The Philosopher’s Skin

“The Philosopher’s Skin”

painted on wild silk, which I batiked with a mixture of cherry juice, hawthorn berry juice, and salt. Both cherries and hawthorn are members of the Rosaceae (rose) family and like the rose flower itself, are used medicinally to treat heart ailments (metaphorically all human ailments are “heart” ailments, i.e., emotionally rooted).

The design itself is painted in spagyrically-prepared oak gall dye, meaning that I mixed the ashes of the incinerated oak galls into the dye to enrich it. The yellow accent is fustic plant dye.

The colors of the design represent the four stages of alchemy:

1) nigredo (blackness), which in psychological analogy represents depression or despair when confronted with a challenge or problem;

2) albedo (whiteness), the use of rational thought and analysis combined with intuition and inspiration to meet a challenge or transform a problem through positive action;

3) citrinitas (yellowness), the “dawning” of resolution or a solution created through positive thought and action;

4) rubedo (redness), a resolution or solution, which pales in comparison with having achieved victory over one’s self, one’s own weaknesses, which serve to create challenges and problems in the first place but can also inspire the character and methods to overcome them. This cherished victory of self-enlightenment is known in alchemy as the philosopher’s stone; cosmetically, I call it the philosopher’s skin.

The traditional alchemical symbol for rubedo is the phoenix bird.

The Philosopher’s Skin
– Mary Jo Magar –
Bereft of clarity of skin and mind,
The self perceives itself, in error, black,
While white is not hope but consummate lack,
Or memory, one bright beacon to find,
When health was strong and sure and life was kind,
Or was it? Or only so looking back
Because looking now, the mirror has cracked
From pain of red and revelation blind.
But this I promise: red of red heals pain;
Quintessence of blood, whole with grace and sin,
Is the color of will, born to inflame
With full bloom of self-love seeded within,
The rose-awakened heart, pure, perfect, plain,
Thence radiant, the philosopher’s skin.