back to The Essential Key of the Great Work


spiritual progress

Here the alchemist is showing again in his tent praying to god.

He is on top of a hill, the hill is the symbol of your self, of your person.

He is shown again inside the hill:

the alchemist in his laboratory

The alchemist is holding a glass vase in which the Great Work takes place. The vase is another symbol for the self. In the vase the entire alchemical process takes place. The candle flame is the fire that is necessary to drive the process. The fire is symbolic for the constant attention to the spiritual work.

The scale is a symbol of 'weight and measures', that is, you have to feel for yourself what is too much or too little in your spiritual practice. being too enthusiastic or being too lazy will ruin your practice. you have to develop a feel for the right amount of 'weight'.

"Arte Natura" means the Art of Nature. 'Art' always means improving what is imperfect, and 'Nature' is the nature of your inner self.

gathering the dew

As we had the alchemist on land to the right, here we have the alchemist in water. While land symbolized the fixed nature of the body, water is the fluid nature of the inner world.  When you meditate, you develop a sense of your inner realm, where the emotions and thought reside.

To the right is a book with the word 'Labore', what means 'work'. Alchemy is constant working on yourself.

In the back we see a wash tub with a cloth, and dew forming under a sunrise. This is an allusion to the 'gathering of the dew at sunrise' with the cloth which then get wrung out in the tub. In alchemical term the dew is the mercurial water at the end of the putrefaction process. More about that later.

In the middle of the engraving we have:


The pillar reads: "This is Wisdom".

 On the pillar is an angel, which symbolizes the the inner self of the alchemist. Wings always point to the inner, spiritual qualities of man.

The little figure in the glass sphere is a homunculus. It is a symbol of the alchemist at the beginning of the Great Work. The homunculus is the imperfect nature of yourself, which is like a child that needs to grow and mature. Out of this maturation process, the Moon and the Sun will arise. These are the second and third stage of the great Work, also called the Whiteness and the Redness. The first stage is Blackness. More about this later.