Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why the Red Book is Red

In Alchemy, there are many symbolic systems. Often, a practitioner would create his or her own system. These would possess a variety of properties.

The symbols are polyvalent, an understood and accepted fact, so that once a practioner "knew" the basic structure of the alchemical process one could read another's work (often rendered in artwork) without being confounded.

It was also understood that the process is reiterative and in constant flow (why detachment is necessary--one is never "finished") so a reader or viewer would not expect the writer or artist to deliver the information in a sequential manner.

A third property of the systems involves concealment. While the information begged to be shared, it could only be shared in a way that would reveal its content only to one's peers. These were not breadcrumb trails for strangers but rather records maintained for safe-keeping. One writer described the alchemical knowledge as "a secret set afloat across the sea of time." To maintain the secrecy, the writers were incredibly playful. Wonderfully so. But they were playful with such dark images that it hardly resembles play.

Even under the manifold symbolic systems, there are a number of inviolate levels.

--matter going through the opus will alternate between two states of being: coagula et solve, or coagulated and dissolved.

--matter going through the process will move through three states denoted by color: nigredo, albedo, rubedo.

--matter going through the process will move through seven states: calcinatio, dissolutio, separatio, calcinatio, crucifixio, putrefactio, fermentatio (resurrectio).

Ascribe to each of these "states" about 1000 symbols each and you have the complex symbology of any alchemical text, (check out the colors/animals/plants in Book of Revelations in the Bible). But they denote the same process.

The symbolic systems employ animal imagery (often blending species), colors, plants, shapes, objects (tomb, crucible, bedroom) and human figures (the son, the mother, the virgin, the King) to denote various stages in the process.

The color red denotes the final stage of the process. Symbolized as staining with blood, or blood itself, the red dwells hidden within the whiteness of the albedo phase ("know that in whiteness there is redness hidden" --Artephius). "At this union, the supreme chemical wedding, the body is resurrected to eternal life," writes Lyndy Abraham in The Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery.

The Red Book is Jung's Chemical Wedding, so its color is befitting. What's so beautiful and fascinating about alchemy is that every single thing is symbolic. No part of life is left out of its sacred lexicon, down to the color of inks and books.

And just to make thing s little more interesting, Sir Isaac Newton's home was decorated primarily in crimson as well. . .

No comments: