Philosophia Reformata by Mylius features a massive use of Suns and Moons, very often presented together with man-woman symbolism, which on the other hand, are Sun and Moon synonymous.
This multiple symbolic use grants Philosophia Reformata an excellent capacity for the rule of three. For instance, engravings number nineteen, the first series, allows far beyond meanings than Atalanta Fugiens number twenty-one, which might appear similar at first sight.
Sun and Moon represent the foundation of hermetic symbolism (1), and Philosophia Reformata shows that they are not opposite. The very concept of contraries and their unification is alchemical nonsense. Since in Alchemy, and thus inside a vessel, we only require women to turn into men and vice versa. Or at least substances are not so alchemically different from each other since Secret Fire is only subjected to densities.
You might have already read this blog’s alchemical rule of three (every symbol stands for at least three different concepts). Alchemists sometimes admit their nasty rule as a cryptography key, but they do not love to let us know that, more than often, cases may go far beyond three. If you return to my post “ Sun and Moon at the turn of the first millennium”, you can find a short planned summary of the varied meanings of this allegory, to notice that cases are well over three. Now that we are ready to afford all the alchemical symbolism finesse aroused around Sun and Moon, we can see Philosophia Reformata and appreciate how Mylius (and engraver Balthazar-Baltzer Schwab) could conceive the whole Sun and Moon iconography to be huge and diverting.
The huge hermetic pictures imaginary is the right place to exploit the wanted contradictions around Sun and Moon symbolism since very hardly hermetic writings have contributed to bringing it to light, tending to burden it instead. Think of the enigmatic Tabula Smaragdina incipit: “ The Sun is its Father, the Moon its Mother”, which states all and nothing. In contrast, pictures cannot but focus on single items. And since Sun and Moon tend to arrange a specified set for every represented scene, one can perceive that succeeding in the right interpretation is very important.
But let’s start now with the two Philosophia Reformata and Atalanta Fugiens engravings comparison. Unlike many favorable and common viewpoints, Atalanta Fugiens emblem number twenty-one, or the famed circle squared, seems instead conforming to a Rosarium Philosophorum sentence about geometrical symbolism to paint our alchemical work. The Atalanta emblem on the left stands instead for the alchemist’s work to achieve Philosophical Egg. Here craftsperson is operating on a Sun/man and a Moon/woman inside a circle.
Thus, our outlook is narrowed on those two or three salts necessary to complete our works on Mercurius Duplicatus (2). But it is not easy since our two characters may stand for both Mercurius Philosophorun (3) and Mercurius Duplicatus. Little is the difference between them, but the last one is double the first. Hence the name “duplicatus” or double. Nevertheless, in this case, we are before Mercurius Duplicatus since the brick wall supporting our layout depicts a “Stone Egg”, and when one is so ambitious certainly needs a Mercurius Philosophorum duplication or triplication (4).
While Philosophia Reformata is all about the outer Sun and Moon replacing our artisan person, they are getting hold of the Egg rather than constituting it. And so here, Mercurius Duplicatus is delegated as a part of the whole representation. The whole is represented by Sun and Moon iconography at large. That’s to say, Alchemy at large. Since Sun and Moon’s symbolism is all-encompassing, and all represent. But what is the sense of an all-comprehensive symbolism? To better hide our Mercurius Duplicatus, of course.
The inner circle means an inner matter to be brought to circumference or outer. That’s a Secret Fire extraction from raw matter or Materia Tertia. The woman Mercurius extracts Secret Fire/Mercurius from the man or Mercurius with a raw metal powder inside (5). To cut it short, the inner circle involves dissolving and volatilizing actions.
A Square is nothing less than a circle made square, an operation better known as the circle squaring. Or the fixation of a too volatile and difficult-to-handle Mercurius. The operation involved is a triangle, or getting salt out of that and resulting in a Mercurius Philosophorum. Triangle stands for Solve et Coagula (6) operations. The same operation causes a four elements usage, hence a quadrangular.
The outer circle stands for the circulation, not so apparent though, inside the Egg, which can now be made. About the supporting brick wall role, we have already said. The alchemist’s pair of compasses point at the inner circle circumference to draw the outer one, intending that Secret Fire/Mercurius extracted from raw matter causes a Philosophical Egg to be made.
The whole operation is well described in Rosarium Philosophorum Cyriaci Iacobi 1550: “ make a circle out of man and woman and draw a quadrangular on it, and out of quadrangular a triangle, make a circle again, and so you will have your Philosophers Stone”.
In Philosophia Reformata number nineteen, the first series, the scene is different. In the picture on the top, we can see the Egg outer scene or from outside. Alchemist work is here replaced by Alchemy work, that’s to say, by all those conditions causing alchemical processes to be so difficult. Mylius has provided a very merciful frontispiece, here on the right, for his Philosophia Reformata, plenty of axioms, while operations are in the very pictures collection inside the treatise. Three of these little outer cameos dispense the three different phases in which the number nineteen can be divided. We can use them to explain better the main and more difficult picture, which may be intended as a compendium of all three.
So on the left, here we have a quite canonical Sun Path: an astronomical sun orbiting around our earth. Which is not our planet, of course, but our Egg or Microcosm. If you come back to main Philosophia Reformata number nineteen, you can notice how the brick wall is not yet being built, so Philosophers Stone is far yet.