The Philosopher’s Stone is produced by means of the Greening and Growing Nature – Solomon Trismosin
Last time we worked through the symbolism of the first plate, which accompanied the preface to the Splendor Solis. The rest of the Splendor Solis is divided into 7 chapters (or treatises) which are listed below:
THE FIRST TREATISE: IN THE FOLLOWING TREATISE WE SHALL DISCOURSE ON THE ORIGIN OF THE STONE OF THE PHILOSOPHERS AND THE ART HOW TO PRODUCE IT. (Plates 2 & 3)
THE SECOND TREATISE: MATTER AND NATURE OF THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE. (Plate 4)
THE THIRD TREATISE: NOW FOLLOWS THE MEANS WHEREBY THE WHOLE WORK OF THIS MASTERY IS PERFECTED; EXPLAINED BY A FEW SUITABLE ILLUSTRATIONS, PARABLES, AND VARIOUS APHORISMS OF THE PHILOSOPHERS (Plates 5-11)
THE FOURTH TREATISE: OF THE MEANS BY WHICH NATURE ATTAINS HER ENDS (Plates 12-18)
THE FIFTH TREATISE: FIRST PART. THE FIFTH TREATISE ON THE MANIFOLD OPERATIONS OF THE WHOLE WORK IN FOUR CHAPTERS (Plates 19-22)
THE FIFTH TREATISE: SECOND PART. ON THE COLOURS WHICH APPEAR IN THE PREPARATION OF THE STONE
THE SIXTH TREATISE: ON THE PROPERTIES OF THE WHOLE WORK IN THE PREPARATION OF THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE
THE SEVENTH TREATISE: OF THE WHOLE WORKS’ MANIFOLD EFFECTS, AND WHY THE PHILOSOPHERS INTRODUCE SO MANY NAMES AND ALLEGORIES IN THIS ART OF THE PREPARATION OF THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE
Note how the plates only accompany the text through the first part of the fifth treatise. As mentioned last week, the plates are intentionally symbolic, and they intentionally end at 22 plates in part one of the fifth chapter (note the connection with Major Arcana of the Tarot, as well as the twenty-two paths that connect the Sephiroth on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life).
It is in Treatise Five, Part One that we find a summary of of each plate to ensure that the symbolism was not lost in future reproductions. While the plates and text both provide instruction for the alchemist’s journey, the text provides physical instructions for creating the material philosopher’s stone, while the plates provide allegorical instructions for creating the spiritual philosopher’s stone. The former transforms matter, for instance lead into gold, or even confers immortality by transforming the corruptible body into a perfected body.
The spiritual philosopher’s stone does not concern itself with such worldly matters; it is focused on what eastern religions sometimes call Enlightenment, or what psychologist C.G. Jung referred to as Individuation (it should be noted that Jung was very taken by alchemy, possibly more than any other tradition he explored).
The text that accompanies plate two talks about the art of alchemy, and how it can be used to change the nature of things. However, the prima materia, or essential essence of a thing, comes from nature and must be respected:
“Here Nature serves Art with Matter, and Art serves Nature with suitable Instruments and method[s] convenient for Nature to produce such new forms; and although the before mentioned Stone can only be brought to its proper form by Art, yet the form is from Nature. For the form of everything be it living, growing, or metallic, comes into existence by virtue of the interior force in matter—except the human soul”.
The central image of the second plate shows a man covered in a red and purple cloak, wearing a red hat. The color of his clothing is suggestive of the rubedo, which is the final stage in the alchemical process. The man holds a flask, or alembic, containing a golden liquid. His right hand is raised, his index finger pointing towards the contents of the flask to draw our attention. A black ribbon curls out from the top of the alembic, and written in gold are the words “EAMUS QUESITUM QUATUOR ELEMENTORUM NATURAS” or “Let us ask the four elements of Nature”.
The four alchemical elements of nature are fire, air, earth and water, and while non-Western alchemical systems have different elemental correspondences (for instance, Chinese alchemy has five basic elements, Water, Fire, Earth, Metal and Wood), throughout Western occultism, the four fold system has persisted, being incorporated into systems as divergent as Wicca, the Tarot, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It should also be pointed out that the unspoken name of god in the Old Testament/Tanakh, Yod He Vau He, is interpreted by Kabbalists as representing those same four primal elements (for more, look up the Tetragrammaton).
In the frame are two deer, one male and one female, both looking at the man. The deer is symbolic of the soul in alchemy, as seen in the Book of Lambspring, another illustrated medieval alchemical manuscript:
If we apply the parable to our Art,
We shall call the forest the Body.
That will be rightly and truly said.
The unicorn will be the Spirit at all times.
The deer desires no other name
But that of the Soul; which name no man shall take away from it.
He that knows how to tame and master them by Art,
To couple them together,
And to lead them in and out of the forest,
May justly be called a Master.
For we rightly judge That he has attained the golden flesh…
There is also a bee in the frame, another recurring alchemical symbol. The bee is sacred in many traditions across the globe, and is often understood as a representation of the soul.
The butterfly is important because of its association with transformation. The butterfly is spiritual lead turned to gold, and thus it represents the point of the Great Work, as do many of the other symbols on this plate.
A peacock is also prominently displayed in the frame. Peacocks are associated with the middle stage of alchemy, a stage that creates a swirl of iridescent color that is often mistaken for the end stage of the process. While much of the symbolism in this plate point to the end of the Great Work, the transformation of the soul, the peacock is a dire warning: on the path, there is always a temptation to think the task is over, when in reality, the process is just midway.
This is just scratching the surface of plate two. It is safe to say that every plant, bird, insect and landscape feature in this image has a meaning. That’s the majesty of the Splendor Solis; even a single plate contains hours – if not years – worth of material to reflect on.