In general, if not universal terms, the Ouroboros may be defined as a self-sustaining, tail-eating snake, but it is clear that there is far more to the matter than this, for the concept is almost global in its distribution and evidently has far deeper meanings in many cultures. In researching the ouroborus it soon became apparent that a number of people had not only concerned themselves with the topic, they had also placed their understanding of it on the Internet. The graphical representations and insights below are all from this rapidly expanding resource.

Ouroborus and the Internet

Fom left to right, the first Ouroboros is one of the better known examples, which according to the source (Chris McCoy) was from: "The Chrysopoeia ('Gold-Making') of Cleopatra during the Alexandrian Period. The enclosed words mean ' the all is one.'" The same source also explains that: "In the above drawing, from a book by an early Alchemist, Cleopatra, the black half symbolizes the Night, Earth, and the destructive force of nature, yin. the light half represents Day, Heaven, the generative, creative force, yang. Alchemically, the ouroboros is also used as a purifying glyph ...The 'tail-devourer' is the symbolization of concepts such as completion, perfection and totality, the endless round of existence, etc. It is usually represented as a worm or serpent with its tail in its mouth."
The second example and the following expansion on the topic is by Chris Aynesworth (The World Tree) "Of The Androgyne: The Serpent Ouroboros."

"Ouroboros was and is the name for the Great World Serpent, encircling the earth. The word 'Ouroboros' is really a term that describes a similar symbol which has been cross-pollinated from many different cultures. From "Ouroboros," there is the serpent or dragon gnawing at its own tail. The symbolic connotation from this owes to the returning cyclical nature of the seasons; the oscillations of the night sky; self-fecundation; disintegration and re-integration; truth and cognition complete; the Androgyne (see below); the primaeval waters; the potential before the spark of creation; the undifferentiated; the Totality; primordial unity; self-sufficiency, and the idea of the beginning and the end as being a continuous unending principle. It represents the conflict of life as well in that life comes out of life and death. 'My end is my beginning.' In a sense life feeds off itself, thus there are good and bad connotations which can be drawn. It is a single image with the entire actions of a life cycle - it begets, weds, impregnates, and slays itself, but in a cyclical sense, rather than linear. Thus, it fashions our lives to a totality more towards what it may REALLY be - a series of movements which repeat. "As Above, So Below" - we are born from nature, and we mirror it, because it is what man wholly is a part of.
Born from this symbolic notion, there are many different cultures which share this great dragon-serpent symbol (the serpent Jormungandr, from the myth of Yggdrasil, is just one). There are some cultures that see the image as not being beneficial, but evil - like Satan. These more specific re-interpretations will be spoken of later.
It is of interest to mention that a symbol such as that of the Ouroboros is something which Carl Jung refers to as an archetype; it seems to makes its way into our conscious mind time and time again in varying forms. The 19th century German chemist named Kekule dreamed of a snake with its tail in its mouth one day after dosing off. He had been researching the molecular structure of benzene, and was at a stop point in his work until after waking up he interpreted the dream to mean that the structure was a closed carbon ring. This was the breakthrough he needed.
There is another mention of the Ouroboros laying at the edge of "the sea which surrounds the world," called Pontus. The Ouroboros encircles the Universe; everything known and unknown is encompassed in its embracing coils, supporting and maintaining the earthly balance. It injects life into death and death into budding life. Its form suggests immobility with its locked jaws upon itself, yet at the same time it pushes the insistent message of perpetual movement through its twined coils. The first clues to this symbol go back as far as 1600-1700 BC in Egypt. Through the years the serpent moved on to the Phoenicians and the Greeks-who were what gave it the name "Ouroboros." The Greek translation means, "tail eater."
It has a strong relation to what is known as the Androgyne. The androgyne is the united male and female principles together. This is the prime primordial end to human endeavor, the reunion which births totality and creation. It is not unlike the idea of androgyny, which is a duality complete. "A return to wholeness."
The third is apparently an Aztec Ouroboros (with proportions that even Hermes would have found pleasing) originally from: Project Ouroborus at the University of Minnesota, which has a large and diverse selection of these impressive archtypes. The following commentary from this source links with what has already been said and also adds further points of interest:
This symbol appears principally among the Gnostics and is depicted as a dragon, snake or serpent biting its own tail. In the broadest sense, it is symbolic of time and the continuity of life. It sometimes bears the caption Hen to pan  - 'The One, the All', as in the Codex Marcianus, for instance, of the 2nd century A.D. It has also been explained as the union between the chthonian principle as represented by the serpent and the celestial principal as signified by the bird (a synthesis which can also be applied to the dragon). Ruland contends this proves that it is a variant of the symbol for Mercury - the duplex god. In some versions of the Ouroboros, the body is half light and half dark, alluding in this way to the successive counterbalancing of opposing principls as illustrated in the Chinese Yin-Yang  symbol for instance. Evola asserts that it represents the dissolution of the body, or the universal serpent which (to quote the Gnostic saying) 'passes through all things'. Poison, the viper and the universal solvent are all symbols of the undifferentiated-of the 'unchanging law' which moves through all things, linking them by a common bond. Both the dragon and the bull are symbolic antagonists of the solar hero. The Ouroboros biting its own tail is symbolic of self-fecundation, or the primitive idea of a self-sufficient Nature - a Nature, that is which, à la  Nietzsche, continually returns, within a cyclic pattern, to its own beginning. There is a Venetian manuscript on alchemy which depicts the Ouroboros with its body half-black (symbolizing earth and night) and half-white (denoting heaven and light).
Continuing in the same locale and context, Solar Architect Dennis Holloway more than twenty years ago defined the Ouroboros as: ".. the ancient Greek mythical serpent that survived by devouring itself." He also linked the Ouroboros with the following quotation from Plato's Timæus:
"It had no need of eyes, for there was nothing outside it to be seen; nor of ears, for there was nothing outside to be heard. There was no surrounding air to be breathed, nor was it in need of any organ by which to supply itself with food or to get rid of it when digested. Nothing went out from or came into it anywhere, for there was nothing. Of design it was made thus, its own waste providing its own food, acting and being acted upon entirely with and by itself, because its designer considered that a being which was sufficient unto itself would be far more excellent than one which depended upon anything." from Timaeus, (33 -The Construction of the World)
The fourth ouroboros is from Alciato's Book of Emblems and the Memorial Web Library at Memorial University of Newfoundland. The latter source also provided the fifth example (Emblem 2.40) and the following amplification:
Emblem 2.40 from George Wither's A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London, 1635), page 102. A demanding poem to read on a screen. The plate was engraved by Crispin de Passe and son, and was first used in Gabriel Rollenhagen's Nucleus emblematum selectissimorum, quae Itali vulgo impresas vocant ... (Arnhem and Utrecht, 1611-13). The Greek running around the picture (aionion kai proskairon) means something like "timeless, and timely." In a later emblem (3.23) Wither explains further the snake swallowing its tail (ouroboros):
Old Sages by the Figure of the Snake
Encircled thus) did oft expression make
Of Annual-Revolutions; and of things,
Which wheele about in everlasting-rings;
There ending, where they first of all begun ..
... These Roundells, help to shew the Mystery
of that immense and blest Eternitie,
From whence the CREATURE sprung, and into whom
It shall again, with full perfection come ...
The sixth, a more ornate dragon-like example, is one of twelve emblems discussed in detail by Adam Mclean in terms of psychological and alchemical symbolism. (A Threefold Alchemical Journey Through the Book of Lambspring). As Mclean leads up to the latter example, he explains that:
The first layer of five emblems deal with the different facets of polarities in our inner world.
The second emblem shows a different aspect to polarities in the fight between the inner dragon and an armed knight (a St George figure) in the Forest of the Soul. In this emblem there is a sense that the polarities must struggle to overcome each other.
Next in Emblem 3 we have the beautiful picture of the meeting in a clearing in the forest of a magnificent Stag and a graceful Unicorn. The Stag as a symbol is often associated with the Sun and the Unicorn is usually linked with the Moon. These polarities are to be coupled together through the alchemist's work.
Next, in Emblem 4, the polarities are seen in their manifestation as masculine and feminine, pictured here in the meeting of Lion and Lioness. We note how they raise their opposite paws (Lion - right, Lioness - left) mirroring the posture of the Stag and Unicorn in the previous emblem.
The fifth emblem, which completes this part of the sequence shows the wild Wolf and the tamed Dog fighting for supremacy. These polarities are further linked in the verse with the directions West (Dog) and East (Wolf). Thus we can see that the first five emblems show us different ways in which the polarities appear in our inner world. The dynamically opposed though balanced way of the two fishes, the battling of the Dragon and Knight elements, or Wolf and Dog, and the meeting and relationship indicated in the Stag-Unicorn and Lion-Lioness emblems.
The next five emblems seem to indicate different ways in which we must inwardly work to unite these polarities in our beings.
Emblem 6 is a clear statement of the Ouroborus, the serpent dragon that siezes its own tail and unites these polarities in forming its circle in the Soul.
The next example (7 and 8) and following description:
"The symbol Ouroboros, a snake or dragon biting its own tail, engraved on a bronze receptacle from the Chou dynasty, China about 1200 B.C. The Ouroboros symbolizes the continuity of life, and intimates that each ending in a perpetual renewal corresponds to a new beginning. A suitable symbol for the life cycle philosophy"
were made available on the Internet by the Swedish Engineering concern ivf/ep (The Symbol Ouroboros.) while another representation of the ouroborus serves as the logo of the J.R. Ritman Library (Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica Site) in the Netherlands.

These are but a few representations of the Ouroboros; there are many others, some more ornate, some less, and many in more complex configurations, especially in the alchemical context. Moreover, as Jack Lindsay explains in The Origins of Alchemy in Græco-Roman Egypt, (1970, pp.267-268):1

Ideas about the Ouroboros found their way into the literary world, e.g., in Artemidoros and Acrobius. The former, in his dream-book, remarks that 'the dragon also signifies Time because it is long and undulant.' The latter declares the two-headed Roman god Janus is the world:
'that is, the heavens, and his name Janus comes from eundo [by going] since the world always goes rolling on itself in its globe-form ... So the Phoenicians have represented it in their temples as a dragon curled in a circle and devouring its tail, to denote the way in which the world feeds on itself and returns on itself ...

"It is also clear that it's the Sun honoured under the name of Mercurius [Hermes] according to the cadeuceus that the Egyptians have consecrated to the god in the figure of the Two Serpents, male and female, interlaced. Their upper extremities bend round together, and, embracing one another, form a circle, while the tails, after forming a knot, come together at the haft of the caduceus and are provided with wings that start off at this point.

Even more interesting is the passage that ends the second book of Claudian's poem, On the Consulship of Stilicho. Claudian came from Egypt and his imagery shows the Egyptian idea of the night-journey of the sun through the cave or tunnel in the earth. But the introduction of the Ouroboros in association with Natura (Physis), the various metals, and the Aged Seer strongly suggests one of the alchemic visions of revelation or initiation: 

Far off, unknown, beyond the range of thought,
scarce reached by gods, the years' rough haggard mother,
stands a primeval Cave in whose vast breast,
is Time's cradle and womb. A Serpent encloses,
the Cave, consuming all things with slow power,
and green scales always glinting. Its mouth devours,
the backbent tail as with mute motion it traces,
its beginning. At the entrance Nature sits,
the threshold-guardian, aged and yet lovely,
and round her gather and flit on every side
Spirits. A Venerable Man writes down
immutable laws. He fixes the number of stars
in every constellation, makes some of them move and others hang at rest.
So all things live or die by predetermined laws...
When the Sun rested on the cave's wide threshold,
Nature ran in her might to meet him; the Old Man bent
grey hairs to the proud rays. Of its own accord
the admantine door swung open, revealing
the huge interior, displaying the House
the Secrets of Time. Here in appointed places
the Ages dwell, with varying Metals marking
their aspect. Those of brass are there upheaped,
there stiff the iron, there the silver gleaming;
shy of earth-contacts, in a distinguished section,
is set the flock of golden years."
From the above descriptions and the widespread occurrence of this Jungian archtype in both time and place it is also apparent that the Ouroboros embraces cyclic regeneration, rebirth, and the very foundations of life itself.


The antiquity, complexity, and the wider presence of the Ouroboros in mythological contexts is discussed further in the following passage (Towards a Taxonomy of the Pure Ones Parallels within Gnosticism, Graeco-Roman Mythology and Hermeticism by Frater IAM, Magister Templi of the Ordo Rosae Crucis, 1994):
The next aeon, usually called the Aeon of Jupiter or Zeus, was created from Chronos and rebelled against it. The Greek Myth tells us that Chronos feared that his children would one day rebel as he had rebelled against his father, so he ate them. This could correspond to a will to stop the descent into matter by closing himself into an Ouroboros, the snake biting its own tail and incidentally also a symbol for the death/rebirth so intimately linked with Time. But this was broken by the stone Abadir (also called Baetylus) given to him by Rhea (who could in fact have been Ialdabaoth!), which he devoured instead of his son, who eventually defeated him. It is interesting to speculate if this stone is not the original archetype of the Holy Grail (which has been alternately described as a cup, a stonelight by different mystics) or the Philosophers Stone, which has the ability to open up the Ouroboros or close it". [emphasis supplied]
Here the speculation concerning the Ouroboros extends to embrace the philosopher's Stone, with the intriguing suggestion that the two are in a special relationship, one that points again to the subject of Alchemy.
In Section IV we have already examined the inter-related natures of the periods, distances and velocities pertaining to the Phi-series period spiral and the manner in which the outer and inner regions may be considered to feed back on one another. We have also touched upon the similar type of feedback inherent in the inverse-velocity phenomena evident in the modern Solar System and briefly considered the complications that arise from periodic variations in planetary motion in Section III. But there are additional themes running throughout all this with strong religious and biological undertones that link the whole with the Sun and its undoubted influence on life as we understand it. But to what exact degree such complexities and consequences were known and understood in the earlier period and the Middle Ages has still to be fully assessed. It would seem that great pains were taken to ensure that it was passed on, hence the multiplicity of methods, keys and approaches adopted - so much so, in fact that partial confusion may well have been an inevitable consequence. To this problem must also be added the waxing and waning of empires, changing religious beliefs, and the consequences of the Dark and Middle Ages. Perhaps it was originally intended that all roads should indeed lead to Rome - a location unfortunately rendered untenable by Roman degeneration and excesses which forced the disastrous relocation to Constantinople. In any event it would seem that it was not until the Middle Ages that the matter resurfaced, perhaps not entirely intact, but sufficiently coherent enough for its understanding among those who avidly studied the writings of the ancients. The resurgence of "Alchemy" in the Middle Ages on the other hand may have had both ancient origins and modern insights. Here again, Thomas Taylor supplies the linkage and incidentally the humour:2
They say, therefore, conformably to Cephalus, that the rich have many consolations.... if you are willing also, it may be said, that gold and silver, and each of the metals, as likewise other things, grow on earth, from the celestial Gods, and from an effluxion thence derived. It is said, therefore that gold pertains to the Sun, silver to the Moon, lead to Saturn, and iron to Mars. Hence these are generated from thence. But they subsist in the earth,. and not in the celestial Gods who emit the effluxions. For they do not receive anything from material natures." [Commentaries of Proclus on the Timæus of Plato, Book I, p. 36. (emphasis supplied)]
The references linking gold with the Sun, silver to the Moon, lead to Saturn, and iron to Mars are all clearly alchemical, even for those with only a passing knowledge of the subject. In more detail, however, it seems that one could present an argument that there was always more than the unlikely transformation of base metals into physical gold at stake here. In fact, a sound mathematical case can undoubtedly be made from extant writings that it was predominantly the "Golden" Section itself - the phi-based mean period of Mars and also the mean velocity of Mercury - in something akin to our present astronomical context that was always under consideration (e.g., mathematical transformations involving the black "lead" of Saturn, the "Tin" of Jupiter, the synodic "Oil" of "Antimony" and parameters pertaining to Mercury, Venus and Mars as discussed below). From this viewpoint, if "The Great Work" of the Alchemists was indeed essentially the preservation of a complex corpus of knowledge concerning the Sun and the structure of the Solar System, then the description is both apt and well-merited. And it is also a far more fitting and reasonable occupation for highly regarded scholars such as Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton who (among others) became involved in this seemingly dubious enterprise.

    It is not the intention here to discuss the multifarious aspects of Alchemy in detail, the subject is simply too vast and too complex for the present discourse. But to give some idea just how complex the matter can become, consider the following line of inquiry and where it ultimately leads, i.e., it is relevant to note that the erudite Thomas Taylor's comments concerning the construction of the universe in Plato's Timæus (33b) have some similarity with helpful (but equally cryptic) remarks provided near the end of an alchemical work (ca.1600 A.D.) entitled: The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine. Thus Thomas Taylor states:3

It is well observed here by Proclus that, the whole universe being luminous, it is most lucid according to its external superficies, and full of divine splendour... But of this luminous subsistence smoothness is a symbol. Why, therefore, are the extremities of the universe smooth? We reply, That it may be harmoniously adapted to supermundane lights, through similitude to them. Smoothness, therefore, is significant of extreme aptitude, through which the universe is able to receive the illuminations proceeding from intellect and soul; just as mirrors, by their smoothness, receive the representations of things. Proclus further observes that a mirror was assumed by ancient theologists as a symbol of the aptitude of the universe to be filled with intellectual illumination. Hence, says he, they say that Vulcan made a mirror for Bacchus, into which the God, looking and beholding the image of himself, proceeded into the whole divisible fabrication. And you may say that the smoothness of the external surface of the universe, which is mentioned by Plato, reminds us of the above-mentioned catoptric apparatus." [emphasis supplied]
while "Basil Valentine" adds in The Twelve Keys :
As a parting kindness to you, I am constrained to add that the spirit may also be extracted from black Saturn and benevolent Jupiter. When it has been reduced to a sweet oil, we have a means of robbing the common liquid quicksilver of its vivacity, or rendering it firm and solid, as is also set forth in my book. [emphasis supplied]
The similarity lies in the mirroring of numeric values associated with the extremal locations of the planets Mercury and Saturn, i.e., the phi-series mean velocity for the synodic difference cycle between Jupiter and Saturn provides the value of 0.3819660112 which also occurs as the mean distance of Mercury and again as the mean synodic period between the latter and Venus (see Table 5a in Part IV for the complete relationship).
To understand the above it is necessary to recognize that the first astronomical parameters normally obtained from the observation of the planets and major luminaries are the periods of revolution. Subject to further observation and refinement, a planetary model and estimates for both the mean distances and the mean velocities may (or may not) follow. In the second context we are dealing with material that post-dates both the heliocentric model of Copernicus and the publication of Kepler's Harmonic Law (1618). We also know from the fundamental synodic period relationship given in Section Two that the intermediate mean synodic period (or mean lap time) for adjacent co-orbital bodies is obtained from the product of the mean sidereal periods divided by their difference. From the Phi-series mean periods for Jupiter and Saturn of 11.090169944 and 29.034441854 years respectively we therefore obtain an intermediate mean synodic period of: 17.944271910 years. The resulting period, the Harmonic Law (exponent = 2/3) and the velocity variant (exponent = -1/3) respectively produce a corresponding mean distance of 6.854101966 A.U and a mean relative velocity of 0.3819660112, the latter as noted above. Table 1 below provides the numeric data and a simple cipher that connects the "Period-Distance-Velocity" and "Soul-Body-Spirit" triads in the present context.
 POSITION  Planet/Synodic
 Phi  N
 MERCURY  - 3 0.23606797 0.38196601 1.618033988
 Synodic/(Oil) - 2 0.38196601 0.52644113 1.378240772
 VENUS/Copper - 1 0.61803398 0.72556263 1.173984996
 Synodic/Earth  0 1 1 1
 MARS/Iron  1 1.61803398 1.37824077 0.851799642
(Asteriod Belt)

 JUPITER/Tin  5 11.0901699 4.97308025 0.448422366
 Syn./Antimony  6 17.9442719 6.85410196 0.381966011
 SATURN/Lead  7 29.0344418 9.44660278 0.325358511

Table 1. The Phi-Series Planetary Framework, Mercury through Mars, and Jupiter
to Saturn. Unity provides the frame of reference, "Gold" = Phi = 1.6180339887499

In keeping with the hint provided by Thomas Taylor and Proclus ("Vulcan made a mirror for Bacchus, into which the God, looking and beholding the image of himself, proceeded into the whole divisible fabrication"), if one is aware that the mean period of Mercury is approximately 0.24 years and that Phi - 3 is 0.23606774 (years) the Harmonic Law yields the mean distance for Mercury from: (Phi- 3) 2/3 = Phi - 2 with the mean velocity similarly obtained from (Phi - 3) - 1/3 = Phi.1 This is perhaps looking at the matter in reverse (the mirror image, if you wish); one could also proceed forward from Table 1 to obtain both the harmonic law and the velocity variants from another direction altogether, but either way the reference to mirrors appears to be singularly appropriate as well as helpful. In passing one might also note that the mirror analogy includes the equality between the mean period ("Soul") of Mercury and the mean velocity ("spirit") of the next outer planet, Uranus; i.e., a mean sidereal period of 0.2360679774 Years in the first instance and a mean orbital velocity (relative to unity) of 0.2360679774 in the second. Unlikely, perhaps, but not entirely improbable, for in spite of its relatively recent discovery (by William Herschel in 1781), as Jeffrey K. Wagner observed in Introduction to the Solar System (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Orlando, 1991:334) "Uranus is just bright enough to be visible to the naked eye, and it is surprising that it escaped detection for so long. Even a sharp eyed ancient Greek astronomer could have spotted it... 4

Those who balk at the inclusion of planetary velocities in the above context in general might wish to consider Thomas Taylor's translation of the commentary by Proclus on "The Construction of the World Soul" (Book III: The TIMÆUS OF PLATO): 5

He first took one part from the whole. In the next place he took away the double of this.
And after this, a third part, which was sequialter indeed of the second, but triple of the first. [Timæus, 35b:]
We have observed, that it is not proper to understand what is here said by Plato, mathematically, but physically, or philosophically. For the essence of the soul, does not consist of mathematical numbers and ratios, but all these numbers and ratios, adumbrate its truly existing essence, and the demiurgic and vivific divisions in it. But of what things the mathematical ratios are images, and how they develop the essence of the soul of the universe, it is not easy for those to assign, who do not look to the conceptions of Plato. But this is manifest from the discord of the interpreters; and the opposition of the modern to the more ancient expositors, evinces the difficulty of this theory. For some of them think fit to refer to the seven spheres, the first seven terms, to which we have assumed as analogous the numbers that exhibit the whole diagram. But others refer them to the distances of the spheres from the center of the earth, in which place they arrange the monad. Others again, refer them to the motions of the spheres. [Others the magnitudes of the stars. And others adapt them to the velocities of the celestial orbs.] But others, refer them to other such like explanations. Their interpretations, however, are attended with many difficulties, and among the rest with this, that they are discordant with the observations of recent astronomers, and to the demonstrations given by them. To which it may also be added that Plato nowhere defines, either the magnitude, or the distance, or the swiftness, or the motion of the stars; but admitting that one star is greater than another, he does not add how much, and after what manner, it is greater. And that the thing proposed by him to be discussed in this part is psychogony, and not cosmogony {hereafter follows a discussion of various interpretations, etc,}. [Vol II, Book III, pp. 89-90; emphases supplied].
The part that refers to "magnitudes" and "velocities" (included by Thomas Taylor in square brackets) is from the obscure writings of Nicholæus Leonicus Thomæus.

The triadic sets: Period/Distance/Velocity and Soul/Body/Spirit represent a specialized application of what appears to have been a wider comprehension of the nature of the Soul. Proclus, for example, tells us [The Commentaries of Proclus on the Timeus of Plato, transl. Thomas Taylor, Kessinger Books, Kila, pp.115-118; the emphases are also Thomas Taylor's]: 6

... we may say, that a line is adapted to the soul. For intellect indeed, though some should give it motion, yet it has this energy intransitive. For it surveys at once the whole of the intelligible, having an eternal life, and energizing about the same things, in the same nature, according to the same. But soul possesses a transitive energy. For at different times, it applies itself to different forms, and this is true even of the soul of the universe. For, as Plato says in the Phaedrus, it is the peculiarity of soul to energize through time. But every transitive motion is a line. For it has whence and whither, and the rectilinear, and one thing for the beginning, and another for the end. So that in this respect we refer a line to psychical life.
... In what is said, therefore, about the admixture of the soul, and also in what is said concerning numbers and middles, Plato unfolds the being itself of the soul, and shows how it is one and many, what progression it has, and what regressions both to superior natures, and to itself; how it produces and converts things posterior to itself; how it fills ratios, and binds together the whole world. But in what he says concerning the right line and circles, he delivers to us the vital and intellectual peculiarity of the soul, and indicates how it participates of the life in intellect, and how it is converted to itself, so far as it is self-vital and self-moved.
...In short therefore, the essence of the soul, being a whole and consisting of parts, is harmonized number. But its life is rectilinear, and is uniform and biformed.. And its intellect is dianetic and doxastic. For there are in it being, life, and intellect. Or rather prior to the gnostic, perceiving that the vital powers are in themselves at one and the same time transitive, and self-motive, we must say, that the right line adumbrates the transitive, but the circle, the self-motive nature of these powers. For they are moved from themselves to themselves. Hence Timeus delivering to us in what is here said, the vital motion by itself alone, assumes the rectilinear, and the circular motion, but in what follows unfolds the gnostic motions of the circles; the soul now becoming self-motive, in consequence of the whole of it moving itself. If therefore, we now admit that the right lines are lives, and these essential; on which account also, the Demiurgus made the composition of the soul itself to be rectilinear, as possessing life by its very existence;--if we admit this, then we must say, that the circle manifests what the quality is of the form of this life, viz. that it is self-moved, beginning from, and returning to itself; and that it is not like the life of irrational natures, tending to externals as it were in a right line, as never being able to converge to itself, and as having an appetite directed to other things placed externally to itself. For the self-motive nature is moved from itself to itself, sees itself, and is present with itself. Hence also, such a form of life as this is circular. For in a circle, the same thing is the end and the beginning, in the same manner as in that which is converted to, begins from, and ends in itself. The right line therefore and the circle of the soul, are without interval; the former being the image of life [simply], but the latter of life converting to itself, and not absolutely of all life. For both these may be surveyed in souls; the right line indeed, according to the transitions of appetites; but the circle according to a circumduction from the same thing to the same. And this Socrates knowing, says in the Phaedrus, that souls are carried round in a circle, revolving under intelligibles as objects of desire, being at different times happily affected by different things, and returning from the same objects to the same. Why therefore, should we any longer fear those skillful Peripatetics who ask us, what kind of line Plato here assumes ? Is it physical line ? But this would be absurd: for this is the end of bodies. Is it then a mathematical line ? But this is not self-motive, and is not essence: Plato however says, that the soul is an essence, and is separate from bodies. We say therefore, that they in vain make these inquiries. For long before this, we have not ceased asserting that this line is essential. And prior to us Xenocrates calls a line of this kind indivisible. For it would be ridiculous in any one to think that there is an indivisible magnitude. It is evident however, that Xenocrates thought it requisite to call the essential reason of a line an indivisible line. But Plato, for the sake of concealment, employed mathematical names, as veils of the truth of things, in the same manner as theologists employed fables, and the Pythagoreans symbols. For it is possible in images to survey paradigms, and through the former to pass to the latter. Against such men however, as these Peripatetics, who are contentious, no arguments are sufficient. But let us return to the words of Plato, and direct our attention to each of them.
Since therefore, the soul is one, is divided according to its parts, and is both one and many, Plato denominates it this, as being one, but all, as being multitude, and composition, as both; which also shows that the essence of it differs both from things discrete, and things continuous. For these are without communion with each other. But the soul is one, and at the same time multitude, and is discrete, and continued. Since however the psychical reasons are biformed; for the soul is of an ambiguous nature, and has two faces, conformably to its paradigm, so that it intellectually perceives the impartible essence through the circle of the same, but contains and connects the partible essence, through the circle of the different; --hence Plato calls it double. But because it has the same reasons or ratios, above and beneath, and not as some fancy, the duple ratios here, but the triple there, on this account, he delivers it to us divided according to length. For this division alone, preserves every where the same ratios. But the scission itself exhibits demiurgic section, which is appropriate to the Demiurgus. For the duad is seated by him, and is refulgent with intellectual sections, as some one of the Gods says. Moreover, the words "middle to middle" indicate perhaps, that the division and contact of things intangible, are adapted to the psychical middle: for they subsist in a middle way. For in intellect also there is division, because there is difference, but it subsists primarily, and as it were occultly, and indivisibly. In sensibles likewise there is division, but according to an ultimate distribution into parts. Hence also the union in these is obscure and evanescent. But in the soul both have a middle subsistence, in a way adapted to it. And if indeed Plato had spoken concerning intellect and soul, he would have said, that the Demiurgus applied the.first to the middle, and if about body and soul, that he applied the middle to the last. But since he teaches us concerning the psychical duad, lie says that the Demiurgus applied middle to middle. Perhaps too, he says this, because the contact of the soul is properly of a middle nature. For the last part of the dianoetic. and the summit of the doxastic power, form tile media of all tile psychical composition. But these are conjoined to each other, and conformably to these, one union is produced of these two lives. For in every order of beings, the bases of first are united to the summits of secondary natures. The figure X however, produced by this application, has a great affinity to the universe, and also to the soul. And as Porphyry relates, a character of this kind, vis. X, surrounded by a circle, is with the Egyptians a symbol of the mundane soul. For perhaps it signifies, through the right lines indeed, the biformed progression of the soul, but through the circle its uniform life, and regression according to an intellectual circle. We must not however conceive, that Plato thought a divine essence could be discovered through these things. For the truth of real beings cannot, as some fancy, be known from characters, positions, and vocal emissions. But these are after another manner symbols of divine natures. For as a certain motion, so likewise a certain figure. and colour, are symbols of this kind, as the initiators into mysteries say. For different characters and also different signatures are adapted to different Gods; just as the present character is adapted to the soul. For the complication of the right lines indicates the union of a biformed life. For a right line itself also, is a symbol of a life which flows from on high. In order however, that we may not, omitting the things themselves, be too busily employed about. the theory of the character, Plato adds "as it were," indicating that this is assumed as a veil, and for the sake of concealment, thus endeavouring to invest with figure the unfigured nature of the soul.
Returning to the relative simplicity of the triadic sets in question, with respect to both inferior planets (Mercury and Venus), Earth, and Mars it should be noted that the mean velocity (or "Spirit") of Mercury is itself the "Golden Ratio" Phi = 1.6180339887499 while the inverse (0.61803989 ) represents the mean period of revolution of Venus. Lastly, Phi (1.618033989) is in turn the mean period of revolution of Mars. These special inter-relationships are stated (albeit cryptically) in further alchemical works, i.e., The philosophical canons of Paracelus in the 17th Century Sloane Ms 3506, and An hundred aphorisms containing the whole body of magic, in Sloane Ms 1321 (both transcribed by Adam Mclean). In the first, bearing in mind the relationship between the two triadic sets, "Gold," Mars, and Mercury, we find the following aphorisms:
12. The sulphur of Mars is the best, and this joined with the sulphur of gold makes a medicine.
14. Nature makes and generates minerals by degrees, also out of one root are generated all metals till the end of all which is gold.
39. The Sulphur is the soul, but the Mercury is the matter.
49. They who take the Sulphur of Venus are cheated.
56. The Mercury receives the form of gold by the mediation of the spirit.
57. Gold resolved into Mercury is spirit and soul.
145. The highest secret of all is to know that Mercury is both matter and Menstruum, and that the Mercury of perfect bodies is the form.
152. The greatest arcanum of the work, is the physical dissolution into Mercury, and reduction into Mercury.
Aphorism 14 is undoubtedly correct as far as the Phi-series planetary framework is concerned since all the mean parameters (periods, distances and velocities) may be consistantly expressed as fractional exponents of Phi as shown earlier in Table 5a. Moreover, in so much as the period/soul of Venus is both Phi -1 and the reciprocal of Phi Aphorism 49 also quite appropriate. Aphorism 56 is correct. Aphorism 57 provides a succinct summation of the relationship between the velocity/spirit of Mercury and the period/soul of Mars as shown in Table 1.

The second reference is divided into three parts with the first concerned with "Twelve conclusions upon the Nature of the Soul ". Statements 1 through 11 are from this source; the remainder are from additional sections:

1. The whole world is animated with the first supreme and intellectual Soul possessing in itself the seminary reasons of all things, which proceeding from the brightness of the ideas of the first Intellect are as it were the instrument by which this great body is governed and are the links of the golden chain of providence.
2. While the operations of the Soul are terminated or bounded, the body is generated or produced out of the power of the Soul, and is diversely formed according to the imagination thereof, hence it hath the denominating power over the body which it could not have except the body did fully and wholly depend upon it.
3. In this production whilst the Soul fashions to itself a body, there is some third thing the mean between them both by which the Soul is now inwardly joined to the body, and by which the operation of all natural things are dispensed, and this is called the Vital Spirit.
9. This Spirit is somewhere or rather every where found as it were free from the body, and he that knows how to join it with a body agreeably, possesses a treasure better than all the riches of the world.
11. The organs by which this Spirit works are the qualities of things, which merely and purely considered are able to do no more than the eyes can see without life, as being nothing else but modification of the matter of the body.
15. Neither Souls nor pure Spirits, nor Intelligences can work upon bodies but by means of this Spirit, for two extremes cannot be joined without a mean ...
18. In generation the Spirit is mixed with the body, and directs the intent of Nature to its end.
64. By natural application it is done when the Spirit of one body is implanted in another, by means of those things which are apt to intercept the Spirit, and to communicate it to another, and they are known by the signature, and by the ancients called amatoria or such things as love one another. [emphases supplied]
Before returning to "antimony," it is clear from Table 1 that "Gold" ( Phi,1.6180339887499), the mean velocity of Mercury, and the mean period/soul of Mars ("iron") are identical. This relationship may well have provided the basis for the allegorical "War of the Knights" by Johann Sternhals (1595) concerning the resolution of the "conflict," i.e.,.

 "The Lord Chief Justice pronounced sentence to the quarreling and disputing metals, introduced in this Allegory by Sternhals as so many Knights. The Judge's name was Mercury."
Mercury says to Gold:
'Whilst Thou, O Gold, as plaintiff against Iron, appeal to me concerning thy nobility and nature, and as I am well acquainted with thy origin but am likewise no stranger to the nature, property, and operation of the defendant Iron, I can, for the sake of truth and justice, not omit to declare that you have both boasted of great things, which none of you separately can verify. Thou, Gold, knowest well if I Mercury do not deal kindly with thee and unite with thee in perpetual love and harmony, that thy power over the diseased Knights (the inferior metals) is nothing! Thou hast mentioned my perfect knowledge of thy exalted state amongst the Knights. Thou hast spoken rightly, because thy nature and power proceed from mine (from the Sophic or animated Mercury). Thy nature must be retrograded and converted into mine, if thou meanest ever to be of any service to the diseased poor knights.'
'Thou, Defendant, O Iron, knowest well that I do perfectly understand thy nature and complexion Thou canst much less than Gold effect anything useful without my assistance; and I, Mercury, am a declared enemy to thy external dirty appearance and thy dirty works. Therefore, I complain justly against you both!'
'Yet, from a motive of special goodness and friendship towards my fellow-creatures, I will never refuse to grant to thee, O Iron, a power to procure riches, and I have often given thee that power, as thou well knowest when thou and I did sweat in our hot bath and dried ourselves afterwards. Recollect then what friendship and services we rendered to Lady Luna, which we are able to do again, if we please. Which, however, thou canst not do without my assistance. I must further tell you both (Iron and Gold) that you stand both in need of my counsel and help, whilst I can do with very little of your assistance.'
'Thou, Gold, hast said that thou art the true Stone, about which the Philosophers contest. Dost thou not know that there are greater, nobler, and more powerful subjects than thee? and all other metals containing the four elements as well as they do. Dost thou not know that there is a mother of all metals and their greatest substance? All things have been subdued unto man! and thou haughty Gold do not elevate thyself too much, as there are creatures of God far above thee in power and virtue!'
'I then,' continued the supreme Lord, Mercury, 'unite you both, Iron and Gold, with a perpetual union.'
'Thou, Gold, shalt henceforth not vex nor despise Iron, but I order thee to make good use of its noble beautiful red flowers (when a crocus Mars is sublimated with Sal Ammoniac, it ascends in beautiful red flowers - this must be repeated three or four times) which Iron has got in his garden for the sake of multiplying thy active power. Thou shalt unite with Iron in friendship.'
'And thou, Iron! I order thee to accept and make use of the sweet heaven or ferment of Gold for thy good and nourishment.'
And thus they departed, united in friendship to be of use to all that knew them. [ Sigismund Backstrom's embedded notes are omitted for clarity]
With respect to alchemical "metals" in general, "Antimony" also looms large - a "metal" that in fact attracted Isaac Newton's attention (see: Newton And Flamel On Star Regulus Of Antimony And Iron Part 1, by Mark House and also the numeric relationship between "Iron" and "Antimony" in the Biblical Aesch-Mezareph). In such contexts it would appear that there were two types of "Antimony," the first (in the positional and also the numerical sense) between the "Iron" of Mars and the "Tin" of Jupiter, and the second ("Saturnine Antimony") similarly positioned between the "Tin" of Jupiter and the "Lead" of Saturn, i.e., the Jupiter-Saturn synodic cycle, or as Basil Valenttine informs the reader in his Triumphal Chariot of Antimony: "By our Art it (antimony) can also become an oil." The Secret Book of Artephius notes also that: "Antimony is a mineral participating of saturnine parts, and has in all respects the nature thereof. This saturnine antimony agrees with sol, and contains in itself argent vive, in which no metal is swallowed up, except gold, and gold is truly swallowed up by this antimonial argent vive..." The same source later states that: "... there is a double substance of argentum vivum, the one from antimony, and the other from mercury sublimated, it does give a double weight and substance of fixed argent vive, and also augments therein the native color, weight, substance and tincture thereof." Moreover, Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, in The foundations of Newton's Alchemy (1975) discusses the occurrence of a special symbol introduced by Isaac Newton in some of his later alchemical writings that may have some bearing on our present discussion. After tentatively assigning the name "quintessentia" to the symbol in question Dobbs explains that: 7
Some pages of the manuscript seem to identify the quintessence with antimony (presumably the ore), but another renders the symbol "Bism,." probably meaning an ore of bismuth. Either of these designations would at least make it appear to have been a concrete substance to Newton, yet elsewhere in the same manuscript he defined the quintessence as a "corporeal spirit" and a "spiritual body" and the "condensed spirit of the world."(The foundations of Newton's Alchemy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1975:165)
Table 1 shows that the "Spirit" of "Saturnine Antimony" (the mean velocity of the Saturn-Jupiter synodic cycel) is equal to the "body" (mean distance) of Mercury and it also follows that this parameter may in turn be reduced from the "Spirit" (mean velocity) of Mercury, itself the golden ratio, etc. On a more general but nevertheless ourobotic level, Roger Bacon's Tract on the Tincture and Oil of Antimony also contains the following aside:
"The Philosophers, when they have thus prepared our Antimonium in secret, have remarked how its outermost nature and power has collapsed into its interior, and its interior thrown out and has now become an oil that lies hidden in its innermost and depth, well prepared and ready." [emphasis supplied].
   Those who feel that "Antimony" in this context is more reasonably construed in terms of metallurgy, chemistry, or medicine might wish to consider the following words of caution expressed by Basil Valentine in The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony:
Many Anatomists have subjected Antimony to all manner of singular torments and excruciating processes, which it is difficult either to believe or to describe. Their studies have led to no result, because they did not seek the true soul of Antimony, and, therefore, did not soon find that fictitious soul of which they were in search their path being obscured with black colours which rendered invisible what they desired to see. Antimony, like Mercury, is comparable to a circle, without beginning or end, composed of all colours; and the more is always found in it, the more diligent and prudent the search which is made. One man's life is too short to discover all these mysteries. [emphasis supplied]
The latter writer also provides an additional cautionary remark in The Twelve Keys along with the following expansion:
Know that our seed is produced in the following way. A celestial influence descends from above, by the decree and ordinance of God, and mingles with the astral proper ties. When this union has taken place, the two bring forth a third namely, an earth-like substance, which is the principle of our seed, of its first source, so that it can shew an ancestry, and from which three the elements, such as water, air, and earth, take their origin. These elements work underground in the form of fire, and there produce what Hermes, and all who have preceded me, call the three first principles, viz., the internal soul, the impalpable spirit, and visible bodies, beyond which we can find no earlier beginning of our Magistery. In the course of time these three unite, and are changed through the action of fire into a palpable substance, viz., quicksilver, sulphur, and salt. If these three substances be mixed, they are hardened and coagulated into a perfect body, which represents the seed chosen and appointed by the Creator. This is a most important and certain truth. If the metallic soul, the metallic spirit, and the metallic form of body be present, there will also be metallic quicksilver, metallic sulphur, and metallic salt, which together make up the perfect metallic body. If you cannot perceive what you ought to understand herein, you should not devote yourself to the study of philosophy. [emphasis supplied]
Moreover, the relationships between Antimony, Mars, Venus and Mercury are also stated in alchemical Aphorisms 117 and 119 below (source: 153 Chymical Aphorisms, ca.1680):
Aph. 111. And among Minerals there is none found which can perfect the colour of pale Gold, and facilitate its Flux, and render it more penetrating, but Antimony only.
Aph. 112. Therefore that appeareth to be the only Mineral, of which, and by which, the said Mercury may be obtained.
Aph. 113. For, seeing that Antimony cannot communicate more Tincture to Gold, than the natural perfection of Gold requireth
Aph. 114. And Gold, as hath been already said, ought to be more perfectly Tinged by the Mercury of philosophers.
Aph. 115. This Mercury cannot be had of Antimony alone;
Aph. 116. But by it, as a Medium, from other imperfect Metallick Bodies, which abound with the Tincture of Gold;
Aph. 117. Of which sort there are found only two, to wit, Mars and Venus.
Aph. 118. Whence we conclude, That of Antimony, and by its help, of Mars also, and Venus, our Royal Menstruum is to be elicited, by the work of Art and Nature.
Aph. 119. Antimony, Mars and Venus, consist of Sulphur and Mercury. [italics supplied]
Numerically, in this and similar contexts, it would therefore appear that "soul" can be equated with the mean period of revolution, "body" with the mean distance, and "spirit" with the mean velocity; for as The Book of Krates says, 'Know that copper, just like a man, has a spirit and a body' (Jack Lindsay, p.113) while in the writings of Kleopatra it is also stated that: "...the body and the soul and the spirit were all united in love and had become one: in which unity and the mystery has been concealed." (Lindsay, p.259).8
This representation appears to be one of a number of triadic keys and much further analysis will be required to clarify them all. Moreover, matters do not necessarily become simpler as as result, e.g., the symbolism also expands to include (among other things) animals of the land, denizens of the sea, and birds of the air, etc (see: Animal Symbolism in the Alchemical Tradition and The Birds in Alchemy by Adam McLean).

In case it is assumed that "alchemy" can be completely deciphered from the above information alone, it is necessary to point out that the significance of the Moon has been omitted here and the various terms and names associated with the subject are still as confusingly intermingled as the names of the Heroes and Gods of the ancient Greeks. For example, in an Arab MS called The Twelve Chapters by Ostanes the Philosopher on the Philosopher's Stone we find that: 9

"The style of the Twelve Chapters shows that it derives from the period when alchemic ideas were set out in elaborate rhetorical fashion, with much antithesis and heaping-up of synonyms. But the essential ideas are much earlier; and as the points are strongly and clearly made, we may cite some more passages that seek to stress the paradoxical nature of the secret. Needless to say, the Aristotle here cited is an apocryphal figure:
'I have heard Aristotle say: 'Why do these seekers turn away from the stone? It is however well known thing, characterised, existent, possible,'
"I replied, 'What are its qualities? Where is it found? What is its possibility?
He told me. 'I'll characterise it by telling you it's like lightning on a dark night. How can one fail to recognise something white showing up against a black background? The separation isn't painful for anyone accustomed to distance. Night cannot be dubious for him who owns two eyes.' [emphasis supplied]
"Another Sage has said: 'I've lived now forty years and I've never spent a single day without seeing the Stone day and night so well that I was fearing nobody could help seeing it too. I then used yet more enigmatic expressions than those I'd used at first and I have increased the obscurity of the phrases out of fear that their sense was already too plain.'
'Know then that the authors in their books have used a great number of words to denote the Stone. I'm going to mention the easiest ones. Leaving aside the majority of such words and choosing those which are, as far as I know, the ones best known in the world. It is called:
Lion, dragon, serpent, viper, scorpion, water,
fire, torrent, congealed or dissolved [body], vinegar,
salt, dog, Hermes, mercury, jackal, page,
serving-maid, gazelle, courser, wolf, panther, monkey,
sulphur, arsenic, tutty, foam of silver, iron,
copper, lead, tin, silver, gold, talc,
tulac, tirac, tarc, dumb man, oppressor, submitted[being]
magnet, fat, spirit, soul, oil, collyrium,
urine, bone, vein, Saturn,Barkis[Balti=Venus?],
Mars, Sun, Moon.' [emphasis supplied]
From a somewhat wider viewpoint there is also the following description of the "Stone" provided in another alchemical treatise, The Glory of the World, (ca.1620):
I have called it by various names, but the simplest is perhaps that of "Hyle," or first principle of all things. It is also denominated the One Stone of the Philosophers, composed of hostile elements, the Stone of the Sun. the Stone of the Metals, the runaway slave, the aeriform Stone, the Thirnian Stone, Magnesia, the corporeal Stone, the Stone of the jewel, the Stone of the free, the golden Stone, the fountain of earthly things, Xelis, or Silex (flint), Xidar, or Radix (root), Atrop, or Porta (gate). By these and many other names it is called, yet it is only one.
Next, it is worth repeating here Jack Linday's assessment of the Ouroborus in alchemical contexts:10
In the symbolism of Kleopatra and the alchemists in general, then, the Ouroboros was used to represent the All, which was One, in its aspect of Time: that is, as a system in a ceaseless development, yet revealing a comprehensive structure which could be defined in the triadic formula. (The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt, 1970:265.)
Lastly, although the inter-relationships between the mean planetary periods, mean distances and mean velocities have been discussed here largely in tabular form, there are rare references to the spiral configuration and further allusions to the Ouroborus in other alchemical works. In a very small selection from: The Hermetic Arcanum, ca.1623 ("The Secret Work of the Hermetic Philosophy, The work of an anonymous author, penes nos unda tagi") for example, we find the following information: 11
61. The extremes of the Stone are natural Argent vive and perfect Elixir: the middle parts which lie between, by help whereof the work goes on, are of three sorts; for they either belong unto matter, or operations, or demonstrative signs: the whole work is perfected by these extremes and means.
63. The operative means (which are also called the Keys of theWork) are four: the first is Solution or Liquefaction; the second is Ablution; the third Reduction; the fourth Fixation. By Liquefaction bodiescreate the Jupiter of Saturn, which is done by the conversion of the Body into Spirit. The Office of Reduction is to restore the soul to the stone exanimated, and to nourish it with dew and spiritual milk, until it shall attain unto perfect strength. In both these latter operations the Dragon rageth against himself, and by devouring his tail, doth wholly exhaust himself, and at length is turned into the Stone. Lastly, the operation of the Fixation fixeth both the White and the Red Sulphurs upon their fixed body, by the mediation of the spiritual tincture; it decocteth the Leaven or Ferment by degrees ripeneth things unripe, and sweeteneth the bitter. In fine by penetrating and tincturing the flowing Elixir it generateth, perfecteth, and lastly, raiseth it up to the height of sublimity. return into their first form, things concocted are made raw again and the combination between the position and negative is effected, from whence the Crow is generated lastly the Stone is divided into four confused elements, which happeneth by the retrogradation of the Luminaries. The Ablution teacheth how to make the Crow white, and to
83. The Circulation of the Elements is performed by a double Whorl, by the greater or extended and the less or contracted. The Whorl extended fixeth all the Elements of the Earth, and its circle is not finished unless the work of Sulphur be perfected. The revolution of the minor Whorl is terminated by the extraction and preparation of every Element. Now in this Whorl there are three Circles placed, which always and variously move the Matter, by an Erratic and Intricate Motion, and do often (seven times at least) drive about every Element, in order succeeding one another, and so agreeable, that if one shall be wanting the labour of the rest is made void. These Circulations are Nature's Instruments, whereby the Elements are prepared. Let the Philosopher therefore consider the progress of Nature in the Physical Tract, more fully described for this very end. [emphases supplied
The above discussion began with a relatively limited inquiry concerning "Antimony" and as a consequence it skimmed over colors, properties, animal symbolism, medicinal aspects, alchemical "recipes," and wider issues associated with religious beliefs and origins. But even though the subject is to some extent shrouded by secrecy it can nevertheless still be examined in terms of methodology and mathematics rather than numerology or mysticism. Such analysis is undoubtedly hindered by the proliferation of names, the many allegories, and the diversity of methods employed; for one last example, see the erudite H. P. Blavatsky's minor Kabbalistic excursion into the numbers of the "Dove," the "Raven," and the approximation Pi = 355/113 in "The Mystery of Blackness," The Secret Doctrine (2-12). - a work that is dated in some respects yet timeless in another:
Fortunately, in spite of many complications, the Great Work of the Alchemists appears to be a continuing process. There is in fact a wealth of Alchemical material now available, especially on the Internet, thanks largely to the massive presence of the Alchemy Web Site. organised by Adam McLean, the Bibliotheca Philosphica Hermetica in Holland, and works such as The Pythagorean Pentacle and The Rotation of the Elements by John Opsopaus - the latter replete with three-dimensional spiral, the ouroboros and an initial quotation by the alchemist George Ripley (1490) of some significance:

    "When thou hast made the quadrangle round, Then is all the secret found ..."

For our present purposes, however, it is necessary to again consider origins and the links between Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt. The source in this case is "Alchemy in Islamic Times" by Prof. Hamed Abdel-reheem Ead (University of Cairo Giza-Egypt and director of Science Heritage Center). A partial listing from this source is given below with emphasis on those of the Greek school already discussed; additional emphasis on the Egyptian contribution appears necessary to put the matter in its proper historical perspective before proceeding further.
"Pythagoras (Fithaghurus)
Pythagoras is often mentioned in Arabic philosophy and in gnomic literature. Jaldaki calls him al-muallim al-awwal because he acquired the science from hermetic texts. Jabir refers to him as an alchemic author and speaks of Ta'ifat Fthaghurus, the school of Pythagoras, and of his book Kitab almusahhahat (Book of Adjustments). Other quotations refer to Pythagoras's theory of numbers. Tughra'i mentions him several times and refers to his treatise about 'natural numbers'. The fragments of texts which are attributed to him could have come either from Turba philosophorum, where he is among the participants, or from other texts.
Socrates is considered not only as a wise man but also as an alchemist. Jabir calls him 'the father and mother of all philosophers' and considers him as the prototype of the real chemist. From Socrates to Jabir, there is a continuous tradition which attributes entire treatises to him. Jabir affirms that Socrates was opposed to the writing down of alchemic knowledge to avoid its exposition to the ignorance of the masses. Most references to Socrates refer to his arithmetical speculations (theory of the balance) and also to artificial generation.
Plato (Aflatun)
Olympiodorus already (at the end of the sixth century) considered Plato as an alchemist and Ibn al-Nadlm mentions him in the list of alchemists. Butrus al-Ilmlml mentions an alchemic device called, hammam Aflatun (Plato's bath). Among the books attributed to him by the Arabs we can mention the Summa Platonis of which we only have the Latin version. There is a commentary to this book - the Kitab al-Rawabi' - whose Arabic text was edited by Badawi and whose Latin translation is known by the name Liber quartorum. The contents of this work are mainly alchemic but it contains also information on geometry, physiology and astrology. The ancient authors cited are Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Hipparchus, Proclus, the Sophists, Ostanes, Hermes, Asclepius and Hippocrates....
Aristotle (Aristu)
Aristotle is considered as an alchemist author not so much because of his fourth book Meteorologica but because of his reputation as an all-round scholar. He wrote a book on alchemy for his disciple Alexander. In 618, by order of Heraclius, the book was translated into Syriac by the monk Jean, and the Bishop of Nisibis, Eliyya bar Shinaya, made sure of its orthodoxy. Finally Abdishu' bar Brika, Bishop of Sinjar, and later of Nisibis, made a commentary on it in Syriac of which there still exists an Arabic translation. The text contains an introduction in which Abdlshu reports the legendary history of the text followed by a Ietter from Alexander to Aristotle where the former poses questions to which the latter responds. This dialogue is called sahifat kanz Allah al-akbar (Epistle of the Great Treasure of God). it includes three chapters: (1) About the great principles of alchemy; (2) Alchemic operations; (3) The elixir. Pythagoras, Democritus, Asclepiades, Hermes, Plato, Ostanes and Balmas are mentioned in the text....
Bolos the Democritean of Mendes
Bolos the Democritean lived in the second century before Christ. The work of this scholar is varied: alchemy, astrology, medicine.... the school of Bolos brings to the Egyptian technique a philosophical reasoning which will open the way to the science of the Great Work. 'Once again', says Festugiere, 'we see the union of the Greek spirit and the Oriental art.' The art exists, from ancient times; the goldsmiths of Egypt work metals, stones and purple... About the same time alchemy was practiced in most Egyptian towns. This first alchemy is a mixture of hermetic or Gnostic elements and old Greek philosophy: Heraclitus, Empedocles and their speculations about the four elements, Parmenides with his theory on the unity of the whole, the Platonic cosmogony of Timaeus. [emphasis supplied]
The most famous character of this time is Zosimus of Panopolis (Akhmim, in Upper Egypt). He probably lived at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth century...Zosimus can be placed at the end of an evolution in alchemy. With Bolos, it became philosophical; with Zosimus it becomes a mystical religion where the idea of salvation is predominant. In fact, the period which separates Bolos the Democritean from Zosimus saw intense alchemic activity. Vastly different elements - Egyptian magic, Greek philosophy, neo-Platonism, Babylonian astrology, Christian theology, pagan mythology - can be found in Zosimus' texts. He is full of gnostic and hermetic books, he knows the Jewish speculations about the Old Testament. He gives to alchemy a religious character which will remain forever, at least in its traditional course, since with the Arab alchemists it will retain its concrete technical character before meeting the Ismaeli gnostic speculations.
Zosimus and his contemporaries who collected their predecessors' traditions insist on their connection with the Egypt of the Pharaohs or with the Persia of Zoroastra and Ostanes. We can find texts under the name of Agathodaimon compared with Hermes....
This Greek-Egyptian alchemy survived in Alexandria for several centuries. From here it will go to Constantinople, where several recensions of the 'collection of Greek alchemists' were compiled, and to the Arabs when they conquered Egypt in the seventh century.
Hermes and Hermetic literature
According to Ibn al-Nadlm (351, 19) Arab alchemists considered the Babylonian Hermes as the first one to have mentioned the art of alchemy. Exiled by his countrymen, he came to Egypt where he became king. He wrote a certain number of books on alchemy and was equally interested in the study of the hidden forces of nature." [emphases and italics supplied]
Further information concerning the roles played by Bolos, Zosimos and especially Hermes may be found in Jack Lindsay's The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt [1970], who informs the reader, among other things, that:12
Zosimos looked to Hermes as the originator of the notion of the alchemic process as triadic. 'The present [chemical] composition, once set in movement, leaves the state of monad in order to constitute itself as a triad by driving out the mercury. Constituted as a monad that overflows as a triad, it is a continuum; but in return, constituted as a triad with three separated elements, it constitutes the world by the providence of the First Author, Cause and Demiurge of Creation, who henceforth is called Trismegistos in the sense that he has envisaged what he produced, and what produces it, under a triadic mode.' This important statement deepens the triadic concept by applying it directly to the moment of change, in which simultaneously there occur an act of union and an act of expulsion, of negation. This pattern is not a chance product, it is something that has only a limited application; it is the creative or formative pattern of all process. The alchemist is re-enacting the role of the demiurge.
At which point we arrive back at the Triad and to some extent the Oracles to take up the occurrence of the universal constant phi, this time its underlying importance in the construction of major monuments in Ancient Egypt - a topic treated at length by R.A.Schwaller de Lubicz [1891-1962] with respect to the construction the Temple of Luxor (Le Temple de l'Homme).13  The latter's "symbolist" interpretations were subsequently championed by John Anthony West and made generally available by West's 1978 publication Serpent in the Sky. Because of the significance of Phi in both these works West gave considerable space to the topic, and in addition suggested that:14
Perhaps the greatest single achievement within Schwaller de Lubricz's reinterpretation is the solution of the ultimate meaning of the Golden Section - a problem that has occupied many of the greatest thinkers and artists of history. When this significance is divulged, the reader may well be puzzled as to why so apparently elementary an explanation should have remained a mystery so long. Yet the fact is that the solution eluded the genius of Leonardo and of Kepler, of a number of brilliant modern biologists, and a host of astute artists and researchers in aesthetics. The answer to the mystery's amazing persistence can only lie in the fact that the cause of number, the Primordal Scission, was never grasped. Yet it is known that phi controls the proportions of innumerable living organisms, that the spiral of the 'spiral galaxy" is a phi spiral, that the orbits of the planets of our solar system are in complex phi relationships to each other, and that the proportions of Gothic cathedrals and Greek temples are commanded by phi. Though long before Swaller de Lubicz's work a number of scholars had noted phi proportions in the pyramids and other Egyptian remains, only in the past few years has this been acknowledged by Egyptologists. Even now, attempts are made to show how the Egyptians might have used the Golden Section without actually realizing they were doing so. But the fact is that the Egyptians knew and used phi from the earliest dynasties - as well as the so-called Fibonacci numbers that devolve from phi. Evidently the Egyptians - and builders of the Greek temples and Gothic cathedrals and to a certain extent the painters and Neoplatonists of the Renaissance - also knew the significance of phi and the manner in which to employ it effectively; knowledge which they either deliberately kept secrect or which was later inadvertently lost. Even those modern artists who have been intrigued by phi and attempted to use it (Mondrian and le Corbusier, for example) did not understand its meaning and met with but partial success. [emphasis added]
Le Corbusier in fact made use of the phi-series itself in his blue and red series as Kappraff [1991] has explained in some detail.15 Moreover, from what has been discussed so far, it would appear that a case can indeed be made for the statement that: "the orbits of the planets of our solar system are in complex phi relationships to each other," although this does not seem to be a current or universal understanding, to say the least.

In the final analysis, the present work - unavoidably condensed - cannot in fact claim to be a distinct discovery per se, nor can it constitute restoration of lost wisdom if the latter was never truly lost. What is supplied here is a beginning and a partial integration of a complex corpus of information that may have ramifications yet to be recognized. The same may also be said regarding the background part played throughout the ages by those who elected to preserve and pass the information on. Only they know their true roles in all of this; perhaps the rest of us never will.

As for the role of Ancient Egypt, consider again (or refer to Part B of the previous Section) Kepler's "frank confession" in the Harmonies of the World published in the year 1618:16

The very nature of things, in order to reveal herself to mankind, was at work in the different interpreters of different ages, and the finger of God-to use the Hebrew expression; and here, in the minds of two men, who had wholly given themselves up to the contemplation of nature, there was the same conception as to the configuration of the world, although neither had been the others guide in taking this route. But now since the first light eight months ago, since broad day three months ago, and since the sun of my wonderful speculation has shone fully a very few days ago: nothing holds me back. I am free to give myself up to the sacred madness, I am free to taunt mortals with the frank confession that I am stealing the golden vessels of the Egyptians, in order to build a temple for my God, far from the territory of Egypt. If you pardon me, I shall rejoice; if you are enraged, I shall bear up. The die is cast, and I am writing the book-whether to be read by my contemporaries or by posterity matters not. Let it await its reader for a hundred years, if God Himself has been ready for His contemplator for six thousand years.
Lux e Tenebris

Almost four centuries have elapsed since Kepler wrote his frank confession and moving epilogue. Although much work remains, perhaps the time has now come for the "Golden Vessels of the Egyptians" to be repatriated and their place in the scheme of things acknowledged, along with the sacrifices of all those who laboured to preserve them through the intervening centuries of darkness.


  1. Lindsay, Jack. The origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt, Ebenezer Baylis & Son, Trinity Press London 1970.
  2. Taylor, Thomas, Commentaries of Proclus on the Timæus of Plato, Book I.  Kessinger Books, Kila. p.36.
  3. Taylor, Thomas, T. PLATO: The Timæus and The Critias, Bollingen Series, Pantheon Books, Washington 1944:118.
  4. Wagner, Jeffrey K. Introduction to the Solar System, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Orlando 1991.
  5. Taylor, Thomas, Commentaries of Proclus on the Timæus of Plato, Vol II, Book III. pp. 89-90.
  6. The Commentaries of Proclus on the Timeus of Plato, transl. Thomas Taylor, Kessinger Books, Kila, pp.115-118.
  7. Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter.The foundations of Newton's AlchemyCambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1975:165.
  8. Lindsay, Jack, The Origins of Alchemy in Græco-Roman Egypt, Ebenezer Baylis & Son, Trinity Press, London, 1970:259.
  9. ibid., pp.144-145.
  10. ibid., p.265.
  11. The Hermetic Arcanum
  12. Lindsay, Jack, The Origins of Alchemy in Græco-Roman Egypt, Ebenezer Baylis & Son, Trinity Press London 1970:177.
  13. de Lubicz, Schwaller, Le Temple de l'Homme, Translated by Robert and Deborah Lawlor, Autumn Books 2000.
  14. West, J. A., Serpent in the Sky, Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton. 1993:61-62.
  15. Kappraff, J. CONNECTIONS: The Geometric Bridge between Art and Science, McGraw-Hill, New York 1991:21-25.
  16. Kepler, Johannes. Harmonies of the World, Great Books of the Modern World 16, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief. William Benton, Chicago 1952.
Copyright © 1997. John N. Harris, M.A.(CMNS). Last Updated on February 22, 2004.




REVERIE: I. For every new-born Soul. Spira Solaris and the Soul of Life [Graphic,200 kb]

REVERIE: II. Time and Eternity; Apollo Answers Plato [Graphic, 84 kb]