The Hermetic Androgyne
Creation myths often evoke well-marked imagery reflecting a perception of the primordial union.
Moreover, we find the union of the complementary oppositions male and female represented in Androgynic depictions within different traditional forms as a complete enclosure of the union achieving perfection in the human state.
The androgyne encountered on all planes in the ancient esoteric philosophies is regarded superior to both sexes solely because it embodies wholeness and therefore perfection.
The term “Androgyne” is defined as: “An individual possessing the attributes of both Male and Female; a Hermaphrodite.” The term is derived from the combination of two Greek words, viz., “Andros,” meaning ” a man,” and “Gyne,” meaning “a woman.” It represents the symbol of the non-manifested being whose polarities are still integrated within its Unity and in another aspect, the being who has realized the reintegration of polarities within the primordial Unity.
In ancient esoteric and occult philosophies, the notion of bi-sexuality in the universal manifestation of the Being is encountered in different parts of the world. We can find depictions from China to India and from Chaldea to Greece perceiving in the androgynous myth not only an expression of the principle but also of the controlling spiritual energy and sublimated sexuality.
The initiatory dimension of the androgynous myth is also a significant aspect. The myth was transmitted among the initiates as a secret doctrine. This was the case in at least three mystical traditions: Judaic, Christian, and Islamic, likely having its origins in the first representation of Adam-Eve, before becoming Adam and Eve or as a mystical dimension alluding to the reunion of the individual soul with God.
This enclosure in elitist associations and centres of initiates protected its metaphysical meanings from vulgar and mundane interpretations.
In his Symposium, Plato recalls the tradition that the human body, or even just any living body, is like half a sphere; all our capacities and expressions being related to a lost centre – lost, but discovered again in sexual union symbolically and indirectly.
In virtue of the analogy between the ‘microcosm’ and ‘macrocosm,’ the two halves of the primordial androgyne, are described symbolically as being of spherical shape.
The spherical shape represents the complete being, existing in the original kernel ( Cosmic Egg ) in a state of virtuality and therefore has to be reconstituted in its real plenitude at the end of the individual development.
In Hinduism, the androgyne is represented by Ardanarishvara, the couple of Shiva and Shakti – which is symbolized by the union of complementaries, but conversely, in Shaktism, the Tantra practitioner must aspire to integrate within himself or herself the two complementaries.
To conclude our short introduction to the outlines encompassing the Androgynous myth, we must highlight its fundamental aspects: the concept of Coincidentia Oppositorum which lies at the root of the myth, and the concept of Solve et Coagula in Hermeticism notably in Alchemy.
In a certain perspective, the “Solve et Coagula” syntagm is interpreted as withholding the entire mystery of the Magnum Opus, to the extent that it reproduces the universal manifestation with its two opposite stages.
Solve is represented by a sign indicating “Heaven,” and Coagula represented by a sign indicating “Earth” – Expansion and Contraction.
These are the two phases of Nature – dissolution, and coagulation – and in a certain sense, the two poles, essence, and substance that appears to be opposite from the simplistic perspective, yet, in reality, they are mutually complementary.
Besides, we can represent these two contrasting influences through another symbol of perfection of the Far-Eastern tradition.
In Taoism, the symbol of Yin-Yang represents the principle of perfection and spiritual realization. Toward a metaphysical understanding, the expansive force is Yang – the masculine power, and the contraction force is Yin- the feminine power.
However, as the man withholds in himself the feminine Nature, so the woman contains the masculine essence in herself. Therefore, the symbol of Yin-Yang is represented with the white pole in the black spiral and the black pole within the white spiral, as an indication that passivity is present in the active agent and vice-versa.
By virtue of the law of analogy, the two phases found in hermetic theories, the alchemists, instead of radically separating these two phases, unite them on the contrary in the representation of their symbolic androgynous symbol REBIS ( Res-Bina, double matter), representing the conjunction of Sulfur and Quicksilver/Mercury, of the fixed and the volatile, in an indivisible figure.
The very essence of Alchemy is that of the Chemical Marriage.
Ultimately, the marriage of the male and female forces integrates into the marriage of Spirit and soul, the masculine Sulphur, and the feminine Quicksilver.
The symbolism of marriage is also closely associated with death. Some of the “alchemical wedding” depictions suggest that the King and Queen are murdered and buried together only to be rejuvenated again. This fact implies that any union presumes an extinction of the previous yet differentiated condition.
In Alchemy the Sulphur corresponds to the active pole, the original virile power and the Quicksilver corresponds to the passive pole, the original feminine power.
Both attempt to restore the representation of their prevalent eternal prototype by way of the material union, the alchemical marriage – Hieros Gamos-, Sol et Luna, the King, and the Queen, the red man, and the white woman.
Here it is worth recalling the words of the Emerald Tablet:
‘The Sun is
its father, the Moon its Mother’.
This proclamation relates precisely to the Rebis or the Androgyne, which is the unique element that contains the paired qualities of heaven and earth.
Here is a depiction from the manuscript of Michael Cochem (ca.1530) in the Vadian Library, st. Gallen represents the Hermetic androgyne by the king and queen at the same time – standing on the dragon of Nature, between the ‘tree of the sun’ and the ‘tree of the moon.’ The androgyne has wings and carries in its right hand a coiled snake and in its left hand a cup with three snakes. Its male half is dressed in red, its female half in white.
The colors represent the red Sulphur and white Quicksilver.
Standing on the dragon of Nature, means, that by the union of complementaries, the elemental world of manifestation is tamed and the cycle of generation and birth portrayed by the successive rollings and unrollings of the universal dragon are thus overcome.
The middle serpent in the cup symbolizes the vertical axis or “world axis” around which both waves of cosmic force wind in the opposite direction.
Another symbolism which must be mentioned here is the caduceus of Hermes, represented by an axis, with two serpents coiled around it.
This duplication of the primordial serpent also has its equivalent in Yoga notably in Laya-Yoga, because Kundalini is divided as well into two subtle forces, Ida and Pingala, which coil themselves in opposite directions around Sushumna.
By specific exercises of concentration and spiritual practices, Kundalini is awakened, ascending in spiral fashion through the Merudanda – the spiritual axis of man, raising even more profound and higher states of consciousness and finally culminating in the plenitude of the Spirit – Brahmarandhra.
Alchemy may be called the art of the transmutations of the soul.
The meaning of solve et coagula is represented in artisanal Alchemy by the fact that Sulphur in its ‘fieriness’ aspect fixes and colours the volatile Quicksilver which can be either solid, liquid or gaseous, belonging to the bodies, to the metals, and the spirits.
This combination produces cinnabar or Gold – the philosopher’s stone.
Even so, on the spiritual realm, by means of interiorization, the aspirant to Magnum Opus has to convert the restless soul and unite it with the Spirit.
In this vast domain of transmutations, which up to a point the transmutations of the metals can correspond to some changes in the soul, is that the soul can overcome the corresponding ‘psychic’ limits, due to its encounter with the Spirit, which is bound by no form.
Creative equilibrium expressed by the stability of Gold is only achieved when the expansive force of Sulfur and the contractive strength of QuickSilver keep the balance between the male coagulating authority and the female ability to dissolve.
Given that the old alchemical dictum postulates the fact that the golden germ – Spirit – is contained in matter, thereby the release happens through the activity of the Spirit over the matter. The two tendencies meet and form the androgynous figure.
The REBIS as a figurative representation of the alchemical process portrays the final realization of Magnum Opus, but also the principle from which the cosmic play of duality manifests itself, reproducing the ensemble of the cosmic cycle.
Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker Hazel Hill McCarthy III offers a glimpse into the work of avant-garde performer and “cultural engineer” Genesis Breyer P-Orridge who, alongside life partner Lady Jaye Breyer, underwent surgery to look alike in their gender-challenging Pandrogyne project.