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When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the Kingdom.
Gospel of Thomas, 22
The sacred marriage, the ‘coniunctio’ or ‘coitus’, refer to the union of our divine spirit with the soul, and finally with the body. By way of speaking we could say that in common man the spirit, soul and body are kind of separated from each other, although they are working with each other. But when the Great Work has been completed, the divine spirit has been brought ‘down’ to shine through the soul and body and unified itself with them, so they all form one and the same ‘body’.
In the mystical sense coniunctio is the understanding or experience of the unity of opposites or paradoxes, the experience of the unity that lies behind our world of duality. Our limited understanding can only see in opposites. In the far East one tries to transcend this limited understanding by koans, expressions that contain paradoxes. Alchemy has a similar approach as it uses expressions as fiery water, watery fire, water that does not wet the hands, fire that does not burn.
Coniunctio provides this transcendence into unity by the process of dissolution of the body into water. "As the dissolution dissolves the bodies, thus the doubts of the philosophers are dissolved by knowledge." (Gerhard Dorn, 16th century)
In alchemical manuscripts conciunctio is depicted as the union or coitus of King and Queen, of the red man and the white woman, or just by man and wife. "Connect the slave with his fragrant sister and by themselves they will make the entire work; because as soon as the white woman has been married to the red man, they will hug themselves firmly and become one, they will decompose and perfect each other: from the two bodies they were before they will become one single body that is susceptible for perfection." (Donum Dei, early 16th century). As it shows in this quotation coniunctio was often incestuous. We can also find that in other religions, like Sulamith and Adam Kadmon in the Cabala, Adam and Eve in Catholicism, Isis and Osiris in ancient Egypt. In alchemy it usually between mother and son. "Beya mounted Gabricius (her son) and locked him up in his belly, that well that he was not visible anymore. And she hugged Gabricius with such love that she took him completely into her nature and divided him into numerous parts." (Rosarium philosophorum, 1550). A bizarre union but it is entirely symbolic. Carl Gustav Jung says that this symbolic incest is the descent into or the penetration of the unconscious. The mother is the unconscious, the son is the conscious. It is a ‘regressus ad uterum’ or the return to the uterus of the mother. Penetration of the female is the same as the penetration of the water or the unconscious. Thus we see that the coniunctio is depicted as the coitus of man and wife, king and queen, but also by the king taking a bath, or drinking water. Sometimes the coitus between man and woman happens in water, in a bath or in a fountain. The water is also synonymous with mercury or quicksilver.
The alchemist Gerhard Dorn spoke about the body, soul and spirit of man. The body (corpus) corresponds with what we now would call with the Jungian term ‘the shadow’. The soul (anima) he considered to be a neutral life energy, the habits, wishes and desires. Spirit (animus) was the will, the ego concept. The spirit is always good and has higher mental potentials. In ignorant man they form a trinity, because man is not conscious of all three, but experiences them as just one.
Dorn said there are three coniunctio’s. The first coniunctio happens with ‘separatio’ or ‘distractio’. The soul separates itself from the body when man becomes conscious of those two. The soul and the spirit are uniting, which he calls ‘unio mentalis’. As man is now conscious of his body as separated from his soul and spirit, it is a voluntary death of the body, for example one does not express its negative impulses.
The second coniunctio is the unio mentalis combined with the purified body.
The third coniunctio is the combination of the spirit-soul-body with the ,unus mundus’. "The unus mundus is the potential world of the first day of creation when nothing existed ‘in actu’, that is in Two or multiplicity, but only of One." It is an entrance into unity, where one experiences everything as one.
In Hinduism the individual soul unifies with Brahman, which is the ultimate reality, the all unifying principle. He is the inner being of all things. He is limitless and cannot be understood by our intellect, nor expressed by words.
The alchemist Pernety (1858) also knows three coniunctio’s: "The first one is called double coniunctio. It is between ‘agens’ and ‘patiens’, between the male and the female, the form and the substance, quicksilver and sulfur, the subtle and the gross. The second one is called threefold, because it unifies three things: the body, the soul and the spirit. Thus reduce trinity to unity. The third one is called fourfold, because it unifies the four elements into one, but also includes the three others."