It has become common place that many people today use the words alchemy and alchemical incorrectly. There is glamour to the Art that all desire, but empty words are empty words. New Age spirituality has all but bankrupted the common mind through confusion spawned by idealist notions that “if I name it thus it is.”
Alchemy is a science with ancient lineage and is at its core concerned with material things. After all we cannot transmute what is immaterial. The work of alchemy is the assisting of Natura in her perfection of all things. We are taking the material and spiritualizing it, not the other way around, by the freeing of the core principles of its being: Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt.
The three essentials, hidden within all things, are ever present, the very epicenter of our being resides in the eternal cycles of these three. But through the labors summed up in the alchemist’s motto, solve et coagua*, we elevate a material being by separating and purifying each of these principles before recombining them. The recombining of the Three Essentials constitutes the “resurrection” of the matter we began with, now elevated by philosophical means.
Each step of the way is an initiation that can only truly be grasped by doing it. The mysteries of this Art will never be revealed by the pages of books alone. There are secrets that fire alone can reveal. Fire after all is the most spiritual of the elements, it’s sparks ever rising higher. It is a medium of transmutation as we continue to elevate the herb with which we began into a philosophical medicine. But there are primary and secondary to fire in our work.
Pyromancy, or flame scrying is a divinatory technique that can be employed whenever we are using fire in our magic. The hypnotic dance of a candle or from our crucibles can reveal hidden influences and the outcome of our workings. This is the secondary use of fire in calcination. As we free the salt from the physical being of the prima materia we also free its spiritual virtues to be seen in the flames of its pyre. Only the alchemist can understand these secrets by way of daring to do the work. The salamanders, or fire elementals, believed to lie in the heart of ever flame, are the ones who complete our work alongside us in the crucible. Remember the old motto: Igne natura renovatur integra “Through Fire, nature is reborn whole.”
Alchemy, the art of “raising vibrations” as Frater Albertus, the teacher of my teacher, Robert Bartlett put it, is the process of assisting nature in its perfection. All of the cosmos is naturally headed towards perfection, but it has been left unfinished so that we might actively participate alongside our Creator. It is called the Great Work because there is no other task through which we might attain a greater good. We may alchemically, or philosophically, prepare many medicines from many matters, but perhaps no greater medicine can we perfect than that of prayer. The work begins with the first matter, as the Creator intended. The first matter is that which we shall breakdown through the beginning stages, to procure the three essentials: sulfur, mercury, and salt. In herbs this begins with a steam extraction of the essential oils (sulfur), next the fermentation of the remaining matter into a “wine” (mercury) where the plant “dies”, and finally leaving the dregs to be calcined to an ash and imbibed and diffused until a fine crystalline salt is produced. These are the essentials of the philosophers, and they are recombined into a reborn and elevated form of the original plant.
The alchemical process mimics in many ways the story of Christ, the God-in-Man, who descended, and incarnated physically, to suffer and die, “giving up the ghost”, only to rise again. Or perhaps it is the other way around. Alchemy surely is an older science than the religion of Christianity, but through the long ages dominated by the churches that stole his name, Christological symbolism has been used to conceal the Great Arcana of the Fire Sages. Indeed, it is not just the medicine produced with alchemy that is reborn through the work, but it is the alchemist themself who is reborn spiritually through their efforts. Just the same as we are transformed through prayer.
As Christians we pray in the manner Jesus taught us, reciting the Our Father as found in the Gospel of Luke. Indeed, in Luke we find the source of the Hail Mary as well in the accounts of the Annunciation and the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and it is this humble prayer I wish to focus upon for this topic. In the Great Work there are many circulations, some lesser and some greater, but it is the circulation of light within our souls that I am concerned with here. The alchemist’s lab is full of many instruments, made of glass, metal, clay, and stone, but today we concern ourselves with that simple instrument of divine glorification known as the rosary.
The rosary is a circle made of 54 beads, 5 decads separated by 4 lone beads. A Hail Mary is offered for each of them grouped in 10, and an Our Father for each that stands apart. This circle holds 15 mysteries, divided into three groups: the Joyous, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious, each given their own circulation. Through meditation upon these mysteries we walk beside Mary and Jesus through faith, by recitation of these most holy words “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.” With each recitation we move through the mysteries from the Annunciation to the Coronation of Mary by the Angels. But there is a wide gulf between the appearance of Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Mother to her elevation and crowning, and in this gulf is the work accomplished.
Lab alchemy follows three stages from raw matter, to perfected philosophical medicine. First comes the Nigredo, or Blackness, wherein the original matter is deconstructed to separate the three essentials. Next comes the Albedo, or Whiteness, wherein the separated essentials are purified. And finally Rubedo, or the Redness, where the three are recombined and circulated, purifying them even farther. This work is simplest with herbs, but can be performed upon animal, mineral or vegetable. Many consider the work as having a dual effect: one is very literal, and physical, upon the matter chosen to be philosophically prepared; the second is upon the alchemist themself. Whatever work you engage with will always have an equal effect upon your soul. All that is trapped within will be discovered. This is the true meaning of “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Luke 12:2)
Following suit as we pray the rosary, we go full round the circle three times, each being a circulation. Beginning with the Joyous mysteries we start with that which is concealed. The themes of these mysteries pertain to prophecy, be it in the form of Gabriel speaking to Mary, or Saint Elizabeth greeting her sister, or Saint Anne prophesying over the child in the temple, or finding Jesus debating with the great teachers and rabbis. All of these mysteries only hint at the glories to come, which can only be fully revealed through the separation of the Soul and Spirit from the Body. As we pray, moving from one mystery to the next we elevate our soul, strengthening our bond with our Creator, by imitating them ritualistically through prayer. With each set of five mysteries we move closer and closer to God. With each circulation an elixir is made more powerful and purer, and the same may be said of our souls. With each “circulation” of the rosary we grow. We change ourselves by way of the process. Our soul is made “lighter.”
Next, we move to the Sorrowful mysteries where the Man is torn down. It is through these mysteries that the godhood of Christ is exposed, purified and elevated, just as the first matter is broken down to separate our three essentials. As we pray these mysteries and walk beside our God in his mortal form, so too are we torn down. Without the Sorrowful we cannot reveal the Glorious and it is only through this work we ourselves may be crowned with glory. Remember each circulation brings added purity and strength to the medicine, so too when we pray fervently is our soul edified. Finally, we find ourselves in our last circulation, wherein we recount the Glorious mysteries, that which could not be without the blood and the passion of what came before. With the flesh stripped of the spirit, the Man Christ died, only to rise again. This is the greatest mystery of them all. The Resurrection is not just remembered at Easter and every Sunday, but every time we pray the rosary, we are to recall it. Just as powerful elixirs and spagyrics lie hidden within the plants, so too does God lie hidden within us, waiting to be separated and redissolved.
As the alchemists say “Ora et labora.” Pray and work.
“And if you want to see god, consider the sun, consider the circuit of the moon, consider the order of the stars. Who keeps this order? (For every order is bounded in number and place.) The sun, the greatest god of those in heaven, to whom all heavenly gods must submit as to a king and ruler, this sun so very great, larger than earth and sea, allows stars smaller than him to circle above him.”
Corpus Hermeticum, Tract I
“What’s your big three?” is a common conversation starter in the year 2021 as astrology is more popular than ever before. The move away from the standard horoscopic Sun sign astrology of the 20th century has promoted a wider familiarity with astrology, and with three of the most important points in a natal chart. However many find that modern pop astrology still lacks that feeling of totality and wholeness, as people grasp for answers without returning the roots of the subject, without knowing where the meanings of Sun, Moon and Ascendant come from. In this short article I will examine the Sun, not on the personal level but as demiurge, and king of the planets. This is the first in a series of articles in which I will explore the precepts of the Sun and the pivotal role he has in the ordering and form of the celestial spheres and the starry art itself.
Astrology is the philosophical analysis of astronomical facts. Without understanding the philosophy that underlies the entire art, you will lack a complete understanding of the reasons for why things mean what they mean when a chart is delineated by an astrologer. The importance of the signs without understanding their classic and original meanings. Many will be quick to list off the pop astrology associations of their sun sign but not often will they talk about the most important part of that sign: the planet which rules it. The signs are banners, representations of their ruling planet. Their qualities are comprised of the qualities of that planet, as well as their sect, modality and quadruplicity. Understanding the reasoning for the ordering of the signs of the Zodiac is critical to understanding the relationships the planets have to each other. And to understand this you must know that it is the houses of the Luminaries, the Sun and Moon which define the qualities of the other planets. The houses of Saturn, the greater infortune are opposite to those of Luminaries, an aspect of enmity. The signs of Mars, the lesser infortune, are 90 degrees, a square aspect from them. Jupiter, the greater benefic, has signs 120 degrees, a trine aspect, from the signs of the Sun and Moon. And Venus, a sextile, or 60 degrees. This is was taught using a chart known as the Thema Mundi, a theoretical nativity for the world, where the planets are found in their preferred signs and it is from here that the aspect and planetary relationships were explained and taught.
The Sun remains the most important of the planets however, from ancient times, because he is the brightest, most commanding and intense star in our sky, and the Moon receives her light from him. The line he traces across the sky, known as the ecliptic the path followed by the other planets. The wheel of the Zodiac is the ecliptic turned an idyllic circle of 360 degrees. This circle is divided into 12 signs of 30 degrees each. We can feel his heat upon us when we look upon his countenance. It is his daily motion in the rising and setting of dawn and dusk that is most apparent and marks our days and nights. He is the giver of life, without whom we could not exist on this earth. We can watch the changing of the seasons with his ingresses to each of the signs. He is gives us our years, as the Moon gives us our months. The Sun is associated with the intellect and power of a person, as well as the vital life force. Astrology likely grew out of ancient astronomical stellar cults, as found in Mesopotamia and Egypt before being codified by the Greeks. It was the religious worship and observation of the Sun, Moon and other planets which gives us the root of astrology. The qualities of the planets are not randomly chosen, or freely associated, they are devised by their light, motion, solar phases. It is the Sun, and their relation to the Sun that defines the retrograde cycles of the Superior and Inferior planets, cycles which are endless, unchanging. It is the whole sign aspect between their houses and the houses of the Sun and Moon that defines a planet as fortune or infortune. The Sun is the demiurgic power, the king whose decrees define the behavior and character of the other planets. It is by his laws, order and precepts that the Zodiac and planets are ordered.
In the medieval astrological grimoire known in Latin as Picatrix, but in Arabic as Ghayat Al-Hakim, we find preserved a prayer to the Sun attributed to the Nabatean people, who are believed to have practiced a zodiacal religion. I will end this article with this prayer, from the Warnock-Greer translation of the Latin text, published in 2010. I believe this except will speak for itself in demonstrating how the planets were revered and conceived of by the ancient originators of the art of astrology. I leave this hoping that those with the eyes to see and ears to hear might benefit.
“We pray, we honor and we praise thee, high lord Sun. For you give life to eveything living in the world and the whole universe is illuminated with your life, and governed by your power. You are seated on high; a great kingdom full of light, perception, intellect, power, honor and goodness is yours. All things that generate are generated by your power; all things goverened are governed by you. By you all plants live, and all things endure in their strength through you. You are noble and honorable in your effects, and powerful in your enduring heaven.
We salute, we praise and we honor you, and we pray in obedience and humility, and reveal all our minds you, and all things necessary to us we ask and require of you. You are our lord, and we beseech you that we may perceive your life and governance by day as well as by night. We give to you our wills, that you may free and defend those who turn to you from our enemies, and from all evils, and that this also may be done by the Moon who is your handmaiden and obeys you, and whose light and radiance is from you and the virtue that proceeds from you.
You are the giver of power; you are lord in your chosen heaven. The Moon and the other planets serve you always and obey you, and never depart from your precepts. May all this likewise by us be praised unto the infinite age of ages. Amen.”
“I am the one who chooses my boundaries, beliefs and promises.
I am the one who upholds my faith, values and morals.
I am the one responsible for my anger, outbursts and mistakes.
I am sovereign over my life, the ultimate authority over myself and my actions, incomparable to any other.
I am the one responsible for my appetites, affections and relationships.
I am responsible for my words and the one to speak for myself, my words are valuable and deserve to be heard and remembered for good or ill.
I am the one responsible for my body, caring for it, accepting it and loving it.
As my soul descended through the chain of being, from ultimate Godhood, to physical form, I took on these gifts of the planets and bring them with me from my celestial journeys into my embodiment here and now.
I am. I was. And I will return.”
These seven affirmations are inspired by the nature and virtue of each of the seven classical planets. They are written with the intent of observing a moment of mindfulness through the lens of astrology and Hermetic religious beliefs. I wrote these hoping to give myself something I could use alongside the skills of dialectical behavioral therapy to promote the use of the mindfulness skills especially when dealing with black and white thinking and other cognitive distortions. It is also inspired by the belief that when we are born we descend through the various celestial sphere, from the first moved, to the fixed stars, to the planets and then to our body, here on earth, bringing along certain gifts and lessons and sometimes hardships to be overcome during life. I have personally found adopting this belief system to help me feel more at home in my body and accepting of myself, traumas and all. I hope others find it helpful too and even if you don’t I hope you keep healing in the ways best suited for you.