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The Secrets of Alchemical Symbols

Daniel Mylius' Opus Medico-Chymicum (1618)

In this alchemical masterwork, engraved by Matthieu Merian, there is a clear demarcation between the world above and the world below. Yet, these two dimensions are joined into a philosophical wheel with two connecting half circles and one central disc at the center of which is a triangle containing the sign for Mercury. Frabricus comments on this last point where he writes, "This is the magic point standing for unity, the origin and the center. Having reached the still point of the turning world, the alchemist is immersed in the center of his being, realizing here the divine light of Absolute Reality, or the nature of Mercurius philosophorum the immovable mover of the moving universe" (Alchemy, p. 160). This description compares well with the mystical meaning of Sufi.

An alchemist is seen in physical form below this magnificent scene wearing a coat of stars, white one side and dark on the other. He stands in a grove of trees, each of which bears a symbol of the planetary metals and twelve fundamental substances. The alchemist holds a twin-bladed ax in either hand reinforcing the division of opposites in the manifest world. Yet he stands upon the backs of two lions sharing one head. This indicates his powers of discrimination and freedom from the opposites. This lion represents sulphur and mercury. Each lion emerges from fire on the left and water (a spring) on the right. To the alchemist's right is a naked man, Adam, whose left arm is chained to the celestial realm up above. His right hand supports the Sun, which in turn is supported by a lion rampart. The man stands on the wings of the phoenix bird, which as we know from mythology is consumed by fire and then to re-emerge from the ashes. The entire left side of the engraving is bathe in white light, day, while the right is devoted to the realm of the feminine, night and the unconscious. There we find a naked woman, Eve. Her right hand, also chained, carries a bunch of grapes, suggesting the themes of fruitification and transmutation of grapes into wine. From her right breast radiates the Milky Way that further emphasizes her abundance. Her extended left hand, together with help from a Stag, supports the Moon (Luna). We will recall that Actaeon, the huntsman, was caught spying on Artemis bathing and as a punishment was transformed into a stag. Both Eve and the stag stand on the wings of an eagle (Aquila) which holds dominion over earth and water. Above the alchemist's head is a ring of seven stars, each of which associate to stages of the work. Moving counterclockwise, we see the raven that represents the nigredo, the White Swan or the albedo stage, the Winged Dragon or Cockerel, the Pelican with its association with sacrifice and finally the resurrection symbol of the Phoenix. This wheel is completed in the Spiritual realm where there are Hierarchies of Spiritual Beings and symbols of the Trinity. The central disc consists of a number of concentric circles that describe symbolic recipes for integrating the worlds above and below. At the very center there is the final instruction for joining these elements: "four kinds of fire are required for the work."

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