Chaos – In the beginning, it was crazytown.
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Prima Materia – Ruland (On the Prima Materia) tells us: “The philosophers have so greatly admired the Creature of God which is called the Primal Matter, especially concerning its efficacy and mystery, that they have given it many names, and almost every possible description, for they have not known how to sufficiently praise it.” Like Chaos is the initial oneness of the universe, Prima materia is the starting point of our alchemical process. The nature of this first matter is guarded by the alchemists and is said to be imparted by the grace of god. If alchemy is a “secret science”, this is the secret.
Ouroboros – Serpents and Dragons figure heavily in alchemy. At this point we see the concept presented as the ouroboros, a dragon that eats its own tail. Later we’ll see more of this in the caduceus. Some analysts see the ouroboros in chaos, or as a representation of the alchemist’s goals in regeneration. See the ouroboros in the totality of nature, continually devouring in order to be replenished.
Macrocosm and Microcosm – There are two circles in our philosophers stone. Both reflect the same basic ideas on differing scales. The smaller of these represents the microcosm. This is not the chaotic circle of the ouroboros. Instead the circle of the microcosm represents the order of the cosmos reflected in an instance of nature.
Duality – Our alchemical hero’s job is to slay the dragon. At the most basic level, our dragon is split in two, allowing us to examine opposites. To construct the philosopher’s stone, we must put a man and woman in our circle.
Rebis – Something double in characteristics.
Hermaphroditus -The double sexed son of Hermes and Aphrodite.
Hieros Gamos – Holy or Royal Wedding. Alchemical images and writings will often speak of the union of these opposites. Some will picture our male and female figure getting it on. Others will show an alchemical hermaphrodite or use the imagery of an effeminate male god.
What do you think of when you think of a man? Concepts of masculine and feminine are seen with all sorts of shades of grey in between. The same could be said for day andnight. Or hot and cold. None-the-less duality is everywhere in the world around us. This is a good time to think about some of these opposites. What defines and separates them? How do they work together?
It’s hard for us to equate words like “active” and “passive” to words like “masculine” and “feminine”. There is so much powerful culture and personal interpretation around these things. Worse yet, sometimes the passive, feminine, dark, cold, lunar, or black halves of the duality are seen as something negative. Not so.
These principles are more like your tea bag and a cup of warm water. Both are good. You need both to make tea. None-the-less we have “that which infuses” and “that which is infused”. This is where the biological comparison comes in.
The symbol used here for “passive” is often also used by alchemists to represent salt. You’ll see the symbol used later on to represent salt as part of the triangle in order to distinguish these. A correspondence exists between these two principles.