Author Topic: The Rosarium Philosophorum and the Second Opus  (Read 9514 times)

Matt Koeske

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The Rosarium Philosophorum and the Second Opus
« on: August 31, 2007, 04:12:50 PM »
I've been immersing myself in alchemical study recently.  My primary goal is to come to a satisfactory understanding of the emblem sequence in the Rosarium Philosophorum.  Jung used a truncated version of this sequence to demonstrate alchemical parallels to his idea of individuation in his essay, "Psychology of the Transference".  As I proposed a chapter in my book project that tries to revise and complete Jung's adulterated usage of the Rosarium sequence in order to bring an understanding of individuation into a more contemporary and "biology-friendly" realm, I've had to dig up everything I could to better understand the Rosarium sequence as the alchemist/s who created it intended it to be understood.  Of course my intention is still "Jungian" in that I am hoping to use the completed sequence to exemplify the archetype of the individuation process . . . as I believe it (individuation) should be understood (rather than as the Jungians conventionally understand it).

Although the Rosarium emblems have been constant companions for me for about 15 years now, I have only recently started delving into alchemy outside of the Jungian interpretation.  This appears to be essential to the project I am interested in pursuing.  That project being the creation of a piece of writing that helps bring Jung's idea of individuation into better (and more scientific, contemporary) focus while not absolutely bastardizing or too severely personalizing the alchemical symbolism of the Rosarium sequence as it was originally intended.

As usual with my "coniunctio projects", I suspect my synthesis will not please either the dogmatic Jungian or the dogmatic alchemy scholar.  But I agree with Jung's notion that alchemy had a lot to say about the psychological (and instinctual) process of individuation.  I don't mean to reduce either one to the other.  I merely feel the demonstration of parallels (when both individuation and the Rosarium sequence are fully and properly understood . . . or as close to this as possible) will prove useful to the understanding of the psyche and of Jung's idea of individuation.

Which is to say I do not expect or intend to offer anything to alchemical scholarship in this effort.  It is Jungian scholarship that has erred and lies in disrepair on this particular issue.  I merely feel this Jungian disrepair is not at all a lost cause.

I will use this forum topic to gather notes and work out interpretations as I think about, meditate on, and study alchemy more.  This is pretty arcane subject matter, and I'm not sure if we have any regular members interested in exploring alchemy this deeply.  But if anyone is interested, has counter theories/interpretations or criticisms or feedback or questions of any kind, I would be happy if you chimed in.

Yours,
Matt

You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Matt Koeske

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Re: The Rosarium Philosophorum and the Second Opus
« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2007, 04:33:17 PM »

My most recent obsession has been contemplating/meditating on the second to last image from the Rosarium Philosophorum (small colored images are linked directly from Adam McLean's Alchemy Website):




The final 4 emblems of the 20 emblem sequence in order are:




The 19th emblem depicts the crowning of Mary by the Holy Trinity.  But here, Mary is meant to represent something beyond the conventional Christian definitions.  She is in many ways more of a Sophia figure (for instance, as described in the story Kafiri posted here) than the conventional Catholic Mary.  That is she is the anima mundi or the spirit trapped in matter that is extracted/distilled/exalted/raised up alchemically (redeemed by Jesus, in the above) . . . but then purified, processed, and re-fixed/instilled back into matter.  Thus, she represents the redemption and re-valuation of matter.

This also associates the figure with the alchemical Mercury and its process of transmutation from prima materia into the white and red stones or tinctures.  And so, as Mercury, she is also Luna, the embodiment of the Feminine.

The first emblem depicting the coronation strikes me as a "crowning of Matter" . . . in my more sciencey, modernized interpretation, this would be akin to the conscious acknowledgment and understanding that Matter itself possesses, in a potential (the alchemists might say, "corrupted") state, all of human spirituality, intelligence, and consciousness (as governed by our instincts).  I would see this as a Matter that is the elemental basis of psyche.  To "crown Matter" in the sense this emblem portrays would be to consciously embrace the phylogenetic, instinctual unconscious as the essential basis of human consciousness.  In other words, the ego must be devoted (as in Mary's posture of devotion/prayer) to facilitating the instinctual unconscious in the world, in Matter.

The importance of this humbled, devotional stance (toward the instinctual unconscious/Self) is also borne out by the previous emblem, the green lion devouring the sun.  Coming after the so called "demonstration of perfect" and creation of the red stone, the green lion symbol demonstrates that the philosophical gold created can still be consumed by Nature's appetite, by hydrochloric acid/aqua regia, or by philosophical Mercury.  I have been seeing this as a sacrifice of "ego-credit" for the Work . . . but also as an acknowledgment that the Work is meant to feed and nourish the instinctual unconscious (it is raw material for the Self, just as the instinctual unconscious is raw material for the willful ego).  The Work is not meant to "strengthen" or deify or in any way exalt the ego . . . but to facilitate the libido of the instinctual unconscious.

The entire second opus (as depicted in the Rosarium emblem sequence) is filled with symbols of sacrifice of spiritual achievements.  First the alchemical hermaphrodite conjoined, purified, and reanimated in the first opus (the creation of the white stone) is (at least partially) divided so that the spiritualized (winged) Sol or sulfur can be dissolved in the mercurial bath again:

(The Mylius version more clearly shows this separation)


(In the original version, the lovers are subtly withdrawing from one another's embrace)



Sol and Luna are then reunited into one being, but (as in the first opus) this hermaphrodite is now a corpse . . . and its remaining spiritual principle must be dissolved/sacrificed so that it can be prepared for reanimation.  When that reanimation occurs, the risen hermaphrodite has lost its white, angelic wings (a symbol of the transcendent spiritual principle).  These are replaced by a contrasting style of wings: dragon.  The dragon is usually associated with the prima materia in its chaotic state, which the alchemist tries to subdue and transform into an ordered principle.  But with dragon's wings, the rebis would seem to have successfully integrated this re-organized/redeemed prima materia.  We might say its ability to transcend or lift up now is entirely an aspect of material Nature . . . or that any transcendence is done within the framework of Nature and Matter rather than in opposition to it.

This is further borne out by other symbols in the 17th emblem, the "demonstration of perfection".  Firstly, the ground on which the rebis stands is a depiction of the unredeemed, chaotic Matter (as three-headed dragon devouring itself . . . perhaps also a reference to the interaction of the three alchemical substances: sulfur, mercury, and salt).  Note this Matter is an earthy mound and not the celestial moon crescent that suspends the rebis in the parallel 10th emblem (the creation of the white stone or lunar consciousness . . . that Jung used to portray the completion of the process).  Next, there is a lion partially concealed behind the rebis.  This could have numerous meanings, but it seems to generically indicate that a powerful, active yet instinctual (animal) force is behind (and under the control of or subordinated to) the rebis (also, Mylius depicts the lion held on a leash in the same emblem).  Since the lion is located just below the waist/loin level of the rebis, this might further suggest that this instinctual force is generative or fecund.  Finally, the symbol of the pelican feeding its young with blood from its own breast is a Christ-like self-sacrifice symbol.

A rather subtle aspect of that last symbol is that it is contrasted (spatially juxtaposed) with the sun tree on the left of the rebis.  The sun tree is a reproductive/creative outgrowth or production of this stage of the Work.  But the pelican symbol is clearly depicted as on a higher ground than this sun tree . . . as if to say that this "demonstration of perfection" (and the final product of the second opus) is more a matter of self-sacrifice than of production or achievement.  Or alternatively, the higher/right side shows the active/conscious attitude of self-sacrifice while the lower/left side shows the passive/unconscious attitude of fruitfulness.

With all of these sacrifice symbols in the emblems of the second opus, it seems beyond doubt that this was a (if not the) central theme of this leg of the Work (as far as the creator of the Rosarium sequence was concerned).


The alchemical process depicted in the coronation emblem, the 19th, (seen psychologically) is, I think, a reflection of the impregnation of Mary by God/the Holy Spirit.  That is, Luna/Mercury appears here in the form of humble/devout Mary because her "holiness"/valuation (or redemption in the alchemical context) allows her to be a vessel for the divine.  She is the impregnable Mater/Matter through which the incarnation of God in matter can be achieved.

I am thinking that this facilitating, receptive relationship of the ego with the instinctual Self in the material realm is also what is at times depicted as the filius philosophorum.  The filius is still a symbol of potential, or of an attitude.  It is birthed, but is not yet grown.  In this sense, it could be associated with the devotional posture of Mary . . . for the filius is the product of such devotion.  The actualization or implementation of the devotional, nurturing "filius attitude" is depicted in the final emblem as the risen Christ.  But that kind of incarnation is not the product of the ego, per se . . . but of the Self working through the receptive "filius attitude" embodied by the Virgin in receptive devotion.

I would say, then, that the filius and/or Virgin is a symbol of the alchemists' attitudinal goal.  The ego doesn't "become" the filius, but adopts the attitude the Virgin takes toward the reception of the Holy Spirit . . . immaculately conceiving, birthing, and nurturing the filius, the conduit through which the libido of the Self moves into the world.  The filius is equally an attitude/conduit through which the world (and others or their Eros) is received.

The close connection between the filius and the Virgin Mother seems to be illustrated in the Mylius' recreation of the Rosarium sequence.  In the same (19th) emblem, we see the filius crowned rather than Mary (the Mylius' emblems appear to be de-Christianized).




Here is a "more alchemical" version of this same emblem from the Pandora sequence by Reusner:

 


I say "more alchemical" because of the lower symbol, which seems to depict the extraction/exaltation of spirit from Matter that mirrors the upper symbol of the instillation of exalted spirit into Matter.  The lower symbol may also be intended to represent a self-assisted birthing process of the spirit from Matter.  I can't make out the not very well drawn (and also fairly bizarre) figures below to determine who they are meant to represent.  The extractor seems to be female, so we could assume Luna/Mercury in one of her guises.  The extracted semi-human form looks more male.  One of the versions above depicts him with stigmata, so he would seem to correspond to the crucified Christ or the earthen Christ as Jesus who died and must be resurrected.

These two processes together form the completion of the Work (as depicted in the final emblem).


You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

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Joy

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Re: The Rosarium Philosophorum and the Second Opus
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2010, 04:29:47 PM »
Hey,

thanks for all you deep thoughts about this topic :)

this year .. the Rosarium Philosophorum will be my main topic in alchemy. Before
I start the traditional work in spring, I collect the outside informations, so I see
how other people move into the emblems and bring them to life inside.
Hope you don`t mind, if I add my thoughts here from time to time.
My english is quite simple but it is enough to bring over, what moves me in alchemy
emblems work.

Nice greets  ... Joy

Matt Koeske

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Re: The Rosarium Philosophorum and the Second Opus
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2010, 01:26:53 PM »
this year .. the Rosarium Philosophorum will be my main topic in alchemy. Before
I start the traditional work in spring, I collect the outside informations, so I see
how other people move into the emblems and bring them to life inside.
Hope you don`t mind, if I add my thoughts here from time to time.
My english is quite simple but it is enough to bring over, what moves me in alchemy
emblems work.

Please feel free to add any thoughts on the Rosarium you like, Joy.  I wouldn't say that this project has been wholly abandoned by me, but I have been focusing on other things for a while now (e.g., critiques of post-Jungianism, some quasi-Jungian archetypal theory, and a book project on the tribalistic foundations to human social psychology, culture, and religion).  I never got around to adding all of the material on the Rosarium I would have liked to put in this forum.  It's just a lot of work, and no one else really seemed interested except me (at the time).

The Rosarium has always had a significant place in my psyche ever since I first saw the emblems (in Jung's books).  They have served as my personal psychic orientation in my own Work, and I've found that the Rosarium sequence is (when interpreted in a not devoutly Jungian way, at least) a better and more robust model for the individuation process than Jung's own psychological model.  That is, where Jung deviates from the Rosarium or where the Rosarium extends beyond Jung, I have found the Rosarium to more closely parallel my own experience and serve as a more functional (if esoteric) model for individuation (or the post-individuation process I have been calling the Work).

There are many reasons for this discrepancy between Jung's psychological model and the Rosarium's alchemical model.  For instance, Jung positioned the Rosarium sequence within the psychodynamic construct of the transference (specifically between patient and analyst) . . . and other Jungians have not deviated from this direction.  Perhaps more significantly, Jung knowingly truncated the Rosarium sequence (eliminating the "second opus") but added one emblem from the second opus out of order in the first.  This suggests that Jung did not fully understand the sequence as a psychological process.  Another significant Jungian error is the misunderstanding of the Nigredo period that comes after the Coniunctio.  Jung and Jungians have conflated the Coniunctio with a transcendent "hieros gamos", and this is not borne out by the actual alchemical sequence and accompanying text.  Another factor of this error is that the concept of the prima materia is incorrectly psychologized.  Jung associated it mostly with a kind of chaotic beginning to the whole process, a state or primary unconsciousness.  This is not at all supported by actual alchemical texts, where it is more conventional to see the creation of the prima materia as a significant achievement in itself (sometimes the most significant achievement of the whole magnum opus).

In some sense, it is strange that Jung made these blunders in his psychologization, because his knowledge of alchemy was substantial.  These were not scholarly errors or the mistakes of ignorance.  It seems as though he was compelled to distort the psychology of alchemy based on his own psychological theories.  This possibility makes more sense with a thorough study of the individuation process as Jungians understand it.  All of the signature flaws and pitfalls of Jungian individuation accord with the same deviations Jung made in his psychologization of alchemy.  So it is not, in my opinion, that Jung just misunderstood alchemy's symbolism, philosophy, and mysticism.  I think he misunderstood the actual psychology of the individuation process (not entirely but in certain key places), and therefore he had no way of fully understanding the significance of alchemy to the psychology of individuation.  That is, he could not follow the alchemical symbolism when it deviated from his own individuation model. 

So I don't see his mistakes as malicious at all.  He did manage to find value and meaning in alchemy, and I agree with Jung that alchemical symbolism can be psychologized or translated into a modern language . . . in which it describes an individuation process in great detail (greater detail than any other mystical text I've seen).  Adam McLean, who has done a great service to those interested in alchemy by forming and running the Alchemy Website and making texts available to the public, has many gripes with Jung and Jungian understanding of alchemy.  He complains about the psychologization . . . but then goes on to psychologize it in his own way.  I agree more with Jung that alchemy can be psychologized . . . but I agree with many of McLean's criticisms of Jungian treatments of alchemy.  But McLean has a bit of the fundamentalist in him, and it seems to cloud his thought where his interpretation of alchemy becomes conflated with THE interpretation.

Alchemy has always been about personalized interpretation.  It is not conducive to fundamentalism.  Every opus undertaken, every alchemical text written or emblem drawn is innovative and interpretive and based in (but not absolutely beholden to) alchemical traditions.  Alchemy is not really a scholarship (in the modern sense), but a kind of folk science and mysticism.  Like folktales, alchemical processes are always being revised and retold.  Each author adds his or her own twists and personal observations.  What McLean misses is that Jung was absolute practicing in this same alchemical tradition, reinterpreting alchemical symbols in a more personalized language.  There is not only one way to make the Stone.  Each person pursuing the Art must develop his or her own process by adapting the "field notes" that make up the tradition to their own orientation and disposition.  The problem was that Jung made some errors.  Probably every alchemical author made similar errors, but their writing was so vague and esoteric that these couldn't be detected.  Jung wrote in a more modern/rational language, so his errors are easier to recognize.

A major problem with the prevailing Jungian understanding of the Rosarium and alchemy in general is that Jungians often fail to fully understand that alchemy is not about transference or something that goes on in analysis . . . it is a mysticism.  That is, it's a personal process of transformation based in an initiatory relationship between (in Jungian terms) the ego and the Self.  Between the human and the divine.  It doesn't describe something that everyone does or can do.  Alchemy (as a practice) is really only for "mystics" or those who would be initiated into the "Mysteries" (of relationship with the Self).  Jungians, to put it bluntly, are "tourists" of the individuation process more so than practitioners.  Jung himself was, I think, a practitioner . . . but most Jungians talk about and idealize individuation more than they actually do it.  If they did start to practice individuation with any discipline or devotion, they would come to see that Jung's model and his appropriation of alchemy are in need of significant revision.

As I came to discover this, I began to move away from writing specifically about alchemy (or the psychology of alchemy) here on the forum.  I just felt that very few people would be able to understand what I was ranting about.  As I imagine that "Jungians" or those interested in or influenced by Jung make up the majority of the membership of this forum, it seemed to me that they would have little interest in exploring a psychology of alchemy that was highly critical of conventional Jungian interpretations.  At the same time, my orientation is psychological first and mystical second.  I have run into a number of people on the web who have a very mystical and religious take on alchemy, but who are often unbalanced and rather naive psychologically.  Alchemy tends to engender a lot of inflation (a kind of Mercurial poisoning, perhaps).  It is very hard to pursue the alchemical opus in modern terms and also stay sane.  Doing so requires more than a mystical indulgence.  It is a spiritual discipline. 

From what I have seen, alchemy as an obsession or influence is unhealthy for most modern people . . . especially when it is not rendered in a modern, more psychological language.  If alchemy is taken as a totemic religion or dogma to be believed in, it poisons the devotee.  If it is taken as a model for a creative and personalized pursuit of the Mysteries and the relationship with the Self, it has a lot to offer even the modern individual.  I just feel it can't be prescribed to modern people indiscriminately.

I wish you the best of luck in your studies and pursuits.

-Matt
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Joy

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Re: The Rosarium Philosophorum and the Second Opus
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2010, 03:18:42 PM »
Well, I agree very much with your post and would like to add,
that the "Inner Alchemy" in these days uses very modern exercises.

On our own, we can not find the right way through the emblems,
therefore, I am glad, that we still have the oral tradition which has
not published material and is a good guidiance.
Guess, Jung had no teachers from the tradition.

Just like you, I only spend a certain time on a topic, for the most
mental models I need two years to draw the essence.

Greetings Joy