In alchemic and Hermetic traditions, suns () are employed to symbolize a variety of concepts, much like the sun in astrology. Suns can correspond to gold, citrinitas, generative masculine principles, imagery of ‘the king’ or Apollo, the fiery spirit or sulfur, the divine spark in man, nobility, or incorruptibility. Recurring images of specific solar motifs can be found in the form of a “Dark” or “Black Sun”, or a green lion devouring a sun.
The black sun as pictured in the Putrifaction emblem of Philosophia Reformata (Johann Daniel Mylius).
Sol niger (black sun) can refer to the first stage of the alchemical magnum opus, the nigredo (blackening). In a text ascribed to Marsilio Ficino three suns are described: black, white, and red, corresponding to the three most used alchemical color stages. Of the sol niger he writes:
The body must be dissolved in the subtlest middle air: The body is also dissolved by its own heat and humidity; where the soul, the middle nature holds the principality in the colour of blackness all in the glass: which blackness of Nature the ancient Philosophers called the crows head, or the black sun.
At the core of this was a vision of an alchemical process occurring through a cycle of colour changes, from an initial blackness to the perfection of the quintessence.
The alchemist envisaged each stage of the process being heralded by a colour change and a meeting with certain animals.
Blackening – Black Crow, Raven, Toad, Massa Confusa.
Whitening – White Swan, White Eagle, skeleton.
Greening – Green Lion.
Rapid cycling through iridescent colours – Peacock’s Tail.
White Stone – Unicorn.
Reddening – Pelican feeding young with its own blood, cockerel.
Final transmutation – Phoenix reborn from the fire.
The phase of Blackening which usually marked the beginning of the work, was brought about either by heating the prima materia in the process of Calcination (the ‘dry way’ of the alchemists), or by the process of Putrefaction, a slow rotting or digestion over a period of weeks or months (the so-called ‘wet way’). The Black Crow or Raven was often associated with this Calcination, for on vigorous heating the calcined material would usually carbonise and layers would flake off and move like a crow’s wings in the flask. The Toad was a better symbol of the Putrefaction, the decaying mass slowly pulsating and shifting as gasses were given off, while the substance rotted down to a black mass. Another symbol of this stage was the dragon, a familiar inhabitant of the alchemists flasks. The dragon is however a more complex symbol and is also used when winged as a symbol for the spiritualising of the earthly substance. Thus to the alchemists the dragon appeared at the beginning and at the end of the work.
The alchemists paralleled these experiences in their souls as a withdrawal into the darkness of their interior space, a darkness pregnant with possibility. We have to a great extent lost the sense that still lived in the medieval and renaissance alchemists, that this darkness contained all potentialities. Like children we fear the dark, and for twentieth century humanity darkness often holds only an existential dread – philosophers of science have in the last decade brought us this terrible image of the ‘Black Hole’ which swallows up and annihilates everything that comes into its orbit. Perhaps we do not gaze enough at the blackness of the heavens. For if we look deep into the blackness of space on a clear night, we will sense more stars hidden between the known visible stars, especially in the vast star fields of the Milky Way. Cosmic space is pregnant with the possibility of other worlds as yet unseen. It is this image of blackness we must try to recover if we are to become alchemists. An echo of this perhaps remains in the often used phrase “a profound darkness”. In alchemy, to meet with the black crow is a good omen. Thus in the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, as our hero sets out on his journey of transformation, he meets with a Crow which by a turn of fate decides which among the various paths open to him is the one that will lead him to the Castle of the King.
The three Suns. That above, most familiar. That within, seen in an instant, in a fleeting moment that may take a moment or a life time to see. Below the Sun at midnight. The interior Sun or Star, deep within the Earth itself.
Perhaps a supreme expression of the maxim As Above so Below. The interior pereption and exierience there in of. A hidden secret.
THIS I BELIEVE
There is a light in all of us, and the more we search out ways to express ourselves, the brighter that light shines. Whether your passion be baseball, or computers, or painting, or eating, laughing, hiking, biking, films, teaching, listening, or cooking, whenever you engage yourself in doing something that you love you make the world a little bit brighter. Through finding your own source of enthusiasm and love, you invite others to do the same in their own way, and you spread the joy that comes with truly living.
While it can be all too easy to just sit back and watch life go by, don’t forget about the things that make a difference in your life, the people that inspire you, and the dreams that help nudge you out of bed in the morning.
I believe that we all want to become a better version of ourselves, and that we are continually given chances to step up and challenge ourselves to be better. We just have to be willing to welcome those challenges, and see them as gifts rather than curses. It all depends on the perspective you choose to take. What will you choose today? Will you simply sit back, and let others take the lead, or will you step up and conquer your fear and indifference, break out of your shell, and take actions that better yourself and the world? I believe that what you focus on grows: the more you complain, the more reasons to complain will appear; the more you see life as a blessing, the more blessings will pour out into your waiting arms. Rejoice in what life has to offer, and help to open others’ eyes the the beauty and opportunity that surrounds us at every moment. We are given a great power: free will. Because of this power we are always given a choice. We may not be able to change our outer circumstances (at least not in the short run), but we can always change the way we think about something. The power of the mind is incredible! It can drag us down into the depths, or it can liberate us! Find the joy in your life today–take a chance, challenge yourself and see the resulting growth, dare to become more alive! And best of all, as you become a brighter light, so will those around you catch your reflection, and the world will be filled with suns, moons and stars…
The formula of spagyrics is similar to that of Solve et Coagula – to separate and recombine. This is the backbone of alchemy. In slightly less basic alchemical procedures, distillation is used to separate organic matter into these three principles using distillation – yielding unpurified salt in the form of black ash, essential oil, and the spirit of the plant. These are each purified after separation, and recombined, creating a purified instance of the original subject which is then consumed.