Alchemical Mercury is an all consuming subject. We could never read, write or say enough about it. In fact, this whole Great Work is concerned with nothing other than the various stages of this all-pervading substance in manifestation. Because it encompasses so much in the writings of philosophers, we must consider it piecemeal, and taken in contexts.
First, there is the Universal Mercury, though it is commonly referred to as just Mercury in the many writings. This is the Universal First Matter, AIN SUPh AUR, the electro-magnetic radiant energy/substance equally diffused throughout eternal space, and the sole ‘matter’ with which all parts of the entire physical universe is composed. Devoid the first-hand experiential knowledge of this Universal Subconscious Mind-Matter/Energy, which manifests to our inner senses as various crystalline fogs, any experiments we may read or hear about in the name of True Alchemy should not even be attempted. The First Matter and some of its most common names are discussed at length throughout this site and need not be elaborated upon again here. Cross reference with ARGENT VIVE, WHITE MAGNESIA, EARTH and AIN SUPh AUR for more descriptions of Prima Materia.
A second investigation of Mercury is considered under one of the Three Principles: Mercury, Sulphur and Salt. This is still to be considered the First Matter; there is essentially no difference between Prima Materia and the Mercury Principle. Under the three principles, however, Mercury is now referred to as a specialized sub-mode of it. Its mode is Intelligence within the One-Matter. Mercury is the mode of Light/Intelligence; Sulphur the mode of Life/Fire; and Salt the mode of Embodiment/Substance. All three are combined within Universal Mercury. The Bhagavad-Gita names the principles the three Gunas (modes) of Material Nature. Yogis name Sattva Guna for the Mercury principle. To those whom Our God has granted vision of the Matter suggest it is the Mercury principle within it that bestows unconditional love and knowledge upon the blessed recipient. In Qabalah the Mercury-Air mode is assigned to Kether on the Tree of Life. Sulphur-Fire is attributed to Chokmah, and Salt-Water is assigned to Binah. All three Supernals compose the make-up of the First Matter within Earth, AIN SUPh AUR, the lowermost of the three Veils of the Absolute. The luminous quality in Mercury, and Kether, gives reason for the various other names of the Crown as First Light, Hidden Light, Inner Light and the Simple Light. Kether is always represented as a Pure White Brilliance and called the Crown because it is the first ruling principle on the Tree, of the Supernals, and Principles.
The action of Mercury within the First Matter, and within us, evolves Consciousness. Combined with the drive of Desire in Sulphur the two modes may bring us to enlightenment. Sulphur and Mercury is the Rose and Lily of the Art, coined Lilium Artis by Paracelsus, and described as the 'Rose of Sharon' and the 'Lily of the Valley' in the Song of Songs. True desire for union eventually activates the two nerve currents Ida and Pingala (additional names to those above) within the Saturn Chakra, our Metal Lead. In alchemy these currents are referred to as Red Wine and White Wine, or hinted by any other guises under Red and White. In this connection with Mercury as one of the three principles, see SATTVA GUNA.
A third consideration of Mercury may be taken as the metal or planetary force center. As such it is hinted being the Mercury or Crown Chakra of the alchemists, called the Sahasrara Chakra by Yogis. In the writings of genuine alchemists this interior planet is referred to as 'Our Mercury.' It governs faculties that give us mental alertness, concentration, and accurate discrimination when it is brought into balance. It is an even finer specialization of the First Matter, which is reason for its alter name, Crown Chakra, after Kether. Since Kether is the principle ruling power in the Macrocosm, atop the Tree, the interior Mercury Planet is the Crown Prince in us, the Microcosm. It is of the same essence, “as above, so below,” and is the center that aids Operation of the Sun and Moon when the Crown is brought into harmony and its spiritual energy is sublimated. As with all the planets or metals, Our Mercury contains within it, again, the Three Principles, Mercury, Sulphur and Salt. Every interior metal has the Three Principles within it. Sulphur is the key. Sulphur combined with its own Mercury in ‘Our Mercury’ produces an intellect that is desirous to evolve the mind. The mind seeks Wisdom, the Divine Pymander. In the worst cases, when Mercury is steeped in its own Salt, it promotes the tendency to over-think; lack of clarity and concentration; indecision; laziness; scheming in self-serving purposes and all conducts of intellectual servitude that tend to keep one from knowing our Inner Lord. These expressions give rise to Alchemical Quicksilver, the lower expressions of the intellectual Metal ever flitting about from one scheme or another in an endless search of selfish objectives to feed a bloated, separative ego out of control.
Mentioned earlier, the Mercury principle within the Metal promotes intelligence, and the combination of the principles Mercury and Sulphur (Cinnabar) may bring enlightenment. To turn the desirous, Sulphurous action away from Salt toward union with its Mercury Principle within Quicksilver in effect directs the mind to pursue a higher, conscious participation toward evolution. This is taking up the Great Work, aiding the Sun and Moon toward a conscious reunion with God. In the Tarot, Planet Mercury is assigned to the Magician. The Magician is conscious intellect, who arranges the four elements on the table into useful combinations. On the Cube of Space Qabalists tell us the Magician occupies the Top face. The four surrounding edges are primarily functions of the self-conscious mind.
A fourth and final definition for Mercury to be treated here is Philosophical Mercury. This is the function of the conscious intellect alchemists refer to as the Fire of Reason and is, therefore, given another title, Philosophical Fire. It is also called Animated Mercury. Philosophical Mercury or Fire, and Animated Mercury, in the words of the alchemists, are all exactly the same. At first it may be confusing to equate planet Mercury and the metal Quicksilver to the fire element. Much confusion is deliberate with the classical authors. But we must remember the dictum from the Emerald Tablet:
“And as all things are from One, by the mediation of One, so all things have their birth from this One thing by adaptation.”
Philosophical Mercury is an adaptation of Cosmic Fire. On the Tree sphere eight, Hod, is also called the sphere of Mercury. Hod is positioned beneath Geburah and its Mars fire. The fiery influence from that Sephirah descends into Hod via the watery path of Mem (see M, MEM). This is the first fiery influx. A second surge of solar fire descends through the twenty-sixth path and letter AYIN. The sixth sphere of the Sun is called בן, ben, Son. This is Christ, and the ONE-EGO of collective humanity, conscious union with whom is the goal of Alchemy. The Ego is already in union with AB, the Father, Chokmah, called the Root of Fire by Qabalists. These two fire spheres AB and BEN already united form אבן, ehben, Stone. Our sublimated Mercury, Sublime Reason, the Divine Pymander, is the Philosophical Mercury used to restore the King to His rightful Throne. “Dissolution through Philosophical Mercury” is mediation, simply, and right use of the knowledge gained thereby. One quotation in Part I from the Secret Symbols sums it up nicely:
"By keeping up a continual fire and regulating its action the Materia Universalis is putrefied, regenerated and perfected within one vessel and furnace. Nature herself does the work by means of her own inward Fire; but the latter is stimulated by the Philosophical Fire. No other work is required from the Alchemist, to perform, but to keep up the Fire by Aspiration and Prayer."1
Philosophical Mercury (or Philosophical Fire) is a function of the Metal (and the astrological Planet Mercury, the self-conscious mind), which contains the Mercury Principle, one of Three Principles within the lower Metal, and also in the Universal Mercury. All are an aspect (or sub-mode) of One Thing. At first reading all this seem very confusing, but persist! These mere pages in no wise approach this vast topic. Reread the works of the Masters and Sages again and again, referring to these pages in the interim, and we may, by His Grace, be drawn closer to the Vast Limitless Expanse, AIN SUPh AUR, and the Metaphorical Universal Mercury. Note that the quotation above states explicitly that: “No other work is required from the Alchemist, to perform.” Sell off all the laboratory toys.
1 Hartmann, Dr. Franz, The Secret Symbols Of The Rosicrucians. Trans. by Hartmann. Mokelumne Hill, CA: Health Research, 1969, pg. 8.