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Hermeticism and the Golden Fleece - Joseph Caezza
Hermeticism and the Golden Fleece
The greatest alchemical adepts, Artephius, Nicholas Flamel, Salomon Trismosen, Michael Maier, Philalethes, Dom Pernety and Fulcanelli among many others have spoken at once with pornographic explicitness and again with exasperating obliqueness about the bench-top laboratory manipulations revealed in the circumstances of Jason's voyage. Joscelyn Godwin in his brilliant forward to Antoine Faivre's contemporary survey, The Golden Fleece and Alchemy remarks that C. G. Jung anchors Jason's argo along with the Hermetic great work solely to the psychic level of personality integration while ignoring how, why, what and with what, adepts actually do in their laboratories. Faivre too, pays gross negligence to this central aspect of the royal art which concerns itself with a combination of prayer, study and working hands-on directly with matter. "ORA, LEGE, LEGE, LEGE, RELEGE, LABORA ET INVENIES", declares the motto of the Mutus Liber of 1677, "Pray, Read, Read, Read, Read Again and You Shall Find".
Western alchemy represents a highly specialized version of the age old quest for mystical communion with the essential archetypal process of Nature. Adepts seek to recapitulate this process with symbolically affective laboratory gestures, chemical manipulations and of course, with the indispensable cooperation of providence. But what do they actually do in their laboratories?
Betty Dobbs in her monumental study, The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy or The Hunting of the Green Lyon, addresses this central issue of laboratory procedures in their 17th century European context better than any modern professional scholar. She explains that adepts worked their methodologies with simple manipulations and a few key materials. She provides an excellent translation of Sir Isaac Newton's Clavis, a recipe that entails the chief substances symbolized in the Jason myth.
According to the myth, Chrysomellos, the winged ram sent by beneficent Olympian deities rescues a child from the homicidal plot of his stepmother, carrying him safely to the eastern shores of the Black sea. Here the miraculous ram becomes a sacrifice, its fleece hung upon an oak tree in a grove sacred to Ares and guarded by a dragon. The scenario refers metaphorically to the descent of the Divine from above the highest sepheroth, Kether, down the Kabbalistic tree of life to the lowest sepheroth, Malkuth, Earth in the presence of the element Antimony, who's vital spirit, philosophic mercury, remains still in tact. Matter has become the prison of spirit. Insightful wisdom and artful alchemical manipulation may release it.
Renaissance alchemists represented antimony by the symbolic rams horns that also identify the zodiac constellation Ares. Antimony, a metalloid or semi-metal was perceived as below lead in an infant or childhood state in the natural process of metallic evolution fully mature in the element gold. It was also symbolized as a cross above a circle which additionally identified Earth, the divinely perfect circle of gold buried under the cross of nature upon which man is crucified.
Gold, more than a metaphor, blatantly and beautifully bears the solar signature. Its perfect state defies oxidation or attack by any single acid giving way only to aqua regia, a combination of nitric and hydrochloric acid. Luster and permanence testify to its Divinity within the confines of the metallic realm.
Ares, known to the Romans as Mars, also indicates the element Iron, rich in philosophical sulfur, the source principle of the luminous animating functional fire of Nature. It comprises the compliment of philosophic mercury. Iron finds use in purifying stibnite, the chief ore of antimony in the classic reduction process: Sb2S3 + 2 Fe = 2Sb + Fe2S3 .
Newton spent years of study and labor working out the details of this reaction and its product at the root of animated philosophic mercury. Small iron nails are heated red hot in a crucible. Powdered antimony ore is added along with saltpeter and tartar to serve as fluxing agents. After several fulminating episodes sponsored by repeated additions of saltpeter the molten material is poured into a conical mold. Pure antimony sinks to the bottom topped off by a layer of scoria which easily separates after cooling. Signs of correct crystal purity include a star pattern on the surface of the antimony, hence the name star martial regulus.
In a major episode exactly reminiscent of Cadmus, Jason must sow serpents teeth into a field. From these seeds spring an army of ghost warriors who fight each other to death. The seed of gold, the serpent teeth are extracted from the layer of scoria above the purified antimony, the mercurial serpent, using sal ammoniac, ammonium chloride in the procedure of sublimation. This seed after purification is then sewn into meticulously prepared philosophical mercury. This metallic mixture then sealed hermetically in a flask undergoes a long gradually heated fermentation. Color changes clearly mark the major stages of this incubation along with the emergence and dissolution from the molten mass of many strange forms described metaphorically in the Jason myth as a battle of ghost warriors. Newton and other adept authors describe these forms as fast growing metallic trees. An anonymous contemporary operator recently perceived these forms as rapidly sprouting heads of cauliflower that soon dissolved back into the putrefying chaos contained in his hermetic flask.
The ultimate product of this labor mythically known as the golden fleece refers to the philosopher's stone. This red powder projected into molten base metal effects an apparently miraculous transmutation into gold. Recent discoveries by Stan Tenen and others, (Gnosis No. 3 and 28) of the geometric revelation hidden in the Torah's Hebrew letter code that model mathematically the fractal process of a seeds germination into fruit containing self propagating seed within itself, illuminates this alchemical gesture of projection. During this gesture rearrangement of base metal subatomic particles catalyzed by the propagated potency of Divine Presence unfolding flower-like from the philosopher's stone, creates a well known wonder of alchemy.
This wonder of alchemy testifies with unquestionable proof to the level of personality integration achieved by the operator. Unlike the vague proofs of successful psychotherapy the adept has a tangible token artifact. Alchemy of the forge and crucible variety thus embodies the profound idea of sacred science. Our late twentieth century civilization moves ever closer to the rediscovery of this tradition. Yet the only way to exhaustively understand the symbolic implications of the Jason myth in its alchemical context is to become an alchemist and to execute the great work.
But does salvation require a laboratory? The archetypes projected into external substance may be manipulated at a strictly internal level. The symbols of western alchemy occur in familiar forms in Tantric Yoga. The European "Royal Art" of alchemy pursues the same goal as the Royal Raja Yoga of India. In the most remote past European and Hindu cultures sprang from a single root whose core experience of Gnosis presented itself in myths and related esoteric disciplines of spiritual reintegration.
J. Nigro Sansonese, a contemporary yogin as well as professor of math and physics delivers a brilliantly argued thesis in his recent The Body of Myth. Expanding the tradition of C.G. Jung and Joseph Campbell he explicates the anatomic, physiologic and neurologic basis of the great world myths. Such myths trek out the physical geography of man's body as the spiritual current moves up the spinal ladder of ascending attention to culminate in the ecstatic rapture of gnosis.
According to Sansonese myths reveal in esoteric language the stages of bodily transformation leading to contemplative trance. He includes an entire chapter on Jason and the Argonauts. Jason's ship, the argo refers to the cranium. The fifty argonauts represent the five senses withdrawn from fragmented external experience yet focused on the inward journey into trance. Two of these argonauts, the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux are esoteric descriptions of alternate nostril breathing.
The rowing contest between Jason and Hercules constitutes a further example of alternate nostril breathing just previous to the experience of trance symbolized as the heros collapse from exhaustion into unconsciousness. The author speaks from his own experience of meditative absorption when he describes minutely perceptible changes in the sutures and sinuses of the skull during breathing which correlate to elements of the stages in the argonauts' journey.
Finally Sansonese dissects the name "Jason" to reveal its two syllable nature as an onomatopoeic rendering for the physical gesture of respiration. Convincing evidence appears in the ancestral lineage of Jason. His great-grandfather was Aeolus, god of the wind. Also relevant are yogic breathing exercises that assign onomatopoeic syllables to inspiration and expiration such as HAM-SA, SO-HAM or SI-VA. These arguments might seem eccentric and vague. Perhaps only another yogin could appreciate their depth and profoundness.
Contemporary scholars have barely touched the phenomenological relationship between yoga and alchemy. Certainly they pursue identical goals. Mircea Eliade in his now classic encyclopedic survey, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, includes a brief chapter on yoga and alchemy. He notes that there are certain moments when the "osmosis" between these two disciplines is perfect.
The Hermetic scholar, Manly Palmer Hall speculates on the etymology of the symbolic rose of the Rosicrucians derived from Ras, wisdom or Ros, dew which recall Rasayana,the Ayurvedic science of longevity involving alchemically produced herbal and metallic medicines but more specifically "rasum", the nectar of immortality produced in the brain. Normally this secretion is destroyed by normal body function but yogic manipulations such as the headstand and kerchari mudra preserve and cultivate this substance.
During kerchari mudra, the tongue, artificially lengthened over years of ardent discipline inserts back and up into the nasal passage to block the normal flow of rasum. Such a practice is thought to function like the golden fleece to preserve health and even restore lost youth.
The greatest Hindu sages write about the spiritual accomplishment of Gnosis using the metaphor of the philosopher's stone. Jnaneshwar (1275-1296) certainly one of the foremost saints of the past millennium wrote an exquisite commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism's central scripture. He composed this work at the age of fourteen, without formal education by direct knowledge resulting from Divine grace. He describes with unparalleled depth the symptoms of bodily transformation effected by the yogic process of spiritual awakening. His commentary contains no less than 17 references to the philosopher's stone that explicitly transmutes base metal into gold. Often these references describe the way divine grace transforms its recipient.
The seventh century South Indian sage, Thirumoolar in his classic, Thirumandiram, an esoteric masterpiece of 3000 verses, explains man's path to immortal divinity. In verse 2709 he declares that the name of God, Siva, is an alchemical vehicle that turns the body into immortal gold. His poetry resonates with the deathless nature of spiritual attainment.
Another great South Indian saint, Ramalinga Swamigal (1823-1874) dissolved his perfected body into blinding white light just as another earlier sage, Manickavasagar had done in the seventh century. As a child Ramalingar delivered brilliant scriptural discourses and commentaries without any formal education. He too claimed direct knowledge bestowed by divine grace. In his classic testimony, The Divine Song of Grace, Ramalinga describes the transmutation of his dense physical body into a body of light:
"Oh God! The Eternal Love, just to bestow upon me the golden body, You,
Canto 6, Chapter 1, Verse 480
This verse resounds with the import of the gesture of alchemical projection where a minute quantity of the philosopher's stone transmutes molten base metal into gold. Ramalinga's body cast no shadow and attempts to photograph him revealed only his clothing. The esoteric level of such accomplishment defies any attempt at vain academic analysis.
So too, a deeper understanding of the quest of Jason and the Argonauts defies the limit of ivory tower scholarship. The golden fleece beckons to every man as a road map of the soul's origin and ultimate destiny. Exhaustive study of the map will always be an optional first step. Genuine accomplishment emerges only when we take up the quest and join Jason on his hero's journey.
Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter, The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy or The Hunting of the Green Lyon. Cambridge, 1975