My latest print, The Engagement of Rebis, is a further exploration of the Great Hermaphrodite figure. This symbolic character comes to us from the hermetic traditions of medieval Europe. This particular print shows the divine pair prior to their fusion in the Great Work. This is their engagement.
The Man, whose head is the sun (gold, heat, dryness), holds the philosophical serpent; the Woman, whose head is the moon (silver, cold, moistness), holds the cup. This is easy to understand as the opposing forces of nature, whose cooperation begat all phenomenon in reality. Rebis was the end result of the Great Work. Only the profane think alchemy was about the transmutation of metals. What’s really going on here is the actual process of Creation that produces our world.
Do not think that Creation is something that happened in the past; it is a continual process that is being continued to this very moment. The Initiate, through study and emulation of nature has the opportunity to participate in furthering Creation in a direct and conscious manner. This is the true meaning of the Great Work.
In the Engagement of Rebis we see two figures. These beings represent the divine dichotomy. They compliment and define one another. If there was no tall, there would be no short; no heat means no cold; no dryness means no moistness. It is the realm of the relative that defines our reality. It is the task of each person to find their place between “here” and “there”; that is the only purpose of life; one of definition. Declaring what you are and what you are not. The divine couple sums up the relative guideposts we humans use to define the material world in which we float.
Behind the figures we see a hexagram. It is used here to denote the Art of Alchemy through sexual union. The upward triangle (fire, male) and the downward triangle (water, female) are here fused together. The respective triangles can also be found placed over the genitals of the divine couple to reinforce this concept. In order to give birth to the child (our reality) the divine couple must embrace in sexual union.
The central symbol is Mercury. Through Mercury/Hermes our attention is brought to the mysteries. It is through the subtle communications with the mercurial principle that we may unravel them. Mercury is the key to the lock, the bridge between the unseen and the seen.
Framing the figures we find the four cardinal signs of the zodiac: Cancer, Aries, Capricorn, and Libra. This provides the scene and setting of the engagement. These also establish our elements: Fire, Air, Earth, and Water. These would be the building blocks from which the material world is made.
In summary, our world, and indeed our bodies, are the result of a union of opposing forces. If we study these forces in the respective corners we may delve deeper into the gears of creation. By fully understanding the parts, we may know the process. The initiate must understand that they are a Rebis themselves. Before we can assume our position at the helm of Creation, the opposing wills and forces of our person must be brought to balance. It is only then that we may consciously take part in Great Work, which is nothing less than the furtherance of Creation.
To purchase one of these very limited prints, please visit the Chemical Marriage store…
The Engagement of Rebis
In order to understand the Alchemical and Hermetic traditions, a lesson in symbology is essential. Often, groups operating under these guises would mask profound philosophical truths in the form of images. One such image is the Great Hermaphrodite.
The symbol deals with “Hierosgamos“, or the union of opposites. On a very base level you could interpret the Great Hermaphrodite as a western equivalent to the Ying-Yang symbol of the oriental traditions; but the rabbit hole continues deeper. The alchemists, in their quest for philosophical gold, considered the world to be influenced and manipulated by a multitude of paired forces: wet and dry, cold and hot, sun and moon, male and female, proton and neutron, etc. When these opposing forces are harmonized and balanced through synthesis, creation is commenced. The Great Hermaphrodite is an amalgam of this union.
However, the historical precedent reaches farther back then the European alchemists. In ancient Mesopotamia, the source of so much of the west’s occult theory, we see the first glimpses of the Great Hermaphrodite. One union not mentioned above was the joining of the divine with the earthly. The Mesopotamian king, considered the divine representative, would join with a hierodule (‘sacred prostitute’). The sexual union was seen as the mediator between the godly and the human. It was believed that this sexual encounter ensured that the wheels of creation kept spinning, and liberated the world from the cold and motionless grasp of matter. It is worth noting that Christians borrowed this belief; Christ being born from the union of Jehovah with the very human Mary.
Some modern authors speculate that the experiments of the early 20th century could be interpreted as attempts to dissolve the chemical marriage of cosmic forces. To some extent they are right. When the atom was split, and the forces isolated from the state of equilibrium, the vast potential energy, the very blood of cosmic matter, was released. Though this author has no way to verify the inner intentions of the physicists involved, it is an interesting parallel.
Currently, we are witnessing the union of an entirely new form; the human with technology. It is believed by many that total integration of man with machine is imminent. Machines, through linkage with human consciousness, may become self-aware; the spark of consciousness being transferred to what was once dead matter. And humans, their physical limits removed through union with the machine, may very well experience the closet thing to omniscience our species has yet encountered.