Article 6 - Alchemy and The Lunation Cycle
Alchemy and The Lunation Cycle
A Federation of Australian Astrologers (FAA) talk by Adrienne Barkla 5 May 2007
The word Alchemy, from which we get our word Chemistry, comes from Khem an ancient word for Egypt and points to its Egyptian roots. It is one of the classic Hermetic Arts. The goal of Alchemy was the mysterious Philosopher's Stone, which would transmute all other metals to gold at a touch. It was the Elixir of Life, the universal medicine that would cure all ills and confer immortality. After 1650 came the rise of chemistry and science and the chemical aspects of alchemy passed to the chemists. Alchemy became spiritualised, it became philosophy, a "Science of Ourselves" and we became the vessel. This was called Hermetic Philosophy.
Solve et Coagula: The fundamental principle of alchemy was that of the 'first matter', that god or the supernatural intelligence made the world out of a dark chaotic mass called prima materia, the primordial matter which contained in it the potential for all things (chaos theory, primordial ocean etc). The theory was that you could reduce a metal or other material and yourself psychologically and spiritually, back into the prima materia or 'first state' by stripping the characteristics from it or by separating it (separatio) - in effect 'killing it'. Then you could restore it, bringing it back to life adding desirable qualities to it, until it became the 'Stone'. This was the secret of 'Solve et Coagula' - to 'Dissolve and Combine'. To 'dissolve' is to strip away, to 'combine' is to build up a new substance.
Alchemists saw no distinction between the metallic life and human life, so to penetrate the secrets of metals was to understand human nature. Metals grew in the body of the earth as the human grows within the womb. They saw the 'life' in the metal encased in matter corresponding to the 'divine spark' of a human being imprisoned in the body. The main constituents in metals were sulphur and ercury with sulphur being the active, fiery male principle and mercury the passive, watery, female principle.
As Mercury as quicksilver was a metal but a liquid, liquid but not wet, seeming to combine both male and feminine qualities, hence uniting opposites, it was seen as a hermaphrodite, 'the masculine-feminine'. In fact it was likened to the first matter and called the Stone itself. It was called divine water, seed of the dragon, divine dew, seawater, moon water and other exotic names. This sulphur and mercury were not seen just as metals, but as the philosophical or ideal substances, of which the actual substances were approximations. The Stone was the union or perfect balance of the two, the mingling of fire and water or the resolution of opposites. We can see this as the yin/yang, the blending of male/female or anima/animus in our psyche. This union of opposites orconiunctio is the central idea of the alchemical procedure. We will discuss this later when we introduce the stages but coniunctio is the marriage or uniting of the opposites.
There are several 'key players' one will meet and become familiar with in the study of the art.
The Old King (or old state of consciousness)
Sol (the sun, sulphur: the masculine principle)
Luna (the moon: the feminine principle)
Mercurius (Hermes, Mercury: the chief agent of the process and the hermaphrodite/bisexual/androgynous principle)
Lady Alchymia (Anima Mercurii: the spirit of alchemy and its guiding presence and initiator)
The alchemist him/herself (the artifex)
The soror mystica or frater mysterium (the secret sister or brother: the companion in the Work, in Tantra the Tantrika, or the one who leads the artifex to bliss states, the 'liberator')
The Alchemical Stages: Overall the process of the Magnum Opis or 'Great Work', consists of two major phases which are The Lesser Work (nigredo andsolutio) and Greater Work (coagulatio and rubedo) or the 'spiritualisation of the body' and then the 'embodiment of spirit'. First comes the mastery of the prima materia of "first matter" - the 'raw stuff' or 'chaos' in ourself and in our life. Second, as a result of going through the process, is the "creation of a body of light" or new life which is consciousness or "the gold".
The first step was putrification culminating in the 'nigredo' or black stage, when the matter in the vessel had been reduced to the primordial state with the spark of its 'life' driven out of it through vapour - it is killed in effect. This dead material was then reborn with its own vapour condensed into a liquid, saturated in it. Then the mixture would transmute into a white precipitate, the 'solutio' stage, then a later process would result in a red elixir or powder, or the 'rubedo' which led to the Stone. (You can see the allusions to what we now recognise as chemistry and its processes of evaporation, condensation and precipitation.)
Coniunctio: In all these stages the coming together of Sol and Luna, the King and Queen, is central. In between all the stages is the coniunctio or "marriage". It is this union of opposites that is the central idea of the alchemical procedure. The union always takes place in a vessel retort or grave a shared death and is pictured as sexual embrace equating to Buddhist tantric yoga practice which is sex with or without a consort. The product of their union is the homunculus or golden child (actually the stone itself - Mercurius). It is important to remember that we go through the process of unification or uniting a number of times before we can 'make the stone' and this is beautifully shown in the figure of the caduceus which Mercury carries. We must go over the stages again and again on all the levels.
This relationship is expressed astrologically in the lunation cycle, first in the natal chart in the relation between sun and moon (the lunation phase) and then as it unfolds in the progressed lunation cycle, so this is where we look for alchemy in the chart. It is not the only reference to alchemical themes in astrology but it is the one we will look at today. As astrologers we are familiar with lunations and progressed lunations but I want to go back a step and talk about the process, or thoughts behind these cycles.
Rudyar talks about two types of time in astrology. He calls them objective time, valid for everyone, and subjective duration, or individual time, experienced by individual entities which he sees as unconscious, psychic feeling, to do with organic wholeness. These two co-exist and he says at some stage cause an inner conflict between our desire to participate in (or be subservient to) collective and social patterns and the inner feeling that we are whole, unique and self sufficient. Astrology deals with both these dynamics working with objective time and its cycles but its true purpose "is the interpretation of meaning of these cycles with reference to the possibilities for growth in individuals" , not so much with fate but to emerge from the compelling structuring matrix of objective time into the creative freedom of subjective duration. That's a big statement (bit 60's!), but he's not advocating personal freedom ante social responsibility here, far from it as he is an esotericist - he's describing what Jung called the "individuation" process. This is where alchemy comes in as the transformations and stages undergone to find or create the Stone is desricptive of this very process. It's about the core self and later the true spiritual Being. Joseph Campbell talked about it too, that is the need to step out of the mass-vibration and take the "next step" in human evolution. We are constantly evolving.
The lunation cycle is a cycle of relationship not cycle of position and refers to the realm of relatedness. The cycles of the phases of the moon is the archetype of all cycles of relationship. The key is to see that what the lunation cycle measures is not changes to the moon herself, but changes in the soli-lunar relationship. The phases of the moon tell us nothing about the moon herself or about the position of the moon in the sky, rather they refer only to the state of relationship between the sun and moon. Rudyar says that this is overlooked by students of astrology because most persons have difficulty in dealing with the factor of relationship in itself. It is a hobby horse of his butinteresting to consider. Similarly with aspects, seeing a square aspect as a situation in isolation rather than a "station" or part of a cycle of relatedness which stated with the conjunction is a much more dynamic and meaningful way to view planetary aspects. So, we think that something has happened to the moon or that the moon has changed whereas in actuality, the moon only reflects in her appearance to us, the change in relationship.
This can be likened to relationship between a man and woman in that the relationship has a cycle of its own -it waxes, matures and wanes and rebuilds for a new cycle or disintegrates. It is the man's nature not to be structurally affected by the relationship whereas it is in the woman's nature to reflect in her organic structure the fruit of the man/woman relationship. Speaking of sex, in astrology that's Mars and Venus representing the organs or psychic factors of the soli-lunar relationship. They are the instruments through which "life" operates. The sun and moon are the essence of life or the powers of life - rex and regina - king and queen.
Its interesting too that the sun and moon look the same size in the sky but we know that is not the case in actuality. The quality of their lights is so different. It is the same in respect to our true inner nature, our spirit, our' diamond soul' as the Buddhists call it - is so much more brilliant and powerful than our personality or form nature. We cant touch the sun, we cant even look at it or our retina's will burn. We haven't yet a form to hold the light of our true spiritual nature. We are still trying to get our psyches to hang together! The light of the sun is dazzling - its warmth gives life to the earth. The moon's light is cool with no light of its own, like a mirror it reflects the countenance of the sun. Likewise a woman when closely identified with a man reflects the spiritual-mental character - the "light' of him who fecundates her body and psyche. She makes concrete the fecundant power of the man in her progeny. If she is developed she also gives substance to the spiritual-mental vision of the man - her "in-spiriter". Now before anyone takes offence - we are not talking about an actual man and woman in relationship per se here!. Remember this is an inner marriage in its essence , the outer man-woman relationship is one level, and that's still what marriage is - but in every individual man and woman is the archetypal sun and moon. Of course we still project this out onto our partners, fathers, mothers, children etc. and part of the individuation process is to take back those projections. The image of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary - religious concepts aside - this is God, Father, King in heaven fecundating the mother aspect - to birth the child, the saviour, the homunculus, the giver of eternal life, the elixir of immortality.
So we can't look at the sun but we can gaze at the moon, a symbol of the intellect as she transforms solar light into something to be analysed. Mind is that which stands between the sun within (the divine creative spirit) and our physical-instinctual nature. Neither mind or psyche can lead directly to our solar source, so it is we have progressive illumination, the gradual perception of self, phase after phase of reality. Night and day, sleep and activity. The moon mediates between sun (the solar force of spirit) and the earth. She is the anima, the link between the conscious ego and the wholeness of spirit.
In esoteric astrology the natal sun is termed the "sun of possibilites" indicatiing "inherited karma, body and conditioned responses the form nature". Both Sun and Moon are said to veil Vulcan (an esoteric planet), Neptune and Uranus depending on teh stage of individualtion of the native. Here ae refernces to the stages of alchemy described earlier.
The lunation cycle starts at the conjunction of moon and sun (new moon), the moon increases in light fullness and distance from the sun during the waxing phase from conjunction to opposition, then drcreases during the waning period from opposition to conjunction. The opposition is the cresting of the soli-lunar wave, the conjunction the trough. In between is the cresent moon and the first and last quarters. The cresent phase is really "earth shine" not truly solar as it is solar light reflected by the earth on the moon. In the waning phase you get the balsamic moon, symbolising the letting go of the seed of the cycle about to end.
The first quarter represents a crisis in action and the last quarter a crisis in consciousness. They each focus on the quality of change. The first quarter tends to force a confrontation, a moment of basic dissatisfaction with self and a challenge to the self in which we either grow positively to the full moon revelation or we can't get free of past structures. A repudiation of the past and the building of new structures.
The full moon brings a new vision, renewed purpose if met in a positive manner. We make what was released at the new moon into a concrete structure and carry the "tone" of the new moon into form. The second half of thecycle we must bring the relaesation into society in order to disseminate the seed and to make i tuseful to the the need of humanity as a whole. As the moon wanes we vanish into our progeny. The last quarter phase is a time of crucial disintegration, of breaking down the "tone" of the relationship. The energy is exhausted. Ideas have been embodied (hopefully!).
Rudhyar gives the keynote of the first cycle as spontaneous and instinctual action; the keynote of the second half as conscious growth in meaning and immortal selfhood, where immorality means sharing meaning and value with others by way of adequate formulation. The same symbolism applies in the case of progressed lunations except it shows the unfolding of opportunity over the lifetime inthe form of the Progressed Lunar Cycle with its one year for one day terminology- that Idea of 90 days being 90 years of individual life expectancy, the "fourscore years and ten" of the bible.
The new moon before birth is particularly significant. Rudhyar calls it the "key to the basic character of our inherent vitality - a very important factor in the stream of vital forces energizing our entire organism (biological and psychological). If both the new moon before birth and the natal sun are in the same sign the quality of the sign pervades the whole nature of the person but if the new moon before birth and the natal sun is in different signs a basic dualism should be strongly evidenced in the personality. The before birth chart tends to be deeply rooted in the past - the past being the ancestral, racial and cultural past of an individual, all that we found confronting at birth - or the past as karma of a reincarnating soul or spiritual entity. He suggests it is somewhat compulsive, surging unexpectedly out of our psychic depths. Two successive signs are polar opposites and for example he gives Taurus as natal sun with Aries new moon before sun - Aries is masculine and fiery and Taurus is feminine and earthy - giving a personality whose ancestral unconscious urges are stamped with Aries traits but whose conscious everyday living is marked with Taurus force. He's suggesting that emotional compulsive release of Aries forces will be usually held in check by the Taurus-dominated will of the individual, so have both masculine and feminine traits and a bit more complex and unpredictable.
He says that the house the new moon before birth sun falls in shows the way in which the unconscious urges often operate. If the moon before birth sun is falls in the preceding house, as opposed to the same house the person tends to operate in two definite fields of activity - he gives the case of Jung to illustrate the point.
1. Carl Jung, born 26 July 1875 - sun in 4th degree of Leo and moon in mid-Taurus. Born with moon waning and past the last quarter phase of the lunation cycle begun at the new moon of July 3rd on the 11th degree of Cancer. Jung's natal sun is in the seventh but the 11th degree of Cancer in the 6th house. Different signs and different houses.
A complex nature with a t-cross in fixed signs with chart ruler retrograde in Aquarius, intercepted in the first house, squaring Pluto and opposing Uranus. Very dynamic chart showing the trend of Jung's focus of thinking along psychotherapeutic lines. The integration of strong oppositions and basic conflicts with Neptune in Taurus in the third, square to the sun indicating contacts with disturbed or psychically confused people. The natal sun in the seventh shows his role as therapist in his one-on-one contacts with people (and the seventh house esoterically refers to "the shadow", and psychologically as projection) The new moon before birth sun falls in his seventh house shows his field of work in health service etc. The Cancer /Leo combination is fascinating as ruled by sun and moon, they reflect the interplay of sun and moon forces - the King and Queen - featured in all alchemical symbolism which was Jung's main focus.
In his new moon before birth char,t the sun is not involved in the T-cross of his natal chart. The main soli-lunar aspect is the upcoming with a retrograde Mercury - very introverted and appropriate. The conjunction with Jung's natal Mercury in his 6th house echoes synchronicitiously the importance of Mercury in alchemy. His new moon chart Mars is retrograde and turned direct on the very day of Jung's birth at 21 - 22 Sagittarius - a close opposition to Jung's Venus - very significant in alchemical symbolism and his emotional approach to life.
2. Sri Aurobindo, Hindu political leader, yogi philosopher and poet, born 15 August 1872 sun at 22 Leo 23, Jupiter at 13Leo39 and ascendant at 12Leo20. New moon before birth on August 4th at 12Leo15 - at the natal ascendant point and just past the conjunction with Jupiter of Aug 4th at 11Leo 7. Sun, moon, Jupiter and ascendant is very powerful and in India Jupiter symbolises the great Guru (spiritual teacher). Theosophists speak of a mysterious personage (reputedly one of the masters) who was focussed in mountains of Southern India near Sri Aurobindo's ashram for 40 odd years and known as "Master Jupiter". The new moon before birth very close to a natal planet marks the planet as a "channel of destiny" for the life energies to be released through the personality.
3. In the case of Alice Bailey, the Theosophist who founded the Arcane School and wrote the Blue Books under inspiration with the Tibetan, (who wrote Esoteric Astrology) the natal sun was at 25Gemini30 with natal Venus 17 52. The lunation cycle began with the new moon on June 7th with new moon before birth at 17 Genini 31 - thus ancestral forces (or karmic soul-forces) were focussed through her Venus (soul ruler of Gemini) enabling her to stress successfully group values and hold a group together for many years of seekers working through intellectual concepts of universal ideas.
Summary of what to look for in teh new moon before birth chart: 1. Look if Sun in same sign and house. 2. Look at inter-aspects, particularly aspected planet by Sun/Moon conjunction.3. Look at Sabian symbol.
Rudyar says that the new moon before birth represents that which is in a person's life compulsive, rooted in the past hence fateful - and the natal chart that which constitutes new life potential, inherent creativity. The new moon chart before birth - and all converse progressions and prenatal charts - refer to the conditioning of our nature to the areas where the past compels us to act out of old traditions (the "wave of life" which powers us into existience) - the natal chart on the first breath is about making free transforming creative decisions - and our real destiny is to "ride the wave".