description | the role of the Chorus | the elements | thesmophoria | the music | the performers
In alchemical signs, the triangle represents the three heavenly principles or substances of Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt.
Orientation of the performance elements:
North - sulfur
Southwest - salt
Southeast - mercury
Inside gold is the alchemical Sun. Inside the Sun is an active substance, sulfur. Sometimes alchemists equal sulfur with the Sun. Sulfur is the spirit of life. Sulfur is of a twofold nature. White sulfur is the heavenly or secret fire, the divine spark in man, the philosopherÂs stone. Red sulfur is the infernal fire inside the body, the earth, the mixture; it is the rough stone (sulfur crudum, sulfur vulgare). Red sulfur and white sulfur are actually one and the same. The alchemists speak of red sulfur at the beginning of the Great Work, while white sulfur is the purified red sulfur, at the end of the Great Work.
In general sulfur is the symbol for the omnipresent spirit of life.
Usually mercury is used in its chemical form, quicksilver. Symbolic of course, it indicates volatility or fluidity, by which it is also named ´water of lifeÂ or ´root humidityÂ.
In his aspect of fire, Mercury is the sole fire in the entire process. He is the working force in the Great Work. He is an ´invisible, secretly working fireÂ. He is the fire of hell, the infernal fire in the earth. Mercury is the spirit of man that works in the lower aspects of being, and thus is looked upon as an infernal fire.
In his air aspect, he is the spirit, the air, the wind that is present everywhere in Nature and vivifies everything. He is ´the spirit of truth hidden in the earthÂ.
Salt is the third element in the trinity of the alchemical substances in the Great Work. As mercury is the water aspect, sulfur is the fiery aspect, so is salt the form aspect (salt is a crystalline form, or crystallized energy). So it is also a name for the ´prima materiaÂ, for the stone of the philosophers. The alchemists say that in its lower aspect salt is ´bitterÂ. Here salt is symbol for knowledge and wisdom. Self-knowledge is bitter, painful. Sometimes they speak of the bitter ´sea waterÂ. As water or the sea stands for the soul, it is a reference to the same self-knowledge.
Salt is also seen as a symbol for the second phase of the Great Work, albedo, or whiteness, because here light breaks through, and thus also wisdom. Christ is called ´Sal sapientiaeÂ, the Salt of WisdomÂ.
In the beginning of the Great Work, the salt is called impure. Here it equals the earth, the body, our every day consciousness or being. The impure salt has to be dissolved (´solutioÂ) into the divine water (quicksilver, or ´prima materiaÂ), by which it is purified. In albedo salt arises as a pure form and fixated, that is crystallized into a pure salt.
As symbol for wisdom, salt is the breath of the divine energy. This wisdom vivifies the invisible fire that energizes entire Nature. This fire controls life, movement, energy, the heavens, the planets. Paracelsus called this fire ´the light of NatureÂ a reference to the ´anima mundi', the soul of the world.
Salt is the third heavenly substance in alchemy and represents the final manifestation of the perfected Stone. The Emerald Tablet calls it "the Glory of the Whole Universe." For Paracelsus, Salt was like a balsam the body produced to shield itself from decay. It has also been associated with the Ouroboros, the Stone, and the Astral Body. In general, Salt represents the action of thought on matter, be it the One Mind acting on the One Thing of the universe or the alchemist meditating in his inner laboratory.
The triangle represents the three heavenly principles or substances of Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt.
Named after the planet "Mercury" (the origin of the symbol Hg is the Latin word "hydrargyrum" meaning "liquid silver")
Mercury was known to ancient Chinese and Hindus before 2000 BC and was found in tubes in Egyptian tombs dated from 1500 BC It was used to forma amalgams of other metals around 500 BC. The Greeks used mercury in ointments and the Romans used it, unfortunately for those using it, in cosmetics.
Mercury is one of the elements which has an alchemical symbol, shown below (alchemy is an ancient pursuit concerned with, for instance, the transformation of other metals into gold).
Mercury is the only common metal liquid at ordinary temperatures. Mercury is sometimes called quicksilver. It rarely occurs free in nature and is found mainly in cinnabar ore (HgS) in Spain and Italy. It is a heavy, silvery-white liquid metal. It is a rather poor conductor of heat as compared with other metals but is a fair conductor of electricity. It alloys easily with many metals, such as gold, silver, and tin. These alloys are called amalgams. Its ease in amalgamating with gold is made use of in the recovery of gold from its ores.
The most important salts are mercuric chloride HgC12 (corrosive sublimate - a violent poison), mercurous chloride Hg2Cl2 (calomel, occasionally still used in medicine), mercury fulminate (Hg(ONC)2, a detonator used in explosives), and mercuric sulphide (HgS, vermillion, a high-grade paint pigment).
Organic mercury compounds are important - and dangerous. Methyl mercury is a lethal pollutant found in rivers and lakes. The main source of pollution is industrial wastes settling to the river and lake bottoms.
As mercury is a very volatile element, dangerous levels are readily attained in air. Mercury vapour should not exceed 0.1 mg m-3 in air. Air saturated with the vapour at 20ĘC contains mercury in a concentration far greater than that limit. The danger increases at higher temperatures. It is therefore important that mercury be handled with care. Containers of mercury should be securely covered and spillage should be avoided. Mercury should only be handled under in a well-ventilated area. If you are in possession of any mercury you are advised to contact a properly qualified chemist or public health laboratory for its safe disposal.
Small amounts of mercury spillage can be cleaned up by addition of sulphur powder. The resulting mixture should be disposed of carefully.
Mercury is a dreadful poison and is absorbed readily through the respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal tract, and through skin. It is a cumulative poison since there are few pathways available to the body for its excretion. As mercury is a very volatile element, dangerous levels are readily attained in air. Mercury vapour should not exceed 0.1 mg m-3 in air. Air saturated with the vapour at 20ĘC contains mercury in a concentration far greater than that limit. The danger increases at higher temperatures. It is therefore important that mercury be handled with care. Containers of mercury should be securely covered and spillage should be avoided. Mercury should only be handled under in a well-ventilated area. If you are in possession of any mercury you are advised to contact a properly qualified chemist or public health laboratory for its safe disposal. Small amounts of mercury spillage can be cleaned up by addition of sulphur powder. The resulting mixture should be disposed of carefully. All mercury compounds are extremely toxic and are to be avoided and should only be handled by competent personnel taking proper precautions. Organomercury compounds are particularly toxic, methyl mercury extremely so. Mercury affects the central nervous system and has bad affects upon the mouth, gums, teeth. Ultimately high exposre results in death.
Sulphur is essential to life. It is a minor constituent of fats, body fluids, and skeletal minerals. Sulphur is a key component in most proteins since it is contained in the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Sulphur-sulphur interactions are important in determining protein tertiary structure. Hydrogen sulphide (H2S) replaces H2O in the photosynthesis of some bacteria. In people, hydrogen sulphide in very small concentrations can be metabolized, but in higher concentrations it kills quickly by preventing respiration. It is insidious in that it deadens the sense of smell quickly, meaning victims may be unaware of its presence. It is more toxic than cyanide. Remarkably, sulphuric acid (H2SO4) is present in the digestive fluids of sea squirts (ascidians).
Here are a few notes about the hazards and risks associated with sulphur.
Elemental sulphur is relatively harmless, but is very toxic to many bacteria and fungi. Sulphur dust irritates eyes and eyelids. Carbon disulphide, hydrogen sulphide, and sulphur dioxide should be handled extremely carefully. Hydrogen sulphide in very small concentrations can be metabolised, but in higher concentrations it can cause death quickly by respiratory paralysis. It is insidious in that it quickly deadens the sense of smell and is more toxic than cyanide. Sulphur dioxide is a dangerous component in atmospheric air pollution and is one of the factors responsible for acid rain. Carbon disulphide, CS2, is an important industrial solvent. It must be handled carefully since it is poisonous. It is easily absorbed through skin and by inhalation. It causes problems to the central nervous system.
From the Sanskrit word "sulvere" meaning "sulphur"; also from the Latin word "sulphurium" meaning "sulphur"
Sulphur was known in ancient times and referred to in Genesis as brimstone. Assyrian texts dated around 700-600 BC refer to it as the "product of the riverside", where deposits could be found. In the 9th century BC, Homer mentioned "pest-averting sulphur". In 424 BC, the tribe of Bootier destroyed a city's walls using a burning mixture of coal, sulphur, and tar.
Around the 12th century, the Chinese, probably, discovered gun powder (a mixture of potassium nitrate, KNO3, carbon, and sulphur).
Sulphur is one of the elements which has an alchemical symbol, shown below (alchemy is an ancient pursuit concerned with, for instance, the transformation of other metals into gold). Alchemists knew that mercury can be fixed with sulphur.
Possibly Antoine Lavoisier should be credited with convincing the scientific community that sulphur is an element (around 1777).
Sometime prior to the autumn of 1803, the Englishman John Dalton was able to explain the results of some of his studies by assuming that matter is composed of atoms and that all samples of any given compound consist of the same combination of these atoms. Dalton also noted that in series of compounds, the ratios of the masses of the second element that combine with a given weight of the first element can be reduced to small whole numbers (the law of multiple proportions). This was further evidence for atoms. Dalton's theory of atoms was published by Thomas Thomson in the 3rd edition of his System of Chemistry in 1807 and in a paper about strontium oxalates published in the Philosophical Transactions. Dalton published these ideas himself in the following year in the New System of Chemical Philosophy. The symbol used by Dalton for sulphur is shown below. [See History of Chemistry, Sir Edward Thorpe, volume 1, Watts & Co, London, 1914.]
Sodium Chloride, NaCl
Salt, or sodium chloride, is such a basic requirement for life, that all animals are equipped with special taste-buds in the tongue in order that we may detect it. Salt, or more specifically, the sodium component of the compound is needed to maintain proper fluid balance and to control nerve and muscle activity and so all our body fluids contain salt. Which is why tears and blood always taste salty. Even saliva, derived from the Latin word for salt, sal contains salt.