Symbols, metaphor, and imagery are crucial components to alchemy as they were used to hide heretical doctrine from outside agencies that looked unfavorably upon it. I find the unusual imagery spell-binding, like the images emblazoned on Tarot cards, (which, as I understand, are taken from alchemical symbolism). When I was a young boy, I procured a Tarot deck because I was so fascinated by the imagery. I eventually learned the basics on how to divine using the Tarot, joined a book club and purchased many occult books which were burned by some misguided friends of mine. I regret that event to this day. The majority of those books are out of print and would have provided a significant resource for me over the years. I'm not an occultist but I find much of the imagery and ideology interesting. It is interesting to note that the word, occult, means, “hidden” and does not allude to culturally defined negative implications or behavior.
Essentially, every aspect of what I've been exposed to over the past fifty years has laid the groundwork for studying alchemy now. I now understand why Carl Jung spent the last thirty years of his life studying it when he began to develop his theories and archetypal imagery. It's becoming so very clear to me now and each day it becomes more profound as the guiding hand of the Universe reveals more and more to me.
Considering imagery and symbol here is a very important illustration from the famous Alchemist's book by Basil Valentine entitled, "L'Azotgh des Philosophes," published in 1659 and recently colored by Adam McLean (www.alchemywebsite.com).
The center of this image is the Alchemist's face where the initiate focuses before meditating on it (the image itself is a mandala). The Alchemist featured here is one who has undergone the transformation and has acquired the mental, spiritual and physical harmonic union of the masculine and feminine. His right foot stands on the Earth and his left on the ocean, while his right-hand holds a torch and his left a feather. These are the four elements with which the Alchemist works (air, fire, water, and earth). A cube bearing the name, "Corpus," (Latin for, "body," which is below him). Where the Alchemist's head should be is an object with wings (it resembles the pineal gland or the hypothalamus gland). If it is the pineal gland it could be interpreted as the, "seat of consciousness” as in some cases it was believed to serve that function.. The winged emblem is an ancient symbol believed to have been from Egypt and specifically, the pharaoh, Akhenaten, which found its way to the medical caduceus, representing complementary opposites that produce miracles.
The seven rays which emanate from the Alchemist's face are the, "Seven Stages of Transformation," beginning with Calcination, labeled 1, with the symbol for Saturn (lead) and a square above that representing salt. The circle immediately following it shows a crow sitting on a skull which is the embodiment of Calcination with the Latin word, "Visita," which when translated indicates the beginning of a journey. Indeed it is as the next step is represented by the white ray representing the Dissolution process, labeled #2 and showing the planetary symbol for Jupiter (tin). The Latin word, "Interiora," is translated as the innermost, deepest component of our emotions. The circle immediately following this depicts the "Black Soul Bird," watching itself as it is dissolved through the watery abyss of the unconscious. The third ray is colored red and represents the Separation process, with the planetary symbol for Mars emblazoned upon it and also the symbol for sulfur. The word, "Terrae," is Latin for, "of the Earth," interpreted as the energies being removed from matter (the human form).
The circle represents the process of Separation as it displays two, "Soul Birds," retrieving what is left from the process of Dissolution (more research required here for the remaining symbols). The fourth ray points to the immolated salamander. It includes the symbols for gold and the sun. The fourth circle depicts the birds representing soul and spirit. They are flying away carrying a crown with five points representing the quintessence. This is the beginning of the final transformation as the physicality of the adept is moved into the spirit realms (the Anima on the left, represented by the sun and the Latin Spiritus on the right represented by the moon - masculine and feminine respectively). This represents the fourth process known as, Conjunction. Above the circle is the Latin word, Rectificando, which means to come to terms with things by rectifying them. As things are rectified we become empowered by the true union of the masculine and feminine. The fifth ray has the symbols for copper and the planet Venus. This ray represents the person who shines the lantern of higher consciousness in an attempt to inspire humanity. The fifth circle has the Latin word, Invenies, meaning discovery.
The two birds of soul and spirit now reside together in a tree watching vigilantly over their egg. This represents the process of Fermentation from which it is said visions are given to the adept that are more vivid than reality itself. A gateway between consciousnesses opens for the adept between the Above and Below. The sixth ray points to the feather in the alchemist's hand which represents spiritual realms. The symbols for the metal and the planet Mercury are represented on this ray.
The circle depicts a unicorn sitting by a tree, waiting for the pristine soul of the Alchemist. The legend has it that unicorns are, "fright and flight" animals but will calmly await the presence of a virgin. Hence, the Alchemist at this point in his or her transformation is in the purest form. Finally, the seventh ray directs our attention to the feminine realm of the queen, while the symbols for silver and the moon adorn it. In the circle we see a hermaphroditic child emerging from the grave while the Latin word, "Lapidem" (meaning, "stone"), tells us that the alchemist has achieved the ultimate transformation in the form of the metaphorical Philosopher's Stone. This is the final process known as, "Coagulation," which is the highest form of consciousness. To quote directly from "The Emerald Tablet," by Dennis William Hauck, "The resurrection of the soul is accomplished by bringing together only the purest essence of our bodies or matter in the light of meditation and reflection on life experiences. It becomes a permanent and always available state of consciousness that embodies the highest aspiration and evolution of mind and is sensed as a new strength of personality to survive any onslaught." (167)
In the lower part of the image on the left side sits the Sun King on a lion. To the right is the Moon Queen, seated on a great fish. The chaff of wheat pictured behind her is a reminder that she is connected with growth and fertility. She holds a bow and arrow in her left arm signifying the wounds of the heart. Both of these figures represent our thoughts and feelings.
1. The Ouroboros:
The image above depicts two serpents; one with wings (representing a, “volatile substance” in the lab) and one without (representing a, “fixed substance” in the lab), each swallowing the tail of the other. An alchemical dictum, “Solve et Coagula,” which when translated means, “dissolve the body and coagulate the spirit,” is demonstrated in this image. The serpent below is the body of the unenlightened; earthbound and flawed and thus must be dissolved and transformed to a higher level of spirituality. The upper serpent is the spirit (hence the wings which represent the volatile nature that must be coagulated in order to bring harmonious union). It is a cycle of dissolving and reintegration of the body and spirit. When the two serpents combine as one they represent the alchemical axiom, “As Above, So Below,” hence, the perfected union is the Philosopher’s stone. A single serpent or dragon Ouroboros represents the self sustaining nature of life; it destroys itself and recreates itself which becomes an eternal cycle. Illustration from a fascinating manuscript known as, "Clavis artis des beruhmten Juden und Rabbi Zoroasters," published in 1738. The manuscript was dedicated to Zarathustra, the great Persian prophet of the Zoroastrian faith.
The Ouroboros represents perfection through cycles of evaporation and reintegration of the body and spirit. Through this process, the spirit loses its wings and becomes fixed as spirit and therefore perfected.
The Ouroboros is the First Matter - the Prima Materia - as the First Matter cannot be destroyed but only transformed, the process of cycles represents this principle beautifully. Modern alchemists consider Dark Matter to be the Prima Materia, as physicists contend it makes up most of the Universe but cannot be detected. A good way to think of this is as a simple analogy like, “The Force” from Star Wars (it binds us, penetrates us etc.) but also it struck me when I was reading about the Prima Materia as it reminds me of the Atman/Brahmin synthesis from Hinduism. Each of us is the Atman (individual) yet each of us is part of the greater Brahmin - just as the greater Brahmin is composed of the Atman. Additionally, Eastern philosophy considers the Yin/Yang symbol as an example of the Prima Materia - each having the seed of the other in an endless, spinning transformation - one becoming the other over and over. Yin is feminine and Yang masculine, hence the alchemical association with the King and Queen - complimentary opposites.
Although I deliberately separate these symbols and imagery from modern interpretations, in some cases insight can be gained from new perspectives although it is important to not project these on the original intent of the person illustrating or writing these texts. Jung from, "Mysterium Conjunctionis” states; “In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists the Prima Materia of the art was man himself. The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. the shadow psyche. The feedback process is at the same time a symbol of immortality since it is said of the ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself, and gives birth to himself."
The Tao Te Ching, concerning the Ouroboros, states (Lao Tzu was an alchemist!):
There is a mysterious thing that existed before heaven and earth
Silent and empty
Alone and unchanging
It is the Mother of All Things
If I must, I’ll call it, “Great"
Greatness entails transcendence
Transcendence entails going beyond
Going beyond entails returning to the beginning.
The great Mircea Eliade enlightens us with his insights as well;
"...both Tantrist and alchemist strive to dominate 'matter'. They do not withdraw from the world as do the ascetic and metaphysician, but dream of conquering it and changing its ontological regime. In short, there is good ground for seeing in the tantric 'sâdhana', and in the work of the alchemist, parallel efforts to free themselves from the laws of Time, to 'decondition' their existence and gain absolute freedom.”
[Mircea Eliade, The Forge, and the Crucible, Univ. of Chicago Press,1956 by Flammarion, 1978, 2nd Edition, pg.129.]
2. The Crucified Serpent:
The Crucified Serpent represents perfection through elimination of negative traits: The fixation of a volatile substance is depicted by the crucified serpent. This is done chemically by removing a substance that is poisonous. This is metaphorical for overcoming our shortcomings as the term, volatile, can also mean we can change and hence, transform.
As mentioned earlier, the winged serpent represents the volatile substance, while the wingless serpent represents the fixed substance. A crucified serpent represents the fixation of a volatile substance. In the alchemist’s laboratory that means heating mercury to stabilize it or using mercury as a solvent towards something else. Chemical reactions involving mercury typically produce a red reaction in certain substances. Red, in alchemical terms represents activity (as in the Red Lion or the Red King) and so is affiliated esoterically with spirit. Apparently, Moses affixed a bronze serpent nailed to a cross as a talisman to cure snake bites and illness. Ultimately, fixation of the volatile can be interpreted as stabilizing the active principle and through this process, harmful components of humanity (or elements) can be turned to positive vestiges through this stabilization. Additionally, death or enlightenment may be a component of this stabilization process (serpent is to mercury as mercury is to spirit), thus creating the perfect and incorruptible spirit (or element in the lab) which hints at immortality and the Philosopher’s Stone.
3. The Green and Red Lions:
When working in the alchemical lab, the Green Lion is the primary essence of all metals; the soul, if you will. To bring about transformation, the soul of the metals must be released by "killing" the metals. When acids are used in conjunction with Iron Sulfate, a green color arises hence the name, Green Lion. Specifically, we are referencing nitric acid which, when combined with hydrochloric acid, produces a green acid which can actually dissolve gold. Thus, images of the Green Lion devouring the sun (affiliated with gold), indicates this chemical reaction. The Green lion is also affiliated with the life essence in plants, which is also demonstrated by the Green Lion devouring but in this case it is photosynthesis doing the work.
The Red Lion is the life essence in blood and is red acetate of lead in a crystalized form. By employing a “seed of gold” to the untamed Green Lion using a catalyst it is purified. Spiritually, when we purge natural urges from our behavior, we are taming the Green Lion. The Red Lion represents control over these urges and when this occurs, the Red Lion is depicted as having wings and developing a spiritual nature. The winged Red Lion thus becomes the volatile or spiritual aspect of a substance, which is the salt used to create the Philosopher’s Stone.
6. The Emerald Tablet:
The Emerald Tablet is the single most important alchemical work. Its origins are shrouded in mystery but it is believed it was originally written by the Egyptian/Atlantean Neter/God, Thoth. It is the sum of all knowledge and I can honestly say that, as I read it, I am only beginning to glimpse understanding it in alchemical terms and it is an enlightening and wonderful experience. No more than a few months ago, I would have read it and appreciated its poetic nature but not understood its meaning. It took a great amount of study to get as far as I’ve gotten, but I am still an infant. Even as I write this I feel I am standing at the foot of a mountain whose peak I am unable to see.
But I digress…there are those who claim to have seen the tablet and have described it as a green emerald with text that is raised from the surface and not inscribed. Below is an artist’s rendering of it:
Here is the translation from Dennis William Hauck's most excellent book on the Emerald Tablet. He has compiled this translation from early Latin and German renderings and after reading it, I found it resonated with me even more than Sir Isaac Newton's translation:
In truth, without deceit, certain, and most veritable
That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing. And just as all things have come from this One Thing, through the meditation of One Mind, so do all created things originate from this One Thing, through transformation. Its father is the Sun: its mother the Moon. The Wind carries it in its belly; its nurse is the Earth. It is the origin of All, the consecration of the Universe; its inherent Strenght is perfected if it is turned into Earth.
Separate the Earth from Fire, the Subtle from the Gross, gently and with great Ingenuity. It rises from Earth to heaven and descends again to Earth, thereby combining within Itself the powers of both the Above and the Below.
Thus will you obtain the Glory of the Whole Universe. All Obscurity will be clear to you. This is the greatest force of all powers because it overcomes every Subtle thing and penetrates every Solid thing.
In this way was the Universe created. From this comes many wondrous
Aplications, because this is the Pattern.
Therefore am I called Thrice Greatest Hermes, having all three parts of the wisdom of the Whole Universe. Herein have I completely explained the Operation of the Sun.
"As Above; So Below," of the Emerald Tablet
It is one of the primary axioms of the Emerald Tablet and it speaks to so many things that have been placed before me over time that my mind literally reels from the overwhelming example of this concept. Two major examples of what occurred to me were from my friend, Gary A. David's fascinating books on the alignments of Hopi settlements in Arizona to the stars in the Orion constellation, and Robert Bauval's book, "The Orion Mystery," which reveals alignments of the pyramids of the Giza Plateau in Egypt with the constellation of Orion. It would appear the ancients have strived to bring the order of the heavens down to the chaos of earth. But in alchemy, this is a somewhat different approach. Nevertheless, I feel that somehow they are connected but only on a personal level for myself. Nevertheless, I've listed info on them below.
"The belt stars correspond to Third, Second, and First Mesas. The distance between Betatakin and Canyon de Chelly is stretched about 12 miles in relation to the constellation; the distance between Walnut Canyon and Homolovi is stretched about 10 miles--not bad, considering it's over 110 miles between Betatakin in the north and Homolovi in the south." From Gary A. David’s web site, “The Orion Zone” http://www.theorionzone.com
"This is the story of a secret, hidden for thousands of years, that will forever change our understanding of the meaning and purpose of the most fascinating wonder of the ancient world: the Pyramids of Egypt. What purpose did these massive structures, one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken, serve? Why were they scattered across the desert in a seemingly random pattern? The pyramid mystery deepened when, in 1993, researcher Rudolf Gantenbrink discovered a secret door within the Great Pyramid - a door unopened for 4,500 years. Robert Bauval has spent the last ten years investigating the pyramids themselves and the Pyramid Texts, the oldest writings known to mankind. He and Adrian Gilbert have uncovered, for the first time, the key to the plan that governed the construction of the pyramids. They reveal that, much more than just tombs, the pyramids were nothing less than a replica of Heaven on Earth." From Robert Bauval’s website: http://www.robertbauval.co.uk
When the axiom, As Above, So Below is revealed in alchemical illustrations, there are always vertical axis and horizontal axis. The vertical axis represents the earthbound and spiritual, while the horizontal axis represents our physical nature on the horizontal plane. We are separated from the Above which contains pure spiritual and archetypal energies. We live in the Below in a duality of matter and spiritual energy and in constant tugging/struggle between soul and spirit, Yin, and Yang, positive and negative. Opposing yet complementary principles which, when brought together, create an exception in nature. The purpose is not to live exclusively in the Above (heaven) or the Below (earth) but instead to live between or have access to the energies of both realms. The acquire the balance of all energies - spiritual and material.
The incredible engraving above is from J.D. Mylius’s, "Opus Medico-chymicum,” (The Medical-Chemical Work), published in 1618. The artist who created the emblems in Atalantia Fugiens, Matthieu Merian, created this stunning masterpiece, colored by Adam McLean (www.alchemywebsite.com). In most Alchemical engravings and woodcuts there are always a vertical axis and a horizontal axis. The vertical axis separates the masculine from the feminine and this is easily demonstrated in this emblem with the female figure holding the moon on the right while the male figure holds the sun on the left. The horizontal axis represents the separation of the earth and the heavens; as above, so below. We are separated from the Above which contains pure spiritual and archetypal energies, while living in the Below in a duality of matter and spiritual energy; in a constant struggle between soul and spirit - King and Queen, Yin and Yang, positive and negative. Opposing yet complimentary principals which, when brought together, create an exception to nature. The goal of the Alchemist is to bring these energies together - Above and Below - to reside in the middle enabling access to all realms. To be between these two realms brings balance of all energies - spiritual and material. This is a most important concept which pertains exclusively to the precepts of the Emerald Tablet (the Emerald Tablet was written by the Atlantean/Egyptian, Thoth, thousands of years ago and is THE cornerstone of Alchemical wisdom).
It is said that every alchemical symbol is contained in this amazing image. Certainly, the horizontal line designates the principle of Above and Below. In the Below section, we can see the image split once again between the darker, lunar feminine aspect on the right (the woman holding the moon) and the lighter masculine aspect on the left, (the man holding the sun) these are the complimentary opposites. In the center is the Alchemist wearing a robe demonstrating the marriage of the feminine and masculine - two forms of conscious thought. Producing a higher gnosis - the stars in his robe on both sides symbolizing the higher energies of both forces. A state of intuition and of knowing, which allows you to penetrate the mysteries of the Universe. The trees on both sides of the Alchemist represent the metals and natural processes of the earth. In the Above section, there are 29 cabalistic angels representing the archetypal images or faces of God. In numberology, the number 29 converts to the number 2 (2 +9 = 11 and to reduce 11 to a single digit we add 1+1=2), and the number 2 which represents the embryonic division of the One Mind to create Mind the Maker, which itself is depicted as the larger Sun, whose rays encompass the entire Universe. (Hauck, 141) There are two suns depicted here - the greater sun which is unknowable, similar to the Hindu, Brahman - representing the intent of the Universe, which brings forth the second sun as in the Hindu, Atman. To clarify from a Hindu perspective, Atman is the individual, while Brahman is the collective consciousness of all living entities. This is similar in concept to dark matter and physical matter, where undetectable dark matter makes up most of the universe while physical matter makes up a much smaller percentage. As stated earlier, naked bodies in alchemical imagery represent purity in its highest form. We cannot view the source without becoming absorbed into it. As stated earlier, staying above is not the goal. The name of God is in Hebrew at the top in the form of the Tetragrammaton representing sulfur, while the dove on the right represents the secret in matter (salt) - energy - holy spirit. The lamb represents Christ and the element, mercury, which has dualistic properties. It represents light; part wave, part particle and combined as the light of consciousness.
Embracing the Feminine from the Emerald Tablet
The man with the lantern in this beautiful image, from, Atalanta Fugiens, a book published in 1617 by Michael Maier and recently colored by Adam McLean (www.alchemywebsite.com), represents the masculine, logical side of our consciousness seeking the woman who represents the feminine aspect of our nature. Without the feminine aspect and the masculine aspect in perfect unison, wisdom cannot be achieved. Having one without the other creates an imbalance. The woman depicted here is Sophia, which is the Latin word for wisdom.
I would like to use the Epic of Gilgamesh as an example of the importance of embracing the feminine/intuitive aspect of the psyche. The epic has nothing to do with Alchemy but I only introduce it is an interesting example of Alchemical tenets. The ancient Sumerian myth addresses the perfect union of male and female energies in many ways.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest story known to us. It is known as a folk tale because it contains many individual stories which comprise the whole. It was originally written on Sumerian clay tablets, circa 2700 BC using a type of script called, cuneiform, which when translated means, "wedge-shaped". The story began as five individual narrative poems, and by the old Babylonian period, many additional stories and poems were compiled. It was later reconstructed by Sin-leqe-unninni of Babylon (circa 2000 BC) into the twelve tablets we have today. Scholars believe that the events surrounding the Epic occurred somewhere around 3500 BC.
Enkidu and Gilgamesh. Note that Enkidu has horns, which is a symbol of power.
According to legend, Gilgamesh was a Sumerian king of the city known as Uruk around 3,500 BC (modern Iraq inherited its name from the ancient city). His mother was the temple priestess Ninsun (a mortal), and his father Lugalbanda, a Sumerian god. This made Gilgamesh one-third mortal and two-thirds divine. He was a lonely King who subjected his people to hard labor to build the great walls of Uruk, and to make matters worse, Gilgamesh abused his authority. As king of Uruk, Gilgamesh claimed the right to be the first to have sexual intercourse with every new bride on the day of her wedding. Powerless to defend themselves against this mighty warrior/king, the people of Uruk cried out to Anu, the Sumerian supreme god.
Anu summoned Aruru (the Sumerian creator goddess) to create an adversary to defeat Gilgamesh and free the people of Uruk from tyranny. Aruru took a ball of clay, hurled it into the Cedar forest, and Enkidu was born. Half beast (intuitive/feminine), half man (rational/active), he spent his time running wild through the wilderness with the animals. Innocent to the ways of mankind, he was carefree and happy and nature was his companion.
Eventually, a hunter became annoyed with Enkidu because he freed animals caught in traps and drank from a lake the hunter used for his own purposes. He went to Uruk to seek out Gilgamesh to tell him of Enkidu, and hoping to intimidate Gilgamesh, told the king of this powerful wild man in the Cedar Forest.
Gilgamesh, concerned that the wild man would overpower him, sent a harlot named Shamhat from the temple of Inanna to seduce Enkidu and "weaken" him by making him more human. So Shamhat went with the hunter to seduce Enkidu and for seven days and nights she made love to him and instructed him in the ways of humanity. Sadly, with each day he lost more of his innocence and subsequently, his connection with nature. In the meantime, Gilgamesh had a powerful dream about a star that fell to earth and which was so heavy, the mighty king could not lift it. He was mystified by this dream and turned to his mother Ninsun for its interpretation. She told him that the fallen star was a metaphor, which represented a great friend or brother who would soon join Gilgamesh.
Enkidu and Gilgamesh as friends, illustration from the wonderful book, “Gilgamesh the King” by Lyudmila Zeman
Enkidu left the forest and entered the city of Uruk during a great celebration. Gilgamesh was about to claim his right as king to some helpless bride when he was stopped by the figure of the wild man standing in the doorway of the bridal chamber. Enkidu, hearing of what Gilgamesh had done in the past, was infuriated by such behavior, refused Gilgamesh entry, and a great battle ensued. The two mighty men battled for hours, and after their strength was exhausted, they came to realize they were equals. Gilgamesh knew this was the friend of whom his mother spoke of in his dream. The two went on to have great adventures together until Enkidu was stricken with a fever and died, sending Gilgamesh into a downward spiral, forcing him to shed his finery and go on a journey to find a man named, Utnapishtim, who was granted immortality by the gods.
Gilgamesh traveled to the Far Away and found Utnapishtim, begging the legendary figure to make him immortal as well. Explaining that he himself cannot grant eternal life, Utnapishtim explained to Gilgamesh that there was another option. He spoke of a flower that existed deep in the ocean, and when eaten, would make Gilgamesh young again, giving him a second chance at life.
Gilgamesh sailed to the place of the flower and, tying stones to his feet, sank deep into the ocean and retrieved the Flower of Life. However, he decided not to eat it immediately but instead, upon returning to Uruk, would test it out on an elderly man. While resting on the shore on his way back to Uruk, a serpent swam out of the water and stole the plant, shedding its skin after ingesting the flower and leaving Gilgamesh with nothing. Alas, Gilgamesh returned to Uruk a mortal king, but one who had learned many important lessons.
So what, you may ask, has this to do with embracing the feminine in alchemical symbolism? Well, everything. First, Enkidu, although depicted in the story as a “wild man” is in reality, representing the intuitive, feminine part of the psyche. We know this because as the harlot, Shamhat, introduces him to the ways of humanity, Enkidu loses his connection with nature, which is affiliated with earth.
Image from, Atalanta Fugiens, a book published in 1617 by Michael Maier. A magnificent image of mother earth nursing a human. This wonderful book also contains fugues for each illustration and is beautifully colored here by Adam McClean (www.alchemywebsite.com). Each fugue is in three voices, representing Sulphur, Mercury and Salt and Adam has taken these fugues and recorded them for your listening pleasure along with the illustrations:
Interestingly, even after losing his connection with nature, Enkidu still completed Gilgamesh. One could speculate that Gilgamesh was so separated from the feminine that Enkidu, even in his diminished state, was enough to complete the union within Gilgamesh. Additionally, the falling star in Gilgamesh’s dream is actually described as a stone and certainly could represent the Philosopher’s Stone, as Gilgamesh is unable to lift it, demonstrating metaphorically that he is not worthy of it as he has not gone through the seven phases of alchemical transformation. Just my theory, of course, but I think it's an interesting example. Paracelsus, one of the greatest alchemists to have lived, spoke of something he called, the star in man. To further clarify my point, here's an excerpt from an excellent blog entitled, “The Star in Man: Jung and Technology," by Dolores E. Brien;
"In keeping with the traditional alchemist notion of the macro-microcosm, Paracelsus believed that the human being is a small cosmos and that what governs the great cosmos is identical with what governs the little cosmos of man."
And this quote from Paracelsus himself, "Man carries the stars within himself, . . . he is the microcosm, and thus carries in him the whole firmament with all its influences."
And to further clarify: (from, "Hermetic Medicine and Hermetic Philosophy," By Paracelsus, Lauron William De Laurence):
"Man is a microcosm, or a little world, because he is an extract from all the stars and planets of the whole firmament, from the earth and the elements; and so he is their quintessence.” (289)
After battling Enkidu and recognizing they are of equal strength, Gilgamesh realizes Enkidu is indeed the star of his dream and the two become great friends, representing the union of the rational and intuitive. The two go on many adventures but when Gilgamesh scorns the goddess, Inanna/Ishtar, she sends the Bull of Heaven to kill him. The two confront the monstrous bull and Enkidu strikes it dead with his sword. Enraged by this, Inanna/Ishtar strikes Enkidu with a fever and he dies. Gilgamesh is devastated as he has lost not only his dearest friend but also his intuitive side, as in all of their adventures, Enkidu uses his intuition to warn Gilgamesh of impending danger.
Fast forward to the Flower of Life, which grows under the water, a metaphor for the subconscious mind, and Gilgamesh had to tie two massive stones to his feet to retrieve it - indicating his foray into the subconscious was indeed a difficult one. The flower could very well be a metaphor for the Philosopher’s Stone as it is eaten by a serpent but this is pure speculation on my part and requires more research.
In ancient Egypt, feminine consciousness corresponds to the right side of the brain and the left side of the body while masculine consciousness corresponds to the left side of the brain and the right side of the body. In a Egyptian art, the goddess is depicted with her left foot slightly forward representing an awareness of the feminine consciousness. Typically, the pharaoh is depicted taking a large step with his right foot, representing awareness of the masculine consciousness.
In this beautiful image, we see Horace guiding a woman, each with the left foot slightly forward, representing feminine nature.
In this enigmatic image, we see a man with his right foot extended forward representing masculine nature.
Extrapolating this concept to the hands of the human body, the left-hand represents giving while the right-hand represents taking; representing the feminine and the masculine accordingly. The idea being that the male will have the Union of complete masculine and feminine and the female will have the union of complete feminine and masculine, bringing the union of perfection to each individual. Again, I must impress upon the idea that these are my own examples and have nothing to do with alchemical imagery although it is said the primary concepts arose in ancient Egypt through the Neter, Thoth.
In other imagery, the Pharaoh is typically shown holding a staff, a crook and a flail in various configurations. The crook represents the balance of the emotions while the flail represents the balance of the mind and the staff symbolizes the body. The staff is depicted as never touching the ground, which symbolizes our spiritual nature.
Osiris depicted holding a crook and a flail. The crook representing our emotion and the flail representing our mind. This indicates the perfect balance of mind and emotion; masculine and feminine.
In this image, we see Osiris holding a staff which is not touching the ground, representing our spiritual nature.
Another very powerful image of the balance of masculine and feminine is the winged solar disk. On one side of the disk is a serpent, which represents the masculine, on the other side of the disk is a vulture, which represents the feminine. The winged disc was typically placed above the entrance to temples. In order to enter the temple one must have balance of the feminine and masculine.
In this image we see the Eye of Horace flanked on right side by a serpent and on the left side by a vulture. The serpent represents the masculine, while the vulture represents the feminine.
Egyptians took this a step further using symbols in nature to represent the masculine and the feminine. The papyrus reeds, depicted in many Egyptian temples, represents the masculine while the blue Lotus represents the feminine. Lotus flower and the papyrus reeds are typically depicted together to represent the union of the masculine and the feminine consciousness. It is suggested that the blue lotus flower was hallucinogenic and was used in certain ceremonies to explore consciousness. Interestingly, the blue Lotus grows in the water which represents the subconscious which in turn, represents the feminine! Sadly, Egypt eventually became a patriarchal society and much of this wisdom and balance was lost forever. Again, like the Gilgamesh Epic, as far as I am aware, these images and philosophies are not necessarily Alchemical but I believe they do illustrate its principles.