Attilio Mastrocinque, in his essay “ Studi sulle Gemme Gnostiche” Venice 1998 presents a detailed investigation on some more ancient magic jewels owned to an ancient roman lady Vibia Paulina. To our purpose first gem should be enough: it is a gnostic cameo dated on first century, on the left, representing Hermes holding a caduceus and a turtle and enclosed by greek characters Θ and χ. Θ is well occurring in alchemical environment, standing for Sulphur and Sacred (see Lucarelli & origins of Sulphur name). As well as χ, a quite universal symbol standing for cross and all its hermetic meanings: from volatile fixation, to crucible, to our Mercurius. Mastrocinque does not mention the sort of phylactery beside letter χ, generally standing for adeptness. Caduceus is a well recognized and common symbol for Mercurius Philosophorum. Turtle is instead a very learned, and quite unusual, symbol for Prima Materia as well as Materia Prima. That’s to say Mercurius and Sulphur, Spirit and Soul. Both Secret Fire to be extracted breaking the hard armor shell of Materia Tertia or raw matter. This iconography is unquestionably seriously hermetic.
Then Mastrocinque passes to examine the nonsensical motto on the cameo other side. The used language is also greek, but of difficult and obscure signification. Here artist gives the impression to have made jokes with the syncretic religious pantheon existing in Rome back at that time and a consequent multi cultural language. I spare you Mastrocinque phylological researches on this inscription, for our purpose it is enough to know that he concluded to be before a sort of an unintelligible rigmarole. No wonder that Vibia Paulina took action against magicians for fraud. Very interesting to us is her providing an attestation explaining what this talisman was for: “ to draw evil and dead spirits from underworld to protect her against incantations by would be seducers”. So we encounter again this pretention to draw spirits inside a stone. Pretention that we know having some alchemical reminiscences.
Vibia Paulina case was not an isolated one in roman empire. But such gnostic gems material arrived to us is rare since, as Henry Maguire refers in his Byzantine Magic 1995, “Until relatively recently, archaeologists did not pay much attention to objects such as amulets, rings, and bracelets unless they were of gold or silver”
During fourth century, in Byzantium, there was a gnostic gems huge diffusion, with a real byzantine demonology as long as a complex lists of angelic names. Their production was unofficial and unsanctioned by the church, till the patriarch formally gave orders to the clergy to search for magicians in any quarter of Constantinople and asked the civil authorities for support Investigation, inquisition, and denunciation, as in Ammianus. Finally Emperor Constantius II condemned nearly all the interpreters and prophets that the ancient Roman world had known, without making any differentiation between religious, scholarly, and popular forms of divination. And coming Iconoclasm did all remaining.
Amulets on the pictures were found during the small village Anemurium digging works. They were bronze, glass and earthen. On the left an amulet with a cross, symbols which Alchemy shares with Christianity, but more interesting is that one on the right with a six pointed star, direct symbol for Philosophers Stone. Though iconography is a little diverting from canonical. Anyway the downward dissolvation triangle is intermingled with the upward sublimation triangle to give the volatile fixation (see Basilius Valentinus Azoth or Solve et Coagula).
As we go back in ages we find more close connections between gnostic gems and hermeticism.Thus Gnostic Gems become less unconcerned. The one on the left represents Chnoumis, the cock headed serpent, or dragon headed, or lion headed. Enough clear rendition of our fluid serpent-Mercurius (moving as a flux) made fixed and so provided with a different male animal head, definitely a Mercurius Philosophorum. Our material or molecular container for Spirit of Life/Secret Fire, then turning into Sulphur or Soul. Spirit of Life and Soul being our alchemical spirits. Not so inoffensive though. But really noble and virtuous. In fact on the other side there is inscribed: “ I’m forever the good spirit” Agathos Daimon or good spirit indeed.
Invocations or incantations often accompanying gnostic gems sometimes become “recipe”. This Dardanos recipe “Sword of Dardanos” is a good rendition for a “breathing stone”: “Recipe called sword, matchless for its efficacy. Since it tames and leads a Soul wherever we want, as soon as one declaims: I tame the soul of anyone. So one takes a Magnetic Stone, the breathing stone, one draws on it Aphrodite riding Psyche as a horse. Keeping her with left hand wrapping hair curls. Over her head one inscribes achmagerarpepsei. Under Aphrodite and Psyche there is Eros/Amor standing on a globe. He hands a flaming torch to burn Psyche. On the other side of the stone embracing Eros and Psyche and under Eros foot ssssssss and under Psyche èèèèèèèè”. Yes, ludicrous. But very interesting, indeed. Eros is our Mercurius/Spirit, Psyche our Soul/Sulphur. We know that they have to become a single new body. Not so different from Poliphilo and Polia (2). But ssssssss and èèèèèèèè are here simple and explicit breathings, or better a parody of what alchemists believe to be our realBreathing stone, an Alchemy key and axiom which is absolutely worth a dedicated post. In “Der compas der Wisen” or Compass of Wises, edition Fredrich Maurer Berlin 1782, we can find a preface engraving, on the right, putting the very concept on display. As a matter of fact we do believe our Secret Fire having a return movement. The rock on the picture is our Secret Fire extracted from raw matter and prepared in Mercurius Philosophorum (double serpent and mirror). Philosophers Stone is not so far.
Paolo Lucarelli, in his essay entitled Anima Mundi or World Soul (3) states: “Corporification of this Spirit has always been the ultimate purpose of alchemical works (4), resulting in what we traditionally call Philosophers Stone”. A synonym for corporification may be Embodiment (5). A new body for an indeterminate Spirit and an old determined Soul.
But probably other inspirations seem to have led to Gnostic Gems, whose syncretism is as deep as the sea. Thus I would like to add a little hint on ancient egyptian sacerdotal rites of Fabrication of Gods, who have to be drawn from sky to earth in a material container and somewhat fixed according to precise instructions. To try to give a clue it may be of some interest knowing that Berenger Saunière, was seen spending various hours a day enduring a systematic research and destruction of all massive stones he found along certain trajectories in Rennes le Chateau surroundings. That’s magic in Alchemy.
I cannot end without mentioning the sacred stone Urim used by jewish priests, during rites on judgment of Souls. We can get a visual representation of Urim from an engraving from Abraham Eleazar “Uraltes Chymisches” Leipzig 1760, who unquestionably was a serious alchemist. I posted here on the left an image colored by Adam McLean since it is very useful to put on display Urim feature as a jeweled breastplate. In the first decade of seventeenth century a pseudo-Trithemius writes a little treatise on “ The Art of Drawing Spirits into a Crystal”. Here appearance and crystal use in the magic liturgy definitely seems a parody for Urim. Let’s hear from him.
Pseudo-Trithemius: “Of the making of the Chrystal and the Form of Preparation for a Vision: Procure of a lapidary good clear pellucid crystal, of the bigness of a small orange, i.e. about one inch and a half in diameter; let it be globular or round each way alike; then, when you have got this crystal, fair and clear, without any clouds or specks, get a small plate of pure gold to encompass the crystal round one half; let this be fitted on an ivory or ebony pedestal, as you may see more fully described in the drawing. Let there be engraved a circle round the crystal with these characters around inside the circle next the crystal; afterwards the name “Tetragrammaton”. On the other side of the plate let there be engraved “Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael;” which are the four principal angels ruling over the Sun, Moon, Venus and Mercury; but on the table on which the crystal stands the following names, characters, &c. must be drawn in order. First, the names of the seven planets and angels ruling them, with their seals or characters. The names of the four kings of the four kings of the cardinal directions. This being done, your table is complete and fit for the calling of the spirits;
Alchemical Crystal Dome has in fact to be put on a pedestal. A good allegory for it is the chicken laying egg on a pedestal beside Rennes le Chateaud church main entrance. All pseudo-Trithemius rite has some reminiscence with ancient egyptian rite for Fabrication of Gods. As well as the judgment of Souls performed by sacred Urim. We know that Perfect Sulphur is soluble in common glass, but the making of Crystal Dome is all another issue.
Magic gems called Gnostic Gems seem really a childish reconstruction of some ancient secret alchemical practices. How those magicians have got in touch with them is a mystery. Fabrication of Gods and Urim practice have a closer and more serious connection with alchemical secrets, but religious liturgies seem all the same just being far away ancient alchemical reminiscences. How those priests have got in touch with them is another mystery.