Alchemical Study Group – Four


(from the book)

Four. This is the number of solidity, stability, foundations, hard work and tangible achievement. It also is the number of the earth, and of rational and logical thought and intellectualism. The Pythagoreans considered four the perfect number and the foundation of all things; four when added to the first three numbers totals ten, which returns to one, the Monad.

Perhaps the greatest significance of four is its relationship to wholeness. throughout history, humankind's efforts to find wholeness are quaternary. We have four seasons, four elements, four cardinal points and four limbs of the human body. There are four suits of the Tarot's Minor Arcana, and four suits in playing cards. There are four basic functions of Jungian types (thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition), and Einstein and Minkowski discovered four fundamental forces in nature.

In the Tarot, four often indicates a stabilizing or ordering process taking place. Where mundane work is concerned, it relates to labor that lacks creativity, yet does produces security.


Four: the quadrangle

As stated in Chapter 1, Aristotle's theory postulates that all matter is composed of four elements extracted from the prima materia: earth, air, fire, and water. These four elements are ubiquitous in the ancient world, being almost identical in Europe, Asia, Africa, and even the Americas (in China there were five: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth). The number 4 in general is associated with the world and physical reality, which has four directions, four dimensions and four seasons.

Aristotle carried the concept a step further, by introducing the four qualities: dry, moist, hot, and cold. Each element possesses two qualities: earth is dry and cold, water cold and wet, air wet and hot, and fire hot and dry. As can be seen, there is one quality shared by any two successive elements; therefore, each element can be transformed into another element that shares the same quality by manipulating the unshared quality. It was thought that in this way a substance could be changed from one element to another in a continuous circle. Aristotle's theory was the basis for the alchemical belief in the possibility of the transformation of one material into another.

Now returning to Jabir's theory, we can see that his two components comprising metals are actually a variation of the four elements. Earthy smoke is earth becoming fire, as its dryness becomes hot, and watery vapor is water becoming air, as its wetness becomes hot. When these two substances were imprisoned in the earth they became sulfur and mercury, which combined in differing proportions with varying amounts of impurities to make all metals. Only if they were pure and in correct balance would they make gold. Therefore, the alchemists thought they could make gold by removing the impurities from other metals.