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Rosary of the philosophers

Category: Books sutras and myths

Woodcut illustrating the illuminatio stage, captioned "Here Sol plainly dies again, And is drowned with the Mercury of the Philosophers."

The Rosary of the Philosophers (Rosarium philosophorum sive pretiosissimum donum Dei) is a 16th century alchemical treatise. It was published in 1550 as part II of De Alchimia Opuscula complura veterum philosophorum (Frankfurt). The term rosary in the title is unrelated to the Catholic prayer beads; it refers to a "rose garden", taking on the symbolism of the garden and the rose.

The 1550 print includes a series of 20 woodcuts with German language captions, plus a title page showing a group of philosophers disputing about the production of the lapis philosophorum – the Philosopher’s stone. Some of the woodcut images have precedents in earlier (15th century) German alchemical literature, especially in the Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkei  (ca. 1410) which has

the direct precedents of woodcuts 10, 17 and 19, allegorical of the complete hieros gamos, nrs. 10 and 17 in the form of the "Hermetic androgyne"

The Artis auriferae, printed in 1593 in Basel, reproduced the 20 illustrations as re-cut woodcuts. Johann Daniel Mylius' Philosophia reformata of 1622 also includes the twenty Rosarium images, re-designed in early 17th century style by Balthazar Swan.

All very interesting, but of course the obvious question is, what is it describing?  And the answer is, the last three stages of the spiritual path.

It leads in via the Kundalini experience [01 Fountain] and ends in Annihilation [20 The Saint].  And there are few sources around that quite so graphically describe those stages, nor in such a summarised way.  The figure in each picture is the merged masculine and feminine in you.

Listen to By the Rivers dark - Leonard Cohen whilst you look at the pictures - he has been through this.  "They said to me this heart is not yours" and then Love itself, which is perfect for how it feels.  "And Love itself and love itself was gone".

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