From Collected Works 16: The Mercurial Fountain
This picture goes straight to the heart of alchemical symbolism, for it is an attempt to depict the mysterious basis of the opus. It is a quadratic quaternity characterized by the four stars in the four corners. These are the four elements. Above, in the centre, there is a fifth star which represents the fifth entity, the “One” derived from the four, the quinta essentia. The basin below is the vas Hermeticum, where the transformation takes place. It contains the mare nostrum, the aqua permanens or, the “divine water.” This is the mare tenebrosum, the chaos. The vessel is also called the uterus in which the foetus spagyricus (the homunculus) is gestated. This basin, in contrast to the surrounding square, is circular, because it is the matrix of the perfect form into which the square, as an imperfect form, must be changed. In the square the elements are still separate and hostile to one another and must therefore be united in the circle. The inscription on the rim of the basin bears out this intention. It runs (filling in the abbreviations): “Unus est Mercurius mineralis, Mercurius vegetabilis, Mercurius animalis.” (Vegetabilis should be translated as “living” and animalis as “animate” in the sense of having a soul, or even as “psychic.” ) On the outside of the basin there are six stars which together with Mercurius represent the seven planets or metals. They are all as it were contained in Mercurius, since he is the pater metallorum. When personified, he is the unity of the seven planets, an Anthropos whose body is the world, like Gayomart, from whose body the seven metals flow into the earth. Owing to his feminine nature, Mercurius is also the mother of the seven, and not only of the six, for he is his own father and mother.
Out of the “sea,” then, there rises this Mercurial Fountain, triplex nomine, as is said with reference to the three manifestations of Mercurius. He is shown flowing out of three pipes in the form of lac virginis, acetum fontis, and aqua vitae. These are three of his innumerable synonyms. The aforementioned unity of Mercurius is here represented as a triad. It is repeatedly emphasized that he is a trinity, triunus or trinus, the chthonic, lower, or even infernal counterpart of the Heavenly Trinity, just as Dante’s devil is three-headed. For the same reason Mercurius is often shown as a three-headed serpent. Above the three pipes we find the sun and moon, who are the indispensable acolytes and parents of the mystic transformation, and, a little higher, the quintessential star, symbol of the unity of the four hostile elements. At the top of the picture is the serpens bifidus, the divided (or two-headed) serpent, the fatal binarius which Dorn defines as the devil. This serpent is the serpens mercurialis, representing the duplex natura of Mercurius. The heads are spitting forth fire, from which Maria the Copt or Jewess derived her “duo fumi.” These are the two vapours whose condensation initiates the process which leads to a multiple sublimation or distillation for the purpose of purifying away the mali odores, the foetor sepulcrorum and the clinging darkness of the beginning.
Collected Works 16
In the first of the sequence, the fountain pours forth the three substances that supposedly flow from the centre of the soul. These are ‘Lac Virginis’ (the Virgin’s milk), ‘Acetum fontis’ (the spring of vinegar) and ‘Aqua Vitae’ (the water of life). The latter represents the force within man, that which originally exists. The other two represent, once again, a contribution from both the feminine, receptive, lunar forces, and those of the penetrating, sharp, solar male. These mingle and mix in the lower part of the soul – the fountain’s basin – and the substance created is known as the water of Mercury. The latter stages of the alchemical process take place in these waters.