“Alchemy” is fairly well known as the attempt during the Middle Ages and Late Renaissance to turn Lead into Gold. An enormous body of alchemical literature has survived. But within that literature is a stream in which ‘alchemy’ was a metaphor for turning the human heart from Lead into Gold—a way to talk about Spirituality and alternate ideas about Christianity that might not set well with the religious authorities of the day. After all, in those days they didn’t exactly “honor diversity”— being different could result in your being the guest of honor at a burning-at-the-stake!
The famous psychologist Carl Jung wrote extensively about this ‘inner alchemical’ literature.
Some of it is in the form of images, others as poetry or wildly metaphorical prose. The Book of Lambspring is a set of images and accompanying poems. It dates from around 1600.
The poem says that the two fish are the Soul and the Spirit, swimming in the sea of the Body. You can read the poem for yourself, but I’ll leave you with a thought that has helped me make sense of this image and sacred literature in general. And that is: perhaps one way of thinking about the difference between Soul and Spirit is that ‘soul’ is our consciousness directed towards OURSELVES, where ‘spirit’ is our consciousness directed toward God. You’ll notice that the two fish in the image are swimming in opposite directions.
So here’s the first image in the alchemical Book of Lambspring, and my own new piece to go with it.
1. The Two Fish
The Sages will tell you
That two fishes are in our sea
Without any flesh or bones.
Let them be cooked in their own water;
Then they also will become a vast sea,
The vastness of which no man can describe.
Moreover, the Sages say
That the two fishes are only one, not two;
They are two, and nevertheless they are one,
Body, Spirit, and Soul.
Now, I tell you most truly,
Cook these three together,
That there may be a very large sea.
Cook the sulphur well with the sulphur,
And hold your tongue about it:
Conceal your knowledge to your own advantage,
And you shall be free from poverty.
Only let your discovery remain a close secret.
Kindly Email This Post to a friend!