The Virgin’s Milk and Chyle
Alchemy has been a topic that I have circled for many years, now in my academic work, as well as in my explorations into spiritual practices around the world. Though alchemy today is often looked at as a pseudo-science of some crazed old men mixing dangerous metals to make elixirs to extend life or to make physical Gold, in my opinion, this seems to be far from the truth. The truth of the matter is that alchemy, like many other practices in life, are both physical and spiritual and operate on many different levels. Which for the most part, have nothing to do with turning physical metals into riches.
On one level, alchemy can be seen as the transmutation of the physical Lead into Gold. But in another sense, it can be the symbolic transmutation of the symbolic Lead of the soul into the symbolic Gold, which is beyond human understanding. Many spiritual and religious practices of today are based on these same ideas, and alchemy can be exampled from many different traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism (Yogic traditions), Chinese Taoism, and on and on. There are many books out there that explore each of these traditions from an alchemical perspective, as each in their way are paths to make the individual better, and encoding efficient practices in terms and words that are symbolic of their most authentic meaning.
Carl Jung is known for the intense attention given not only to eastern traditions but alchemy as a whole. Jung brought alchemy back into the mindset of Westerners due to his connection that alchemy was somehow this mental operation that allowed an individual to individuate. Though not seen on the surface of Jung’s collective works, with further investigation into Jung’s ideas, we can easily find other alchemical processes that make up most of Jung’s “original” ideas – including active imagination. After spending time on Jung’s work, I felt as though I had been provided a direction to find something that I had been searching for my entire life, yet something lacked. Jung perceived alchemy in terms of psychology but seemed to have missed the very physical aspects that alchemy describes.
Gorden James is an alchemist in the most authentic meaning, and has provided a new and meaningful glossary of essential terms on alchemy and takes alchemy one step further than Jung into its physical, spiritual, and psychological components. When investigating those terms, we fall onto James’ exploration into one of the critical terms of alchemy, which is described by its many names and symbols. Examples are Virgin’s Milk, Lac Virginis, or Semen Solare. James identifies this substance in its many forms, including the metaphysical, but also focuses on the physical structure which resides in each individual (1). James presents us with an interesting fact that these synonyms refer to the genuine and physical milky substance found in the human body, called chyle. Though I am open to ideas, I also like to verify the information I am presented, and for that reason, I sought out reverences to chyle to see if it is what James gives it credit to be.
My short investigation into chyle has led me to some places that I didn’t fully expect to arrive. Specifically, it brought me to the importance of our bodies of this strange substance that is rarely talked about and its association with alchemy as well as Chinese qigong, which is also a form of alchemy.
What is Chyle?
Chyle is a white milky substance that is found in the human body. The small intestine produces it through the collection of fats through tiny blood vessels called lymphatic capillaries. Chyle contains chylomicrons, which is also known as ultra-low-density lipoproteins (ULDL) consisting of cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids. ULDL allows for the transport of these proteins and cholesterol to different areas of the body.
Naturally, if chyle is produced in excess quantities, it is passed in the bile and into fecal matter. James gives us a direct quote from The Root of The World by Bacon, Friar Roger, which describes the alchemical chyle as something
“…cast out upon the dunghill as a vile thing, and is hidden from the eyes or understandings of ignorant men. Also, in Libro Speculi Alchemiae, it is said, our stone is a thing rejected but found in dunghills (i.e., in putrefaction, or the matter being putrefied) containing in itself the four elements, over which it triumphs, and is certainly to be perfected by human industry.”
We can easily see that this description at least matches the end process of chyle if the body does not use it.
Chyle is vital in the development of red blood cells as chyle also contains chyle corpuscles, which eventually turn into red blood cells (5). In alchemy, often, this white milky substance that is a reference to is also related to semen hence semen solare. Oddly enough, chyle turns into red blood cells, which eventually turns into bone marrow and marrow turns into sperm. If that is too far of a stretch for you, chyle also contains lymph, which is described as shaped similar to sperm and is an integral part of the functioning of the lymphatic system. We can find the explanation of chyle in the cycle of semen from the words of Swami Sivananda
“Rasad raktam tato mamsam mamsanmedah prajayate, medasosthi tatomajja, majja shukrasya sambhavah—From food comes juice or chyle; from chyle, blood; from blood, flesh; from flesh, fat; from fat, bones; from bones, marrow; and lastly from marrow, semen” (3).
Chyle and the Black Dragon
As discussed previously, chyles made in the winding and curving tunnel, which is the small intestines, but how does this production of chyle line up with the alchemical imagery of the black dragon? James gives us an additional commentary on the subject:
“the initial process has its beginning rooted within the Black Dragon, representing the human intestines since they are coiled like a serpentine dragon inside the darkness of the body cavity (cave). An alchemist extracts a vital essence from the intestines, more accurately the small intestines, eventually to produce the Flowers of the Wise.” (7)
The Flowers of the Wise in this note is a reference to kundalini, which is one of the elements described in the Great Works.
We can see in this description as well as many other images references to the Magnum Opus that the source of this vital energy is stored in a substance created from the lower regions of the human body (the cave) and is a winding and twisting structure that is alive and powerful. In an alchmical image from the famous Ripley Scrowle we are often provided an image of a glass like vessel with the vessel overlaying the aspirant. Additionally in the images the base of the vessle is located at the base of the human body and a fire is heating the vessel and all the elements in it.
Cleaning the Body
In alchemy, the reference to minerals and metals as a means to transmuting the individual is common. The reference in terms of alchemy is twofold. For anyone who is understanding of the hermetic principles, we can understand that the alchemists are referring to both physical and psychological (imaginative) metals, which have to be cleansed. In reference to chyle and the lymphatic system, the entire purpose of the lymphatic system is to clean the body of toxins and minerals.
If we are to look at the system in which chyle is moved around the body, we find another interesting link to Chinese alchemy. Chyle is first developed in the small intestines, then moved up into the thoracic cavity near the diaphragm, and then up into the thoracic duct near the neck into the left side. If we look at the process of Chinese qigong and the breathing/meditation practices, we find a similar location to where Qi is stored and exchanged.
Chyle in Qigong
The lower dan tien is located in the small intestinal region, the false dan tien is the human stomach, the middle dan tien is near the diaphragm, and the upper dan tien is in the brain. If we follow the practice closely, we find that Qigong practitioners advise us to breath in air while sucking in the perineum focusing on the qi filling into our lungs (though prana in the air mixing with the qi in our bodies), holding the breath at that point, and then while breathing out, pushing out on the perineum while focusing on the qi flowing to our brain and then keeping it in that position for some time. A 4-4-4-4 (square) breathing method is referenced here and is explored by many spiritual practices. In qigong the false dan tien is referenced here and is not part of the chyle process because it contains the human stomach, which is the source of additionally stored qi and is converted into fat when fasting. Fat is filled with toxins, and when converted to chyle also needs to be cleaned by the body to be used properly.
The question could be asked how do visualizations help the movement of qi or, in this case, chyle around the human body? Recently links have been found to show that the lymphatic system is connected to the human brain and that the brain itself can modify the immune system (6). The research doesn’t go into visual techniques and their effectiveness in adjusting the flow of chyle. Still, it seems plausible that visualizing does affect the physical bodies’ response to lymph and chyle movement. There has been research done to show that visualization practices do affect blood flow through the cardiovascular system, and both systems are made up of the same delivery methods.
Additionally, it was previously thought impossible that the brain could have an effect or could be affected by the lymphatic system as the brain-body connection was unknown, unlike the relationship between the brain and the cardiovascular system. A recent study has shown that the brain does have a link to the lymphatic system and that not only does it have the ability to modulate the immunes system response, that the effectiveness of small intestines and the overall health of the human brain are directly connected. Not only that, but it has been suggested that chyle is connected to cerebrospinal fluid though not much research has been done to show the connection (4).
The Alchemical Conclusion
From reviewing all this information in a short amount of time, it’s easy to see that chyle is most likely the substance or related to the material that is referred to as semen solare by the alchemist as well as part of the process in qigong and other spiritual practices. Here brings to light the more physical importance of keeping the body clean, both mentally and physically, so that successful cleansing can take place. If we summarize this process, we see that the substance is moved from the lower intestines into the lungs, where it is charged up with oxygen, which is considered essential in producing qi and then pushed up into the brain. The result of this process over time is necessary for cleaning the human body from ailments, possibly extending life over its 100 years (considered the age of immortality), and eventually producing The Phosphors Stone. Through visualization practices, closing the vessel in combination with symbolic meditation and prayer, the individual is moved forward in practice. James also clearly informs us of this process by saying:
“Semen solare is not the seminal fluid from the sex glands as many have erroneously speculated. It is the Virgin’s Milk, chyle. For chyle is truly Seed of the Sun, pure solar energy that runs the human organism. The ‘copulation’ of this substance with other essences from glands and organs under the metals inside the body of an alchemist manufactures the Stone of the Wise, also inside the physical body. Semen solare sums to 112 by Latin gematria. Each, Lac Virginis (the Virgin’s Milk) and Prima Materia (the First Matter) share number value 112. After a little thought, the obvious conclusions are most profound.”(1)
As I continue my investigation into alchemy, I continue to be astonished by the real-world applications that the practice has in store for us. The foundation of the practice is practical in that it improves not only our health overall, but gives another viewpoint into the processes of the human body which science and research have hardly grasped or begun to research. These practices also show that spirituality isn’t purely mental but is based on a holistic process that requires the full commitment of the totality of a human being to complete the task. Focusing on one aspect may produce positive results, but with discipline, we can encompass all areas of the body (including mind) to improve the results.
I encourage you to look into this subject yourself and begin to explore the more physical and psychological/spiritual elements of alchemy to learn for yourself what the Hermes of our past meant by transmutation.
Lee Adams is a Ph.D. candidate in Jungian Psychology and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute and host of Cosmic Echo, a lucid dreaming podcast, and creator of taileaters.com, an online community of lucid dreamers and psychonauts. Lee has been actively researching, practicing, and teaching lucid dreaming for over twenty years.
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