Europe is a place of united nations. But it is way more. Behind the European anthem lurks the idea of a person who wanders through the “starry canopy” while being confronted with his longing for a divine identity. With this longing, he strives towards a source that carries everything from outside the starry firmament. To establish such an alchemical-hermetic image of man through the European anthem in the middle of a community of states is an exciting adventure.
Friedrich Schiller describes this person in his poem “Ode to Joy”. Parts of it were later set to music in the last part of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Its main theme has been declared the European anthem in 1972. A hymn is a song of praise, commending the human-being. In the European Anthem man himself becomes a hero. Just imagine what a Europe full of heroes of that kind could look like. They would probably unhinge the world, which is based on the fact that reality and ideality cannot coexist. Countless cultural approaches deal with this challenge in human development. One of them is alchemy. Though almost forgotten today it has accompanied humanity for thousands of years with its universal wisdom.
Those who are more informed about alchemy and are familiar with the hermetic tradition of thought on which it is based will recognize in it a strong spiritual current that is an integral part of the European cultural tradition. For today’s rationally and sometimes superficially thinking person, a story about alchemy would probably begin as follows:
Alchemy and making gold
In the dark house at the end of the street lived the alchemist. Nobody really knew him and you rarely met him. He was often out at night when he collected plants or pebbles during the full moon. It was said that he worked for the king. The laboratory and the house were part of the palace. Gold for the king was to be made there, people said. Some smiled at him, others crept around the house with greedy eyes.
Even today many still smile when they hear the word alchemy. There were many wannabe “gold-makers” at certain times during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance who feverishly searched for the philosopher’s stone to get rich.
Today we have large global financial systems, the gold price is announced daily on the radio. Gold reserves play a crucial role in this system of modern “gold-making”. This financial system is part of the heart of Europe. Have the rational, scientifically thinking people overcome the greed for gold?
The modern financial systems with their scandals show us that the greed for gold is only hidden under a different garment today. More people than ever before are concerned with the “production of the lower form of gold”, with making money. Many a person has more in common with the alchemistic charlatan of yesteryear than they want to admit.
The spiritual essence
The serious hermetically-thinking alchemist cursed the attempt to physically make gold because it discredited a universal science. Hermeticism combined astronomy, astrology, art, natural science, philosophy and religion. It considered “the philosopher’s stone” as a special state of the soul in which spiritual gold could be created. In the last century, C.G. Jung in particular emphasized the spiritual aspect of alchemy. He stressed that the alchemical writings are full of images and symbols.
“Take the dragon and let him devour the sun and the moon.” – Anyone who reads this in an old alchemistic scripture must first of all take in this image and then decide whether he is looking for a chemical or spiritual solution. Would he like to read the dragon as an acid that dissolves gold and silver or would he rather see the dragon as the powerful human soul-being? In the second reading the dragon can symbolize both the gold-greedy soul of the materialist, the dark, evil dragon, devouring gold and silver, or the transformed golden dragon that unhinges this world by devouring the sun and the moon.
First we see the fallen evil dragon and then the redeemed golden dragon. He is the symbol for the man who dives into peace. He enters the heavenly sanctuary that guards the whole world of the evil or dark dragon. Therefore the dragon is the symbol of both the earthly and heavenly human being. We also encounter the heavenly man in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Friedrich Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy. We encounter the earthly or material aspect of the alchemist daily in our financial systems. But both are to be found simultaneously in the nature of man as he is twofold.
The essence of alchemy
The essence of alchemy is also twofold like the soul of man being symbolized by the two dragons. The two different soul areas correspond to two kinds of perception. Heavenly man sees the world differently:
“We can regard the world as consisting of a single primordial substance, which is in different vibrations. The diversity of these vibrations is the basis of all visible and invisible forms.”
With this short statement the theosophist Dr. Franz Hartmann summarizes the essence of alchemy. In this view, it is not only a science, an instrument to produce gold from base metals. It is above all a certain attitude towards life and a view of the world in which the eternal becomes visible through the formation of forms. This kind of alchemy opens the possibility for man to grasp “what holds the world together at its core”. Symbolically, this is the Golden Dragon that guards the dark dragon. It is the Golden Dragon that transforms man and carries him to the heavenly sanctuary.
This dual view of alchemy has its roots in hermetic thinking. The first Alchemist and father of them all is Hermes Trismegistos, the “Thrice Great Hermes”. Modern research assumes that the name is a pseudonym under which generations of philosophers have published their thoughts.
The highest goal of alchemy is to produce the Philosopher’s Stone. Made in the innermost part of man, the highest wisdom of the heavenly man is concentrated in it. Alchemy is a bridge between two worlds. The Philosopher’s Stone makes the powers of the heavenly man in our world tangible as thought, word and symbol. With the Philosopher’s Stone the transformation of our earthly being begins and besides “horizontal” thinking, “vertical” thinking becomes tangible. At this moment man stands at a threshold where he can no longer ignore the deep fundamental questions of his existence.
Vertical and horizontal thinking
In his reflections on heaven and earth, the Hungarian writer Sándor Márai describes the dual man:
“The average man, the narrow-minded and comfortable thinker, sees and feels the world horizontally. A person who has enough courage to understand reality, he sees the small and the big world vertically. The two points of view are never congruent, but they collide somewhere at a single point of intersection. This point of intersection is sometimes the cross and sometimes the pyre.”
(Sandor Marai, Heaven and Earth)
The alchemist who chases the material gold has much in common with the horizontally thinking human being. He believes only in what he can grasp sensually. Everything else he quickly exposes to ridicule. He seeks recognition, power, fame, wealth and a carefree life. The vertically thinking person is concerned with the fundamental questions of life. He not only examines the quantitative structure of matter, as we are used to in our natural sciences today. He is also interested in the relationships we call life, in their quality and their patterns of change.
The modern face of Europe
The view of the vertically thinking alchemist plays no discernible role in today’s Europe. The heart of Europe consists of competing economic and financial systems. Technical terms such as trade war, hostile takeover etc. show the character of this heart. The greed for money or gold and the lower “gold-making mindset” predominates. They are the consequences of a materialistic view of reality.
The European anthem and spiritual alchemy
However, this view is not the only one. According to Paracelsus there is the lower and – on the basis of hermetic philosophy – the upper alchemy in the alchemist’s laboratory. Neither is possible without the other.
Thus Europe, with its financial systems and everyday social life, knows lower alchemy well. In the alchemistic, masonic image of man that underlies the European anthem, the higher alchemy is highlighted. The European anthem puts the focus on the human aspect of society.
In his Ode to Joy, Schiller describes both the small world of man, which consists of heaven and earth and is dominated by horizontal thinking and the world above the starry firmament with its “sky above the sky”. Perceiving of this sky above the sky is the goal of vertically thinking man. As a sky walker, he pierces the firmament in order to awaken and become conscious in another world.
How long does it take a person to open to vertical thinking? What happens when vertical thinking shakes the horizontal structure of experience? For the European, living in modern society and being confronted with the image of a heavenly man in the anthem , two doors are open to him every day. He himself is the point of intersection of these two worlds, and so in his life he stands again and again in front of the cross that lifts him up to heaven, and sometimes in front of the pyre on which everything burns that is not compatible with the true human being.