The mystery of the Aurora consurgens

The Aurora consurgens is one of the earliest emblematic alchemical manuscripts. It is dated to the early 1400's. It has become well known for its strange series of engaging allegorical images, which the modern mind sees as enigmatic and surrealistic. The work became well known in the late 20th century through the Jungian, Marie-Louise von Franz, who issued an edition of the work which was translated into English as Aurora Consurgens : a document attributed to Thomas Aquinas on the problem of opposites in alchemy, New York, 1966. Von Franz's book has coloured the understanding of the work, and presented it as a kind of struggle within the mind of a medieval Christian, puzzling over aspects of the Song of Solomon, the nature of Christ and an allegorical alchemy. The Aurora consurgens would appear to be a composite work, in which an original late 14th century text (Part I) had an alchemical section (Part II) with the series of emblems added around 1420. Sadly, von Franz chose to entirely ignore the alchemical section and her publication served to obscure and bury it further. In her introduction she notes about the two sections of text in the manuscript "In contrast to the entirely original, poetico-rhetorical, confessional style of Part I, Part II has a prosaically didactic character which follows the usual style of the contemporary alchemical treatises". She then proceeds to base her edition of the work entirely on the Part I text, and does not mention or translate the material in Part II. This is strange as the Aurora consurgens and its emblematic imagery are surely alchemical and so why should she dispense with Part II which "follows the usual style of the contemporary alchemical treatises". I have only now been able to get access to the Part II text, and it is a great revelation. We surely have now to consider the Aurora consurgens in an entirely different light from that projected by von Franz and the Jungians, who seem to have seized on this work in order to present it in the light of their Jungian philosophy.

Here is my provisional translation of a short piece of the text dealing with the four humours which comments on a much misunderstood illustration. This illustration has been seen as one of cannibalism, or some strange mutual sharing of bodily organs, however it is quite straightforward when read with its associated text.


In the human body four are disposed among the most important parts, that is the brain is likened to the cold of the water, the heart to the heat of the fire, the liver to the dampness of the air, and the testicles to the dryness of the earth. Therefore phlegm has its centre in the brain, the blood in the heart, the bile in the liver, and melancholy (black bile) is situated in the genitals.
And know that Nature has put these (humours) in the body, but the site and the functions are different.
In fact, the appetitive virtue in the bile is shown by its color, in the melancholy that which restrains, in fact it holds back the colors, blood has digestive function and eliminates the waste, phlegm has expulsive and depurative functions, because of their authentic and perfect colors.
The fifth function, is then neither warm nor cold, neither damp nor dry, neither heavy nor light, neither hard nor soft, but it properly is called life that adds one to these four and confers to it a vigorous and perfect existence.