Hermes in Greek (or Mercury in Roman) mythology, the messenger god on Mount Olympus, had a magic wand called a Caduceus, which was given to him by Apollo. The Caduceus symbolizes the spinal column, the central conduit for the Psychic Force, or nerve energy, which animates all the organs and members of the body.  Hermes/Mercury is associated with the Magician card in the Tarot. 

In Hellenistic Egypt, the Greeks recognized the similarities between their god Hermes with the Egyptian god Thoth.  Both were gods of writing and magic.  And so the Greek god of interpretive communication was combined with the Ibis-headed Egyptian god of wisdom as a patron of astrology and alchemy called Hermes Trismegistus (thrice great Hermes).

The Hermetica, a series of wisdom texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, feature Hermes Trismegistus enlightening a disciple on the topics of the divine, the cosmos, the mind, alchemy, astrology and nature.

Alchemy was the historical predecessor of metallurgy, chemistry and medicine.  It has often been considered a pseudo-science based on the pretense that gold could be made from other metals.  However, it is now known that, in reality, it was much more than that.  It aimed to purify, mature and perfect certain objects, liberating the spirit concealed or imprisoned in matter. That process included, in the Magnum Opus, the psychological and spiritual transformation of the alchemist himself, a kind of sacred psychology, unifying the duality of spirit and matter. Alchemy reflects the process of personal transformation in the metaphor of transmuting base metals into gold.   The dull lead of the unawakened person is transmuted into the brilliant gold of the awakened spiritual being.  By working with the outer world, the inner world is transformed. 

Newton and Alchemy

A portrait of Newton investigating light by J A Houston, circa 1879.

A portrait of Newton investigating light by J A Houston, circa 1879.

“Lapis Philosphicus” from a manuscript 416 by Sir Isaac Newton.

“Lapis Philosphicus” from a manuscript 416 by Sir Isaac Newton.

It can be argued that without a mystical outlook, much of science would not exist.  Unlike what we learned in school, Isaac Newton wrote more about esoteric subjects than he did about “pure science”.  His studies in the esoteric were brushed under the rug.

In 1936 a collection of his papers, regarded as of “no scientific value” when offered to Cambridge university some fifty years earlier, was purchased at Sotheby’s by the respected economist and Newton scholar John Maynard Keynes. 

Keynes wrote- “Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians…”. 

Newton's laboratory notebooks, even the one containing the first full description of his discovery that white light is really a mixture of colors, are filled with alchemical recipes.  Alongside of descriptions of optical and physical phenomena there are illustrations of"Neptune's Trident," "Mercury's Caducean Rod," and the "Green Lyon."

Newton was very familiar with the Hermetica and translated a text called The Emerald Tablet:

1      Tis true without error, certain & most true.

2      That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing

3      And as all things have been & arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.

4      The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse.

5      The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.

6      Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.

7      Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.

8      It ascends from the earth to the heaven & again it descends to the earth & receives the force of things superior & inferior.

9      By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world

10 & thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.

11 Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing & penetrates every solid thing.

12 So was the world created.

13 From this are & do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world. That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished & ended.

“Have not the small Particles of Bodies certain Powers, Virtues or Forces, by which they act at a distance, not only upon the Rays of Light for reflecting, refracting and reflecting them, but also upon one another for producing a great part of the Phænomena of Nature?” Newton -Query 31

Alchemy to Quantum Physics - Goethe, Tesla, Jung and Beyond


Nikola Tesla, the "Master of Lightning", was a Serbian physicist, engineer and inventor.  Tesla’s worldview involved a philosophy based on the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832).  He had memorized and would often recite from Goethe's work, most often from “Faust”.  Faust, a Gnostic seeker of truth experiences the fall of the soul and then redemption. He achieves the alchemical task of converting base metal (his fallen state) into gold.  

Tesla believed his inventions were creations that came from uncovering secret mechanisms lying within the hidden laws of nature, revealed to him in lightning flashes of inspiration.

In February 1882, Tesla was walking with a friend through a city park in Budapest, Hungary reciting stanzas from Goethe's Faust.  The sun was just setting.  “As I uttered these inspiring words the idea came like a flash of lightening and in an instant the truth was revealed. I drew with a stick on the sand”.  He saw clearly in his mind an iron rotor spinning rapidly and a rotating magnetic field produced by the interaction of two alternating currents out of step with each other.   Like a magician with a magic wand, he brought his concept one step closer to reality by drawing it in the sand.

Was it God who wrote each sign?
Which, all my inner tumult stilling,
And this poor heart with rapture filling,
Reveals to me, by a force divine,
Great Nature’s energies around and through me Thrilling?
Am I a God? It grows so bright to me!
Each character on which my eye reposes
Nature in act before my soul discloses.
— "Faust” Goethe

The Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, was also a fan of Goethe and studied the subject of alchemy.  Goethe's masterpiece, Faust, was an essential source for both Freud and Jung, and it played an important role in the foundation of depth psychology.

“I regard my work on alchemy as a sign of my inner relationship to Goethe. Goethe’s secret was that he was in the grip of that process of archetypal transformation that has gone on through the centuries. He regarded his Faust as an opus magnum or divinum. He called it his ‘main business’, and his whole life was enacted with the framework of this drama.”— Carl Jung (c.1940)

Jung was amazed to find that the images and operations he encountered in the old alchemy texts related strongly to his theories of psychoanalysis and the unconscious.  Jung observed that the dreams of his clients repeatedly stressed the main alchemical themes, especially the conflict and union of opposites. 

Alchemy, as a nature philosophy of great consideration in the Middle Ages, throws a bridge to the past, the gnosis, and also to the future, the modern psychology of the unconscious.

Only by discovering alchemy have I clearly understood that the Unconscious is a process and that ego’s rapports with the unconscious and his contents initiate an evolution, more precisely a real metamorphoses of the psyche.
— Carl Jung

Jung saw in alchemy a metaphor for the process of individuation.  Alchemy sought to unite Spirit (male), and Matter (female) through a Royal Union (coniunctio).

…(Individuation) brings to birth a consciousness of human community precisely because it makes us aware of the unconscious, which unites and is common to all mankind. Individuation is an at-one-ment with oneself and at the same time with humanity, since oneself is a part of humanity.
— Carl Jung CW, 16, ¶227.

Jung believed that working with external ‘projection holders’, like alchemical processes, or tarot cards, could effect change in our inner world.   The Tarot works as a bridge of communication between our conscious and unconscious minds, helping us on our own spiritual path.

If no outer adventure happens to you, then no inner in adventure happens to you either.
— Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 263
The work in process becomes the poet’s fate and determines his psychic development. It is not Goethe who creates Faust, but Faust which creates Goethe.
— Carl Gustav Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul

The Edge Between Psychology and Physics

Sooner or later nuclear physics and the psychology of the unconscious will draw closely together as both of them independently of one another and from opposite directions, push forward into transcendental territory. ...Psyche cannot be totally different from matter for how otherwise could it move matter? And matter cannot be alien to psyche, for how else could matter produce psyche? Psyche and matter exist in the same world, and each partakes of the other, otherwise any reciprocal action would be impossible. If research could only advance far enough, therefore, we should arrive at an ultimate agreement between physical and psychological concepts. Our present attempts may be bold, but I believe they are on the right lines.
— Carl Jung

We can choose to live with blinders on, just experiencing life at it’s most mundane, or we can choose to look deeper, open our minds and senses.  Whether it’s the depths of the collective unconscious or the world at the quantum level, things are not exactly as they seem.  And just because we may learn how the trick is done, does not make it any less awe-inspiring, magical and transformational.

Mr. Wizard unlocked the wonders of science for youngsters of the 1950s and ’60s and then later in the 1980s, starting each episode of his show with a demonstration that at first glance seemed impossible, but was based firmly on basic scientific principles.   That didn’t make the act any less wondrous.

Quantum physicists, the Mr. Wizards of today, show us that the objects in our world, which appear to be present, solid and real, are not exactly what they seem. 

If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet. Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.
— Niels Bohr
One day it will have to be officially admitted that what we have christened reality is an even greater illusion than the world of dreams.
— Salvador Dalí