Action & Spiritual ‘Experimentation’:

Black, White & Red - the Regal, Active & Virile Path of Tradition

(from "The Path of Cinnabar") 



[...] The full title of my book was The Doctrine, Symbols and Regal Art of the Hermetic Tradition (La tradizione ermetica nella sua dottrina, nei suoi simboli e nella sua Arte Regia). What I chiefly focused on was alchemical Hermetica. These texts consist of those works of mythical origin which are first recorded in the Hellenistic period in Greek and Syriac form. This tradition was later continued by the Arabs, from whose hands it reached the European West, where it flourished in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, up to the dawn of modern scientific chemistry.

From an external point of view, all the texts of this ancient doctrine discuss chemical and metallurgic operations - particularly the production of gold, of the philosophers' stone and of the elixir of wisdom. The practical and operative side of this discipline was termed the hieratic or regal art; it was expressed by means of both a coded and symbolic language that sounded obscure to profane ears, and of the myths of Classical Antiquity. Naturally enough, modern culture interpreted alchemy as an infantile, superstitious and myth-loving sort of chemistry - something of interest to the historian of science, but which had certainly been rendered obsolete by the advent of scientific chemistry. A similar analysis, however, ignores what Hermetic authors have always made clear: that their writings are not to be taken literally, for they are written in a secret language. Hermetic authors claimed to be writing only for themselves and for those who already know, as their secret doctrine can exclusively be learned from a Master or by means of sudden enlightenment. Moreover, it is also evident that the basic worldview shared by Hermetic authors - their understanding of nature and of man - radically differs from that of modern science; and that it rather coincides with the worldview of Gnosticism, theurgy, magic, and of all ancient hieratic doctrines. In other words, it is clear that alchemy pertains to an altogether different spiritual realm from that of ordinary chemistry.

I sought to pursue a systematic study of the Hermetic and alchemical tradition in order to emphasize its true essence as an initiatory science concealed by the use of chemical and metallurgic language. In my work, I pointed out that the substances mentioned in alchemical texts are actually symbols embodying the energies and forces present in man and nature (nature which is here approached sub specie interioritatis, in its hyper-physical aspects). The various alchemical operations are essentially concerned with the initiatory transformation of the human being. Alchemical 'gold' is a metaphor for the immortal and invulnerable being, here conceived in terms of the aforementioned theory of conditioned immortality, which is to say: not as a given, but rather as something which is to be obtained by means of a secret procedure. On the whole, alchemy is founded on a specific cosmology and a symbolic operative system.

What I have just said applies to the most genuine and essential side of the alchemical tradition, stripped of its dross and of secondary or accessory components. The 'dross' of alchemy consists of the speculations and endeavors of those individuals who have mistakenly taken alchemical symbolism literally, and have performed all sorts of material tasks and disorderly experiments - which can indeed be described as infantile and pre-scientific attempts at chemistry. The true 'sons of Hermes', however, dubbed such people 'coal-burners', to signify that they were nothing but profane practitioners who might lead the true science of alchemy to its ruin.

As for the secondary or accessory components of alchemy, these consist in the possibility of actually changing matter: for instance, by transforming metals, but by very different means from those of modern science - by means, that is, of altering matter 'from within', thanks to supra-normal abilities closely related to the internal self-transformation of the initiate (this being the chief purpose of the alchemical art).

In the light of these aims of the regal art, any 'psychological' and psychoanalytic interpretation of alchemy, of the kind which has recently been suggested, clearly appears inadequate. Alchemy has nothing to do with the products of the subconscious, with images of libido or with the involuntary and compulsive manifestation of Jungian 'archetypes' on the unreal and subjective level of the human psyche. Rather, alchemical processes are concrete operations possessing genuine power and deriving from specific forms of knowledge. An emphasis on these features of alchemy is what informed my own treatment of the subject.

The purpose of my book, however, was not only to provide an interpretation of alchemical Hermeticism from an initiatory perspective, but also to focus on alchemy as the embodiment of one of the two chief paths of Tradition: the regal, active and virile path - the other being the priestly, or ascetic and contemplative, path. Alchemical Hermeticism certainly placed an emphasis on the practical and operative side of the Art, and hence on action and spiritual 'experimentation'. The very name most frequently given to alchemy is revealing in this sense: alchemy is the ars regia, the regal art. But more revealing still are the stages of alchemical self-realization. According to all texts, the alchemical Great Work consists of three main phases, symbolized by three different colors: black, white and red, which correspond to the phases of nigredo, albedo and rubedo respectively. Nigredo, also known as the 'blackening', roughly corresponds to the death of the physical 'I', and to the transcendence of the limits of ordinary individuality. Albedo, or the 'whitening', represents the ecstatic opening experienced by the initiate, his experience of light, but merely in a passive manner - which is why this phase is also known as the rule of the Woman or of the Moon. Albedo is then transcended when one reaches the final and most perfect stage in the alchemical process: rubedo or the 'reddening', which consists of the reaffirmation of the virile, sovereign nature - so that the Woman is overcome by the rule of Fire and of the Sun. Some Hermetic authors explicitly link the color red to regal or imperial purple.






click here to return to JuliusEvola.Net /text archive