The Moravian adept, Michael Sendivogius, opens his treatise, Concerning Sulphur, repeating Paracelsus' words of a hundred years before:
"Among the three principles the Sages have justly assigned the first place to Sulphur, as the whole Art is concerned with the manner of its preparation."1
Sulphur is second of the three essential principles of nature. Its importance in the Art, however, is primary. Qabalists and Alchemists agree with assigning the three to the supernal spheres on the Tree of Life. To Kether, the Crown, they assign the Root of Air and the Mercury Principle. Sulphur is given to the second sphere, Chokmah, translated as Wisdom and called the Root of Fire. Then Salt is third, allocated to Binah, Understanding, and considered the Root of Water. There is nothing in the known or unknown universe that does not contain all three qualities in some proportion. Each principle, moreover, contains the other two within itself. Sendivogius wrote again in the same work:
"Know that all things on the earth and under the earth are engendered and produced by three principles, but sometimes by two, unto which the third, nonetheless, adheres."2
So, intrinsically, Sulphur contains qualities of both Mercury and Salt. Alchemists have cautioned us repeatedly that these titles and names for the basic composition of all matter have nothing to do with the actual physical or chemical substances named. Ideas implied behind Sulphur are similar to qualities possessed by chemical sulphur. The other two have properties like that of mercury and salt. Sulphur, then, hints properties of astringency, heat, acridness, intense activity, force and desire. Sulphur, Chokmah and Wisdom are all considered intense, active, desirous properties inherent within the One-Thing. Mercury gives a quality of Intelligent Life. Salt presents Restriction and Embodiment.
Then, Sulphur is the Soul of Body-Soul-Spirit. Soul tinges or colors that which it inhabits. Course, direction and purpose behind our motivations are tinged by the intensity of our desire. So sages and philosophers from East and West proclaim Sulphur either acts with Mercury to suppress Salt, or it acts with Salt to suppress Mercury. Sulphur is key. This surely prompted Thomas Vaughan (I believe) to conclude in Chapter 10 of An Open Entrance to the Closed Palace of the King:
"Hence it appears that this spiritual metallic Sulphur is in truth the moving principle in our Art."3
Note that Vaughan calls Sulphur a 'spiritual' substance. Sulphur is the primary power behind all created existence. As the Serpent, within the Garden of Subconsciousness, Sulphur brought forth the four Qabalistic worlds and all they contain. Sulphur is the driving force throughout evolution. Sulphur, as Messiah, will direct us to the original source of Virgin Sulphur in Chokmah, Father-Wisdom. During universal involution, Sulphur combines with Salt predominantly. To affect evolution Sulphur works conjunct Mercury. In all our endeavors, particularly those directed toward reunion with the Higher Self, all masters and saints advise us primarily to get Wisdom, to seek the Fire, to obtain Sulphur. If the fires of Sulphur burn naturally toward certain desires for ourselves, we are sure to attain that root desire. It is the Root Fire of the One-Thing that burns in any direction! When alchemists instruct us to 'purify our copper' they intimate that we analyze that which we would desire, and to separate attachment from the outcome. If our desires are rooted in the appeasement of selfish senses, personal egoism, Our Sulphur is working with Salt to suppress Mercury. This stifles evolution toward union. These desires are found to be 'impure' separative impulses, rooted in accrued memories of what we have experienced from the past. Such yearnings are not akin our True Self, the part within us desiring reunion. False, habit-desires plunge us farther into separation, anger and sorrow. When we purify copper (our base, separative impulses), we expunge all that would pull us farther from the Central Source. Lower, erroneous tendencies lose their grip and fail to arouse the self-conscious mind with preoccupations toward sense gratification. Concerning Sulphur was written in allegorical dialogue between an Alchemist and Saturn. Sulphur is imprisoned by 'gaolers' of whom Saturn is chief:
"Alchemist: Who are his gaolers?
Saturn: They are of his own kindred, but grievous tyrants.
Alch: Then Sulphur is detained in your prison?
Sat: Yes; but I am not his keeper.
Alch: What does he do in prison?
Sat: Whatever his gaolers command.
Alch: Is he so closely imprisoned in all metals?
Sat: In some his imprisonment is less strict than in others."4
When we understand 'prison' to be sensation, what follows is that 'gaolers,' commanding whatever, are burning desires from seven centers or metals within our aura. Because force centers are steeped in the Salt Principle in the natural human, Sulphur is habitually magnetized to tendencies that appease base sensations within each metal. The Latin form is spelled sulfur, summing to 87 by Latin Cabala Simplex, and equal to Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. Sulphur in the World Soul is the planet's evolutionary power since the allegorical Fall. Society and civilization are predominantly the results of action by Universal Sulphur working outwardly through countless millions of self-conscious expressions.
Many readers may identify Anima Mundi with the Divine Soul, Neshamah, seated in the third sphere, Binah. Here the Sulphur action in Salt (see SAL-NITRE), acts upon the Crow or Raven, often called “the door of the Art” (see CORVUS NIGER). Once more, the Latin for Crow (corvus) sums to 87. Since all three qualities are in any one principle, the Sulphur action in Salt (Binah) is responsible for matrices that are the blueprints of all physical forms. The Sulphur in Salt comes from Chokmah. In Binah the Salt Principle is predominant; it nurtures the matrices from Sulphur-predominant Chokmah into tangibles. Eliphas Levi and other Qabalists called the power in Salt, אזעט, azot (one Hebrew spelling of Azoth), the Universal Agent, when Azoth is identified with the cohesive powers in Binah. AZOT totals 87. Sulphur is the chief power that transmutes base metals into Gold. Sage Qabalists and philosopher alchemists all tell us the primary function of Chokmah (Wisdom, Fire, or Sulphur) is to bring down the influences of Universal Mercury (also called the Gold). The ancient names for the three principles have now given way to the evolution of modern psychology and psychiatry. These sciences now recognize Mercury as Super-consciousness, Sulphur as Self-Consciousness, and Salt as the Sub-conscious mode of consciousness.
When Paracelsus and Sendivogius tell us that the whole Art is concerned with the manner and preparation of Sulphur, they are hinting to Self-Consciousness as “the moving principle in our Art.” Self-consciousness (Sulphur) within the alchemist must work with Super-consciousness (Mercury) to suppress Sub-conscious (Salt) tendencies in each of the seven force centers. The Sulphurous action has its roots in supernal Chokmah, Universal Virgin Sulphur. Our desires for unity and perfect freedom are originally desires coming from the One-Life. The whole route of return is Its design for us. Tyros on this path believe our yearning to be rooted within our own, separative personality. This is an inaccurate sense coming from the unripe 'green apple' stage of our unfoldment. Initial efforts in our spiritual work appear too awesome to overcome since we believe we are the only power so doing. With dogged dedication, the persevering gradually come to realize the true source of this sulphurous anguish. We come to feel Its 'pulling' power as inevitable. At this stage our confidence now begins to wax assured that truly we do nothing of ourselves; and if that is true, then success is most certain. Once we see this, through reason, we spend the rest of our existence (regardless the number of future incarnations) perfecting our internal processes with conscious intent. We nurture our mental, emotional and physical bodies to prepare a vehicle for the eventual, certain habitation of the Most High. We begin the manner and preparation of Sulphur and use the sulphurous fire of our self-conscious mind, which is really God's Sulphur, to take up the Great Work of Regeneration. All the work below or above the self-conscious level of influence is performed by sub-conscious and super-conscious levels, respectively, as the White Work of the Moon and the Red Work of the Sun. Refer to MERCURY, SALT, RAJAS GUNA, SATTVA GUNA, TAMAS GUNA and THREE PRINCIPLES with the above.
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1 Sendivogius, Michael, Concerning Sulphur. Edmonds, WA: Alchemical Press, 1987, pg. 3.
2 Ibid., pg. 6.
3 Anonymous, Open Entrance to the Closed Palace of the King. Edmonds, WA: Alchemical Press, 1984, pg. 14.
4 Sendivogius, Michael, Concerning Sulphur. Edmonds, WA: Alchemical Press, 1987, pg. 7.