Theosophische Darstellung zur Alchemie from the Deutsche Fotothek Theosophie & Alchemie Leonhardt Thurneysser zum Thurn, 1574. US Pubkic Domina Wikimedia
Theosophische Darstellung zur Alchemie from the Deutsche Fotothek Theosophie & Alchemie Leonhardt Thurneysser zum Thurn, 1574. US public domain, wikimedia

What follows are a few passages from Basilius Valentinus who was a 15th-century alchemist. The text is titled ‘Of the Spirit of Mercury‘. This work was cited in 1941 by Archibald Cockren in Alchemy Rediscovered and Restored.

These passage provides some insight into the nature of the divine spirit as seen in the eyes of an alchemist, as well as a metaphor for the the spiritual task of of the human being:

‘Wherefore I now say, that all visible, tangible things are made of the Spirit of Mercury, which excels all earthly things of the whole world, all things being made out of it, having their Off-spring only from it; for all is found therein which can perform all whatsoever the Artist desires to find; It is the beginning to operate Metals, when it is become a spiritual Essence, which is meer Air flying to and fro without wings; it is a moving wind, which after it is expelled its dwelling by Vulcan, it is driven into its Chaos, where it again enters, and resolves itself into the Elements, where it is elevated and attracted by the Sydereal Stars after a Magnetical manner unto themselves, out of love, whence he proceeded before, and was operated because it affects its like again, and attracts it to it.


Valentinus goes on to discuss the alchemical relationship between matter and spiritual, stating that this is a truth that is available only to the ‘learned’:

‘And that I may further declare what is the Essence, Matter and Form of the Spirit of Mercury, I say, that its Essence is blessed, its Matter spiritual, and its Form earthly, which yet must be understood by an incomprehensible way; these are indeed harsh expressions, many will think, thy Proposals are all vain, strange Effusions, raising wonderful Imaginations, and true it is that they are strange, and require strange people to understand these Sayings; it is not written for Peasants, how they should grease Cart-wheels, nor is it written unto those who have no knowledge of the Art, though they be never so learned, or think themselves so; for I only account them Learned, who next unto Gods Word, learn to know Earthly things, which must be pondered and judged by the Understanding, founded upon a true Knowledge, to distinguish Light from Darkness, who choose that which is good, and reject the evil.

Next, Valentinus tells us that the divine spirit is infused into the elements:

‘It is needless for you to know what the beginning of this Spirit of Mercury requires, because it can in no wise help nor advantage you, only take notice of this, that its beginning is supernatural, out of the Celestial, Sydereal and Elementary, bestowed on it from the beginning of the first Creation, that it may enter further into an Earthly Substance. But because this is necessary which hath been declared to you, leave the Celestial to the Soul, apprehend it by Faith, and let the Sydereal likewise alone, because these Sydereal Impressions are invisible and intangible, the Elements have already brought forth the Spirit perfect into the world by the Nutriment, therefore let that alone likewise; for man cannot make the Elements, but only the Creator, and remain by thy made Spirit which is already formal and unformal, tangible and intangible, and yet is presented visibly.

So have you enough of the first Matter, out of which all Metals and Minerals grow, and is one only thing, and such a matter which unites itself with the Sulphur in the following Chapter, and enters into a Coagulation with the Salt of the first Chapter, that it may be one Body, and a perfect Medicine of all Metals, not only to bring forth in the Earth at the beginning, as in the great World, but also by help of the vaporous Body to transmute and change, together with the augmentation in the lesser World: Let not this seem strange to you, seeing the Most High hath permitted, and Nature undertaken it.

Valentinus goes on to describe the spiritual seed, and how the Spirit moved upon the water to give rise to creation:

‘Now how the Archaeus operates further by the Spirit of Mercury in the Earth, or Veins of the Earth, take this Advice, that after the spiritual Seed is formed by the impression of the Stars from above, and fed by the Elements, it is a Seed, and turns itself into a Mercurial Water, as first of all the great World was made of nothing, for when the Spirit moved upon the Water, the Celestial Heat must needs raise a Life in the cold waterish and earthly Creatures; in the great World it was Gods Power, and the Operation of the Celestial Lights; in the little World it is likewise Gods Power, and the Operation to work into the Earth by his Divine and Holy Breath.

Valentinus then tells us that the creation of ‘the Almighty ‘provides an opportunity for each of us to fulfill the works. The work appears to be “to bring forth by the Lights of Heaven, as also an internal Heat, to warm and digest that which was too cold for the Earth”. Here the metaphor is spiritual digestion: we must digest that which is cold and that which is moist.

Moreover the Almighty gave and Ordained means to accomplish it, that one Creature had obtained power to operate in the other, and the one to help and assist the other, to perform and fulfil all the Works of the Lord; and so an influence was permitted the Earth to bring forth by the Lights of Heaven, as also an internal Heat, to warm and digest that which was too cold for the Earth, by reason of its humidity, as unto every Creature a peculiar fashion according to its kind; so that a subtile sulphurous Vapour is stirred up by the Starry Heaven, not the common, but another more clarified and pure Vapour, distinct from others, which unites itself with the Mercurial Substance; by whose warm property, in process of time, the superfluous Moisture is dryed up, and then when the soulish property comes to it, which gives a preservation to the Body and Balsam, operating first into the Earth by a spiritual and sydereal influence, then are Metals generated of it, as it pleaseth the Mixture of the three Principles, the Body being formed according as it assumes unto it the greatest part of those three.”

To add to this are the words of Alexander von Suchten, from the ‘Blessed Casket of Nature’s Marvels’ by Benedictus Figulus. Here we find that the waters of life are the teachers, and so we learn from that which is ‘moist.’

‘The primary matter of man and the primary matter of the great world are one and the same thing. But this primary matter of the world and of man is a Crystalline Water of which Holy Writ says “Before God created Heaven and Earth, the Spirit of the Lord brooded over the waters.” This water became a primary matter of both. But where remains the Spirit of the Lord, which brooded over the waters, after the two worlds, i.e. heaven and earth, and man had been created from the same? I reply, in the primary matter of man and of the world, God who is Perfection, has wished to dwell in Man. But here the following question might be put; how did man know–since the primary matter of man and the world is a crystalline water–how could man know whether the Spirit of the Lord had remained in this primary matter of the world, or of man? I reply, he knew it by the Art of Water, for Water was his teacher. This teacher shewed him how the world dies, how the Spirit departs from it, how the body is without spirit, the spirit without body. He saw how the spirit returns to the body, and the body revives. He saw by the decay of the world that it did not become again what it had been before. Hence it became plain to him that God dwells not in that which passes away, but in that which is eternal.”


4 thoughts on “The Spirit of Mercury

  1. Sounds to me like the steps of a chemical reaction. Alchemists often veiled their methods using religious imagery,to avoid detection from the church and uninitiated. Of course you can read whatever you want into it.

    1. From one perspective it is simple chemistry. From another perspective it is the ancient teachings veiled in symbol and image so as to hide from the persecutions of Christendom. From another, it is psychic projection into matter. From yet another, it is the secret steps used transform the earthly soul into the eternal body.

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