Re: tarot and alchemy

SteveM wrote:It could possibly be defia - the light of its rays challenge(d) my heart.[/i]
"defia de ses rayons mon cœur" would make sense, but "defia de ses rayons mon cœur est allumé" wouldn't,or a word is missing ("défia de ses rayons mon cœur qui s'est allumé"), then the times wouldn't correspond, although there's the possibility of a sort of licence poétique, but anyway as desia means already there's no doubt !
*According to entry for desia in Cotgrave:
Yes, desja or desia are the same (depending if you differentiate the I and J), an intermediate form between a more ancient "des ja"/"des ia" and the modern "déjà" (more here)


Alchemical Gemini

Thanks for the clarifications. And Cotgrove looks like an excellent translation resource, one I will try to remember to use.

At the end of my post on the Sun card, I said I couldn't find a 15th-17th century alchemical equivalent for the twin boys, one being sadly comforted by the other, on the Sun card. However I have been investigating further.

For the woman comforting the man on the Noblet, I speculated that she was the Virgin sad for the fate of her son--the man on the left--which she could foresee. In that interpretation, the man on the left would be Jesus accepting his coming fate, of giving his life for the sake of humanity. In alchemy, that interpretation fits in with Ripley's Cantilena, in which the the Stone is the "ruddy son" who ascends to heaven with his Queen mother-bride.

Then the problem is what to make of the Chosson, Dodal, and Conver, who replace the woman with a male? Well, I found an alchemical version that might apply, in de Rola's comments on Maier's Atalanta Fugiens . Emblem X shows an alchemist at his fire with two Mercuries, doubles of each other, looking at each other.


Here we have twins, perhaps. Admittedly, there are no clearly sad expressions, although the one on the left looks to me aggressive and determined, and the other passive and sweet. The association to Jesus's self-sacrifice comes mainly from de Rola's comments. The part I want to emphasize I have put in bold print.
Emblema X. De ignem igni Mercurium Mercurio & sufficit tibi. Give fire to fire, Mercury to Mercury, and it suffices thee.' This is based upon the alchemical axionm attributed to Democritus (see Berthelot, Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, 1, 43). Natuer rejoices in nature, but, Maier warns, the Philosophers consider several Fires and several Mercuries. The external Fire (kindled by any combustible substance) must be applied in the proper degree to excite the inner (or secret) Fire hidden within the Subject. Similarly, Mercury (the primordial Principle of the Work) transmits its own vitality to Sulphur, giving its own life in the process. Philosophick Sulphur is then united, in the correct proportions, to the same living Mercury; and the product of that operation is Philosphick Mercury. (Golden Game p. 98)
So de Rola has one Mercury as the "primordial" Mercury, which sacrifices its life to give life to others, and another (perhaps a third, besides the two pictured, as de Rola says there are "several" Mercuries) is "Philosophick" Mercury, which is reborn from the uniting of "Philosophick Sulphur" with the "living Mercury," whatever that may mean.

The process in part is an analogue to an ancient way of of smelting gold. First, mercury forms an amalgam with gold. Then with the application of heat, the mercury becomes a gas and the gold is left. This is analogous to the separation of Jesus's soul from his earthly body. But the mercury, now a poisonous gas, is in a sealed retort. As the gas cools, it collects on the side and in a second retort connected with the first. This is the rebirth in a spiritual body. The metal mercury is analogous to alchemical "primordial Mercury," which is analogous to the god Mercury, conveyor of souls to the afterlife, who is analogous to Christ.

This part of the process is exhibited in Emblem XXIV, below.


De Rola explains:
Emblema XXIV. Regem lupus & vitae crematus reddidit. 'The wolf devoured the King and, cremated, restored him to life.' The Wolf is the Dissolvent ('Mercury') which devours the 'inanimate' King (i.e. the Gold of hte Philosophers) which is useless to the Work until it is reincrudated. The Wolf yields his own life in the Solution (see Emblema XIX), communicating his own vitality to the hitherto latent potentiality of the King, and the latter, having absorbed the life of his assailant, steps from the fire with 'restored heatlh, youth and beauty'. In short, the emblem is another illustration of the hermetick axiom: 'Kill the live to revive the dead.' (The Golden Gme p. 100
I had thought that the wolf represented antimony rather than Mercury; but Mercury is just as good. The wolf's sacrifice is what purifies the King, analagous to the salvific effect of the crucifixion. The Emblema XIX to which de Rola refers shows the alchemist attacking the four elements with a club ( The accompanying epigram is, "If thou killest one of four, all at once will die." Maier advises, "Kill therefore the live, but so as to resuscitate the dead." De Rola comments that "The goal of this operation is the acquisition of Sulphur and its revivification through the death of the initial Mercury" (p. 99). It is the same process as Emblema XXIV. So also the rebirth of the believer is accomplished by the atoning death of Christ.

I can find no picture of the resuscitated Mercury, which should follow the resuscitated Sulphur in the sequence. The nearest I can find is XLIX, which shows the three gods Jupiter, Mercury, and Neptune with the skin of a heifer ( The myth is that the three urinated on the skin, buried it, and nine months later Orion was born, who is therefore the child of three divine fathers. "Orion" might be another name for the Dissolvent, chosen because in the laboratory the chemicals used at the end looked or smelled like urine. In other series, such as theRosarium Philosophorum ( or Mylius's Philosophia Reformata (, what occurs at the end is the resurrected Christ, which is one symbol, Christ, replacing its alchemical equivalent, Mercury.

So the Sun card, on this interpretation, represents the self-sacrifice of the left-hand figure as a result of the fire represented by the Sun and, on earth, the right-hand figure (the external fire, or simply an opposing fire, as in how forest fires are put out, one fire opposing another). The Judgment card then represents the same Mercury reborn, when the fire has done its work. The wall behind them is then the glass or other material (e,g. plaster of paris) sealing the retort.

Another 17th century reference to the death of Mercury is in the "Glory of the World," Part III, in its version of the Emerald Tablet. Here is the relevant portion, with the most important part in bold
...Then the Stone ascends from earth to heaven, and again descends from heaven to earth, and receives the choicest influences of both heaven and earth. If you can perform this you have the glory of the world, and are able to put to flight all diseases, and to transmute all metals. It overcomes Mercury, which is subtle, and penetrates all hard and solid bodies...(
The Emerald Tablet as usually presented was different. Newton's translation follows,
...It ascends from the earth to the heaven again, it descends to the earth and receives the force of things superior and inferior. By this means ye shall have the glory of the whole world, thereby all obscurity shall fly from you. Its force is above all force. for it vanquishes every subtle thing and penetrates every solid thing...
To be sure, "overcoming" Mercury is not the same language as Maier and de Rola's "killing." But I think the same sort of thing is meant.

In the 18th century, the second Mercury was replaced by the alchemist himself, in the so-called "Egyptian rite" of Cagliostro, which I cannot imagine comes purely out of his imagination. In the Apprentice degree, the rite reads:
When this rough ashlar or mercurial part has been thoroughly purified, it becomes cubical; it is then, with this primary matter or this dagger in your hand, that you must assassinate this Master -- this rough ashlar which has become cubical; or this Father and this Mother of all the metals....
Q. But you have not told me about Adoniram who, according to ordinary Masonry, was assassinated and what is the symbol of hte black cordon and the dagger which is awarded in the degree of Elect?
A. Masonry has caused you to err on this point. It was not Adoniram who was assassinated, but rather the liquid part which it is necessary to slay with this dagger. It is also as I have just taught you the volatile, lively and mercurial part which is absolutely indispensable to solidify... (Faulks and Cooper, The Masonic Magician: The Life and Death of Count Cagliostro and his Egypti8an Rite, p. 214.)
"Adoniram" appears to be Cagliostro's equivalent of the "Hiram Abiff" of Freemasonry, whose initiations he required all his initiates to participate in first. In 1786 there was even a series of illustrations, by the then-famous Alsatian artist and Cagliostro disciple Philippe Jacques de Louthenbourg. At left below, in the 5th of 7 paintings, the alchemist/magician clips the wings of Time, with a new Phoenix stretching its wings above. In the next picture, he slays Mercury, identifiable by the caduceus at his feet and what the accompanying text describes as his "winged heels" (McCalman, The Last Alchemist p. 166f). With Mercury as a corpse (at right), the soul can reach the inner sanctum of truth.


But Cagliostro has interpreted the "killing" of Mercury as its "solidifying"--becoming solid, not becoming a gas. This last is indeed the well-known goal of fixing the volatile. But it seems to me that since it is fire and not the dagger of "primary matter" that is the instrument of death, at least in Maier, he has left out a step. Also, death is not the same as fixation.

Admittedly, my connecting the Sun card with the two Mercuries is rather speculative. I don't even know the basis for de Rola's interpretation of Maier. When I look at Maier's text for Emblema X (, I don't see any explicit reference to "Philosophick Mercury" as the product of revivified Sulphur and the death of "primordial Mercury." Perhaps someone can enlighten me further.

Re: Alchemical Gemini

mikeh wrote:... Cotgrove looks like an excellent translation resource, one I will try to remember to use.
Florio's Italian dictionary is at the same site.

For french is also a great site, with several old dictionaries available. There are many old Italian (and various dialects) dictionaries available at google books.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

The Star card's two streams

Thanks again, Steve. If I ever am tempted to use that last site and have trouble navigating it, I will know who to ask!

I need to make another addition, this time regarding the Star card, in particular the two streams that Marco drew attention to in the "Glory of the World" text and "Pandora" image. I have found another text and image with two streams. Maier's 1617 Atalanta Fugiens of 1618, Emblem 40 (out of 50). I was misled by its oddity, that the man on the left isn't getting any of the liquid, a detail not on the card. But that detail can be explained, I hope. Below is Maier's image (Golden Game p. 91):


A similar image is Mylius's Emblem 1, 2nd series, in Philosophia Reformata 1622. The same puzzling feature may be there, if what the alchemists on the right are looking at is a pan with holes in it (Golden Game p. 173).


All I have for this 2nd image is de Rola's note, "From the Waters of the Twin Fountains a single Water is made which is the Fountain of Life" (p. 182). For Maier, I have a translation of his own commentary ( The motto is "From two waters make one, and it will be water of holiness." Among other things, Maier says:
...All things although they be contrary one to the other, are performed by the waters of the Philosophers. Lully speaks of them in his book, "De Quinta Essentia distin: 3 de Inarratione." And so there is, saith he, a double consideration in Art, that is, from one Nature of one metal, to make two contrary liquors in composition: One that has a fixing, congealing and hardening quality, the other that is Volatile, unfixed and soft. But the second liquor is hardened, fixed and congealed by the first. From both which liquors there results one Stone, congealed, fixed and hardened, which hath the Virtue of congealing that which is not congealed, of hardening what is mollified, of mollifying what is hard.
The one water (associated with the male and the Sun) volatilizes; hence the person trying to take some in the picture finds that his container has holes in it; it has dissolved his cup, or so I imagine. The other makes hard. There is no particular illustration of this property that I can see. In any case, these are the two main activities in alchemy.

Moreover, one water appears to be hot and the other cold. Maier again:
For if one be of a hot, and the other be of a cold Virtue, when these are mixed together they will acquire mixed Virtues, and will temper themselves after a wonderful manner. From hence will arise the most excellent Baths and medicinal Water, which will dispell all sorts of Maladies and diseases, and restore sound health to mankind.

Linking this up with the "Glory of the World" and the "Pandora," it appears that the hot one corresponds to the water on the left (from the male or Solar statue) and the cold one to the one on the right (from the female or Lunar statue), because Fire is hot and dry, Water cold and moist. Moreover, cold and moist draws things down, and hot and dry draws things up. Volatilizing causes things to ascend, fixating causes things to descend. In that way the two streams are indeed like the two doors in Porphyry's "Cave of the Nymphs," one leading down to the earth and the other up to the gods, and of which Porphyry says
...And according to theologists, the Sun and Moon are the gates |35 of souls, which ascend through the Sun, and descend through the Moon. ( ... lation.htm)

Combining hot with cold baths--as opposed to combining the two in one bath, which sounds like what Maier meant, but perhaps he is misinterpreting his source--promotes health at mineral springs and in the artificial baths that the Romans constructed. It could be similar with the two waters in the picture, and also with the two waters in the Star card, resulting in the rejuvenation of one who partakes of them, or perhaps, as de Rola suggests, rejuvenation from one and rebirth from the other--or as when Dante drinks from one and so forgets his sins, and drinks from the other and so remembers his good deeds, allowing him to enter Paradise. Here is Purgatorio Canto 28:
...The water which thou seest springs not from vein
Restored by vapour that the cold condenses,
Like to a stream that gains or loses breath;
But issues from a fountain safe and certain,
Which by the will of God as much regains
As it discharges, open on two sides.
Upon this side with virtue it descends,
Which takes away all memory of sin;
On that, of every good deed done restores it.
Here Lethe, as upon the other side
Eunoe, it is called; and worketh not
If first on either side it be not tasted...
And de Rola on Emblem X, which as usual I do not find in Maier himself:
The dissolvent removes their [the metals'--mikeh] heterogenous impurities, as well as their infirmities; it revives them and renews them, acting upon them as a veritable Fountain of Youth. Thus the reincrudated metals are said to be living or philosophick metals. The First Water (First Mercury) is the Edenic Eve which has a renovative power; the generative power is the preserve of the Second Water (Second Mercury), daughter of the first. When both are united in the correct proportions, the Philosophick Mercury is obtained. (Golden Game p. 102f)
In the Star card, the two waters are as yet uncombined. Renewal would seem to be what is offered by the Moon card, come to fruition in the youthful figures of the Sun card, and Generation by the Sun card, come to fruition as birth in a new form in the Judgment card. Or something like that.

Out of the 200 "seals" in Mylius's 1618 Opus Medico-chemicum, two have fountains. It is perhaps fitting that one is dedicated to "Dantius Philosophius," and has as its motto "Prepare and dissolve the Bodies and with the Water carry out Imbibition on the washed Spirits." Dante, of course, portrayed himself as imbibing the liquids as well as being washed. The other is to "Galienus Philosophius," with the motto "Prepare, cleanse, dissolve, coagulate te Bodies, and project them on the Body" (Golden Game p. 150, images p. 141)) Galen was the great physician of antiquity.


two more streams

Another place with two streams, closer to the point of origin of the tarot, is the Room of Psyche at Mantua, done c. 1528 by Giulio Romano (Vitali draws attention to this scene in his essay on the Star card). Here each stream has two jugs, one pair held by an old man and the other by a nymph. The motif of Sol and Luna isn't there specifically, only Maier's divison between Solar male and Lunar female. As you can see, the nymph's (Lunar) water becomes a stream of water trickling down: I interpret that as the River Lethe and the water of forgetfulness. The other (Solar) stream flows into a lake, the lake of memory. It is already in the realm of the gods, as the rest of the fresco is of a banquet of the gods.


I don't know how they knew that Mnemosyne, the opposite of Lethe, was a lake, but Orphic tablets identified a couple of centuries later do identify Mnemosyne as such. Probably there was some classical reference to it that I don't know about. So not only do we get a scene much like the alchemical fountains, but also like some versions of the "Marseille" Star card, which also have one stream flowing into a large body of water and the other a little rivulet on the ground, again Lethe and Mnemosye.


Re: tarot and alchemy

Mike, how would you explain the third fountain standing between the sun and the moon in the second fountain engraving? The arches on either side with figures leaving seem significant too.

He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy...

Re: tarot and alchemy

Thanks for the query, Pen. I was wondering whether I should comment on that fountain. It seems to me that the fountain in back, between the sun and moon, is the "single Water" which is the goal of the Work, for which the two in front are preliminaries.

I am basing this interpretation on de Rola's note, "From the Waters of the Twin Fountains a single Water is made which is the Fountain of Life" (Golden Game p. 182).

The alchemical Judgment

What the various historic Judgment cards have in common is one or more angels blowing trumpets and persons below rising from their tombs.

There are frequent images of angels blowing trumpets in alchemy. With repeated distillations and sublimations, there are any number of deaths and rebirths. Each rebirth would be an occasion for trumpets. It is the seed once planted coming to the surface, there to mature and die again (image from Michael Maier, Tripus aureus 1618, de Rola Golden Game p. 122.)


In alchemy the result of the final rebirth is the Elixir or Tincture, equivalent, I think, to the resurrected Christ. In the Rosarium of 1550, a traditional Christ stands up from the tomb:


The motto ( is
After my passion and manifold torments I am again risen,
Being purified and cleansed from all spots.
And the text says of this Elixir:
Geber also says that the red Elixir cures all cronical infirmities of which the Physicians have despaired, and it makes a man become young as an eagle and to live five hundred years and more, as some Philosophers have done, which have used it three times a week to the quantity of a mustard seed.
This figure, it seems to me, corresponds to the middle figure in the Cary-Yale Judgment card (left below). a figure changed to something else in the PMB (right below).


But I think I see the same figure as in the CY in the Marseille cards (Noblet on the left, then Chosson and Conver), with its back turned to us.


Just as Christ gives immortality, the Elixir gives long physical life and turns base metals into gold. Moreover, its power is capable of being multiplied indefinitely, both in quantity and strength. This is the "multiplicatio" or "augmentatio" often put at the end of alchemical sequences, for example in Mylius's Anatomia Auris of 1628 (de Rola Golden Game p. 202).


An odd feature of the Noblet, Chosson, and Conver (go back up to the previous image) is the semicircle drawn on the left side of middle figure's back. Flornoy (in his book Pèlerinage des bateleurs) says that it suggests a female breast and gives the person a definite androgyny. If so, a natural equivalent is the hermaphrodite Emperor-Empress of the 1550 Rosarium, emblem 17 (left below), and before that the c. 1415 Heilege Dreifaltigkeit (at right).


The Rosarium (at left) has only one tree, a solar one, thus making the image that of the Rubedo. In the Heilege Dreifaltigkeit, however, the figure in the middle is the product of both a solar and a lunar tree. Thus it very much corresponds to the "one stream" that the "two streams" produce, from the Star card and its alchemical equivalents. Once the Sun card has been added to the Moon card, there can be an Elixir/Savior who can give a happy ending to the Judgment.

With this card, there is no question of the alchemical images influencing the tarot or vice versa. Both derive from a common medieval theme. However in the 15th-18th centuries, when alchemy was in fashion alongside the tarot, the meaning of each would have been enriched by the corresponding sequence of the other.

Re: two more streams

mikeh wrote:Another place with two streams, closer to the point of origin of the tarot, is the Room of Psyche at Mantua, done c. 1528 by Giulio Romano (Vitali draws attention to this scene in his essay on the Star card). Here each stream has two jugs, one pair held by an old man and the other by a nymph. The motif of Sol and Luna isn't there specifically, only Maier's divison between Solar male and Lunar female. As you can see, the nymph's (Lunar) water becomes a stream of water trickling down: I interpret that as the River Lethe and the water of forgetfulness. The other (Solar) stream flows into a lake, the lake of memory. It is already in the realm of the gods, as the rest of the fresco is of a banquet of the gods.


Thank you for pointing out this beautiful fresco, Mike!
Here are a couple of images that give a greater detail: ... east1.html ... 4east.html

I have searched for an explanation of this scene, but I have found none. Anyway, Mantua (were the frescos are) is build on a lake formed by the Mincio river:, ... src=6&z=14

The Mincio was commonly associated with the swan (that also was an emblem of Virgil, the great Mantuan poet).

Angelo Di Costanzo:
“Cigni felici, che le rive e l’acque / del fortunato Mincio in guardia avete,”
Happy swans, who ward the shores and waters of lucky Mincio

Torquato Tasso:
“Morì Virgilio in grembo a le sirene / nacque tra’ cigni”
Virgil died in the lap of the sirens, and was born among the swans

So, the old man with the swan, whose water flows in the lake, seems to be the Mincio, and the lake that of Mantua.

The fresco depicts a love scene, based on the gazes of the characters:
* Love (on the right) looks at Mincio
* the girl (Mantua?) next to Love also looks at Mincio
* Mincio looks at the girl with two jars (another allegory, likely, another river with a feminine name and two sources)
* the girl with two jars looks back at Mincio (and seems to be afraid)

Here I have found the description of a coin (1580 ca) in which Mantua is represented as a woman looking at a bearded man with a jar (the Mincio river).
It is also possible that the girl with two jars represents Mantua, but I don't think this is very likely. Anyway, this is a lovely allegorical scene :)

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