In this woodcut from Tetragonismus idest circuli quadratura we will see how the geocentric alchemical world was not just a world of light. But Densities.
In fact, it presents motionless earth with two stars and four elements. Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Moon, Sun. Till Empyrean. A complete explication of what Ptolemaic Astronomy did profess to be back at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Moreover in Venice.
Nevertheless, it was not a twist of fate that Galileo Galilei taught at Padova University, a town very close to Venice, a century after this woodcut printing. As a matter of fact, Venetians were the first in Italy to publish Copernicus books. And Giovan Francesco Sagredo, from an influential family, and himself a member of the “Maggior Consiglio”, was an enthusiastic Galileo follower. We all know how things went and how Venice could do nothing to protect Galileo. If not for the fact that he supplied them with his high-tech lenses. In spite of these facts, we can say in the lagoonal capital Ptolemaic Astronomy had found, in the previous centuries, a real stronghold, as we can infer from the great number of woodcuts found in Venetian published books. I chose a pair of the more suitable ones for our alchemical case. Since it goes without saying that a geocentric sky does explain in itself many things happening in our Macrocosmic, as well as Microcosmic, vessels. Not to mention a hermetic symbolism that would hardly be understood in absence of Ptolemaic references.
The image taken from “Tetragonismus idest circuli quadratura per Campanum Archimedem Syracusanum atque Boetium mathematicae perspicacissimos adinuenta” or the mathematic treatise written by Campanus, engraved by J.B. Sessa and published in Venezia in 1503, is on the square of the circle, or tetragonismus, of the universe according to Archimedes and Boetius, and specifically, this woodcut is a real compendium of what we need to know. We can see Archimedes standing in the center of the earth with his astronomical instruments. The earth is here surrounded by Water, then Air, finally by Fire, and ultimately by the Sun and Moon Ecliptics through the twelve months.
At this point we need to get a more intuitive understanding of what a geocentric system was: Oronce Fine, in his “ Sphaera Mundi” or the sphere of the world, Paris 1549 (colored pictures below), renders the same concept in a very schematic way: our world starts from the earth. In fact, if it was true that a motionless Earth was the center of the Universe, it was intuitive that earth-ground was the starting point. Then Water beyond earth, And obviously air. Things get more difficult with the Fire circle. This is above and beyond our modern forma mentis. This strange Fire is ineffable and invisible and disappeared with the coming of the Copernicus system. In the second Fine image, the Fire is still in the position between Air and Moon. Even better, Fire seems to mark the boundary between the world above and the world below. In the world above we can find the Moon and all other planets, not excluding the Sun ( of course in a Geocentric system) orbiting the Earth. Above all is the Firmament, or Heavens, or stars.
All the Planets were represented as little stars: in fact, they bring to earth the Sunlight and concur to illuminate our earth.
In fact, in a Geocentric System, the Sun was not our galaxy’s huge pivot, as it is in a Copernican system. Don’t misunderstand me, of course, the sun is our galaxy pivot. But back then astronomers pretended not to know it, so the Moon wasn’t of lower status. It simply was the queen, or the king, of the night. And additionally, we will see in a coming post why, to certain extents, it could acquire a higher status than the sun.
The concept is even more clear in another Venetian woodcut on the same topic. The work by Jacopo Philippo Foresti, taken from Supplementum Chronicarum 1505, represents the Genesis or World making. And if you remember that Alchemy is sometimes referred to as a micro genesis, we can understand how this can be explicative. In the Earth’s center, God stands with his last creation: Adam, Eve, and all animals. Around we can see a watery ocean. Air was represented by angels in the cloud and Fire as a radiant personage surrounded by the element air. Thus every element encloses one another. Additionally, a radiant sun and a radiant moon surround and enclose our four elements. Here the Sun and Moon surely are the astronomical stars we are used to seeing from the earth and not hermetic allegories (1).
In Alchemy we start our works as a reversed genesis: if genesis is to make all which is spiritual to become “embodied”, or earth, in a reversed genesis all which is “embodied” has to be made spiritual, or at least water. Thus our labors of Hercules, or preparatory works are simply to dissolve and volatilize the element earth, or body. If you have got this concept it will not be difficult to understand that from the earth, and element Earth starts a system of densities. In fact, the four elements could hardly bring any light. Thus the circle is not a question of hierarchical lights, but densities. Earth is denser than water, which is denser than air, which is denser than fire. The circle of Fire is much more intelligible if we allow it to be a density between Air and Moon. The four elements together with Moon, Sun, and Planets, all take a role in this hierarchy.
So the Sun and Moon do participate in this hierarchical densities scale. The Moon is denser than the Sun because is more coagulated. But what is more coagulated inside the moon? Not the light, since lunar light is simply composed of sunlight reflection. Although established the Ptolemaic system perfectly represents our Secret Fire/Mercurius densities stairs, we have still not been able to give a precise answer to that question.
The four elements could be roughly defined states of matter. The Ptolemaic System states that our two stars are less dense than four elements, and we can give a rational stating the matter containing Secret Fire is less dense when traveling in light than in water or air. But this postulate fails to give an answer to the question: why Moon would emit denser light than Sun? This would shift attention from matter density to Secret Fire density. In this regard, we are simply told that the Secret Fire inside Philosophers Stone is of huge density, and this makes no wonder since Philosophers Stone is the element Earth. As well as being told that the Secret Fire coming from stars, or the Ptolemaic Empyrean, or Mercurius Sideribus, is the by far the less dense. Intuitively we can argue to be just a question of states of matter. But can we possibly apply the states of matter concept to Light? And what if instead, we tried to enforce this reasoning to our Secret Fire? I mean was Secret Fire subject to states of density? This idea could not be so unorthodox when thinking that fluid mechanics can also be put on our Secret Fire (2).
Secret Fire densities give us a hard time. But they were especially the Sun and Moon densities to do. These two stars in an ancient Venetian sky represent perhaps the key for us to inquire into our Secret Fire.
- For more meanings of Sun-Moon symbology see at Sun & Moon at the Turn of the First Millennium , Philosophia Reformata, Father Sun and Mother Moon and Nuisement & the Sun Resisting Capture ;
- See also Disk Galaxy Formation, Fluid Mechanics and Alchemy, and San Miniato Sun Path or the Sky as Seen from Earth , Voynich Manuscript and the Unknown Part of the Rhythm , Thesaurus Hermeticum and the Dry Pythagorean River , Santi Pupieni and the Raising Black-New Moon , Artephius, Secret Fire and Secret Book , Kamala Jnana, Introduction to a Live Secret ;