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The Alchemy of Purification in the Quran

The origin of man in nature has not been a matter of intense debate just because of the physical characteristics possessed by him, but the psychological attitudes that derive his life. Apparently, the power of focus that human minds possess is so stupendous that it can turn the most vague dreams or ideals into reality. Nevertheless, man still sometimes wonders if he has gotten it all, or may be something got left out. Perhaps one thing has definitely been left out from his existence; immortality!

The mortality of man defies all of his ambitions for future progress, as it renders them all vain in time. Thus, man becomes a philosopher, and tries to peek into the invisible. This need of a man’s mind to explore the unlit land, to find answers that his mere sharp senses of sights and sounds could not discover, and to understand the ultimate mystery of nature; death!

All the intellectual developments that have resulted in the formation of human society have been the products of man’s efforts to extend his vision into the unknown. Man has constructed microscopes and telescopes, built machines that give him insights into the atomic and molecular structures, as well as into the galaxies at infinite distances. It is this extrapolation of vision that distinguishes between strong acids and drinking water, so as to employ the two substances that though apparently look alike according to their physical appearances, but are very different in their respective chemical natures. Therefore, the destiny of man is shaped by the depths of vision he possesses, and guided by his efforts to constantly further the dimensions of his vision. The destiny of man is the product of an alchemical process, which essentially constitutes the subject of this article.

The ancient teachers of mankind had various interpretations for describing the role of human lives in the physical world, but some of them also considered the impact of this world on human beings because of their sojourn on earth. Those were the ancient prophets and mystics who considered the earth to be a stage for the development and ascension of human soul to a greater level of glory. Here, I shall discuss the teachings of Quran from the standpoint of human destiny, and attempt to explain those mystical teachings by using hermetic wisdom.

Saturn, Time, and Death

Amongst the seven astrological planets known from ancient times, Saturn occupies the seventh orbit. It is the farthest, slowest, and the dimmest planet known to them on account of which it rules the darkest hours of winter seasons. The Greeks called it ‘Cronos’, because it symbolized time and death. The Phoenicians of ancient Mesopotamia called it ‘El’, their chief deity and therefore, it can also be considered the prototype for the almighty God of Hebrews and Arabs.

Saturn represents Time, which is itself the greatest symbol of God. The time is always an independent factor in relation to any other dimension or quantity, and that is the very reason why it is kept on the X-axis of independent coordinates in all scientific studies. Time controls everything; and nothing controls, defeats, or escapes time. Time exalts persons into heroes, and also it is the time that abases heroes into dust by operating as the inevitable function of all activities in existence. Time is the all powerful, all mighty, all sublime, and whatever symbolizes time symbolizes God, since only the existence of God can be as eternal as the time. The Quran states,

By the time. Verily man is in loss. But not those who believe and work righteous deeds, and enjoin upon each other the truth and enjoin upon each other steadfastness. (103, 1–3)

Everyone that is thereon will pass away; There remaineth but the Countenance of thy Lord of Might and Glory. (55, 26–27)

Saturn also symbolizes death because it represents the extreme dark and cold of winter. In the Judaic traditions, Saturday (the day of planet Saturn) is the Holy Sabbath which gets celebrated by fasting and other restrictive behaviours. Now, what dies with Saturn? In order to understand this, we shall have to study the hermetic principle of polarities.

The Hermetic Principle of Polarities

The polarities in nature constitute the properties of substances that may vary in their degrees. For instance, the air temperatures can rise or fall, producing thereby hot or cold. The extent of hot or cold would therefore, determine the level of polarity in the property of air temperature. Similarly, the altitudes of mountains or valleys can be measured as high or low in relation to the standard of sea level, and thus the polarity in terms of height between two physical features of land can be determined. In other words, wherever a range can be applied regarding quantitative differences between a single state, property, or dimension; polarity exists in those cases. There cannot be any relationship of polarity between temperature and height, because they represent different classes or dimensions of a state, and are qualitatively different from each other.

There are four hermetic elements in nature i.e., fire, water, air, and earth. The astrological signs of fire are always opposite that of the air signs, and the water signs are opposite the earth signs. That is because in hermetic wisdom, water and earth are the polar opposites comprising of the same properties but different polarities, and the same applies to fire and air. But fire and water are incompatible, and so as earth and air. According to hermetic wisdom, the compatible elements such as fire and air always tend to corrupt each other, whilst the incompatible elements such as fire and water always tend to purify each other. This has been depicted in the figure about the interaction of hermetic elements.

This hermetic wisdom is actually based on science as well as common sense. We know that fire would boil the water and thus purify it by causing the rains, and fire would also purify the earth by burning the refuse from it, but at the same time fire shall corrupt the air by producing the toxic smoke resulting in the air pollution. Similarly, water in the form of rains would purify the air, but in the conditions of floods would destroy the landscape and at the same time become dirty and impure itself. The results of these interactions of elements are quite obvious especially when the elements are present in great proportions as is often the case in nature, but if they are made to coexist with a meticulous and subtle judgment of their proportions then such interactions can also produce very favourable consequences to support the formation and existence of life on earth. Water and earth could produce plant life, whilst fire and air could provide necessary heat to further the growth and evolution of life. But where should this judgment of proportions come from? It is Saturn!

Saturn and the Day of Judgment

Why should the judgment be only from Saturn? Why not any of the other planets like Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Luminaries (Sun, Moon)? In order to understand this, we shall have to see the arrangement of zodiac signs that are ruled by the seven planets.

Mars for instance, rules Aries (the fire sign) and Scorpio (the water sign). So if Aries which is ruled by Mars were to corrupt its opposite sign of Libra (air), then adjacent to Libra happens to be the water sign of Scorpio also ruled by Mars that would purify the air sign of Libra due to its proximity. Similarly, if Taurus (the earth sign ruled by Venus) should corrupt the opposite water sign of Scorpio, then the next door sign Libra (ruled also by Venus) would purify the water of Scorpio. Therefore, because of this proximity factor the problems become reversible, and get resolved automatically.

In the Mercury/Jupiter case, the angular cross pattern of the signs ruled by each planet purifies the corruption. For instance, if Gemini causes trouble in Sagittarius, then Virgo comes to the rescue; and if Pisces corrupts Virgo, then Sagittarius due to the square angle with the sign of Virgo becomes activated and resolves the situation. Mutable planets rule the signs that form the mutable cross, and in their case the angular relationship of the signs make automatic and effective response to the problems by restoring them to normal conditions, and thus rendering them also reversible.

How about the case of Saturn versus Luminaries? Here there can be no redemption because the Luminaries (Sun and Moon) individually rule only one sign each. Therefore, neither proximity nor any angular arrangement can resolve the corruptions if that may occur with the signs of Saturn, and thus making the situations totally irreversible and utterly dismal. Luminaries being the brightest and Saturn the dimmest make it all the more difficult to strike a balanced perspective in relation to ambitions, power dynamics, materialism, and pride. Thus, it ultimately leads to worst forms of spiritual decadence because when light in the outside world is at the brightest, then the spiritual light from within becomes the dimmest, and consequently the balance is totally lost. When a person searches for the spiritual light of truth from within, then the presence of darkness in the world of outside is far more conducive and illuminating. Therefore, the case of Saturn brings about the activity of judgment in its affairs by becoming the lord of the ‘Day of Judgment’, which is symbolically the Saturday, or the seventh day of the week.

Zodiac Signs and Their Elements

Also, one may ask that if the water of Cancer corrupts the earth of Capricorn then why it should not get purified by boiling with the fire of Aries. Well, the answer is that these elements are of archetypal nature, and the fire of Aries comes from Mars, not Moon. The corruptions caused by the element of Moon must therefore be taken care of by the Moon itself, which is not possible here. So, if Moon being a Luminary is bright and powerful, then with power should also accept the responsibility for its use, for otherwise the damage will be irreparable. Still, it does not mean that the fire of Aries will not boil the water of Cancer, actually it will! because of its archetypal nature to heat the water, but it shall just not be successful in purifying it. And therefore, it shall keep heating the water of Cancer perpetually due to its archetypal urge to purify it, and thus providing the indefinite supply of impure hot drinking water for the dwellers of Hell. Whenever the mention of hot boiling water, scorching winds, and roasting of bodies is mentioned for the dwellers of Hell in the Quran, it refers to the same archetypal principle of judgment. The Quran states,

And He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days — and His Throne was upon the water — that He might try you, which of you is best in conduct. Yet if thou (O Muhammad) sayest: Lo! ye will be raised again after death! those who disbelieve will surely say: This is naught but mere magic. (11, 7)

Say: Who is Lord of the seven heavens, and Lord of the Tremendous Throne? (23, 86)

In the verse (11, 7), the heavens are plural whilst the earth is singular. This pattern is actually repeated at many places in the Quran referring to the archetypal character of the heavens, whilst the earth has to be a space for their combined impact or activity. In the same verse, the ‘Throne’ means the zodiac which is upon the water, or metaphorically on the blue sky. The Blue sky and clear sea water can be used symbolically for each other because the water on the surface of earth simply acts as a reflector or a mirror for the image in the sky. Thus, reflecting here the invisible image of the zodiac. Also, the mention of tests or trials for humans is very symbolic of the nature of Saturn as a tester of judgment. Again in the verse (23–86), the mention of seven heavens represents the seven planetary orbits, and the Tremendous Throne means the zodiac whilst the Lord of the Tremendous Throne is the reference to Saturn. The Quran further says,

The Beneficent One, Who is established on the throne. (20, 5)

Lo! your Lord is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, then mounted He the Throne. He covereth the night with the day, which is in haste to follow it, and hath made the sun and the moon and the stars subservient by His command. His verily is all creation and commandment. Blessed be Allah, the Lord of the Worlds! (7, 54)

Say (O Muhammad, unto the idolaters): Disbelieve ye verily in Him Who created the earth in two Days, and ascribe ye unto Him rivals? He (and none else) is the Lord of the Worlds. He placed therein firm hills rising above it, and blessed it and measured therein its sustenance in four Days, alike for (all) who ask; Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke, and said unto it and unto the earth: Come both of you, willingly or loth. They said: We come, obedient. Then He ordained them seven heavens in two Days and inspired in each heaven its mandate; and We decked the nether heaven with lamps, and rendered it inviolable. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Knower. (41, 9–12)

The symbolic name which is used for denoting the archetype of Saturn in the Quran is “Ar-Rahman”, meaning ‘The Beneficent One’. I had earlier written an article “Saturn, the Beneficent One; Al-Quran:43 (Az-Zukhruf)” to describe the basic tenets of Saturn’s character. The verse (20, 5) implies that the Beneficent One rules the Throne, or Saturn judges the zodiac.

The six days of creation are mentioned in the verse (7, 54) that are also archetypal in their character because of if we compare it to the total of eight days of creation in the verses (41, 9–12), then we find that there is a discrepancy of two days. We can never reconcile the two day discrepancy in these Quranic verses unless we accept that the days mentioned are qualitative in their nature rather than quantitative. Therefore, these days do not represent the duration of time with respect to a fixed quantitative standard of measurement, but the type of activity performed during whatsoever period of time, and thus the days of creation are actually archetypal. Also, after the six days of creation in the verse (7, 54) and mounting of the throne, the Lord covers the archetypal days with their respective nights that are also archetypal in their character; and then controls the sun, the moon, and the stars to be of service to His commandments which altogether means that humankind exists at the moment in the archetypal nights of the six archetypal days of creation. But at the end of these archetypal nights, there shall come the dawn of the seventh day of creation, the Day of Judgment.

And when the heaven splitteth asunder and becometh rosy like red hide — (55, 37)

Lo! the Day of Decision is a fixed time, (78, 17)

The verse (55, 37) is very symbolic because it mentions the archetypal dawn of the new day (the seventh day), for the heaven splits and becomes rosy only at the time of the dawn, which one can observe at early mornings anywhere on earth. The verse (78, 17) suggests that the new archetypal day shall occur at a fixed time.

The Event of purification

The Quran states,

When the event befalleth — There is no denying that it will befall — Abasing (some), exalting (others); When the earth is shaken with a shock. And the hills are ground to powder. So that they become a scattered dust. And ye will be three kinds: (First) those on the right hand; what of those on the right hand? And (then) those on the left hand; what of those on the left hand? And the foremost in the race, the foremost in the race: Those are they who will be brought nigh. (56, 1–11)

In verses (56, 1–11), the Quran talks about the Event of Purification, or the Day of Judgment. This event is actually about the separation of people on the basis of their spiritual merits or judgments. The Quran says that the humanity shall be divided into three groups: Firstly, those who have only done the purification and nothing of corruption, they shall be the foremost in the race; Secondly, those who have accomplished more purification than corruption, they shall be on the right side; and lastly those who have achieved more corruption than purification; they shall be on the left side. This shall be the state of the world on the Judgment Day, for the corruption must be purified from noble essence of humanity. The Quran states,

He created man of clay like the potter’s, And the jinn did He create of smokeless fire. (55, 14–15)

And when We said unto the angels: Fall down prostrate before Adam and they fell prostrate all save Iblis, he said: Shall I fall prostrate before that which Thou hast created of clay? He said: Seest Thou this (creature) whom Thou hast honoured above me, if Thou give me grace until the Day of Resurrection I verily will seize his seed, save but a few. He said: Go, and whosoever of them followeth thee — lo! hell will be your payment, ample payment. And excite any of them whom thou canst with thy voice, and urge thy horse and foot against them, and be a partner in their wealth and children, and promise them. Satan promiseth them only to deceive. Lo! My (faithful) bondmen — over them thou hast no power, and thy Lord sufficeth as (their) guardian. (17, 61–65)

O ye who believe! Lo! among your wives and your children there are enemies for you, therefore beware of them. And if ye efface and overlook and forgive, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (64, 14)

The verses (55, 14–15) indicate that man was made from pure earth, i. e. the earth without any contamination of water; whilst the jinn was made from smokeless fire (the heat), or the fire without any contamination of air. In verses (17, 61–65), the angels who are essentially the light creatures did what they were commanded, but Iblis who according to Quran was of the jinn kind, he refused to do so. The verses (17, 61–65) and (64, 14) are very significant because they indicate that the moral principles are inoperable in this world. The devil can belong among a person’s relatives and not even easily recognized because the physical bodies that a person may possess does not reflect his judgment. The bodies we possess here are a gift from the heavens, and in no way represent our personal merits or achievements. Here, a person may touch fire and burn his skin, but he shall be perfectly well off by lying and cheating to others. The rules of ethics are not reflected by the physical state of a person but that of the spiritual condition, and therefore will become evident on the day of judgment when a person’s body could only be the image of his spiritual earnings. The Quran says,

We created you. Will ye then admit the truth? Have ye seen that which ye emit? Do ye create it or are We the Creator? We mete out death among you, and We are not to be outrun, That We may transfigure you and make you what ye know not. And verily ye know the first creation. Why, then, do ye not reflect? Have ye seen that which ye cultivate? Is it ye who foster it, or are We the Fosterer? If We willed, We verily could make it chaff, then would ye cease not to exclaim: Lo! we are laden with debt! Nay, but we are deprived! Have ye observed the water which ye drink? Is it ye who shed it from the raincloud, or are We the Shedder? If We willed We verily could make it bitter. Why then, give ye not thanks? Have ye observed the fire which ye strike out; Was it ye who made the tree thereof to grow, or were We the grower? We, even We, appointed it a memorial and a comfort for the dwellers in the wilderness. Therefore (O Muhammad), praise the name of thy Lord, the Tremendous. Nay, I swear by the places of the stars — And lo! that verily is a tremendous oath, if ye but knew — That (this) is indeed a noble Qur’an. In a Book kept hidden. Which none toucheth save the purified, A revelation from the Lord of the Worlds. Is it this Statement that ye scorn, And make denial thereof your livelihood? Why, then, when (the soul) cometh up to the throat (of the dying). And ye are at that moment looking — And We are nearer unto him than ye are, but ye see not — Why then, if ye are not in bondage (unto Us), Do ye not force it back, if ye are truthful? Thus if he is of those brought nigh, Then breath of life, and plenty, and a Garden of delight. And if he is of those on the right hand, Then (the greeting) “Peace be unto thee” from those on the right hand. But if he is of the rejecters, the erring, Then the welcome will be boiling water. And roasting at hell-fire. Lo! this is certain truth. Therefore (O Muhammad) praise the name of thy Lord, the Tremendous. (56, 57–96)

The verses (56, 57–59) very much summarize the whole process of judgment and purification in all of its aspect. If viewed from the perspective of hermetic wisdom, then one can consider these verses to be the ideal formula for human spiritual growth. The principle of polarity is evident from all the physical and natural laws of the universe, and is the ideal alchemical mode for the separation and purification of both matter and spirit. The Quran states,

He hath loosed the two seas. They meet. There is a barrier between them. They encroach not (one upon the other). Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? There cometh forth from both of them the pearl and coral-stone. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? His are the ships displayed upon the sea, like banners. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Everyone that is thereon will pass away; There remaineth but the Countenance of thy Lord of Might and Glory. (55, 19–27)

The verses (55, 19–27) clearly indicate the principle of polarity working in its most meticulous ways in the nature. Whenever two different rivers or seas come together, due to the variations in the mineral and salt components they carry till the meeting point, their levels of polarities differ sufficiently enough to cause the separation between them. One can observe the two masses of water with different colours or shades running for hundreds of miles without merging into one another, thus providing a fascinating sight of nature. Similarly, the ships though are very small as compared to the sea do not get drowned by it due to the lesser specific gravity or density value of water preventing it from getting drowned. Here, it is important to note that both the polarity index of water and its specific gravity are the measures of the qualitative state of water, and have nothing to do with its quantity. In other words, the lesson is that in any affair quantity must never impose itself upon the quality, but rather the two things should stay distinguished from each other. The numbers may perish, but the archetypal principles of the glorious ‘Countenance of Lord’ will continue to exist. The Quran states,

Say: Have ye thought: If (all) your water were to disappear into the earth, who then could bring you gushing water? (67, 30)

By the sun and his brightness, And the moon when she followeth him, And the day when it revealeth him, And the night when it enshroudeth him, And the heaven and Him Who built it, And the earth and Him Who spread it, And a soul and Him Who perfected it. And inspired it (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and (what is) right for it. He is indeed successful who causeth it to grow, And he is indeed a failure who stunteth it. (91, 1–10)

The verses (91, 1–10) suggest that the perfection in the works of nature and the attitudes of noble human beings are always directed towards the attainment of judgment and purification.

The End Note

Well, this really is my personal observation that all of the humanity whether consciously or unconsciously is constantly seeking some sort of judgment. Students read so as to find good grades, people use all kinds of cloths and cosmetics to impress each other, politicians seek the popular confidence to win elections, corporations perpetually tend to acquire more customers in order to enhance their profits, and generally everyone has a interest in improving the present state of existence as if the urge for improvement has been hardwired into the human psyche. So, I ask why they are all constantly seeking judgment. Because they understand that whether they look for it or not, they will surely find it. Judgment will happen nonetheless, and if it is so inevitable a fact then I should definitely consider it to be wise to stay a little prepared. I shall conclude this article by stating the following verses from the Quran.

He is Allah, than Whom there is no other God, the Knower of the Invisible and the Visible. He is the Beneficent, the Merciful. He is Allah, than Whom there is no other God, the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One, Peace, the Keeper of Faith, the Guardian, the Majestic, the Compeller, the Superb. Glorified be Allah from all that they ascribe as partner (unto Him). He is Allah, the Creator, the Shaper out of naught, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifieth Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise. (59, 22–24)