Gender in Alchemy

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From: B Garner
Does sulphur respresent the female, and if so why?

Bernadette
(new to alchemy...)

Sulphur is the masculine priciple, Mercury the female. Sulphur and Mercury are also equivalent to Sol and Luna - sulphur, being fiery and active, represents the sun, while mercury, being liquid and passsive is the moon. Thus the idea arose that sulphur may be identified with gold or treated as the Prime Matter of Sol, of the solar gold-making.
In Islamic theory, mercury and sulphur are the parents of metals. According to this theory, mercury is generally regarded as cold and moist, being the liquid component of metals, while sulphur is hot and dry, being the solid material component.

William
greenlion@designlink.com,internet

Thankyou for the explanation.
Is a lot of alchemy based on Islamic theory - I had originally thought not?
I realise that a lot of cultures believe that the moon represents the female and the sun the man, but it is not universally held to be true. Ie the gender of the sun in German is female and the moon is masculine. I assume that in cultures that had the most to do with evolving alchemy felt that the barren moon was feminine. I see the sun as being female because it gives forth - does anyone have any ideas on this?

Bernadette

From: Jon Marshall
Heresy of heresies. Do other people think that we have been perhaps too quick in making sexual ascriptions? (maybe a secret is that sol is female!)
As everyone knows, (unless I'm wrong of course) in Jungian theory the sex of sol and luna come from the sexual partitions of the human psyche, and their union represents the joining of male and female within this psyche.
But this does not imply that sol has to be male- it is a symbolic complex that perhaps for most europeans tends to be `masculine'.
If of course the substances are directly sexual, then this would perhaps not be not the case.
One can talk here of secretions, or of some other properties harder to define.
So another question?
What is the role of sex in the work?

jon

Being pedantic and ignorant i'd like to suggest that perhaps (and perhaps only) we should write sulphur and mercury correspond to, or are analogious to Sol and Lunar (or are the substances at a different stage in the work).

IMHO, it is a matter of perception. Obviously, the sun and moon really don't have an objective gender. It is up to mankind to draw a circle around the forces these two planetary powers represent and name them. God provides the natural forces. Man makes symbols out of them so that he can understand and benefit by them.
Best regards.

From: Illuminato@aol.com

It is true that gender is a symbol that has been assigned to genderless objects.
Somehow, I feel that gender has been assigned as you say, to enable Man to understand and benefit (Man as in Mankind).
One of the things I wanted to say regarding the gender of the Sun/Moon is that these objects may exhibit a duality of gender in different circumstances. So the Man is dry and hot like masculine suphur, but it gives life, like woman. It radiates like both genders, so something
like the dance of shiva, it can transform itself in our perception.
Jon Marshall said something about this in his post - regarding the union of the sexual duality in each individual. Perhaps we have ascribed gender to allow us to 'understand and benefit' but perhaps our new objective is to strive for union - and overcome this dichotomy, to become whole and no longer fragmented.
It says in the bible something like, 'when man becomes woman and woman becomes man then you shall enter the kingdom of heaven'

Crowley also says something similar in 'Magick in Theory and practice'

Bernadette

Bernadette,
I stumbled over your phrase, "the barren moon." I see the moon as representing life. Non-Christian and pre-Christian traditions (including those societies present in Europe and the Near and Middle East) viewed the moon as symbolic of a life-giving force. Although the moon does have a waning as well as a waxing phase, it represents menstruation and the female's life-giving potential (this at a time when the male's role in procreation was possibly not clearly understood). I can't help but think that alchemy (and other philosophies and religions) draws upon these ancient modes of conceptualizing the world. I'm certainly a novice in these matters, but I've been drawn to alchemy specifically because it seeks a balance of the male/female principles.
As an aside, thinking about a female light source brought to mind the Japanese goddess, Amateratsu, who, if I remember correctly, is a sun goddess (the sun is exposed when she pulls down her skirt band -- an obvious reference to generative powers).

Kelly A. Wacker

Thanks Kelly for correcting this.
The moon has a very clearly dual nature (please see my other most recent) mail regarding this. I think I read somewhere that the moon can also be seen as pregnant as it waxes.
I too am new to alchemy.
I read in Frater Albertus' book "Alchemists handbook" that alchemy can take more than one life time to master.
Bernadette

From: fmodica@interserv.com

I read your note on the Masculine Aspect of the Moon and the Feminine Aspect of the Sun.
Traditionally speaking, since the sun gives forth it should be considered Masculine, as the man gives forth his sperm. The moon is barren until it receives the light (sperm) then it gives forth its light (birth).
Qabalistically the sun is masculine and the moon is feminine as the left side of the tree is Feminine and the Right side Masculine. However passed the abyss the masculine and feminine roles seem to reverse. Below Binah are masculine Sepheroth and Below Chockmah are those with Feminine qualities. (If you look at the tree the roles are one way, if you place the tree on yourself it is another)
In the old religion, ie Wicca, the Priest holds the cup and the Priestess holds the dagger, for this very reason.
So where does this bring us? Both sides of the Masc/Fem debate are right depending on where you are looking at it.
I hope what I am saying makes sense to you; I would like to hear your comments.

In L.V.X.
F.M


From: taliesin@mail.utexas.edu (George Randall Leake III)

Wait a minute...I've also heard that while the Earth represents the Mother, the Moon the Child, and the Sun, the Father. The Moon in this scenario revolves around the mother and reflects the father. Moon and Earth are close together relative to the father.

From: nimue@cix.compulink.co.uk (Vivienne Oregan)

In reply I find myself in agreement with both Bernadette & Kelly on the issue of 'gender' of Sol & Luna. Both are rightly seen as having generative function but the nature of that changes depending on the cultural and, to a degree, temporal context.
Certainly there are many examples within world cultures of these illuminaries attributed to either gods and goddesses - often in a polarity which expresses the dynamic relationship between solar and lunar energies.
To my limited understanding, alchemy is very much concerned with relationship between elements and of moving away from fixed symbolic attribution into interpretation based on direct experience. I do not view polarity as fixed or gender-based (either in an actual or symbolic sense) issue but something that is responsive to a variety of factors.

Vivienne

On Jul 25, 6:48pm, Kelly Wacker wrote:
> Although the moon does have a
> waning as well as a waxing phase, it represents menstruation and the
> female's life-giving potential

Stan Gooch (guardians of the Ancient Wisdom) refers us to Shuttle and Redgroves Wise Wound, suggesting that "the famed red powder of the alchemist is non other than a dim distorted memory of the menstrual religion"
Peter Redgrove himself quotes David Wood's genesis "Heavily veiled in the allegories of the alchemists ...was the unbelievable suggestion that in some way a minute trace of a very potent liquid seeped from the brain of a woman and collected in the womb or vaginal cavity... It would further appear that this secretion was cyclic... alternatively a certain amount may remain in situ and be expelled in the menstrual cycle".
He goes into considerably more detail (Black Goddess and the Unseen real)
Whether this does have anything to do with alchemy it suggests the potency of the female (hidden) within even western thought.
Women might object to a theory in which they do all the work and the male gets the enlightenment.

On Jul 26, 6:06am, fmodica@interserv.com wrote:
>
> Traditionally speaking, since the sun Gives forth it should be considered
> Masculine, as the man gives forth his sperm. The moon is barren until it
> receives the light (sperm) then it gives forth its light (birth).

The question is whose tradition?
It does not seem unreasonable to argue that in the west males have been unable to cope with the idea of legitimate female power- thus distorting exoteric mystical doctrine.
Likewise i'm afraid we now know the moon is physically barren, but I doubt we can assume that people everywhere knew it was a reflector rather than generator.And astrologically it may well generate on its own. And I don't see how barreness then necessarily implies the moon is female.

> Qabalistically the sun is masculine and the moon is feminine as the left side
> of the tree is Feminine and the Right side Masculine. However passed the
> abyss the masculine and feminine roles seem to reverse. Below Binah are
> masculine Sepheroth and Below Chockmah are those with Feminine qualities. (If
> you look at the tree the roles are one way, if you place the tree on yourself
> it is another)
> In the old religion, ie Wicca, the Priest holds the cup and the Priestess
> holds the dagger, for this very reason.
>
I think again that Jung's marks on the reunification of the psyche split by sexual ascription are to the point.
An esoteric discipline to be succesful is in some sense a correction of the dominant world view (and thus almost necessarily forbidden)
There are traditions also (probably based on plato or whoever he based them on), that Adam was originally hermaphrodite, and the God seperated eve out from adam to produce the sexes.
The question is, is how to go about this reunion, by blending or by exageration unto collapse, or by breaking down?

George Randall Leake writes
>Wait a minute...I've also heard that while the Earth represents the Mother,
>the Moon the Child, and the Sun, the Father.

Can you say where you heard this?
I was going to argue the human is not necesarily dyadic (spirit, soul, body etc.)- there is the vessel in which the king and queen mate, the sea in which the fish swim etc, and of course the Paracelsian salt, suphur and mercury.
Another question is whether it is more important to have strong images to work with, arranged in particular ways, or to have images with particular meanings.I'd tend to argue that it is the strength and arrangement of images that is generally more important than the content. (as long as they can refer to the process observed)
Though this assumes the process is seperate from the observation/experience.
To some extent i suspect that in alchemy the alchemist must meditate themselves, talk with the other as Maury explained so well, to find for themselves whether their sun is male or female for them, whether involved in a dyad or triad, or heptad.. and how it relates to the work, and how it changes with the work.

Jon Marshall

From: "Charla J. Williams"

As a woman with 6 planets in Leo, I have given some thought to blending both the solar influence and the element of fire with the female gender.

> Certainly there are many examples within world cultures of these il
> luminaries attributed to either gods and goddesses - often in a polarity
> which expresses the dynamic relationship between solar and lunar energies.

A fun book on this is ‘Eclipse of the The Sun' by Janet McCrickard published by Gothic Image Publications in Somerset, 1990. Labeled as an investigation into Sun and Moon myths, it gives several examples of lunar gods and solar goddesses.

Regards, Charla

In reply to Charla

'Eclipse' is a well-thumbed favourite work on my shelf. I understand that Patricia Monaghan has recently published a work on Sun Goddesses though have no publishing details on this.

I have always been very comfortable working with the element of fire and solar energies and have found the stereotyping of women as naturally attuned to lunar energies restrictive as well as the attribution of the female gender in this fashion. My understanding of the Great Work, as expressed in myriad forms, includes a balancing of the energies of the elements and those of sol and luna within the psyche of the practitioner as much as within an external alembic.

Last summer I held a workshop for women on 'Goddesses of Fire and the Sun' (one of a 4-part series exploring each of the elements in the context of the women's mysteries). For quite a proportion of those attending even the idea of working with solar energies and the element of fire challenged their concepts about what constituted women's mysteries. Those who were comfortable with, and excited by, the attributing of solar and fiery energies to the female gender were in the main already expressing those qualities in their interior and exterior lives. The forum also gave us an opportunity to explore personal and cultural resistances to such attributions.

Over lunch we had a discussion about political correctness and came up with the phrase 'solar challenged' (rather than solar deficient) for those women in the group who felt deficient in or uncomfortable with solar and fiery energies/qualities. We discovered during this rather rambunctious discussion that those women who strongly identified with the Moon and element of water and experienced difficulty with Sun/Fire energies all regularly experienced S.A.D. during the European winter. They felt the accompanying tiredness, lack of creativity and depression, linked to the absence of the physical sun, could only be alleviated by the lengthening of the days &/or trips to sunny climes. This need for physical sunlight was much less for those of us who felt either a primary identification with solar energies or a greater balance.

This led to speculation that the sense of comfortableness with these energies went beyond a psychological or esoteric framework into the realms of physiological make-up. That there might be an inbuilt or acquired ability to contain solar energy more efficiently.

Vivienne

From: B Garner

Jon wrote:

> There are traditions also (probably based on plato or whoever he based
> them on),
> that Adam was originally hermaphrodite, and the god seperated eve out
> from adam
> to produce the sexes.
> The question is, is how to go about this reunion, by blending or by
> exageration
> unto collapse, or by breaking down?

Indeed, this is the important question: 'how to go about this (re)union'
Perhaps we should also look at what prevents union. Is it only the physical? Or is there a psychological fear of loosing the self in the other? Where the other is that which we desire to form the (re)union with.

Bernadette

From: "M.E. WARLICK"

The question of gender and alchemy is a complex one, and it has been on my mind a great deal in recent months. Indeed, the Moon - Mercury - Queen - Silver "side" of alchemical language and imagery is typically coded as "feminine." The Sun-gold and Moon-silver connections probably derived initially from their colors (m.Eliade), but what makes the moon "feminine" is the correlation between the 28 (or so) day cycle of the moon and the 28 (or so) day menstrual cycle.
This relationship between women and the moon is explored in much of the goddess literature out there, with varying degrees of scholarly attention. The crescent moon was most often associated with a virgin goddess (like Artemis-Diana, and later with the Virgin Mary), the full moon with the mother goddess or matron, and the waxing crescent with the crone. Her power was diminished as cultures with male sky gods (and warrior tendencies) took control of the ancient world. Some would place the connection between women and the moon as far back as paleolithic or neolithic times (M. Gimbutas), and by the Hellenistic period it was fixed (sort of, and with her power greatly diminished), and from this great melting pot of classical thought alchemical philosophy was born.
There are many notable exceptions, as someone noted earlier, particularly in Egypt. Plutarch, in his Moralia V, gives his version of the myth of Isis and Osiris, explaining in great detail that the dismemberment of Osiris's body into 14 parts is symbolic of his connection to the moon. Osiris is also the Nile who inundates the black earth of Egypt, symbolized by the earth goddess Isis. (C.J.S. Thompson, writing in 1932, reminds us that besides the Arabic and Greek derivations of the word "alchemy" . . . "Suidas, writing in the 11th century, says that the word means 'the knowledge of Egyptian art, Chemi or Cham, or the Black Land, which was the ancient name for Egypt'." (p.10). The parents of Isis and Osiris, Geb and Nut, reversed the gender equation a generation earlier, as Geb (male) is the earth, and Nut (female) is the night sky who swallows the sun every night to give birth to it in the morning. So in this scenario, the mother give birth to the sun, but her son is the moon.
By Ptolemaic times, Isis had absorbed many of the characteristics of the goddess Hathor, and Isis enjoyed a continuing popularity as an exotic deity in the Roman empire. In several well-known representations, she can be seen nursing her son Horus (the sun), with her horned (moon) disc crown that had been associated with Hathor in earlier periods.
So, when the Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus claims that "the moon is its mother," (whenever you place the dating of that document), he is simply reflecting generic gender stereotypes that had developed over eons. Isis is not one of the major characters of alchemical imagery, but by the time she appears in Athanasius Kircher's -Oedipus Aegypticus- (1652), she has it all -- the Nile, the Earth, and the moon at her womb -- and is connected in the accompanying lable to related goddesses including Venus, Juno, Ceres and Diana, absorbing yet another millennia of philosophical and visual history, in an age when no one could really read the hierogyphs, but readers were fascinated by the mystery anyway. (I refer to the fact that the original Egyptian accounts of Isis in the Lamentation papyri were not translated until the 19th century).
In alchemical images, the symbolism is always vital and eclectic. Frequently, moons and women are proximate, crescents and full moons with women in varying stages of dress. But, not all free-floating moons can be said to have female faces (some are even bearded!), and sometimes men hold moons, particularly when two fused androgyne-like figures are both male. Simply stated, the gender alignments in alchemical philosophy and imagery are both clear and convoluted, and each document or image must be considered within the context of the time that produced it.
In some critical circles today, alchemy's "essentialism" and gender polarities might be interpreted as problematic and outmodes. Furthermore, it is clear that many earlier interpretations of alchemical philosophy and symbolism strongly reflect the gender biases of their times. Still, it seems to me that the alchemical tradition, and particularly the androgyne, presents a model of true equality and union for men and women, and to refine and give birth to this potential seems a proper challenge for the alchemists of today.

M.E.

I have added a short extract from Bernard of Trevisan, Le Texte d'Alchymie et le Songe-Verd, Paris, 1695, to the Alchemical texts page on the Alchemy Web site. This mentions the gender of the sulphur and mercury in the alchemical operation.

Adam McLean