Most people know that the sea contains magnesium in the form of salts, particularly magnesium sulphate. Sea salt consists on average of sixteen per cent of magnesium salts. … There is enough common salt dissolved in the earth’s oceans to build all the continents and mountain ranges. The proportion of magnesium in the salt would suffice for the building of one entire continent. By contrast with such a huge mass of magnesium, the amount of magnesium-bearing rock found in the earth’s mountains, in the form of magnesite, dolomite, and the magnesium silicates like mica, hornblende and asbestos, is negligible. …
To form a conception of the nature of magnesium we shall have to concern ourselves with magnesia-bearing rock. Magnesite - magnesium carbonate - stands out, for it is used industrially in burnt form. During the firing process it changes into magnesium oxide. It is this oxide’s resistance to heat that makes it so valuable in manufacturing. High temperatures fuse an initially light, fluffy powder into rock almost impossible to melt. This capacity to resist heat, which holds up under temperatures as high as 2,000°C and more, makes magnesia valuable as a lining material in steel-smelting furnaces. So we may say that it preserves its static character even when attacked by fire, but with a behaviour different from that of lime. While lime becomes violent on firing, magnesia remains calm and gentle; it is not given to hissings, greedy devourings, and corrosive action. Quicklime is a corrosive base, which earns it the name corrosive lime. Magnesia is a mild base.
Magnesia’s resistance to heat is coupled with another quality: it radiates light with an intensity hard to equal. When magnesium burns and turns into magnesia it makes a blinding white light that casts shadows even in full sunlight. So we see that the sun’s rays themselves, as they reach the earth, cannot match the intensity of light magnesium gives off. This property causes magnesium to be widely used in the making of all sorts of lighting equipment.
This power to ray out, so characteristic of magnesia, also appears morphologically in the ray-formation of magnesium-bearing rock. Magnesium silicates, such as actinolite, serpentine, talc, asbestos, and the like, tend especially to a radiating or fibrous structure, reminiscent - as asbestos is - of textile fibre. Asbestos (was) actually used to make fireproof thread, cloth, rope and wall-boards.
A further phenomenon is produced by magnesium’s affinity to light. Those who have visited the southern Tyrol and witnessed there the glorious spectacle of the ‘Alpine glow’, will remember its beauty for the rest of their lives. These mountains, the Dolomites, are built of so-called dolomitic limestone, an isomorphic mixture of calcium carbonate and magnesite. It is harder than ordinary limestone and does not as a rule have the radiating structure usually found in magnesia rock. But when the sun has sunk behind the horizon, the light these peaks have absorbed shines out at the onset of darkness with a gentle rose-red glow.
This unparalleled affinity to light possessed by magnesium explains its presence in the substance chlorophyll and the role it plays in assimilation. Plants, as we know, are made of light, and in the sheaved rays of cellulose fibres we really have, so to speak, materialised sun rays. Here magnesium shows itself in the role of a light-propellant in assimilation. It is magnesium that thrusts light into the dense materiality of starch and cellulose. The same propulsive forces are at work in spring when seeds, which contain considerable amounts of magnesium, begin to germinate, often thrusting up heavy layers of earth or snow in the process.
The same dynamic function serves the human organism wherever solid matter is excreted or separated off from fluids. We see this happening most obviously in the digestive process, at the point where waste matter is separated out of the chyme and takes on a firmer consistency. The drastic effect of ingesting Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) indicates the close connection of magnesium with intestinal functioning.
Deep inside the organism there are other eliminative processes which must be recognised as such. One of these is the depositing of bone-building matter in the skeleton, likewise a moulding of solids out of fluids. This process is most obvious in young children, whose organisms are still very plastic and as yet scarcely mineralised. Their bones are subject to a hardening process that reaches its culmination and completion in the emergence of the second teeth, the last and hardest product of the body. At this point the solid organism has been separated from the fluid. And forces that previously served organic functions are now set free, in the form of a capacity to think and remember, making the child ready to begin his schooling.
It is the magnesium process which we see at work in all such developments. On the one hand it plays the role of a hardening agent, compressing life into solid earthly form. On the other it activates light-forces. Thus it combines startlingly contrasting functions.
These contrasts are represented in zodiacal imagery as the centaur. His horse’s body symbolises ties with earthly animality, yet with the rest of his being he raises himself to a luminous human height. In mythology the picture of the centaur with his bow and arrow has always been the symbol of these contrasting forces. The ancients experienced them as proceeding from that part of the heavens known as the constellation of the hunter, Sagittarius.
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