In Atalanta, Fugiens is not the virgin to give birth, but she opens the male and extracts his Soul. Brought in his belly, the child will give birth to the stone.
Unfortunately, the commentaries by Michael Maier are not as clear as Merian’s engravings. Though this strange procreation method is reasonable only in Alchemy, the hermetic marriage here seems to be drawn with natural consequences and proceedings.
Emblems 1 and 2, as the numeration suggests, are the opening Atalanta Fugiens engravings, but don’t expect the pictures in the book of Maier illustrated by Merian to respect any order. In addition, as we will see, there are some discrepancies between the written and figurative parts. The first engraving we are examining ( number one) is described with the title: ” Portavit eum ventus in ventre suo“, or the wind carries it in its belly. The exact phrase as Tabula Smaragdina or better quite the same, as we are used to reading: ” Portavit illud ventus in ventre suo”, which is identical apart from the employ of “ille” and “is. Or, when they are declined, illud and eum. Both are personal pronouns; illud is demonstrative, and what’s more neutral, while eum is male. Consequently, the embryo to carry is neutral in Tabula and male in Atalanta Fugiens. The same Merian drew a male mother, which, the natural state of the art, is pretty difficult to believe.
But let’s start by trying to understand why there is an embryo: as the raw matter, or Materia Tertia or corporeal part, has been destroyed during our labors of Hercules or preparatory works, alchemists need to prepare a new alchemical body starting from the extracted matter, namely a Spirit of Life and a Soul ( of course enclosed in a material shape).
The two then will give “birth” to a new material form. The whole proceeding has always been compared to human procreation (1). So the new body in the making is called an “embryo”. And this is precisely the little shape in our male character’s belly. But why on earth a masculine pregnancy? In Tabula, Smaragdina is taken for granted an orthodox gestation ( Sun and Moon). In Kriegsmann’s Tabula commentary (2), the wind represented a synonym of our third element or water, that’s to say, a “flowing element since the element air was just a thicker Fire.
Merian engraved a “Flowing” man with an upward cascade. At the same time, Maier talks of fumes and vapors. In his epigram number one, he inserts the alchemical embryo in a “ventosa Boreae”, or in the wind of Borea ( today a Mediterranean north wind, which dalmatian people know very well, but because of the climatic changes in the area, also Venetians do. Back in Maier’s time, it was instead a cold wind from Siberia).
Let’s shortly say that, although the first impression and Maier’s words, we are not before a commentary on Tabula Smaragdina. Nevertheless, the two engravings cannot be considered separate; one is the consequence of the other. But let’s scrutinize Maier’s part before. The poetic epigram is obscure and adds nothing new to the bulk commentary on the picture. So let’s concentrate on the more accessible prosaic part.
“… omnis mercurius ex fumis est compositus, hoc est, ex aqua sublevante terram secum in aeriam raritatem et ex terra cogente aerem redire in aqueam terram seu terram aquam… “, or every Mercurius is produced out of fumes, which is the watery part lifting the terrestrial part, and then the latter to be turned into a flowing part again, and over and over from earth to water and vice versa. I chose this sentence because it summarizes the process. We have already said that Mercurius/Universal Dissolvent/Secret Fire is produced during the preliminary works ( see an Opus Magnum scheme), by volatilizing salts over and over in a process called Solve et Coagula (3). A process performed by fumes (4) in an alternation of fixed and volatile earth-water (5). Note the presence of a watery stream around the earth where the man stands.
Mercurius’s representation is not always a woman but rather the representative of volatility. In fact, on a side note, Maier provides a summary of Lullius Codicill. Chapter 32: “portat illum ventus in ventre suo, hoc est, Sulfur portatus in Argento vivo”, and chapter 47: “lapis est ignis deportatus in ventre aeris”. Or, the wind carries it in its belly, that’s to say, Sulphur carried in Quicksilver/Mercurius. The Stone is fire carried in the air belly. Maier repeats that rotations of fumes inside the vessel perform all work; they dissolve and coagulate. In the end, he said that taking this concept in a physical ( today we would use the term biological) field, the result of all these gaseous processes of distillations, sublimations, or ( for the smartest) rotations inside a pelican (6) is a fetus who is being born in the light, and the embryo is Sulfur.
The successful result of our exhausting salts volatilization in preliminary works is our Mercurius/Secret Fire in a, if not luminous, at least translucent white, very volatile state. So an impalpable and difficult-to-handle fetus. We have already said on this site that our Mercurius need to be fixed, so the volatile woman is to turn into a fixed man (7). And the man is Sulphur, just a bit further work on the same substance. The final result is a Mercurius Philosophorum. But we are not satisfied since Merian’s engraving tells us something more.
In the Atalanta Fugiens frontispiece, we find the story of the mythological fast-running girl Atalanta, who Hyppomene stops with the golden apple trick (8). That’s to say. The mercurial volatile girl is fixed by adding a metal, namely gold. Of course, we can see the process differently: Atalanta/Mercurius dissolves metallic gold. I have already said that this cannot be considered a must and inevitable process: we don’t need any gold to reach our final goal. But Michael Maier has already demonstrated to love this proceeding, which is also the method of Augurello (9). So we go a step above and beyond Mercurius Philosophorum and reach Mercurius Duplicatus (10). That’s to say; we divide our Mercurius Philosophorum into parts (more than two). Still, for the moment, we take two of them: one is simple Mercurius Philosophorum, the other the same Mercurius Philosophorum, but in a dissolving metal inside the phase. You can find the process in Atalanta Fugiens and the Golden Apples.
We have to know this is called philosophical marriage. The female spouse is the simple Mercurius Philosophorum. The male is Mercurius Philosophorum with gold inside since gold is male. From what we can understand, the embryo is inside the male part because the embryo is a metallic gold to be dissolved and regenerated. But why the fumes? Because the dissolution phase is not like chemical gold into aqua regia (11), but a circulating process, as above said. It is taken in the wind’s belly. So the virgin/Mercurius/Spirit of Life/Secret Fire opens the metallic male. The result of this operation is a new gold, namely the Soul of gold. On the reasons we call Mercurius “Virgin” sometimes, Sabine Stuart Chevalier provides an exhaustive explication (12).
Now let’s go to Atalanta Fugiens emblem number 2: a grossly fat earthly woman breastfeeding a child. And breastfeeding is emphasized by the replicas in the animal field. Amalthea goat feeds toddler Zeus and the roman she-wolf the twins Romulus and Remus. The two mythological scenes are not fortuitous. Zeus is perfectly fitted in this environment: he is the king of Olympus, as our gold is, and the god of lightning, as our Secret Fire is. When we understand that gold dissolved in Secret Fire is bound to become Secret Fire or our gold, we get that we are before Zeus in the flesh. The next maternal scene is a step beyond: the children are two. Like our above-mentioned philosophical marriage, I know it is gruesome; the two Mercurii Philosophorum children have to undergo a union, not to say worst. But why breastfeeding?
Atalanta Fugiens engraving number two is given the title ” Nutrix eius Terra est”, or, as the well-known Tabula Smaragdina verse, the Earth is its nurse. And we will see why. Alchemists have provided the child’s symbol to intend a newly born thing that necessitates taking nourishment. And that’s for growing (in weight), of course, but in a hermetic meaning. In Alchemy, to feed does mean to dissolve over and over, to extract the most Secret Fire from the raw matter we can. All the parts of Mercurius Philosophorum we have previously set aside provide alchemical nourishment. The material form of these mercurial parts can be very varied. It all depends on our starting raw matters as well as processes. In perfect Alchemy, Mercurius Philosophorum, or the earth mother, is so charged with Secret Fire not to necessitate a series of distillations, sublimations, and circulations ( see Kamala Jnana from Black to White). Still, in less perfect ways, the operation is not so easy as to stand by and observe all the colors passage (13). That’s the main Work.
A further symbology is that of children’s multiplication (14). But we have not said about the terrestrial mother. Maier calls this nourishment, or Mercurius partitions, Earth Juice. We have already seen in Tabula Smaragdina that the final “texture” of our Mercurius Philosophorum, at the end of preliminary works, is dominated by the element earth: very roughly, our Water/volatile Mercurius is worked into a more fixed, terrestrial, matter. So the Earth is our nurse.
As usual, Mattheus Merian wonderfully adapts the hermetic symbology to his artistic talent. Michael Maier, as usual, is a generous muddler. The result is Atalanta Fugiens, one of the most influential works in a hermetic library. But, in this case, Merian’s chisel has failed to give a recommendation, which Maier instead points at: Mind of the heat, which has to be natural as a brooding hen; if not, the whole work may be exposed to the danger of burning (15).
- See also Eros, Psyche and a New Alchemical Body ;
- See also Kriegsmann: Sun, Moon, Wind and Earth in Tabula Smaragdina ;
- See Basilius Valentinus and Solve et Coagula Tree , Glaser’s Frontispiece ;
- See also Symbola Aureae Mensae and the Supreme Purpose , Hortulus Hermeticus and Love Between Fumes ;
- See also Wenceslaw Lavinius and the Sky and Earth Properties ;
- See also Baro Urbigerus and the Circulatum Tree ;
- See also Philosophia Reformata, father Sun and Mother Moon ;
- See also Atalanta Fugiens and the Golden Apples ;
- See Augurello and the Art of Making Gold. First Book ;
- See also Atalanta Fugiens and Mercurius Duplicatus ;
- See also Aqua Regia and Fulminating Gold ;
- See Stuart Chevalier, Lessons on Earth: a Virgin Marriages ;
- See also Kamala Jnana, Introduction to a Live Secret ;
- See also Splendor Solis and Children Multiplication ;
- See also Hortulus Hermeticus, Be Aware of the Red;