).

This creation is an allegory for the “interior experiences of every disciple in the path of Initiation. It is thus that the microcosmic system is transformed from a sepulcher of vanities into a tabernacle of divine realities” (p160).

Briefly (too briefly), these six stages are:

1. Nativity, fermentation: “the manifestation of an energy that induces to decomposition, that the elements of bodies may be re-combined in new compounds… that creates a condition of inter-repellence that breaks up and dissolves, to the end of a higher refinement and a more subtle re-arrangement of the relativities, both as concerns physical and spiritual substance” (p161-2). This energy, this vital heat, is the fire of the microcosmic Sun, the Spirit.

2. Baptism, betrothal: of the Soul to the Spirit: a necessary duality: a Divine Marriage between the radical moisture of the microcosmic Moon (Woman) and the vital heat of the microcosmic Sun (Man), whereby the Soul is vivified and may infuse into the Body. Whence the initiate must now confront the four elements of his inner nature.

3. Temptation, earth: “through bodily cleansing the entire structural constitution is gradually metamorphosed and sensitized — the protoplasmic fluids seek new currents — the intermolecular ethers grow more penetrant and corrective in cellular transformations, and the aberrancies and the chimeras that constitute the confusions of the microcosmic wilderness are quelled and corrected through conflict with the sensuous incitements — the sex desires, gluttony, the physical vanities, and the carnalities of the animal nature” (p166).

4. Passion, calcination, fire: the cleansing of the Mind: “here the Higher Will is constrained to do battle with the glamors of Illusion, to overcome the seductive sophistries of Reason, the material Logic that betrays” (p168). “Only in passivity of mind doth the Divine principle express itself” (p174).

5. Gethsemane, dissolution, water: “whence is evolved the intro-vision that feels and knows and does not reason” (p170). This element “claims attention to physical ablution, an important point in connection with which is the fact that the pores of the skin as exhaling media do but represent a function correlative with that of inspiration. In- and out-breathing are not exclusively a specific action of the lungs, for every capillary duct is an avenue of communication with the Universal” (p174).

6. Crucifixion, sublimation, air: “thence through the aeration of the blood the fire at the center of soul is evoked” (p175). “This is the point of Equilibrium” (p172), the “interlaced halves of his being… linked with the Supernal Center” (p176).

Circle of Being

“Man is both the artificer and the laboratory. He is the agent and patient, the principle and the personification; he is at once God’s most gifted craftsman and Almighty’s most interesting workshop; he is the Philosopher’s subject-matter, as also the alchemical vase in which it is leavened into holy consistencies — a consortment of perversities and concupiscences, yet a god in the making. He is a circumference, whose center is an altar of divinity where abide the fires of Hestia, whether in abeyance or irradiating forth as the rivers which flowed from out of Eden to water the Garden; for here, housed in clay, guarded by the keepers of the mystical gates, and battlemented with physiological ramparts, is the fabled Eden in which still walk Adam and Eve, as at the dawn of Time; where still crawls the slimy serpent, and where groweth the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (p147).

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).