Tag Archives: Sophia

Cubeer Burr, the Great Banyan Tree, and the Gymnosophists

Cubeer Burr The Great Banyan Tree by James Phillips
Cubeer Burr The Great Banyan Tree painted by James Phillips

Reposting this from 2011

A famed Banyan tree called in India “Cubeer Burr” was found on an island in the river Nerbedda, “ten miles from the city of Baroach, in the province of Guzzurat, a flourishing settlement formerly in possession of the East India Company, but ceded by the government of Bengal at the treaty of peace concluded with the Mahrattas in 1783, to Mahadjee, a Mahratta chief.

“Cubeer Burr is famed throughout Hindostan for its prodigious extent, ntiquity and great beauty. The Indian armies often encamp around it; and, at certain seasons, solemn Jattras or Hindoo festivals are held here, to which thousands of votaries repair from various parts of the Mogul empire.
Seven thousand persons, it is said, may easily repose under its shade. There is a tradition among the natives, that this tree is three thousand years old; and there is great reason to believe it, and that it is this amazing tree that Arrian describes when speaking of the gymosophists in his book of Indian affairs. These people, he says, in summer wear no clothing. In winter they enjoy the benefit of the sun’s rays in the open air; and in summer, when the heat becomes excessive, they pass their time in moist and marshy places under large trees, which according to Nearchus, cover a circumference of five acres, and extend their branches so far that ten thousand men may easily find shelter under them” – from Cultus Arborum by Anonymous published privately in 1890, sourced from Project Gutenberg

Read more from this book on tree worship at Project Gutenberg

The Banyan as Temple to the Gymnosophists

1825. — “Near this village was the finest banyan-tree which I had ever seen, literally a grove rising from a single primary stem, whose massive secondary trunks, with their straightness, orderly arrangement, and evident connexion with the parent stock, gave the general effect of a vast vegetable organ. The first impression which I felt on coming under its shade was, ‘What a noble place of worship!’” — Heber, ii. 93 (ed. 1844).

Kristen Szumyn in her article “The Barbarian wisdom of the ‘theoi andres” : a study of the relationship between spatial marginality and social alterity” writes (after Clement of Alexandria): “Herodotus associates the possession of ‘wisdom’ (sophias) and ‘knowledge’ (philosopheon) with one who has extensively ‘travelled’ (planes) to foreign lands. Such a person is counted amongst the saphistai, the wise men or teachers. The Greek philosopher’s visit to foreign countries was a doxographical and biographical topos specifically associated with the attainment of wisdom.

The philosophical and religious wisdom attained by such travellers was essentially ‘barbarian’.

As Diogenes Laertius noted:

The later Neoplatonic tradition held that ‘the study of philosophy had its beginning among the barbarians… the Persians have their Magi, the Babylonians or Assyrians their Chaldeans, and the Indians and their Gymnosophists; and among the Celts and Gauls there are the people called Druids or Holy Ones. These marginalised religious teachers and transmitters of spiritual wisdom are associated with the geographical and social periphery of society. This geographical marginality of the wise man is particularly evident in the Neoplatonic tradition of late antiquity; however this notion of the association between the sage and oriental or barbarian wisdom was a concept well established even in early Greek thought.”

Gymnosophists is the name (meaning “naked philosophers”) given by the Greeks to certain ancient Indian philosophers who pursued asceticism to the point of regarding food and clothing as detrimental to purity of thought (sadhus or yogis). 

The Digambar Jain monks in India even now remain unclothed; they have been identified as the gymnosophists by several researchers. Xuanzang mentions having come across Digambar Jain monks in Taxila during his 7th century CE visit to India in the same Punjab region where Alexander The Great encountered the gymnosophists.”

Plutartch wrote of Alexander’s meeting in the First Century with 10 Gymnosophists in the Punjab:

“He (Alexander) captured ten of the Gymnosophists who had done most to get Sabbas to revolt, and had made the most trouble for the Macedonians. These philosophers were reputed to be clever and concise in answering questions, and Alexander therefore put difficult questions to them, declaring that he would put to death him who first made an incorrect answer, and then the rest, in an order determined in like manner; and he commanded one of them, the oldest, to be the judge in the contest.

The first one, accordingly, being asked which, in his opinion, were more numerous, the living or the dead, said that the living were, since the dead no longer existed.

The second, being asked whether the earth or the sea produced larger animals, said the earth did, since the sea was but a part of the earth.

The third, being asked what animal was the most cunning, said: “That which up to this time man has not discovered.”

The fourth, when asked why he had induced Sabbas to revolt, replied: “Because I wished him either to live nobly or to die nobly.”

The fifth, being asked which, in his opinion, was older, day or night, replied: “Day, by one day”; and he added, upon the king expressing amazement, that hard questions must have hard answers.

Passing on, then, to the sixth, Alexander asked how a man could be most loved; “If,” said the philosopher, “he is most powerful, and yet does not inspire fear.”

Of the three remaining, he who was asked how one might become a god instead of man, replied: “By doing something which a man cannot do”; the one who was asked which was the stronger, life or death, answered: “Life, since it supports so many ills.” And the last, asked how long it were well for a man to live, answered: “Until he does not regard death as better than life.”

So, then, turning to the judge, Alexander bade him give his opinion.

The judge declared that they had answered one worse than another. “Well, then,” said Alexander, “thou shalt die first for giving such a verdict.”

“That cannot be, O King,” said the judge, “unless thou falsely saidst that thou wouldst put to death first him who answered worst.”

—Plutarch, Life of Alexander, “The parallel lives,” 64.,

A selection of references to the Banyan tree:
c. A.D. 70. — “First and foremost, there is a Fig — tree there (in India) which beareth very small and slender figges. The propertie of this Tree, is to plant and set it selfe without mans helpe. For it spreadeth out with mightie armes, and the lowest water-boughes underneath, do bend so downeward to the very earth, that they touch it againe, and lie upon it: whereby, within one years space they will take fast root in the ground, and put foorth a new Spring round about the Mother-tree: so as these braunches, thus growing, seeme like a traile or border of arbours most curiously and artificially made,” &c. — Plinies Nat. Historie, by Philemon Holland, i. 360.

1624.-
” … The goodly bole being got
To certain cubits’ height, from every side
The boughs decline, which, taking root afresh,
Spring up new boles, and these spring new, and newer,
Till the whole tree become a porticus,
Or arched arbour, able to receive
A numerous troop.”
Ben Jonson, Neptune’s Triumph.

c. 1650. — “Near to the City of Ormus was a Bannians tree, being the only tree that grew in the Island.” — Tavernier, Eng. Tr. i. 255.

1667.-
“The fig-tree, not that kind for fruit renown’d;
But such as at this day, to Indians known,
In Malabar or Decan spreads her arms
Branching so broad and long, that in the ground
The bended twigs take root, and daughters grow
About the mother-tree, a pillar’d shade
High over-arch’d, and echoing walks between. ” Paradise Lost, ix. 1101.

1691. — “About a (Dutch) mile from Gamron … stands a tree, heretofore described by Mandelslo and others… . Beside this tree is an idol temple where the Banyans do their worship.” — Valentijn, v. 267-8.

1717.-
“The fair descendants of thy sacred bed
Wide — branching o’er the Western World shall spread,
Like the fam’d Banian Tree, whose pliant shoot
To earth ward bending of itself takes root,
Till like their mother plant ten thousand stand
In verdant arches on the fertile land;
Beneath her shade the tawny Indians rove,
Or hunt at large through the wide-echoing grove.”
Tickell, Epistle from a Lady in England tò a Lady in Avignon.

1771. — “… being employed to con- struct a military work at the fort of Triplasore (afterwards called Marsden’s Bastion) it was necessary to cut down a banyan-tree which so incensed the brahmans of that place, that they found means to poison him” (i.e. Thomas Marsden of the Madras Engineers). — Mem. of W. Marsden, 7-8.

1810.-
“In the midst an aged Banian grew.
It was a goodly sight to see
That venerable tree,
For o’er the lawn, irregularly spread,
Fifty straight columns propt its lofty head;
And many a long depending shoot,
Seeking to strike its root,
Straight like a plummet grew towards the ground,
Some on the lower boughs which crost their way,
Fixing their bearded fibres, round and round,
With many a ring and wild contortion wound;
Some to the passing wind at times, with sway
Of gentle motion swung;
Others of younger growth, unmoved, were hung
Like stone-drops from the cavern’s fretted height.”
Southey, Curse of Kehama, xiii. 51. [Southey takes his account from Williamson, Orient. Field Sports, ii. 113.]

1834. — “Cast forth thy word into the everliving, everworking universe; it is a seed — grain that cannot die; unnoticed today, it will be found flourishing as a banyangrove — (perhaps alas! as a hemlock forest) after a thousand years.” — Sartor Resartus.

1856.-
“… its pendant branches, rooting in the air,
Yearn to the parent earth and grappling fast,
Grow up huge stems again, which shooting forth
In massy branches, these again despatch
Their drooping heralds, till a labyrinth
Of root and stem and branch commingling, forms
A great cathedral, aisled and choired in wood.”
The Banyan Tree, a Poem.

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Rosarium Philosophorum; when you make the two into one..

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When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the Kingdom.

    Gospel of Thomas, 22

18_Lion_2 10_Hermaphrodite_217_hermaphrodite_2

(images: Rosarium Philosophorum)

The combination of substances and the union of opposites is a key element in the alchemical process. This is often represented as a mystical marriage of the lunar element representing the feminine, Sophia (wisdom) and the solar element, the male, Logos (knowledge/reason). These two opposing elements meet and are joined in what is known as the ‘chemical wedding’. This union creates something bigger and more powerful than the individual parts – the perfect integration of male and female energies – the hermaphrodite.

The Black Sophia and the Black Madonna

Aurora_26

The Black Sophia, Aurora Consurgens

The black figure represents the LUNAR Sophia, who has decended into matter and become caught in it.
“The black depths have covered my face and the earth is corrupt and sullied in my works, and darkness has fallen upon it, as I am sunk in the mire of the depths, and my substance has not been opened” ( From C.G Jung, Mysterium Conjunctionis)

According to Fulcanelli: ” In Hermetic symbolism, the black Madonnas represent the virgin earth, which the artist must choose as the subject of his work. It is the Prima Materia in its mineral state, and it comes from the ore-bearing seams buried deep beneath the masses of stone” (Fulcanelli, Le Mystere des Cathedrales.) Sophia in Gnosticism and in the Cabala bears both features of a virgin bride and those of the womb, the mater materiae. The seed that falls into it, according to the Aurora Consurgiens, produces a threefold fruit. And this fruit in her body is the tripartate Caduceus, the Christ-Mercury, the healing serpent, the curing water that flows into Hades to awaken the dead bodies of the metals and free his mother-bride.” From Alchemy & Mysticism,  Alexander Roob

The Cosmic Cycle and the Black Madonna – by Jaq White

Here’s the content of the article I wrote that was published in Astraea magazine a few years ago. Copyright Jaq White.

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In this article Jaq White examines the alchemical
symbolism in the ancient phenomena of the Black Madonna.

The Cosmic Cycle and the Black Madonna
Jaq White

“Nature comprehends the visible and invisible Creatures of the Whole universe. What we call Nature especially, is the universal fire or Anima Mundi, filling the whole system of the Universe, and therefore is a Universal Agent, omnipresent, and endowed with an unerring instinct, and manifests itself in fire and Light. It is the First creature of Divine Omnipotence.” (The Golden Chain of Homer Of the Generation of things, Part I Chapter 1 – What Nature is.)

The alchemists and medieval philosophers sought to imitate Nature and the Divine, and expressed the various stages of inner transmutation that leads to enlightenment and the “Philosopher’s Stone”, known as Spiritual Alchemy, through art and symbols. In paintings and illustrations there are depictions of a snake biting its own tail in a circular symbol known as the Ouroboros. In alchemic symbolism this represents, among other things, the final unifying stage of our dual nature, and becoming one with the Divine. It is the symbol of the All, the One. Another way of demonstrating the work needed to attain this inner unity is the image of two serpents apparently devouring one another. In some, the upper serpent is winged, which signifies the Universal World Spirit – the lower serpent signifies matter, the Virgin Earth, the earthly state. The upper winged snake is the Cosmic spirit that brings everything to life, that kills everything and takes all the forms of nature. It is at the same time everything and nothing. When the two serpents are united, they are said to have “devoured one another” and the result is the Ouroboros; one single serpent, devouring its own tail, to express the continuous cycle through the aspect of time.

The word alchemy is thought to originate from the Ancient name for Egypt (Khem), the Black Land. The Ancient Egyptians were skilful workers in metals – there are scenes of metal-working found at Thebes and other locations, and the best known metals have identifiable hieroglyphic symbols that are defined by the determinative “of the earth/ground”. The Egyptians knew to employ quicksilver (Mercury) in the process of separating gold and silver from the native matrix, and the resulting (black) oxide was thought, allegedly, to possess powers. This black powder was identified with the underworld form of Osiris – those in the underworld are often depicted with black face and hands – and credited with similar magical properties. Alchemy is related to the black of Osiris through the connection of the black (fertile) earth, the belief that all light comes out of the dark, and all life comes out of the black; the colour black is associated with the source of creation. The alchemists were obsessed with the prima materia. They called it the black virgin, because its colour was black and it was virginal in the sense that no alchemical transmutation had been performed on the material.
2
The alchemist Nicolas Flamel wrote that the lower snake is the fixed and constant masculine element, and that the upper snake is the volatile and the black or dark woman. In alchemic terms, the first is linked with sulphur, warm and dry. The other is linked with quicksilver or the cold and moist. This employment of the quicksilver in practical metal-working has been referred to above, with regard to the Egyptians, and the same ideas are at work on the spiritual level, with the two snakes.

In what is believed to be the earliest known alchemical text – attributed to one Kleopatra of 4th Century Alexandria, there is an image of an Ouroboros with its head and upper half portrayed as black, and its tail and lower half shown as a speckled white. This correlates with the upper half or upper, winged snake as the Cosmic Spirit that takes all forms of nature, and is the volatile, black feminine aspect, while the lower half, or lower snake, can be identified with the fixed and constant masculine, the earthly state and matter.

Many well-known medieval alchemists were Christians, and some of the most beautiful illustrations involved symbolism representing well known Christian icons, such as Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Mother Mary, and Adam. They also included Gnostic figures such as Sofia, the female aspect of the divinity, also known as Wisdom. It is pertinent at this point, to mention that in Gnostic beliefs, the Holy Spirit is female.

Many of the grand medieval cathedrals and churches in Europe keep unusual statues of the Virgin and Child – a black-skinned Mary nursing a black-skinned infant Jesus. These are known as the “Black Madonnas”, or “Black Virgins” and tend to be kept in the crypt or some other underground vault.
There are many known examples of statues and paintings of the Black Madonna, perhaps as many as 300 in France alone, and a surprising amount of the paintings and statues have an association with St. Luke, the patron Saint of painters – he is attributed with painting them whilst in the presence of the Virgin Mary, who revealed her mysteries to him during the sitting. He has also been credited with carving at least one of the statues – the wooden statue of Montserrat which, legend has it, was hidden in the Holy Grotto to hide it from the Moors. However, carbon dating suggests the statue originated in the 12th or 13th Century. Hiding the statue to keep it safe is the main reason given for these Madonnas being found in crypts and grottos. The unusual colouring of the Madonna is often explained as due to decay. There are claims that some of the statues were made from a black stone, probably obsidian, that was then given a pale skin-coloured covering to depict the recognised image of the Madonna and Child. As the pale skin colour wore off and the black base was exposed, this Madonna was then relegated to the crypt. In some churches (for example in Poland and Russia) there are iconic paintings of Mary and the Infant Jesus, also claimed to be by the hand of St. Luke, where the blackened skin has been attributed to smoke from candles, or ageing.

Comparisons have been made of the image of the Christian Madonna and Child with almost identical depictions of Isis, Goddess of Ancient Egypt, nursing her infant son, Horus. The Mother Goddess was also widely venerated by Europeans, albeit under many different guises. Nowadays, many of these goddesses are linked with Isis and, in some cases, temples in France have been attributed to Isis; for example, the town of Issoudun is so named because it is believed there was a Temple of Isis under the main hill. If so, the goddess might easily have been assimilated by Europeans into their pantheon of deities due to the similarity with Earth and Mother Goddesses such as Nertha. Pagan temples to Isis and other Mother/Earth Goddesses would in time be replaced by Christian churches, and images of the various Goddesses of the Earth were replaced by images of the Virgin Mary, Mother Mary, or Mary in other guises (Queen of Heaven etc.) Symbolically, caves, grottos and crypts have been associated with the womb – a cave representing the womb of Mother Earth in mythology. There are goddesses connected with the Cave-Mother symbolism, and among these Cave-Mothers we might include Mary, who gave birth in a rock-cut shelter.

Some believe that these statues of the Black Madonna are not Christian in origin; rather, they are representations of Isis and Horus that when discovered, were wrongly identified as the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus – if so, this would certainly create the need for explanations as to why the statues were originally hidden. However, there is another possibility; the Black Madonna might never have depicted Isis but might well be an esoteric – possibly medieval – Christian symbol.

3

The link with medieval alchemy and esoteric or Gnostic Christianity has been demonstrated, and the use of the symbol of the Ouroboros shows an understanding of the Cosmic Cycle, as in the coupling of the above and the below, of matter and spirit in earthly man. The circular motion of the snake eating its own tail illustrates the continuity of time, and endless development.

This Cosmic Cycle is incorporated in the Christian Holy Trinity; albeit in completely masculine terms, with God as heavenly father, heavenly Holy Spirit and the divine son made of earthly matter. This was enabled through the coupling of the male Holy Spirit and the “living” Virgin Mary. In Egyptian mythology, the living Isis only conceives her son Horus after the death of Osiris. He procreates from the spiritual world, when he becomes God of the Underworld. This can be explained in alchemical terms, with the masculine Osiris, the black virginal prima materia and fixed male, uniting with the black, volatile, female, spirit of Isis his wife, conceiving and producing the Divine child Horus,
the Earthly representative of his father Osiris. The serpents have devoured one another, the Ouroboros is realised and so the Cycle continues.

The serpent has long been perceived as an enemy of Christians, and the use of serpent symbolism in Christian iconography is generally to portray sinfulness, temptation, and the fall of mankind. The serpent as a symbol of the Divine state of man would not have been acceptable, and is still not acceptable to many Christians. However, in the “Black Madonna” we have the same trinity expressed. The Black Virgin is, like Osiris, the father and the divine, male essence. The Black Mother is, like Isis, the mother and the divine, female essence, and the product of their union is the Ouroboros, Horus – the Christ.

The Black Madonna could be another representation of the All, the trinity – and an esoteric Christian symbol of the Cosmic Cycle.

PH Runge’s Der Kleine Morgen, 1808 and Jakob Boehme’s Aurora

kleiner_morgen

“..for a lily blossoms upon the mountains and valleys in all the ends of the earth..” Jakob Bohme – Signatura Rerum (The Signature of All Things)

Fig. 2. Der Kleine Morgen. Collection Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg

“The painting consists of two separate parts, an interior and an exterior painting or “frame” that are connected to each other. The interior parting is dominated by a female figure that has often been interpreted as “Venus” or “Holy Mary”, while the child has been seen as “Eros” or “Jesus Christ”.12 Taking the exterior painting, I believe that the painting illustrates the Golden Age before the fall into matter as it is described in Jacob Böhme’s Aurora. The female figure illustrates Sophia, the divine wisdom while the child stands for the first man, the androgynous Adam. The idea of light, the fiat lux, is central to the painting. The top part is held in transparent primary colors, while the foreground already shows non-transparent features. The central axis of both the interior and the exterior picture is light and can therefore be understood as God (and his “female part” Sophia) being the central axis of all. The obvious reflection of light on the child’s body is mere a combination of internal and external light, of the sun and the divine glimpse inside the child.

The frame illustrates the fall into matter and the salvation of nature. At the bottom, the sun is darkened and two children – male and female – are fleeing from it, heading toward two other figures in the corners. Those are trapped under the roots of a plant, showing the entrapment into matter and their bodies fail to show the inner light. It is important to state here that even in this dark corner Runge does not use black, but only a very dark brown. He shows that, even in the darkest place, black (or evil) has not succeeded in taking over the world and that there is still hope for salvation.

Thus, the plant grows upwards, toward the lighter spheres and the red flower of the amaryllis bears a child, raising its arms. Its body reflects the light of the inner painting, the light of Sophia. In the top part of the frame you can see a lily and a winged child kneeling on its blossom. It has lost its sexual features and is bowing towards the top center of the exterior painting: Rays of light surrounded by small heads are reflected on a blue background. Taking the copper-print version of Der Morgen into account, which can be understood as an earlier work on the same theme, these rays symbolize God (fig. 3). In the copper-print, Runge uses the Hebrew name, while in the color version God “loses” his specific Jewish-Christian connotation and becomes a universal concept.” From http://www.theosophyforward.com/index.php/theosophy-and-the-society-in-the-public-eye/411-the-influence-of-jacob-boehmes-theosophical-ideas-on-the-farbenlehre-theory-of-colors-by-philipp-otto-runge.html?start=1

Jakob Boehme’s Aurora – Illustrated pdf file http://ia600401.us.archive.org/28/items/JacobBoehmesAurora-ElectronicText-edition/Jacob-Boehme-Aurora-electronic-text.pdf

aurora.308161558_std

Jakob Boehme
Aurora
That is the
Day­Spring.
Or
Dawning of the Day in the Orient
Or Morning­Redness
in the Rising of the SUN.
  That is
 The Root or Mother of
       Philosophy, Astrology &  Theology
 from the true Ground.

   Or  a Description of Nature

The kabbalistic-alchemical altarpiece in Bad Teinach

bad_teinach

The kabbalistic-alchemical altarpiece in Bad Teinach – Copyright Adam McLean From the Hermetic Journal 12, Summer, 1981, pages 21-26.

“The Kabbalistic-Alchemical Altarpiece in a small church in the town of Bad Teinach near Calw in Germany, is, I believe, of the greatest esoteric value.

I have at present little information on its outward history, though it is dated 1673 and seems to have been prepared at the instigation of Princess Antonia (1613-1679), so I will therefore concentrate in this article on the symbolism of the painting.
The painting’s central panel, which is all we shall concern ourselves with here, shows us a Rose Garden surrounded by a hedgerow bearing red and white roses. Outside the garden in the background on the left is a four-square military camp, while on the right we see a city founded on a circular plan. In the centre foreground, a bowered gate opens into the garden and a female figure is seen standing upon the threshold, pausing at her entry to gaze at the wonders before her. She bears in her right hand her flaming heart, while on her left she leans upon a staff in the form of an anchor cross. Thus she represents the Soul of Man standing at the threshold of spiritual illumination, with the fire of enthusiasm and love burning within the heart, and the anchored foundation of the Soul in the central mystery of the Cross of Christ.
The Soul gazes into the garden, and here we are reminded of the Rosarium or Rose Garden of the Virgin, the medieval picture of the enclosed domain in which the human soul can commune with the Sophia-Wisdom aspect of the Spirit. Within this Rose Garden are two realms – a circular garden and a domed Mystery Temple. The soul must first traverse the circular garden before the soul reaches the outer court of the Temple which stands upon a podium of seven steps.

THE CIRCULAR GARDEN

The garden is centred upon the figure of the resurrected Christ, standing upon a rock and holding his Cross. From his body there flows a stream of blood forming a pool at the centre of the circle. Around him the garden is segmented into three rings of twelve flower beds each bearing their own particular plants, and we see 12 figures standing around the circumference of the inner ring (which is within the pool of the Christ Blood). These twelve figures are constellated with an array of symbols which are too complex to analyse here, but for example they appear with various animals, they hold symbolic objects, have certain colourings and they each stand at sacred trees which grow at the boundary of the inner ring. These trees are as follows, counting clockwise from the figure just to the right of the Christ :-

Laurel – Cypress – Willow – Fig – Cedar – Fir – Olive – Apple – Pomegranate – Almond – Palm – Oak.”

For the rest of the description, please see here: http://www.levity.com/alchemy/bad_teinach.html

C. G. Jung and the Alchemical Renewal by Stephan A Hoeller

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When Jung published his first major work on alchemy at the end of World War II, most reference books described this discipline as nothing more than a fraudulent and inefficient forerunner of modern chemistry. Today, more than twenty-five years after Jung’s death, alchemy is once again a respected subject of both academic and popular interest, and alchemical terminology is used with great frequency in textbooks of depth-psychology and other disciplines. It may be said without exaggeration that the contemporary status of alchemy owes its very existence to the psychological wizard of Küsnacht. Take away the monumental contribution of C.G. Jung, and most modern research concerning this fascinating subject falls like a house of cards; to speak of alchemy in our age and not mention him could be likened to discoursing on Occultism without noting the importance of Helena P. Blavatsky, or discussing religious studies in contemporary American universities without paying homage to Mircea Eliade.

Jung’s “first love” among esoteric systems was Gnosticism. From the earliest days of his scientific career until the time of his death, his dedication to the subject of Gnosticism was relentless. As early as August, 1912, Jung intimated in a letter to Freud that he had an intuition that the essentially feminine-toned archaic wisdom of the Gnostics, symbolically called Sophia, was destined to re-enter modern Western culture by way of depth-psychology. Subsequently, he stated to Barbara Hannah that when he discovered the writings of the ancient Gnostics, “I felt as if I had at last found a circle of friends who understood me.”

The circle of ancient friends was a fragile one, however. Very little reliable, first-hand information was available to Jung within which he could have found the world and spirit of such past Gnostic luminaries as Valentinus, Basilides, and others. The fragmentary, and possibly mendacious, accounts of Gnostic teachings and practices appearing in the works of such heresy-hunting church fathers as Irenaeus and Hippolytus were a far cry from the wealth of archetypal lore available to us today in the Nag Hammadi collection. Of primary sources, the remarkable Pistis Sophia was one of very few available to Jung in translation, and his appreciation of this work was so great that he made a special effort to seek out the translator, the then aged and impecunious George R. S. Mead, in London to convey to him his great gratitude.1 Jung continued to explore Gnostic lore with great diligence, and his own personal matrix of inner experience became so affinitized to Gnostic imagery that he wrote the only published document of his great transformational crisis, The Seven Sermons to the Dead, using purely Gnostic terminology and mythologems of the system of Basilides.2

In all this devoted study, Jung was disturbed by one principal difficulty: The ancient Gnostic myths and traditions were some seventeen or eighteen hundred years old, and no living link seemed to exist that might join them to Jung’s own time. (There is some minimal and obscure evidence indicating that Jung was aware of a few small and secretive Gnostic groups in France and Germany, but their role in constituting such a link did not seem firmly enough established.) As far as Jung could discern, the tradition that might have connected the Gnostics with the present seemed to have been broken. However, his intuition (later justified by painstaking research) disclosed to him that the chief link connecting later ages with the Gnostics was in fact none other than alchemy. While his primary interest at this time was Gnosticism, he was already aware of the relevance of alchemy to his concerns. Referring to his intense inner experiences occurring between 1912 and 1919 he wrote:

First I had to find evidence for the historical prefiguration of my own inner experiences. That is to say, I had to ask myself, “Where have my particular premises already occurred in history?” If I had not succeeded in finding such evidence, I would never have been able to substantiate my ideas. Therefore, my encounter with alchemy was decisive for me, as it provided me with the historical basis which I hitherto lacked.3

In 1926 Jung had a remarkable dream. He felt himself transported back into the seventeenth century, and saw himself as an alchemist, engaged in the opus, or great work of alchemy. Prior to this time, Jung, along with other psychoanalysts, was intrigued and taken aback by the tragic fate of Herbert Silberer, a disciple of Freud, who in 1914 published a work dealing largely with the psychoanalytic implications of alchemy. Silberer, who upon proudly presenting his book to his master Freud, was coldly rebuked by him, became despondent and ended his life by suicide, thus becoming what might be called the first martyr to the cause of a psychological view of alchemy.

Now it all came together, as it were. The Gnostic Sophia was about to begin her triumphal return to the arena of modern thought, and the psychological link connecting her and her modern devotees would be the long despised, but about to be rehabilitated, symbolic discipline of alchemy. The recognition had come. Heralded by a dream, the role of alchemy as the link connecting ancient Gnosticism with modern psychology, as well as Jung’s role in reviving this link, became apparent. As Jung was to recollect later:

[Alchemy] represented the historical link with Gnosticism, and . . . a continuity therefore existed between past and present. Grounded in the natural philosophy of the Middle Ages, alchemy formed the bridge on the one hand into the past, to Gnosticism, and on the other into the future, to the modern psychology of the unconscious.4

See the article here http://www.gnosis.org/jung_alchemy.htm