Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury: An Initiatic Guide to The Lesser Mysteries

The Initiate to Freemasonry is left alone to contemplate the subject of reality, death, life and truth. There is only a small glimmering light barely illuminating his surrounding. The initiate looks around. There is no one. He is alone in the bosom of mother earth. He is like a child in the womb, like a chicken in an egg, patiently awaiting the hour of birth.

There are three cups that sit in the surface in front of him — Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury. The young soul is left alone to scrutinize the substances. Little does he know that the content of these three vessels hold the key to the mysteries. They are the path to finding the way back to the garden from which man was cast away. Or maybe where man cast away God. The initiate would never be told the full meaning of these three substances. He has to find them on his own. Each man has to find his own way back to divinity.

These chemical compounds purify base metals and engender gold. And they would bring about the long-held dream of eternal life and prosperity to the one who makes proper use of them.

The fool, the Pharisee, the man uninitiated into the mysteries would take the words of the wise men literally and would employ physical chemical procedures, attempting to bring about their desires. But the initiate has seen a secret formula and will work in his soul to bring about change in the physical world, not the other way around. Each one of these elements tells a story about his soul and about God.

Salt:

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).

Thus Jesus stated, a salt that has lost its savour is good for nothing. The profane see and hear these words but yet they stay blind for what the Son of God is telling them. He tells them about the great mystery of Salt. That a man should master his spirit and body and give to them “salty taste”. “But how could that be done?” the profane would ask.

The purpose of the initiation is to teach man the universal truths by giving him the tool of self-examination and the five senses. Therefore we should look into the nature of Salt itself and see what the master’s purpose is when he talks to us about this substance

According to the materialist sciences, Salt in the physical realm is the result of a reaction between acids and bases, which are formed by metals and non-metals. So Salt comes about with a release of great energy when the substances react — and then we have the bond between the elements each of one located on the extremities of the chemical table.

On both sides I have outlined the elements from which Salts are derived, on the left we have the metals and on the right the non-metals.

Each man initiated into the mysteries of Freemasonry would have stayed between two extremities, between two eternal forces that still hold the temple of God together. The existence of each one of us is built upon the principle of duality. So when we stay between the columns we are being reminded of the ancient mystery of the Salt.

The symbols of duality are to be found all over in our Lodge. If we look down to our feet we will see that the floor of the Lodge is covered with black and white tiles. We will also see that the members of the Lodge sit opposing each other to the south and the north. We are reminded all the time that we are on a sacred quest of bringing differences together, of reconciling opposites. Therefore we should not be surprised to see that the alchemical symbol of Salt itself reminds of the principle of duality.

The circle is the figure that the ancients revered as the symbol of perfection. The line splits the circle reminding us that perfection is founded upon duality. Maybe an imaginative person would be reminded the two celebrations of the Lodge each of them taking place at exactly the opposite day of the year, if we assume the year to be a circle of 360 degrees.

In the Lodge we can see the principle of duality looming from every corner. The tiles on the floor have a contrasting black and white patterns, the Lodge as it states it is stated in the first degree is located from “the east to the west, from the south to the north and from the zenith to the nadir”. Thus the temple is constructed upon opposing sides each different in its nature. (And what else does a Masonic Lodge do, but bring into action this ancient principle by gathering of men of different, color, beliefs and class?)

Salt, is the key to understanding the human soul. The words themselves sound the same, in the Slavic languages, salt is even called “сол“(sol), which sounds exactly the same as the English for soul. So when Jesus talks about his followers being the salt of the earth, is he talking about them being also the soul of the earth? Let us consider again the fact that the ordinary cooking salt, NaCl, consists of Na+ and Cl-. Let us now think about us humans: we are by default men and women, as stated in Genesis, to reflect the glory of Deity, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… male and female created he them” (Genesis 1 26-27). The text implies that God consists of both a male and a female aspect, so, since we are created men and women, when we come together in a whole, we ourselves are being deified.

The observant initiate would recognize the Sun and the Moon located above the chair of the Master of the Lodge. And for what else can Sol (sun) and Mon (moon) stand for but for the male and female aspect, that we embody as human beings, coming together to reach a divine vision of reality?

What is more, we being built from opposites, have a material self and a higher self(soul). It is this great truth taught upon initiation, that man should strive for a balance of the bodily and the spiritual.

Mercury:

Of the three elements presented here, it is only mercury that bears the name of both a deity and a celestial body. Just like the Salt it reveals to us an allegorical truth and holds the key to further spiritual excellence. Mercury is the most mobile star, one of the first to rise and set on the horizon. Mercury was also а pagan god, worshiped by merchants and messengers alike. The temples in his honor stood scattered throughout the ancient world.

Mercury is the only liquid metal. Therefore the alchemist claimed that it is the basis though which lead could be transmuted and gold procured. But we see Mercury having a much more mundane use in our everyday life. It stays encapsulated in small glass tubes, measuring every little change in temperature. This is the quality of this element, it is quick to react to its environment. It follows the rhythm of the reality around it. It contracts when it is cold and it expands when it is hot. In my native tongue, Mercury is called “живак“ which can loosely be understood as “living matter”. The qualities of Mercury signify the struggles of each living creature to breathe in assonance with the breadth of the creator.

Understanding its fluidity is the key to unlocking the mystery of this element. The first think you would learn in a finance course is the concept of volatility. The markets as everything in our universe is under the rule of constant shift. Nothing is static, so we have to vibrate in synch with the world around us. For learning to live in peace with a reality in which everything changes is the primal purpose of the initiate. This is a peace of the Arcanum: that a man who has dared to oppose the laws set into this world by the God Almighty would be shattered by celestial forces (earth, air, water and fire). However, a man who lives to recognize and live by the celestial cycles is a man who would draw his powers from the ever-changing force that turns the wheel of existence.

Freemasons are reminded by the symbols of the two great patrons of the fraternity, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, about the never-ending cycle of nature. In regard teaching, the first, was the forerunner of Jesus, and his head was served to a tyrant on a golden platter. The other John was the last one of the apostles to walk on earth, and entrusted the teaching to those who seek his revelation. Therefore, Freemasons are reminded about the circle of the year, by the birth of the John the forerunner at the middle of the summer when all the earth is filled with life and than we are reminded about the death and rebirth of the universe by John the Evangelist at the middle of the winter, when it seems that we are all shrouded in darkness.

Mercury, the blazing star in the east, looms ever brighter every day, and it is for the initiates to see its rays and be guided by its light!

Mercury, teaches us the importance of mobility, flexibility and is always there to remind us of the ever shifting nature of this universe. Thus now we can see why the alchemists of old believed that Mercury is the key to transmuting lead into gold. The element in itself stands for the principle of transmutation. Therefore, if we start looking to our pains, misfortunes, vices, fears and weaknesses under the prism of a constantly changing universe we would be able to transfer our leaden reality into a golden one.

Sulfur:

Sulfur is the crown of the triad of the elements. It is the Master of the Lodge compared to the Junior and Senior Warden. Sulfur is the spirit. It is the fire that moves the soul and body. Sulfur ignite. It is the fire brought down by Prometheus to the impoverished souls of men abiding in the darkness. In Kabbalistic terms, the letter Shin stands for Sulfur. Again the allegory is easy to spot for an initiated eye. Shin means fire in Hebrew. A fireplace can warm the house, and a fire outside of it can burn the same house down.

This is the mystery of Sulfur, it stands there to remind us how to navigate the power of our spirit. It is the spirit that can affect change over the mind and body. It is Sulfur that keeps the balance in Salt. Our superior mind is the one that has to pacify the eternal struggle between the material and spiritual. Therefore, the power of Sulfur correctly channeled might either give you the power to converse with God in his own language, as the apostles, or it can turn your reality into ruins.

Sulfur is that passion that keeps man and woman together and it is the same passion that brings the armies of the Mycenaean kings at the gate of Troy.

Conclusion:

Look and you will see how the qualities of Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury are everywhere around us. It is up to you to choose if you would look in the mirror and see in the reflection and image of spiritual purity. The greatest initiation into the secrets is not based on the hearing and seeing, but on feeling the truth piercing through your heart. The greatest initiation is found in the simplicity of everyday life. When facing difficulty or temptation to be reminded about the duality of our existence, that a man needs to feed not only the body but the soul as well, and vice versa. When faced with disappointment or when angry the initiate is reminded of the fluidity expressed by Mercury. And when faced with a challenge to overcome the initiate uses Sulfur to ignite to power of his soul.

Dimitar is an author of a book of neo-Sufi poetry and short stories called “Tao, Women, and Hermeticism.” His personal interests include, christian mysticism, Sufism, alchemy, western Hermeticism and esotericism as a whole.

2 Replies to “Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury: An Initiatic Guide to The Lesser Mysteries”

  1. Your essay is far more useful than virtually any ordinary alchemical treatise i’ve read. That should be considered a good life’s work for any alchemical writer!

  2. In this extracting and reassembling of the substances that compose the bodies, in the attempt to prepare bodies purer and superior to those from which it had broken, there was present the quest for the quintessence of matter, the divine breath emanating from the solar system that vivifies the three Principles of which each of the four primordial elements, earth, air, water and fire, would be constituted, the salt, the sulfur and the mercury. All the quest for this quintessence was guided by a very precise and fundamental objective: the cure of human infirmities.

    Chemistry was then totally framed in medical art, constituting what was known as spagyric medicine, iatrochemistry or pharmaco-chemistry. It is what it was called “the chemistry of principles” [2]. It is all based on active and passive Principles on which all its manipulations and artifacts are based. In it is considered by the mercury, the evaporable; By the sulfur, the flammable; And by the salt, the soluble. Among them are the names of John Baptist van-Helmont (1577-1644), Robert Boyle (1627-1691), John Mayow (1641-1679), Nicasius Lefebvre (c.1610-1669), Jean Béguin ( ? -1620), Christophe Glaser (1628-1672), Nicolas Lémery (1645-1715) and Johann Joachim Becher (1635-1682).

    http://www.triplov.com/coloquio_05/amorim_da_costa.html

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