Three Visions of Zosimus
Translated by Andrew Barrett.
The First Vision
“The composition of the Waters – the dance, the growth, the flowering and decay of the corporeal, the separation and the conjunction of spirit and body, these are not the result of discrete natures but of a single nature acting upon itself, a uniform quality such as the solidity of metals or the moisture of plants. Within this single system of many colors, the quest, shimmering and myriad, is preserved. In accord with time’s measured rhythm, it synchronizes with the waxing and waning of the moon as Nature flows through itself in cycles of contraction and expansion.”
After I uttered these words, I fell into a trance and saw before me a sacrificial hierophant perched atop a broad, bowl-shaped altar. A ladder of fifteen steps climbed to its top. The hierophant arose and a voice from above addressed me: “I have accomplished the descent of the fifteen steps of night and have ascended the fifteen steps of illumination. The one who sacrifices me also revives me through casting aside the heavy sediment of the body. And since by the will of necessity I am an initiated hierophant, I become spirit.”
I listened to the words of the one atop the bowl-shaped altar then asked him who he was. He answered me in a quavering voice: “I am Ion, hierophant of the innermost sanctuary and I have endured unbearable violence. At dawn, I was overtaken and dismembered by one wielding a sword. He chopped me apart according to the strictures of harmony. He gripped his blade, scalped me, and gathered together my bones and flesh. Then he burned them in the numinous fire until I learned to become spirit through transformation of the body.” I compelled him and after he spoke these words his eyes turned blood-red and he vomited up all of his flesh. I saw him as a deformed, tiny homunculus, gnashing at himself with his own teeth while he disintegrated.
I awoke in terror and wondered if this was the composition of the Waters. I thought I had understood it well and fell back into a trance. I saw the same bowl-shaped altar filled with boiling water. There were many people, infinite in number, within it, but there was no one outside of the altar that I could question. I moved in closer for a better look at this sight and noticed an aged homunculus barber, who questioned me about what I saw. I said that I was astounded by the boiling water and the people in it who were cooking and yet still alive. He answered: “This is where the act of preservation takes place. Those who hope to master the Art arrive here and, through shedding the body, become spirit.” So I said: “Are you a spirit?” And he answered: “A spirit and a guardian of spirits.”
As we spoke, the water continued to boil and the people screamed. I saw a man made of copper who held a lead tablet in his hand. He stared at the tablet and proclaimed: “I command all those who suffer to be calm, to take up a tablet and write with their own hand. Turn your face to the sky and keep your mouth open till your uvula is swollen.” The act followed the word and the lord of the house said to me: “You have seen. Craning your neck upwards, you have seen what is accomplished. This man of copper is the sacrificial hierophant and the sacred offering. It is he who vomited his own flesh. The power over this Water and those who suffer was given to him.” After experiencing this vision, I awoke again and asked myself: “How to interpret this? Is this the white and yellow water, boiling and divine?”
I found that I understood it correctly and I said that it was beautiful to speak and lovely to hear. Beautiful to give and to receive, lovely to be rich and to be poor. How does Nature learn to give and to receive? The man of copper gives and the water-stone receives. Metals give and plants receive. The stars give and flowers receive. The sky gives and the earth receives. Thunder yields flashing fire. All things are interwoven and unravel. All things mingle and fuse. All things mingle and disperse. All things moisten and dry. All things flower and bloom in the bowl-shaped altar. For each, the conjunction and separation of all occurs through method, measure and the weight of the four elements. There is no chain of being without this method. Inhalation and exhalation are the method of Nature. The order of the method is preserved through expansion and contraction. Simply, when all things unite and separate in harmony and no part of the method is neglected, then Nature is transformed. Nature rotates and cycles back upon itself. This is the chain of being and the nature of the Art for the whole cosmos.
Dear friend, so I don’t have to write to you about many things, from a single stone that is like Saturnian lead, like alabaster, like the marble of Prokonnesos, build a temple without beginning or end – an infinite monolith. Inside the temple, let there be a spring of pure water that glitters with the brightness of the sun. Take your sword in your hand after you discover where the entrance of the temple is located. There will be a narrow passage nearby and the entrance itself will be guarded by a serpent. Seize the serpent, sacrifice him. Flay him and place his bones and his organs into piles. Then, before the temple’s entrance, fuse his bones to his flesh, fashion steps out of his body, and enter.
You will find what you have been searching for: the hierophant, the man of copper, who sits in the spring gathering his substance – but do not think of him as the man of copper. He has transformed the color of his nature and has become a man of silver. And, if you wish, you will suddenly have a man of gold.
The Second Vision
Again, I wanted to climb the seven steps and observe the seven punishments and, as chance would have it, I was only able to manage the journey on a particular day; I made the ascent many times and retraced my steps many times. Then, on my return, I lost my way and was trapped. I became sick at heart and fell into a trance. I saw a homunculus, a barber draped in purple robes and royal garments, standing outside of the hall of suffering and he said to me: “Man, what are you doing?” I replied: “I stand here because I lost my way and don’t know what to do.” And he said: “Follow me.” I followed him and when I drew near the hall of suffering, I watched as the homunculus was tossed into the hall. His entire body was consumed by flames.
When I saw this, I turned away, trembling in fear. I awoke and said to myself: “What is this vision?” Again, I thought it through and decided that the homunculus barber was the man of copper clad in purple. I said: “I have understood well. This is the man of copper. He must first enter the hall of suffering.”
My soul longed to mount the third step and again I made the journey and lost my way near the hall of suffering. I stopped, disorientated and in despair. Once more, I saw a man whose hair was so white that it blinded the eyes. His name was Agathodaimon. This man of white turned and looked upon me for an entire hour. I implored him to show me the proper way – the path of least resistance. He did not approach me, but swiftly went upon the correct route. Running here and there, he frantically made his way to the altar. When I reached the top of the altar, I witnessed the man of white enter the hall of suffering. O demiurges of star-shot nature, in an instant his body turned to blazing fire. What a chilling image, my brothers. The intensity of the suffering caused his eyes to turn blood-red. I asked him: “Why are you lying there?” Barely opening his mouth, he said, “I am the man of lead and I submit to unbearable violence.”
I awoke in terrible fear and searched within for an explanation of this vision. I reflected and said to myself: “I understand rightly – lead must be cast out. Truly this vision concerns the composition of the Waters.”
The Third Vision
Once more I saw the divine and sacred altar in the shape of a bowl. I also saw a hierophant clothed in white, who was performing the dread and numinous mysteries. I said: “Who are you?” He replied: “The hierophant of the innermost sanctuary. I wish to replenish bodies with blood, illuminate the eyes and raise the dead.” I fell down again and went into a brief trance. As soon as I reached the fourth step, I saw someone coming from the East with a sword in his hand. He was followed by another carrying a radiant white revolving sphere, lovely to see, known as Meridian of the Sun. As they approached the hall of suffering, the one brandishing the sword spoke to me: “Cut off his head and make a sacrifice of his muscles and his flesh in discrete portions so that his body may be boiled according to the method and he may experience the horrors of suffering.”
I opened my eyes and said: “I understand it perfectly. These things concern the Waters of Alchemy.” And, again, the one holding the sword said: “You have completed the descent of the seven steps.” The other said: “The Work is accomplished in synchronicity with the expulsion of lead through all Waters.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Barrett is a translator and musician who lives in Detroit, Michigan. He translates poetry and literature from Ancient Greek, Modern Greek and Latin. Andrew is currently working on translations of various late Antique alchemical texts, the fragments of Heraclitus and Nonnus’ Dionysiaca – an encyclopedic mythological epic from late Antiquity concerning the intersection of esotericism, eroticism, and Dionysus. His translations have appeared in Volt, Words Without Borders, and Anomalous Press. He holds an MA in literary translation studies from the University of Rochester and currently teaches classical mythology at Wayne State University.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 8th, 2015.