by Jack Courtis
The Chymical Marriage is one of the seminal documents of the Western esoteric tradition. It has a depth and complexity that give it an almost infinite amount of meaning. This commentary represents only one attempt to understand that meaning. It is easier if we see the Chymical Marriage in its proper context. For example, it is divided into "7 Days". This is a clear reference to Genesis ch 1. The very first sentence refers to "an evening before Easter day". Hence this is a reference to Christianity and therefore, the Gospels and other parts of the New Testament. Furthermore, the entire work is alchemical in character and it is therefore appropriate to consider the Emerald Tablet of Hermes. In the first chapter there is a clear allusion to Plato’s Cave and that brings with it by necessary implication, a great deal of Greek philosophy and metaphysics. There is much else but this is sufficient to demonstrate that the Chymical Marriage is to be understood in its particular cultural and historical milieu.
Technically, this document is one of the Rosicrucian Manifestos and they in turn, are part of the late mature phase of the Hermetic Revival of the Renaissance. But that does not assist the reader. What is the Chymical Marriage all about?
We believe that it is an allegorical description of the inner journey of personal transformation. This is our interpretation and we invite you to join us as we conduct this journey together.
We shall be assisted in our journey if we have some landmarks to follow and a map and compass, with which to navigate.
Genesis Chapter 1
The 7 Days of Creation are familiar to everyone but not everyone knows what the Bible says even if, they do read it. Two separate issues emerge from a careful consideration of the text of Genesis ch 1. First, there is the principle of polarity.
|First Day:||Light divided from darkness.|
|Second Day:||Waters divided from waters.|
|Third Day:||Land divided from seas.|
|Fourth Day:||Day divided from night.|
|Fifth Day:||Birds of the air and creatures of the waters created.|
|Sixth Day:||Man created as male and female.|
|Seventh Day:||God "rests".|
The fundamental issue is that God creates by the principle of polarity for 6 days and that the polarity is reconciled on the seventh. This is significant because the number 7 appears in the Chymical Marriage. However that is not all.
Secondly, a closer reading of the text of Genesis ch 1 brings us to the realization that there is a different number pattern interwoven and it comes out as follows:
The expression "God said" appears 10 times.
The expression "God made" appears 3 times.
The expression "God saw" appears 7 times.
The word "God" appears 12 times.
From the above formula we can derive the Tree of Life because there are 10 seferot, 3 horizontal paths, 7 vertical paths and 12 diagonal paths.
The Tree of Life gives a coherent and self consistent journey of the number pattern upon which it is based. As we follow CRC on his inner journey, we can make some sense of the imagery and symbolism by noting the numbers. The importance of this is that the text of the Chymical Marriage gives us the inner landscape and the Tree of Life with its number pattern, are our map and compass for the inner journey.
Emerald Tablet of Hermes
- It is true, certain, and without falsehood, that whatever is below is like that which is above; and that which is above is like that which is below: to accomplish the one wonderful work.
- As all things are derived from the One Only Thing, by the will and by the word of the One Only One who created it in His Mind, so all things owe their existence to this Unity by the Order of Nature, and can be improved by the Adaptation of that Mind.
- Its Father is the Sun; its Mother is the Moon; the Wind carries it in its womb; and its nurse is the Earth.
- This Thing is the Father of all perfect things in the world.
- Its power is most perfect when it has again been changed into Earth.
- Separate the Earth from the Fire, the subtle from the gross, but carefully and with great judgment and skill.
- It ascends from earth to heaven, and descends again, new born, to the earth, taking unto itself thereby the power of the Above and the Below.
- Thus the splendour of the whole world will be thine, and all darkness shall flee from thee.
- This is the strongest of all powers, the Force of all forces, for it overcometh all subtle things and can penetrate all that is solid.
- For thus was the world created, and rare combinations, and wonders of many kinds are wrought.
- Hence I am called HERMES TRISMEGISTUS, having mastered the three parts of the wisdom of the whole world.
- What I have to say about the masterpiece of the alchemical art, the Solar Work, is now ended.
The first point of note, is that there are 12 statements. The number 12 immediately resonates with the Tree of Life and as we shall see, with the 12 Spiritual Disciples that begin CRC on his inner journey. Here is one connection between the Emerald Tablet and Genesis ch 1. The unity of truth is beginning to manifest.
The Emerald Tablet is itself another seminal document and contains infinite depth of meaning. Only one issue will be examined here, because it becomes important in the inner journey of CRC.
A careful examination of the text reveals that there are 3 processes which have a combined total of 8 steps. Prior to the commencement of the processes, there is again a polarity. First, the polarity: things are "made" and things are "born". A further connection with Genesis ch 1, where God functions through polarity. Secondly, there is a process of 4 steps that "turns towards the earth" ie, from the Above to the Below:
Father/Sun + Mother/Moon + Wind/Womb + Earth/Breast
The point to note is that there is a downward movement by 4 steps. This will become intelligible shortly. Thirdly, the process changes its nature in 3 steps by:
separating Earth from Fire and Subtle from Gross; acquiring wisdom.
The process then "ascends" from earth to heaven ie, from the Below to the Above. Immediately it "re-descends" to earth ie, from the Above to the Below and takes back the power. In summary, this particular aspect of the Emerald Tablet outlines a relationship between the Above and the Below in 3 processes by 8 steps:
- 4 step descent:Father/Sun + Mother/Moon + Wind/Womb + Earth/Nurse
- 3 step ascent:(Fire - Earth) + (Gross - Subtle) + Wisdom
- 1 step re-descent.
What does all this mean? First there are 8 steps divided into 3 groups. The number 3 resonates with the Tree of Life, but what about the number 8. If we look at Tiferet on the Tree we count 8 paths leading to it. Kabala tells us that the path from Keter to Tiferet correlates with a double letter. The other paths correlate with single letters. We can immediately see that the 4 paths from Chakhmah, Binah, Chesed and Gevurah, to Tiferet, are all single paths and move from the Above to the Below. They correlate to the first process of 4 steps in the Emeral Tablet. We can then see that the paths from Yesod, Hod and Netzach to Tiferet, are 3 single paths and move from the Below to the Above. They correlate to the 3 step process of the Emerald Tablet. Finally, the double path from Keter to Tiferet is a re-descent from the Above to the Below and correlates with the final process of the Emerald Tablet.
Since the Emerald Tablet is the source of Western alchemy, it is significant that at the end of the First Day, CRC acts in a way that appears to point to the 4 step descent, the 3 step ascent and the 1 step re-descent.
CRC is invited to a wedding. Does this entitle us to see any Christian implication? In the first of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes, the Fama Fraternitatis, we are told that in the tomb of CRC upon the central altar there is inscribed (amongst other things) Jesus Mihi Omnia (Jesus is my all). In his book The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order, Paul Foster Case argues convincingly that the Fama and the Confessio Fraternitatis are the works of Christian kabalists. He puts the Chymical Marriage into a different category but does not deny its Christian implications. We are entitled to assume a Christian influence.
We are therefore able to consider the significance of the marriage at Cana that is mentioned in the Gospel of John ch 2 v 1-11. This was the first of the 7 miracles taken to be signs of the Messiah. Specifically, the wedding implies the lawful union of a man and a woman (reconciliation of a polarity) and the conversion of water into wine implies the integration of the vehicles of consciousness. The symbolism used in this chapter of John, implies that "water" is the normal objective consciousness of the physical body as a vehicle of consciousness and the "wine" is the spiritual consciousness of the vehicle we know as spirit. Between them lies the soul as a vehicle of consciousness. The whole process of the "marriage" is the integration for each of us, of our male/female aspects with our vehicles of consciousness. Diagramatically, it looks like this:
But how do we achieve this integration? Christian tradition tell us that there are 12 Spiritual Disciplines performed in 3 groups:
Again in a diagrammatic form, the process of integration of our male/female nature with our 3 vehicles of consciousness, via the Disciplines, looks like this:
There are 12 Disciplines in 3 groups of 4. The numbers 12 and 3 resonate with the Tree of Life. The number 4 is implied in the Tree because there are 4 levels of reality expressed by the Tree. These levels are, from the Above to the Below, Atzilut/Emanation, Briah/Creation, Yetzirah/Formation and Assiah/Action. From the Below to the Above, we need vehicles of consciousness in order to function properly. At the level of Action, our vehicle is the physical body. At the level of Formation, our vehicle is the soul and at the level of Creation our vehicle is the spirit. However, at the level of Emanation, we have no vehicle of consciousness - we are consciousness. This is called the Divine Spark. This is our true nature and our true being. The emphasis upon the "marriage" in the Chymical Marriage, now becomes more understandable. The inner journey of CRC is about the integration of his male/female aspects with his vehicles of consciousness.
By the way, Jesus and his disciples are "called" to a wedding at Cana, just as CRC is "invited" to his wedding. This implies that the Great Work of personal transformation is not something we accomplish alone. We are guided into it when we are ready. It is also illuminating to read Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians ch 5 v 22-33, as to his concept of the mystical marriage.
Kabalistically, the marriage involves the Son (Tiferet) and the Bride (Malkhut). In turn, the Son is the union of the Father (Chakhmah) and the Mother (Binah). On the Tree of Life, the path between the Mother and the Son, is Zain which means "sword" and refers to the faculty of discrimination. In his inner journey, CRC comes across swords quite often. As an aside, consider the kabalistic significance of ikons of Madonna and Child. There is more to such ikons than a sentimental view of motherhood.
Along his inner journey, CRC comes across imagery that reminds us of the Apocalypse of John. That book is itself, the description of the processes of personal transformation by way of an inner journey.
The Sefer Yetzirah, is the earliest written description that we have, of the level of reality called Yetzirah/Formation. Amongst many other things, we learn from the Sefer Yetzirah about the 7 pairs of opposites:
Immediately, we see the principle of polarity in action. These polarities are on the inner landscape and we must successfully navigate a course between them in order to complete the inner journey. We shall see what CRC has to do about this.
We now have a context within which to read the Chymical Marriage. Let us meet CRC and follow him on his inner journey. It is also our journey.