Sometimes the term “Cauldron” denotes a Spirit, or a new alchemical body, interfering with Time. According to Li Shao Chun, this Spirit can even spare us Alchemy.
In fact, Chinese Alchemy, before being abruptly stopped, was renowned to deal more freely with that magic part that western Alchemy too often tries to deny or at least fails to pay proper attention to, preferring painful dichotomies between practical and spiritual.
In this excerpt, Li Shao Chun, who is alleged to have been the first Chinese alchemist, gives the emperor Wu Ti some interesting lessons on Alchemy. The “Szu Ma Chien”, the Chinese alchemical summa of the first-century b.c., simply reports: “Shao Chun told the emperor: then sacrifice to your furnace and you will be able to evoke Spirits. Evoke Spirits and you will be able to transmute the cinnabar powder into yellow gold. With that one, you can make vessels for foods and drinks, in this way you will be able to prolong your life… and see the glorious immortal Masters”.
Very few researchers take this paragraph to the letter, they almost either take the two sentences as a continuum or call forth a personality transmutation eventually occurring in alchemists at the end of their fatigues. While, in my opinion, the whole excerpt has to be intended literally, that’s to say one action is to sacrifice to the furnace to evoke spirits and another is to directly evoke spirits. And another again, not mentioned but implied, is that spirits can come without being evoked at all. Problem is that very hardly an alchemist can admit the existence of such fortunate people kissed by success without undergoing exhausting alchemical works.
What we have always read and heard is all about hard work at the furnace, and the achieving of Philosophers Stone as a necessary condition to be then granted by gods benefits. But Alchemy may be much more complicated than expected. Surely it begins as chemistry but may end up as magic. As a matter of fact, the strange Secret Fire behavior may alienate both categories: chemists and magicians. Since both are active and overconfident people are too much sure to be rewarded for their technical expertise.
What about if, instead, we would hear of persons neither skilled in Alchemy and/nor magic, who attained the special effects alleged to Philosophers Stone achievers? And to cap it all above and beyond their humble intentions? The “Cauldrons” love the humbles, indeed.
Christian people can remember the gospel passage in which the two Lazarus sisters, Magdalena and Martha, welcome Christ into their home: Martha is actively doing the kitchen, while Magdalena is sitting and listening to him. When Martha expresses her dissatisfaction with her sister’s behavior, Christ shows to prefer Magdalena doing nothing but hearing. Perhaps is not a mere coincidence that Martha was “cooking” and Magdalena’s name meant “Tower” or connection between sky and earth.
In Robert Fludd’s works, as well as in Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum, we can find the idea of an alchemical material process getting along with an alchemist’s mental process, better known as spiritual transmutation. But it is not so difficult to claim that too hard work, not to mention the symbolism decrypting fatigue, can only destroy even the more peaceful and balanced minds. From experience, I can witness that alchemical people are far better in their enthusiastic beginnings than as they go. Their only mental improvement would be a better systematic investigation.
Consequently, material and mental phases, or better practical and spiritual, seem more likely to be separated. Often to never encounter it again. In fact, very hardly we can imagine in ancient ages the alone alchemist character we are used to in our vulgar age.
In Chinese Alchemy we also come up with the concept of alchemical rituals. Needham on page 131 quotes a treatise dated between the fourth and sixth-century b.c. in which is stated the belief that alchemical medicines must be availed by a rite. This rite seems to be the “ furnace or cauldron service” which appears to be an incense service though. The Taoistic pray of leave so recites: “Messengers from Incense, the dragon and tiger Lords, to the left and to the right, golden children serving the fragrance, makeover here where I have today celebrated the divine mushroom of immortality, cinnabar and green jade growing from the golden liquor and that the perfect immortals come to this furnace or cauldron of incenses”
Ko Hung, a contemporary of Stephanos of Alexandria, wrote: “ My Master Chen Yin used to say that when preparing those medicines, one must always celebrate a sacrifice for the Original Lord of the Great One, Lord Lao and the Mysterious Woman come to see and control”. Of course, we can transpose these three characters to our alchemical couple of Mercurii plus the celebrant. But here the sacrifice doesn’t sound like the same alchemical allegory of Soul extraction we can find in de Vigenère’s treatise on Fire and Salt. But Ko Hung’s case seems different.
Chinese Alchemy treatises continuously make reference to immortality and to immortal Masters coming to rescue and control humans. In such a way to make us, hopelessly rude western alchemists, feel at least obliged of keeping notice.
The legend of the cauldron spirits soon exceeded alchemical environments to affect even the figure of the supreme ruler. Emperor Yu’s mythical deeds are that he cast the “Nine Cauldrons”s after succeeding to Shun’s throne. Those cauldrons were alleged to have the divine function to teach people to distinguish between faithfulness and treachery and to keep evils and demons from harming people, so they were treated as national treasures. In later tradition, though these cauldrons were scattered and disappeared, they were identified as the symbol of the supreme imperial power. It was believed that whoever wanted to be the emperor should possess the Nine Cauldrons. Until an emperor ordered the elimination of all alchemical books.
This emperor wisely realized that Spiritual Alchemy was not just about a harmless change of personality, but the so-called human Alchemy comes after the metallic one and not along with it or parallel to it, taking advantage of the metallic conjunction of the Sun and Earth and using it as an indispensable precondition. Since, for the humbles to be granted with gods gifts, a lion-hearted person had to undergo a frightened trip-soaking into a metaphoric cauldron (1).
- The Mysterious “ Furnace Service” seems more appropriate to define the strange rite involved.
See also The Dangerous Journey into the Gundestrup Cauldron;