the triple veil of Isis
Statue of veiled Isis
 
A statue covered in a black veil was erected on the presumed tomb of Isis, close to Memphis. On the statue’s pedestal was engraved the following inscription: “I am everything that was, [QUID FUIT], everything that is [QUID EST], that will be [QUID ERIT] and no mortal has yet dared to lift my veil. ”
Beneath this veil are hidden all the mysteries and the knowledge of the past… Pulling back Isis’ veil represents the revelation of the light, and to succeed in doing so is to become immortal.

 
Because the path was followed voluntarily and concerned no-one but the individual him or herself, Egyptian religion never had the missionary spirit. It was tolerant of the world and kind to its children. Egypt would only ever look to its temples for its worldly conscience. The country never wanted to impose it on others, which is why it was reluctant to receive visits from some Greek students, whom they reproached for their ignorance and chatter. They were Homer, Solon, Pythagoras, Democritus, Eudoxus, Herodotus, Iamblichus, Plato, Plutarch and Thales.
 
However, by a paradox lost in the mists of time, it was the Greeks who sang the praises of Egypt everywhere, spreading the worship of Isis and Osiris throughout Europe. It was they who revealed some of the secrets of the ancient priests. Respectful, they kept what they had learned from this Knowledge closed up in the sanctuaries. Skilled in the art of the written word, they let Isis’ veil once again cover the initiatory secrets to which they became the heirs.
 
Now at the beginning of the third millennium, Knowledge and Light seem shrouded in darkness, myths and divinities have slipped from our sight. There is no Homer to sing when the gods appear, no longer a pharaoh to welcome the sun. However, all eyes turn to Egypt when the night takes over peoples consciences. The celestial lights still shine in this mirror of the sky, and all you have to do is take a look and open your mind, as Guillaume Apollinaire claimed: “it’s high time to light up the stars again.”
 
“Do you forget then, Asclepius, that Egypt is the image of the sky, […] the place where all those operations that govern and initiate the celestial forces are transferred and projected here below? More than that, it must be said that our land is the whole world’s Temple.”
Hermes Trismegistus, Corpus Hermeticum II

 
 

The world of alchemy is full of symbols and allegories that are unfathomable for the uninitiated. The illustrations in alchemical treatises represent a real puzzle with their mixture of men, animals, landscapes, cities, mythological divinities and geometric shapes, and provide an allegorical explanation of all the operations in the Great Work.

1 - Geometric symbols

The four elements have their own set of symbols, depicted by plain triangles or crossed by a line and with the apex pointing upwards or downwards.

When considered as a whole, the four elements are represented by a six-pointed star.

A simple triangle corresponds to the matter of the Philosopher's Stone obtained from the three principles (Purification - Albification - Rubification) and a square relates to the same matter, but obtained from the four elements. If both forms are fitted into each other, it means that the stone is obtained by combining both possibilities.

Numbers also play an important role, and to give you a significant example, the universal matter is symbolised by the number 10 according to the following equation:

1 (universal matter) + 2 (the fixed and the volatile) + 3 (3 principles) + 4 (4 elements) = 10

2 - Alchemical animals

Animals, both fabulous and otherwise, have an important role in the figurative enigma of alchemy. It is highly complex and open to interpretation; nevertheless, there are a few standard rules:

- Elements:
Water = whale, fish or even Neptune
Earth = lion, bull
Fire = salamander, dragon or even a sword, scythe or Mars
Air = eagle
- Metals:
Mercury = flying eagle
Antimony = wolf
Sulphur or gold = dog

All the symbols can be combined to signify a specific operation. For example, a dog devoured by a wolf designates the purification of gold by antimony.

- The fixed or sulphur and the volatile or mercury:

These two components are illustrated by animals of the same species, but of a different sex. The male embodies the fixed, whereas the female signifies the volatile. When coupled, these animals designate the conjunction of sulphur and mercury. If they are fighting, and depending on their dominant position, they express volatile fixation or fixed volatilisation.

Similarly, two elements incarnated in the same drawing means sulphur or the fixed and mercury or the volatile.

Generally, any winged animal represents the volatile principle, and any wingless animal the fixed principle.

3 - Plants and heavenly bodies

Alchemists maintained close links between men, heavenly bodies and the vegetable and mineral kingdoms.

Sun: buttercup, camomile, sunflower
Moon: sage, fleur-de-lis, poppy
Mercury: fern, lavender, lily of the valley
Venus: cherry tree, rose, eglantine, vervain
Mars: basil, gentian, absinthe
Jupiter: mother-of-thyme, lemon balm, chervil
Saturn: elm, giant hemlock, holly

Metals and certain vital organs are associated with the heavenly bodies:

Sun Gold Heart
Moon Silver Brain
Earth Antimony Blood
Mercury Mercury Nervous system
Venus Copper Kidneys
Mars Iron Gall-bladder
Jupiter Tin Liver
Saturn Lead Bones
4 - Operations of the Great Work

Each operation has an illustrated correspondence that is always extensive, but a few recognisable principles can be shown.

The Prima Materia or raw material of the Great Work is embodied by the bear, boar, ram, donkey, wolf, dog or tortoise.

The philosopher's egg is represented by a room enclosing a king and queen.

A bird in the air symbolises volatilisation, whereas it signifies albification if the bird happens to be swooping down to earth.

A bath designates the dissolving of gold and silver, in other words, purification.

Putrefaction is depicted by two fighting dragons, the crow or even chaos, the black colour of which relates to the colour of the work.

The combination of sulphur and mercury is symbolised by a marriage officiated by a priest, who represents the salt, which is used to combine the two principles. A combination of the fixed and the volatile may also be depicted by a griffin, a mythical animal with the head and chest of an eagle and the body of a lion

Finally, the Great Work or Philosopher's Stone is represented by a tree with suns hanging from its branches, a lion or even a crowned child in a red royal costume. Rubification, the ultimate phase in transforming the matter, is also symbolised by the phoenix, the bird of Hermes that is reborn from its ashes.