Skip to main content

Theodore Abt – About The Alchemical Couple

Folio 191b. Theosebeia and Zosimos.

From the ‘Book of Pictures’ (Muşhaf aş-şuwar)

by Zosimos of Panopolis.


Another sharing for the day from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, the last part of Theodore Abt’s introduction to the ‘Book of Pictures’ (Muşhaf aş-şuwar) by Zosimos of Panopolis ‘about the alchemist and his soror mystica‘, published in 2011 by Living Human Heritage, part of the ‘Corpus Alchemicum Arabicum (CALA) at the Research & Training Center for Depth Psychology, in Zurich. From page 137 to 138.


6. Between the ‘Muşhaf aş-şuwar’, the ‘Mafatih aş-şanca’ and some of the authentic Greek texts of Zosimos, there is a surprisingly clear internal relationship, namely Zosimos’ great dreams. They are known from his Greek texts as well as from these two Arabic manuscripts. Together they present a meaningful series showing the gradual psychic development of Zosimos. The teachings of Zosimos are based on his dream experiences, as he points out on different occasions. The love and commitment of Zosimos for his student Theosebeia, his resentment of the priest Neilos, whom Theosebeia visits once in a while, and the description of his own quest are all found in these texts. Zosimos’ relation to his inner dream world and his involvement in these specific personal relationships are characteristic features of his teachings. Furthermore, the similar style of the ‘Mafatih aş-şanca’ and the ‘Muşhaf aş-şuwar’ justify assigning these two texts to the more introverted group of texts. This is the basis of my claim that these two texts have the same level of authenticity.

7. Whatever the age of the ‘Muşhaf aş-şuwar’ and whoever its author was, our document is the earliest evidence of a dialogue between an alchemical couple, the alchemist and his soror mystica. If one day it can be proved that the ‘Muşhaf aş-şuwar’ is a translation of a Greek original, then our text would be the earliest historical description of an alchemical work based on a psychic transformation that is ultimately leading to the adept’s containment of the devilish fire of attraction. Our text is a testimony to the painstaking quest to understand not only the problem but also the meaning of attraction, repulsion and ultimate reconciliation between the outer male and female as well as the inner fire and water, an enigmatic process that can only be described by way of symbols.

8. The unique manuscript of the ‘Muşhaf aş-şuwar’ provides valuable new source material with regard to Zosimos’ alchemical teachings. To my knowledge, neither in Greek, Syriac, Arabic nor Latin is there any other alchemical manuscript extant that reveals so clearly the connection between the human man-woman relationship and alchemy. Our text and the pictures are the earliest document to reveal the origin and basis of the alchemical work and the enigmatic phenomenon of the inner-psychic and outer male-female relationship, with its magic attraction, misunderstandings, rejection and ultimately its redeeming enlightment and reconciliation. It corroborates in an unexpected way C. G. Jung’s hypothesis that the goal of the alchemical work can be recognized today in the proper under­standing of the enigmatic phenomena known as transference and counter­transference, which cause so much confusion, not only in the context of psychotherapy but also with regard to relationships in general. Thus, our manuscript is the oldest extant description of the Mysterium coniunctionis of the inner-psychic opposites, a work related to the healing of the outer and inner man-woman relationship. In picture and text, the book reveals amazingly intimate and painful experiences of Zosimos—or whoever the author was—namely his own symbolic death and resurrection. As Zosimos explains, or rather confesses, to his student Theosebeia, this transformation is directly connected to his relationship with her. Our document irrefutably confirms C. G. Jung’s hypothesis of the symbolic nature of the alchemical substances mentioned and the transformation that occurs during the alchemical process.

9. In order to advance the understanding of the science of alchemy, It will be important for historians in this field to continue their research by examining and distinguishing first whether the author they are investigating speaks of mere substances or of symbols. If the latter is the case, it will be crucial for the researcher not only to investigate carefully the historical, palaeographic and linguistic facts, but also to look at the symbolic dimension of the different names given in the text; only in this way can these names truly be contextualized. With regard to the ‘Muşhaf aş-şuwar’, the text and pictures are clearly of a symbolic nature. We must therefore approach this document accordingly. The method of approaching the meaning of symbols in such texts is by careful amplification, a method already recommended by the Arab alchemist Abu al-Qasim (13th century). Such an approach will open up new horizons with regard to this text and to symbolic alchemical texts in general, paving the way for the understanding that in such alchemical texts the psyche of the adept is also involved in the work. The psyche was and is the origin which moves the adept patiently to devote his or her life to the individual quest for immortality. This discovery will then provide the key to unlocking the meaning of this vast cultural heritage, and will ultimately help to transform symbolic alchemical texts into a living human heritage.


Folio 153a. Theosebeia and Zosimos standing by an alambic on a furnace. From the ‘Book of Pictures’ (Muşhaf aş-şuwar) by Zosimos of Panopolis.



Discover more about the book and the author:
Theodore Abt – About The Alchemical Couple

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

all rights reserved Via Hygeia 2022