Category Archives: alchemy

Everything is Four

Out of the None comes One,
out of the One comes Two,
and from the twain comes forth
the One as Four.

— Not the Axiom of Maria

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

— From The Sound of Music

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axiom_of_Maria

https://www.wussu.com/laotzu/laotzu42.html

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2019/08/22/everything-is-four/

[*12.18, *12.20]

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The Book of the New Sun

Gene Wolfe’s “Book of the New Sun” tetralogy is said to be rife with alchemical symbolism. I have not read it yet, although it has been on my to-read stack for years. Nonetheless, here is a diagram for you, partly because it’s an easy post, but also for me, so that I can add interesting links as I might find them.

  • The Shadow of the Torturer
  • The Claw of the Conciliator
  • The Sword of the Lictor
  • The Citadel of the Autarch

Of course, there are a few other tetralogies that exist, although they are not as common as trilogies. One already mentioned on this blog is the Aeygpt Tetralogy by John Crowley.

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_the_New_Sun

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetralogy

An Analysis Of The Alchemical Tradition Behind BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, Part I: Urth, Ushas, And Unus Mundus

An Analysis Of The Alchemical Tradition Behind BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, Part II: The Solve et Coagula of Terminus Est

An Analysis Of The Alchemical Tradition Behind BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, Part III: The Piteous Gate and A Dark Albedo

An Analysis of the Alchemical Tradition Behind BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, Part IV: Hethor, Typhon and the Temptation of Severian

An Analysis of the Alchemical Tradition Behind BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, Part V: The Aestivation Hypothesis and the Hierodules

An Analysis of the Alchemical Tradition Behind BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, Part VI: Tzadkiel and the Mystery of Yesod

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Carl Jung’s Alchemical Tetrameria

Jung’s diagram of his alchemical tetrameria is supposed to represent the evolving self, and suggests movement, succession, and change and yet stillness, consistency, and renewal. His own diagram is quite different from mine, but I do think that mine has some merit.

What are those elements A, B, C, D, and a, b, c, d, and the subscripts 1, 2, 3, 4, indicating the modification of them? I’m not quite sure that it matters, except that for the relationships between the two, and the relationships between the four squares, and the relationships between the four parts of the four squares.

In Jung’s diagram, A equals a cycle of a, b, c, and d, and likewise B a cycle of a1, b1, c1, and d1, etc., and so we can instead say A is a cycle of Aa, Ab, Ac, and Ad, and likewise B is a cycle of Ba, Bb, Bc, and Bd, etc. In that sense my diagram denotes much the same as Jung’s.

Nevertheless, I’m going to have to cycle through some more thoughts about why one should spend too much time contemplating this diagram.

Further Reading:

https://elements.spiritalchemy.com/t3-Ch3.html

http://finitegeometry.org/sc/ph/imago.html

http://www.log24.com/philo/Jung/Aion14.html

Murray Stein / Jung’s Map of the Soul: an introduction

Leslie Stein / Becoming Whole: Jung’s equation for realizing God

Carl Jung / Aion

[*12.10, *12.11]

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The Hero’s Journey

Professor of Literature Joseph Campbell [1] popularized the monomyth of the “hero’s journey” [2], a recurring template for the plot arc or cycle of many heroic characters found in mythologies and even popular modern stories. From his most famous book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. [3]

Quite a few diagrams are available showing the generic journey of the hero or heroine; some are more complete than others, and the one I present here is no exception. Campbell’s schema is said to have seventeen basic parts to it, but not all elements need to be present in any specific narrative. I list four basic “acts” (separation, descent, ascent, unification) and twelve basic events, including four thresholds: 1st) crossing into the special world, 2nd) surmounting the supreme ordeal, 3rd) returning to the normal world, and 4th) journey’s end and / or beginning.

  • Call and Refusal
  • ——–< Separation >
  • Meet the Mentor
  • Crossing Over (1st Threshold)
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies
  • ——–< Into the Abyss / Descent >
  • Inmost Cave / Whale Belly
  • Supreme Ordeal (2nd Threshold)
  • Ultimate Boon / Reward
  • ——–< Magic Flight / Ascent >
  • Road Back / Refusal
  • Crossing Back (3rd Threshold)
  • Return with Elixir / Resurrection
  • ——–< Unification >
  • Master of Two Worlds
  • Freedom to Live (or Die) (4th Threshold)

Any hero’s journey must be transformational, and so has associations with alchemical change. It must be of such difficulty that it utterly changes the nature and the mindset of the traveler. Even though many supporting characters may influence, help, and even hinder our hero, it is ultimately about their journey, their sacrifice, and their reward. But what the hero brings back with them is also key to the story, because it is for the benefit of others as well as for themselves.

An interesting dissertation by Richard Warm that I ran across recently proposes that leaders, like heroes, need ordeals and trials in order to bring back the inspiration and wisdom to motivate others. From the abstract:

This dissertation will explore leadership as a mytho-poetic transformational journey toward self-knowledge, authenticity, and ultimately wisdom; the power to make meaning and give something back to the world in which we live; and the necessity of transformation. I view leadership as a transformative process and a transformational responsibility. As leaders we must undergo our own transformation in order to lead change on a larger scale. The dissertation will be both philosophical and theoretical, exploring how the threads of the hero’s journey, transformation, wisdom, and leadership intertwine. …[4]

These ordeals may also be of an intellectual or moral kind, and not just feats of strength or stamina, although those are important too. Warm also has a company [5] for coaching you on your leadership, life, and legacy.

One of my favorite books that I think of when the hero’s journey comes to mind is “Figures of Earth: a comedy of appearances” by James Branch Cabell. It is a bit of a spoof on fantasy tropes, well before its time. However, I’m not quite sure what the “magic elixir” is that the hero returns with except for his story: that life is what you make of it, or what it appears to be to others, or what you can convince yourself that it is, or that it is what it is and must be sufficient to you in the end.

References:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero%27s_journey

[3] Joseph Campbell / The Hero with a Thousand Faces

[4] https://aura.antioch.edu/etds/113/

[5] https://mythoscoaching.com/

Further Reading:

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheHerosJourney

http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/the-hero-journey-mythic-structure-of-joseph-campbell-monomyth.html

http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/Workshop-stuff/Joseph-Campbell-Hero-Journey.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figures_of_Earth

“There are one or two things that I do not fancy the looks of in this torture-chamber.”

[*6.38, *6.133, *6.149, *9.200, *11.70]

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Lodge 49

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

— William Shakespeare, from The Tempest

As a dabbler in Alchemical concepts I was heartened that the American TV show “Lodge 49” was renewed for a second season. The show is mostly set in Long Beach, CA at the current time and revolves around characters who are members of the fictional fraternal social club Lodge 49, a local chapter of a greater fictional organization called the Order of the Lynx. The history of the Order is mysterious and is revealed slowly as it is told to one of the main characters who becomes a new member. There are many Alchemical references in the artwork on the lodge’s walls and in the literature and philosophy of the Order itself (as well as beliefs by a few members) but for the most part the members use the lodge as a gathering place to socialize and to network for personal and business needs.

There is a great sense of ennui and nostalgia in the member’s lives, in the atmosphere of the lodge itself, and the larger world outside. The golden days of yesteryear are past. The economic climate is mostly dire because businesses are shuttering or are corporate nightmares and in general people are not happy in their personal lives and their life’s work. The new member (who could represent our “everyman” but perhaps the Fisher King himself) at first seems to be rather worthless but we soon see has been dealt some rough blows recently. And yet he still seems optimistic and hopeful for a better tomorrow and a return to better days. His sister is more worthwhile but not by much, working a dead end job and living a life that’s going nowhere except trying to help her brother. A sadness and disappointment hangs about in most everyone’s lives.

Our everyman’s enthusiasm and hope soon infects the other lodge members but as we learn more of their backstories and the history of the lodge we feel that a bright future for all is still very much in doubt. Everything is in flux, but there is always a give and take to be considered. Here the idea of “equivalent exchange” comes to mind. To gain something from the world, something else must be given up. To win something, something else must be lost. In the long game, perhaps knowledge is the ultimate prize to be granted, and what we must relinquish is our innocence and naiveté. But not our hope, because without it we are lost and just going through the motions, as many of these characters are.

Alchemy has been seen in modern thought to be an analogy for personal growth and individuation. Carl Jung was a pioneer in this as he explored the meaning of dreams and the unconscious. As the alchemist strived to transmute base substances into gold (the element that was thought to embody both material and spiritual perfection), so a person should work to transform his life and its meaning into the highest forms that they can obtain. This is indeed possible because what constitutes all that is superior, also constitutes all that is inferior. As Above, So Below (from the Emerald Tablet and which is the title of the first episode).

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lodge_49

https://www.carl-jung.net/alchemy.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisher_King

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerald_Tablet

The title of the last episode:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_fathom_five_(catchphrase)

Also see:

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2013/12/06/the-tempest-and-forbidden-planet/

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2010/08/11/a-warning/

[*10.180]

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Noether-Pauli-Jung

What happens when the fourfold of Noether’s Theorem is spliced together with the fourfold of Pauli-Jung? Both have Space-Time and Matter-Energy. The former has Conservation and Symmetry, and the latter has Causality and Synchronicity.

I had to remind myself that Conservation means consistency (of matter or energy) through time (and space), and Symmetry means consistency (of form) through space (and time), so in some sense they are dualistic.

Combined, one has the three axes of dual concepts, represented above.

Further Reading:

https://equivalentexchange.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/noethers-theorem/

https://equivalentexchange.wordpress.com/2018/01/23/atom-and-archetype/

[*10.68]

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The Six Elements

What happens if one combines the four classical Greek (Western) elements with the five classical Chinese (Eastern) elements? Air is in the former and not the latter. Wood and metal are in the latter and not the former.

I’ve left out the Aether (the Fifth Element) of the West because I follow Empedocles, and I see that the five classical Japanese elements have those four and Void as well. But, I’m just looking at material and tangible elements.

One might consider Wood and Metal to be derivatives of Earth, but let’s consider them to be distinct for this exercise. So, maybe six elements!

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_Xing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_element

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empedocles

[*10.68]

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