Reported by John-Peter Gernaat
This is a series of three talks that explores the advent of Christ in the three healing processes as described by Theophrastus von Hohenheim, probably better known as Paracelsus. Paracelsus was born in Egg an der Sihl, a village close to the Etzel Pass in Einsiedeln, Schwyz, Switzerland. At the age of 16 he started studying medicine at the University of Basel, later moving to Vienna. He gained his medical doctorate from the University of Ferrara, Italy, in 1515 or 1516. The name Paracelsus was either a translation into Latin of Hohenheim, meaning beyond the heights, or it was given to him by his students who felt that he had gone beyond Celsus, a Roman writer who had collected an encyclopaedia of medical knowledge, that continued to be referenced into the 16th century. Paracelsus in known as the father of toxicology, but he presented the world with a picture of three healing processes that he referred to as salt, mercury and sulphur. Because of what Paracelsus said about these healing processes we can relate them to some of the primary soul forces that Plato described. We can also relate them to a picture of the human being as we understand it today because of his descriptions of these three processes. The names he gave to the three healing processes, he gave for a reason: these terms already existed and had been used previously. But Paracelsus used these terms because he saw in salt something of a stability, a form that has the ability to dissolve. His healing processes were about substances that can dissolve and then combine or reunite in a new way, in a healing way. Salt is solid, mercury (quicksilver) is fluid and sulphur as a process of burning.
The reason for studying these three processes in our Community is that with the coming of the Christ into the forces of life, the etheric realm we can more easily recognise the presence of The Christ forces in the healing processes. It is thus good to recognise the Christ in all processes of healing. It is for this reason that the season of Advent is appropriate to undertake this study.
What can we come to understand about salt, mercury and sulphur in terms of the elements – the elements as described by the ancient Greeks? Paracelsus said that in the salt process it is possible to see two of the elements:
On the other side of the salt process was the process that was clearly:
In the process of burning sulphur burns away completely.
Mercury in its fluidity lives between these two. Thus:
As a consequence of this we can relate this to the human being. We can also refer to Rudolf Steiner who related the salt process to the physical and etheric forces of the human being. The salt process has everything to do with the living body of the human being – physical body and life body. The Mercury process has to do with a combination of the etheric and the astral, the human soul processes. The sulphur process is connected with the astral and Ego-organisation of the human being and thus is connected with the spirit and renewal.
In the sacrament of baptism in The Christian Community we baptise with salt, water and ash, but in the order water, salt and ash. The fluid, mercury process has to do with ensoulment and salt has to do with anchoring us, a stability, and the ash is a renewal process. We therefore associate salt in the baptism with the forces of Christ, the forces of the Son God. In this instance we will focus on the forces of the Son God in all three of the process although it is clear that we can also speak of the forces of the Father God and the Spirit God. Steiner also introduces the three healing processes as processes of the soul.
Because of the salt process in the body, Steiner says, we can think. Through the mercury process in the soul we have the capacity for feeling. Through the sulphur process we have the capacity of will that is really focused on the future.
When we look at the substances of salt, water and ash in the baptism we can, in combing the processes of thinking, feeling and willing with body, soul and spirit, see in the fluid process of water feeling in thought which is the process of the opening of the first chakra in the descending path. The salt, which is placed on the chin, the second chakra, is the activity of thought in willing. Ash, which is placed on the heart, the third charka, is the activity of will in feeling.
This first talk is about the salt process and therefore about thinking and the body.
The most profound experience of salt in ancient literature is the experience of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19). Lot and his wife leave the cities of Sodom and Gomorra as they are being purified in the fire of sulphur (brimstone) – the cities are renewed in the purifying fire of the spirit. Lot and his family are not required to go through this purification process. They journey on but as they leave Lot’s wife turns back to look at what was. This part of the world is represented by the Dead Sea – a sea that is very high in salt content. Before the time of Abraham the human body did not show aging in the physical body. The human grew up to be an adult and then retained that physical appearance until death without looking any older. The signature of decay did not manifest in the human body. In the case of Lot’s wife, upon turning to look back she becomes completely sclerotic, she becomes frozen and disintegrates into a non-living body. She becomes salt. She is the first recorded person to age physically. She becomes the full manifestation of what the human physical body carries.
This is shared by Rudolf Steiner and tells us something of the process of salt as it was, not the process of salt as it is now where it is a healing process. Without the power of renewal that has come about through Christ, we are all pillars of salt – we are all heading towards the densification of matter into a crystalline form.
Why does Lot’s wife become a pillar of salt and show effects of aging and the sclerotic forces? She turns around because she is lacking certainty that she is on the right path. She turns around to look back at what was for one last time. She still longs for the past and has not yet moved on. She carries doubt in herself that the new journey of Abraham is the journey she should be on. She does not have faith. This tells us that the human being needs faith only when in the physical body. Once we cross the threshold we do not need faith, we are faced with the reality of all things. In the body we need to develop the eye of the soul to see the spiritual reality of things, we need faith. We can develop the eye of the soul so that in our body we can carry this extraordinary element. This is why the Christ can say to his disciples: “you are the salt of the earth!”. It is in the human body that we carry that which the earth will need. Why is that? It is only so because Christ forces have come into the very being of the disciples through their association with Jesus – the Christ forces radiated into them. This is where the Christ comes into the healing process of salt, because Christ entered into the very being of Jesus of Nazareth, into the human constitution. It is possible from then, through the Mystery of Golgotha, for all of us to bear the Christ in us. It is the birth of the Ego-organisation IN the human being. This redeems the body so that we are not destined to become pillars of salt, but rather that we become the salt of the earth. This is important because we now carry something that can preserve the future development of the human being. This is what cannot afford to die. We were in a process of a dying earth existence. Christ comes to renew the dying earth existence by renewing the forces in the human constitution. Through that the world around us is renewed. We become the cardinal – the hinge – of Christ’s activity in the world.
If Christ acts in the world, he does so in two ways. Firstly, by associating with the body of the earth – the body of the earth is now the Body of Christ. Secondly, he acts in the human being through the incorporation of the I-organisation. We work with the Christ in us as we meet the Christ in the body of the earth. We do this by receiving the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ in the Eucharist is connected with this healing process. We shall see the forces of the water and the wine connected with the mercury and sulphur processes. Thus, in the Communion we have the totality of the healing processes for body, soul and spirit.
The salt process in the body gives us the power to think. Steiner says that if we could understand the digestive process, when salt is taken in is that it enlivens the etheric. This makes the physical-etheric combination that is the living body more alive. We should realise that this is where most of our healing must take place, for our bodies will continue on the path of ‘saltification’, in the old sense of the word. When we receive Communion we hear: “that the soul die not”. The etheric and astral combination has the capacity to accompany the ego-organisation. Before the Communion we hear the final of the three prayers which speaks of the healing processes: “not unto death, but unto the life of the soul and my formative forces” – the etheric and the astral at work. This is what we want to heal. If that is healed it will connect the ego-organisation all the more with the physical body. How does this affect our thinking? We can see the pole of salt and sulphur as earth and fire, and also the poles of sulphur and mercury as masculine and feminine, and when the two come together, a body – salt is formed, an existence on the earth can take place. We can look at these in different ways, but in the Act of Consecration of Man we are aware, during the Transubstantiation, that: “our hearts unite with Christ”. From the heart-unity with Christ, from this in-between space, we are able to stand at peace and unite in such a way that our thinking and willing are able to engage in the evolution of humanity. There is a strong connection between thinking and willing. What we think will affect the way we act in the world and the way in which we engage positively in the world will have a beneficial effect on our thinking. The point is that Christ comes into the very body of the human being to transform the very way in which we think in the body. The way we think when we cross the threshold is very different to the way we think in the body. The processes of being embodied is a process of developing a new capacity for thinking that can only come about in a body. That capacity for thinking needs to be healed. We reached a certain high point in our capacity of thinking on the earth. The Greek culture expressed the high point capacity of human thinking on the earth in expressed and written philosophy. This was the high point of the ability of human thinking when the human being tries to take hold of the world. That needs healing because in itself it is not perfect. The forces of Christ perfect that human thinking. This becomes clear in the letters of Paul. He is able to bring the forces of Christ into the philosophy of the Greek culture. He uses the Greek philosophy to explain how in our thinking we can come to understand the Christ. This process of healing is part of the salt process. Thomas Aquinas would not have had the capacity to do what he did with only an Aristotelian thinking capacity. It was through the advent of Christ in human history, and in human experience that we come to feel the creative capacity to create the embodied thinking we need to dispel doubt so that faith can grow from our thinking. Salt has the capacity to dispel.
Thinking is a new creation of form. Our thinking informs us. We must understand that the forces of form are disintegrating. The formative forces of the Elohim have been disintegrating for several centuries already as they ‘hand over’ to the beings of personality, the Archai, who are preparing for the next stage of human evolution. We have to hold a form that is no longer held for us, that is no longer being held for us. Through our thinking we inform a process. When we think in a certain way we can act in a certain way. This is part of becoming our own person.
The second talk looked at the mercury healing process and the influence of the advent of Christ in this process.
The 8th century Arabic writer Jabir (Abū Mūsā Jābir ibn Ḥayyān) described mercury as a feminine principle and the sulphur as masculine principle. Paracelsus would have been familiar with the work of Jabir. We can thus see in the mercury process the capacity to bear life which is the feminine principle. Mercury, which was more commonly known as quicksilver, where ‘quick’ means energising and bringing to life. Sulphur with its capacity to burn with a passion bears the masculine principle.
A mercury healing process had to do with fluidity or easing flow. Previously we considered salt as structured and as giving form. We use the term ‘crystal clear’ when we have a clear grasp of a concept in our thinking. We come to understand that the structured, crystalline form of salt is connected with thinking. We need fluidity in our feeling. There needs to be an ease of flow. When our feelings become stuck they can hold us back. Our feelings rise up in us and they must then take us somewhere.
In considering mercury as an element, number 80 on the periodic table bearing 80 protons and neutrons and having the symbol Hg for hydrargyrum. In the Latin name there is ‘hydra’ for water and ‘argyrum’ which comes from the Latin argentum for silver. The name is thus watery-silver. Mercury formed one of the seven metals of the ancient world. The ancient Sumerians understood that the seven mobile stars endowed the earth with the gift that we can find only when we go into the earth: the seven principal metals. The ancient Sumerians recognised in the sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn mighty divine beings who worked together as a mighty force. Mercury was gifted by the planet Mercury. The god of the ancient Sumerians connected with communication was Nabu, god of scribes and writing. Writing was seen as a quicksilver process because it enlivens the experience of the reader of that which had been written. We can thus see that the god connected with communication remained connected with quicksilver even as the various cultures changed the name of the god. Mercury is the Roman god derived from the Greek god Hermes who carried a rod bearing a double-headed snake entwined around the rod. This picture of the rod derives from a Sumerian god who was the rod with the double-headed snake. Hermes thus carries another god with him providing the communication he carried with wisdom and creative forces from the rod he bore. Of the seven metals, gold, silver, tin, lead, copper, iron and mercury, only mercury is fluid as room temperature. It is the only metal that appears as liquid at room temperature (25°C). Gallium, Caesium, Francium and Rubidium are metals that become liquid at near room temperature, respectively becoming liquid at 29.76°C, 28°C, 27°C and 39°C. But these are not recognised as part of the seven metals gifted by the mobile stars. Mercury becomes liquid at -39°C. It is a very viscous fluid but has a great ease of flow. The ancient Sumerians recognised a connection between mercury and the human lungs, the ease of flow in the lungs. The sun was connected with heart formation, Jupiter with liver formation and Venus with kidney formation and copper.
Fluidity brings us to feeling which resides in the central area of the body. We feel more alive when we take in a deep breath, and we are able to release something with a sharp out-breath.
What is the Christ in the healing process of fluidity and water? In the mercury healing process Christ gives us hope. Hope overcomes the fear that we may have about moving into our future. A paraphrased quote: “we must be careful that we are not frozen out of fear of the future but rather open to moving into our vision of the future”. Without the presence of Christ our feelings can freeze – part of the fight, flight, freeze, flock mechanism of fear. Christ enables us to remain fluid in our feelings providing hope which allow us to move into the future. Salt in Christ provided surety of faith in our thinking so that we can be embodied as human being. Mercury is the flow that allows us to move with hope in the life of a Christ-formed soul.
Mercury is the fluid feeling in thought. We have to think about the vision of the future. We must use our thinking to create the image of the future. Then we can flow in our feelings towards this future. This is the great gift of the mercury healing process that also speaks to the quality of the bearing of life.
Water, as a substance is connected with this. We speak of the two substances, bread and wine, on the altar. We have taken grain and grape and turned grain into bread and turned grape into wine. In both cases the process has been one of crushing to release what is held in the grain and the grape. We also have water on the altar. We bring the three processes of the salt healing process in the bread, the mercury healing process in the fluidity of the water and sulphur process of healing in the wine. We have all three healing processes coming together on the altar. The bread that is held up is broken (fractio panis in Latin) and a tenth is added to the chalice, bring all three healing processes together in the chalice. This enlivens the three processes to form a unity. The chalice thus bears the wine blended with water and infused with the salt bearing process of the bread. This is an alchemical process that brings the full strengthening of the healing that the sacrament brings.
The mercury process is the healing that hope brings in the human being. Hope springs eternal in the heart of the human being. We always go to bed in the hope of rising. If we do not rise to life on earth, the hope is that we rise to life in the spirit.
The healing processes that we are considering have been identified because they each encapsulate some of the characteristics that we see in the substances from which they derive their name. But these healing processes are not about the ingestion of these substances, they are much more pertinent and relevant in their connection to the elements, as described above, and to the soul processes.
We find references to sulphur in the Odyssey when Odysseus wishes to clear the house to which he returns after ten years of wandering, he asks for sulphur to be burned. Sulphur is connected with the gods in the Greek tradition, which the Greeks in turn inherited from older cultures. We find that substances that contain sulphur and are then further enriched in sulphur are given the name ‘thio’, which refers to God. This connection with the gods concerns the process of purification. We may consider that the presence of sulphur in Hades or Hell is connected with a purification that occurs to those who find themselves there. There is also a link between sulphur in the Underworld to the sulphurous processes in volcanoes.
The sulphurous healing process was always seen as a burning process, reducing to ash, taking something away so that something new becomes possible.
Salt is connected with thinking, mercury with feeling and, therefore, sulphur with willing. The ash we use in the Sacrament of Baptism is connected with renewal. The water is placed as a triangle on the forehead of the child signifying that this fluid process has to do with feeling in thinking. The salt is inscribed as a square on the chin connecting with structure and form signifying thinking in will activity. Ash is inscribed as a cross on the breast bone (heart) signifying the renewed forces of will in the sulphur process that is about will in feeling. The most important feeling is the one that connects us. This connection is with ourselves, with others, with the world and with the Divine.
Christ in the healing processes brings faith in the salt process, hope in the mercury process and love with the burning sulphur process. These healing processes no longer operate without the renewing presence of Christ. The great act of love is the great Deed of Christ in the Mystery of Golgotha. It is love that conquers death. Love makes resurrection forces possible. In the sulphur process there is renewal and regeneration. Something new can arise out of something that has been completely annihilated, completely ended.
The three healing processes are also connected with Epiphany in the three substances that the Magi bring as gifts to the wise child that they recognise as the reincarnation of Zarathustra. They bring gifts that represent thinking, feeling and willing. The gold that is so often fashioned into a crown to hold the thinking space. This is thinking that is formed, and pure, and shining, and bright, and bands (holds) us. The frankincense, a resin, which can be burned bring a fluidity and flow. Myrrh, also a resin, used in the processes of embalming, assisting in the process of transformation of a life that undergoes death to a renewal of a new birth and new life in the spirit. The three gifts carry the same essence that we find in the salt for our thinking, mercury for our feeling and sulphur for our willing. We see relationships that are very specific to these healing processes.
Paracelsus very carefully selected these names for the healing processes where he recognised the healing in the processes that build up, and the processes that break down, and the processes that permit flow. We recognise them as the processes in our body we refer to as anabolic processes – processes that build up, catabolic processes – processes that break down, and metabolic processes – processes that allow something to be balanced and allow substances to move from one reality or space to another. We therefore already have an understanding of these processes. Thinking helps to build up our sense of the world, our relationships that form and create concepts that we can hold onto for crystal clarity. This is the formation of something that builds up: the processes that build up our thinking are the same as the processes that build up our body: anabolic processes. The feeling of finding our way, a reflection on our feelings – we often draw our feeling into our thinking (“Take this into your thinking” from the Act of Consecration of Man), what resonates in our feeling we take into our thinking to understand it so that we can work with it. Rudolf Steiner says that feelings are personal, they have nothing to do with the world, but how we think about them, taking the percept of feeling and combining it with a concept in thinking has something to offer the world. Feelings require a relationship through thinking to be of value and to not become harmful and corrosive when we react through feeling. This relates to the mercury healing process. When we take our feelings into our will, imbuing our feeling with action that through love can build something constructive in the world, that is the burning process of sulphur. We can also see that the balance of thinking through our feelings and taking this thinking though feeling into action is important, the three processes working in harmony.
The sulphur process is a process in Christ because in Christ we receive the gift of love that overcomes hatred.
There are three dark forces: doubt for which we need to develop faith; fear for which we need to develop hope, so that we can move again; and hatred for which we need to develop love. A renewed security in love comes from the connections we build through the burning away of what was (and is not of value) through the sulphur process. The salt and mercury foundation allow the sulphur process to come into its own.
In Advent we wait to face a future of the Son of Man, that Being which provides us with the forces to build our thinking, that Being which provides us with the capacity to move in our feeling, and makes it possible to will our actions out of love. The sulphur process though the advent of Christ is the possibility to love. In this world it is easy to hate, because it is easy to see the separation and to ‘other’ other people, seeing them as different and through this difference as being ‘less than’, and, hence, worthy of hatred. Community is the place where companionship can take place. This is an important aspect of the sulphur process with the advent of Christ as a healing process that it allows us to build a new capacity as stated in Luke 21. The new capacity is the capacity for love. Love is the one true thing that can overcome everything. Love is the force that moves the universe. We have known it since Dante described Paradise when he realises that everything in the universe that moves, that flows, that connects, that renews is as a consequence of love. It is love, he says, that is at the heart of everything in the Cosmos. This is the advent of Christ.
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