Hand of the Philosophers
Artwork by Benjamin A. Vierling
Publisher: Ouroboros Press
Two-color Letterpress Print on 118# Savoy, Natural White art paper.
8.5 x 11 inches - Limited to 250 hand numbered copies and each print is signed by the artist.
Johann Isaac Hollandus wrote several alchemical texts in the 16th century including Die Hand der Philosophen from which the inspiration for this print derives.
The symbol of the Hand is manifold, pun in tended. In Latin, 'manus', the hand embodied the idea of 'handy-work' or 'manual labor'. In the context of alchemy this often denotes that the work is practical, indicating actual laboratory work. Yet the use of a hand as a hieroglyph spans many eras and cultures who have expressed them as gestures in sacred art as well as ceremonial dance or ritual. As a five-digit appendage the hand may also represent the five elements, the pentagram and the microcosm. In palmistry the cosmos is represented by the fingers and parts of the hand so that all aspects of one's life may be observed astrally, as though the lines on the palm were star maps of the individual's life. Mudras, signals and secret handshakes are veils for esoteric wisdom, forms which manifest permutations of the formless. Whether by applause or by the sound of one hand clapping, awareness of the creative powers our hands possess is key to bringing the symbolic into the experienced.
Translation of the relevant passage of Die Hand der Philosophen that relates to the image in this print.
This is the Hand of the Philosophers with their dear secret signs, with which the old sages united with each other and took secret oaths. Nobody can understand this hand with its secret signs, unless he becomes first a juror of the philosophers, (one who swore loyalty to a philosopher), and has loyally served them in the Art Alchemia.
Consequently, those who have not this Hand and do not understand its secret signs, nor have taken the oath of loyalty, are bastards in this Art. They do not possess the philosophers’ treasure. That is why I advise all those who do not possess the secrets of the Hand not to start working in the alchemical Art, nor to believe books or writings, since they will all only be cheated in the secrets of the Hand. Therefore, everybody had better be careful. In this Hand is locked the secret of the philosophers, that is, of the seed and the earth, as will be told later.
Now then, I will teach my child and describe the secret, hidden matter of the wise philosophers and masters of the true Art Alchemia. Nobody can use it unless he take the oath and swear not to divulge the Art and secrets and hidden signs of the sages, except he finds that it would be a good placement. In that case, he should also request the oath that that man should not use the Art except for the salvation of his soul. Only then can he be given the secret signs of the philosophers or sages, with their hidden signs and meanings.
1. The Thumb
First look at the thumb on which stands the crown next to the moon, one quarter old. By this is meant saltpetre. For just as the thumb vigorously finishes off the hand, saltpeter does in the Art Alchemia, for he is the King and Lord of all salts. He is the mill through which everything must be ground. His nature is elsewhere sufficiently described.
The second sign and secret of the philosophers is the Star with six points, standing above the foremost finger next to the thumb. It is compared to Roman Vitriol, because no work that is to be perfect can be completed without vitriol; for it is the greatest and strongest salt after saltpeter. Its nature is described.
3. The Middle Finger
The third sign of the philosopher’s Hand is the Sun, standing above the third finger. By it, Sal Ammoniacum is designated, for apart from saltpeter and vitriol, no thing more powerful is found than. That is why it is the third secret.
4. The Ring Finger
The fourth sign of the philosophers is the Lantern, standing above the fourth finger of the Hand, whereby Alum Roche is indicated; for without alum, no perfect work can be accomplished, because it is required for the Red and the White. It has an astonishing nature and the most subtle Spiritus. It is described elsewhere.
5. The Little Finger
The fifth secret and sign is the Key of the philosophers, standing above the little finger. Simultaneously, it is the lock of the hand. That is why the key is standing on it. By it, common salt is designated, for salt is the Key in this Art.
6. The Middle of the Hand
The sixth secret sign is the Fish. It stands in the middle of the Hand and signifies Mercury, for without Mercury, or the fish, nothing can be done. He is the beginning, the middle and the end, and he is the priest who must marry everything. And he is the male and the seed; he is the water out of which all metals have originated; and he is the principal (factor) of all Arts, and the greatest of all secrets.
7. The Palm
The seventh sign of the philosophers is Fire. By this Sulphur is indicated. It is the earth and beginning of all metals. It is the female who brings forth the fruit. For no seed can grow unless it be first thrown into fertile soil. Then beautiful fruit will come from it. Thus it also happens tat when a pure Mercury is joined to a pure Sulphur, it brings forth pure fruit. Thus, they are man and woman, father and mother, fire and water, seed and earth. This is sufficient about the seven secret signs of the philosophers. He who understands well this Hand and its sign, and can work with it, will derive joy from it. Now follows the Preparation.
Translated from the German by Leone Muller