The Great Work

The language of alchemy is symbolism.

The esoteric wisdom of the universe can only be uncovered by working with it. Here we see the Veil of Isis at work. Once known as a great magician, her transformative power eclipsed that of all the other deities. The unconditional love of the Madonna then, was the goal of the Great Work in the Hermetic tradition.

Love also explains the union of Seshat and Thoth as the marriage of time and space. In some sense, these two gods are really cerebral reflections of each other. So in Metatron’s Cube the geometry of Seshat has seven circles that form a hexagon:

And the geometry of Thoth has 13 circles that form a hexagram:

Converting these two polygons to centred figurate numbers looks like this:

In the pattern above, we have 37 dots in the hexagon and 73 in the hexagram. Both these star numbers have extraordinary properties, but as reversible primes they are really mirror images of each other. Here we are reminded of a famous quote by Thoth:

As above, so below,
As within, so without,
As the universe, so the soul.

Taking another step, we are introduced to the secret ratio of 0.51 that binds these mirrored primes. The hexagon (female) and hexagram (male) fit together like lovers as the inverse of each other. Love blossoms between realities then, when time and space reflect this special ratio. As a centred pentagonal number, 51 can be expressed like this:

Spiritually, 51 refers to the quintessence. This “ether” is born from the Magnum Opus that prompts the sublimation of being. In other words, it symbolises immanence, or the divine principle manifested in the material world. This love then, is mirrored by a pentagonal figure called the Ankh:

Above: love, the key to life

At our most profound, we are made of love. This passion animates us like tiny fractals of the universe. As a symbol of this love, the pentagon governs the geometry of the human body. Because the Ankh is based on this pattern, it remains the key to eternal life. In other words, we must learn to resonate with this symbol in every breath we take.

Mythologically, Isis represents the divine love of creation. Once upon a time, her upraised wings bestowed the breath of life into the body of Osiris. The word spirit is derived from the French espirit, which comes from the Latin spiritus (soul, vigour, breath) and is related to spirare (to breathe). Inhaling through the nostrils “fed” the soul and this was known as the “breath of life”.

The Ankh was held to the nose in thousands of reliefs—the Egyptians figured out that breathing through the nostrils stimulated the olfactory nerve—this impulse is then passed on to the pineal gland via the hypothalamus. In conjunction with sacred mantras, retorted breathing lead to immortality.

Pranayama refers to breathing exercises which clear the physical and emotional obstacles in our body to free the breath and boost the flow of prana (life energy). Breathing through the nose warms, moistens and conditions incoming air. It also mixes the flow with nitric oxide (NO) that kills bacteria and works as a vasodilator on airways, arteries and capillaries. We uptake most of our oxygen during the exhale.

What’s more, the passage of air through the nostrils shifts in dominance every few hours. This means that during the day either the right or the left nostril becomes more open to receiving airflow than the other. Each nostril has a specific effect on the hypothalamic functions via the olfactory nerve—breathing through the right tends to activate the system; breathing through the left tends to calm it.

Indeed, the right nostril is the accelerator. Breathing this way speeds up circulation and increases temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. It also activates the sympathetic nervous system and feeds more blood to the left side of the brain which boosts our logical, analytical and rational sensibilities.

The left nostril is the brake and is more connected to the parasympathetic nervous system. This is a relaxing state that lowers temperature and blood pressure and reduces anxiety. The left nostril shifts blood flow to the right side of the brain which handles creativity, emotions and abstract thought.

So our bodies operate most efficiently in a state of balance, pivoting between action and relaxation, planning and daydreaming. As each side of the brain is stimulated in turn, oxygenated blood is regulated via the Circle of Willis. This is the Tree of Life within the brain that the Egyptians were referring to.

So what does alchemical breathing sound like? According to mystics, the optimal rhythm was every 11 seconds. This means 5.5 second inhales through the nose followed by 5.5 second exhales via the mouth. This works out to about 5.5 breaths a minute. Combined with a mantra, this coherence goes by another name: prayer.

Above: the Was, Ankh and Djed refer to power, breath and sound

Indeed, airflow oscillation produced by humming enhances sinus ventilation and thereby increase nasal NO levels. In fact, NO increases 15-fold during humming compared with quiet exhalation. In a two-compartment model of the nose and sinus, oscillating airflow caused a dramatic increase in gas exchange between the cavities.

NOSE = Nitric Oxide Sound Enrichment

A mantra is a word, sound or invocation used to aid concentration in meditation. When we chant these tones, the vibrations become a reality within our experience. Mantras are like melodies that can convey a longing for life, love and light. They are often uplifting and moving. In a final revelation, the Egyptian gods and temples were named and placed according to the sounds and sequence of the chakra system:

KAA—spirit

PTA—thought

MAA—truth

HAA—love

RAA—power

SOO—sex

AUM—creation

We can combine serpentine breathing with tracheal mantras to achieve immortality. The most important Egyptian goddess, Isis, was known as the “Queen of the Underworld” who brought forth life. As the archetype of fertility, her invocation was a sign of devotion:

Be conscious of your unconscious breath,
As you ebb and flow upon the waves.
Kneel beneath my winged throne,
Where each prayer is adoration
Of the infinite for the incarnate.