_Op. cit_., pp. 206 and 207.
In conclusion, I wish to say something of the role of sex in spiritual alchemy. But in doing this I am venturing outside the original field of inquiry of this essay and making a by no means necessary addition to my thesis; and I am anxious that what follows should be understood as such, so that no confusion as to the issues may arise.
In the great alchemical collection of J. J. MANGET, there is a curious work (originally published in 1677), entitled _Mutus Liber_, which consists entirely of plates, without letterpress. Its interest for us in our present concern is that the alchemist, from the commencement of the work until its achievement, is shown working in conjunction with a woman. We are reminded of NICOLAS FLAMEL (1330-1418), who is reputed to have achieved the _magnum opus_ together with his wife PERNELLE, as well as of the many other women workers in the Art of whom we read. It would be of interest in this connection to know exactly what association of ideas was present in the mind of MICHAEL MAIER when he commanded the alchemist: "Perform a work of women on the molten white lead, that is, cook,"[1a] and illustrated his behest with a picture of a pregnant woman watching a fire over which is suspended a cauldron and on which are three jars. There is a cat in the background, and a tub containing two fish in the foreground, the whole forming a very curious collection of emblems. Mr WAITE, who has dealt with some of these matters, luminously, though briefly, says: "The evidences with which we have been dealing concern solely the physical work of alchemy and there is nothing of its mystical aspects. The _Mutus Liber_ is undoubtedly on the literal side of metallic transmutation; the memorials of Nicholas Flamel are also on that side," _etc_. He adds, however, that "It is on record that an unknown master testified to his possession of the mystery, but he added that he had not proceeded to the work because he had failed to meet with an elect woman who was necessary thereto"; and proceeds to say: "I suppose that the statement will awaken in most minds only a vague sense of wonder, and I can merely indicate in a few general words that which I see behind it. Those Hermetic texts which bear a spiritual interpretation and are as if a record of spiritual experience present, like the literature of physical alchemy, the following aspects of symbolism: (_a_) the marriage of sun and moon; (_b_) of a mystical king and queen; (_c_) an union between natures which are one at the root but diverse in manifestation; (_d_) a transmutation which follows this union and an abiding glory therein. It is ever a conjunction between male and female in a mystical sense; it is ever the bringing together by art of things separated by an imperfect order of things; it is ever the perfection of natures by means of this conjunction. But if the mystical work of alchemy is an inward work in consciousness, then the union between male and female is an union in consciousness; and if we remember the traditions of a state when male and female had not as yet been divided, it may dawn upon us that the higher alchemy was a practice for the return into this ineffable mode of being. The traditional doctrine is set forth in the _Zohar_ and it is found in writers like Jacob Boehme; it is intimated in the early chapters of Genesis and, according to an apocryphal saying of Christ, the kingdom of heaven will be manifested when two shall be as one, or when that state has been once again attained. In the light of this construction we can understand why the mystical adept went in search of a wise woman with whom the work could be performed; but few there be that find her, and he confessed to his own failure. The part of woman in the physical practice of alchemy is like a reflection at a distance of this more exalted process, and there is evidence that those who worked in metals and sought for a material elixir knew that there were other and greater aspects of the Hermetic mystery."[1b]
[1a] MICHAEL MATER: _Atalanta Fugiens_ (1617), p. 97.
[1b] A E. WAITE: "Woman and the Hermetic Mystery," _The Occult Review_ (June 1912), vol. xv. pp. 325 and 326.
So far Mr WAITE, whose impressive words I have quoted at some length; and he has given us a fuller account of the theory as found in the _Zohar_ in his valuable work on _The Secret Doctrine in Israel_ (1913). The _Zohar_ regards marriage and the performance of the sexual function in marriage as of supreme importance, and this not merely because marriage symbolises a divine union, unless that expression is held to include all that logically follows from the fact, but because, as it seems, the sexual act in marriage may, in fact, become a ritual of transcendental magic.
At least three varieties of opinion can be traced from the view of sex we have under consideration, as to the nature of the perfect man, and hence of the most adequate symbol for transmutation. According to one, and this appears to have been JACOB BOEHME'S view, the perfect man is conceived of as non-sexual, the male and female elements united in him having, as it were, neutralised each other. According to another, he is pictured as a hermaphroditic being, a concept we frequently come across in alchemical literature. It plays a prominent part in MAIER'S book _Atalanta Fugiens_, to which reference has already been made. MAIER'S hermaphrodite has two heads, one male, one female, but only one body, one pair of arms, and one pair of legs. The two sexual organs, which are placed side by side, are delineated in the illustrations with considerable care, showing the importance MAIER attached to the idea. This concept seems to me not only crude, but unnatural and repellent. But it may be said of both the opinions I have mentioned, that they confuse between union and identity. It is the old mistake, with respect to a lesser goal, of those who hope for absorption in the Divine Nature and consequent loss of personality. It seems to be forgotten that a certain degree of distinction is necessary to the joy of union. "Distinction" and "separation," it should be remembered, have different connotations. If the supreme joy is that of self-sacrifice, then the self must be such that it can be continually sacrificed, else the joy is a purely transitory one, or rather, is destroyed at the moment of its consummation. Hence, though sacrificed, the self must still remain itself.
The third view of perfection, to which these remarks naturally lead, is that which sees it typified in marriage. The mystic-philosopher SWEDENBORG has some exceedingly suggestive things to say on the matter in his extraordinary work on _Conjugial Love_, which, curiously enough, seem largely to have escaped the notice of students of these high mysteries.