On Mercurius ☿ (
The chief figure of Alchemy was Mercurius. He was both the Beginning (the Prima Materia), the Middle (the process or means) & the End (the Philosopher’s Stone or Cosmic Son) of the Magnum Opus (Great Work). He is the Animating Principle and the World Soul.
Carl Jung explains, " 1. Mercurius consists of all conceivable opposites. He is thus quite obviously a duality, but is named a unity in spite of the fact that his innumerable inner contradictions can dramatically fly apart into an equal number of disparate & independent figures."
"2. He is both material and spiritual.
3. He is the process by which the lower and material is transformed into the higher and spiritual, and vice versa.
4. He is the devil, a redeeming psychopomp, an evasive trickster, and God’s reflection in physical nature."
"5. He is the reflection of a mystical experience of the artifex that coincides with the opus alchymicum. 6. As such, he represents on the one hand the Self & on the other the individuation process &, because of the limitless number of his names, also the collective unconscious."
"Mercurius is an adumbration of the primordial light-bringer, who is never himself the light, but…who brings the light of nature, the light of the moon and the stars which fades before the new morning light.”
His fiery aspect was sulfurous, active and masculine, and yet invisible and working in secret. He was the fire of hell, “a rearrangement of the heavenly, spiritual powers in the lower, chthonic world of matter,” found in the centre of the earth, in the dragon’s belly.
Jung continues, "The dragon in itself is a monstrum, a symbol combining the chthonic principle of the serpent and the aerial principle of the bird. It is a variant of Mercurius."
When the alchemist speaks of Mercurius, on the face of it he means quicksilver, but inwardly he means the world-creating spirit concealed or imprisoned in matter. The alchemist teach that the opus proceeds from the one & leads back to the one, a sort of circle like the Ouroborus.
Like a dragon biting its own tail, the opus (Great Work) was often called else rota (the wheel). Mercurius stands at the beginning and end of the work: he is the prima materia, the nigredo; as dragon he devours himself and as dragon he dies, to rise again as the lapis (stone).
"He is the hermaphrodite that was in the beginning, that splits into the classical brother-sister duality and is reunited in the coniunctio, to appear once again at the end in the radiant form of the Philosopher’s Stone. He is matter yet spirit, a symbol uniting all opposites.“
At the same time, he was “the universal and scintillating fire of the light of nature, which carries the heavenly spirit within it.” This fiery spiritual seed impregnated the Virgin, i.e. the feminine aspect of the hermaphroditic Mercurius.
Mercurius, or Hermes, is also synonymous with divine water, “the spirit of life, not only indwelling in all living things, but immanent in everything that exists.”
He is the “great south wind,”, originally a wind god, analogous to the Egyptian Thoth, who made the souls breathe.
As quicksilver, Mercurius was imagined as fluid and volatile, like water “that does not make the hands wet,” “that indefinable, fascinating, irritating, and elusive thing which attracts an unconscious projection".
Like the serpent of wisdom that encircles everything, Mercurius “has something of everything in herself.”.
As the World Soul, the mercurial serpent was said to impart “a life-giving power like a glue, holding the world together and standing in the middle between body and spirit”
He was present when the world was created; his role was to impregnate the waters with the seed of life. Although he bore the light that filled the whole world, he remained hidden and worked in secret.
For the Alchemists, Mercury was the fluid substance symbolizing the oscillating nature of the unconscious. In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung called Mercurius the ligament of the soul because it united the body with the spirit. He was the Messenger of the gods in this sense.
Saxons worshipped Hermes as the phallic spirit of the Hermeseul, or lrminsul, planted in the earth at the Mother-mount of Heresburg (Hera’s Mount). It is now known as Eresburg, a church of St. Peter stands where Hermes’s Sanctuary united the phallic principle with Mother Earth.
Other Germanic tribes worshipped Hermes under the name of Thot or Teutatis, “Father of Teutons.” Hermes-Mercury was the same as the Germanic All-Father Woden, which is why the Hermetic day, Wednesday, is Woden’s Day in English but Mercury’s Day in Latin.
The number four was especially sacred to Hermes. He was the liminal god of the crossroads (and thus of all boundaries, which he was allowed to cross with no restrictions), the four elements, the four seasons, the cardinal cross, the cross of incarnation (of spirit into matter).
The astrological symbol of Mercury is a Circle (Spirit) with a Cross of Matter, which is an expression of Logos, i.e. the word of God made flesh, crowned by a lunar crescent, tying him to the goddess.
In basic terms, Mercurius can be understood as the unconscious matrix itself, the cosmic Nous (Mind), or the spirit which appears in reality in differentiated form. The active, masculine aspect of Mercurius is Sol, the feminine and passive one is Luna.
As Jung explans, Mercurius is “a dark, latent, non-manifest side, the unconscious, whose presence can be known only by the light of consciousness”. To manifest itself, Mercurius needs other transformative substances, Salt and Sulphur being vital in this equation.
The Green Lion was viewed by alchemists as “a means of conjoining the tinctures between sun and moon.” Jung wrote that the green lion is actually Mercurius which symbolizes the deepest mystery of alchemy, which is hidden in the mercurial waters of the Collective Unconscious.