10 février 2008

Mircea Eliade, Asian Alchemy (note de lectura)

1. Foreword
2. Chinese alchemy
3. Indian alchemy
4. Babylonian cosmology and alchemy
5. Conclusion

1. Foreword

This short text is not a per se summary of Mircea Eliade’s book. It should rather be looked upon as a collection of notes, which target the subjects and facts that seemed relevant in the research of the Traditionalist view of spiritual progression and transcendence. Thus, the ideas concerned here might look disparaged, even unlinked, but in the overlook, a careful reader will surely observe their intrinsic coherence. Some paragraphs and sentences have notes, designated with “*”, that belong not to Eliade’s book, but to my perception of his book.

The author’s main point revolves around proving the fact that Alchemy is not a “pre-chemistry” (as it was mostly seen after Renaissance), not a prologue to a mundane, profane science, but a path of spiritual progress, of enlightenment which should be regarded as complete and perfect in itself.

2. Chinese alchemy

In Chinese culture, alchemy appears as one of the main paths through which the Taoist adepts can reach immortality. In this manner, they once more analyzed the way in which the cosmic elements -Yin and Yang- contributed to each other and realized that, in order to attain immortality, the adept must obtain the domination of Yang (the masculine element) -which they identified with Tao itself- and be purified of Yin (the feminine element). Therefore, in Taoist alchemy, the artificial, alchemic gold is superior to the natural one as it contains no fragment of Yin, of the telluric element, having been relieved of its earthly origin.

Even though it has a prominent practical side, this alchemy has nothing in common with the empirical sciences, with “pre-chemistry”, rather being a mystical operation of spiritual transmutation of the individual. Thus, any alchemical operation is preceded by fasting, sacrifices, meditations which show its sacred, religious character. However, in the same time with the evolution of mystical alchemy (whose purpose was the attainment of immortality), there also appeared a pragmatic, materialistic alchemy, which wished a transmutation of metals per se. Therefore, the first type of alchemy can be called “esoteric alchemy” - “nei tan” – in which the adept uses only the “soul” of the substances, whereas in the second type of alchemy, the “exoteric alchemy” - “wai tan” - the adept uses the tangible, material substances (mercury, lead, cinnabar etc).

3. Indian alchemy

As in China, beside the metallurgic, “exoteric alchemy”, we can find in India a mystical, “esoteric alchemy”, entitled “rasayana” (< “rasa” = mercury). Through “rasayana”, the adept mystically searches for immortality, for the supreme liberation. Using the alchemical processes, he obtains a “mercurial body”, a “glorious”, divine body which represents the spiritualized flesh, elevated from it mere material condition (*note – in Tantric texts, Shiva is sometimes looked upon as the “mercurial” god, thus placing this type of alchemy under Shiva’s banner). Among the great Indian alchemists there are a great number of Tantric masters, “magicians” – “siddhas”. Therefore, linked with the Tantric knowledge, Indian alchemy proved to be more like a “magic art”, a “soteriology” (* = doctrine of “salvation” – in this case salvation from Samsara, the cycle of captivity, of illusion). In many alchemical Tantras (* = tantric writings), the “sittars”, the “siddhas” divide the substances (“sarakku”) in two categories: masculine substances (“an-sarakku”) and feminine substances (“pen-sarakku”). This categorization could be linked to the Chinese division of Yin substances and Yang substances, or to the Western division which places substances under the aegis of either “Sol” (= Sun; masculine) or “Luna” (=Moon; feminine). Also, in some Tantras, the discoverer of alchemy is Shiva; for this matter, the adept must forge the god Shiva a “mercurial phallus”, offering that symbolizes the cosmic generative principle. Once with the Muslim invasion, the Indian alchemy makes contact with the empirical, experimental Alexandrine alchemy, determining the arising of a “profane”, exoteric alchemy. However, this had not a great impact on the traditional, esoteric alchemy “rasayana”, which continued to be linked to the mystical-magical tantrism, remaining a pure spiritual technique of “transmutation”. 4. Babylonian cosmology and alchemy

• Cosmos and Magic

In Mesopotamian cosmology, the main universal law is that of “absolute analogy between the Sky and the World” (* note – see the everlasting hermetic law of “As above, so below”). In this way, everything that has a concrete existence on Earth has to have an identical correspondent in the metaphysical superior plane (* note – see Plato’s metaphysical theory of Ideas). However, what is manifested on Earth is, qualitatively speaking, inferior to what reigns in the Sky, being a pale, imperfect reflection of the metaphysical element, the only one that is “real” (*note – again, Plato; in his theory, only the above-existing pure, perfect Ideas have “reality”; what manifests on Earth is imperfect and, thus, inconsistent, not so “real”).

In this line of ideas, the Temple/Ziggurat is a symbol of the “cosmic mountain” - which in itself is a representation of the world, an “imago mundi”-. Cosmologically speaking, its vertical stratification denotes the different layers of “reality”, culminating in the peak which represents the Gods’ lair (e.g. as Mount Olympus), the supreme transcendental “reality”. Also, the Temple/Ziggurat is a “consecrated space”, the only space considered “real” in the archaic world-view. The “consecrated time” was possible also only inside the Temple, during the celebrations the rhythmically marked the sacred circularity of time. Seeing these, we can observe that in traditional societies, “real” can only be identified with “sacred”, with “touched by divine”.

A very important role in Babylonian cosmology is played by the symbolism of the “Centre”. As a metaphysical image, the “Centre” becomes the “sacred space” par excellence, and the individual reaches “reality” by his return to the “Centre”, to the transcendental Absolute. In this way, the initiatory path marks the adept’s quest to the sacred “Centre”, to the ultimate “reality”. (* note – very relevant is the old Romanian legend which shows that the young followers of the magical path are taken to the “Crugu Pamantului” = the Middle/Centre of the World, where they shall learn all the mysteries and secrets and thus become “Solomonari” = Mages).

However, this homology between Sky and World is manifested indirectly, through correspondences. Only in special, singular conditions, in a sacred “Centre”, can the link be direct. Otherwise, the influences of the two planes are exercised through “proxims”; for example, to every planet there is an attribute as its correspondent (a certain metal, a certain color, a certain God etc). According to this, we can observe the link between Shamash (Sun-God) and “gold”, between Anu and “silver”, between Ea and “bronze”, between Nimidni and “stone”.

• Magic and Metallurgy

A central role in Mesopotamian cultures is often played by the mysterious “lapis lazuli” stone. Its blue colored nuances symbolize the color of the star-lit sky (the God Sin’s beard, the hair of Ra – in Egyptian mythology – etc).

An interesting fact concerning ancient metallurgy is that before knowing the “terrestrial iron”, the archaic cultures first met and used the “meteoritic iron”; due to this, metals were mainly thought as having a celestial origin. In the Sumero – Akkadian culture the meteoritic originated iron was called “AN-BAR” (phoneme designating the words “Sky” – “Fire”), meaning “celestial metal”. The word that later came to be used instead of it, “BAR-GAL”, had the meaning of “great metal”. Such is the case of Egypt, where the word for iron “bi-n-pet” can be translated by “celestial metal”. A Hittite text also shows that the 14th century BCE kings obtained “black iron from the Sky”. In ancient Greek, iron is designated by the word “sideros”, which can be linked to the Latin word “sidus, -eris” (=star) and the Litvanic word “svidu” (=to shine), fact which shows the celestial origin of iron.

Therefore, metals – either coming from the Sky, having a celestial origin, or extracted from the bowels of the Earth – represented powerful magical agents. In the first case, the metal is the bearer of all celestial “virtues”, whereas in the second case it is “uprooted” too soon from the matrix of Mother-Earth. This cvasi-gynecologic operation is extremely dangerous due to the forces it brings in to the world.

• Living Cosmos

Cosmologically speaking, in ancient cultures, metals took part in the great cosmic cycle – “birth” – “sexuality”/reproduction – “death”, as any other element of the cosmos. In this way they are attributed with different genders, characteristics of their “sexuality”. In European alchemy, the Great Work appears as the secret of combining the masculine element with the feminine one (* note – see the Sol-Luna synthesis).

In “Turba Philosophorum” – like in many other Hellenistic and Arabic alchemical manuscripts – the chemical operations to which the metals are submitted take the form of “torture of metals”. Therefore, taking part in the “great mystical law”, they must suffer and die in order to attain eternal life: “Eo quod cruciata res, cum in corpore submergitur, vertit ipsam in naturam inalterabilam ac indelebilam”.

• Babylonian Alchemy

In the Babylonian metallurgic art, the ore appears as a “divine embryo” (“an-kubu”), obtained to a process similar to “abortion”. To this fact, to its premature uprooting from the “telluric matrix”, the ore is subdued to a series of magical operations (sacrifices, libations, purifications etc) in order to banish away the malignant forces. Therefore, in the cauldron the metal is passing through a mystico-magical rebirth, as the cauldron gets to symbolize the womb of Mother-Earth.

In “Bergbüchlein”, book attributed to Colbus Fribergius, the author explains the ancient belief, according to which metals are born and gradually grow up deep in the Earth. The writer also states that the origin of metals is the mystical communion between sulphur and mercury, representing the two cosmic principles : masculine and feminine (* note – in India, it mercury represented quite the opposite, the masculine element, instead of the feminine, as it was looked at as the “seed of “Shiva”). Later, it is shown what link exists between metals and the planets that directly influence them: Sun – gold, Moon – Silver, Venus – bronze, Mars – iron, Saturn – lead. The mystical union between sulphur and mercury is also symbolically expresses by the sacred union, the “wedding” of Sol and Luna.

5. Conclusion

After, seeing all these facts, we can clearly state that Alchemy – with its afferent “corpus” – appears as a mystical method of self-perfection, by the symbolical exteriorization of the spiritual processes, by projecting the spiritual interior elements on an exterior plane, the metals. In this way, the Great Work is ambivalent: interior and exterior, unifying the Microcosm and the Macrocosm and thus annihilating “Creation” (the dualistic, split world), reiterating the primordial Unity. During the quest from ordinary metals, to noble metals, the adept’s spirit is liberated from the mundane contingency and reaches the supreme metaphysical freedom.

Made by Insurgiam.

4 commentaires:

Ştefan Muşat a dit…

In many alchemical Tantras (* = tantric writings), the “sittars”, the “siddhas” divide the substances (“sarakku”) in masculine substances in two categories: masculine substances (“an-sarakku”) and feminine substances (“pen-sarakku”.

Nu cumva textul "in masculine substances" este în plus?

Un text foarte util, de altfel.

Phosphoros a dit…

Ba da :) Iti multumesc ca mi-ai atras atentia. E o scapare involuntara.

Asadar, il rog si eu pe Radu sa stearga fragmentul eronat interpolat.

Phosphoros a dit…

Acum, cu ocazia faptului ca ai remarcat eroarea produsa de graba mea in a edita textul, am mai observat o serie de cuvinte eludate sau forme gramaticale dubioase :)

Phosphoros a dit…


Cap. 3, randul 6: "elevated from its mere";

Cap.4 (subcap. Cosmos and Magic), paragraful 2: "The “consecrated time” was possible also only inside the Temple, when during the celebrations they rhythmically marked the sacred circularity of time."

Cap.4 (subcap. Babylonian Alchemy), paragraful 1: "obtained in a process similar to “abortion”. Due to this fact, to its premature..."

Cap.4 (subcap. Babylonian Alchemy), paragraful 2: "is also symbolically expressed"

Cap. 5, paragraful 1: "After, seeing all these facts"