... I believe that the holistic exploration of such inexhaustible subjects as color, heat, or electricity will give us ... a whole new world of questions. The key scientific question must cease to be "What is light?","What is electricity?", and become instead "What is the human experience of light?","What is the human experience of electricity?" --Morris Berman
So what was the earlier, original light of Genesis 1:3? This problem had already been raised and discussed by the Gnostic philosophers of the early centuries of the Christian era. Their answer was that, upon creation of the sun and moon, this primordial light fled into matter, from which it was to be redeemed. This problem of redemption forms the basis of the Gnostic light metaphysics.
The task of redeeming the light-spirit hidden in matter was also central to the alchemical tradition. The primordial light was identified with Mercurius, the volatile, elusive, by turns deadly and healing god of the alchemical opus, who was termed, among many other things, "the revelatory light of nature," "light of lights," "the universal and scintillating fire of the light of nature," the psychopomp or light of the soul, and the "messenger of the gods." He is matter and spirit, positive and negative, male and female.
C. G. Jung summarizes these aspects in a manner evocative of images of atom-smashing and subatomic particle behavior:
Mercurius, the hidden light in nature, was also termed the spiritus (or anima) mundi, the inner transforming energy of the world.
Virtually coincident with the demise of alchemy, the early technology of electricity arose. Electrical machines with whirling glass globes rubbed by dry hands or silk distilled the ethereal fiery fluid from earth, or sky, or somewhere in between. This "quintessential fire," as it was often called, was found to be really two electricities, positive and negative--or was it one electricity, manifesting in different ways? It moved quickly; it invigorated and traveled the nerves, expediting the communication system of the body; it healed; it killed; it could be trapped in a bottle like a genie; it could vanish into thin air. This genie-like quality was noted by early electricians; according to one of them, the electrical machine summoned the "genie," the Leyden jar capacitor trapped him, and the electric cell put him under control. According to Jung, the "genie in the jug" is, in fact, Mercurius.
For many years this "new" electrical fire was used as a toy and a parlor game. When Benjamin Franklin flew his famous kite, however, it was apparent to everyone that electricity was a real force hidden in nature and that to understand the behavior of electricity in the laboratory was to understand a fundamental aspect of the world.
At the time of Franklin, in the middle of the eighteenth century, a small group of now-obscure philosophers and theologians, mainly in Germany and Eastern Europe, recognized just what this force was. Electricity was the primordial light of Genesis 1:3, the light created before the light of the sun, moon, and stars. According to these "electrical theologians," electricity was the "first light." When the "vulgar" light of the sun was made, the primordial light fled into matter and there became the evolving force of creation. It does not take a great effort of comparison to see that the alchemical tradition, moribund by the eighteenth century, had transformed itself into the nomenclature and theory of the new science of electricity.
MERCURIUS, however, is not merely free energy; under other conditions he is constraint and delineation. Mercurius, as spirit of the world, is also the Archaeus. The Archaeus, a term first used by Paracelsus, refers to the soul-like or psychoid governing principle of living organisms. This idea, of course, goes back to Aristotle's concept of the entelechy. But in the later alchemical writers, including J. B. van Helmont, the idea of a form-giving agent in matter takes on a resemblance to some of the speculative modern notions of L-fields, morphogenetic fields, and scalar potential fields.
Listen to the hermetist van Helmont's own words as he describes the function of the Archaeus. There is first the mighty Archaeus of the World or Macrocosm:
... the ... plastick spirit, which in the seed comprehends, contrives, and models the whole figure of man ... limns out all the lineaments and accurate adumbration of the parts.
The body of man, accepted under that distinct notion cannot give to itself the figure of a man: and therefore hath need of an external sculptor or delineator, which should be secretly ambuscadoed in the material masse of the seed ... yet this, in so much as it is of a spiritual nature, cannot derive the plastick or conformative virtue no more from itself, then from the grosse masse of the body: necessary it is therefore, that there be some praecedent or elder principle, which must be wholly and purely immateriall, yet reall, and operative, to which may justly be attributed the power of figuration or delineation, by a sigillary impression upon the Archaeus or Regent spirit of the seed.
In van Helmont there is an Arch[a]eus influus governing the whole body, but each of the organs, and even the minutest part of an organ, has its own Arch[a]eus insitus; Sheldrake in his 1981 work says:
Compare this with Sheldrake:
Isaac Newton contributes the following important formulation of some of these same concepts:
Many more parallels such as these between van Helmont's Ternary of Paradoxes and the work of Sheldrake, Driesch, and others could be cited.
TO THIS POINT the Hermetic philosophers have given us two fundamental concepts: (1) an all-pervading, transforming energy or spirit, named Mercurius; and (2) an ordering field concept, the Archaeus, also traceable to the Mercurius idea. If the old Spagyric philosophers had stopped here, this history would be remarkable enough; but the alchemists went on to produce actual plant phantoms--visible immaterial representations of the Archaeus of a living thing.
Here is one seventeenth-century recipe for the process:
Bill de la Warr, working with the Ruth Drown radionics equipment, produced the "specter of the rose" in 1950. Edward W. Russell in his Report on Radionics describes a phantom effect that seems to involve both the mysteries of psychokinesis and homeopathic energies:
Perhaps the earliest recorded manifestation of phenomena associated with the energy body of a plant is the story of Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3: 2-3). The bioplasm of the Burning Bush is energized by corona-type high voltage electrical discharges commonly found to occur in high desert country during thunderstorm conditions. Moses, in the archetypal situation of the shaman/ leader seeking to deliver his people from a dangerous situation, is the initiator of an exteriorization phenomenon in which the plant bioplasm acts as a transducer, mediumistically relaying a message from the Self. Plants and flames have recently been used as transducers in experiments involving the Electronic Voice Phenomenon.
THE DEMISE OF ALCHEMY in the West is generally dated from Robert Boyle's abolition of the system of the four elements in his work The Sceptical Chymist, published in 1661. Another alchemist, de Givry, however, writing in the early part of the twentieth century, remarks that
Alchemy went into decline for two reasons: (1) exoterically, it failed to transform base metals into gold; and (2) esoterically, it lacked a psychology of the unconscious to account for the fantastic imagery of the work. The former activity, common gold-making, was put down by the more enlightened alchemical philosophers, but failure in this area, especially after Boyle's attacks, removed alchemy from serious consideration by the rationalistic mind.
A psychology of the unconscious might have developed at that time, but the alchemists were pious people and the formulation of such a science would soon have brought them into direct confrontation with the Church.
WESTERN CONSCIOUSNESS was soon to enter an era of mechanistic materialism lasting to the present day, which would be marked by suppression of the vitalist viewpoint and by rejection of the reality of psychic phenomena, symbolism and, in short, anything that smacked of nonmaterial spiritual causes.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the powerful materialist/reductionist paradigm had already established a firm foothold. Ironically, however, that paradigm already harbored within itself the seed of its own eventual undoing. In this case, the seed was the science of electricity, a science that would eventually lead us to the peculiar formulations of quantum mechanics, formulations that are strikingly similar to many alchemical ideas and which, like alchemy, take into account properties of the psyche. Electricity--and magnetism--carried on the spiritual symbolism of Mercurius, while at the same time being undeniable physical facts of nature, controllable, predictable to a point, and measurable--but not completely understandable.
The history of electricity shows that it has never been free of a persistent association with psychic phenomena, from the time of the philosopher Thales, ca. 600 BC, when amber was said to have a soul, to the present experiments with Kirlian photography and electromagnetic mediumship. Electricity and mental or psychic phenomena are inextricably associated in the popular mind.
Through EKG, EEG, GSR, and a variety of other electrophysiological measuring procedures, we are able to obtain objective data about inner states of mind and body. Here too, the ancient symbolism of Mercurius as guide, messenger, and mediatrix achieves concrete representation in the technologies of today.
Electricity and magnetism are, I believe, derivative forms of a more general, all-pervasive field that manifests both energy and form inseparably. That such a field, encompassing spirit and matter, the organic and inorganic, body and psyche, should have been directly perceived during alchemical meditations is not surprising. And it is the one-sided materialistic transformation into technology of this symbolic imagery that has given rise to the modern world. But only this one aspect of the alchemical imagery has hitherto been exploited and, in our materialistic one-sidedness, the mercurial medicine has become a poison. The time has come to return to these early formulations of cosmic, all-pervading energies, and see if we cannot formulate new concepts and new sciences based on a more human and holistic vision of those energies lying behind what we experience and exploit as "electricity" and "magnetism."
[1 ]Rudolf Bultmann, "Zur Geschichte der Licht-Symbolik im Altertum," Philologus 97 (1948): 1-36.
 C. G. Jung, Alchemical Studies, Collected Works (CW), vol.13 (Princeton, N.J.:Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 210.
 P. 209.
 P. 237.
 P. 230.
 P. 237.
 P. 235.
 P. 237.
 P. 212.
 For a good, well-organized introduction to the history of the development of electrical theory and technology, with some theosophical asides, see Paul Fleury Mottelay, Bibliographical History of Electricity and Magnetism Chronologically Arranged, reprint of the 1895 London ed. (New York: Arno Press, 1975).
 For a discussion of these remarkable philosophers and their work, see Ernst Benz, Theologie der Elektricität (Mainz: Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, 1970). This work is also available in translation (The Theology of Electricity: On the Encounter and Explanation of Theology and Science in the 17th and 18th Centuries [Allison Park, Pa.: Pickwisk Publications, 1990).
 In "De quinque entibus morborum," in the "Paramirum Primum," 1, 163ff.
 For an excellent discussion of the Archaeus and its nature in the healing theories of Paracelsus and van Helmont, see Walter Pagel, "Van Helmont's Concept of Disease--To Be or Not To Be? The Influence of Paracelsus," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 46, 5 (September-October 1972): 419-454.
 [ = "the relation of form-giving cause or energy, as contrasted with mere potential existence; esp. such realization in a more or less perfect actuality, as plants, animals, and men, as individuals or as existing species."--Webster's New International Dictionary, 2nd ed., unabridged.] The scientists and thinkers who have used the concept of an electrical or "paraelectrical" organizing field are many and important. Leibniz, for example, reworked the Archaeus idea into the Monadology (1714). (See Sepp Domandl, "Der Archaeus des Paracelsus und die Leibnizsche Monade," Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 31 : 428.)
 J. B. Van Helmont, A Ternary of Paradoxes ... (London:J. Flesher, for William Leo, 1650), p. 43.
 Ibid., p. 56.
 P. 125. The translator of the Ternary uses the spelling "Archeus."
 Sheldrake, Rupert, A New Science of Life (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1981), p. 76.
 Ibid., p. 45.
 Pagel, "Van Helmont's Concept of Disease," p. 421:
"By Archeus Van Helmont understands the "vital principle." This governs the whole of the organism (Archeus influus) with its seat in the duumvirate of stomach and spleen. Also each of the organs--and even the more minute parts possesses its own Archeus insitus."
 Sheldrake, A New Science, p. 73.
 Van Helmont, A Ternary of Paradoxes, p. 127.
 Sheldrake, A New Science, p.123.
 History of the Royal Society (1675), vol. 3, pp. 249-250, 253; cited in I. Bernard Cohen, ed., Isaac Newton's Papers & Letters on Natural Philosophy and Related Documents, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 179-180, 183.
 Comparisons of a similar nature can be made between van Helmont's material and the papers by Burr, Ravitz, and Hasbrouck in Main Currents in Modern Thought 19, 2 (September-October 1962), especially in regard to electrocyclic influences and the influences of planetary positions and moon phases on the biological field.
The following passage from van Helmont (pp. 32-34) has a strong resemblance to many of the most recent formulations:
And from this conspiracy and conjugation of every particular heaven, is it, that diseased men carry an Almanack in their bones, presage foul weather, and the future mutations of seasons. ... every particular creature doth, in its seminall Entitie, posesse a particular firmament; by the mediation of which, superior bodies symbolize, and hold a reciprocall correspondence with inferior.
 (Suffolk: Neville Spearman, 1973), p. 129.
 The appearance on audio tape of voices not traceable to a normal source.
 Robert Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-physical Doubts and Paradoxes (London, 1661). The four elements were Earth, Air, fire, and Water.
 G. de Givry, Witchcraft, Magic, and Alchemy (London: University Books, 1931), p. 374.
 John Read, Prelude to Chemistry: An Outline of Alchemy. Its Literature and Relationships (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1936), p. 2.
 A final word on that paradoxical compositum, Mercurius, the bioplasm: We find that the spirit Mercurius, known also as the spiritus seminalis (Jung, Alchemical Studies, p. 213) and the glutinum mundi (reappearing as "gluons" in modern physics), the medium between spirit and body in alchemy (John Trinick, The Fire-Tried Stone (Signum atque Signatum) [Marazion, Cornwall: Wordens of Cornwall, 1967; published in association with Vincent Stuart and John M. Watkins Ltd., London]), is also fundamentally associated with love in all its aspects, from base incest to the mysterium coniunctionis (see Jung, Alchemical Studies, pp. 278-279). The sexual history of electricity in practical theory and in literature reveals ample material. These facts point toward love as the dynamis of the relationship between spirit and matter.
It is an old, fundamental fact that the basic human emotions have recognizable and determinable correlates within the structure of matter and within the relationships between entities, inanimate and animate. It should also be no surprise that fundamental structures within living things should reveal themselves as persistent psychic images, long before scientific investigation attests to their reality. Even the radical materialist must take this position--in fact, must logically take this position--for if all is matter, than our formulations about the world must, at bottom, arise out of materiality and reflect its inner nature. The image of an all-pervasive ordering energy field is one of these persistent images, and its inevitable recurrence in such similar formulations is in itself
strong support for the existence of a new territory for scientific exploration.
Copyright, Dennis Stillings, All Rights Reserved
This article Appeared in the Fall 1998 Issue of 21st
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