Machina Promotional Lithographs

All content & writing by Brad Jaeger © The NACHTKABARETT

The Alchemical Sisters
Source of image: Promotional poster announcing the release of Machina/The Machines of God

Four alchemical sisters stand upon the four classical elements, from left to right: earth, water, air, and fire. Resting upon their heads are flasks burning with the fire of the alchemists, the symbols within them denoting the four stages of the alchemical process: Nigredo, Albedo, Citrinitas, and Rubedo.

Atop the first sister to the left is a blackening man, symbolic of the putrefaction and decay present in the moment of ultimate despair, necessary to form the basis for further personal and spiritual development. This is known as the stage of Nigredo, the blackening.

Atop the second sister is a whitening man admiring a white rose, symbolic of the quality of the sacred feminine (it's counterpart, the red rose, is symbolic of sacred male energy). This second stage is known as Albedo, the whitening.

Atop the third sister is a bird, wings spread and preparing to fly, a metaphor for the soul's preparation to transcend the material world and ascend to the spiritual and the divine. As such, this stage is more of an intermediate between the second and fourth stage, "turning silver (Albedo) into gold (Rubedo)". This third stage, generally phased out since the 15th and 16th centuries, is known as Citrinitas, the yellowing.

Atop the final sister is a lion, a common representation for the living gold, and final stage of the alchemical process. Matter transcended, the soul of the alchemist freed, the philosopher's stone acquired and the return to the all. This final stage is known as Rubedo, the reddening.

The sketch was reproduced from an earlier alchemical depiction of a very similar image.

The only noticeable changes made are that the man in the whitening flask atop the woman standing on the symbol of earth is coming out of the rose, while the SP depiction has the man admiring the rose. The other addition made to the plate was the addition of two other images.

Two recurring images from Plate XIV: TURNING TEARS INTO OCEANS, WORDS INTO SAND, can be seen: the fish, which is resting on a bed of fire. The fish, a symbol of mercury, represents the feminine passivity and liquidity, while the second symbol, sulfur, the bed of fire, is the masculine aspect, active and fiery. Together, they bring about true alchemical and hermaphroditic union of nature, gender, and matter.



The Great Work
Original Source of Image: Promotional lithograph print

The hand of the alchemist brings forth the great work. Composed by the successful amalgamation of the primary trinity of elements; sulfur, mercury, and salt are crucial to the creation of the legendary material which holds the key to transforming base and inferior metals into gold. This creation of the philosopher's stone would signal great change, heralding in a new age of enlightenment and the spiritual ascension of the alchemist. The successful creation of the elixir of life would therefore signify the process complete, and bring to a close the great work.

In this plate, sulfur â??the fire of the alchemist- heats the flask, and represents the active and dynamic quality of life and all its transformations, which guide the alchemical process from start to finish. Sulfur is the first of the three primary elements which comprise the great work, and is also a symbolic representation of the soul.

To the left of the alchemist's hand, the symbol of mercury is invoked to bring about the fluidity and divine essence that only the water of life, mercurial quicksilver, may provide; simultaneously the balance to sulfur's fiery qualities, it also compliments and aids the alchemical process perfectly as the water of life is brought to boil by the flames of sulfur. Mercury is the second of three primary elements which comprise the great work, and is also a symbolic representation of spirit.

As the flames of sulfur bring to boil the mercurial water, it darkens to black, signifying the putrefaction and decomposition common in the first stage of the alchemical process, Nigredo, as all matter is reduced to a singular black mass.

The heart inside is the focused subject being put through the decomposition and putrefaction of Nigredo. As it dissolves into the mercurial water and is heated by the sulfuric flame, it loses its imperfections and becomes purified, crystallized salt. Salt, representing wisdom, comes often in bitter lessons. It is not surprising then that the heart is used as metaphor in this depiction, and is quite fitting for Machina, which explores many of the darker and bitterer aspects of love, and the imperfections and impurities which love must withstand in order to purify itself and continue on its journey. Salt is the third of the three primary elements which make up the great work, and is the symbolic representation of the body.

The combination of sulfur (soul), mercury (spirit), and salt (body), together, like the breath of god, bring about transformation and new life.

Presiding over all is the cosmic serpent Ouroboros, the alpha and omega, as he twists his scaly self consuming, self regenerating form into the lemniscate of Bernoulli, otherwise known as the symbol of the infinite, reminding us that that transformation and change is both continual and cyclical, and is present in all facets of the life of an alchemist.



Union of Opposites
Original Source of Image: Promotional lithograph

Two opposing individuals: a woman bearing an equilateral cross within an upturned equilateral triangle, and a man bearing a circle within an equilateral inverted triangle are bound together, slowly returning to a state of oneness, atop a pile of dead birds. Sol and Luna, the two halves of the celestial spirit, preside over them. A great blue eagle looms over them.

The sun in the upper left hand corner is indicative of Sol, spiritual gold. The upper right hand corner shows a sun, partially blackened, revealing the face of Luna, spiritual silver. To the philosophical cannon of Paracelsus, "All things are produced out of Sol and Luna". This basic alchemical tenet justifies the continuous influence of the sun and the moon seen in alchemical works throughout the centuries.

The man and woman are becoming one, which is identifiable due to the three legged body they share, returning them to the state of microcosmic perfection that is androgyny; man and woman, united as one in harmony. The dead birds they stand atop of may represent the stage of blackening, wherein matter dies, decays, putrefies, and gives way to new matter.

The equilateral cross which rests atop the woman's hand is prominent within Christian and Gnostic allegory. The equilateral cross recalls the four elements, the 'four corners of the Earth', the four gospels of the New Testament, and also carries with it all other basic connotations which comes with a cross. The circle which rests atop the man's hand illustrates the cyclical, regenerative and transformational nature of man and the cosmos.

Both equilateral triangles recall the concept of the trinity: the triune deity, or more specifically, to the Hermeticists: Hermes Trismegistus. Also of note is that they, like the man and woman, are set in opposition, though both can and will be reunited once the alchemist's work is brought to completion and all reduces to one. It is also likely that the opposing triangles are reminiscent of duality, and the hermetic mantra, "As above, so below", the primary principle of all alchemy. Any change made to the microcosm or macrocosm invariably affects the other in equal measure. And while opposing elements may appear to be in opposition, it's true nature is actually one in the same.

In regards to the eagle, this graceful bird has commonly been used within alchemy to denote a state of perfection: pure of spirit, the embodiment of purified sulphur, a work of true theurgic brilliance. The eagle marks the end of the alchemist's 'great work' and is the physical manifestation of the ascending spirit. Despite its almost malevolent appearance in these images, the eagle is protecting the humans and guiding them on their own alchemical journey to spiritual enlightenment. This "south-wind" is an agent of change and personal transformation.

The image is most likely inspired by the work of a 15th century Pseudo-Aquinas, who wrote an illustrated manuscript of an alchemical treatise known as Aurora Consurgens.

The basis of the SP image: one of thirty-eight miniature watercolors contained in the illustrated manuscript, "Aurora Consurgens"

There are many parallels to be made between the two images. Both depict a three legged woman and man, uniting as one to become the alchemical androgyne, standing atop a pile of dead birds, with a giant eagle looming over them. Additions not included in the SP image are that of the bat in the woman's hand, and a dead hare in the man's. However, the SP image reinforces the concept of celestial duality by placing the sun and moon into the picture, which builds upon the concept of the 'great work'.

The Hermetic Museum states of this image,

Here, the south wind is represented as a large eagle, gradually uniting the two opposites...After the coupling, Sol says to Luna, "we will rise into the order of the most ancient, then will a burning light be poured into me and you.
Senior Zadith, in: Aurora Consurgens



The Green Lion
Original Source of Image: Promotional lithograph

A lion composed of seven stars with a crown upon its tail begins to devour the sun. The Kafanov image most notably derives from this 17th century illustration:

Original Source of Image: Promotional lithograph
The 'blood of the green lion', which also goes under the code name of the 'philosophers vitriol', is the universal solvent that swallows the seven metals and gold. Basil Valentine said that the solid blood of the red lion (the lapis, the sun) comes from the volatile blood of the green lion
D. Stolcius von Stolcenberg, Viridarium chymicum, Frankfurt, 1624 (from Alexander Roob's 'Hermetic Museum')

While Kafanov's depiction shows that of a red tinged lion, traditionally the lion depicted in this manner -devouring the sun- was green, not red. The Green Lion is a famous image, being drawn and etched in many manuscripts and engravings over the centuries.

The Green Lion devours the sun.

I am he who was the green and golden lion without cares, within me lie all the mysteries of the philosophers

The green lion that swallows Sol" is, according to the Rosarium, "our Mercury. It alone works deep into each body and lifts him up. So if it is mixed with a body, it enlivens and relieves it and transforms it from one consistency into another.

Rosarium Philosophorum, Ed. J. Telle, Weinheim, 1992 (Excerpt from Alexander Roob's 'Hermetic Museum')

Specifically, the Green Lion was a physical embodiment of vitriol, and a metaphor for the chemical process that some alchemists would undertake. When nitric acid was combined with hydrochloric acid it produced a solution called aquae regia (meaning, "royal water"), a liquid with a prominent green tinge, capable of dissolving metals, including gold. The green lion devouring the sun thus served as a pictorial representation of this concept.

To naturalist alchemists, the Green Lion was removed of its chemical properties and described as the "raw energy of nature". In this line of thought, the sun (its mineral being gold) was feasted upon by the Green Lion, reflecting how plant life used the rays of the sun to foster photosynthesis.

Apart from the snow-white steam that settles as "burning water" or "unnatural fire", and belongs to the "sulphurous stinking waters", the "green lion" is among the "Three things that are sufficient for mastery". M. Maier, Atlanta Fugiens, 1618

Paracelsus, one of the most important figures within alchemy, wrote of both the Red Lion and the Green Lion in, "The Treasure of Treasures for Alchemists", published in 1659, referring to the Red Lion as the "Tincture of the Sun, perfect in its degree", and the Green Lion as "the tincture, transparent gold" and the "Balsam of the Heavenly Stars, suffering no bodies to decay, nor allowing leprosy, gout, or dropsy to take root."

He concluded, "Happy he who has learnt how to find it and use it for a tincture!"