Notes to Poem:
Three Epiphanies of Gold

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: Epiphany is a Christian Feast Day celebrated on January 6 to commemorate the visitation of the Three Magi in Bethlehem. The word epiphany (from ancient Greek epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance") is the sudden realization or comprehension of the larger essence of something. The term is used in a philosophical sense that one has found the last piece of the puzzle and now sees the whole picture. While writing an essay for Kay Ryan's Stanford Poetry Workshop (February 23, 2010) on "Nonsense Rhymes in Mother Goose", I found a new gem in Mother Goose Rhyme #590— Go to bed first, / A golden purse; / Go to bed second, / A golden pheasant; / Go to bed third, / A golden bird." What I like about this rhyme is that no matter whether you go to bed first, second, or third— your reward is golden! Is that not the nature of sleep— for peace and silence are golden. Suddenly "gold" occupied my total attention. While Epiphany celebrates the Three King's gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense to the Christ Child, in this poem, the three epiphanies refer to an awakening for the chemist, astronomer, and philosopher, who may consider their revelatory gifts as golden. Thanks to Kay Ryan and Mother Goose, this poem was born.

Commentary to "Three Epiphanies of Gold"

Epiphany for the chemist— seeing Gold next to Mercury
in the Periodic Table of Elements— atomic numbers 79 and 80.

I recalled while reading the ancient texts of medieval alchemists and Taoist in my Cornell chemistry lab (circa 1967), that a common ingredient in their recipe to convert base metal to gold is quicksilver (mercury). I consulted the Periodic Table of Elements and found Gold, atomic number 79 next to Mercury, atomic number 80. It was a moment of epiphany— Gold is already inside of Mercury! Perhaps the alchemists were on to something by including quicksilver in their recipes to produce gold. The ancients didn't know that removing a proton, electron, and three neutrons would convert Mercury to Gold. (Transmutations of Mercury)

now feasible with nuclear fission or through fusion
by combining Tin with Copper to produce Gold.

Image: View inside of the linear accelerator of the Society for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany. Here, electrically charged atomic nuclei, for example of tin (atomic number 50), are accelerated to a speed 10% the speed of light (186,000 miles/second). Only then is the repulsive power of other atomic nuclei such as copper (atomic number 29) overcome, making fusion possible. The result would be a nucleus with 79 protons— Gold. (Photo source: Alexander Roob, Alchemy & Mysticism, Taschen, Köln, 1997, p. 33). How come physicists have not enriched themselves using fission of Mercury, or by fusion with Tin and Copper to make Gold. Unfortunately, the gold produced in this way would be radioactive.

Epiphany for the astronomer— seeing solar system's swiftest
named after the Roman god Mercury, our closest planet to the Sun—

In the Periodic Table of Elements, Gold (chemical symbol Au) is next to Mercury (chemical symbol Hg). It just dawned upon me that AuHg is an anagram for "A Hug". Looking at the Solar System, Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, so they are practically hugging each other. After my poem Sculpting Uncarved Block" that the planets orbiting our Sun are Roman or Greek deities, I realized that our swiftest planet and closest to the Sun, was named Mercury, the Roman mythological messenger of the gods. Mercury has a special perspective than the outer planets in seeing nothing but the sun's pure golden light! This is an epiphany for the astronomer.

No wonder Apollo traded his caduceus for Mercury's lyre
The caduceus is a short herald's staff entwined by two serpents in the form of a double helix, and surmounted by wings. It is also known as the Rod of Hermes, traditionally associated not with medicine but with trade and commerce. Hermes (Greek equivalent of the Roman Mercury) was the messenger of the gods. In Greek myth, Hermes stole the sun god Apollo's oxen. When Apollo discovered this, Hermes charmed him with a magic lyre and escaped punishment. Hermes gave the lyre to Apollo who in return gave him the caduceus that turned all it touched into gold. Hence Caduceus is connected with wealth and commerce. [Images "Mercury with caduceus" on ceiling mural Allegory of the Planets & Continents (1752) by Tiepolo (1696-1770), Würzburg Residence, Germany; "Apollo with lyre" (1640) by Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest]

nine muses on Mount Parnassus
Mount Parnassus is a mountain of limestone in central Greece that towers above Delphi, north of the Gulf of Corinth, and offers scenic views of the surrounding olive groves and countryside. According to Greek mythology, this mountain was sacred to Apollo and the Corycian nymphs, and the home of the Muses. As the home of the Muses, Parnassus became known as the home of poetry, music, and learning. Parnassus was also the home of Pegasus, the winged horse of Bellerophon.
(Image Source: Raphael's Parnassus (1510), Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican Museum).

And now nine planets circle the Sun to music of the spheres and Mercury
is conducting with his caduceus for within his orbit is pure golden light.

Music of the Spheres originated with the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (580-500 BC)— "There is geometry in the humming of the strings. There is music in the spacings of the spheres." Pythagoras taught his disciples meditation so they could hear music of the planetary spheres. Modern musicians have tried to capture this celestial harmony on records and CDs (BBC; Kepler; Harmony of the World CD). According to Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the connection between sacred geometry, cosmology, astrology, harmonics, and music is through musica universalis. Is it coincidental that on the microscopic scale, Gold is next to Mercury as atoms, and on the macroscopic scale, the Sun is next to Mercury the planet? Mercury's caduceus can turn things to gold. So as a symphony conductor, he waves his winged wand, and all he sees is pure golden light that is the Sun. [Image: The ideal final state of material is achieved when the elements are arranged according to their density (from outside to inside) Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. In the center appears Sun, Gold. from Robert Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi, Volume I, Oppenheim, 1617]. [Source: Alexander Roob, Alchemy & Mysticism, Taschen, Köln, (1997), p. 106]

Epiphany for the philosopher— seeing we're not the temporal
mercurial body aging and dying but the eternal sun-like soul
in its resplendent beauty and glory—

A similar epiphany for the philosopher is seeing that we're not the temporal mercurial body aging and dying, but the eternal sun-like soul in its resplendent glory. Plotinus (204-270 AD) advises the spiritual aspirant to chisel away our inner statue as a way to purify ourselves, and writes in The Enneads, I.6.9. (250 AD): "Never did eye see the sun unless it had first become sunlike, and never can the soul have vision of the First Beauty unless itself be beautiful." The Hindu Vedantic sage Ramana Maharshi would remind us of the Mandukya Upanishad (circa 500 BC) on the fourth state of consciousness turiya that is our true essence. Joseph Campbell in explaining this idea to Bill Moyers on PBS's Power of Myth used AUM to represent our three states of consciousness— A (waking), U (dream), M (deep sleep). Yogis chanting OM or AUM to experience enlightenment finally realize the fourth state turiya is the silence between the AUM's. It took me awhile to realize this insight through the example of H2O as the essence of ice, liquid, and vapor. Likewise silence is the substratum out of which arises the waking, dream, and deep sleep states. Since "silence is golden", our true Self is golden!
(Image: William Blake, Glad Day (1794), British Museum, London, Blake's Notebook).

finding the Uncarved Block of Taoists, the Philosopher's Stone of alchemists,
to change lead to gold— that the elixir is not in a cavern deep inside the earth

The Taoists sought the Uncarved Block and the Alchemists searched for the Philosopher's Stone as the Elixir to convert lead to gold. It then occurred to me that true Gold is the Pure Cosmic Consciousness within us. Anaïs Nin in her The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume Five (1947-1955), writes about her experiment with LSD (pp. 255-262): "I looked at the curtains of the room and they turned to a gauzy gold. The walls turned to gold, the bedcover was gold, my whole body was becoming GOLD, liquid gold, scintillating, warm gold, I WAS GOLD. It was the most pleasurable sensation I had ever known, like an orgasm. It was the secret of life, the alchemist's secret of life." [Image: Michael Maier's Atalanta Fugiens (1617), Emblema XII: "The Stone that Saturn vomitted up after having devoured it in place of his son Jupiter has been placed on the Helicon ... For this Stone of Saturn is Chemical."]

but within ourself is the Golden Bough
beyond waking, dreams, and deep sleep,
is our true essence, the Self that is golden.

This is the Great Work of alchemical transformation. With continual inner work on ourselves, we find that the Philosopher's Stone is not a rare elixir buried in some remote cavern but within us. The Golden Bough (1890) is a book by James Frazier (1854-1941) subtitled "A Study in Magic and Religion". The book cover (image) is from J.M.W. Turner's painting of The Golden Bough (1834) inspired by Virgil's Aeneid (19 BC) of a tree branch with golden leaves that allowed Aeneas to pass through the underworld safely to see his dead father Anchises (Book VI.98-155). Golden Bough may refer to the "Spinal Column Tree" within us as we ascend the seven chakras (wheel centers) to our heads's crown chakra, the thousand-petalled lotus of golden light, the halo around Buddha and Christ (Notes). Mother Goose Rhyme #590 provides another insight that our reward for going to sleep is golden. Since peace and silence are golden, we experience this golden treasure each night in sleep. Ramana Maharshi says "Sleep is not ignorance; it is your pure state. Wakefulness is not knowledge; it is ignorance. There is full awareness in sleep; there is total ignorance in waking. Your real nature covers both, and extends beyond. The Self is beyond knowledge and ignorance. Sleep, dream, and waking are only modes passing before the Self... Deep sleep is nothing but the experience of pure being... Turiya is only another name for the Self. Aware of the waking, dream, and sleep states, we remain unaware of our own Self. Nevertheless the Self is here and now, it is the only Reality. There is nothing else." [Talks with Ramana Maharshi (January 2, 1937), p. 274; (January 28, 1939), p. 580; (February 8, 1937), p. 320]. When we realize that our true essence is eternal, we find our Self to be golden.

                                                                        — Peter Y. Chou
                                                                            Mountain View, 3-8-2010

| Top of Page | Three Epiphanies of Gold | Poems 2010 | Haikus 2010 |
| Poetry Day | Basho on Poetry | CPITS | Books | A-Z Portals | Home |

© Peter Y. Chou, Wisdom Portal
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (3-8-2010)