The Historical Symbolic Context of Energy Field Concepts

Dennis Stillings
Archaeus Project
Kamulea, Hawai'i

[T]rue wisdom rises and falls in cyc lic waves of human perception. Often it has disappeared, as if destroyed, only to appear through what seems, each time, to be a new channel, but which may only be a new expression of something "truly known" in some earlier era. This has been particularly the case with every discovery and rediscovery of evidence that there is more to man than his body and five senses and more to life than mere physical existence.--Muriel Hasbrouck

... 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

NCE THE WORLD BEGAN, according to the Old Testament account, two kinds of light have existed: the light created in Genesis 1:3, when God says: "Let there be light, and there was light," and the light created in Genesis 1:16: "And God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night."

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.[1]

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,"[2] "light of lights,"[3] "the universal and scintillating fire of the light of nature,"[4] the psychopomp or light of the soul,[5] and the "messenger of the gods."[6] He is matter and spirit,[7] positive and negative, male and female.[8]

C. G. Jung summarizes these aspects in a manner evocative of images of atom-smashing and subatomic particle behavior:

Mercurius consists of all conceivable opposites. He is thus quite obviously a duality, but is named a unity in spite of the fact that his innumerable inner contradictions can dramatically fly apart into an equal number of disparate and apparently independent figures.[9]

Mercurius, the hidden light in nature, was also termed the spiritus (or anima) mundi,[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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,"[13] 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,[14] refers to the soul-like or psychoid governing principle of living organisms.[15] This idea, of course, goes back to Aristotle's concept of the entelechy.[16] 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 Archaeus] is a Spirit which comprehends and cherishes within it self the Sun, and all the heard of lesser stars, a minde or intelligence which diffused through all the limbes or parts of this great Animal, the World, doth inform and regulate the whole.[17]

(The reader may recognize this idea in the recent "New Age" belief in the Gaia Principle--that the earth is a self-regulating living organism.)

And, in man, the microcosm, the Archaeus is:

... 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.[18]

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.[19]

Let us compare these seventeenth-century descriptions with sections from Rupert Sheldrake's A New Science of Life (published in 1981):

Morphogenesis does not take place in a vacuum. It can only begin from an already organized system which serves as a morphogenetic germ. ... The morphogenetic field can be thought of as a structure surrounding or embedding the morphogenetic germ, and containing the virtual final form; this field then orders events within its range of influence in such a way that the virtual form is actualized. In the absence of the morphic units which constitute the parts of the final system, this field is undetectable; it reveals itself only through its ordering effects on these parts when they come within its influence. [20]

Sheldrake refers back to the work of Hans Driesch, who
believed that the facts of regulation, regeneration and reproduction showed that there was something about living organisms which remained a whole even though parts of the physical whole could be removed; it acted on the physical system but was not itself part of it. He called this non-physical causal factor entelechy. He postulated that entelechy organized and controlled physico-chemical processes during morphogenesis; the genes were responsible for providing the material means of morphogenesis ... but the ordering itself was brought about by entelechy. [21]

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,[22] has its own Arch[a]eus insitus; Sheldrake in his 1981 work says:

According to the organismic theory, systems or "organisms" are hierarchically organized at all levels of complexity. In the present discussion these systems will be referred to as morphic units. Crystals, molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles are morphic units, as are animals and plants, organs, tissues, cells, and organelles. ... A higher-level morphic unit must somehow co-ordinate the arrangement of the parts of which it is composed. It will be assumed to do so through the influence of its morphogenetic field on the morphogenetic fields of lower-level morphic units.[23]

And, finally, again from van Helmont:

Now if any errour be in the conformation of the body, in the womb of the Conceptrix: that errour is not ascriptive to any imperfection of the Image of God; but to the incapacity of the material principles and other external causes, invading the Plastick virtue of the seed, and perverting its exact delineation of the parts.[24]

Compare this with Sheldrake:

Changes within a system developing under the influence of a particular morphogenetic field can lead to various modifications and distortions of the final form. Thus in developing organisms both environmental and genetic factors could affect morphogenesis in two different ways: either by changing the "tuning" of morphogenetic germs or by changing the usual pathways of morphogenesis in such a way that variants of the normal final forms are produced.[25]

Isaac Newton contributes the following important formulation of some of these same concepts:

... it is to be supposed ... that there is an aethereal medium much of the same constitution with air, but far rarer, subtler, and more strongly elastic. ... But it is not to be supposed, that this medium is one uniform matter, but compounded, partly of the main phlegmatic body of air intermixed with various vapours and exhalations: for the electric and magnetic effluvia, and gravitating principle, seem to argue such variety. Perhaps the whole frame of nature may be nothing but various contextures of some certain aethereal spirits condensed ... and after the condensation wrought into various forms; at first by the immediate hand of the Creator; and ever since by the power of nature; which ... became a complete imitator of the copies set her by the protoplast. Thus perhaps may all things be originated from aether.

And further:

... the animal spirits are ... of an aethereal nature, subtil enough to pervade the animal juices, as freely as the electric, or perhaps magnetic, effluvia do glass.[26]

Many more parallels such as these between van Helmont's Ternary of Paradoxes and the work of Sheldrake, Driesch, and others could be cited.[27]

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:

Take a flask and put into it the vital essence of the seed of a beautiful rose. Burn this to ashes, imbue it with the morning's dew, collecting enough for a modest distillation. Extract the salt from the ashes and mix it with the distilled dew; seal the bottle with pounded glass and borax. Lay the vessel on fresh horse manure and leave it there for a month. Then expose it alternately to the sunlight and to the moonlight. When the gelatinous matter at the bottom of the vessel swells, this shows that the experiment has been a success. Now, each time you expose your bottle to the sunlight, the specter of the rose will appear in the glass in all the beauty of its leaves and petals. When cooled, it will disappear; when heated, it will appear again; this process can be repeated indefinitely.35

There is evidence that this procedure, or similar ones, were accomplished by more than one alchemist and at much earlier dates. I have not as yet been able to locate the precise references. It is probable that such a procedure was designed to stimulate the imagination of the experimenter in such a way that he either hallucinated the result, or was able to affect the illuminated vapors in the flask psychokinetically in order to produce the desired result. The formula has many symbolic elements involving the union of opposites, such as sun and moon, earth and air, fire and water. The manipulation of these elements in this procedure would stimulate the collective unconscious in the appropriate manner.

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[28] describes a phantom effect that seems to involve both the mysteries of psychokinesis and homeopathic energies:

Soon after the construction of the Mark I Camera, about 1950, it occurred to Bill ... to put a bottle of homeopathic Aconitum Nappellus pilules into the Camera and to tune the instrument to the rate of the aconite flower. When the plate was developed, he was amazed and delighted to find a clear picture of a fully developed flower on its stem. He then took a lily seed and tuned the Camera to "potentiality to germination" and the plate yielded a clear picture of a lily bulb. When he tuned the Camera to "potentiality to flower" the plate showed a faint but perfectly formed image of a lily in flower.

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.[29]

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.[30] Another alchemist, de Givry, however, writing in the early part of the twentieth century, remarks that

... the operation of the Philosopher's Stone does not belong to the realm of pure chemistry. The method described with so remarkable a unity of doctrine excludes any idea of research or tentative procedure, and is incompatible with the abundant experimentation involved in modern chemistry, both organic and inorganic. In this method we see the working of an eagerness, an inspiration, and a fertilising and generative element showing that the alchemists had surprised some secret of cellular life [italics mine] which, carried into the metallurgical field, produced effects unknown now. ... It is not then from alchemy, as often stated, that modern chemistry derives, but actually from the erratic work of the Puffers.[31]

As John Read states:

... A distinction is often drawn in alchemical writings between an esoteric alchemy, whose hidden secrets were revealed only to chosen adepts, and an exoteric pseudo-alchemy, which is depicted as the uninstructed craft of mercenary gold-seekers, or "puffers."[32]

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[33] 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.

[2] C. G. Jung, Alchemical Studies, Collected Works (CW), vol.13 (Princeton, N.J.:Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 210.

[3] Ibid., p. 236.

[4] P. 209.

[5] P. 237.

[6] P. 230.

[7] P. 237.

[8] P. 235.

[9] P. 237.

[10] P. 212.

[11] Jung, Alchemical Studies, "The Spirit Mercurius," pt. 1, "The Spirit in the Bottle."

[12] 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).

[13] 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).

[14] In "De quinque entibus morborum," in the "Paramirum Primum," 1, 163ff.

[15] 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.

[16] [ = "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 [1977]: 428.)

[17] J. B. Van Helmont, A Ternary of Paradoxes ... (London:J. Flesher, for William Leo, 1650), p. 43.

[18] Ibid., p. 56.

[19] P. 125. The translator of the Ternary uses the spelling "Archeus."

[20] Sheldrake, Rupert, A New Science of Life (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1981), p. 76.

[21] Ibid., p. 45.

[22] 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."

[23] Sheldrake, A New Science, p. 73.

[24] Van Helmont, A Ternary of Paradoxes, p. 127.

[25] Sheldrake, A New Science, p.123.

[26] 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.

[27] 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:

... every single created nature contains its own peculiar heaven within the spheare of its own dimensions, and holds within it self the rotation or revolution of that heaven, dependent on its seminall Entitie [Archaeus].

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.

[28] (Suffolk: Neville Spearman, 1973), p. 129.

[29] The appearance on audio tape of voices not traceable to a normal source.

[30] Robert Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-physical Doubts and Paradoxes (London, 1661). The four elements were Earth, Air, fire, and Water.

[31] G. de Givry, Witchcraft, Magic, and Alchemy (London: University Books, 1931), p. 374.

[32] John Read, Prelude to Chemistry: An Outline of Alchemy. Its Literature and Relationships (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1936), p. 2.

[33] 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

21st, The VXM Network,