Gary Tomkins BA Hons., Dip.

Individual Psychotherapy,
Counselling & Supervision
in Frome and Somerset.

07812 544542 (Mob)



11. Fermentation: Entry into the Vessel of transformation

Here Sol is again included,
And is circumpassed with the Mercury of Philosophers.

Here we see the beginning of the great work, which opens with the citrinitas phase. The Hermaphrodite has separated into two whole human figures, one male, one female, both of whom are winged. The scene is very much like the lake or sea of woodcut 5, (although Fabricius (1976) p140, believes the couple to be in the clouds) and again they embrace in coitus, the man on top of the woman. Their legs are not entwined in the same way as in woodcut 5, here the woman's legs are closed between the man's. This time, the woman holds the male's penis, and while it is difficult to tell whether she is refusing him entry or helping him to withdraw, the position implies she is less receptive to him and certainly exercising more control, something she has gained from him in the albedo phase. Fabricius sees the picture as “after the bliss of orgasm on the lunar body, the King's fusing experience comes to a close as his Queen gathers her legs and extracts his erected member from her womb. Instead her lap becomes a tomb for the King, now suffused with Mercurius philisophorum, in his fermenting state.” [Fabricius (1976) p140]

In some copies of the Rosarium Philosphorum, notably the copy used by Schwartz-Salant belonging to the Kantonsbibliotek, St Gallen, Switzerland, the Queen is actually on top of the male. They retain the same bodily positions so the King's legs are between the Queen's and he directs his penis. To come across such a specific variation amongst different copies of the Rosarium is quite unusual. That the Queen is on top, is another way of portraying her as being the dominant figure in this phase of the process.

Schwartz-Salant, thinks that the couple are no longer underwater and therefore no longer a totally unconscious couple. This is an odd assertion for Schwartz-Salant to make, given no difference is evident between the couples immersion in woodcut 5 and woodcut 11 of most versions of the Rosarium, and the version he uses shows the King only partially submerged. More pertinently though, it is being two separate winged individuals that indicates individual consciousness, or having attained a spiritual perspective, that suggests they are no longer a totally unconscious dyad. Sol is now aware of Luna. They are known to one another, they are no longer ignorant of their kinship relationship. There is a mutual interpenetration, as traditional gender roles are reversed.

If we follow the woodcuts in the version held at St Gallen - with the King partially submerged - the implication is that it is the winged King, Sol, who is submerged in the mercurial waters of the unconscious. This time it is his body, including wings that will be transformed. Fabricius offers a slightly different translation of the motto -
“Here Sol is buried and overflowed
With Mercurius philosophorum”

Quoting the alchemist Hermes, the ‘Rosarium' states, "Sow your gold [Sol] in the white foliated earth... Gold is the ferment of the work without which nothing can be brought to completion; it is as the ferment of the paste, or of the coagulation of the milk in the cheese, or the musk in a good smell: by means of it is made the composition of the greater elixir, for it lightens up and preserves from the scorching, which is the sign of perfection."
This sowing of the gold, is the taking of Sol and planting his seed, his purified essence in the ground of the albedo prepared in the whitening. Here, what has been gained, or acheived, by all our work needs to be given up. The phrase it takes gold to make gold, mirrors the requirement for the analyst to have experienced the process previously, so that the client can take a fragment of that experience and allow it to go underground, where it ferments. Here again the sexual metaphor can not be overlooked. Sol plants his seed in the ground of the albedo prepared in the whitening i.e. Luna's body previously transformed in the first cycle.

The previous nigredo and albedo phases mean that the incestuous and compulsive material have been assimilated and a sufficient sense of self (or I in relation to the unconscious) has formed, allowing the use of active imagination without fear of being overwhelmed or caught up in inflation. This openness is expressed by the intimacy within the bounds provided by nature, the sea and hills, rather than by man, the superego or cultural constraints.

12. Illumination

Here Sol plainly dies again,
And is drowned with the Mercury of the Philosophers.

A winged sun appears to descend into a sepulchre and given the text we are led to believe that this is again filled with the Mercury of the Philosophers, i.e. the waters of the collective unconscious. The parallel woodcut of the first series, number 4, showed a human couple descending into a 6 sided bath, whereas here it is only a winged sun, with no human body. To me this implies that it is Sol's attitude that is descending for transformation. The solar brilliance is lost and ironically, given the title, this is experienced by the alchemist as an illumination. Schwartz-Salant (p201) sees that woodcuts 12-15 accomplish two goals. Firstly, they show how solar rational awareness and illumination can be destructive and how at times they must be sacrificed. Secondly, they show that as the hermaphrodite is winged, the nigredo element of this (citrinitas) sequence, is more conscious to the participants and readily reflected upon, rather than blindly suffered as in the earlier albedo phase. Sol is seen as dying in the well of Luna which represents being, imagination and emotional awareness. In the analytic situation the analyst has to surrender his solar awareness, give up the analytical tools of his trade (reflections on projective identification, dream analysis, transference and counter-transference experience) and place himself in a state of not knowing. This is a voluntary death, the death of narcissism in favour of creativity i.e. not working from the known and seeing what is not known. Defenceless though, the analyst exposes himself to wounding by the client as his early wounds are likely to be inflamed by interaction with the analysand and especially by the analysand's awareness. In dealing with passion, any clinging to knowledge is dangerous as it can lead to regressive and destructive fusion states in which either the unconscious dyad is acted out or it is split and its presence denied.

The plain image of the sun descending into the sepulchre after the previous conjunction image underlines or affirms that it is the solar aspect that is undergoing transformation in this second cycle. That the sun has wings shows that it has been through the first cycle. To have dedicated a woodcut to this point shows the creator was keen to emphasise the specific and necessary sequence of the process. It is a clear statement by the creator that the two cycles, woodcuts 4-10 and 11-17, are not simultaneous, nor can they be reversed as some authors imply. The Lunar cycle not only precedes the Solar cycle but it is necessary that it does, otherwise Sol and Luna would not have been correctly prepared. Sol would not have gained his wings and Luna's body would not have been whitened. There can be no red stone without having achieved the white stone, and similarly as described earlier, the achieved gold had to be sown in the prepared ground. The citrinitas or yellowing is the first part of the move towards the rubedo or the formation of the red stone. In this second cycle the solar forces are transformed out of their negative, compulsive form. Sol's voluntary sacrifice of his hard won gains is key to this transformation.

13. Nourishment
Merging into Hermaphrodite in Death or Nigredo Stage

Here Sol is made black like unto pitch,
With the Mercury of the Philosophers.

Following the earlier conjunction of woodcut 11, Sol and Luna have merged again and lie in a tomb filled with the Mercury of the Philosophers similar to woodcut 6, however this time the hermaphrodite figure is winged (albeit with one pair of wings rather than the two pairs shown in woodcut 10). Again one crown is shared implying a single consciousness, a loss of duality. This is another nigredo experience but, thanks to the spiritual development of the previous cycle (indicated by the wings) the experience is less catastrophic, less total, as consciousness gained in the first, or Lunar cycle remains. “Despair and the pain of abandonment are no longer the main focal point” [Schwartz-Salant (1998) p206], the loss is more to do with the transformation of invasive and compulsive solar awareness. The loss of the Solar aspect, with all its negative, inflationary, destructive, reductive, compulsive clinging to known ways, is experienced through Lunar perceptions as a loss of linking, or connection between two individuals. With no distance, no direct light, no perspective, no categories, there is no way of perceiving the other. Lunar awareness is blind to literalism. The woodcut is titled “Nourishment” and this points to how this loss of Solar faculty allows for something else, something as yet unknown, to be nourished. This is a particular challenge to the analyst as he has to give up his knowledge of the client and the client's process in order to allow for the true mystery of relationship to emerge. This as Schwartz-Salant states “flies in the face of collective values and the narcissistic enhancement such an act of “knowing” elicits”. Not only is this a hard challenge for the therapist, the client also needs to understand and want to engage in the surrendering of such a hard won and precious (solar) awareness, for a still greater goal. 

Developmentally, Fabricius equates this with the depression of late middle-age, typified by melancholia. In the 40-50's the ego is pierced by the unavoidable agony of psychobiological decline as a litany of degenerative disorders, from grey hairs and wrinkles, to loss of libido and the menopause, confront the ego with the relentless approach of death. This awareness of finitude in the face of the infinite, confronts the ego, and the individual, with the insignificance of their actions and ambitions in relation to those of nature and the vastness of the cosmos. Life becomes a problem, and work becomes an empty past time. “But despite this melancholy and despair middle-age is also a period of growing inner light and increasing self awareness” [Fabricius (1976) p150], however holding onto this awareness is not easy, the temptation to give up and resign is great. It takes hard work to get through this wintry struggle and to remember why you buried your gold.


14. Fixation.

Here ends the life of Luna,
And the spirit subtly ascends on high.

The conjoined body, or hermaphrodite, still lies in the tomb, but it has now lost its wings. A female figure rises up to the clouds that have appeared above the tomb, similar to how a young boy rose up in woodcut no 7. Two things have been lost here, the lunar forces as signified by the girl rising, and the spiritual development gained in the first cycle as signified by the wings. The text says Luna has died and by implication it is her spirit, heavenly aspect/essence that rises to heaven. The spiritual awareness gained in the first cycle has to be lost as it is coloured by previous experience.

By a process of elimination, Sol, devoid of his compulsive, narcissistic and potentially soul killing aspects remains in the husk of the hermaphrodite's body in the tomb awaiting transformation in, and by, the mercurial waters. No reflection, no lunar light to save it but just raw untrammelled fermentation in the dark of the collective unconscious, until Sol is “black unto pitch” as described in the text of the previous woodcut. The title, Fixation, points to the nature of the process Sol is undergoing in the sepulchre. Fixation is defined as the process by which a volatile substance is transformed into a form, often solid, that is not affected by fire. Sol is being fixed in his transformed state, free from his compulsive, soul destroying tendencies, as if by being deprived of light there is no return to his former way of being. This is a crucial point, the willingness to be and stay in the dark. If the individual is unable to do this he will reach out for meaning, clamour for knowing, grasp for certainties. The risk of inflation is great, as any light in the dark burns so brightly, but blinds in the process. “Psychic insights [are converted] into literal programs, red bricks without straw.” [Hillman (2010) p223]. Spiritual belief systems are adopted in the vain hope of conquering or transcending human limitations, bodily reality. Or as Hillman points out “We prescribe more of “the feminine”, more anima, more lunar consciousness (though the yellowing is a time of Mars where the “male is on top of the female”)”. [Hillman (2010) p223]. This process of fixation forms the ground by which consciousness will be able to hold its own amidst change, a consciousness that can withstand, and stand in, the instinctual collective unconscious and not be enmeshed.

15. Multiplication

Here the water is diminished,
And bedeweth the earth with his moisture

Similarly to woodcut 8, the heavenly cloud appears to rain down on the still dead hermaphrodite's body. Therefore it would be reasonable to see this as a cleansing of the body in spiritual rain, after the mercurial waters have diminished (according to the text) ridding it of the impure libido i.e. its compulsion of sexuality and desire to propagate and create. The earth being bedewed with his moisture, speaks of God's proof to Gideon of his existence, just the kind of affirmation our hermaphrodite needs at this time, that there is something else out there he can put his faith in.

I take the woodcut's title of multiplicatio, in the sense of repeating the process, again and again. This would indicate the importance of the effectiveness of the cleansing. Any taint is likely to spoil the work later, as any speck of Solar ego will also be multiplied many times, later. To this end the gold that was planted in the earth earlier must be watered and multiply until it becomes all. Some authors seem to see Multiplicatio as some mysterious process of transmission the individual acquires and is able to radiate to others. I would wonder whether the process is more of achieving a degree of Solar clarity that allows for a cleaner reception and perception of others.


16. Reviving / Revificatio

Here the Soul descendeth gloriously from heaven,
And raiseth up the Daughter of Philosophy.

Here again like in the first cycle the figure that ascended previously, now returns from the clouds, to revivify the body. The feminine aspect now blessed with heavenly experience, or having been spiritualised, joins with the body and the masculine aspect transformed by the mercurial waters and cleansed by the heavenly dew. Fabricius makes the comparison to the spiritual bath of Athene, an act of conception in the brain, a feminisation of thinking. The immersion and exposure of Sol and Luna, in and to their opposite's sources brings about “the embodiment of the self and a field quality, through which the presence of the body as the vehicle of perception is sought.... and as a stable interactive field is forming.... allows for both spiritual and imaginal vision.” [Salant-Schwartz p206]


17. The Demonstration of Perfection.


The Hermaphrodite has arisen again, similarly to woodcut 10, displaying its wings. This time however the wings are not those of an angel but appear dragon or bat like. The snakes of woodcut 10 remain but the tree is now a Sun tree rather than a Moon tree. Instead of standing on a crescent moon the figure stands on the body of a three-headed snake that appears to be eating itself. To the right a pelican gores its chest to feed its three young and a lion lies (largely obscured) behind the Hermaphrodite. 

Described as the Demonstration of Perfection this is clearly a display of power and achievement. The Lunar and Solar forces have reunited and the solar phase has come to fruition as shown by the 13 Suns on the Sun tree. The accompanying text, in the form of two poems, or speeches by Sol and Luna is summed up by Schwartz-Salant

“Sol acknowledges the power of Luna. Masculine, solar life finally recognises the power of the feminine not only to harm but also to transform. Furthermore the solar life of the masculine recognises how vital it is to the transformation of the feminine. This recognition holds for men and women and also for these powers as opposites within an individual or within an interactive field.” [Schwartz-Salant (1988) p207].

The dragon or bat like wings show, Nature, Matter or the Chthonic has been integrated and the feet, more firmly on the ground (albeit on the back of the three-headed snake) give a more earthly reality to this situation than the Rebis of woodcut 10. The temptation of transcendence is no longer relevant. The Hermaphrodite fully realises its material nature so any transcendence is carried out within the context of Nature, or within a body rather than trying to escape or deny the body. This inescapability may be re-iterated by the Pelican's neck, an allusion to the alchemist's vessel known as a Pelican. This glass vessel is round at its base rising up into a neck that then turns back into the vessel below. The matter in the vessel is heated and any vapours that rise up, condense at the top of the vessel before falling down again into the material below. Thus, no material escapes from the vessel; what rises, comes down again. Solve et coagulate in the language of the alchemists. The alchemist sees the importance of this process for his opus to succeed. He identifies with neither the top or the bottom of the glass vessel, the purified vapours or the foul, dark matter.

As mentioned earlier, Jung was more taken with this image as a symbol of the conclusion of the individuation process than the Rebis, however this image is littered with images of ongoing self sacrifice, implying this is not the end of the work. The (three-headed) snake, not only a symbol of transformation in its own right, is shown eating itself, almost like the Ouroboros eating its own tail. The three heads each seem to be eating another heads' neck as if this self consumption is quite unconscious.

A sequence or progression of symbols is implied by their placement on ground of increasing height. The progression moves from the fulfilment of the Sun tree; to the unconscious self consumption and self nourishment of the three-headed snake; to the self sacrifice of the Pelican goring its chest to feed its offspring with its own blood; and finally to the Lion in the background, which I suspect is the Green Lion of the following woodcut. That these three figures of increasingly conscious self sacrifice; unconscious (the three headed snake), instinctually conscious or autonomous - as in a Mother for her young (the pelican), and, consciously conscious (Green Lion); are all animal in nature implies a certain instinctual, natural or animal force is either driving this process or is still to be reconciled or integrated. With the opposites united it may be Mercurius itself, i.e. self generating change that willingly consumes itself to nourish itself, that needs to be integrated. There are times when one has to kill oneself in order to not kill oneself literally. This hermaphrodite revels in its mastery of the Solar and Lunar forces but that very revelling only brings on a self sacrifice, at first unseen and unfelt, but later acknowledged as natural and eventually willingly entered into.

The hermaphrodite's revivification signifies the end of the citrinitas and the Pelican spilling it's own blood heralds the beginning of the rubedo.

Fabricius developmentally equates this stage with the Golden Autumn of Maturity quoting T.S. Eliot's “ Burnt Norton and East Coker” poem in Four Quartets II, to describe the experience.

“The inner freedom from the practical desire
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood”


18. The Green Lion Devouring the Sun.

I am the true green and Golden Lion without cares,
In me all the secrets of the Philosophers are hidden.

The Green Lion in the background of the previous woodcut is now the focus. The Lion's mouth is wide open, and according to the title, is devouring the Sun. Liquid drools from the Lion's mouth falling onto the ground below. The liquid is red in the coloured versions of the woodcuts and it is generally presumed to be blood. If it is blood (rather than vitriol - see below), it is most probably the blood of the Sun, and its falling to earth would be another indication of reddening, or the rubedo.

The Green Lion is a profound symbol with massive implications, deserving greater attention than it is possible to give here. Eugenius Philatethes in a: “A short enquiry concerning the hermetic art” exhorts us to -
“Learn to know this Green Lion, and its preparation, which is all in all the Art; it's the only knot; untye it, and you are as good as master, for whatever remains, is but to know the outward Regimen of the Fire, for to help on Nature's Internal Work.” 

The alternative title “Mortification of the Celestial marriage” and other versions, imply it is both the conjoined Sun and Moon that are devoured by the Green Lion. “The starry lion, which symbolises the heavenly incestuous marriage, devours the sun and moon, who separate in the belly of the cosmic beast”. [Fabricius (1976) p170]

The engraved variant shows the Lion about to eat the Sun, and the Moon is part submerged in the sea. No indication is given that the Lion will devour the Moon although the line of stars seem to be a representation of planets that have previously been devoured, with the Sun and Moon awaiting the same fate, although the Moon's submersion in the sea may save it.


Schwartz-Salant stays true to the woodcut's Green Lion devouring only the sun when he states, “This process of transformation continues as the solar life of rational and spiritual understanding is again sacrificed in the service of creating a new field structure.” And that, “This stability would express itself in an experience of self and other that does not flee from the body, that maintain imaginal sight, and that is stable under the impact of the passions and spiritual vision.” [Schwartz-Salant p209] Before going on to cite Mclean ”To accomplish this stability, as McClean notes, the alchemist must be willing to sacrifice all that he or she knows, all the structures and knowledge that has been gained. He or she must risk meeting the dissolving, devouring aspect of the unconscious, the Green Lion. (McClean 1980)” [Schwartz-Salant p209]

If we are to follow McLean, then “the alchemist must be willing to sacrifice ALL that he or she knows, ALL the structures and knowledge that has been gained.” The conjoined hermaphrodite of the previous woodcut, involving both Sol and Luna needs to undergo another nigredo, the putrefaction taking place in the belly of the Lion. The Green Lion is an alchemical symbol for the gold being dissolved in the aqua regia, the royal water or as it is also known vitriol. Vitriol is an esoteric acronym for “Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Ivenfies Occultum Lapidem” which translates as - visit the interior parts of the earth, by rectification you shall find the hidden stone. In effect the alchemist has to expose what is most precious to himself, all that he has achieved and expose it to an acid that dissolves everything but gold. Here he is throwing himself at the mercy of the cosmic forces, allowing every vestige of ego to be dissolved. What remains, if anything will be true gold. Psychologically he hands himself over to the Collective Unconscious, sacrificing his will, and opening to nothing but Thou Will. This requires total faith in the elixir, the consumption of which is fabled to bring death and eternal life. By total faith, I mean there is no assurety of success, total madness is possible because any misplaced attachment to “I” will be extinguished, leaving the individual in psychotic chaos. All that will remain is the true I, or self, a pure soul, a fragment of the divine spirit incarnated in a human body.

I feel Schwartz-Salant, like Jung and some of his associates, take an overly defensive stance to the Green Lion. "Only by facing and overcoming the dangers of the “Green Lion” can one avoid becoming rigid or invulnerable in the process of denying the “object” world its power to injure. This level of strength could experience the passions represented by the impossible fusion state of Attis and Cybele without being overwhelmed by those passions.” [Schwartz-Salant (1988) p209] His emphasis on strength, rather than faith or trust in Nature, or the Collective Unconscious betrays this defensiveness. The Green Lion is not to be “faced” or “overcome” but to be swallowed by. If we do not let go into the Collective Unconscious it remains an “it” out there, to be related to, rather than lived in, and from. This perception of the collective unconscious being malefic, and dangerously chaotic is what has justified and enforced repression in patriarchal societies for hundreds of years. Or, to quote Jung's “dark twin”, Otto Gross when promoting anarchy, “the psychology of the unconscious is the philosophy of the revolution”. [Heuer (2002) p1] In other words, anarchy in its true sense, rather than the chaotic caricature it is made out to be, is the natural state of the collective unconscious.

To stay true to the image, the devouring of the Sun only, would be representative of the end of the colonial egoic attitude to the unconscious. In this context the Moon does not need to undergo such a reduction as it does not assume such a position or attitude. All that would remain of the Sun would be its particular individual representation of Spirit.

Epstein, from a Buddhist perspective, speaks to this, “In tracing thoughts back to their roots, back to the original feeling states, we get out of our heads and return to our senses...Psyche is more like the container in which thoughts and feelings happen. It is like the underlying nervous system that connects the mind-body process. In Buddhism it is compared to clear space - the big blue sky of mind.... In healthy development, it seems, the mind does not have to take over prematurely and organise a persons experience; the environment can be trusted to do this. This frees the mind up for another activity. The function of the mind implied Winnicott is not thinking. It is tolerance.” [Epstein (1998) p112]

However his view, like Buddhism neglects the Western notion of individuation that is included by alchemy. The Green Lion's acid causes dissolution, the banishing of solutions. No longer can solutions be worked out, as solutions involve something of what has gone before, and such a move denies the uniqueness of the now. Thinking and feeling as Epstein says do not have to be organised, the environment can be trusted to do this. The dissolving is welcomed as the falsity of solutions is recognised as a regressive step back along well trodden ways, or as the fluttering of wings that precede an inflationary flight. This depression does not share the negative cynicism of previous depressions, it has blood. There is a new life contained within it, and the individual allows himself to sink, to dissolve. 

Fabricius describes the Green Lion as “the arcane substance coil[ing] back on itself in a final, mysterious convulsion of depression and death”, equating the situation psychologically to senescence or old age. He lists some of the physical signs of ageing, from greying hair, atrophying of the skin and muscles, changes in posture, impairment of vision, taste and smell, memory and imagination, and highlights how this heralds a senile depression that brings with it not only the gamut of depressions from all previous periods in life but also its own “specific colouring... which acquires a final and painful quality, straining the ego's adaptive functions to their utmost.” [Fabricius (1976) p170] He hammers home his rather negative view of old age by quoting Shakespeare's As You Like It (Act2 sc7): “Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” This stark description of old age emphasises the inter-relation of the body with the individuation process. The putrefaction process cannot be divorced from the body's decline. The effect of the body's awareness and demonstration of its finiteness is not something that can be grasped intellectually, worked through and “integrated”.

19. Assumption and Coronation.


The twenty-first woodcut shows quite a shift in context. Two bearded mature male figures, dressed in ceremonial robes are seated on thrones either side of a young female. Both the men are haloed, the one on the left is bare headed and holds a staff, the one on the right wears a crown and holds an orb. The men hold between them a crown they appear to be lowering onto the young woman's head in coronation. Above the crown, the white dove of the Holy Spirit, hovers as if in blessing of the ceremony. Scrolls flying above the scene, translate according to Fabricius as “Truly the moon is the mother; and by the father the son was created; whose father is the sun” and “The dragon dieth not except with his brother and sister; and not with one alone, but with both of them.”

A perplexing woodcut. Of all the preceding stages there has only be revivifications and rebirths, not a new birth producing a young girl. With the title, “Assumption and Coronation”, a dual process is implied. “Assumption” implies a taking something upon oneself and “Coronation” implies a crowning and taking up of authority and responsibility in the world. Both suggest a recognition by authorities of achievement by the individual, and an investiture of authority and responsibility in that individual. The thrones and human figures imply a wordly setting, as if following on from the experience of the Green Lion, the process has now risen from the depths to the Earthly realm. On Earth, the individual's spiritual capacities are formally recognised by Wordly patriarchal and religious authorities in the form of a Coronation. In this context Assumption could mean the assumption of responsibilities entailed with living an ensoulled individual life in the world, rather than the usual religious definition of a taking up to Heaven. In this way, and crucially, the individual allows themselves to become a vessel for the Divine or Heavenly will on Earth.

The allusions to the Virgin Mary, and possibly the figure of Christ to the left of the picture are plain, and it would be easy to see this as the Assumption of Mary into heaven and the forming of a Holy quaternity; Holy Spirit, God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Virgin Mary. In this way the neglected feminine would be integrated into the Christian schema, although this reduces the alchemical process to simply an adjunct of Christian dogma. It has to be considered that the alchemical writings have been influenced, or polluted, by the Christian milieu the authors found themselves in. These influences could quite simply have been a conscious attempt by the alchemist to use Christian theology to rectify a lack of clarity about the alchemical opus. Alternatively it could be a deliberate attempt on the part of the alchemist to obfuscate the deeper heretical implications of alchemy behind Christian images thus reducing the risk to the alchemist of persecution by the Christian church. This latter possibility though is probably undermined by the text on the scrolls, albeit in Latin. The first scroll confirms the right relation of things and the second emphasises the need for the dragon (presumably the negative elements of the ego) to die with brother and sister. This may well be a directive to ensure the Green Lion's transformation is not one sided; that the neglected Moon, perhaps now in the form of the female child, needs an equivalent transformation, in this case an exposure to Spirit in all its forms. Such a move addresses the Moon's absence in the Green Lion woodcut, and rectifies it with the introduction of Divine and Earthly authority through the body of the young girl, thereby enabling action in the world; previously the province of Sol but now removed from him.

McLean concurs, seeing this woodcut as the compliment to the Green Lion, in that the task undertaken in the Green Lion's lower realm is to be matched by a similar transformation in the upper realm. He describes how the receptive attitude of the central figure is essential to avoid being overwhelmed by the forces of the Spirit that lie outside of his or her being. This experience of the Spirit can be experienced as a loss of all division and a return to One.

Fabricius equates this experience to the psychobiological regression to the ovary's germinal epithelium - a fountain of eternal life, the alchemical equivalent being the Rosarium Philosophorum, the Rose Garden of the Philosophers - “a magical garden of endless germination, teeming with sun and moon flowers”, in other words, the Infinite, the Void, the Source or Self. Schwartz-Salant speaks well to this “The numinosium always has a transcendent aspect, a Self which cannot be embodied, felt within, while it also is capable of creating an immanent self. These two aspects of self, immanent and transcendent, are symbolically evident in the 19th woodcut, along with a lunar, subtle body life. Experience shows that the two aspects of the self have a substantial similarity, but these sources of blessing and meaning are experienced in realms of a far different scale. Knowing this difference between immanence and transcendence, the alchemist never fails to know his place in the Cosmos, and grandiosity no longer tempts or betrays him. In the spiritual life of relationships, the same level of consciousness is essential.” [Schwartz-Salant (1988) p211]

What better words for the process of transcendence and immanence than Assumption and Coronation, and where better for them to be recognised or confirmed than on Earth, in a body.


20. Christ arising from the grave/tomb.

After my passion and manifold torments I am again risen,
Being purified and cleansed from all spots.

Here a man with long hair and robes, plainly by his semblance meant to be Christ, appears (by the arrangement of his robes) to have climbed out of his tomb or sepulchre. The assertions that this is Christ and he is climbing out of, rather than into, the tomb are confirmed by the title. He is haloed and carries a long tall staff with a small cross piece and mounted below it a two tailed pennant displaying a cross. His other hand, with thumb, index and middle fingers extended, makes the sign of the Trinity. 

The figure arising from the sepulchre infers that the previous two woodcuts, The Green Lion and The Assumption and Crowning, took place within the sepulchre and consequently the crowning was an internal process. Here we have the resurrected body in the form of Jesus Christ, the symbol of Divine Humanity, God's representation on Earth, furthering the hypothesis that Assumption is meant as the taking on of Divinity. His pennant is a banner of victory and the sign made by his three extended fingers is that of the Holy Trinity. The words attest to the processes he has been through and the purification he has undergone. “In the Green Lion stage he descended deep into the dark inner mysteries of his soul, as Christ descended into Hell, but has returned with renewed energies in a resurrection body bearing the mystery of the upper trinity.” [McLean (1980)] 

The alchemist Petrus Bonus describes the process succinctly ”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 no longer 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.” [Fabricius (1976) p198] 

At this stage the endless process of solve et coagula is seen to terminate, a victory for the fixed over the volatile. I prefer to place the emphasis on Mercurius becoming one with the opposites rather than a victory of one opposite over the other. The Ouroboros eating its tail is perhaps a more relevant symbol. The processes continue eternally, simultaneously, instantaneously, within the context of one another, rather than alternately, successively, exclusively. The phrase “Betwixt and Between” used by Stern in his book “In Midlife” (1983) to portray Hermes realm succinctly describes this. The opposites don't disappear, but identification with one or the other no longer occurs, as we not only stand between them, but also betwixt. The betwixt allows for something of each of the opposites being in us, not transcended or remote, but immanent as well as transcendent.

Fabricius describes how at this final stage the “Alchemist spans the mystery and paradox of the dual one, the sameness of Pure being and Nothing, the clear light of the Void, the culmination of consciousness in the cessation of consciousness (nirvana). With the attainment of this transpersonal condition the alchemist realises the coniunctio oppositorum in its last and supremest form.” [Fabricius (1976) p194]

Unfortunately Fabricius takes a rather transcendentally biased path from here, exploring out of body and LSD experiences. 

McLean more modestly describes the alchemist's arrival at this stage. “The series of illustrations in the Rosarium outlines a process for the inner conscious encounter, separation, purification, re-conjunction and harmonization of the male and female facets of the soul, and working through such a process brings about an initiation of the alchemist. The various blocks to the free flow of these inner energies are thus removed and the alchemist is able to experience life more fully, having both a living perception of the spiritual and the ability to express his being creatively in his encounter with the physical realm.” [McLean (1980)]

This final state, places the individual between the Spiritual authority of Heaven and the experience of one's individual spiritual (or soulful) purpose or responsibility as experienced in a body. All vestiges of ego impurity, of personal complexes have been rotted, washed and burnt away and the individual can trust their personal responses to be purified of narcissistic and sadistic qualities. The individual's sense of self precludes inflation by Spirit or Self. The individual's exposure to Self has to be mediated by, or filtered through, the personal self, between the demands of the collective Spirit and the limitations of the individual soul. 

Andrew Solomon expresses this final state so well I make no apology for quoting extensively here from his book “Blake's Job” based on the poet and engraver, William Blake's interpretation of the Book of Job. 

“The active principle (sun), the passive principle (moon) and mediating judgement (central god figure (mercury - Job himself)) - which formed the three-fold structure of divided state have now become three facets of a harmonious unity.” [Solomon (1993) p75]

“To the fallen man the body appears as an alien thing with a life of its own. “He” knows little about its functioning, which is quite independent of “him”. Smelly and appetising it makes all kinds of exacting demands. Through “it” come pain, disease and death. Because certain desires which arise from it are unrelated to his conscious judgement, they constitute an insidious threat to his self-image. ....But as Blake wrote “the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged”. Mind and body are the “within” and the “without” of a single living entity, the body being the expression, in terms of organised matter, of the one living spirit from which consciousness also arises. Properly integrated bodily desires arise from that same source and are therefore perfectly clean and wholesome.... the unqualified value of the eternal and infinite is to be found in all that is imperfect, vulnerable, erring, earth and mortal - on the world as we find it and with which we are one.” [Solomon (1993) p79]

“The spiritual fire from within still has a harsh side as the flame of sacrifice, as the spear, the power to hurt, to oppose and to destroy. This is the “wrath of God”. But at the same time it is the power to create, to act effectively to cause change. It is the organ of creative love, which is true courage, the active love of one who knows the compatibility of conflict and love, as in plate 19 he knew the spiritual purity of the earthy. The wrath of God is the power and authority, the discipline, which gives meaning and effect to love. This kind of harshness, and the suffering which it causes, instead of being disowned as evil, is now accepted as the will of the true self. It is the purging fire, the astringency which is the cleanness of love, without which it is mere sentimentality and indulgence.” [Solomon (1993) p82] 

“...but sacrifice now has a different meaning - it is an acceptance of the reality of perpetual change, of the truth that all is transient, that there is no joy in clinging onto what one has. It is in the newness of experience, in its being new born - “the Eternal Births of Intellect from the Divine Humanity” - that the joy of creation is to be found. We can not hold onto such a value, still less appropriate it to ourselves or attach it permanently to any object. But if we seek to continuously renew it, it will determine the shape and rhythm of our lives as they flow through time in a way which is symbolised by the meaningful flow of music. And as in music, the meaning is not contained in any one instant, but in the whole pattern but also in its parts, its individual themes, sections and movements.” [Solomon (1993) p86]

And succinctly as ever by Hillman “The work is over; we no longer work at consciousness, develop ourselves, or possess a distinct grid by means of which we recognise where we are, how we are, maybe even who we are. “The dissolution of Sol should be effected by nature, not by handiwork”, concludes Figulus. Psyche is life; life is psyche.” [Hillman (2010) p 217]


1. Introduction.
2. Woodcuts 1-10.

4. Synthesis, Citrinitas, Psychotherapy And Conclusion.






Gary at Independent Practitioners Network Conference - Exeter 2001