Tag Archives: The Great Work

Hermetic Rebirth and the Cave of Initiation


Hermetism is often and wrongly confused with Gnosticism, which similarly originated in Egypt in roughly the same era. For present purposes, a few salient points of contrast will suffice. Like the God of Stoicism, the Hermetic God was omnipresent and omniscient through the material cosmos. In Gnosticism, by contrast, God was transcendent, and the physical universe was an evil place created by an evil Demiurge (van den Broek 1998). Hermetic ethics celebrated the divine within the world; Gnostic ethics were abstemious, ascetic efforts to escape from the world (Mahé 1998).

There were also differences in their valuations of visions. Jonas (1969) drew attention to the fact that the motif of heavenly ascension was originally intended, for example in Jewish apocalyptic literature, as an objective reality, but was subsequently transformed into an allegory of the mystical path. The mystical appropriation of the ascension motif was complete by the second century era of the Alexandrine Christian fathers, St. Clement and Origen (Danielou 1973).

The allegorical tradition was also present in the Gnostic literature of Nag Hammadi, although in a slightly different manner. Referring to experiences of visions in general, The Exegesis on the Soul 34 stated: “Now it is fitting that the soul regenerate herself….This is the resurrection that is from the dead. This is the ransom from captivity. This is the upward journey of ascent to heaven. This is the way of ascent to the father” (Robinson 1988:196). For the Gnostics, as for the Alexandrine fathers, ascension was one among several literary tropes that could signify mystical experiences of highly varied manifest contents.

So far as I know, the Hermetic system was the earliest in the West to propose a mystical initiation, consisting of multiple experiences, that is simultaneously a journey through places and a series of changes in the ontology of the self. Its ascension to the sky compares with Jewish and Christian apocalypticism; but its division of ontological states compares with Neoplatonic distinctions among sensibles, intermediates or divisible intelligibles, and indivisible intelligibles.

This sequence, which can already be discerned in Iamblichus, was eventually formalized by Proclus as three mystical stages of purgation, illumination, and union. However, the Hermetists slotted imaginals into the middle position that Neoplatonism limited to empirically demonstrable arithmeticals and geometricals.

This substitution brought Hermetism to a position on visions that differed from the reductive skepticism of Neoplatonism, which treated visions as ideas that were misrepresented by the senses in the form of images.

The Hermetic position also differed from the pure projections that Gnostics held visions to be. For Hermetists, the imaginal was not a projection whose ever various and impredictable content becomes increasingly pure as one’s mind purifies in its progress toward God. The imaginal was instead topographical, an actual and predictable itinerary in a visionary topos that had ontological integrity and coherence.

Although The Discourse was not transmitted to the West in the Corpus Hermeticum, the Hermetic concept of ontologically distinctive locations along an itinerary has been integral to Western esotericism for centuries. Because the Hermetic tradition survived without apparent interruption from late antiquity to be taught at least as late as eleventh century Baghdad, it is not surprising that a series of initiatory experiences were portrayed as an itinerary across nine mountains in Suhrawardi’s Treatise of the Birds (1982).

Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191)

To Suhrawardi, Sufism also owed the introduction of the ‘alam al-mithal, the “world of imagination” (Rahman 1964). The notion of an initiatory itinerary in the world of imagination was formalized, or at least made less esoteric, in the Sufism of Najm ad-Din al-Kubra (Merkur 1991:223, 234-35); and its passage from Islam to western Europe may be assumed.

Interestingly, Widengren (1950:77-85) demonstrated that the ancient motif of ascension to an audience before a heavenly god was replaced, in the Arabic Hermetic literature, by the motif of entering a subterranean chamber where Hermes sits enthroned, holding a book in his hand. Widengren suggested that the descent of Balinas (the Arabic Apollonius of Tyana) to acquire the Emerald Table of Hermes, along with variant narratives, blended the motif of an initiatory ascension with the motif, found in Egyptian and Hellenistic tales, of the discovery of a book in a subterranean chamber.

An illustration from an old collection of stories translated from Ancient Eyptian Literature. This scene depicts the character “Setna”, emerging from a tomb where he gambled to win a magical papyrus, known as the Book Of Thoth, the reading of which would empower him with all knowledge. Setna was based on a real person, Prince Khaemwaset, the fourth son of Ramesses II, who was a Holy Man of the highest order (Sem Priest) and credited as being a great magician. (It was this character from Ancient History that I give all credit to for embarking on my own Hermetic Journey – Jaq) Setna/Prince Khaemwaset

The motif of the cave of initiation, which found its widest audience through the tale of Aladdin in the 1001 Nights, may also have been influenced by Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs (Taylor 1969), in which a passage in Homer was allegorized as an image of the cosmos. Whatever its sources, the motif of an alchemical initiation by means of a subterranean itinerary is earliest attested in the writings of medieval Arabic Hermetists.

By this route, the motif of ascension in late antique Hermetism was likely historically antecedent not only to such celebrated European alchemical motifs as the Cave of the Philosophers, but also to the climactic encounters in Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1796) and Ferdinand Ossendowski’s Beasts, Men and Gods (1922).

Engraving from Baro Urbigerus Besondere chymische Schrifften, 1705.

Source: Stages of Ascension in Hermetic Rebirth

The Discourse on the 8th and 9th

The Corpus Hermeticum

Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191)


Visualization in Medieval Alchemy – alchemy as a science and an art aimed at the transformation of species

In Arabic classifications of science and philosophy, which were adapted in the twelfth century, alchemy was defined as a sub-branch of natural philosophy (scientia naturalis), sharing this definition, above all, with medicine. Thus, about ten years after the first translation of an alchemical text into Latin (Morienus, De compositione alchimie), Dominic Gundissalinus described alchemy as belonging to physics in his De divisione philosophiae (ca. 1150).[6] It was a science and an art aimed at the transformation of species

In the thirteenth century, representatives of Platonically-oriented cosmology and natural science such as Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253) defended a systematic use of geometrical representation. Following Grosseteste, “all causes of natural effects must be expressed by means of lines, angles, and figures, for otherwise it is impossible to grasp their explanation”.[24] The corresponding theory of knowledge was neo-Platonic and Augustinian. The intelligible order underlying the physical, corporeal world was thought to be apprehensible by the divine part of the soul, by the ‘eye of the soul’, and geometrical figures (as well as number patterns) were used as ‘ladders’ leading to eternal truths.

The early fifteenth-century Aurora consurgens marks a further step in the elaboration of pictorial metaphors combined with glass vessels. The oldest and most spectacular copy of this document dates from the 1420s (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, ms. Rh. 172). On a purely pictorial level, an inventive and high-quality artist developed a core of recurrent alchemical metaphors that relate to human and animal procreation, the dismemberment of bodies (symbolizing calcinations and putrefaction) and motifs such as the eagle and the dragon, which denote mercury as a volatile and as a solidified substance, respectively.[75] In and around glass vessels, the artist metaphorically depicted stages of operation relating to the alchemical art of transformation as well as cosmological and philosophical principles of the art, such as “two are one” and “nature vanquishes nature”. Two or more principal metaphors are frequently combined within a single picture, reflecting the increasing use of chains of metaphors. For instance, one of the illustration combines the motifs of Mercury decapitating the sun and the moon with a vase filled with silver and gold flowers

Figure 11: Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, ms. Rh. 172, fol. 27v. Aurora consurgens (ca 1420-30). Mercury in the form of a serpent decapitating the Sun and the Moon. Gold and silver flowers in a vessel on the fire.

For the full article from which these extracts were taken, go to the link below

Source: HYLE 9-2 (2003): Visualization in Medieval Alchemy

Alchemical Psychology, Part III – Silver

I can’t recommend this post highly enough.. wonderful, wonderful x

The Ptero Card

White and silver share a lot of the same qualities but Hillman breaks up the next chapter into two parts starting with silver; all things lunar and reflective. Silver allows reflection and is the means by which we mediate between psyche and the physical. The risk here is one of identifying with depersonalized images, becoming cold and detached from human life rather than using images as a bridge beween the psychic and physical worlds.

“The cool, silver psyche, though seemingly “unrelated,” can establish relations between the most burning issues and hold them together, yet without fusing them into a false compromise (amalgam). It mediates, attaching molten factions by means of its own detachment.”

042Hillman begins the chapter with a very startling idea that may be difficult for many moderns to hear. Particularly those who prefer to stave off pathological states by avoiding the black and blue stages whenever and however possible, but without…

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


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.

RERE RER – Fulcanelli

credence RERE RER hotel Lallemant

(auto-translation from the French)

Here is a large excerpt of commentary on Fulcanelli RERE RER, in his first book “The Mystery of the Cathedrals”

… The puzzle itself consists of two terms: RERE, RER, which seem to have no meaning and are both, repeated three times on the concave bottom of the niche.

We already find out, thanks to this simple layout, a valuable indication that the three repetitions of a single technical veiled under mysterious expression RERE, RER. However, three grenades igneous the pediment confirm this triple action of a single process, and, as they represent the corporifié fire in this red salt what the Philosophical Sulfur, we can readily understand that we should repeat three times the calcination this body to achieve the three philosophical works, according to the doctrine of Geber. The first step leads first to Sulphur, medicine or the first order, the second operation, exactly like the first, provides the Elixir or medicine of the second order, which is different from the Sulphur in quality and not not in kind, and the third operation, carried out as the first two, gives the Philosopher’s Stone, medicine of the third order, which contains all the virtues, qualities and perfections of Sulphur and Elixir increased in power and scope .. .

But how to decipher the riddle of empty words? – In a very simple way. RE ablative Latin res, meaning thing, considered in its field; since the word is RERE assembly RE, thing, and RE, another thing we translate two things in one, or a double thing, RERE and thus equivalent to RE BIS. Open an airtight dictionary, flip any book of alchemy and you will find that the word REBIS frequently used by philosophers, characterizes their compost or made ​​ready to undergo successive transformations under the influence of fire. Summarize. RE, a philosophical dry matter, gold, RE, wet, philosophical mercury or RERE REBIS, double material, both wet and dry, gold amalgam and philosophical mercury, which received combination of nature and art dual property occult exactly balanced.

We want to be as clear in explaining the second term RER, but we are not allowed to tear the veil of mystery that covers it. However, to meet, to the extent possible, the natural curiosity of children art, we can say that these three letters contain a secret of the utmost importance, which refers to the vase of the Work. RER used to cook, to unite and radically indissolubly to cause transformations compost RERE …

What is it that RSP? – We have seen that RE means one thing, material, R, which is half of RE, mean half a thing, matter. RSP is equivalent to an increased for half of another or his own. Note that it is not a question here of proportions, but an independent chemical combination of relative quantities. For us to understand, take an example and assume that the material represented by ROE realgar or natural arsenic sulfide. R, half of RE may be sulfur realgar or its arsenic, which are similar or different, depending on whether one considers the sulfur arsenic separately or combined in realgar. So that RER is obtained by realgar increased sulfur, which is regarded as forming half of realgar, or arsenic, considered as the other half in the same red sulfide.

Some tips yet, looking firstly RER, that is to say the ship. RERE you will then easily knowable

credence hotel Lallemant

Original French from where the excerpt is taken http://hermetism.free.fr/Credence%20de%20l%27hotel%20Lallemant.htm

Withdraw into yourself and look..


‘Withdraw into yourself and look; and if you do not find yourself beautiful as yet, do as does the sculptor of a statue … cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is shadowed … do not cease until there shall shine out on you the Godlike Splendour of Beauty; until you see temperance surely established in the stainless shrine-(Ennead, 1, 6, 9).

Alfred Kubin – The Guardian 1902-304-alfred-kubin-el-guardian-gardien-the-guardian-1902-03-peninkwashwatercolour

The Tarocchi de Mantegna

The Tarocchi of Mantegna is one of the earliest known tarot or Tarocchi packs, “being dated to c.1465, contemporary with the Visconti-Sforza deck of the mid-fifteenth century which is recognised as the earliest tarot.”

In the words of Adam McLean:

The symbolism of these cards, or perhaps we should say ’emblematic figures’, would seem to derive from the Hermetic tradition which is now recognised as underlying the Italian Renaissance of the mid-fifteenth century. It was during this period that the Platonic Academies of the Medici’s were set up and Ficino and other scholars began translating texts such as the Corpus Hermeticum and the works of Plato, some of which were brought to the Court of Florence from Constantinople by Gemistus Plethon (c.1355-1450), a Greek scholar who was probably an initiate of a ‘Platonic’ Mystery School in the East. This reconstruction of hermetic and neoplatonic esotericism is reflected in such ideas as the Muses, the Liberal Arts, the Cardinal Virtues, and the Heavenly Spheres, and it is my view that the Tarocchi of Mantegna should be seen as an ’emblem book’ of this hermetic current. The fact that its designs show parallels with the later tarot decks should therefore be of the greatest interest both to students of tarot and of Hermeticism.


For the full article, see here: http://www.levity.com/alchemy/mantegna.html

Lily and the Pyramid of the East by Jaq White

Here’s a little autobiographical story I wrote back in 2002; I labelled it an allegorical, metaphysical fairy tale. Make of it what you will!


The Black Sophia and the Black Madonna


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

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


“..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


Jakob Boehme
That is the
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