Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Restoration of Symmetry: The Philosopher's Stone

The illustration for Michael Maier's 21st alchemical Emblem
from Atalanta Fugiens, by Swiss engraver, Matthäus Merian, 1617.
(All images in this post can be clicked for their original, larger size.)

The Philosopher's Stone

"Make of the man and woman a Circle, of that a Quadrangle, of this a Triangle, of the same a Circle and you will have the Stone of the Philosophers.

...In like manner the Philosophers would have the Quadrangle reduced into a Triangle, that is, into a Body, Spirit and Soul, which three appear in the three previous colours before Rednesse: that is, the Body or earth in the Blacknesse of Saturn, the Spirit in the Lunar whitenesse as water, and the Soul or air in the Solar Citrinity. Then the Triangle will be perfect, but this again must be changed into a Circle; that is, into an invariable rednesse, by which operation the woman is converted into the man and made one with him, and six the first of the perfect numbers is absolved by one, two having returned again to an unity in which there is Rest and eternall peace."
- From Emblem 21 of Michael Maier's alchemical test, Atalanta fugiens, 1617.

"The theoretical roots outlining the stone’s creation can be traced to Greek philosophy. Alchemists later used the classical elements, the concept of anima mundi, and Creation stories presented in texts like Plato's Timaeus as analogies for their process. According to Plato, the four elements are derived from a common source or prima materia (first matter), associated with chaos. Prima materia is also the name alchemists assign to the starting ingredient for the creation of the philosopher's stone. The importance of this philosophical first matter persisted throughout the history of alchemy. In the seventeenth century, Thomas Vaughan writes, "the first matter of the stone is the very same with the first matter of all things".
- From the Wiki entry for Philosopher's Stone.

"Dr. Sigismund Bacstrom believed that if a physician could establish harmony among the elements of earth, fire, air, and water, and unite them into a stone (the Philosopher's Stone) symbolized by the six-pointed star or two interlaced triangles, he would possess the means of healing all disease. Dr. Bacstrom further stated that there was no doubt in his mind that the universal, omnipresent fire (spirit) of Nature: "does all and is all in all." By attraction, repulsion, motion, heat, sublimation, evaporation, exsiccation, inspissation, coagulation, and fixation, the Universal Fire (Spirit) manipulates matter, and manifests throughout creation. Any individual who can understand these principles and adapt them to the three departments of Nature becomes a true philosopher."
- From the The Secret Teachings of all Ages by Manly P. Hall, 1929.

"Associated with spontaneous symmetry breaking is the phenomenon of symmetry restoration. If one heats a system that possesses a broken symmetry it tends to be restored at high temperature. ... Above the critical temperature the system exhibits rotational symmetry. Such a transition from a state of broken symmetry to one where the symmetry is restored is a phase transition. We believe that the same phenomenon occurs in the case of the symmetries of the fundamental forces of nature. Many of these are broken at low temperatures. Very early in the history of the universe, when the temperature was very high, all of these symmetries of nature were presumably restored. The resulting phase transitions, as the universe expanded and cooled, from symmetric states to those of broken symmetry have important cosmological implications."
- An excerpt from David J. Gross's The role of symmetry in fundamental physics1996.


I suppose the "Restoration of Symmetry" seems like a rather coldly analytical approach to Love, but, for a "geometer moth"  - that is, those of us for whom connecting-the-dots, so to speak, is an integral part of our nature - finding the hidden codes which help describe the world in which we live is not so much what we do, but what we are. And, like the geometrid, we do not tenaciously hide this information from view - as if it were knowledge we, alone, had access to - but, instead, wear the information on our metaphorical wings... or the skin of our backs. That is to say, we display information; we are unable to secret it away.

A contemporary glyph for Maier's diagram shown in his 21st emblem (above).*

Symmetry is a word that has tremendous importance in the world of science - in physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, and, yes, even philosophy - in which its definition varies somewhat, but, ultimately, refers to the similar phenomenon one finds in art and geometrical figures. Basically, it refers to physical parts, properties, or processes which are equivalent in two or more directions. The circle is a figure which, for instance, is geometrically equivalent in all directions, and is thereby described as having rotational symmetry. The Philosopher Stone glyph shown above - a modern interpretation of German alchemist (and counsellor to Emperor Rudolf II) Michael Maier's emblem (circa 1617) (artist unknown) - has bilateral symmetry, in that if a line is down its center, each side is exactly equivalent to the other, although seen in reverse. This can also be referred to as reflective symmetry as one side effectively mirrors the other.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Language of Birds & the Alchemy of Love: The Music Box

Still Life With Music Box - digital - © 2016, DS
Note: The original image posted here has been replaced with the most current version.
(Click on any image this post to enlarge.)

"At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus, and deep Tartarus. Earth, the air and heaven had no existence. Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebus, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light. That of the Immortals did not exist until Eros had brought together all the ingredients of the world, and from their marriage Heaven, Ocean, Earth and the imperishable race of blessed gods sprang into being. Thus our origin is very much older than that of the dwellers in Olympus. We are the offspring of Eros; there are a thousand proofs to show it. We have wings and we lend assistance to lovers."

- Excerpt from "The Birds,"  a comedy by the Greek playwright Aristophanes, 414 BC, found here.

"... This thought leads to another, which takes us into unexplored and perhaps unexplorable regions of Greek religious history. The chief claim made in Pithetaerus's preposterous speech to the Birds is, after all, partly true. The Birds were objects of worship to the Minoans and the early inhabitants of Greece before Zeus and his Olympian commando descended upon the peninsula. Birds were not gods; Pithetaerus does not quite say they were. Yet the bird perched on the sacred Double Axe or the pillar-tree was the Numen of the axe or the tree. The Minoans believed, as Nilson says, that the gods - or, to put it more exactly, the divine power - appeared in the form of birds. Again, the most important and wide-spread method of communication with the divine power was by augury. The birds knew the weather; they knew when good luck or bad was to be expected; they gave clear warning of the future to those who could read their messages. Could they have known what was coming so well unless indeed it was partly they who made it come? "

- Gilbert Murray from the introduction to his translation of Aristophanes' "The Birds,1950.

"Sometimes mythological birds create more than the physical world. Cultures in northern Europe and Asia credited birds with establishing their social orders, especially kingships. A golden-winged eagle was said to have put the first Mongol emperor on his throne. The Japanese believed that sacred birds guided their second emperor in conquering his enemies before the founding of his dynasty. The Magyar people claimed that a giant eagle, falcon, or hawk had led their first king into Hungary, where he founded their nation. The Magyars looked upon this bird as their mythical ancestor...

Many myths have linked birds to the arrival of life or death. With their power of flight, these winged creatures were seen as carriers or symbols of the human soul, or as the soul itself, flying heavenward after a person died. A bird may represent both the soul of the dead and a deity at the same time. Some cultures have associated birds with birth, claiming that a person’s soul arrived on earth in bird form."

-  From Mantrik Garudika's  Bird Figures in Mythology.

"Select characters in medieval Icelandic literature are able to comprehend the language of birds. Ranging from Sigurðr’s tasting the blood of the dragon Fáfnir to Óðinn’s daily dialogue with the ravens Huginn and Muninn, numerous sources will be examined from a comparative perspective. Birds consistently offer important information to individuals associated with kingship and wisdom. The wide chronological and geographical range of this motif will be explored as well as the fascinating theoretical questions regarding why birds are nature’s purveyors of wisdom. With their capacity to fly and sing, birds universally hold a special place in human experience as symbols of transcendence and numinous knowledge; Old Norse tradition reflects this reality."

- Timothy Bourns, from his introduction to The Language of Birds in Old Norse Tradition. (.pdf)

The Hindu God Garuda. For a list of other avian humanoids, try here.

The Language of the Birds

Technically, the Language of the Birds - as it was often described in folk tales and myths in general - literally referred to what anyone might assume it did: the way birds communicate. And, to be able to understand this language endowed one with special powers, knowledge and abilities. As time went on, however, the phrase took on more occult implications. in medieval France it became the secret "Green Language" of the Freemasons and Knights Templar - la langue des oiseaux - and was possibly also utilized by the Troubadours (or Trouvères). During the Renaissance, there were apparently a number of musical languages inspired by birdsong, although at least a few of these were probably composed of simple signals in ways similar to those used by the indigenous peoples of the Americas and elsewhere.

When I first began using the phrase "the Language of the Birds" to describe my own understanding of mysticism, I had almost no formal knowledge of the phrase's history; I had initially found it in reference to a Sufi text, and was attracted to it in a poetic sense. After all, the phrase has a nice resonance to it.  Eventually, however, I began to equate it with language of the higher consciousness, specifically that of the creative muse and its role in automatism. At the same time, I began to intuit there was a transdimensional aspect to it, which I referred to as "the memory of sound". That is, while there is the physicality of sound and its effect on our senses, there are also immaterial, subliminal codes embedded in sound which effect us both emotionally and spiritually in ways that are not currently understood. In this sense, music is, in fact, magic.