The subject dealt with in THE BLACK THEATRE OF HERMES TRISMEGISTOS is the Chymical Marriage as described in the writings of the medieval alchemists. The minerals, whose solutions, crystalizations, smeltings and burn ings fill the alchemists' notebooks, describe the separation and coagulation (solve et coagula) of chemical substances in the search for precious metals such as gold and silver; but as Jung and others have been able to show, they also refer symbolically t o the transformation of the soul, suggesting that the real goal of the alchemical process was the discovery of spiritual harmony. But this harmony was not produced without great difficulty.
Just as the outward work of the metallurgist with ore and fire has something violent about it, so also the influences which bear back on the spirit and the soul -and are inescapable in this calling - must be of a dangerous and two-sided nature. In particular, the extraction of the noble metals from impure ores by mea ns of solvent and purifying agents such as mercury and antimony and in conjunction with fire, is inevitably carried out against the resistance of the darksome and chaotic forces of nature, just as the achievement of "inward silver" or "inward gold" - in t heir immutable purity and luminosity - demands the conquest of all the dark and irrational impulses of the soul.
Titus Burkhardt, Alchemy, London 1967, p. 13.
Psychologically considered, the alchemical operation consisted of separating and d istilling the basic elements (sometimes called the prima materia) then reuniting them in purified form in the coniunctio or chymical marriage. This conjunction was personified as a ritual cohabitation of gold and silver or sol and luna (sun and moon). Fro m this sprang the filius sapientiae, the transformed Mercurius, who was thought of as hermaphroditic because of his rounded perfection. This in essence was the shape of events; but the subject was never stated so simply. The doctrine of al-Kimika hides in riddles because it is not intended for everyone. As the alchemist Artephius wrote: "Is it not recognized that ours is a cabbalistic art? By this I mean that it is passed on orally and is full of secrets... I assure you in good faith that whoever would ta ke literally what the alchemists have written will lose himself in the recesses of a labyrinth from which he will never escape."
The alchemists employed colourful imagery to describe chemical processes partly to disguise their work from insincere quacks (the "puffers" as they were contemptuously called) and also to protect it from intervention by the Church. For instance:
I have personified some of these images in HERMES. The metals with which they worked were given additional resonance by associating them with the heavens, thus:
Mineral embryology cou pled with Babylonian astrological speculations produced in the alchemist a feeling that he was working co-operatively with the heavens towards the improvement of nature, including human nature.
We know also that the days of the week are derived from the sam sources: Sunday and Monday from the sun and moon, Tuesday (mardi) from Mars, Wednesday (mercredi) from Mercury, Thursday (jeudi - jovis dies) from Jupiter, Friday (vendredi - veneris dies) from Venus, Saturday from Saturn.
As in astrology, time had great significance for the alchemists, who regarded their work as an acceleration of nature, the control of which made them masters of time. The furnace or athanor in which the gestation of the ores was accelerated and perfected was an artificial womb or uterus; hence the precautions, taboos and ritual acts which accompanied the smelting.
Hermes was the Greek name for the Egyptian god Thoth and Trismegistos means "thrice great." Hermes Trismegistos was believed to have been a historic personage of grea t antiquity, whose grave was discovered by Alexander the Great. That he was an alchemist is demonstrated by his famous Tabula Smaragdina (The Emerald Tablet) which I have incorporated in the text. This work was almost a credo for the medieval alchemists s ince it describes both the physical processes of the operation and relates them to the higher wisdom of the aspiring soul.
I call this a Black Theatre because it is against the foundation of darkness and silence that the events take place. Often the spe akers will whisper; often they are heard in darkness. The whispering is complemented by very soft sounds - I cannot say precisely what sounds - as the orchestra interprets the yantras of the elements.
Colours emanating from the athanor should provide an almost violent contrast to this atmosphere. The phases of the alchemical operation are themselves very suggestive in this respect: nigredo (the blackening), albedo (the whitening), citrinitas (the yellowing), rubedo (the reddening) and cauda pavonis (the peacock's tail) - a rapid and transitory fluctuation of all the colours during certain stages leading to the completion of the work. To this I have suggested green as the colour Hermes Trismegistos, blue as Ariadne's colour and gold as the colour of the Chymical Marriage. The colours are also accompanied by stronger sound from the orchestra, the Mysterious Choir and the voices of the solo singers.
HERMES TRISMEGISTOS belongs to the Patria cycle of works, where it will follow The Greatest Show, a work which in some ways it parallels. The Greatest Show took the form of a carnival in which the hero (Wolf) is lost and the heroine (Ariadne) is dismembered through acts of magic. Both Wolf and Ariadne appear in The Black Theatre and although they make a real contribution to the conjunction of Sol and Luna, they are not themselves conjoined here. It is rather as if the Chymical Marriage is a simulacrum to which they bear witness, a pointer towards their own eventual union.