IMG 02: Taken from a Moorish Orthodox Science Temple brochure. The brochure seems to be synonymous with the renown concept of ‘Miracle Healing’ potions, as sold by many a conman. Sold as Moorish Health Products (herbal preparations). Image source: Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam by Peter Lamborn Wilson
The Latin phrase, VISITA INTERIORA TERRA RECTIFICANDO INVENIES OCCULTUM LAPIDEM, when translated to English is ‘Visit the interior of the Earth and in rectifying (purifying) you shall discover the hidden Stone’. This has been interpreted as a message inciting the initiate to delve into his own being in order to find arcane wisdom. A visit is a two-way journey, like the course followed on a labyrinth, which ends by returning to the starting point. The initiate must not seek to remain inside. He goes and comes back. He visits the interior, the inside. 'As above so below' and 'What is inside is also outside'. The Earth element corresponds to an 'outside' and a 'below' in a cosmic & suprasensible sense. By purifying our Earth, through the Work upon our Earth, we perfect the body in conjunction with the soul. And in doing so the dense body merges with the subtle aspects, whence we discover the 'hidden stone'. Stone is of the Earth, but when discerned under the Hermetic scrutiny a profound insight is awoken. The same Latin phrase also brings to our attention the acronym: V.I.T.R.I.O.L
As a chemical element, vitriol is the hydrous sulphate of a metal. Blue vitriol is copper (Cu), green vitriol is iron (Fe), and white vitriol is zinc (Zn). Sulphuric acid (known as 'oil of vitriol') is formerly prepared from green vitriol and is the highly corrosive liquid that attacks and dissolves many metals and other intractable substances via release of acids from their salts (sulphates). Its production is the most important and fundamental of all the chemical industries. It is used in the creation of hydrochloric and nitric acids, in car batteries & petroleum refining, the fabrication of ether and of nitro-glycerine, etching iron & removing iron scale from forgings, fertilisers, explosives, detergents, dyes. It is also a powerful dehydrating agent, having a strong affinity for water, and eating through paper, wood, clothing and human tissue. However, it has no effect on gold. Alchemically, vitriol was a prominent liquid where all subsequent reactions were effected. Green vitriol is symbolized by the green lion in Hermetic etchings & woodblock prints. After green vitriol is collected, it is heated and broken down into iron compounds and sulphuric acid. A heavy, corrosive, oily liquid, colourless when pure but brown when the acid is separated by distillation; the sulphur being the more electronegative of the two elements, thus producing an odour similar to rotten eggs (hydrogen sulphide). Further distillation produces the combined action of sulphur dioxide, oxygen, steam, and nitric fumes yielding a nearly odourless yellow oil. Due to its corrosive qualities, vitriol is used as a descriptive expressions such as 'bitterly abusive' or 'intense animosity' and, in addition, the phrase 'To injure with vitriol'. The word vitriol is derived from the Latin 'vitrum' meaning glass. This should invoke the notion of featureless, empty, diaphanous etc. and to draw upon Traditional parallels, the Bardo Thödol emphasises the importance of the 'Clear Light' that must be realized through gnosis.
Trey Spruance: There's this thing in Shi'ism called ta'wil, it's this idea where you take anything back to its root significance its original self. So say you have a ball point pen, and you start looking at it, you start peeling away the layers of what it's made of, what it's molecular components are, what its history is. Until you've dissected it back to its void-ness, and back to its original spring, what organized it into itself. And then you realize of course, ultimately it came from God. It has to do with the burning of surfaces or appearances, sort of corroding them until a stronger or deeper reality presents itself. Its a process of decay. Intentional sort of melting.
Definitively; ta'wil is mystical hermeneutics or spiritual exegesis. Ta'wil, conversely, means 'to cause to return, that is, to ascend or lead back (restore to its origin). It does not consist in bringing down to a lower level; it must carry sensible forms back to imaginative forms and then rise to still higher meanings; to proceed in the opposite direction (to carry imaginative forms back to the sensible forms in which they originate) is to destroy the virtualities of the imagination. Ta'wil is what saves appearances by symbolizing them with their original form. It is the soul's own conversion, because it is precisely the soul and not anything else that has 'descended'. It is essential symbolic understanding, the transmutation of everything visible into symbols, the intuition of an essence or person in an Image which partakes neither of universal logic nor of sense perception, and which is the only means of signifying what is to be signified. Rational thought must be carried through the irrational until it becomes supra-rational. Allegory is a rational operation, implying no transition either to a new plane of being or to a new depth of consciousness; it is a figuration at an identical level of consciousness, of what might very well be known in a different way. The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is the 'cipher' of a mystery, the only means of saying something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never 'explained' once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all, but calls for ever new execution.
The ta'wil presupposes a flowing of symbols and hence the active Imagination, the organ which at once produces symbols and apprehends them; it presupposes the angelic world intermediate between the pure Cherubic intelligences and the universe of sensory, historical, and juridical facts. By its very essence the ta'wil cannot inhabit the realm of everyday fact; it postulates an esoterism. The ta'wil of texts presupposes the ta'wil of the soul: the soul cannot restore, return the text to its truth, unless it too returns to its truth. Ta'wil is, then, initiatory and Gnostic by definition: it is a practice conferring saving or sacramental gnosis. As initiation, it implies a new or spiritual birth, the Gnostic being resurrected from one state of being into another, while as knowledge, it is mystical. But more than that, and most importantly, it is ontologically determined knowledge, knowledge made different by virtue of a different state of being, of being a different 'person'. According to this view, it is the soul's mode of being (modus essendi) that determines its mode of knowing (modus cognoscenti). That is to say, our knowing is being, and these states or worlds are states or worlds of being. Indeed, there is a hierarchy of such states or worlds, and it is this ontological hierarchy that ta'wil symbolizes, binds together, realizes, indeed, enhances, in its practice. Moreover, since all the states of being (which are states of knowing also) express or mirror themselves in states that are correlative to them and of which they are functions (exoteric and esoteric being ontologically primordial), ta'wil develops through a spiritual 'typology' or, better stated, by a continuous unveiling or revelation of the spiritual beings to which the hermeneutical levels, spiritual organs and worlds, correspond.
Ta'wil is bringing something back to its archetypal donor. This is not an allegorical process, as has sometimes been claimed. It returns something, not to its historical origin, but to its transcendental origin. Because it goes beyond the letter (that is, the past without possibility), this textual exegesis becomes a true eduction, an exegesis of the human being. There is a systematic development of the correspondences between earthly and heavenly hierarchies, thereby revealing the real agents in humanity's hidden history. This hierohistory, as it were, is that of an incantation, da'wat, which begins 'in Heaven', continuing from prophet to prophet, and consummating itself only with our Aion in the guise of external events, Qur'anic passages leading us back to hidden events which are entirely real, but of an order which is other than that of visible events before the big bang, before time, therefore; outside of time. For those besotted with 'historical trend', latitudinal (horizontal) expansion, or the notion of a linear and irreversible progression; the 'transgressive' vigour of symbolism will inevitably wither away into inoffensive allegory. What we have learned about the 'disciples of Khidr', the trans-historical meaning of the affiliation which unites them vertically with the invisible celestial assembly, implies the idea of a Tradition whose line is vertical, longitudinal (form Heaven to Earth), a tradition whose moments are independent of the causality of continuous physical time but relate to what Ibn 'Arabi calls the tajdīd al-khalq, the recurrence of the creative act, or the renewal of creation at each instant or breath. This is the Theophany.
With the symbols of alchemical vitriol, Islamic ta'wil and the Moorish antiseptic healing potion invoked simultaneously we can refer further to what in Hermetism are called Corrosive Waters (or poison), in the special sense of substances capable of artificially provoking the dissociation between different elements of the human composition. The texts, nevertheless, either advise against the use of these waters and 'violent Fires' or recommend the utmost precaution because, they say, they burn rather than wash; they dissolve bodies but cannot save spirits; they work not with the 'slow fire of nature' but with the 'impatient haste that proceeds from the Devil'. Their action is abrupt and discontinuous; so the difficulty of keeping them active in the changing state is all the greater.
Since the bottle of vitriol is related to the 'sacred' or 'immortality-conferring' drinks, like the soma of the Vedas, the haoma of the Iranians, the mead of the Eddas and even wine itself. Originally it was a question of symbols: the holy drink was the Ether of Life, the principle of exaltation and inner regeneration, which to come into contact with was for man a much likelier possibility in the beginning that it was in later times. For the tradition maintains that at a certain point in time, such a drink ceased to be 'known' and something else was substituted for it, which was no longer just a symbol, but a real drink composed of substances adapted to produce a psychophysical state constituting a favorable condition for the spirit to be able to realize the true and immaterial soma, haoma, etc. One of these artificial means to reach an exaltation or inebriation was probably thought to be a means of arriving at an effective ecstasy. The same can be said of that which, in more disconcerting jargon in some alchemical texts, goes by the name of urina vini, meaning 'urine of a drunken man'. 'Urine' is explained by the root
The hermetic fire is a fire that does not burn, it is a magic fire, an interior fire, subtle and occult. "The Opus is accomplished neither by (vulgar) Fire nor by the hands, but only by means of the inner heat," as with a 'rising fever'. The hermetic Philosophers recognize various fires, which are to be brought together in the work so that one may help the other. There are three Fires; the first 'Fire of the Lamp' - that is, Light-Fire, illuminated Fire 'continuous, humid, airy, proportioned; the second is the 'Fire of the ashes', that is, a fire that is sheltered in the interior, analogous to the so-called natural Fire, on which the athanor is placed; finally there is the Fire against nature, 'Our Water', which is related to the Fountain, and destroys, dissolves, calcinates. But often these three fires are used in the texts as symbols to mean the three phases of the Magnum Opus (work).
The main difference lies between 'natural Fire' and 'Fire against nature'. Unnatural Fire is the Fire of the hermetic Art referring to the aspect of the 'one thing' as the basis on which it is 'Nature that dominates itself, that kills itself' and thus is capable of reacting against the fact of being in order to infuse in it a higher discipline that sustains the fallen and erring natures, 'rectifying' them. After which, the two fires - that of the Art, directed by the operator's will, and that of Nature, which is the vital fire, that is to say, the heart and the blood (in alchemical symbol) - are united and, as has been said, the one increases, fortifies, and develops the action in the inner depths of the other. Besides the fire called intermediate, unnatural, and composite, a third is mentioned, the 'Fire that kills', which recalls the primordial 'fixations', that is to say, the absolute individualization of the force. The philosophical Fire is that with which the philosophers was the material, that is, purify the Mercury"; and the 'unnatural Fire', or 'intermediate', is the 'result of the union of the natural Fire and the Fire of the philosophers which is against nature'. This unnatural Fire is the cause of the putrefaction and death of the composition and of the perfect and true philosophical solution - and to this Fire 'against nature' remains the task of reanimating the hidden Fire in the other, liberating it from the prison in which it has been locked. This is a dense icy prison that contains a forgotten heat. When the heat is awoken it melts the density that contains it. Imagine that fire could be diluted with water and then frozen, this is a paradox. The fire's role is to melt the ice and be flowing with the water again. Whence, the water must evaporate so the fire can burn in solitude. Yet the fire dissolves, corrodes, burns, destroys and cooks primary material until it is transformed into it's original state.
This is the caustic method in which ta'wil and vitriol operate in order to resurrect the primordial essence. Ta'wil's inquiry that 'leads back' through the motive, the 'why?' and vitriol's sulphuric, acidic penetration of concrete matters.
William Blake: The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell: The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell. For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the Tree of Life, and when he does the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite and holy, whereas it now appears finite and corrupt. This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment. But first the notion that Man has a body distinct form his soul is to be expunged. This I shall do by printing in the infernal method by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid. If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to Man as it is: infinite. For Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.
- Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Ṣūfism of Ibn ‘Arabī by Henry Corbin
- Swedenborg & Esoteric Islam by Henry Corbin
- The Voyage and the Messenger: Iran and Philosophy by Henry Corbin
- Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam by Peter Lamborn Wilson
- The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols & Teachings of the Royal Art by Julius Evola