Androgyne, derived from Greek meaning both male and female-man and woman, in alchemical imagery personifies the prime materials sulfur and mercury (that which burns, and that which is volatile), which are present in the Philosopher’s Stone. And, also, represent the ideal totality at its highest elevation.
The alchemists had the confirmation for their theory of an androgynous world or earth. Observation established this fact; new plant and animal life was brought by union of the male spermatozoa and female egg in animals and pollination in plants.
If observation was not enough, further evidence was offered in mythology: The androgynous unity of (the Indian god) Shiva and Shakti is depicted in Tantric iconography as permanent cohabitation. According to the Tantras this female principle came before the male principle residing within the deity. Furthermore, Jung states in his Mysterium Coniunctionus, Adam, as the first man, was considered in alchemical terms to be the arcane substance since he was defined as being synonymous for the aqua permanens, in contradistinction to Eve, who signified earth.
Water is the prime arcane substance, and serves as both an agent of transformation as well as a substance which is transformed.
The correlates of Adam are lead and Azoch, both of which, like Adam, are of a hermaphroditic nature. Similarly Adam has been referred to as the lapis because he bore his Eve invisibly hidden in his body. In other words, alchemists recognized the androgynous condition of nature.
Adam’s nature was extended to Christ. As Boehme expressed it, Christ was a “virgin in mind.” This is because Christ, being the Word of God (John 1:1), was born of a virgin; he was not created or generated. The virgin is the anima and comfort of the soul. Therefore, God took her to himself as his spouse. She is the expression of the profundity and infinity of the Godhead.
This is why she is represented as the Shakti in Hinduism and as Sophia in Gnosticism; she is the female nature or principle of the Divine which causes all Creation. Some feel Mary, the Blessed Virgin, is the manifestation of this feminine Divine nature/principle in Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism, although it is not allowed to be expressed as such.
As shown, Shakti is the feminine principle of the supreme Divinity; as such, in alchemical terms, this is the pneuma, spirit, spiritus, of all things. With the spirit, pneuma, all things were made (Genesis 1:2). It is this spirit, as discussed in “Alchemy,” which the ancient alchemists, as well as others, thought that spirit was in matter. When trying to transmute matter they recognized their task was to liberate the spirit from the old matter and reunite it in the new.
In the age of domination of Church and science this concept of matter died. However, due to the current increasing in spirituality this concept of spirit in matter is experiencing a revival. A.G.H.
Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. (Transl. by James Hulbert). New York. Facts On File, 1992. p. 11.
Jung, C. G. Mysterium Coniunctions. (Transl. by R. F. C. Hull). “The Collected Works of Jung” Vol. 14. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press. 1970. pp. 382, 404-405.