In alchemical philosophy, the Sulfur Principle is the part of the triune pattern that is said to correspond to the soul of any living thing. Of course, the concept of the soul has been a subject of philosophical and religious discussion (and sometimes debate) since time immemorial, here we will simply be relating its understanding through the lens of alchemy and how it applies to spagyrics.
Many of us have experienced the properties of chemical sulfur if we’ve ever smelled a rotten egg. It displays a distinctly pungent, aromatic property that assaults our olfactory senses with a burning intensity. This, coupled with its bright yellow coloration informed the alchemists of its nature.
It is interesting that sulfur is a mineral, yet its quality is such that it is aromatic, meaning that on the one hand it exists physically on the ground, but is volatile, and as such exists in the air as well. This showed them that it has a volatile, unearthly nature, and thus it is related to the more volatile parts of our being.
This volatile nature of sulfur is also indicated in its elemental foundations, being comprised of the Fire and Air Elements. We note Fire in its pungent smell and bright yellow coloration, and Air in how it is so aromatic and disperses throughout the Air. In this way it is the lightest and most volatile of the three principles, all of which led the alchemists to correspond it to the soul.
From the perspective of this tradition, the soul is said to be the essence of any living thing, the part of its being that is directly connected to the source of life itself. It is its individuality, its unique nature, or its consciousness. It is the particularities that distinguish each being from another, what makes a deer a deer, what makes a bear a bear, what makes Echinacea so distinct from any other plant.
The Sulfur of People
In relation to humans, the Sulfur Principle resides within us and expresses as our unique character. I like to think of it as our consciousness, the refined essence of our being, but at the same time it is distinct way that consciousness manifests in our lives. These are the characteristics that are with us when we are born and we carry with us throughout the course of our lives.
We can look at it from a few different angles. Some hold the belief that the soul is eternal and lives out multiple lifetimes through reincarnation. Another way we might look at it is our inner Sulfur would relate to our ancestral patterning passed down from generation to generation. We might also see it as our genetics. No matter what perspective, they all relate to this principle that points to who we are at a core fundamental level. Indeed I think these examples are all simply different ways of describing the same thing and trying to answer the biggest question of our lives: who am I and why am I the way I am.
In terms of our healing process, this pattern correlates to those deepest wounds that we carry. This can range from the result of trauma that strikes us to the core, to certain qualities in our character that are less than becoming and give us a hard time. Each layer of the Three Principles are in some way, layers of our constitution, the patterns we see show up over and over again in our lives. The Sulfur layer of this pattern will relate to those deep challenges we go through internally, the parts of ourselves that we struggle to overcome, the excesses within our character that need tempering and the deficiencies that need strengthening.
Traditionally these patterns are discovered through the use medical astrology, guiding us to understand our character, tendencies, and patterns through the lens of the archetypes. As we come to understand our nature with more depth, we can work with alchemically prepared remedies associated with those archetypes within us that need help, and thus help our inner Sulfur find the balance that it seeks. For it is this part of our wholeness that we have come into this life to heal, develop, and ultimately evolve.
The Sulfur of Plants
In the botanical kingdom, we can look at Sulfur from two perspectives. The first is the larger scale perspective and the other the more specific physical manifestation. On the bigger pattern, the Sulfur is plants is, like people, its essential nature. It is the inherent memory of its unique species that has undergone evolutionary changes and developments throughout time ultimately leading to its current characteristics. It is the consciousness, the awareness of the plant itself. Yes, plants are aware, in fact, they have all the same senses that we have as humans and indeed, some that we don’t.
Yet each principle has its physical manifestation in plants as well. As Sulfur is the most volatile principle, being composed of Air and Fire, we can surmise that it will be the lightest part of the plant. In alchemy, this is achieved through the application of Fire, which is the Element that separates and purifies. So if we put a plant within a flask and apply heat, the first portion to leave the plant is the essential oils. I think it’s rather interesting that the word essence is often used in reference to the Sulfur Principle, and here in plants it corresponds to the essential oils (which are also often referred to as volatile oils). These are extracted from the plants in spagyric pharmacy through the process of distillation.
The essential oils of plants share many qualities and characteristics similar to chemical sulfur. Obviously, they are notably aromatic and thus generally considered pungent, akin to the Fire Element. They are also both physical but also existing in the air around us (hence we can smell it). I find it fascinating that highly aromatic plants, such as Lavender or Rosemary, actually exist outside of their physical body through their volatile oils. When you approach one of these plants and can smell it, the essence of that plant is so strong it radiates beyond its form.
But what about plants that don’t have essential oils, like Nettles or Lobelia? Are they soulless? Well, just as the Sulfur in plants has a physical expression and a more subtle, esoteric expression, the same is true for how it manifests physically. As such, there is said to be a volatile Sulfur in plants (the volatile/essential oils), and a fixed Sulfur. True, not all plants have volatile Sulfur, but all plants have a fixed Sulfur. In spagyrics, this fixed Sulfur, also known as the Salts of Sulfur, are derived from the residue leftover from the distillation of wine.
In alchemical medicine, the specific Philosophical Principle of a plant targets the corresponding principle within a person. Therefore, plants that are particularly rich in Sulfur (particularly volatile Sulfur), are those remedies that are said to have a specific affinity for healing the human soul. These remedies are often crafted into the more concentrated and potent forms of spagyric preparations, such as essences, quintessences, and plant stones.
Click here to learn about the next Principle: Mercury and the Spirit of People and Plants