|River Gorge, by Cornelius Krieghoff, 1854|
There is a story in the Bible, in the Book of Exodus, of a time during the journey of the children of Israel from Egypt, when the people became very thirsty. God said this to Moses:
Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel (Exodus 17:6, KJV).
As with so much of the Bible, this story is steeped in symbolism of Soul, which speaks resoundingly to us as spelunkers of this vast landscape. All symbols of the collective unconscious can hold a multitude of meanings. This particular passage is quite a valuable nugget, if you examine it with alchemical eyes.
Remember, many of the alchemists were still living in a world steeped in the religious tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. They attempted to to fuse Christianity, in some ways, with their art. While the Church supposedly taught the way of the salvation of humanity, alchemy taught the salvation of Nature and matter. For matter to be redeemed, the alchemists believed the Soul must be extracted from it. The story of Moses and the smiting of the Rock was the perfect metaphor.
Origen wrote of it as “the river of our savior” (In Numeros homiliae, 17, 4 (Migne, P.G., vol. 12, col. 707). According to Jung, the alchemists used this image “to denote the extraction of the aqua permanens or of the soul from the lapis…” (CW 14). The aqua permanens is the River of Soul, the Mercurial Water, the transformative elixir that brings about the gushing out of Soul from the lapis, the rock. Jung calls this water
the arcane substance par excellence, in the right perspective. For the alchemists it was wisdom and knowledge, truth and spirit, and its source was in the inner man, though its symbol was common water or sea-water. What they evidently had in mind was a ubiquitous and all-pervading essence, an anima mundi and the “greatest treasure,” the innermost and most secret numinosum of man. There is probably no more suitable psychological concept for this than the collective unconscious, whose nucleus and ordering “principle” is the self (the “monad” of the alchemists and Gnostics) (ibid.)
The Divine is in matter, in Nature. It pervades it, permeating every atomic and subatomic particle in our vast Universe. This is what Giordano Bruno tried to proclaim to humanity in the sixteenth century. This is the same idea I have been writing about for some time, i.e. animaterialism.
The alchemists also say this water is the Lumen Naturae, the Light of Matter, of which I have written about elsewhere. The “greatest treasure”, the Anima Mundi, is contained therein; not trapped there as some say, but simply abiding there until it is called forth to flow throughout the Earth and the entire Cosmos. Matter is not evil, as Plato believed. There is an essence of divinity in matter. It is not a prison for the fallen soul. Rather, matter is divine and filled with light, but it is up to us to extract it. The Anima Mundi is diffused throughout Nature, where all matter is specked with fiery sparks of divinity. As fiery scintillae spark upward from a campfire into a night sky, so do the light-filled scintillae of Soul permeate throughout the Universe, symbolized by the innumerable stars that dot the heavens.
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