Maria Prophetess In Alchemy, one of the early and most esteemed Hellenistic alchemists. Maria Prophetess is also known as Maria the Jewess, Maria the Hebrew, Maria Hebraea, and Mary the Prophetess.
Little is known about the life of Maria Prophetess. She lived prior to ZOSIMUS, who lived in Hellenistic Egypt in about 300 C.E.; he quotes her as an Adept extensively in his own writings. It is not known where she was born, exactly where she resided, or how she acquired her alchemical wisdom. In medieval times she was associated with Miriam, the sister of Moses. In Arabic lore, she is called Mariya al-Qibityya, or Maria the Copt; “Maria the Sage, daughter of the king of Saba;” and also “the matron Maria Sicula.” ARNOLD DE VILLANOVA called her “the daughter of Pluto.” MICHAEL MAIER debated whether or not she was a fictitious person but concluded that she was genuine and was not the sister of Moses but another Jewish woman who possessed great knowledge. An early father of the church, Epiphanus (circa 315–402), cited two works by Maria called Great Questions and Small Questions, of which he was critical. Small Questions relates a vision Maria allegedly had of Jesus in which he produced a woman from his side, had intercourse with her, and explained to Maria that this transfer of semen was necessary for things to live.
According to medieval lore, Maria said that the secrets of alchemy were revealed to her by God; the title prophetessa was appended to her name in about the early 16th century. Her most significant teachings are in a manuscript entitled Dialog of Maria and Aros, published in the late 16th century as a Latin translation of an Arabic work, which may in turn have been translated from a Greek original. Aros, a fictitious philosopher, comes to Maria to learn the secrets of the Great Work.
Maria is credited with inventing several alchemical apparatuses—whether she actually invented them or merely popularized them is not known. The best known of these is the balneum Mariae, a water BATH. The apparatus is a double vessel. The outer vessel is filled with water and the inner vessel contains whatever substance to be heated to a moderate degree by the surrounding hot water. Maria also gave the earliest description of a still, as well as a more complex alchemical still called a tribikos, made of copper.
Maria gave a formula for making the Philosopher’s Stone and was credited with inventing various alchemical procedures. She held that all things in nature are one, and she authored axioms about this fundamental concept of alchemy. The most famous axiom is “One becomes two, two becomes three, and by means of the third and fourth achieves unity; thus two are but one.” CARL G. JUNG read a Christian interpretation into this axiom, saying that the even Numbers represent the feminine principle, the earth and evil, which are interwoven with the uneven numbers of Christian dogma.
- Patai, Raphael. The Jewish Alchemists. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.
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