Matthieu Merian (1593-1650),
Tree of the Soul (engraving)
from Philosophia Reformata (1622)

The Dove in Alchemy

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Tree of the Soul
Engraving by
Matthieu Merian (1593-1650),
from Philosophia Reformata (1622)
by Johan Daniel Mylius (1585-1628)
Reprint Musaeum Hermeticum (1625)
Adam McLean,
The Alchemical Mandala,
Phanes Press, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989, pp. 70-72

This engraving shows a mandala centered upon the Tree of the Soul, beneath which an old philosopher is instructing a young knight. They raise their left hands in greeting, indicating the esoteric purpose of their meeting (the left being the 'sinister' side of mystical and hidden things). This philosopher is the Wise Old within us all, while the Young Man is the explorative, investigative aspect of the soul that seeks enlightenment and quests after the wisdom of the spirit. The Old Man leans upon a staff, representing his long experience, while the Young Man, as if a knight on the quest, bears a sword, a weapon of the intellect, to arm him on his exploration. Between these two figures stands the Soul Tree, bearing the Sun, Moon and the five planets [shown as 6-pointed stars]. This is the realm which the being of the alchemist must penetrate, the seven spheres of the planetary forces in the soul which he must traverse and integrate. He must also bring together the King and the Queen archetypes of the male and female forces in the soul, as well as the Four Elements: Earth, and the Fire breathing salamander, on the left; and Water, and Air represented by the bird, on the right.
    Around the Tree we see the most important aspect of this mandala, a representation of the inner process which takes place in seven stages:
    The 1st stage is a death/nigredo where the soul bird [dove] is seen perched upon a skull. Thus a death/nigredo stands at the beginning of the work, and a separation occurs between the soul and the body in the process.
    At the 2nd stage the soul bird gazes at its reflection in the dead earth realm. Through the nigredo, those facets of the husk of the old soul forces that have died are transformed and mirror back to the soul an essence of its being.
    In the 3rd stage, two soul birds descend and begin to raise the dead essence of the soul in the form of the bird corpse. They raise the essence of the soul that is anchored in the earth realm towards the higher spiritual realm.
    At the 4th stage a turning point is reached when the dead corpse of the soul element, anchored in the earth realm, is spiritualized into a crown. The soul birds which can soar within the alchemist's being to the highest spiritual sphere are useless to his consciousness unless they can incarnate this spirit in a material form. Here they have transformed the dead skull of the first stage, through the bird-corpse, into a crown. This crown is brought into the lower regions of the soul by the polarized forces of the two soul birds that have been operating through this central part of the process.
    During the 5th stage it is planted in the earth of the soul and begins to grow. Here the spiritual poetentialities in the crown begin to reveal themselves as a living presence in the soul.
    The 6th stage sees the formation of the two Soul Tinctures, the Red (Solar) Tincture represented by the rose blossoms, and the White (Lunar) Tincture represented by the Unicorn. These tinctures or Stones are the permanent incarnation within the soul of the archetypal spiritual energies.
    Finally, the 7th stage is reached with the resurrection of the body, here seen as a female figure. The alchemist returns to full consciousness in the body, bearing within the essence of the process. As this passive weaving of these tinctures into the being of the alchemist reflects a feminine aspect of the process, the alchemist is represented in female form. We note the polarities of the stages:

Four: Elevation to the Spirit and creation of the Crown
Three: raising of the corpse<--> Five: descent & planting of the seed
Two: mirroring of the soul<--> Six: Soul Tinctures
Death/Nigredo<--> Seven: Resurrection

Pandora Series: Emblem 14
by Hieronymus Reusner
Basel, 1582 (reprint 1588)
[Auction of 1st Edition: 13,000 Euros]

Imbibition of the body. Above a shield, which bears the picture of a crowned woman supporting Christ crucified as a double-headed eagle (as in the previous emblem), a Christ figure holding an orb labelled 'corpus', places a crown on the head of a woman, labelled 'anima'. Beside them an old man or Father figure, labelled 'sapientia' watches. From above the winged dove of the Holy Spirit descends, bearing the label 'terra'. At the four corners stand the winged symbols of the Evangelists, The eagle of John, the lion of Mark, the bull of Luke and the man or angel of Matthew.

Commentary on Emblem 14 of Pandora by Edward F. Edinger
The Pandora picture of "A Mirror Image of the Holy Family" is very important. It contains in a nutshell, the essence of alchemy and its relation to Christian symbolism; and of course alchemy was born in relation to Christian symbolism, as Jung tells us in his introduction to Psychology and Alchemy. Alchemy served as a kind of counterbalance or compensation for the Christian standpoint prevailing on the conscious level. The Pandora picture is titled in Latin and in German, ""A Mirror Image of the Holy Family". To start with, let's just look at it and see what it shows us. First of all, it's an approximate square— quadrilateral— and the four corners are occupied by the symbols of the four evanelists: eagle, symbol of John; lion, symbol of Mark; ox, symbol of Luke; and the angel, symbol of Matthew. The symbol of the evangelists in the four corners is characteristic of all Christian mandalas and quaternities. In the center section we have a second quaternity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost as a dove, and Mary, crowned as the Queen of Heaven.
    In the lower section of the picture there's a shieldlike outline, and pictured in that shield is a lump of matter. From this lump, a crowned and haloed figure pulls out a monstrous creature. The monster also has a haloed human head; it has snakes for arms, wings and the body of a fish. Here's what Jung says in paragraph 238 about this picture:
    Underneath the coronation scene is a kind of shield between the emblems of Matthew and Luke,
    on which is depicted the extraction of Mercurius from the prima materia. The extracted spirit appears
    in monstrous form: the head is surrounded by a halo, and reminds us of the traditional head of Christ,
    but the arms are snakes and the lower half of the body resembles a stylized fish tail. This is without
    doubt the anima mundi who has been freed from the shackles of matter, the filiius macrocosmi
    [son of the great world] or Mercurius-Anthropos, who, because of his double nature, is not only
    spiritual and physical but unites himself the morally highest and lowest. The illustration in Pandora
    points to the great secret which the alchemists dimly felt was implicit in the Assumption. The proverbial
    darkness of sublunary matter has always been associated with the "prince of this world", the devil.

    To my mind, the striking thing about this picture is the image of the birth of the monster out of the lump of matter. It is describing the essence of the alchemical transformation process, and it's shocking to find it represented in this form. It's as though the lower procedure on earth, in which this monster is being pulled out of the lump, parallels or even brings about the Assumption and Coronation of Mary in heaven. That's what so shocking about the juxtaposition of these two images. And the fact that the whole picture is in the form of a classical Christian mandala, with the symbols of the four evangelists in the corners, suggests to me that we are dealing with the total Christian Weltanschauung.
    It's interesting, the thoughts that pop into one's head— the idea I just had was that this foreign body of the alchemical transformation process that we find occupying the center of the Christian mandala is like a cuckoo's egg that's been laid in somebody else's nest. It's been laid in the nest of the Christian mandala and something unexpected is going to hatch out of it!
    I think it signifies that the central myth and God-image of the Western psyche, by virtue of this alchemical process that's been inserted into it, is giving birth to a new entity. It signifies the emergence in the modern psyche of science and materialism on the one hand, and the discovery of the unconscious and the process of individuation on the other. The original form of the Christian mandala had the Trinity in the center, but this one, because of the addition of Mary, has a quaternity. Earth and materiality, the principle of egohood and coagulatio, has gained a representation in heaven, in the archetypal realm.
    In addition to depicting that abstract fact, the picture also shows us a representation of the earthly process which brings about the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. That process begins with a lump of crude matter— that's what we've got here, a lump— and, as Jung says in the passage I read, that's the prima materia. If I try to make that a little more explicit, I think we could say that this lump signifies all the problematic, "lumpy" realities of incarnated existence. Every hard, disagreeable fact we stumble up against, from within or from without, can be thought of as part of this lump.
    I don't know any better summary description of that lumpiness than the one Shakespeare ives us in Hamlet. Hamlet protested vigorously against incarnated existence. He didn't want to be coagulated. He was the one who said, "Oh, that this too too stolid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew!" (Act I, Scene 2). This is how Shakespeare describes the lump:
        The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,...
        The whips and scorns of time,
        Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
        The pangs of disprisz'd love, the law's delay,
        The insolence of office, and the spurns
        That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,...
        [Leaving us]
        To grunt and sweat under a weary life.
        (Act III, Scene 1)
Now out of this lump a bizarre creature is being pulled by a crowned and haloed figure. What should we understand this figure to represent? My suggestion is that we might call it the Christified ego. What I mean by that is an ego functioning under the aegis of the Self, the crown and halo being symbols of the Self, of wholeness. And if that line of thought is right, then the ego is doing on earth what Christ is doing in heaven. Christ in heaven— in the archetypal realm— is crowning the Virgin Mary; there, the principle of materiality and egohood is being glorified. But on earth, the task of realizing that glorification is taking place through the redemption and transformation of concrete personal existence by the individuating ego; in other words, by an ego that's consciously living out the process of continuing incarnation.
    That leaves us then with one more figure to explain: the monstrous creature being extracted from the lump. We know that the alchemists meant this picture to represent the extraction of Mercurius, and Jung says that this monstrous creature represents the anima mundi who has been freed from the shackles of matter, the filius macrocosmi, or Mercurius-Anthropos.
    The more chemical, literal-minded alchemists thought of this procedure quite concretely as representing the extraction of the metal quicksilver from its ore. By heating mercury ore, you can sublimate and extract mercury from it; that's the chemical image that lies behind this idea.
    One way of seeing the image psychologically is that is corresponds to the extraction of the autonomous spirit from concrete events. For instance, discovering the meaning of a mood or an unconscious obstacle, a problem or distress of some kind. Extracting meaning from any manifestation of the lump releases the autonomous spirit, Mercurius, from its concrete imprisonment in matter.
    In simplest terms, this monstrous creature is a picture, as seen from below, of the emergence of the Self. On the other hand, the quaternity, represented by this picture and by what's going on in heaven, is a representation of the emergent Self as seen from above. Symbolic images of the Self, such as this quaternity-creating one of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary and her entrance into heaven, are beautiful, grand and numinous. But the living experience of the Self is very different indeed. The living experience of the Self is a monstrosity. It's a coming together of opposites that appalls the ego and exposes it to anguish, demoralization and violation of all reasonable considerations. That's natural and reasonable and normal. This is how the Coronation of the Virgin in heaven looks from the standpoint of the limited, earthbound ego— it looks like the emergence of a monstrosity out of a lump.
    There's another way one might put it. You could say that the Pandora picture illustrates, from two levels simultaneously, the process of transformation of God. You see, that's the essential meaning of the alchemical transformation process. In various texts, veiled in one way or another, the prima materia that was to undergo transformation was identified as God. So on the upper level, God is transformed by the entrance of the feminine element, which changes the Trinity into a quaternity. On the lower level the ego, in the service of that transformation process, is transforming its concrete life into a part of the divine drama. It thereby becomes an example of the continuing incarnation, and promotes the glorification of the materiality principle as it is represented in the upper layer of thee picture.
    Question: Would you repeat that last sentence?
    Well, what I was saying was that the Pandora picture illustrates the process of the transformation of God from two levels simultaneously— the upper level and the lower level. And where the ego lives its life— its concrete, personal, nitty-gritty, lumpy life— that's all to be found inside this shield structure. That's where we live. But in the course of that living, if consciousness is being created, that living is bringing about the divine drama that's going on up above, where the quaternity is being created out of the Trinity.
— Edward F. Edinger, The Mysteriium Lectures
     A Journey through C.G. Jung'sMysterium Coniunctionis
     Inner City Books, Toronto, 1995, pp. 132-137

Noah's Dove in Alchemy:

Noah's dove with the olive branch, a messenger pigeon, and above them the dove of the Holy Ghost "with 24 pentecostal flames or fiery tongues of the spirits of the letter. Three doves, then, indicating the threefold spirit— of God, of nature, of art." (G. Gichtel)

— Jacob Boehme,
Theosophische Werke
Amsterdam, 1682
from Alexander Roob,
Alchemy and Mysticism
English translation:
Shaun Whiteside, London
Taschen, Köln, 1997, p. 355
Illustration source:
Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

Noah's Dove & Blessed Greeness:
I keep a permanent marker her in Jung's Mysterium (paragraphs 622-653). I call it the "blessed greeness" page, and whenever a dream comes up involve the color green, I take that page out and read it. If you are on the alert for it, you'll find green dreams do come up every now and again, usually when the ego is in a state of blackness. Jung's beautiful remarks help to penetrate such blackness, as does Emily Dickinson in "Hope Is the Thing with Feathers" [Poem #254]:
        Hope is the thing with feathers
        That perches in the soul
        And sings the tune without the words
        And never stops at all.

The Shulamite continues (paragraph 624):
    But I must be like a dove with wings, and I shall come
    and be free at vespertime, when the waters of impurity     are abated, with a green olive leaf;

This refers to the account of Genesis 8.10-11 when the flood waters are starting to abate, where we read:
    And Noah stayed yet other seven days; and again
    he sent forth the dove out of the ark; And the dove
    came in to him in the evening; and lo, in her mouth
    was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that
    the waters were abated from off the earth.
You remember that the text began with a reference to a Noah's flood. This whole text has as its basic psychological reference an inundation by the unconscious, which corresponds to Noah's flood. Now when the inner greenness has been discovered from out of the blackness, the Shulamite speaks of being like Noah's dove, with the green olive leaf in her mouth. The Shulamite has been transformed into the dove of the Holy Ghost, or the dove of Aphrodite; those are two aspects of the same thing. She is a bringer of good tidings, green good tidings. She is "the thing with feathers", the green-feathered one, bringing good tidings to the beleaguered alchemist who is in the position of Noah in his ark, hoping that maybe the waters are finally abating and there's going to be some respite. The olive branch signifies that the flood is over and God's covenant, with its rainbow, is about to come. The nekyia, or inundation from the unconscious, is over.
— Edward F. Edinger
    The Mysteriium Lectures
    A Journey through C.G. Jung's
    Mysterium Coniunctionis
    Inner City Books, Toronto, 1995, p. 269

Dove in the Grail Legend
Merlin, in the poem of that name [13th century], says of the Grail:
    All these men call this vessel
    from which they have this grace— the Grail.

In Wolfram, the wishing character is particularly clear. Of the Host,
which on every Good Friday is placed on the stone (that is, the Grail) by a dove, it is said:
    From that the stone derives
    whatever good fragrances
    of drink and food there are on earth,
    like to the perfection of Paradise.
    I mean all things the earth may bear.

The motif of the phoenix and the stone in Wolfram therefore links
the image of the Grail with ideas of a decidedly alchemical nature.
It has been further surmised that the conception of the Grail as a
stone arose through some confusion over the figure of the stone table—
or because the Grail had been imagined as a sort of portable altar on
which the Host brought by the dove was laid. This conception of the stone
as an altar paten associates it once again with the stone used to close
Christ's sepulchre. According to Eastern legends this was said to be
the same stone struck by Moses in the desert to provide water for the
children of Israel (Exodus 17:6; I. Corinthians 10:4).
The alchemists compared it to their lapis. Thus the Aurora consurgens
describes the lapis as a treasure house "founded upon a sure rock."
This rodk "cannot be split unless it be smitten three times with the rod
of Moses, that waters may flow forth in great abundance, that all the
people both men and women drink thereof."
— Emma Jung & Marie-Louise von Franz, The Grail Legend
     Sigo Press, Boston, 2nd Ed., 1986, pp. 118, 153

Dove in the Splendor Solis
The Splendor Solis is one of the most beautiful of illuminated alchemical manuscripts. The earliest version, considered to be that now in the Kupferstichkabinett in the Prussian State Museum in Berlin, is dated 1532-35. The work itself consists of a sequence of 22 elaborate images, set in ornamental borders and niches. In a new edition of Splendor Solis— The Splendor of the Sun, Joscelyn Godwin has translated the text from the original German. Also included are reproductions of the 22 engravings from the German edition of 1709 with commentary by Adam McLean.
Fourth Treatise (Plate 13): Second, a heat is needed by whose power all darkness is expelled from the earth, and all is lit up. Senior's maxim on this is "The heat makes everything white, and every shite thing red." Just as the water also whitens, the fire also illuminates. Then through the tincturing spirit of the fire the color irradiates the subtilized earth like a ruby. Of such Socrates says: "You will behold a wondrous light in the darkness."
Illustration 13: The Second Stage— Commentary by Adam McLean
In the next stage we see that the Young Man/Dragon forces have been completely digested and transformed into three birds, which peck at each other in a never-ending antipathy. These three birds, colored red, white and black, are three facets which have separated out from the initial substance of illustration 12. They are the Salt, Sulphur and Mercury of the soul, and also correspond to the three stages in alchemy: Nigredo (Blackness), Albedo (Whitening), and Rubedo (Reddening). Their bird nature indicates their ability to fly freely within the flask, rising and falling in turn. The Red Bird in the soul is the expansive fiery energies that dart here and there and are difficult to tie down or hold still. The Black Bird of the soul is that inert, dark realm of stagnated decaying material into which one's memories, old perceptions and habits must dissolve and be broken down. The White Bird [Dove of Peace?] tries to mediate between these two realms within our being that are constantly battling for the soul's contents. Thus with this second stage we have separation, an awareness of the three principles in the soul, although these are still at this early stage unintegrated, antagonized and at war with each other.
— Salomon Trismosin's Splendor Solis
     translated by Joscelyn Godwin
     Phanes Press, Grand Rapids, MI, 1991, pp. 46-47,

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P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: peter(at) (11-25-2006)