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ALCHEMICAL STUDIES

II: THE VISIONS OF ZOSIMOS

[Originally given as a lecture to the Eranos Conference at Ascona, Switzerland,
in August 1937, and published under the title "Einige Bemerkungen
zu den Visionen des Zosimos," Eranas-Jahrbuch I937 (Zurich, 1938). Revised
and considerably expanded, as "Die Visionen des Zosimos," in Van
den Wurzeln des Bewusstseins: Studien iiber den Archetypus (Psychologische
Abhandlungen, Vol. IX; Zurich, 1954), which version is translated
here.-EDlToRS.]

I
THE TEXTS
I must make clear at once that the following observations on
the visions of Zosimos of Panopolis, an important alchemist and
Gnostic of the third century A.D., are not intended as a final explanation
of this extraordinarily difficult material. My psychological
contribution is no more than an attempt to shed a little
light on it and to answer some of the questions raised by the
VISIOns.
86 The first vision occurs at the beginning of "The Treatise of
Zosimos the Divine concerning the Art." 1 Zosimos introduces
the treatise with some general remarks on the processes of nature
and, in particular, on the "composition of the waters" (8E(JL5
vourwl') and various other operations, and closes with the words:
" ... and upon this simple system of many colours is based the
manifold and infinitely varied investigation of all things." Thereupon
the text begins:2
(III, i, 2.) And as I spoke thus I fell asleep, and I saw a sacrificer3
standing before me, high up on an altar, which was in the shape
of a bowl. There were fifteen steps leading up to the altar. And the
priest stood there, and I heard a voice from above saying to me:
"I have performed the act of descending the fifteen steps into the
darkness, and of ascending the steps into the light. And he who renews
me is the sacrificer, by casting away the grossness of the body;
1"Zwulp.ou TOV lI.lou 7r.pl ap.T;js." 'AP'TT} here should not be translated as "virtue"
or "power" ("vertu" in Berthelot) but as "the Art," corresponding to the Latin
ars nostra. The treatise has nothing whatever to do with virtue.
2 Berthelot, Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, with translations into French
by C. E. Ruelle. [The present translation is by A. S. B. Glover from the Greek
text in Berthelot, with reference also to Ruelle's French and Jung's German. The
section numeration is Berthelot's.-EDITORS.]
3 The l.pouP'Yos is the sacrificial priest who performs the ceremonies. The l.pElls
is rather the l,pocPaPT7)S, the prophet and revealer of the mysteries. No difference
is made between them in the text.
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ALCHEMICAL STUDIES
and by compelling necessity I am sanctified as a priest and now
stand in perfection as a spirit." And on hearing the voice of him
who stood upon the altar, I inquired of him who he was. And he
answered me in a fine voice, saying: "I am Ion,4 the priest of the
inner sanctuaries, and I submit myself to an unendurable torment.5
For there came one in haste at early morning, who overpowered me,
and pierced me through with the sword, and dismembered me in
accordance with the rule of harmony.6 And he drew off the skin
of my head with the sword, which he wielded with strength, and
mingled the bones with the pieces of flesh, and caused them to be
burned upon the fire of the art, till I perceived by the transformation
of the body that I had become spirit. And that is my unendurable
torment." And even as he spoke thus, and I held him by force
to converse with me, his eyes became as blood. And he spewed forth
all his own flesh. And I saw how he changed into the opposite of
himself, into a mutilated anthroparion,7 and he tore his flesh with
his own teeth, and sank into himself.
(III, i, 3.) Full of fear I awoke from sleep, and I thought to myself:
"Is not this the composition of the waters?" And I was assured
that I had well understood, and again I fell asleep. I saw the same
bowl-shaped altar and, on the upper part, boiling water, and a
numberless multitude of people in it. And there was no one near
the altar whom I could question. Then I went up to the altar to see
this sight. And I perceived an anthroparion, a barberS grown grey
4 Ion occurs in the Sabaean tradition as Jumin ben Merqulius (son of Mercury),
the ancestor of the Ionians (el-Juminiun). [Cf. Eutychius, Annales, in Migne,
P.G., vol. III, col. 922.] The Sabaeans consider him the founder of their religion.
Cf. Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, I, pp. 205, 796, and II,
p. 509. Hermes, too, was considered a founder (I, p. 521).
5 K"Xao •• , literally 'punishment.' Here it means the torment which the prima
materia has to undergo in order to be transformed. This procedure is called
mortificatio. [For an example, see the mortifieatio of the "Ethiopian" in Psychology
and Alchemy, par. 484. Also infra, "The Philosophical Tree," ch. 17.-
EDITORS.]
6 ~,ao7ro.oa~ KaTa ovoTao,v o.pp.ovla~. Berthelot has "dcmembrant, suivant les regles
de la combinaison." It refers to the division into four bodies, natures, or elements.
Cf. Berthelot, Alch. grecs, II, iii, II and Chimie au moyen age, III, p. 92.
Also "Visio Arislei," ATtis auri/erae, I, p. 151, and "Exercitationes in Turbam
IX," ibid., p. 170.
7.Uiov aVTov W~ TovvavTlov o.v(JPW7ro.plOVKOXo{30V. If I am not mistaken, the concept of
the homunculus appears here for the first time in alchemical literature.
S I read ~vpovP'Y"~ instead of the meaningless ~",povP'Y6f in the text. Cf. III, v, I,
where the barber does in fact appear as an anthroparion. (Or should it be taken
adjectivally: ~vpovP'Yov IJ.v!JPW7ro.p,ov?) The anthroparion is grey because, as we shall
see, he represents the lead.
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THE VISIONS OF ZOSIMOS
with age, who said to me: "What are you looking at?" I replied
that I was astonished to see the seething of the water, and the men
burning and yet alive. He answered me thus: "The sight that you
see is the entrance, and the exit, and the transformation." I asked
him: "\"'hat transformation?" and he answered: "This is the place
of the operation called embalming. Those who seek to obtain the
art9 enter here, and become spirits by escaping from the body."
Then I said to him: "And you, are you a spirit?" And he answered:
"Yes, a spirit and a guardian of spirits." As we spoke, while the
boiling continued and the people uttered distressful cries, I saw a
brazen man holding a leaden tablet in his hanel. And he spoke with
a loud voice, looking upon the tablet: "I command all those who
are undergoing the punishment to be calm, to take each of them
a leaden tablet, to write with their own hand, and to keep their
eyes upraised in the air and their mouths open, until their uvula
swell." 10 The deed followed the word, and the master of the house
said to me: "You have beheld, you have stretched your neck upward
and have seen what is done." I replied that I had seen, and he continued:
"This brazen man whom you see is the priest who sacrifices
and is sacrificed, and spews forth his own Hesh. Power is given him
over this water and over the people who are punished." It
(III, V, 1.) At last I was overcome with the desire to mount the
seven steps and to see the seven punishments, and, as was suitable,
9 Or "moral perfection."
10 Evidently a particularly convulsive opening of the mouth is meant, coupled
with a violent contraction of the pharynx. This contraction was a kind of l'etch·
ing movement for bringing up the inner contents, These had to be written down
on the tablets. They were inspirations coming from above that were caught, as
it were, by the upraised eyes. The procedure might be compared with the tech·
nique of active imagination.
11 [In the Swiss edition (VOIl den Wlln.e/lI des Uewusstseills, pp. 141-45) this
section, though numbered Ill, i, 3 ouly, contiuues into III, i, 4, 5, and 6 without
a break, the whole being run together as a single section. III. i, !i then reappears
at the end of the sequence of visions (par. 87), but in variant form, as a
"resume," and the reasons for its placement there are explained in the com·
mentary (pars. 93, Ill, 121). As no explanation is given for its duplic.ation under
III, i, 3, and the variations are in the main merely stylistic, we have omitted it
at this point and reconstituted III, i. 4-6 at the end of the sequence. The word·
ing of Jung's interpolation at par. 87 has been altered to account for this change.
The sections are presented in the order III, i, .~, III, i, 4, III, i, 6 on the assump·
tion that III, i, 4 is not meant to form a part of the "resume" proper, hut, as
stated in the Eranos version of "Transformation Symbolism in the Mass," is
rather "Zosimos' own commentary on his visions" and "a general philosophical
conclusion" (The Mysteries, pp. 311L).-EoITORs.)
61
ALCHEMICAL STUDIES
in a single day; so 1 went back in order to complete the ascent. Passing
it several times, 1 at length came upon the path. But as 1 was
about to ascend, 1 lost my way again; greatly discouraged, and not
seeing in which direction 1 should go, 1 fell asleep. And while 1
was sleeping, I saw an anthroparion, a barber clad in a robe of royal
purple, who stood outside the place of punishments. He said to me:
"Man, what are you doing?" and I replied: "I have stopped here
because, having turned aside from the road, 1 have lost my way."
And he said: "Follow me." And 1 turned and followed him. When
we came near to the place of punishments, I saw my guide, this
little barber, enter that place, and his whole body was consumed
by the fire.
(III, v, 2.) On seeing this, I stepped aside, trembling with fear;
then I awoke, and said within myself: "What means this vision?"
And again I clarified my understanding, and knew that this barber
was the brazen man, clad in a purple garment. And I said to myself:
"I have well unders(Qod, this is the brazen man. It is needful
that first he must enter the place of punishments."
(III, v, 3.) Again my soul desired to mount the third step also.
And again I followed the road alone, and when I was near the place
of punishments, I again went astray, not knowing my way, and I
stopped in despair. And again, as it seemed, I saw an old man whitened
by years, who had become wholly white, with a blinding
whiteness. His name was Agathodaimon. Turning h;mself about,
the old man with white hair gazed upon me for a full hour. And
1 urged him: "Show me the right way." He did not come towards
me, but hastened on his way. But I, running hither and thither, at
length came to the altar. And when 1 stood at the top of the altar,
1 saw the white-haired old man enter the place of punishments. o ye demiurges of celestial nature! Immediately he was transformed
by the flame into a pillar of fire. What a terrible story, my brethren!
For, on account of the violence of the punishment, his eyes filled
with blood. I spoke to him, and asked: "Why are you stretched out
there?" But he could barely open his mouth, and groaned: "I am
the leaden man, and I submit myself to an unendurable torment."
Thereupon, seized with great fear, I awoke and sought within myself
the reason for what I had seen. And again I considered and said
to myself: "I have well understood, for it means that the lead is to
be rejected, and in truth the vision refers to the composition of the
liquids."
THE VISIONS OF ZOSIMOS
(III, Vbls.) Again I beheld the divine and holy bowl-shaped altar,
and I saw a priest clothed in a white robe reaching to his feet, who
was celebrating these terrible mysteries, and I said: "Who is this?"
And the answer came: "This is the priest of the inner sanctuaries.
It is he who changes the bodies into blood, makes the eyes clairvoyant,
and raises the dead." Then, falling again to earth, I again fell
asleep. And as I was ascending the fourth step, I saw, to the east,
one approaching, holding a sword in his hand. And another [came]
behind him, bringing one adorned round about with signs, clad in
white and comely to see, who was named the Meridian of the Sun.l2
And as they drew near to the place of punishments, he who held
the sword in his hand [said]: "Cut off his head, immolate his body,
and cut his flesh into pieces, that it may first be boiled according
to the method,J:l and then delivered to the place of punishments."
Thereupon I awoke and said: "I have well understood, this concerns
the liquids in the art of the metals." And he who bore the
sword in his hand said again: "You have completed the descent of
the seven steps." And the other answered, as he caused the waters
to gush forth from all the moist places: "The procedure is completed."
(III, vi, 1.) And I saw an altar which was in the shape of a bowl,
and a fiery spirit stood upon the altar, and tended the fire for the
seething and the boiling and the burning of the men who rose up
from it. And I inquired about the people who stood there, and I
said: "I see with astonishment the seething and the boiling of the
water, and the men burning and yet alive!" And he answered me,
saying: "This boiling that you see is the place of the operation
12 Kat aXXo< ("rl"w a{rrov q,EPWV 71'fP'UKOV'''J.Lhov 'TLv« XWKoq,6pov Kat wpawv niv oy"v,
OU TO OVOJ.La EKaXf'TO J.Lf"OUpo.V'''J.La ~X[ou. Berthelot: "Un autre, derriere lui, portait
un objet circulaire, d'une blancheur eclatante, et tres beau 11voir appele Meridicn
du Cinnabre." It is not clear why J.Lf"OUpo.v'''J.La ~Xlou is translated as "meridian
of the cinnabar," thus making it a chemical analogy. 71'fP'UKOV'''J.Lhov 'TLvo. must
refer to a person and not to a thing. Dr. M.-L. von Franz has drawn my attention
to the following parallels in Apuleius. He calls the stoIa oIym1Jiaca with which the
initiate was clad a "precious scarf with sacred animals worked in colour on every
part of it; for instance, Indian serpents and Hyperborean griffins." "I ... wore
a white palm-tree chaplet with its leaves sticking out all round like rays of
light." The initiate was shown to the people "as when a statue is unveiled,
dressed like the sun." The sun, which he now was, he had seen the previous
night, after his figurative death. "At midnight I saw the sun shining as if it were
noon." (The Golden Ass, trans. Graves, p. 286.)
13 Literally, op-yav'KW<.
ALCHEMICAL STUDIES
called embalming. Those who seek to obtain the art enter here, and
they cast their bodies from them and become spirits. The practice
[of the art] is explained by this procedure; for whatever casts off
the grossness of the body becomes spirit."
87 The Zosimos texts are in a disordered state. At III, i, 5 there
is a misplaced but obviously authentic resume or amplification
of the visions, and at III, i, 4 a philosophical interpretation of
them. Zosimos calls this whole passage an "introduction to the
discourse that is to follow" (III, i, 6).
(III, i, 5.) In short, my friend, build a temple from a single stone,
like to white lead, to alabaster, to Proconnesian marble,14 with
neither end nor beginning in its construction.l5 Let it have within
it a spring of the purest water, sparkling like the sun. Note carefully
on what side is the entrance to the temple, and take a sword
in your hand; then seek the entrance, for narrow is the place where
the opening is. A dragon lies at the entrance, guarding the temple.
Lay hold upon him; immolate him first; strip him of his skin, and
taking his flesh with the bones, separate the limbs; then, laying [the
flesh of] the limbs16 together with the bones at the entrance of the
temple, make a step of them, mount thereon, and enter, and you
will find what you seek.H The priest, that brazen man, whom you
see seated in the spring and composing the substance, [look on] him
not as the brazen man, for he has changed the colour of his nature
and has become the silver man; and if you will, you will soon have
him [as] the golden man.
(III, i, 4.) And after I had seen this apparition, I awoke, and I
said to myself: "What is the cause of this vision? Is not that boiling
white and yellow water the divine water?" And I found that I had
well understood. And I said: "Beautiful it is to speak and beautiful
to hear, beautiful to give and beautiful to receive, beautiful to be
poor and beautiful to be rich. How does nature teach giving and
receiving? The brazen man gives and the hydrolith receives; the
metal gives and the plant receives; the stars give and the flowers
receive; the heavens give and the earth receives; the thunderclaps
give forth darting fire. And all things are woven together and
all things are undone again; all things are mingled together and all
14 The island of Prokonnesos was the site of the famous Greek marble quarry.
now called Marmara (Turkey).
15 That is. circular.
16 The Greek has only P..AO~. I follow the reading of codex Gr. 2252 (Paris).
17 The res quaesita or quaerenda is a standing expression in Latin alchemy.
64
THE VISIONS OF ZOSIMOS
things combine; and all things unite and all things separate; all
things are moistened and all things are dried; and all things flourish
and all things fade in the bowl of the altar. For each thing comes
to pass with method and in fixed measure and by exact18 weighing
of the four elements. The weaving together of all things and the
undoing of all things and the whole fabric of things cannot come
to pass without method. The method is a natural one, preserving
due order in its inhaling and its exhaling; it brings increase and
it brings decrease. And to sum up: through the harmonies of separating
and combining, and if nothing of the method be neglected,
all things bring forth nature. For nature applied to nature transforms
nature. Such is the order of natural law throughout the whole
cosmos, and thus all things hang together."
(III, i, 6.) This introduction is the key which shall open to you
the flowers of the discourse that is to follow, namely, the investigation
of the arts, of wisdom, of reamn and understanding-, the efficacious
methods and revelations which throw light upon the secret words.
180V"y"y,a.op4·

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Notes:

1.

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