Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Art of Light

As the preparations for the Great Work traditionally begin in March, we thought we would offer for your amusement and edification this alchymical unveiling of the secrets of Notre Dame de Paris – written in the year of the Lord 2011 AD by the daemon Moag.

If you should have the opportunity to visit Notre Dame de Paris and climb the 387 stone steps to the narrow catwalk that threads its precarious way around the cathedral's towers you will find yourself in what is undoubtedly the largest roosting place for gargoyles in western Europe, if not the world. All around this beetling, gothic facade, which was restored by Eugene Violet-le-Duc in the 19th century, swirls a frozen flux of gurning monsters, forgotten saints, rampant vices and unknown virtues. A motionless tidal wave of winged, crawling, clinging creatures inundates the basillica, scuttling up it's vertiginous walls to perch on every pinion, glowering triumphantly down at the sluggish waters of the Seine from their lofty buttress heights, seranaded by pigs with harps and dogs playing bagpipes as they dream away the centuries in the shadow of the great belfry, the favorite haunt of Quasimodo the fictional hunchback, where the colossal 17th century Emmanuel bell can still be found that inspired Victor Hugo's celebrated and off-filmed romance. An icy wind croons in the distended jaws of the apex gargoyles as the haughty rulers of the roost rear their muzzles to the wintry sky while beneath them a ravening mob of lesser grotesqueries seethe and satanize, surging endlessly upwards to be trapped and caught forever in sockets of stone.

Amidst this delirious procession of lost idols, demonic demigods, chimarae and other nameless refugees from a medieval bestiary a solitary human figure stands aloof, leaning intently over the outermost edge of the parapet on one corner of the cathedral's north tower as if to draw our attention downwards towards the mighty edifice below. The unusual hat worn by this old man identifies him at once an adept, a master alchemist taking cogniesence of his completed work. The so-called 'Phrygian cap' is a red, conical hat associated in ancient times with the inhabitants of Phrygia, a region of central Anotolia and worn by the sans-culottes during the French revolution. In the western provinces of the Roman Empire it came to signify freedom from slavery and is sometimes referred to as a liberty cap, bringing to mind both the most commonly found ( not to mention the most potent ) form of indigenous European magic mushroom, the Psilocybe Semilanceata containing the psychoactive compounds psilocybin and baeocystin and frequently associated in popular mythology with the faery folk, pixies and gnomes who, more often than not, are depicted wearing conical crimson hats. Small is wise, after all and was not alchemy referred to in times gone by as the wise art?

The Phrygian cap was worn by the Anatolian god Attis, the twins Castor and Pollux and the Trojan hero Paris as well as King Midas who hoped the hat would hide the donkey ears given to him as a curse by Apollo. Over the course of the centuries the cap has frequently appeared on coins and national iconography in France, Haiti and the Americas. It appears on the official seal of the United States Senate and the US Army War Office whose badge depicts a Phrygian cap on an upturned sword surmounted by the words 'This We'll Defend'. This can be readily explained by the caps usage as a Masonic symbol and the supreme badge of initation, refered to as a liberia in the Mithraic rituals. The occult scholar Pierre Dujols writes that ' for the grade of the Epopt in the Eleusian Mysteries the new member was asked whether he felt in himself the strength, the will and the devotion necessary for him to set his hand to the GREAT WORK. Then a red cap was put on his head, while this formula was pronounced: 'Cover yourself with this cap, it is worth more than a king's crown...' The goal of that level of initiation was to elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to asure his redemption by making him into a god and so conferring immortality upon him.

The alchemist of Notre Dames strokes his beard with one hand while keeping watch over the edifice beneath him, a vast symphony of stone that contains hidden within it's design and copious decoration the secret of the gods, the key to the so-called 'philosopher's stone' and immortality itself. If we follow the alchemist's direction and take the spiral staircase downwards armed with a copy of Fulcanelli's celebrated exegesis, 'The Mystery of the Cathedrals', it is still possible, even in this debased day and age for a dilligent student to unlock the symbollic message encrypted in Notre Dame's gargantuan book of stone and scry the secret of secrets passed down to us from elder times, hidden in plain sight, so to speak, yet readily intelligible to those who have eyes to see.

It is not my purpose here to enter into any further debate over the master alchemist's true identity save to say that, to some extent, Fulcanelli's book broke the untold centuries of silence that surrounded the GREAT WORK by revealing to the layman that gothic architecture contained a densely coded ‘secret language’ or 'argot' - ‘Argot’ is defined as a language peculiar to all individuals who wish to communicate their thoughts without being understood by outsiders, an idea Fulcanelli related to the legend of the Argo - the vessel that bore the precious cargo of the ‘Golden Fleece’ in the same manner as the coded architecture of the great gothic cathedrals carried within them the key to a hidden science, a ‘self-censoring secret’, communicable only to the ‘elect’. According to Fulcanelli, this symbolic code was the ‘language of the birds’, the mythic common language spoken by King Solomon and the philosopher Tiresias who was said to have ‘lived seven, eight, or nine ages of man’ and been ‘both man and woman’ According to the master alchemist 'gothic art is in fact the art got or cot – the art of light or of the spirit' - a self-censoring secret communicable only to the elect - what Fulcanelli described as the "language of a minority of individuals living outside accepted laws, conventions, customs and etiquette... the language of the humble, the poor, the despised, the rebels and wanderers, the vagrants of the Court of Miracles and the Freemasons of the Middle Ages, who built the gothic masterpieces we admire today...'

There would be no point in recapitulating the contents of Fulcanelli's magnum opus, the first volume in a projected trilogy left incomplete at the time of his death or, as some would have it, his transition to a higher plane of being. For those who do not already possess a copy of 'The Mystery of the Cathedrals' the full text is available for free download from Terra Umbra: -

What follows is intended as a suppliment and further illumination of this occult work which remains one of the finest esoteric guide books of its kind. For the general reader who has no stomach for this sort of advanced esoterica I suggest you tune out now and find something more immediately stimulating with which to occupy yourself – group sex, mah jong or alligator wrestling spring to mind. I promise the next installment of this infrequent 'blog will contain more conventional titilation with all the thrills, spills and conundrums you've come to expect from the Terra Umbra crew. For those who have a more abiding interest in penetrating the secrets of this gothic edifice our grand tour will continue, taking a sharp left turn into more willfully hermetic territory.

Arriving at ground level we find ourselves, book in hand, facing the doors of the cathedral and the lavishly decorated grand porch – or Porch of Judgement. On the central column which divides the enrance bay can be seen the figure of a woman with her head touching the clouds. Seated on a throne, she holds in her left hand a sceptre, the sign of royal power, while her right hand supports two books symbolizing text and subtext, exotericism and esotericism. Note the manner in which she holds that sceptre and the curious position of her fingers. Leaning against her chest is a ladder with nine rungs – the scala philosophorum – representing according to Fulcanelli 'the patience which the faithful must possess in the course of the nine successive operations of the hermetic labour.' For the master alchemist this grand porch is the frontispiece of an occult bible, a Mutus Liber whose massive pages are made of stone. To become an adept the initiate must literally climb an analogic ladder of correspondences.

To aid and abet your understanding of what follows I offer the following crib notes – a thumb nail guide to the substances involved in the great work and the symbols, colours and planets commonly associated with them.

  1. Mercury, planet Mercury: the substance, the Matter to be worked on. originally you have to find out what it is. For the Hermetic Alchemists it is of course you yourself, what includes your body, your mind (=emotions and thoughts) and your divine essence.

  2. Lead, planet Saturn: the beginning of the state of Blackness. The Matter is putrefying and dissolving.

  3. Tin, planet Jupiter: the color gray that appears at the end of the process of Blackness, when the Matter has been purified to almost a perfect white. Jupiter is the son of Saturn, therefore he is the next stage.

  4. Copper, planet Venus: the citrine color. Venus is the next stage because she was born when the testicles of Jupiter, cut off by his father Saturn, fell into the sea.

  5. Silver, the Moon: the white color, corresponding to the state of Whiteness or Albedo. The Matter has been completely purified. In Greek mythology the Moon is symbolized by the huntress goddess Diane. Diane is the daughter of Jupiter and Latone.

  6. Iron, planet Mars: Mars is the friend and lover of Venus. Orange or rust-red color, like the light of dawn. It is the state during which the Matter starts to become red.

  7. Gold, the Sun: this is the last state; the red color or Rubedo. Here the Matter is called Red Sulfur, among other terms. The sun god Apollo.

On either side of the cathedral's great doorway can be found two arched niches, each containing an enigmatic bas relief. On the left hand pillar can be found a representation of the alchemist discovering the mysterious fountain , a stream of living water that gushes from a hollow oak, a universal solvent, capable of penetrating every metal – gold in particular – it's volatile spirit indicated by a bird perched on the tree. In mythology this solvent, capable of accomplishing the great task, is called Libethra and is said to have been a fountain of Magnesia that issued from a large rock shaped like a woman's bosom, the water seeming to flow like milk from her two breasts.

Magnesia is in Pelion, the home of the centaurs from whence the Argos set sail. The word magnet comes from the Greek "magnítis líthos" (μαγνήτης λίθος), which means "magnesian stone". The names for the elements magnesium and manganese are also derived from this region, which in addition to the magnetic magnetite (an iron ore), produces certain ores of magnesium and manganese that were known to alchemists.

In ancient times, two black minerals derived from Magnesia in what is now modern Greece were both called magnes, but were thought to differ in gender. The male magnes attracted iron, and was the iron ore we now know as lodestone or magnetite. The female magnes ore did not attract iron, but was used to decolorize glass. This feminine magnes was later called magnesia, known in modern times as pyrolusite or manganese dioxide. Neither this mineral nor manganese itself is magnetic. In the 16th century, manganese dioxide was called manganesum (note the two n's instead of one) by glassmakers, possibly as a corruption and concatenation of two words, since alchemists and glassmakers eventually had to differentiate magnesia negra (the black ore) from magnesia alba (a white ore derived from Magnesia that was useful in glassmaking) .

Magnesium is the seventh most abundant element in the Earth's crust by mass and eighth by molarity. It is found in large deposits of magnetite, dolomite, and other minerals, and in mineral waters, where magnesium ion is soluble. In 1618, a farmer at Epsom in England attempted to give his cows water from a well. They refused to drink because of the water's bitter taste. However the farmer noticed that the water seemed to heal scratches and rashes. The fame of Epsom salts spread. Eventually they were recognized to be hydrated magnesium sulfate, MgSO4.

Virgin's milk, in alchemy, is the pure white texture created by the albedo and which could transform based metals into silver. The term is also applied to the white philosophical mercury--mercurial water or "water of life"--known as Mercurius.

On the lower part of the facade that extends below the three porches can be found twelve figures and twelve small bas reliefs arranged in two corresponding rows, a cryptic frieze designed by the venerable Guillaume de Paris in the early 13th century. The upper row would seem to represent the actions performed by the alchemist while the lower case, inset in circular niches, represent the resulting chemical reactions, reminding us once again of the first law of magic: - As above, so below.

Let us examine these curious panels in further detail...

( 1 ) The alchemist protects the Athenor against external influences.

In alchemy an athanor is a furnace used to provide heat for alchemical digestion. An Athanor is a self-feeding furnace, designed to maintain a uniform temperature.

The athanor was also called Piger Henricus, Slow Harry, because it was chiefly used in slower operations, and because when once filled with coals, it keeps burning a long time. For this reason the Greeks referred to it as "giving no trouble", as it did not need to be continually attended. It was also called the Philosophical furnace, Furnace of Arcana, or popularly, the Tower furnace.

According to Philostratus in his Life of Apollonius, Athanor is an occult hill, surrounded by mist except on its southern side which is clear. On it is a well, which is four paces in breadth, from which an azure vapor ascends, drawn up by the warm sun. The bottom of the well is covered with red arsenic. Nearby is a basin filled with fire from which rises a livid flame, odorless and smokeless and never higher or lower than the edge of the basin. Also, there are two black stone reservoirs, in one of which is kept the wind and in the other the rain. In extreme the water cistern is opened and clouds escape to water the whole country.

Clearly this description should be interpreted as alchemical symbolism, since the Athenor is the furnace which supplies the heat for the alchemical process. The term Athanor is also employed to denote moral and philosophical alchemy.

( 2 ) The Crow – Putrefaction

In the symbolic language of alchemy a veritable bestiary of animals are deployed to illustrate the key phases in the great work.

Blackening - Black Crow, Raven, Toad, Massa Confusa.
Whitening - White Swan, White Eagle, skeleton.
Greening - Green Lion.
Rapid cycling through iridescent colours - Peacock's Tail.
White Stone - Unicorn.
Reddening - Pelican feeding young with its own blood, cockerel.
Final transmutation - Phoenix reborn from the fire.

The phase of Blackening which usually marks the beginning of the work, is brought about either by heating the prima materia in the process of Calcination (the 'dry way' ), or by the process of Putrefaction, a slow rotting or digestion over a period of weeks or months (the so-called 'wet way'). The Black Crow or Raven was often associated with this Calcination, for on vigorous heating the calcined material will usually carbonise and layers flake off and move like a crow's wings in the flask. The Toad is a better symbol of the Putrefaction, the decaying mass slowly pulsating and shifting as gasses are given off, while the substance rots down to a black mass. Another symbol of this stage is the dragon, a familiar inhabitant of the alchemist's flasks. The dragon however is a more complex symbol and is also used when winged as a hieroglyph for the spiritualising of the earthly substance. Thus to the alchemists the dragon appears at the beginning and at the end of the work.

The alchemists paralleled these experiences in their souls as a withdrawal into the darkness of their interior space, a darkness pregnant with possibility. We have to a great extent lost the sense that still lived in the medieval and renaissance alchemists, that this darkness contained all potentialities. Like children we fear the dark, and for twenty-first century humanity darkness often holds only an existential dread - philosophers of science have in the last few decades brought us the terrifying image of the 'Black Hole' which swallows up and annihilates all that strays beyond it's event horizon. Perhaps we do not gaze enough at the blackness of the heavens, for if we look deep into the blackness of space on a clear night, we will sense more stars hidden between the known visible stars, especially in the vast star fields of the Milky Way. Cosmic space is pregnant with the possibility of other worlds as yet unseen. It is this image of blackness we must try to recover if we are to become alchemists. An echo of this perhaps remains in the often used phrase "a profound darkness". In alchemy, to meet with the black crow is a good omen. Thus in the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, as our hero sets out on his journey of transformation, he meets with a crow which by a turn of fate decides which among the various paths open to him is the one that will lead him to the castle of the King

( 2 ) Philosophic Mercury

The second bas relief shows a figure holding a shield that bears the caduceus, a snake coiled around a golden wand, a symbol that for Fulcanelli indicates 'the incisive and solvent nature of the Mercury, which avidly absorbs the metallic sulphur and holds it so powerfully that the cohesion cannot be later overcome...This reptile is the aspect of Mercury in its first state and the golden wand is the corporeal sulphur, which is added to it...It is the first class matter cooking in order to be transformed first into red sulphur, then into Elixir, and the third time into the universal Medicine...'

    The alchemists refer to three forms of mercury.
    The first mercury is known as vulgar mercury
    The second mercury is called common volatile mercury or conceptual mercury
    The third mercury is philosophic

    The three essentials unified are the Triplex Mercury of the Philosophers. According to Artofferus:
    "That which is Philosophical is not visible. But may become visible by condensation."

( 3 ) The Salamander - Calcination

The next bas relief shows a woman with hair like flame who holds the disc of the salamander 'which lives in the fire and feeds on fire'. According to the master alchemist's treatise this represents the 'incombustible and fixed central salt, which preserves its nature even in the ashes of the calcinated metals and which the ancients called metallic seed. The parts of the body which can be burnt are destroyed in the violence of the igneous process, only the pure, unalterable parts resist and although they are very fixed, they can be extracted by percolation. This is, at least, the spagyric expression of calcination, a simile used by authors to exemplify the general idea which one should have of the hermetic work...'

The "Starry Salamander That lives in the Fire" is also known as the Mercurial Spirit of the prima materia. The salamander in its natural changeable form represents the mercurial nature of the adaptive psyche. Once the salamander is roasted, this changeable tendency is halted and turned to ash. As with all the alchemical procedures, the importance is not a literal performance but in understanding on a metaphorical and symbolic level. The psyche itself, comprised of ego, self and accompanying complexes, is what undergoes these transformations. Each aspect moves from a conglomerate state to a more purified state. In other words, as the person becomes fully individuated, this state is more evident.

The alchemy of transformation is driven by the bipolar of soul and spirit. The salamander, as a symbol of soul, is attracted to the blazing heat of the Sun, while the bird of spirit is attracted to the coolness of the Moon. This is similar in meaning to the Tai Chi symbol representing the interplay of the feminine yin and masculine yang energies. In this process, one thing takes on the characteristics of the other as it becomes its opposite. This is the relationship between Mercury and Sulfur in alchemy, and explains why Mercury is sometimes associated with soul and other times associated with spirit. The same is true of Sulfur. The alchemists believed that within this interplay could be found the source of the life force. Carl Jung called this overall process of one thing changing its opposite by the unfortunately unwieldy name of “inandromedria.” Together Spiritus, Anima, and Corpus (Spirit, Soul, and Body) form the Three Essentials behind anything, the celestial archetypes that the alchemists termed Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt.

Jung's original interest in alchemy came from a dream where he had an library filled with arcane tomes from Medieval and Renaissance times. He spent the next fifteen years collecting this library. Along the way he learned to recognize the major symbols of the unconscious after reading about them in alchemical treatises and hearing about them in his patients dreams and fantasies. Their projections told him of an inner quest, a sealed vessel, the conflict of opposites, a philosophical tree, a fountain of eternity, a golden flower, a Stone, a sacred wedding, etc.

Grossinger says that "what Carl Jung recognized was the stages, as if the alchemists also corresponded to a process of psychological individuation. The psychic stages were as precise and rigorous as the chemical ones. Futhermore, they generated a physical and even quantitative terminology for an undiagnosed tension of opposites in the human psyche arising from male and female archetypes, a struggle they sought to resolve by the creative unity of chemicals in the Stone." Alchemy sought to unite Spirit (male) and Matter (female) through a Royal Union (coniunctio) to create their synthesis in the homunculus, hermaphrodite, or lapis. This is an alchemical metaphor for the process of spiritual rebirth.

( 4 ) Preparation of the universal solvent

The many biochemical interactions occurring in living organisms—human, animal, and plant—could not occur in the absence of a solvent environment. Water is considered to be the earth's universal solvent. The fluid substance, mostly water, within and around the cell is a solvent that contains many dissolved substances called solutes.

Combining a solvent and a solute results in either a solution, a colloidal dispersion, a suspension, or an emulsion. These mixtures differ from each other based on the size or solubility of their solutes.

Alkahest is a hypothetical universal solvent having the power to dissolve every other substance, including gold. It was much sought after by alchemists for what they thought would be its invaluable medicinal qualities. The name is believed to have been invented by Paracelsus from Switzerland, who modelled it on similar words taken from Arabic, such as ‘alkali’. Paracelsus' own recipe was based on caustic lime, alcohol, and carbonate of potash. He believed that this element alkahest was, in fact, the philosopher's stone. A potential problem involving alkahest is that, if it dissolves everything, then it cannot be placed into a container, because it would dissolve the container. However, philosopher Philalethe specifies that Alkahest dissolves only composed material into their constituent, elemental, parts. Alkahest is also known as 'The Green Lion', not so much because it is green in color as because it has not yet acquired those mineral characteristics, which in chemistry distinguish the adult state from the nascent one. In modern times water is sometimes described as the universal solvent as well, because it can dissolve a large variety of substances, due to its chemical polarity.

( 5 ) Evolution - colours and processes of the Great Work

The three colors succeed one another in an invariable order, going from black, through white, to red. But since, according to the old saying, Natura non facit saltus – nature does not proceed by a leap, there are many intermediate stages between these three principal ones. The artist does not attach much importance to them since they are transitory and fleeting. They serve only as a witness to the continuity and the progress of internal changes. As for the main colors, they last longer than these tranistory shades and have a profound effect on the matter itself, marking a change of state into chemical constitution. None of those fugitive and more or less brillant tints are meant here, which play upon the surface of the bath, but rather the coloring within the body itself, which are translated to the outside and which reabsorb all the others.

The color black is given to Saturn - Lead, in alchemical terms, definitely has an androgynous nature with qualities of cold and damp allowing it to be called an arcane substance representing the lusterless prime matter. Lead represents the impurities of metals and humans. Meanings death, chaos, night, the black hen, the black dragon, the Cimmerian darkness.

Just as in the Book of Genesis days succeeds night, so light succeeds darkness. Its signature is the color white. The Wise assure us that when their matter has reached this degree, it is free from all impurity, perfectly cleansed and very exactly purified. It then takes on the appearance of solid granulationsor shining corpuscles, reflecting like diamonds of a dazzling whiteness. White is the color of the Iniate, because the man who abndons the darkness to follow the light , passes from the profane state to that of the Initiate, the Pure. He is spiritually renewed. The white swan.

As for red , the symbol of fire, it shows exhaltation, predominance of the spirit over matter, sovereignty, power and apostleship. This Philosophic Stone, obtained in the volatile and fusible form of crystal or red powder, becomes penetrating and capable of curing leprosy, that is to say of trnasmuting into gold those ordinary metals whose tendancy to rust renders them inferior, imperfect, 'sick and infirm'.

The preparation of Vermilion ( mercuric sulfide ) from mercury and sulphur was worked out in all details. Vermilion and mercury itself were considered by some adepts to be the preliminary stage to the 'Philosophers Stone' – a magic substance which was capable of transmuting base metals into gold.

( 6 ) The four elements and the two Natures

The elemental system used in Medieval alchemy was developed by the Arabic alchemist, Jabir ibn Hayyan and others. His original system consisted of the four classical elements found in the ancient Greek traditions (air, earth, fire and water), in addition to two philosophical elements: sulphur, ‘the stone which burns’, which characterized the principle of combustibility, and mercury, which contained the idealized principle of metallic properties. The three metallic principles: sulphur to flammability or combustion, mercury to volatility and stability, and salt to solidity became the tri prima of the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus, who reasoned that Aristotle’s four element theory appeared in bodies as three principles. Paracelsus saw these principles as fundamental, and justified them by recourse to the description of how wood burns in fire. Mercury included the cohesive principle, so that when it left in smoke the wood fell apart. Smoke described the volatility (the mercury principle), the heat-giving flames described flammability (sulphur), and the remnant ash described solidity (salt).

( 7 ) The Athenor and the stone

On the seventh bas relief of the series – the first one on the right – we see a vertical section of the Athenor ( the self feeding furnace ) and the internal appartus intended to support the Philosopher's egg. The human figure holds a stone in the right hand.

( 8 ) Conjunction of Sulphur and Mercury

The Hermaphrodite represents Sulphur and Mercury after their Conjunction. Rebis (something double in characteristics) is another designation for this point in the alchemy of transformation.

Nature obtains in this way pure Mercury, completely free of its earthy substance that no longer contains any foreign element. Then she unites it to pure Sulphur and produces at last in earth's womb the pure and perfect metals. If both principles are impure, so are the metals. This is the reason why in mines one finds different metals, which is explained by the different purification and digestion of their principles. This depends on the coction.

Matter and form are only contained (as saith the Philosophers) by the Generation of Nature, but they understand by the matter and form, the Agent and Patient, thin and thick, Sulphur and Mercury, male and female, and by consequence know Generation.

( 9 ) The materials necessary for making the Solvent

The ninth subject gives us the opportunity of learning again the secret for making the universal solvent. In it a woman shows- allegorically- the materials necessary for the construction of the hermetic vessel. She holds up a small piece of wood looking rather like the stave of a barrel, the nature of which is revealed by the oak branch born on the shield. Here again we find this mysterious spring, this fire of nature, without which nothing can grow down here. It is this spirit, spread over the surface of the globe, which the subtle and ingenious artist must capture as and when it appears. Also, I must add, a specific body is needed to serve as a receptacle; an attracting medium, containg a principle spirit and 'embodying' it. The spirit is the lodestone sealed in the belly of Aries, which must be seized with speed and skill at the moment of its birth.

The Sulphur you must seek in the house of Aries, this is the magic fire of the wise, to heat the Kings bath, (which you may prepare in a weeks time) this fire lies concealed, which you may unlock in an hour's time, and afterward wash it with a silver shower.

( 10) the fixed Body

The emblem of the lion is generally the sign of gold, both alchemical and natural. It thus represents the physico-chemical properties of these substances. But the texts give the same name to the matter which is receptive to the universal spirit, the secret fire, during the processing of the solvent. In both cases it represents power, incorruptability and perfection, these being further indicated clearly enough by the warrior with drawn sword, the mail-clad knight, displaying the king of the alchemical bestiary.

As far as the fixed body in mercury is concerned it is less mobile, it flows less quickly than the other Mercury; it leaves traces of its fixed body in the fire: one drop placed on a thin plate heated to red leaves a residue.

( 11 ) Union of the Fixed and the Volatile

The object is to make a volatile subject fixed or solid, so that it remains permanently unaffected by fire. Alchemy knows a lot of opposite images, like water and fire, dryness and wetness, warmth and cold, the volatile and the fixed, the bodily and the spiritual, the Sun and the Moon, gold and silver, circle and square and so on. The union of these opposites already constitutes a coniunctio. Coniunctio is also the union of divine or spiritual energies with earthly energies known as the chymical wedding or the sacred marriage

( 12 ) Philosophic Sulphur

Considered as a sign of the zodiac , this is the second month of the preparatory operations of the first work, and the first process of the elementary proces of the second. Since the bull and ox were sacred to the sun, just as the cow was to the moon, the bull as a symbol represents Sulphur, the male principle, the sun being described by Hermes as the father of the Stone. The bull and the cow, the sun and the moon, sulphur and mercury are thus hieroglyphics, identical in meaning and designating the primitive, contrary natures before their conjunction.

Sulphur is yellow in color and melts to a blood red liquid emitting a blue flame. In ancient times sulphur was known as 'brimstone' and was mainly found around hot springs and volcanic locations. The alchemists considered mercury to be the First Matter from which all metals were formed. They believed that different metals could be produced by varying the quality and quantity of sulphur contained within the mercury. The purest of these was gold and mercury was called for in attempts at the transmutation of base ( or impure ) metals into gold, which was the goal of many alchemists.

Mercury forms alloys with most metals except iron and combines with sulphur at ordinary temperature. Mercuric Sulfide, Red ( Vermilion ) occurs in nature as the mineral cinnabar. ( Bright scarlet-red, cnsidered as a royal colour in some cultures )

(13 ) Cohobation

In pre-modern chemistry and alchemy cohobation was the process of repeated of the same matter, with the liquid drawn from it; that liquid being poured again and again upon the matter left at the bottom of the vessel.

( 14 ) Origin and Result of the Stone

On the second medallion, the Initiate holds up a mirror in one hand, while in the other he holds up the horn of Amalthea (the cornicopia of plenty). Beside him is seen the Tree of Life. The mirror symbolized the beginning of the work , the Tree of Life marks its end and the horn of plenty the result.

The Alchemical tree of life:

1Kether: Mercury

2 Chokmah: Sulphur

3Binah: Salt

4Chesed: Luna

5Geburah: Sol

6Tiphareth: Mars

7Netzach: Jupiter

8Hod: Venus

9Yesod: Mercury

10Malkuth: Mercurius Philosophorum

From the Alchemical tradition, the Tree of Life is a symbol of the Opus Magnum, the goal of the alchemical journey, which is to find "the gold", "the philosopher's stone" , "the elixir of life". A branch from the Tree of Life was said to protect the Alchemist on his or her journey through the alchemical stages of separation, decay and purification in fires of the underworld. A quote from the Teatrum Chemicum says, "Plant the Tree on the lapis that the birds of the sky can come and reproduce on its branches; it is from there that wisdom rises.'

( 15 )The Knowledge of Weights

Next comes the allegory of the weight of nature in which the alchemist draws back the veil, covering the scales.

( 16 )The Queen kicks down Mercury, Servus Fugitivus

Hermes describes Mercury as the Runaway Slave on account of the escaping moisture.

( 17 ) The Reign of Saturn

A bent old man is huddled under the arch of the next medallion, his back stooped. Cold and feeble he leans on a block of stone. Fulcanelli recognizes in this bas relief the first phase of the second work, when the hermetic Rebus, enclosed in the ark of the Athenor suffers the dislocation of its parts and becomes mortified. 'It is the active and gentle beginning of the fire of the wheel, symbolized by cold and by winter, the embryonic season when the seeds, shut up in the womb of the philosophic earth, are subject to the fermentative influence of humidity.' The reign of Saturn, who devours his own children, is the time of old age, death and radical dissolution, of decomposition, the color black and the substance of lead. According tp 'The Chemist's Key' by Henry Nollius ( 1617 ): - ' Of this lead or Saturn the poets have written much, telling us that Saturn devours all his children, etc. Note this. His sulphur consumes all that is hid in the matter enclosed in it's belly, digests and concocts it to it's ripeness. But Jupiter, observing this, with his sharp scythe cuts off the stones of Saturn and throws them into the sea, because the white sulphur, which in the operation appears after blackness abolishes by his piercing power, which is here called the scythe, the strong power of the black sulphur called Saturn and throws the same into the sea. The black sulphur comes to be dissolved and changed into a sea, out of which the fair Venus is generated which is the green colour. Saturn endeavors to devour Jupiter or the white sulphur, but instead of him he swallows a stone which was laid before him, which he spews up again upon the mountain of Helicon...'

Mount Helicon in Boeotia, Greece is sacred to the muses. It is where the mysterious fountain, the Hippocrene spring, burst forth after Pegasus, the winged horse, kicked the rock with his hoof, thus symbolizing the beginning of the next phase of the GREAT WORK.

One Demetrius was sent by the Roman Emperor to explore the British Isles, and in his report of them he says: “Moreover there is an island there in which Cronos (Saturn) is imprisoned, with Briareus keeping guard while he sleeps. Sleep, they say, is the bond forged for Cronos.”

( 18 ) The Subject of the Wise

The Adept is seen with his hands joined in an attitude of prayer and seems to be giving thanks to Nature, shown as the head and the shoulders of a woman reflected in a mirror. We recognize the hieroglyph as showing the subject of the wise, the mirror in which 'one sees the whole of nature disclosed'.

The Cosmoplolite writes in 'The Six Keys of Eudoxus': -'... But, further, that you may not be deceived with the terms of the Compound, I will tell you that the philosophers have two sorts of compounds. The first is the compound of Nature, wherof I have spoken in the First Key; for it is Nature which makes it in a manner incomprehensible to the Artist, who does nothing but lend a hand to Nature by the adhibition of external things, by the means of which she brings forth and produces this admirable compound.

The second is the compound of Art; it is the Wise man who makes it by the secret union of the fixed with the volatile, perfectly conjoined with all prudence, which cannot be acquired but by the lights of a profound philosophy...'

( 19 ) The entrance of the Sanctuary

On the right of the porch, the seventh medallion shows us an old man ready to cross the threshold of the Mysterious Palace. He has just torn down the awning, which hid the entrance from the eyes of the uninitiated. The first step of the practice has been achieved, the discovery of the agent capable of carrying out a reduction of the fixed body in a form analogous to that of its first substance. The alchemists are alluding to this operation when they speak of reanimating the corpifications, that is to say giving life to the dead metals. The old man is none other than our Mercury, the secret agent, whose nature, method of action, materials and time of preparation have been reveled to us in senveral bas-reliefs. As for the palace, it represents the living, philosophic or base gold, despised by the ignorant and hidden under rags, which conceal it from our eyes, although it is extremely precious to one who knows its value.

( 20 ) Dissolution. Combat of two Natures

The next circle enables us to witness the encounter of the old man and the crowned king; the solvent and the body; the volatile principles and the fixed metallic salt, which is incombustible and pure. In the second method the hermetic mercury seems to attack the metal with chracteristic vigour, closely resembling chemical effervescence. The wise have said that in Conjunction violent storms arose and the waves of the sea presented the spectacle of bitter 'combat'. This describes the formation of the philosophical compound by comparing it to that of the terrestrial chaos, which results in upheavels and reactions of fire and water, air and earth. Here, the two natures are represented by aggressive and quarrelsome children, who have come to blows and hit each other unsparingly. At the height of the fray, one of them drops a pot and the other a stone. It would scarcely be possible to describe more clearly or simply the action of pontic water on the heavy matter and this medallion does a great credit to the master who conceived it. ( Pontic water, in case you were wondering, is a geological term pertaining to sediments deposited in deep and motionless pools such as an acumulation of black shales and dark limestones deposited in a stagnant basin )

( 21 ) The Dog and the doves

This is the dog of Corascene, which Artephius and Philalethes say one must know how to seperate from the compost into the state of black powder.

As Kalid ibn Jazid (c. 700 CE) wrote in the Liber Secretorum: - "Hermes said, My son, take a Corascene dog and an Armenian bitch, join them together, and they will beget a dog of celestial hue, and if ever he is thirsty, give him sea water to drink, ... and he will help you ... in this world and the next." (Jung, MC 147)

( 22 ) Solve et Coagula

This terrifying figure illustrates the alchemical maxim solve et coagula, which teachs how to achieve the elementary conversion by violatilizing the fixed and fixing the volatile - literally to separate and join together, to dissolve and coagulate. One of my favourite appearances of this particularly creepy symbol is in the outstanding short film by Dennison Ramalho 'Love for Mother only' ( 2003 ) in which a possesses Santeria priestess is seen to carve the magical formula into her own living flesh with the tip of a sacrifical blade in an effort to sever her lover's emotional ties with his ageing mother and thus bind him to her and her demonic masters forever.

If you know how to dissolve the fixed,

And the make the dissolved fly.

Then to fix the flying powder,

You have something to console yourself with.

Having lingered on the porch long enough let us proceed into the ark of the cathedral to bask in the the genius of Guillaume de Paris ( also known as William of Auvergne 1180-1249 ), the designer of the motifs we have already admired and whose perspicacity we must bless, for he was able to forsee the damage that time would do to his work. Like the wise master that he was, he had the motifs of the medallions reproduced on the panes of the central rose window. Thus, glass compliments stone and, thanks to the help of the fragile material the hidden meaning regains its primal purity. The art of light shines forth in all it's timeless glory...

'...What a profound subject for meditation is offered to us by our ancenstral hermetic Idea, in all its harmony and unity! In stone on the facade, in glass, in the enormous orb of the rose window, it passes from silence to revelation, from solemnity to excitement, from inertia to vivid expression. Solid, worn and cold in the crude light outside, it flashes into multicoloured facets from the curstal permeates through the nave, vibrant, warm, diaphanous and pure as Truth itself.

And so we have come to the end of our grand tour and yet we are still only beginning. The secret of life eternal is within our reach yet we still little more than children, playing on the outermost doorstep of eternity...