Plate I - Splendor Solis
Some impatient readers are prone to jumping straight into the main body of a work, skipping the Preface. It is hoped one does not do that here. There is explanatory information there relevant to the author’s choice of his name and the title of his manuscript. Please refer to it.
As for this first Plate, there appear two men engaged in conversation outside the door aperture of an inner sanctum of sorts. In genuine Alchemical pictures, drawings and esoteric literature (and even in Greek and Roman mythologies) all ‘males’ personify some aspect of the Self-conscious mind. Then, all ‘females’ personify some mode of the Subconscious mind, while the androgynous, winged and diaphanous types represent some aspect of the Super-conscious. Keeping this in mind as we gaze upon the various alchemical picture presentations offers an instant hint as to which mode of consciousness is being focused upon. Colors are the next striking hints. In this plate, one man is dressed predominantly in red, the other in black. The red is in an animated stance, apparently speaking; the black, in passive listening. In classic Alchemy (East & West) they represent two of the three Gunas by their colors. Traditionally Sattva Guna (Mercury) is colored yellow; Rajas Guna (Sulphur), red; and Tamas Guna (Salt), black. If you are NOT familiar with the Gunas, you can read up on all three from this site’s Glossary.
The two males, therefore, are actually one man personifying the Rajas and Tamas Gunas of Mercury or, Sulphur with Salt in Mercury. Mercury, the Metal or Chakra, is one alchemical symbol of the self-conscious mind. This mind, in the picture, cannot enter the temple while in this mode of ‘Internal Dialogue’; the kind we do every day, every moment of existence. We engage in this constant ridiculous chatter, like two squirrels chasing each other inside a wire-meshed cage. To enter the inner temple, The Holy of Holies, we must quiet this nonsensical verbal quibble about me, myself and I; chattering mentally about whatever yesterday, today or tomorrow. In this case the self-conscious mind is seduced and preoccupied by petty subconscious habit patterns and with activities dealing with one’s pseudo sense of self-importance. Such a mind is not yet ready for any serious venture into the SELF. To succeed in this Art the mind must eventually turn the Rajas/Sulphur mode toward the Sattva/Mercury mode within the Metal Mercury (alchemically speaking). This eventually turns or ‘dries up’, if you will, that natural tendency of thinking incessantly about our petty selves. Our minds then turn away from that incessant inner self-absorption to other matters that really matter. We enter the Inner Temple alone, that is, single-minded.
Meditation is the way into this Inner Temple, and with assuaging those internal dialogues. In classic occult literature ‘upward’ or ‘inward’ is synonymous. Initially settling the wandering mind we then pass through a ‘hall’ of solitude to quiet the mind and ‘step into’ and ‘step up’ toward the business at hand; taking up the ‘Arma Artis’, posted above the frame. These Arms, pictured in the center of the illustration, are all there is throughout this Art. All we will ever do involves one, a combination of any two, or all three together.
Arma Artis, sums to 90 in the Latin Cabala Simplex. 90 is also the sum of Hebrew letter Mem (מ), spelled out as מים, mim, meaning ‘waters’. The ‘waters’ is the Ocean of Living Consciousness from which Universal Consciousness, and our so-called ‘personal’ consciousness, find expression as the super-, sub- and self-conscious modes. The predominance of red/blue colors in Plate I hints the combination of Fire/Water (The First Matter) from which the individual icons emerge symbolically.
The bottom solar disc on the blue shield is at a 45 degree angle to the left, with its rays bent by spinning out of control in that direction. Number 45 is that of the Hebrew word for Adam, אדם, ‘generic humanity’. As we look upon the Tree of Life, the left Pillar of Severity, colored black, represents the involution of the Creator’s Life-energy into forms of material manifestation. This lower solar disc is actually super-consciousness as it is misconstrued by generic humanity. Believing that his ‘I-Consciousness’ is his own, personally, and separate from all others in this life, the sun disk is tilted ‘left’; still ‘involuting’. The deeper into the illusions of this world we descend the more we feel at odds from the Creator’s influence and perceive ourselves alone. We think we are in charge, this separate ego of ours, but the face on the disc is ‘spotted’ (the detail more clear in the actual manuscript), suggesting sickness and distress. The protruding, bloated tongue suggests illness, labored effort and exhaustion through the life. It all implies the state of the ‘separative ego’ in the darkness of desperation, eventually lost in a purposeless and squandered life devoid any spiritual awareness. Those of us totally unaware, submerged in mere forms, and restricting our lives solely to the limits of mere outward appearances represent the true definition of the ‘walking dead’.
Above the lower sun is a metal helmet, crowned and plumed in blue. This is the self-consciousness mode, or Our Mercury. The Crown declares its potential true royalty when its ‘Sulfur’ is turned toward ‘Mercury’ within the Mercury Chakra, and perfected, as opposed the self-conscious activity with the two-men-as-one outside the sanctum. But, why a ‘helmet’ to represent self-consciousness? A profound detail of Qabalistic Alchemy. In Hebrew, כובע ה ישועה, kobah ha-yeshua, is ‘helmet of deliverance’. Christian Knorr von Rosenroth comments that: “It is the Foundation, being the crown of the head.” Splendor Solis, representing the human self-conscious Intellect, is our ‘deliverance’ when its attention and focus is liberation. The blue color suggests the ‘water’ of the All-Consciousness, of which self-consciousness is a key mode.
Above the helmet are 3 upward pointing crescents of the Moon representing the receptivity of subconsciousness. About this ‘3-crescent’ detail I wasn’t quite sure initially. But then, thanks to one Mr. Craig Robertson who wrote in to opine that in his view, the three crescents just may be “a reference to the Tripundra” of Hinduism. Upon research I have learned that the 3 lines of the Tripundra with a dot in the center have multiple suggestive meanings, one of which could possibly be compared and suggestive with these three crescents. Tri means three, pundra means one which is released. When the Pineal and Pituitary glands have matured (the Tripundra is painted on the forehead), the aspirant then attains accessibility to the higher octaves behind the Mars, Moon/Venus and Mercury Chakras. In the Western Tradition these higher octaves are symbolically represented by the super-conscious planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto; the three are described in more detail under the explanations of Plate VII – The Third Parable. For more details about the Tripundra Google Wikipedia; a lot of interesting information can be found where the reader may draw personal conclusions. Thank you again for your contribution, Mr. Robertson.
Then, above all is the Super-conscious Sun, the True One-Ego (Tiphareth), seated within the heart of all humanity. Its rays are both straight (Masculine) and wavy (Feminine) while the countenance bears a benevolent, loving and concerned expression. It is All-Loving, All-Forgiving and eternally patient with waiting on our ‘return’.
So, we have the Super-conscious (the Ego-Son), deep within Subconsciousness (Moon), which, in turn, is deep within Self-consciousness (Mercury). All 3 above (and within and behind) the false, separative ego-consciousness of generic mankind.
This, then, is the “Operation of the Sun and Moon with the aid of Mercury”, the ‘Arms of the Art’ with which the Aspirant proceeds into the following illustrations on his Road of Return.