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.
From the eighth to the eleventh century, there was a time 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 the Sun and Moon has 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 sometimes carried out.
Sun and Moon, Sol et Luna, can not be considered either a Christian tradition or a northern zoomorphic religious tradition. Some medieval art historians suggest a cosmic interpretation of the Christ sacrifice. But why is 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 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) 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 a hidden alchemist and nature work.
Sun and Moon are, together with Ouroboros, the most enigmatic and ubiquitous hermetic symbol. Indeed Sun and Moon, Sol et Luna, represent the foundation of hermetic symbolism. Ouroboros, Sun, Moon, Solve, et Coagula are three different allegories for the same concepts. I did use plurals here—concepts, not a single concept. Sun and Moon’s 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 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 the vessel – crucible or Microcosm;
- Sun is hot; Moon is frozen inside a vessel – crucible or Microcosm;
- Sun is fixed, or Soul and Moon are volatile, or the 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 Sunbeams 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.
The allegory of the Sun and Moon owes to no specific age or culture. An item displaying this iconography has witnessed a very ancient dating and uncertain place of origin. It matters very little that the Indoeuropean origins of the name sun were 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 Egyptian 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 the feminine is another convention. One is more mobile than the other is larger and more encompassing than one. If these sex conventions were the opposite would not change anything.
Old chemistry and ancient astronomy are expressed in these terms—as well as ancient religions and mythologies. And back then, there weren’t that many differences between them. Nevertheless, the combined sun and moon symbolism was not present in the Germanic and Scandinavian iconography of the roman time. Nor is Byzantine. While the Sun alone wasn’t unknown in imperial Rome. Think of Sol Invictus for Iulianus, the great and transient emperor. 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 to be a south Arabian colony.
But let’s go back to our European medieval shrines now. What could we mean by established iconography back at the turn of the first century?
Cultic art was accomplished in a monastic environment during the Carolingian and Ottonian ages. 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 an absolute self-rule and ideological independence from the 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 and imperial families ruled at a time of religion, education, and economy. In a few words, the whole central European 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 the Romans and Byzantines. Autonomy and independence of thinking were a long tradition for the so-called barbarians. Architecture had been reduced to an essential, though solemn. Nevertheless, that was not the case with little portable cultic items. Codex covers, reliquaries, and crucifixes were of stunning and luxurious beauty—mostly
I picked some of those representing a crucifixion scene and a clear sun and moon allegory.
Back of the Tooth Shrine. Eight century. Longobards work. The front part is a very rich gold and gems cloisonnè. After its name, this reliquary probably brought a relic tooth inside. These reliquaries were called “Capsellae” or haversacks, for they accompanied owners on their long trips—treasure of Monza Cathedral. As we notice, a man on the left and a woman on the right hover over the crucifixion scene. Close-up on the woman: she is provided with a lunar scythe lying on her circular frame.
Reliquary or Capsella is called Pippin the first’s. Before 830 A.D., the Treasure of Conques Abbey was. This time an unquestionable sun on the left and an unquestionable moon on the right is displayed above the crucifix.
Cover of “Sacramental” or manuscript accompanying a special liturgy. In this case, the coronation of Charles the Bald. About 870 A.D. Starting capital T letter is cross-shaped. Palatine school of Charles the Bald. Bibliothèque Nationale. Lat. 1131, fol.6 v. Paris. As you can see, Sun is represented by a man featuring a brown-yellow (flavus) color, while Moon is a bluish woman. Note the lunar scythe inside her circular frame on the right. In this case, we do not have a Latin cross but an S. Antony Cross.
Cover of Codex Aureus, gift by empress Theophano and her child Otto III to Echternach Abbey or Epternacensis. Cloisonnè and made about 985-991. Ivory plaque is dated after Theophano’s sudden death (991). The lunar woman is always on the right inside a lunar scythe frame. Pay attention to the crucifix basement: a woman and a Latin scratched “Terra”, earth. Fixation means becoming earth after being fled from the earth.
Cover Book of the “Perikope” ( excerpts, in ancient greek). Represents the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ ( rise again, rising). Gift by Heinrich II and empress Cunegunde. Front Cover. Reichenau school. Beginning of the eleventh century. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Munich. Sun and Moon here is “ God’s hand”. The main tool. Do not get shocked, please. In Alchemy, God’s hand is Solve et Coagula. We are just giving a hermetic interpretation of some unorthodox cultic art pieces. Here Sun and Moon ( lunar scythe on her head) are in their chariots. An ancient greek mythological iconography indeed. Winged beings, or angels, hovering in crucifixion provide an excellent explication of how to get a sublimation.
Certainly, Charlemagne and Ottonians aspired to restore the Christianity of its origins. And Rome And Byzantium were more and more becoming less bright to European eyes. If Charlemagne, in the eighth century, thought of Byzantine empress Irene as a demi-divine being, two centuries after Byzantine princess Theophano married emperor Otto II, lived hard times in a german court where she was disdained because of her daily perfumed bathing and gold forks eating. But in the Francs and Germans’ pure world, unlike Rome and Byzantium, breaking between the Christian and pagan world was not so palpable.
It is a fact that we hardly know all about very ancient migrations. As Fulcanelli once pointed out, french languages have strange assonances with ancient greek. Byzantines have always had an eye for Franks. The Porphyrogeniti ( those born in the purple room) could never marry a foreigner but a franc. It is difficult to say whether Byzantines for the purpose did mean a Visigothic or a Celtic person. It is a fact that Romans gave to the systematic disappearance of the Celtic culture in Gaul. Rather outlandish for a ruling traditionally based on practical rather than theoretical considerations. But perhaps in Carolingian and Ottonian times, something still survived. Something that Theophano and her retinue of artists could not have brought along from Byzantium.