The Alchemist- Symbolic Analysis

Posted on June 7, 2011


“…each mind/body/spirit complex shall and should and, indeed, must perceive each archetype, if you use this convenient term, in its own way. Therefore, you may see that precision is not the goal; rather the quality of general concept complex perception is the goal.”- Ra, Session 77

The Alchemist


Arcanum 19

Key Observations

  • The male or conscious creative energy focused is expressing the nature of experience by having its attention caught by what may be termed the left-hand catalyst. Meanwhile, the power, the magic, is available upon the right-hand path.
  • The sun radiates light on every being unconditionally. So to the being can either radiate love and light or it can absorb it for itself.
  • The wings may represent the allowing of divine guidance to influence and protect the body. The man even has winged feet, reminiscent of Hermes, the messenger of the gods in geek mythology.
  • A woman mixing water into wine was a standard allegory of Temperance in European iconography

A prankster and inventive genius from birth, Hermes was the messenger of the gods and guide of  dead souls to the Underworld. He aided the heroes Odysseus and Perseus in their quests.Roman name Mercury. See The Olympians for more information and another picture.

Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. As a newborn he was remarkably precocious. On his very first day of life, he found the empty shell of a tortoise and perceived its utility as a sounding chamber. Stringing sinews across it, he created the first lyre.

Hermes was known for his helpfulness to mankind, both in his capacity as immortal herald and on his own initiative. When Perseus set out to face the Gorgon Medusa, Hermes aided him in the quest. According to one version of the myth, he loaned the hero his own magic sandals, which conferred upon the wearer the ability to fly. Some say that Hermes loaned Perseus a helmet of invisibility as well. Also known as the helmet of darkness, this was the same headgear that Hermes himself had worn when he vanquished the giant Hippolytus. This was on the occasion when the gargantuan sons of Earth rose up in revolt against the gods ofOlympus.

Hermes’ symbol of office as divine messenger was his staff, or caduceus. This was originally a willow wand with entwined ribbons, traditional badge of the herald. But the ribbons were eventually depicted as snakes. To support this mythologically, a story evolved that Hermes used the caduceus to separate two fighting snakes which forthwith twined themselves together in peace.

It was Hermes’ job to convey dead souls to the Underworld. And as patron of travelers, he was often shown in a wide-brimmed sun hat of straw. Hermes was known to the Romans as Mercury. His most famous depiction, a statue by Bellini, shows him alight on one foot, wings at his heels, the snaky caduceus in hand and, on his head, a rather stylized combination helmet-of-darkness and sun hat.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         –


“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”

– Paulo Coelho


The Story of Temperance

Continuing on his spiritual path, the Fool begins to wonder how to reconcile the opposites that he’s been facing: material and spiritual (which he hung between as the Hanged man), death and birth (the one leading into the other in the Death card). It is at this point that he comes upon a winged figure standing with one foot in a brook, the other on a rock. The radiant creature pours something from one flask into another. Drawing closer, the Fool sees that what is being poured from one flask is fire, while water flows from the other. The two are being blended together!

“How can you mix fire and water?” the Fool finally whispers.

Without pause the Angel answers, “You must have the right vessels and the right proportions.”

The Fool watches with wonder. “Can this be done with all opposites?” he asks.

“Indeed,” the Angel replies, “Any oppositions, fire and water, man and woman, thesis and anti-thesis, can be made to harmonize. It is only a lack of will and a disbelief in the possibility of unity that keeps opposites, opposite.”

And that is when the Fool begins to understand that he is the one who is keeping his universe in twain, holding life/death, material world and spiritual world separate. In him, the two could merge, as in the vessels that the Angel uses to pour the elements, one to the other. All it takes, the Fool realizes, is the right proportions….and the right vessel.                                                                                                                                                                                –


“The Aim of Alchemy:

Alchemy is generally understood to have been that art whose end was the transmutation of the so-called base metals into gold by means of an ill-defined something called the Philosopher’s Stone; but even from a purely physical standpoint, this is a somewhat superficial view. Alchemy was both a philosophy and an experimental science, and the transmutation of the metals was its end only in that this would give the final proof of the alchemistic hypotheses; in other words, Alchemy, considered from the physical standpoint, was the attempt to demonstrate experimentally on the material plane the validity of a certain philosophical view of the Cosmos. We see the genuine scientific spirit in the saying of one of the alchemists:

“Would to God … all men might become adepts in our Art – for then gold, the great idol of mankind, would lose its value, and we should prize it only for its scientific teaching.” Unfortunately, however, not many alchemists came up to this ideal; and for the majority of them, Alchemy did mean merely the possibility of making gold cheaply and gaining untold wealth.

The Transcendental Theory of Alchemy:

By some mystics, however, the opinion has been expressed that Alchemy was not a physical art or science at all, that in no sense was its object the manufacture of material gold, and that its processes were not carried of Alchemy out on the physical plane. According to this transcendental theory, Alchemy was concerned with man’s soul, its object was the perfection, not of material substances, but of man in a spiritual sense. Those who hold this view identify Alchemy with, or at least regard it as a branch of, Mysticism, from which it is supposed to differ merely by the employment of a special language; and they hold that the writings of the alchemists must not be understood literally as dealing with chemical operations, with furnaces, retorts, alembics, pelicans and the like, with salt, sulphur, mercury, gold and other material substances, but must be understood as grand allegories dealing with spiritual truths. According to this view, the figure of the transmutation of the “base” metals into gold symbolised the salvation of man — the transmutation of his soul into spiritual gold — which was to be obtained by the elimination of evil and the development of good by the grace of God; and the realisation of which salvation or spiritual transmutation may be described as the New Birth, or that condition of being known as union with the Divine. It would follow, of course, if this theory were true that the genuine alchemists were pure mystics, and hence, that the development of chemical science was not due to their labours, but to pseudo-alchemists who so far misunderstood their writings as to have interpreted them in a literal sense.”                                                                                                   -Herbert Stanley Redgrove, Alchemy: Ancient and Modern


Modern key words for the alchemist (temperance):

Temperance —– Harmony —– Balance —– Health

Moderation —– Joining forces —– Well-being —– Recovery

Equilibrium —– Transcendence —– Unification —— Healing

Synthesis —– Bringing together opposites —- Feeling secure