Lapis Philosophorum

The “thousand names” of the lapis philosophorum correspond to the innumerable Gnostic designations for the Anthropos, which make it quite obvious what is meant: the greater, more comprehensive Man, that indescribable whole consisting of the sum of conscious and unconscious processes. This objective whole, the antithesis of the subjective ego-psyche, is what I have called the self, and this corresponds exactly to the idea of the Anthropos.

Magic exercises a compulsion that prevails over the conscious mind and will of the victim: an alien will rise up in the bewitched and proves stronger than his ego. The only comparable effect capable of psychological verification is that exerted by the unconscious contents, which by their compelling power demonstrate their affinity with or dependence on man’s totality, that is, the self and its “karmic” functions. We have already seen that the alchemical fish symbols points ultimately to an archetype of the order of magnitude of the self.  

Jung lexicon: A primer of terms & conceptsPhilosopher’s Stone. In alchemy, a metaphor for the successful transmutation of base metal into gold; psychologically, an archetypal image of wholeness.

The prima materia as well as the end product of the process, variously called lapis philosophorum, elixir vitae, aurum nostrum, infans, puer, filius philosophorum, Hermaphroditus, by an indirect route, the alchemical fish attains the dignity of a symbol for the Salvator mundi

Hunted for centuries and never found, the prima materia or lapis philosophorum is, as a few alchemists rightly suspected, to be discovered in man himself.  TPofT 24

Now, one of the concepts that plays the greatest role in alchemy is that of the prima materia, the prime or basic matter, the one stuff from which everything else is made.  AAI 15

In addition to the prima materia, space, time, and particle energy, one of the basic concepts of alchemy is the concept of what one might call chemical affinity, which at that time was understood as the inexplicable attraction of certain substances to one another and the inexplicable repulsion of others.  This meant that a chemical substance was assessed by its value in effecting certain combinations or amalgamations – hence the famous motif of the coniunctio. 

Part 11 – The alchemical interpretation of the fish

Dorn writes: “The magnetic stone teaches us, for in it the power of magnetizing and attracting iron is not seen (with the eyes); it is a spirit hidden within, not perceptible to the sense.”

Thus the doctrine, which may be consciously acquired “through a kind of divine inspiration,” is at the same time the instrument whereby the object of the doctrine or theory can be freed from its imprisonment in the body, because the symbol for the doctrine – the “magnet” – is at the same time the mysterious “truth” of which the doctrine speaks. The doctrine enters the consciousness of the adept as a gift of the Holy Ghost. It is a thesaurus of knowledge about the secret of the art, of the treasure hidden in the prima materia, which was thought to be outside man. The treasure of the doctrine and the precious secret concealed in the darkness of matter are one and the same thing.  

He who does not understand how to free the “truth’ in his own soul from its fetters will never make a success of the physical opus, and he who knows how to make the stone can only do so on the basis of right doctrine, through which he himself is transformed, or which he creates through his own transformation. 


“All those who have all things with them have no need of outside aid.” (not Jung…??) God says Morienus, made the world out of four unequal elements and set man as the “greater ornament” between them: “This thing is extracted from thee, for thou art its ore; in thee they find it, and, to speak more plainly, from thee they take it; and when thou hast experienced this, the love and desire for it will be increased in thee.” This “thing” is the (Lapis).

The procedure for making the stone “cannot be performed with hands,” for it is a “human attitude” (dispositio hominum). This alone accomplishes the “changing of the natures.” The transformation is brought about by the coniunctio, which forms the essence of the work.

“This stone is below thee, as to obedience; above thee, as to dominion; therefore from thee, as to knowledge; about thee, as to equals.”

The passage is somewhat obscure. Nevertheless, it can be elicited that the stone stands in an undoubted psychic relationship to man: the adept can expect obedience from it, but on the other hand the stone exercises dominion over him. Since the stone is a matter of “knowledge” or science, it springs from man. But it is outside him, in his surroundings, among his “equals,” i.e., those of like mind. This description fits the paradoxical situation of the self, as its symbolism shows. It is the smallest of the small, easily overlooked and pushed aside. Indeed, it is in need of help and must be perceived, protected, and as it were built up by the conscious mind, just as if it did not exist at all and were called into being only through man’s care and devotion. As against this, we know from experience that it had long been there and is older than the ego, and that it is actually the secret spiritus rector of our fate. The self does not become conscious by itself, but has always been taught, if at all, through a tradition of knowing (the purusha/atman teaching, for instance). Since it stands for the essence of individuation, and individuation is impossible without a relationship to one’s environment, it is found among those of like mind with whom individual relations can be established. The self, moreover, is an archetype that invariably expresses a situation within which the ego is contained. Therefore, like every archetype, the self cannot be localized in an individual ego-consciousness, but acts like a circumambient atmosphere to which no definite limits can be set, either in space or in time. (Hence the synchronistic phenomena so often associated with activated archetypes.)

“This stone is something which is fixed more in thee [than elsewhere], created of God, and thou art its ore, and it is extracted from thee, and wheresoever thou art it remains inseparably with thee … And as man is made up of four elements, so also is the stone, and so it is [dug] out of man, and thou art its ore, namely by working; and from thee it is extracted, that is by division; and in thee it remains inseparably, namely by knowledge.   (Treaty of Rosinus)

We learn from it that the stone is implanted in man by God, that the laborant is its prima materia, that the extraction corresponds to the so-called divisio or separatio of the alchemical procedure, and that through his knowledge of the stone man remains inseparably bound to the self. The procedure here described could easily be understood as the realization of an unconscious content. 

… through this knowledge the self, as a content of the unconscious, is made conscious and “fixed” in the mind. For without the existence of conscious concepts apperception is, as we know, impossible. This explains numerous neurotic disturbances which arise from the fact that certain contents are constellated in the unconscious but cannot be assimilated owing to the lack of apperceptive concepts that would “grasp” them. That is why it is so extremely important to tell children fairy-tales and legends, and to inculcate religious ideas (dogmas) into grown-ups, because these things are instrumental symbols with whose help unconscious contents can be canalized into consciousness, interpreted, and integrated. Failing this, their energy flows off into conscious contents which, normally, are not much emphasized, and intensifies them to pathological proportions. We then get apparently groundless phobias and obsessions – crazes, idiosyncrasies, hypochondriac ideas, and intellectual perversions suitably camouflaged in social, religious, or political garb.  

The union of opposites in the stone is possible only when the adept has become One himself. The unity of the stone is the equivalent of individuation, by which man is made one; we would say that the stone is a projection of the unified self.  

… This formulation is psychologically correct. It does not, however, take sufficient account of the fact that the stone is a transcendent unity. We must therefore emphasize that though the self can become a symbolic content of consciousness, it is, as a supra-ordinate totality, necessarily transcendental as well. 

“Transmute yourselves from dead stones into living philosophical stones”

(The) lapis consists of the four elements or has to be put together from them.(45) In the chaos the elements are not united, they are merely coexistent and have to be combined through the alchemical procedure. They are even hostile to one another and will not unite of their own accord. They represent, therefore, an original state of conflict and mutual repulsion. This image serves to illustrate the splitting up or unfolding of the original unity into the multiplicity of the visible world.

Cont’d … Out of the split-up quaternity the opus puts together the unity of the lapis in the realm of the inorganic. As the filius macrocosmi and a living being, the lapis is not just an allegory but is a direct parallel of Christ and the higher Adam, of the heavenly Original Man, of the second Adam (Christ), and of the serpent. The nadir of this third quaternion is therefore a further counterpart of the Anthropos. Aion 237

As already mentioned, the constitution of the lapis rests on the union of the four elements, which in their turn represent the prima materia, the Arcanum, the primary substance, which in Paracelsus and his followers is called the increatum and is regarded as coeternal with God – a correct interpretation of the Tehom of Genesis1:2: “And the [uncreated] earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God [ brooded] over the face of the waters.” Aion 237

(ATOM RELATED)  This primary substance is round (massa globosa, rotundum), like the world and the world-soul; it is in fact the world-soul and the world-substance in one. It is the “stone that has a spirit,” in modern parlance the most elementary building-stone in the architecture of matter, the atom, which is an intellectual model.

“Reduce your stone to the four elements, rectify and combine them into one, and you will have the whole magistery. This One, to which the elements must be reduced, is that little circle in the centre of this squared figure. It is the mediator, making peace between the enemies or elements.”

Maria Prophetess says: “The Philosophers teach everything except the Hermetic vessel, because that is divine and is hidden from the Gentiles by the Lord’s wisdom; and they who know it not, know not the true method, because of their ignorance of the vessel of Hermes.” Theobald de Hoghelande adds: “Senior says that the vision thereof is more to be sought after than [knowledge of] the Scriptures.” Maria Prophetess says: “This is the vessel of Hermes, which the Stoics had, and it is no nigromantic vessel, but is the measure of thy fire [mensura ignis tui].  

… make the Hermetic vessel out of your psychic wholeness and pour into the aqua permanens, or aqua doctrinae, one of whose synonyms is the vinum ardens (cf. Repescissa’s “burning water”). This would be a hint that the adept should “inwardly digest” and transform himself through the alchemical doctrine. Aion 241

The round Hermetic vessel in which the mysterious transformation is accomplished is God himself, the (Platonic) world-soul and man’s own wholeness. It is, therefore, another counterpart of the Anthropos, and at the same time the universe in its smallest and most material form. So it is easy to see why the first attempts to construct a model of the atom took the planetary system as a prototype.

Just as the central idea of the lapis Philosophorum plainly signifies the self, so the opus with its countless symbols illustrates the process of individuation, the step-by-step development of the self from an unconscious state to a conscious one. This is why the lapis, as prima materia, stands at the beginning of the process as well as at the end.  

That the Arcanum is neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor in water is explained by Maier as a reference to the lapis, which “is found everywhere.”  It is found in all the elements and not only in one of them.  Here Barnaud is rather more subtle, for he equated heaven with the soul, earth with the body, and water with the spirit, and thus arrives at the idea of the wholeness of a living organism.  “Our material,” he says, “is simultaneously in heaven, on earth, and in the water, as if wholly in the whole and wholly in each part; so that those parts, though otherwise divisible, can no longer be separated from one another after they are made one: the whole Law and Prophets of alchemy seem to depend upon this.” 

The alchemical description of the beginning corresponds psychologically to a primitive consciousness which is constantly liable to break up into individual affective processes - to fall apart, as it were, in four directions. As the four elements represent the whole physical world, their falling apart means dissolution into the constituents of the world, that is, into a purely inorganic and hence unconscious state. Conversely, the combination of the elements and the final synthesis of male and female is an achievement of the art and a product of conscious endeavour. The result of the synthesis was consequently conceived by the adept as self-knowledge, which, like the knowledge of God, is needed for the preparation of the Philosophers' Stone. Piety is needed for the work, and this is nothing but knowledge of oneself. (But piety is grace sent down from God, which teaches every man to know himself as he really is" Dorn). MC 460

Make a round circle of man and woman, extract therefrom a quadrangle and from it a triangle. Make the circle round, and you will have the Philosopher’s Stone.

(lapis?  Stone?)  (***)

   Although, as we have seen, the vessel and its contents are really identical, there is yet a subtle difference in the choice of images.  As Jung has shown, the stone in alchemy signifies the inner spiritual man.  Its divine attributes distinguish it as a particle of God concealed in nature, an analogy to the God who, in Christ, came down to earth in a human body, subject to suffering.  On the other hand, the “cheapness” of the stone (lapis exilis, vilis) alludes to the fact that every human being is its potential bearer, even its begetter.  In this way the alchemical symbol of the lapis compensates for the overly exalted and remote spirituality of the ecclesiastical image of Christ, which is too far removed from the natural earthly man.  TGL 157

The Lapis may therefore be understood as a symbol of the inner Christ, of God in man.”  Looked at from this point of view, the stone represents a further development of the Christ symbol, reaching downwards into matter.  “Without knowing it,” says Jung, “the alchemist carries the idea of the intimatio (Christi) a stage further and reaches the conclusion that complete assimilation to the Redeemer would enable him, the assimilated, to continue the work of redemption in the depths of his own psyche.”  By this means he can even free the divine spirit imprisoned in matter.  He achieves this, not as an ego but acting in the capacity of the Self; hence the symbol of the lapis “came not from the conscious mind of the individual man, but from those border regions of the psyche that open out into the mystery of cosmic matter.”  TGL 158

The lapis of the alchemists represents a symbol of the Self which is certainly analogous to Christ, but its image, by returning to the depths of matter and the psychical, is enriched beyond that of Christ by a darker side that complements it.  Consequently, while the essential material substance of that content is emphasized in the symbol of the stone, the aspect of the vessel stresses another facet of the same symbol, i.e. the importance which attaches to the psychic comprehension of the Self.  A vessel is also a material thing, but it serves the purpose of containing other physical substances.  This specific function of the symbol therefore indicates that the image of the Self, Christ, is practically nonexistent unless it is realized in the human soul.   TGL 158

In alchemy, the lapis represents (a) light-dark unity of the divine opposites.  The alchemical Mercurius, who is identical with the stone, is also considered to be duplex: good with the virtuous and evil with sinners.  He is a god-image in which the opposites appear to be united.  He is identified now with Christ, now with the Devil, he is masculine and feminine, he is a twin (geminus), he is at the same time both Adam and Eve, an old man and a boy.  He is a figure of the Anthropos and of the saviour which, engendered by the unconscious, compensates and completes the light figure of Christ, a deus terrestris et absconditus, and as such is an essential part of the Self (the God-image) which, as the Whole, represents a complexion oppositorum. TGL 151

In alchemy the dragon is considered to be the prima materia of the lapis.