As it is fully admitted by art critics, the standard medieval iconography of Eve rising from Adam’s side was hardly compatible with the Renaissance commitment to the naturalistic representation of the human body ( see the Michelangelo Buonarroti ambiguous Creation of Eve in the Sistina Chapel ceiling). For, as Jean Calvin stated: ” This method of forming woman may seem ridiculous and Moses appears dealing in fables”.
But, what Calvin didn’t accept anymore, was still taught in the Platonic Academies of his time, that’s to say that Adam and Eve were just symbols, plastic representations of “forces” and “entities”. However, from alchemists’ point of view, the vicissitudes of the biblical personages cannot be taken as “fables”, but should be thoroughly examined, as inside them must be hidden valuable operative hints.
What gives us this certainty? The presence of the rib, of course. And more specifically, the philology of the word “rib”: Rib, the term צלע or ṣelaʿ, occurring forty-one times in the Tanakh, is most often translated as “side” in general. “Rib” is, however, the etymologically primary meaning of the term, which is from a root ṣ-l-ʿ meaning “bend”, a cognate to the Assyrian ṣêlu meaning “rib”. But this just being a buzzing hint, we have to deepen our search. And so we can recall another meaning of rib as an ancient symmetry symbol. But a specular symmetry is an indispensable symmetry since the bending rib is linked with the spine and vertebra, so Adam’s body can be conceived as spherical. Or at least composed by two parts perfectly specularly opposed, so as, once folded, to form a single unit. For instance, the roman “Mundus” was conceived as a concavity in the ground that had to match the top, and imaginary, concavity was a spherical union of the earth and the higher world or sky. If we give the meaning of Archetype – as Romans did – to the last term, sky, we could derive the earth, or embodiment, from her/his Archetype. Indeed, the Jews were philosophically very sophisticated, while the Romans were rather primitive: to them, a hole in the ground and a few ritual runs around the Palatine hill were enough to evoke concepts of great erudition. The weakness of this method of handing down the ancient wisdom only orally, and only for closed priestly castes, appeared in all its evidence when the Gauls invaded and sacked Rome in the distant 387 b.C. The killing of all the priests decreed the end of knowledge. Only the empty rites remained, at this point the looting land of political propaganda.
Adam is the Hebrew word for “man”. It could be ultimately derived from Hebrew אדם (‘adam) meaning “to be red”, referring to the ruddy color of human skin, or from Akkadian adamu meaning “to make”. According to Genesis in the Old Testament Adam was created from the earth by God (there is a word play on Hebrew אֲדָמָה (‘adamah) “earth”)…The Hebrew word for earth is adama. Hebrew: אָדָם … Its use as a common word in the Hebrew language is ׳āḏām, meaning “human”. Coupled with the definite article, it becomes “the human”… Its root is not attributed to the Semitic root for “man” -(n)-sh. Rather, ׳āḏām is linked to its triliteral root אָדָם (a-d-m), meaning “red”, “fair”, or “handsome”. As a masculine noun, ‘adam means “man”, “mankind” usually in a collective context as in humankind… The noun ‘adam is also the masculine form of the word adamah which means “ground” or “earth”. It is related to the words: adom (red), admoni (ruddy), and dam (blood). According to several observers, the word Adam derives from the Sanskrit word Adima, meaning “progenitor”, “first”, and “primitive” in Sanskrit… ׳āḏām can also be rendered “mankind” in the most generic sense, which is similar to its usage in Canaanite languages. The use of “mankind” in Genesis, gives the reflection that Adam was the ancestor of all men. Kabbalistic works indicate that Adam also comes from the Hebrew word ‘Adame’, ‘I should be similar’, similar to God in having free will.
In Hebrew culture, parts of the body had symbolic meaning. The head, the heart, the feet, the hands, and the rib too had all deep symbolic significations. Only some of these have survived in western culture, as we talk about “giving our heart” to someone or being the “head” of an organization. In today’s Hebrew culture, to call someone your “rib” was to suggest that they are your closest friend. But what the rib did represent in ancient times is now mysterious to us. In Genesis, the symbolism of “bones” is not lost in Eve’s creation, in fact, in 2:23-24 we can find “This is … bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh“, so Adam acknowledges that the woman was to be regarded as his own flesh and bone. He sensed his incompleteness without her. Mind, I’m talking here about an alchemical pair, not a human.
Due to such symbolic uncertainty, the religious refusal to consider the role of the rib cannot come as a surprise. The position of the first fathers of the church was controversial even on Eve’s role. Supposing the creation gradually assumes more and more importance during the six days of the world’s creation, what place did take Eve, created on the last day? Taking the Soul as the most important thing, Adam was identified as the Body, but almost all the church fathers denied the possibility that Eve could represent the Soul. The theological dispute so shifted to Adam`s possibility of actually representing the Soul, which in this way would give life to the Body, literally inhabiting it. Traditionally, the man symbolically represented the Soul and the woman the Body. Taking inspiration from Genesis, Thomas Aquinas rejected the theory of St. Augustine about the Body and Soul created together but stated that, since the Soul appeared to be created before, so the Soul initiated the movements of the Body. If Aquinas, who wrote some treaties contiguous to Alchemy, had asked for rescue to the hermetic theory of Body, Spirit Life, and Soul, perhaps he would have elaborated a more sophisticated postulate.
If Eve was extracted by Yahweh Elohim from Adam, logic would have that she was not that much different from Adam. In Greek mythology, the parturition by a woman resulted in an individually separated newborn, while the extraction from a man resulted in a new epitome of the father, as men cannot give life, but split an already existing life. For instance, Zeus gives birth to Athena and Dionysus, two different personifications of the same Zeus (alchemically, at least). Hence, Eve must be a personification of Adam, as she was mythologically born from a man verse 2:27 says: “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”. As we can see the concept is rather sophisticated, and we will see how the “rib” gives a precise geometry to the “marriage”.
There is a book published in 1926 entitled “Adam the Red Man” and René Schwaller de Lubicz is the author. I don’t know if a person who talks about erotic magic can be defined as hermetic, however, for research duty, I can’t avoid mentioning him: the author still has legions of followers, and the title of his book fits perfectly with our topic. So I learn for the umpteenth time there is a whole current of thought that indicates the completion of the “mystical marriage” in the real and physical union of a man of flesh and blood and a woman of flesh and blood. The author struggles to keep the thread of his contradictions, and finally recommends a spiritual union since it could have a few more chances of duration. He takes inspiration from the biblical myth of Eve extracted from a body – Adam – already made and completed and concludes that the human female cannot even be considered a complete human being since it is just a rib. It should be noted how the scholar Schwaller takes allegories literally and does not even suspect that they could be only symbols. While I’ve had this book in my library for quite a few years, I admit I’ve never read it – I’ve always found Schwaller a chaotic and inconclusive writer – but I was wrong… here it’s tremendously clear and conclusive.
Perhaps Schwaller should have studied history a little more: he would have learned that while Mediterranean alchemy took examples from nature to explain, indeed to hide, the operations of physics (the sea, the sun, the moon, the earth, the wind ), Eastern alchemy took examples from the human body to explain the same operations. The human body has eyes, a mouth, a spine, and genitals, and taking human physiological operations literally… well, it can be… I would say dangerous, I prefer to say inconclusive, useless. So, I learn that a woman does not exist per se, but she is only a negation of the man. At the beginning of the chapter “The Principle of Life“, Schwaller cites the example, explanatory for him, of electric forces: “… in reality, the negative current does not exist, it is nothing but the return of the electric current to its source, which closes the loop of tension between the chemical or magnetic elements of its cause.” Perhaps today’s physicists would object to this peremptory statement. But for Schwaller, a man of the beginning of the last century, this was the chemical confirmation of his doctrine that the human man, to exist, must consciously reunite with his negation (from that we understand the whole swirl of marriages within Schwaller’s circle and why, at one point, some adepts confessed that they had had enough). This happens when allegories are taken literally.
To be continued at Andrea Pisano and the Weird Birth of Eve Rib. Part 2 .
- See also Sun & Moon at the Turn of the First Millennium , Philosophia Reformata, Father Sun & Mother Moon ;
- See also Eros, Psyche & a New Alchemical Body ;