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. -Trismosin
Plate five heralds the start of the first of the two main series contained within the alchemical text of the Splendor Solis. Each series is made up of seven plates, and the first set is referred to as the seven parables: seven plates to tell us seven stories.
The number seven is revered in alchemy, as it refers to the seven classical metals, the seven classical planets, and the seven alchemical symbols as per below:
The central picture of the first parable shows a mountain being mined by two small figures that resemble dwarves, and there is a theme of opposites that is threaded throughout. The two figures in the central picture are dressed with opposite clothes and shoes in gold and silver; on top of the frame are a cherubic boy and girl figures.The boy holds a seed, the girl holds a flower. On either lower side of the frame there are twin figures, only one pair have spirals for arms, while the other pair have spirals as legs. We also see the sun shining brightly in the sky, while the moon floats along in the river below.
In the pedestal of the frame is where identifiable parable is located; there is a picture of a scene from the book of Esther from the Old Testament (the Hebrew Tanakh). In addition to the depiction of the iconic scene, the word “Esther” is also written above the scene leaving little room for misinterpretation. So who, exactly, was Esther?
The Jews underwent what was known as the Babylonian exile, which was a period that would see a great transformation for their customs and religion. One of that things that emerged from this period was monotheism; before this time, the people we now call the Jews were polytheistic, and El, their primary god, was one of many, including Baal (represented by the golden calf) and Asherah, the goddess of trees.
The Jews who were left behind were still polytheists; if you’ve ever wondered who a Samaritan was (i.e. Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan), they were the ones who didn’t switch over to worshiping just one deity, a revelation that was saved for those abducted by the Babylonians.
When the Persians overthrew the Babylonians, they allowed the Jews to go home, but not surprisingly, not everyone chose to go.
One of the Jews who stayed was named Mordecai, who served as chief minister for the King, Ahasuerus. Given his status, Mordecai was able to shelter many of his fellow Jews, including his orphaned cousin, Esther.
Two other players are a part of the this story: Queen Vashti, and Haman, the Grand Vizier (two eunuchs named Bigthan and Teresh are also central to the overall story, but their roles is peripheral to the tale of Esther).
One day, King Ahasuerus, apparently quite drunk, ordered his wife, Queen Vashti, to parade herself before his guests. He essentially wanted her to do a striptease, which was as rude a demand then as it would be now, the only difference being that back then, refusing such a request could end in death.
Whatever Vasthi’s fate was, a fate that was sealed by Haman, the Grand Vizier, isn’t known. What is known is that the King found himself looking for a new Queen.
Enter his chief minister, Mordecai. Mordecai, who happened to have a lovely, single cousin. Yes, this is how people met before the internet. Did I mention she was Jewish?
Haman, the Grand Vizier, liked the Jews as little as he did wives who didn’t strip on command. He started convincing the King that the Jews were an infestation.
He proposed a final solution. Mind you, the very Jewish Mordecai had already saved the King’s life once (that’s the bit about the eunuchs I skipped earlier). Still, the King was swayed, and a plan was put into motion, starting with Mordecai’s execution…even though the King had already married Mordecai’s fair (and very Jewish) cousin, Esther.
Still, never underrate the power of a persuasion, especially when it comes in the form of an ingenue (an innocent girl). Esther’s words did not fall on deaf ears (and one can safely assume that her form did not displease the King’s eyes, either).
The scene of Esther before Ahasuerus is described in the following Biblical passage:
“So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter. And the king said to her, ‘What do you wish Queen Esther? It shall be given to you – up to half the kingdom!’” (The Holy Bible, New King James Edition, Esther 5.3)
So what does she do? She lets her people live.
For practicing Jews, this event is remembered in the festival of Purim, a day of festive rejoicing.
This story of Esther can be interpreted as a tale of the connection of opposites, what C.G. Jung called the coniunctio: the masculine and the feminine uniting. Certainly the symbolism of the artwork of this fifth plate in the Splendor Solis emphasizes the idea of united polarities, which can be called the Heiros Gamos , or to use a Tantric term, Lila.
Esther talked to her husband. She communicated; she spoke truth to power. In the end, it saved her people, and her cousin Mordecai as well. Things didn’t end so well for Haman, the Grand Vizier; he ended up hanging from the very same gallows that he had built for Mordecai.
As with the other plates, there is an accompanying text. While it seems to be metallurgical in nature (as the imagery of the mining indicates), its overall meaning is still colored by the myth of Esther: communion matters.
The text accompanying the first parable talks mostly about the prima materia, and the creation of this material. We learn that:
“Where there are such hills and dales, there the Earth has been matured and most perfectly mixed with heat and cold, moisture and dryness, and there the best ores may be found” (Trismosin, p. 26)
This is the crux of the beginning of the alchemical process; good prima materia yields good results in the Great Work. This prima materia is created at the point where opposites are balanced enough to yield to each other, whether that is taken in a physical or spiritual sense.
There are other mythic connections here as well: Esther’s name can be traced back, linguistically, to astra, which can mean a star, or possibly Venus.
King Ahasuerus also survived mythologically. He has been conflated with the wandering Jew, a shoemaker who was believed to have taunted Jesus on his way to the crucifixion. As a result, Ahasuerus was cursed to walk the earth until the second coming.
This legend has endured and evolved with some versions claiming the wandering Jew became the possessor of the secrets of the alchemists during his endless sojourn.
Odd, since King Ahasuerus wasn’t a Jew.
Still, if he represents Power, it’s Esther that represents Truth.
Or at the very least, the voice that speaks its truth to power.
Until next time, keep talking to power. Even if it’s a whimper, a whisper, or a silent prayer in the dark.
If it worked for Esther, it might just work for the rest of us…