A rare male and female four elements exposition by a man who did not dare to define himself as an alchemist but only a practitioner translating Lacinius.
Although he was too modest, Stoll helps us greatly in the disposition of Mercurius and Sulphur among the four elements. Indispensable enough in getting alchemical symbolism on Solve et Coagula a bit more intelligible.
Ferguson, in his Bibliotheca Chemica, stated that Wolfgang Georg Stoll was, according to Zedler, the german translator of “Pretiosa Margarita Novella” by Lacinius. In fact, he wrote the preface for the german version of the compendium printed in Venice, that’s to say “Pretiosa Margarita, oder neu-erfundene köstliche Perle von dem unvergleichlichen Schatz und höchst- kostbahren Stein der Wiesen… ” 1714 ( Precious Daisy, or re-invented pearl of great price from the incomparable treasure and most precious-casket of the Philosophers Stone).
Stoll was said to have been an inventor of good quality, as long as having produced his arcana “for the kings of Poland and Denmark who were eyewitnesses and bestowed on him gold medals”. This uncommon enterprise is today better known as “transmutation” or the action of changing one metal into another and the bestowing of a medal quite certainly meant a successful operation. Roth Scholtz, the editor of Deutsches Theatrum Chemicum, praises Stoll’s preface and says: “ it is worth all the money, though the rest of the book were valueless”.
The woodcut we are examining is the famed introductory picture of the book, quite universally known, though less explained. And which certainly doesn’t belong to the Pretiosa Margarita original latin version. As we can see a tree column is standing, with a rampant lion on the viewer’s left and an equally rampant winged lion on the right. An uncertain bird (due to the artist’s poor skills), though certainly white color, perches on the tree-column top. To be more precise the ugly bird is placed on the upper part of a circle surmounted by a cross. Additionally symbols of Mercurius, Sulphur, and Salt, in the order, proceed from the top to the roots. A sulfurous sun on the orthodox lion side and a mercurial moon (1) on the winged one side. On the ground, a circle is divided by a horizontal interior line on the sun’s side and a circle with an interior cross on the moon’s side.
And the four elements, of course. To my eyes, they represent the more interesting part of the picture, as we will see. But let’s turn a blind eye to them for the moment. To someone following this site from at least the previous article, the scene should appear as a fixed-volatile operation (2). A section of the Solve et Coagula Alchemy foundation, in fact, the column is a Solve et Coagula allegory. What may seems a tree trunk growing from the earth without branches is instead a column, or a tree trunk, proceeding from the sky and then rooted, or anchored, to the ground. Of course, since the element Earth is what is more close to fixation. As a matter of fact, we are before a very delicate and difficult operation: to give roots to a volatile bird, or substance. The ultimate alchemist’s goal is to make fixed everything volatile and uncatchable.
We can see at Wenceslaw Lavinius and the Sky and Earth Properties why: because we need constantly to operate on Secret Fire/Mercurius by dissolving and fixing it. In every phase and operation all along alchemical works, we need to do so. I have already said that the same Secret Fire from the sky, or Mercurius Sideribus, acts this strange way on its path from stars to earth. By itself, since it doesn’t need alchemist work. In fact, I have already described all that as the alchemical engine. I do not think Stoll wants to point at a particular operation. The bird is white and the four elements are also present. As strange as it may appear this is not the first phase, the first achievement of the first white bird, or Mercurius out of the first putrefaction (labors of Hercules, to be more clear see at an Opus Magnum scheme). No, the symbol on which the bird is placed does mean a further ambitious purpose: the projection powder in the flesh. According to ancient chemists, the circle surmounted by a cross stands for mineral antimony, but not for alchemists, since in their world a surmounted cross is a symbol of “crocus”, or alchemical rust, or powder Safran color. While, according to their symbology, mineral antimony is represented by a circle surmounted by two horizontal directional arrows on a vertical segment.
A white bird is representative of every time our matter undergoes a complete washing (3), or dissolution, and turns white again. Over and over till a quite ultimate fixity, the projection powder indeed. A substance well rooted in the ground, or better, well turned into earth. In fact, the symbol for salt, the product of Mercurius fixation is near the radical apparatus.
We have already said that once Mercurius is fixed is called Sulphur, and Sulfur is actually Salt. And what I surely have already said again is that Salt is Mercurius Philosophorum or of Wises (4).
All the characters in the scene are the same actor playing all the roles (our Mercurius). The Sun in the sky, this time, indicates a male, or fixing phase, while the moon, conversely, is a female, or dissolving phase. In fact, under the two lions, we have respectively the symbol of fixation (the circle with a horizontal segment inside, while according to chemists it stands for common salt) and the symbol of Universal Dissolvent or Seed of all Metals ( according to chemists it stands for vinegar or a generic acid).
The two flowers on the winged lion side are certainly white and red, so a complete color rotation during washings. The seven flowers on the orthodox lion side are the six sublimations plus one which leads to complete the operation. Flowers are synonyms for sublimations.
The lion is always standing for fixity and the male for excellence. The winged lion is the same undergoing a solution, or aerial-flowing phase, thus a male during a female phase. It is not a so common allegory, though. We are more likely to find it in german symbology, indeed. And we cannot forget my Venetian flag, of course.
Well, so far we have all considered it, but the very reason I posted this article: is the division of the four elements into male and female. As a matter of fact, this symbology is way less uncommon than winged lions. Here Wolfgang Georg Stoll wanted to give a personal hint to pick up the right element for the purpose: so water and air for dissolving propositions and the remaining earth and fire for fixing ones. An operation that might seem quite supernatural back then. But indeed it helps to underline again the same Solve et Coagula concept of apparently senseless repeated fixations and volatilizations, thus distinguishing Alchemy from chemistry and spagyric. I said apparently senseless because Secret Fire working is so far from our architectural mind.
Some alchemists have extensively discussed the four elements, among them Dorneus and Stuart Chevalier (5), nevertheless, this may be seen as an involute topic, and to some extent it is. I can safely define it as a sort of superstitious chemical belief of ancient chemistry. You may think of them as harmless chemical changes of state. Mercurius is Water and Air and Sulphur is Earth and Fire. This division appears to be more sensible than the artificial sequence of cold, humid, warm, and dry. Gerard Dorneus is particularly against this scheme, observing that often warm and dry applications can lead to liquefying a substance instead of hardening it, and hence to solving instead of fixing. In fact, these schemes seem to me quite chemical: our Universal Dissolvent can wash, no matter its texture, because is the Secret Fire within to perform all operations. The more alchemical work we have succeeded to perform, the less chemical we need in order to achieve something in which volatility and fixation are perfectly united in a single substance.
Even if is quite impossible to see with the naked eye, there are a tiny sun and moon inside the circle crossed on the column top. Quite impossible to notice, as very few could think our fixed product also retains in itself all the dissolving potential when it was volatile. Additionally, it is said there is something obscure hidden at the tree-column roots. It is really very hard to identify and to be honest I can only distinguish some two wings which have nothing to do with the tree-column engraver filling. I guess the other Alchemy foundation: the putrefaction, the start of any volatile phase.
A special thanks to Wolfgang Georg Stoll, whose humble introduction to “Margarita Pretiosa oder neu-erfundene köstliche Perle” I will try to translate in coming articles.
- See also Sun & Moon in the end of the First Millennium and Philosophia Reformata, Father Sun & Mother Moon ;
- See also Wenceslaw Lavinius and the Sky and Earth Properties and Atalanta Fugiens & The Golden Apples and Atalanta Fugiens & Coral from Waters ;
- See also Kamala Jnana, from Black to White ;
- See also Basilius Valentinus & the Solve et Coagula Tree and Harran School & Coagulated Rust ;
- See also Dorneus & the Third Level ;