The winged disc

Once upon a time we worshipped beneath this sovereign symbol of creation:

The red mandala is emblematic of cinnabar, the ore that lends its colour to the Vyapini and Muladhara chakras. Indeed, we try to mix male “knowing” and female “feeling” via these mirrored energy centres every day. Polarity as it relates to “as above, so below” means that this World Tree remains the balanced path to salvation.

Spreading from the disc are the green wings of Isis symbolising completeness. Unity is not the cause of duality or vice versa: wholeness and separation arise simultaneously. If we desire non-duality, then we only acknowledge duality—anytime we chase one polarity the opposite appears. This is the great mystery of the human heart.

Mathematically, π is both dynamic and static. In this sense it reminds us of the yin yang—the paradox of opposites within the whole or mercury within cinnabar. Today the Winged Disc still inspires corporate logos around the world that are associated with the yantra we sometimes call a wheel:

Car logos

The twin serpents can also represent Mercury. Hg embodies the qualities of rearing snakes in the name hydrargyrum or “water-silver”. Since mercury isn’t really a solid it lacks a crystal structure and technically isn’t a mineral but rather a mineraloid. Embodying both the solid and liquid states, mercury was therefore symbolic of unity as duality. With an atomic number of 80 it was often represented by a serpent. Mercury is the only metal for which the alchemical name remains the common name. In refined form, it resembles a mirror.

Above: cinnabar or mercury sulphide (HgS)

In the liquid crystal structure above the snakes are apparent. The primary mercury ore is cinnabar, which when heated readily decomposes leaving behind pure, metallic mercury which sinks to the bottom of the vessel. The richest mercury ores contain up to 2.5 per cent mercury by mass.

Cinnabar generally occurs within volcanic veins and alkaline hot springs. The mineral resembles quartz in symmetry because it exhibits birefringence. This is responsible for the phenomenon of double refraction whereby a ray of light is split by polarisation into two rays taking slightly different paths. Crystals with non-cubic structures are often birefringent.

To produce liquid mercury, crushed cinnabar ore is roasted in rotary furnaces. Pure mercury separates from sulfur in this process and easily evaporates. A condensing column is used to collect the liquid metal, which is most often shipped in iron flasks.

Once mercury is purified, it can dissolve metals such as gold and silver to form amalgams. Iron is an exception, and iron flasks have traditionally been used to trade mercury. Alchemists thought of mercury as the “First Matter” from which all metals were formed. In alchemy, this prima materia was the material otherwise known as the Philosopher’s Stone.