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Esoteric_Astrology: The constellations of the zodiac in alchemy /3
AlchemyCancer - Leo - Virgo

We have seen that in the sign of Gemini those couples of opposites are established, the «individual directions» that help man orient himself in the world. In the sign of Cancer the beings choose the place where to be, their « abode’ along any directions and between any couple of opposites.

Documento senza titolo

The constellations of the zodiac in alchemy /3

by Alessandro Orlandi

produced for Esonet.it - Esonet.com


«To be dragged in the transmigration of one’s actions, who is the stranger? Or who the relative? Man attaches to man by delusion. In the past it happened that the relative was a stranger to you and in the future the stranger will be your relative. Like the gathering of birds in the night, so the joining of stranger and relative will be birth by birth. Like wanderers gather to take shelter in various havens and then go back after leaving them, so is the encounter among relations. In this world broken by nature nobody is dear to anyone; the animated universe, like sand in the fist, is connected by effect and cause».

Asvagosha – Nanda the Fair

«While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him «Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you». He replied to him «Who is my mother and who are my brothers?». Pointing to his disciples he said «Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother».

Matthew – 12,46

We have seen that in the sign of Gemini those couples of opposites are established, the «individual directions» that help man orient himself in the world. In the sign of Cancer the beings choose the place where to be, their « abode’ along any directions and between any couple of opposites. This means to identify with a «here» and achieve a «there», as something different from oneself, determining one’s own belonging or extraneousness to places, times, people, qualities. In this sign one recognizes the sources from which to draw one’s physical, psychical and spiritual nourishment and here the forms where the Ego is destined to recognize itself and dwell emerge. The sign of Cancer is therefore in relation with the symbolism of the roots, with blood and blood-relations, with the mother, home, memory and the past. The beginning of the sign also coincides with the summer solstice. Like the other solstitial point at the beginning of Capricorn, this time of the year has always been associated with a gate where the Summer is believed to enter the world whilst, during the day, the time destined to light is overcome by that destined to darkness. This gate is also known as the «gate of the souls», the gate where the beings enter the world to be embodied, or exit to follow the Path of the Ancestors [1]. The solstitial gates of Cancer and Capricorn are also connected to the two gates of dreams which Homer mentions, one made of ivory, where mendacious and illusory dreams come from, to be referred to Cancer, the other made of horn where prophetic dreams and visions come from, called gates of the Gods, to be referred to Capricorn. If the human consciousness doesn’t carry out a deep work on its roots, on the source where it gets its nourishment from, it remain immersed in its initial conditions of birth and descent, slave of the most negative and evil aspects of the archetype of the mother and the sub-lunar nightmares that accompany it. Thus the sign of Cancer is also associated with past lives, hereditary defects, subconscious, the initial conditions we are in when we are born.

We have highlighted the risks of orienting oneself among couples of opposites without a proper purification, without deep work on the sources of one’s own nourishment, on one’s roots. Nevertheless the identification with one of the polarities for each couple of opposites is what allows a soul to be born, to come to light, to be nourished; it allows human beings to build the «magic circle» of one’s own personality, marking an inside and an outside. We need to recognize the existence of an apparent paradox between the need to elevate the soul beyond the conflicts among opposite polarities and the need to identify and limit it.

Before examining the bas reliefs and the alchemic operation that they represent, we would like to point out an anomaly in the succession of the 12 signs of the zodiac that appear on the left door at Notre Dame Cathedral; there is a clear reversal between the signs of Cancer and Leo [2]. We will talk again about the meaning of this reversal when mentioning the sign of Leo. In the top bas relief a human figure carrying a scroll representing a ram, gives or receives an object that is unrecognizable because it is worn out. But in the same bas relief at Amiens cathedral, we can see the woman receiving (or giving) a cape from (or to) a man. In the bas relief below a man leans his right hand on a squared stone and his left hand is wrapped in a muff. At Amiens cathedral we see a man leaning on a coffer and coins slip out from the other hand [3].

Images 9 and 10

The figure in the top bas relief carries a ram in the scroll, symbol of spring and dawn, connected to Mars, the secret fire and the secret Magnet of alchemists (according to Fulcanelli to the steel of Philosophers or «our magnet»). The drape he is giving (or receiving) represents the clothes that finally turn the mysterious Agent from invisible to visible to the adept at this stage of the Work. From naked and free from frills the secret principle is covered by new clothes. Fulcanelli interprets the lower bas relief in Notre Dame as the image of an old man leaning on the Philosopher’s Stone, waiting without acting for the result of the action of fire, now called «wheel fire» and he finds in this figure the first stage of the second work or «kingdom of Saturn». In the representations of Amiens and Chartres the coins (used to exchange, convert, redeem or give things away) represent the Mercury or the principle of equivalence that becomes visible. The «philosophical» Cancer, viz. the sign of Cancer experienced as a stage of the alchemic process is different from profane Cancer, connected to ordinary cyclical time, because the research for one’s roots, the «identification of the soul» occurs by effect of the philosophical fire and magnet which, whilst dissolving the exterior form acting as universal solvents, also remove the operator from the objects of his projections; by dissolving the thought-forms, they send the solar energy towards the «glorious body», they connect the soul to the hidden salt destined to it [4].

It is an action directed inwards that becomes possible only if the operator has carried out the previous three operations properly, turning the energy of the hermetic sun in a place that should be virgin and untouched by light in Nature.


«It is rare that divine illuminations are not sudden; servants shouldn’t claim to have prepared them».

Ibn ‘ata Allah – Sentences and mystical conversation

«As iron has its magnet which draws it with the invisible bonds of love, so our gold has its magnet, viz. the first Matter of the great Stone. If you understand these words you are richer and more blessed than the whole world. When a man looks into a mirror, he sees therein reflected an image of himself. If, however, he tries to touch it, he will find that it is not palpable, and that he has laid his hand upon the mirror only. In the same way, the spirit which must be evolved from this Matter is visible, but not palpable».

Basil Valentine – Practice with the 12 keys and appendix on the great Stone of ancient sages

«…And you are in my heart;
There is no other who truly knows you
But for your son, Akhenaten.
May you make him wise with your inmost counsels,
Wise with your power,
That earth may aspire to your godhead,
Its creatures fine as the day you made them.
Once you rose into shining they lived;
When you sink to rest, they shall die.
For it is you who are Time itself,
The span of the world;
Life is by means of you.
Eyes are filled with Beauty
Until you go to your rest;
All work is laid aside
As you sink down the western horizon»

Hymn to Aten, the Sun, by the pharaoh Akhenaten

Perhaps what we have said on the sign of Cancer can enlighten us on the reason of the swap between Leo and Cancer on the left door at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; the stage of the Work required in the sign of Cancer can be accomplished only if the ray of the hermetic Sun joins the Virgin Earth, the Hermetic Salt, following a route that goes against what Nature wants. The symbolism of that ray is expressed in the sign of Leo. Astrological symbolism assigns to the sign of Leo the characteristics of Nature at the top of summer; light, heat, the power to irradiate and in general the whole symbolism connected to the solar star. Therefore Leo is associated with the power to emanate and give out energy, the ability to love, generosity, creativity; in other words all that by extension can be attributed to a "bearer of light", a representative of the Sun on Earth.

On the other hand this symbolic constellation takes as many negative characteristics, also part of the solar symbology; despotism, authoritarianism, excessive selection, egocentrism, poor receptiveness and ability to listen, self-idolatry, the vocation of Lucifer, the inflation of the Ego [5]. Regardless, Leo represents an energy that, identified in the sign of Cancer, starts emanating outwards. Here the separation between the "profane" meaning of the sign and what concerns the Opus alchemicum could not be greater; on one side we have a soul that identified itself with the sign of Cancer and emanates according to its subjectivity, not tempered by any kind of inner or outer work; on the other the adept isolated that mysterious Mercury that leads the soul towards its glorious body, towards its hermetic Salt.

In the first instance we are at the unique service of one’s own individuality, one’s actions and thoughts are guided by personal criteria. In the other, purification occurred, the old man died and a new man is being born; the ray of the hermetic sun illuminates and shows his journey. Let’s examine the two bas reliefs. Above a woman carries in the scroll a flag (at Amiens cathedral the scroll is surmounted by a crown). Below a man pierces himself with a sword [6].

Images 11 and 12

Without any doubt the flag surmounted by a crown indicates that one’s own strength has been put at the service of a King. Fulcanelli observes also that the three colors of the alchemic flag should be black, white and red, the three stages of the Opus (But in the Mystery of the Cathedrals Fulcanelli doesn’t describe both bas reliefs). The lower image seems to indicate how we must operate to serve our King: the secret fire (action, iron, steel, Ares) must be directed inwards.

Keeping in mind that in our journey through the zodiac we established an analogy between the Sun and its rays, the heart with its volitions and active imagination with its creations, some of the things said so far must therefore be referred to the heart and active imagination as well. Finally let’s remember that Leo is connected to Boaz, the second pillar of Solomon’s temple, symbol of Strength, the sun, the color red and the relevant Work (whilst Joakim, the pillar connected to Taurus, is symbol of the Moon, Stability and white color and Work). We will study this topic further when we will talk about the signs of Libra, Aquarius and Pisces.


«See how he who seems one is not one but in him as many people as his peculiarities appear».

Origen – Homily of the Leviticus 5,2

Mercury: «Take me as an example, I will be one from a thousand drops, I give thousands drops with one; since my body is in your eyes, if you can play with me you will be able to split me in as many parts as you like and I will be one again. Thus what can I say about my heart that, as ever, from a tiny part produces many thousand parts?» … «Our Salt…is a pure Virgin and yet she gives birth and has plenty of milk…our Stone is the Salt and our salt is a earth and this earth is virgin».

The Cosmopolitan – Dialogue among the Alchemist, the Mercury and Nature – The new light

«The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his paths. I was before he shaped any other creature. I was in eternity before the earth was created. I was conceived before the abyss existed. Springs were not out of the earth yet; the heavy mass of mountains hadn’t been formed yet; I was born before the hills. He hadn’t created the earth and the rivers yet; he hadn’t settled the earth with the two poles, yet. When he prepared the heavens I was there; when he created boundaries to the abyss and established an inviolable law; when he settled the air around earth; when he balanced the water of springs; when he enclosed the sea in its boundaries and when he imposed a law for the water not to trespass its bounds; when he laid the foundations of the earth, I was with him and ruled everything».

Hymn to Isis – from Apuleius’s Golden Ass

We have seen that in the sign of Leo there is an outward emanation of energy. In the mercurial sign of Virgo such emanation must be commeasured to what is perceived as external (viz. since in Gemini we established an orientation of macro and microcosm through couples of opposites and in Cancer we identified ourselves with one of the polarities, the outside will be perceived as the polarity we didn’t identify ourselves with).

In profane astrological symbolism, the task of the Virgo is to establish a precise boundary between inside and outside, to choose goals for our actions and explain what happens referring both to our interiority and outside events, to our own psychic, rational, fantastic or symbolic production as well as to the solid reality of things. For this reason self-analysis, introspection, critical sense, practice of doubts, but also the vocation to be at the service of others and tendency to mix up our own interests with those of the people we love, they are all characteristics of the sign. The predisposition to swing between reality and projection, to continuously doubt about our own boundaries will polarize the attention on what is limit, boundary, bank, separation line between two universes, be it corporeal or mental. Furthermore any disharmony between inside and outside will be highlighted; with all the variations that could be manifested in many ways, from a strong tendency to order to hypochondria. As we can see we are immersed in Mercury’s symbology, which has indeed in Virgo its nightly abode and exaltation. Those who followed the journey of the Opus alchemicum in the first five signs of the zodiac will be able, like Hercules at the sixth of his 12 labors, to re-route the river Alpheus in order to clean the Augean Stables. The mysterious ray of the hermetic Sun, rather than emanating outwards from the inside, will be deviated towards the inside with the help of the Magnet we mentioned. In this case we will be able to talk about a Virgin Land untouched by fire and attention, a mysterious land that, like in the work by Origen quoted in the note to the first part, «is another world where there are sun, moon and stars». That sapiential land, given as a dowry to any man at his birth and buried in the depth of his heart, becomes accessible. The condition is that we have passed through a proper psychic death, breaking projections and thought-forms; this is the only way for the touch of the hermetic fire to reawaken the sleeping body of Osiris, after a period of hibernation that lasted a lifetime.

Let’s not talk about the sixth couple of bas reliefs [7]. This time we will visit the gothic cathedrals of Notre Dame in Paris and those in Chartres and Amiens (the images that represent the series of vices and virtues are practically the same in all the three cathedrals, except some little variations), because the differences between the subjects represented will enlighten us on their meaning. In the top bas relief a woman carries a scroll with a cross (Notre Dame), in Amiens the scroll contains a cup surmounted by a cross and in Chartres a cup is represented in the scroll.

In the bottom bas relief [8] a man is kneeling in a praying position in front of a mirror that reflects a human figure (Notre Dame); in Chartres he kneels in prayer in front of a devil that holds a cup in his hand and in Amiens the figure is similar to Chartres..

Images 13 and 14

Image 15 (Chartres)

With this couple of bas reliefs ends the first part of the journey that leads outside the colonnade of the cathedral towards the entrance. The cross in the scroll on the top bas relief obviously represents the crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but also the four elements and the becoming, in particular the law of enantiodromia that sets the limits to the growth and decrease of things, which we mentioned at the beginning (in the part previous to this article). The cup next to the cross could be the Grail, destined to contain the redeeming blood of Christ, the cup that in the Mass contains the Eucharistic wine that turns into blood during the transubstantiation. Cup and cross next to each other tell us that in the Virgo the adept is called to implement the fixation of Mercury, the elusive and volatile «runaway servant» that slips away from our fingers at any attempt to grab it.

This interpretation is confirmed by the examination of the lower bas relief: in Notre Dame the man praying in front of a mirror suggests, through the phonetic cabbala, that he who prie le mirroir, prays in front of a mirror, has pris le mis- roi, viz. he took the King of the middle world, Mercury. According to Fulcanelli the mirror represents the mirror of Art, where «Nature can be seen openly». In actual fact to look into the mirror of Art means to see our own inner energies reflected; they were trapped and projected in the external forms of Nature. Basically, at the end of the first six stages of the journey that leads us to the achievement of the Work, the alchemist took possession of the prime matter, made by joining Sulfur and Mercury with the alchemic Salt, after taking these mysterious substances from «their mines». In the image in Chartres the alchemist is absorbed in prayer in front of the devil, who holds a cup. We must remember the identification between the devil and the spirit of Mercury (Jung as well wrote on this topic [9]). In this instance as well we might apply the phonetic cabbala and the alchemist that prays the devil, prie le diable, will appear as someone who has pris le diable, forcing the King of this world to give back the treasures he took from man with the Original Sin.



1. See R. Guenon, in Symbols of sacred science: The hieroglyph of Cancer, Some aspects of the symbolism of Janus, Janua coeli, The symbolism of the zodiac among the Pythagoreans, Concerning the two St. Johns. (^ back to the main article)

2. Gobineau de Montluisant (op. cit.) talks about this at length. (^ back to the main article)

3. In the traditional interpretation the two figures are connected to the virtues of Charity and to the vice of Avarice. (^ back to the main article)

4. The ability to bring the universal to the particular extreme explains why in Astrology Jupiter is exalted in Cancer. (^ back to the main article)

5. The Ego, with the fierceness of a wounded beast, rebels to any frustration, against any humiliation or confrontation that sees it as a loser, against any teaching or experience that downsizes it. Perhaps this is why the image that represents the tarot of Force is a man that holds a lion’s mouth. (^ back to the main article)

6. The virtue here represented is hope, the vice is despair. (^ back to the main article)

7. Here the virtue represented is faith, the vice is idolatry. (^ back to the main article)

8. In Chartres cathedral the sculptures are placed in such a way that we cannot talk about top and bottom bas reliefs. (^ back to the main article)

9. In the Mysterium Coniunctionis and in Psychology and Alchemy, but the articles The Spirit Mercurius and The Problem of the Fourth (contained in Collected Works, Princeton University Press 1967) are very interesting; in particular, in the last article the contraposition between Devil and Holy Spirit. (^ back to the main article)

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