The Path To The Philosopher’s Stone


Michael Maier, Atlanta Fugiens, Epigramma XXI

While I’ve been on a hiatus from my magnum opus (a speculative historical drama about love, magic, witchcraft and the wars of religion in Renaissance Europe), I am recalling an essay I wrote which is as applicable now in planning next year’s all-female production of Hamlet as Shakespeare is to my drama — you’ll have to wait to read about that! But, I promise that once my Hamlet obsession is dissipated next year, I will resolve to finish writing my play. After all, my Latin teacher has been eagerly nudging me to finish so that she can read/see it before she shuffles off the mortal coil.

Without further ado, here’s that essay.

Beyond Feminism: The Path To The Philosopher’s Stone

"Through Love all that is bitter will sweet. 
Through Love all that is copper will be gold.
Through Love all dregs will turn to purest wine.
Through Love all pain will turn to medicine.
Through Love the dead will all become alive.
Through Love the king will turn into a slave!"

― Rumi

When I read the above poem, the first image in my mind was that of the elusive philosopher’s stone, the alchemists’ most precious source of trans­formative power. The words of Rumi’s poem make patently obvious that love is a catalyst for transformation.

“What is religion if not love. Through love 
one sees the heart, where lies ever hidden
the philosopher's stone."
― Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa

Only in seeing women in an egalitarian light ­ and, I would argue, beyond egalitarian distinction, taking men and women not separately but as a man­/woman, masculine/­feminine, yin/­yang-system of complementary perspectives ­ can we, humankind, achieve a spiritual transformation of a higher order. Yet, it seems to me that since the dawn of dogma, the world’s religions have suppressed this very necessary ascension while providing fertile ground for misogyny to flourish within what is still largely a patriarchal society. Why is clear to see: the perpetuation of a dualist view of the universe. Yet, even at a time when Christian dogma taught that a woman’s sole virtue was the viability of her womb to bear a child, Renaissance women had a defender in the unlikeliest of people, a theologian by the name of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. In 1529, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486 – 1535), a German polymath who was also physician as well theologian, wrote De nobilitate et praecellentia foeminae sexus (On the Nobility and ​Preeminence ​of the Feminine Sex)​ in which using Christian doctrine he argues, “No one who is not utterly blind can fail to see that God gathered all the beauty of which the whole world is capable of in woman…” and “Woman is therefore the completion, perfection, happiness, the blessing and glory of man.​”

Before this in 1518 Agrippa successfully defended a woman against an accusation of witchcraft. In 1617 Michael Maier, a physician and alchemist to Rudolf II of the Holy Roman Empire, published a treatise with a lengthy title that we will abbreviate Atalanta Fugiens. In it he has an emblematic figure and some verse in Latin which is available in many translations and one follows:

Let man and woman grow a circle 
From which grows a square;
Around these put a triangle,
Embed them all in a sphere:
Then you will have the philosopher's stone.
― Michael Maier, Atlanta Fugiens, Epigramma XXI

What I think Rumi, Agrippa and Michael Maier were onto, is the heart of a true philosopher’s stone. Only, it is not a material one ­ It is a spiritual one with no less of a real essence and form.

Upon a staunch cornerstone of feminism we can build a foundation. But, this foundation is not our goal. It is means to spiritual growth. We must go beyond feminism, beyond chauvinism (male and female), beyond dualism, and only then will we see our relationships as something more than the sum of the parts. To know is to love. Thus, through love we may no longer exclude, but include. There will be no us versus them. Gender equality ceases to be an issue once we know and love each other as we know and love ourselves. We shall not see the material shells of the sexes nor shall we weigh differences with similarities because regardless of whoever we look upon, we will see ourselves, one spirit manifesting as material multiplicity.

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