A cross, and a victim on the cross, are two symbols belonging to both Hermetic and Christian iconographies. Here we have the addition of the sun and moon.
There was a time, from eighth to eleventh century, when this allegory was exhibited in varied and numerous cultic items. To suddenly disappear and never to be allowed again after the death of the last ottonian emperor, Heinrich II.
Since then, the combination of Sun and Moon returned to be just one of the most important hermetic iconography highlights. Christianity was only one of the cultures Alchemy traversed in its history. And attempts to merge them, more or less durable and successful, were from time to time carried out. Nevertheless it is unknown to us the reason that caused monasterial artistic schools, even if for a couple of centuries, to adopt this allegory. As a matter of fact we can not find it in any Bible and Gospel. Indeed it is a theological nonsense. Sun and Moon, Sol et Luna, can not in any way be considered neither a christian tradition nor a northern zoomorphic religious tradition. Some medieval art historians suggest a cosmic interpretation of the Christ sacrifice. But why this suddenly appearing and disappearing from established iconography?
The addition of Sun and Moon symbolism with a cross and a victim on a cross ( sacrifice) is a too much explicit operative concept even for alchemical symbolism. Indeed we can hardly find this complete allegory in classic hermetic pictures. For example the picture on the left from “The Book of Abraham the Jew” (the supposed enlightening text found by Flamel), it certainly is the most explicit hermetic crucifixion. And the victim on the cross can appear quite a blaspheming parody. But this is not the case: briefly, the Sulphur fixation represents our Philosophers Stone and its resurrection. Sun and Moon stand for hidden alchemist and nature work.
Sun and Moon is, together with Ouroboros, the most enigmatic and ubiquitous hermetic symbol. Indeed Sun and Moon, Sol et Luna, represent the foundation of hermetic symbolism all over. Ouroboros, Sun and Moon, Solve et Coagula are three different allegories for the same concepts. Pay attention, I did use plurals here. Concepts, not a singe concept. As a matter of fact, Sun and Moon symbolism is a real paradigm for the rule of three ( a symbol may stand for at least three different meanings). In Sun and Moon allegory Alchemy in a whole is spread and hidden (1).
- Moon is dissolving, Sun is sublimating in Solve et Coagula;
- Moon is passive, Sun Active;
- Sun is Fixed, Moon is Volatile inside vessel – crucible or Microcosm;
- Sun is hot, Moon is frozen inside vessel – crucible or Microcosm;
- Sun is fixed, or Soul and Moon is volatile or Principle of Life inside nature or Macrocosm;
- Union of Mercurius or Mercurius Philosophorum with calcinated metallic gold;
- Union of Mercurius Philosophorum and “ Golden” Mercurius Philosophorum;
- Gathering of Astronomical Sun beams through Astronomical Moon;
- Union of Soul and Principle of Life in a new body;
- Union of Alchemical light and Natural light;
- Union of Natural light and Cosmic light;
- Union of Macrocosm and Microcosm;
- The Alchemical Marriage or Double or Mercurius Duplicatus.
Sun and Moon allegory owes to no specific age or culture. An item displaying this iconography witnesses for a very ancient dating and uncertain place of origin. It matters very little that the indoeuropean origins of name sun was feminine, as is still in Lithuanian and German languages, and vice versa moon masculine, as evidenced by “Lunus” in Rome. I could cite many examples of this reversal of sex in Indian, Iranian and ancient Egypt cultures. But again, this is unimportant to Alchemy. Defining sublimation and dramatic movement as masculine is only a convention. Defining the dissolution and the attraction as feminine is another convention. One is simply a more mobile than the other is larger and encompassing than one. If these sex conventions were the opposite would not change anything.
Old chemistry and ancient astronomy expressed in these terms. As well as ancient religions and mythologies. And back at that times there weren’t that much differences among them. Is nevertheless a fact that the combined sun and moon symbolism were not present in the Germanic and Scandinavian iconography of roman time. Nor in Byzantine. While the Sun alone wasn’t unknown in imperial Rome. Think of Sol Invictus for Iulianus, the great and transient emperor. In fact Christianity iconography itself seems to have been an iconographic continuation of solar religions.
As for the moon is a more ancient legacy, see Harran religions. Egyptian Thoth was entitled to be the lunar eye restorer. A male Moon has also been present in the southern Arabian religions. And Harran has been said being a south Arabian colony.
But let’s go back to our european medieval shrines, now. What do we possibly mean for established iconography, back at the turn of the first century?
During carolingian and ottonian ages, cultic art was accomplished in monastic environment. Monks conceived and carried out all stages from idea to final cloisonnè. Following the byzantine model, laypersons were banned from performing any interference in religious arts. But unlike the very byzantine model, franc and german monastic schools were allowed to perform in quite absolute self rule and ideological independence from ecclesiastic power hierarchy. Indeed the referee, for these monks and nuns, was the emperor. Back then, in central Europe, Christianity was represented by Emperor and his relative abbots and abbesses. In this way, ruling monasteries, imperial family ruled at a time religion, education, economy. In a few word the whole central europe establishment. But that wasn’t just a process of dealing with or controlling things or people. Central and northern european cultures had never known a strict centralized ruling, unlike romans and byzantines did. Autonomy and independence of thinking was a long tradition, for the so called barbarians.