Praxis für Alternative Psychosomatik und Traumdeutung, Dr. Remo F. Roth, CH-8001 Zürich

Remo F. Roth

Dr. oec. publ., Ph.D.

dipl. analyt. Psychologe (M.-L. v. Franz)

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With many thanks to Gregory Sova, Ph.D. (LA, CA) for translation assistance

Book Project:


Wolfgang Pauli, Carl Jung and the Challenge of the Unified Psychophysical Reality

© copyright 2002-2004 by Pro Litteris, Zürich. All rights reserved

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back to Chapter 4, part 1


 4. Neoplatonic and Hermetic alchemy: Eternal infertility versus incarnation

(part 2)  


part 1:

4. Neoplatonic and Hermetic alchemy: Eternal infertility versus incarnation

4.1 Wolfgang Pauli's differentiation between Neoplatonic and Hermetic alchemy

4.1.1 A short description of the alchemical opus

4.1.2 Some differences between Neoplatonic and Hermetic alchemy

part 2:

4.2 Neoplatonic alchemy
4.2.1 The impossibility of transmutation (Wandlung) in the Neoplatonic opus

4.2.2 The reduction of the quaternity to the Trinity by the early Medieval Platonist Scotus Eriugena and the Hornberger Schiessen

4.2.3 Einstein's objective worldview as Hornberger Schiessen

part 3:

4.3 Hermetic alchemy
4.3.1 Robert Fludd's chymic wedding, the intermediate world and the infans solaris

part 4:

4.3.2 The symmetry between spirit and matter in Hermetic alchemy and complementarity

part 5 (will follow):

4.3.3 Carl Jung's ambivalence between the trinity and the quaternity and the Axiom of Maria prophetissa: A preliminary analysis


 4. Neoplatonic and Hermetic alchemy: Eternal infertility versus incarnation

(part 2)


4.2 Neoplatonic alchemy 


 4.2.1 The impossibility of transmutation (Wandlung) in the Neoplatonic opus

In a letter to Marie-Louise von Franz of October 16th, 1951 Pauli describes the parallels and the differences between the two branches of alchemy in detail. His synopsis verifies further differences. One of the most important is the fact that in the opus of the Neoplatonic alchemists the process consists in an ascent to the heavenly spheres. By this process matter, thought of as obscure and evil, transforms into spirit, which is „bright“ and good, as the Christian God. At the end of this opus the state of the amor coelestis is reached, which, of course, has nothing to do with the amor vulgaris, the profane and sexual love. As we can imagine, this Neoplatonic concept fitted very well into the ideas of the Christian Fathers, which was the reason why this branch of alchemy was especially spread out in clerical circles.

In a letter to Carl Jung's secretary Aniela Jaffé, a Jewish woman with whom Pauli exchanged some very interesting reflections, he describes the central ideas of the Neoplatonic process in clear words. Almost the same text he used in his Kepler essay (1952), the English translation of which was published in the year 1994. He writes:

„Das Leben der mehr oder weniger pantheistisch aufgefassten, das heisst mit der Ganzheit des Kosmos identifizierten Gottheit besteht für den Platoniker in einem kosmischen Kreislauf, beginnend mit der Emanation der ‘Ideen’ und ‘Seelen’, dann der Körperwelt aus der Gottheit und endend mit der Rückkehr aller Dinge zu Gott. Die Vorstellung vom Opus und seinem Resultat und damit die Idee einer Wandlung ist dem Platoniker fremd. Der Endzustand des Kreislaufes ist mit dem Anfangszustand identisch und dieses Spiel geht ewig weiter...Die Seele des Einzelnen kann nichts anderes vollbringen als sich diesem kosmischen Kreislauf einfügen, und dadurch der Schönheit des Kosmos teilhaftig werden. Dies ist der Zweck der Kontemplation...“ [emphasis mine]

English translation:

“For the Platonist, the life of the Deity which he conceives in a more or less pantheistic spirit, that is to say as identical with the totality of the world, consists of a cosmic cycle which begins with the emanation from the Godhead first of the “ideas” and “souls”, then of the corporeal world, and ends with the return of all things to God. The idea of the opus and its result, and thus the idea of transmutation (Wandlung), is foreign to the Platonist. The final stage of the cycle is identical with the initial stage, and this process continues for ever and ever. … The soul of the individual can do nothing but fit itself into this cosmic cycle in order to become a participant in the beauty of the universe. This is the purpose of contemplation …” [emphasis mine]

As a result of these quotations we can draw the two important conclusions that the Neoplatonic process is not involved in sexual love but only in the amor coelestis, and that it is a process the beginning is spiritual and the end is spiritual and thus the two states remain the same on into eternity. Therefore no change happens and the idea of the creation of something new is nonexistent in this opus. It is obvious that these two ideas belong together because with the help of the amor coelestis no “child” will be born, the coniunctio spiritualis between heaven and earth remains infertile.


4.2.2 The reduction of the quaternity to the Trinity by the early Medieval Platonist Scotus Eriugena and the Hornberger Schiessen

In Appendix III of his Kepler essay (Pauli, 1994, p. 277-9) Pauli brings up a very interesting example of this Platonic “infertility”. First he mentions that Platonist mostly have a Trinitarian view of the world, “in which the soul occupies an intermediary position between mind and body”. But then he calls our attention to the fact that the earliest Platonic thinker of the Middle Ages, Scotus Eriugena, had a quaternarian view of the world. He shows a figure (see figure 4.1)


figure 4.1:  Quaternity as conceived by Scotus Eriugena in De divisione naturae


and explains it as follows: 

“[Scotus Eriugena] introduces two pairs of opposites: a pair of active principles, viz., the creans (that which creates) as opposed to the non creans (that which does not create); and a pair of passive principles, viz., the creatum (that which is created) and the non creatum (that which is not created). By the aid of this terminology, which is very attractive to the mathematically minded, Scotus arrives at his four natures, a conception, that may be illustrated by the schematic drawing on Fig. [4.1, above; RFR], which also reveals the connection of Eriugena’s system with the Platonic cycle of emanation and re-absorption. In identifying Stages 1 to 3 of the cycle with the three Divine Persons, Scotus Eriugena attempted to compromise with the dogma of the Church. In the case of the fourth stage, however, that of the natura nec creata nec creans [not created and not creating; RFR], he seems to have found himself in an embarrassing position. As a Platonist he could not do as the Hermetic philosophers did and allow a transformation (Wandlung) of the whole to appear simultaneously with this fourth stage. Since he wanted to return to the point of departure where no fourth Divine Person was at his disposal, he could think of nothing better than to act as though the natura nec creata nec creans were the same thing as the natura creans nec creata at the beginning, for which assumption no satisfactory reason is given. To the question of what has happened to the fourth Person, therefore, the answer must be in the particular case of Scotus Eriugena: ‘He has disappeared in an identification with the first.’” [emphasis mine]

What Pauli shares here in a scientific language, he talked about in his private letters much more sarcastically. There he always compared the Platonic and Neoplatonic opus with the so-called Hornberger Schiessen. The famous expression “Es endet wie das Hornberger Schiessen” (It ends like the Hornberg's salute) reaches back to a historical event in this German town: The citizens of Hornberg awaited the duke but he was late. Then they saw a remote cloud of dust approaching and in honour of the duke’s arrival began to shoot one salute after the other. When the duke finally arrived, they did not have any more ammunition to fire a salute in his presence…! Therefore the expression “It ends like the Hornberg’s salute” one uses to express in a sarcastic manner that something important is heralded but does not receive any acclaim. Pauli uses it for the purpose to show the fact that the Neoplatonic opus is mostly explained with an incredible amount of philosophical arguments, but in it, in contrast to the Hermetic opus, nothing new is created.


4.2.3 Einstein’s objective worldview as a Hornberger Schiessen

The Hornberger Schiessen analogy seems to be just a funny joke, but was in fact taken quite seriously by the Nobel laureate. It was his way of expressing his reservation against the principles of causality and the belief of nature’s objectivity. In a letter of March 9th, 1948 to Fierz he uses the Hornberger Schiessen analogy in connection with Scotus Eriugena’s philosophy to express the following argument:

Einstein defended the belief of nature’s objectivity with the famous statement “The moon is also there when nobody looks.”. In his letter Pauli tried to prove that in this manner “the fourth is cheated away” (“das Vierte wird weggemogelt”). The argumentation there is very condensed and not understandable without a lot of knowledge in modern epistemology. Therefore I will try to develop the argument in my own words:

Pauli states first that the fourth principle is the observer and distinguishes between his role in classical and in quantum physics.

In causal philosophy and classical physics, the observer is “detached". This means, that he is only a record keeper of the phenomenon; he is not really involved and therefore cannot influence it.

If a phenomenon is independent of any observer, it is objective. This is why the phenomenon is only an “effect” of “causes”; the “causes” alone guarantee the “existence of the phenomenon”. Thus the phenomenon is independent of its being recorded. Therefore the world functions causally or deterministically.

In contrast to this we have the opposite situation when one makes an observation in quantum physics, for here the fourth, the observer changes the phenomenon by the very act of his observation: he is a “creator by observation”. Like this he creates the paradox of the subject/object relation, which means that he [in the so-called act of measurement; RFR] creates a non-automatic (spontaneous; RFR) event, i.e., a quantum leap (explanation see below).

In classical physics, this non-automatic event is not possible. The fourth, the observer, does not really exist because he is only a record keeper of the events. Therefore no spontaneous event is obtained [no new creation; RFR], exactly as in Scotus Eriugena’s and in Platonic philosophy. Therefore classical physics and the belief of nature’s objectivity is a Hornberger Schiessen: “Alles geht ‚nach Hause’ und sagt, ‚es ist nichts gewesen damit. (Everyone goes home and says: Nothing happened).

This insight of Pauli has far-reaching consequences. In scientific observation, and especially in psychotherapy, the observer has the choice to behave as a recorder or as a participator. As a recorder he functions in accordance with the laws of classical science, as a participator he may function as a quantum physical observer. The latter means that he is able - by means we do not yet know - to observe a spontaneous change of the client's situation.


Chapter 4, part 3


See also further articles about Wolfgang Pauli in