The great work is, before all things, the creation of man by himself, that is to say, the full and entire conquest of his faculties and his future; it is especially the perfect emancipation of his will, assuring him universal dominion over Azoth and the domain of Magnesia, in other words, full power over the universal magical agent.
This agent, disguised by the ancient philosophers under the name of the first matter, determines the forms of modifiable substance, and we can really arrive by means of it at metallic transmutation and the universal medicine. This is not a hypothesis, it is a scientific fact already established and rigorously demonstrable.
Nicholas Flamel and Raymond Lully, both of them poor, indubitably distributed immense riches. Agrippa never proceeded beyond the first part of the great work,1 and he died in the ordeal, fighting to possess himself and to fix his independence.
Now, there are two Hermetic operations, the one spiritual, the other material, and these are mutually dependent. For the rest, all Hermetic science is contained in the doctrine of Hermes, which is said to have been originally inscribed upon an emerald tablet. Its first articles have been already expounded, and those follow which are concerned with the operation of the great work:—
“Thou shalt separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, gently, with great industry. It rises from earth to heaven, and again it descends to earth, and it receives the power of things above and of things below. By this means shalt thou obtain the glory of the whole world, and all darkness shall depart from thee. It is the strong power of every power, for it will overcome all that is subtle and penetrate all that is solid. Thus was the world created.”
To separate the subtle from the gross, in the first operation, which is wholly interior, is to set the soul free from all prejudice and all vice, which is accomplished by the use of the philosophical salt, that is to say, wisdom; of mercury, that is, personal skill and application; finally, of sulphur, representing vital energy and fire of will.
By these are we enabled to change into spiritual gold things which are of all least precious, even the refuse of the earth. In this sense we must interpret the parables of the choir of philosophers, Bernard Trevisan, Basil Valentine, Mary the Egyptian and other prophets of alchemy; but in their works, as in the great work, we must adroitly separate the subtle from the gross, the mystical from the positive, allegory from theory.
If we would read them with profit and understanding, we must take them first of all as allegorical in their entirety, and then descend from allegories to realities by the way of the correspondences or analogies indicated in the one dogma: That which is above is proportional to that which is below, and reciprocally.
The word ART when reversed, or read after the manner of sacred and primitive characters from right to left, gives three initials which express the different grades of the great work. T signifies triad, theory, and travail; R, realisation; A, adaptation.
In the twelfth chapter of the Ritual,2 we shall give the processes for adaptation, in use among the great masters, especially that which is contained in the Hermetic Citadel of Heinrich Khunrath.
In this place we may indicate for the researches of our readers an admirable treatise attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, entitled Minerva Mundi. It is found only in certain editions of Hermes, and contains, beneath allegories full of profundity and poetry, the doctrine of individual self-creation, or the creative law consequent on the accordance between two forces, which are termed fixed and volatile by alchemists, and are necessity and liberty in the absolute order.
The diversity of the forms which abound in nature is explained, in this treatise, by the diversity of spirits, and monstrosities by the divergence of efforts; its reading and assimilation are indispensable for all adepts who would fathom the mysteries of nature and devote themselves seriously to the search after the great work.
When the masters in alchemy say that a short time and little money are needed to accomplish the works of science, above all when they affirm that one vessel is alone needed, when they speak of the great and unique athanor, which all can use, which is ready to each man’s hand, which all possess without knowing it, they allude to philosophical and moral alchemy.
As a fact, a strong and determined will can arrive in a short time at absolute independence, and we are all in possession of the chemical instrument, the great and sole athanor which answers for the separation of the subtle from the gross and the fixed from the volatile. This instrument, complete as the world and precise as mathematics, is represented by the sages under the emblem of the pentagram or five-pointed star, which is the absolute sign of human intelligence. I will follow the example of the wise by forbearing to name it; it is too easy to guess it.
The Tarot figure which corresponds to this chapter was misconstrued by Court de Gebelin and Etteilla,3 who regarded it as a blunder of a German cardmaker.
It represents a man with his hands bound behind him, having two bags of silver attached to the armpits, and being suspended by one foot from a gibbet formed by the trunks of two trees, each with a root of six lopped branches, and by a crosspiece, thus completing the figure of the Hebrew tau ת; the legs of the victim are crossed, and his head and elbows form a triangle.
Now, the triangle surmounted by a cross signifies, in alchemy, the end and perfection of the great work, a signification which is identical with that of the letter tau, the last of the sacred alphabet.
This hanged man is, consequently, the adept, bound by his engagements, and spiritualised, that is, having his feet turned towards heaven; it is also the antique Prometheus, expiating by everlasting torture the penalty of his glorious theft; vulgarly, it is the traitor Judas, and his punishment threatens betrayers of the great arcanum.
Finally, for Kabbalistic Jews, the hanged man, who corresponds to their twelfth doctrine, that of the promised Messiah, is a protestation against the Saviour acknowledged by Christians, and they seem to say unto him still:—How canst thou save others, since thou canst not save thyself?4
In the Sepher-Toldos-Jeschu, an anti-christian rabbinical compilation, there occurs a singular parable.
Jeschu, says the rabbinical author of the legend, was travelling with Simon-Barjona and Judas Iscariot. Late and weary they came to a lonely house, and, being very hungry, could find nothing to eat except an exceedingly lean gosling. It was insufficient for three persons, and to divide it would be to sharpen without satisfying hunger.
They agreed to draw lots, but as they were heavy with sleep, “Let us first of all slumber,” said Jeschu, “whilst the supper is preparing; when we wake we will tell our dreams, and he who has had the most beautiful dream shall have the whole gosling to his own share.”
So it was arranged; they slept and they woke. “As for me,” said St. Peter, “I dreamed that I was the vicar of God.” “And I,” said Jeschu, “that I was God himself.” “For me,” said Judas hypocritically, “I dreamed that, being in somnambulism, I arose, went softly downstairs, took the gosling from the spit, and ate it.” Thereupon they also went down, but the gosling had completely vanished. Judas had a waking dream.
This anecdote is given, not in the text of the Sepher-Toldos-Jeschu itself, but in the rabbinical commentaries on that work. The legend is a protest of Jewish positivism against Christian mysticism.
As a fact, while the faithful surrendered themselves to magnificent dreams, the proscribed Israelite, Judas of the Christian civilisation, worked, sold, intrigued, became rich, possessed himself of this life’s realities, so that he became in a position to advance the means of existence to the very forms of worship which had so long outlawed him.
The ancient adorers of the ark remained true to the cultus of the strong box; the exchange is now their temple, and thence they govern the Christian world. The laugh is indeed with Judas, who can congratulate himself upon not having slept like St. Peter.
In archaic writings preceding the Captivity, the Hebrew tau was cruciform, which further confirms our interpretation of the twelfth plate of the Kabbalistic Tarot. The cross, which produces four triangles, is also the sacred sign of the duodenary, and on this account it was called the Key of heaven by the Egyptians.
So Etteilla, confused by his protracted researches for the conciliation of the analogical necessities of this symbol with his own personal opinion, in which he was influenced by the erudite Court de Gebelin, placed in the hand of his upright hanged man, by him interpreted as Prudence, a Hermetic caduceus, formed by two serpents and a Greek tau.
Seeing that he understood the necessity for the tau or cross on the twelfth leaf of the book of Thoth, he should also have seen the multiple and magnificent meaning of the Hermetic hanged man, the Prometheus of science, the living man who makes contact with earth by his thought alone, whose firm ground is heaven, the free and immolated adept, the revealer menaced with death, the conjuration of Judaism against Christ, which seems to be an involuntary admission of the secret divinity of the Crucified, lastly, the sign of the work accomplished, the cycle terminated, the intermediary tau, which resumes for the first time, before the final denary, the signs of the sacred alphabet.
I can only guess that, to Levi, the second part of the great work is lazily punting all issues to Tarot and acting smug about it. ] ↩
[Link this later] ↩
[For Jews, inclined towards Kabbalah or not, Tarot is a card game—about as interesting or important as a fly fart, wholly removed from being in the realm of every-day issues, let alone theological ones.] ↩