Copper

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


COPPER


Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. Only the dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.

PARACELSUS

 In the Iron Age ancient Greeks spoke of an earlier time when I men used weapons wrought from copper, "for black iron was JL not". They wondered at the temerity of those primitive people who sought to make their mark in the world with tools of such a soft and yielding nature. The metal seems better suited to ornament than conquest. A copper sickle will harvest wheat no faster nor more easily than one of stone, and if it has been unduly hammered, it will fracture long before the crop is in. Who upon the battlefield could have withstood the stone missiles hurled by slings, the sharp obsidian points? What copper sword could have saved the day and cut the marauders before the gate? More likely, the day would have been lost, and the burnished sword and shield buried in the rubble with primitive hopes and bones.

 But the dimensions of primitive dreams were greater than mere conquest and exultation in brute force. The Hellenic concept of barbarism notwithstanding, and long before the Greeks honoured Aphrodite with copper offerings, they recognized the lovely metal as sacred to her androgynous prototype. At middle eastern sites which flourished as urban centres in the eighth century before the Christian era, beads and pendants, pins and reamers, embraced skeletal remains or were scattered amongst the utensils and fragments of neolithic life. These were cold-hammered, cut with a chisel, and rolled into fanciful and often beautiful shapes of nature goddesses and ornaments for long black hair. Graceful bowls and effigy pots still bear the hammer marks where they were patiently struck by an artisan until their sides had become thin and delicately curved. Cleansed of their soft green patina, such treasures glow with a warmly diffused flame and bespeak a developed aesthetic awareness and refined artistic sensibility.

 Copper was taken from early mines on the island of Cyprus, which gave the name cuprum, and later, koparr, to the metal. It was picked up easily just beneath the surface of the earth here and in other parts of the Old and New Worlds. Native metal was first used just as stones had always been used, but this method gave way to cold-hammering, which was easily done, though it was soon recognized that too much hammering made the metal brittle and caused fractures. To make it malleable again, fire was used to bring the copper to a red-hot heat. It was also noticed that when green or blue malachite was used to decorate pottery which was then placed in a kiln, the mineral was reduced to copper. One may imagine a series of such discoveries leading to the knowledge that ores of various sorts could be rendered into fluidic copper, which could be easily shaped into ornaments and tools. But one may also imagine the offerings of beads and copper chalices placed before the flame at the feet of Ishtar or Isis – their burnished splendour softening with the heat, their curved shapes flowing into a reddish pool of sacrifice. Their substance flows and gathers before the goddess, whose brilliant fire has unlocked them from their confines and revealed their plastic potential. Perhaps it is the gods who show the way and lead man towards a greater involvement in the exploration of powers found outside himself.

 The wood of wild pistachio trees in Anatolia, Persia and Afghanistan provided high quality charcoal used in early metallurgy. Crucibles in late Halafian sites bear witness to smelting and the casting of copper in moulds. The jewellery and handicraft of the earlier chalcolithic (copper) age were joined by weapons and more workaday utensils, and eventually rough-work implements for agricultural purposes were fashioned at Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Uruk and Ur. In the New World, copper pits were dug at Lake Superior where knives, awls and chisels were forged and occasionally cast. The Indians identified the metal with the sun and hammered circular discs which they wore as powerful and protective talismans upon their breasts. Reflecting a molten red fire, they shone forth with heart-light in response to the solar disc above. The Inca made beautiful T-shaped axes of copper, following exactly the original stone design, which continued in use. Looking very much like axes found in Egypt and China, they accompanied a myriad of tools, including fine surgical instruments, tweezers and flutes.

 In the Old World and the New, copper was valued as beautiful and wonderfully malleable. It diffused more rapidly than the technological knowledge that eventually grew up around it. It encouraged trading and the expansion of a merchant class even before the inevitable rise of specialists who perfected the arts of smelting and casting. The simplest mode of casting is one which uses open moulds made of steatite or sandstone. Closed moulds were made with hollow or solid cores and fashioned out of two pieces of clay or stone. The most fascinating and refined method is that known as cire perdue or the lost wax method used for casting complex shapes. Of several steps required, the first involves the preparation of a clay core. A wax model is made over this which, after it has hardened, is covered with clay which is fashioned with two holes at the bottom to serve as an inlet and outlet for the molten metal. When dry and hardened, the mould is upturned and filled with this molten metal, and the liquified wax and excess are allowed to flow through the outlet hole. When cool and hard, the mould is broken, revealing a potentially beautiful and finely crafted figure of copper or bronze. Specialists who mastered these difficult procedures became influential individuals, much sought after and capable of divorcing themselves from the agricultural labours pursued by their fellows.

 Mankind in this phase of human existence has experienced a Golden, Silver, Copper, Bronze and Iron Age. Some would contend that the Copper and Bronze Ages are really one, and that copper alloyed to tin came so quickly to dominate over unalloyed copper that the term 'chalcolithic' is actually redundant. It should not be overlooked, however, that one of the most important aspects of man's early use of copper was the effect that the substance had upon man's perception of himself and his potential creative powers. The hallmark of copper is its malleability and fusibility. It can be cast into forms of any size and any plastic shape, and its pieces can be easily welded together. It can be made liquid and thereby transformed dramatically from its original condition as ore. Clay does not have this potential. Clay can be moulded and fired, but the form and texture become fixed. The recognition that a tough red metal could be derived from heating green crystalline stones marks the beginning of chemistry. It also shows a continuity which underlies such transformations and an appreciation of their practical significance. Man's imagination was aroused to contemplate means for their control, demanding a power of inference and synthesis far beyond that required in the more pastoral craft of the potter. Later men would utilize the superb power of electrical conductivity possessed by copper, but it was its malleability that first opened up new intellectual and technological dimensions.

 A sudden efflorescence in metal craft accompanied the revolutionary social changes involved in the early process of urbanization. The use of metal tools does not depend on technology alone; a community must have social surplus and specialists as well as economic efficiency. Knowledge of techniques and their roles in various industries go hand in hand in what really constitutes a metal age. The three or four thousand years of the Copper-Bronze Age witnessed the emergence of what we call civilization. All the vital elements of modern culture are rooted in this age. With man's exploding awareness of greater abilities to mould and transform his environment, he began to experience a major shift in collective consciousness, involving a giant step forward in the business of experiencing himself as an actor acting upon and wielding the powers of Nature. Certainly people continued to pay homage to the goddess of Nature, and as Aphrodite she reigned as patroness over the copper mines in Cypress. But it was a beginning in the long journey that would bring human beings to the point where technology became a cipher, multiplying and dividing the complexities of psychological and social life.

 In the periodic classification of the elements, copper lies between nickel and zinc within the subgroup of copper, silver and gold. It is an excellent conductor of electricity and heat, and, when dissolved with nitric acid or ammonia, it yields a deep azure solution. This transformation is the opposite effect of that produced when deep blue pigment is rubbed to produce a copper lustre. Copper is easily alloyed with tin to produce bronze, and with tin, zinc or other base metals to produce brass. The pre-Columbian Indians of South America made a specialty of altering the colour of a copper and gold alloy by means of redeeming the copper from the surface with a vegetable acid so as to leave the golden colour. They also experimented with a certain ratio of tin added to copper, resulting in an attractive gilded effect. The Inca used many combinations of metals, calling pure copper puca anta, bronze chacrusca anta, copper alloyed with gold anta curi. They mined tin at Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and were well acquainted with the qualities of bronze by the time the Spaniards came. In Europe traders from Ilium had introduced alloys of copper and tin into what are now known as Bohemia, Vienna, Spain and Portugal. It was only after 1900 B.C. that such metals made their way from the Iberian cultures to those of Ireland and England, where they engendered a latter-day Bronze Age.

 Copper proteins are widely distributed in nature, playing an important part in the balance of elements. The copper burden in the earth's lithosphere is less than one-half the amount of fossil fuels. Most of the copper aerosols in the atmosphere are released over the land masses of the globe, whilst the ocean collects the rest. There is a steady increase of copper down to the sea floor, indicating a regeneration from the sedimentary bottoms. The total mining production since the time when man first became interested in using copper has been estimated at three hundred and seven million tons, and roughly eighty percent of this has been taken up in the twentieth century.

 As with the globe, the body of man, the microcosm, contains trace copper in all of its tissues. It assists in the formation of haemoglobin and red blood cells by facilitating the absorption of iron. It is also present in many enzymes that build up or break down body tissue, and it aids in the conversion of the amino-acid tyrosine into dark pigment, colouring hair and skin. Copper helps the body to oxidize vitamin C, and it works with C to form elastin, which is the chief component of elastic muscle fibres. It is also necessary for the production of RNA, so critical in the processes of meiosis and mitosis. In all these functions copper manifests the qualities of malleability, transformation and conductivity. Whilst in modern times more is known about the physiological function of copper in the human body, the therapeutic uses of the metal have been enthusiastically praised for over five thousand years. In their offerings to Aphrodite the early Greeks made the connection between the nature goddess and their own physical well-being. They used the sacred metal as an antiseptic for healing wounds and sterilizing water. The Egyptians and Greeks pulverized copper for treatment of trachoma and wore rings and bracelets of it for the cure of gout or rheumatism. In modern times it is considered useful in allaying or curing similar diseases, including tuberculosis. One of its less typical applications, however, frustrates the natural flow of fertility in human beings. As Paracelsus said: "Only the dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy", and excessive presence of copper serves to work in opposition to the nature goddesses of old.

 This is the result of excessive tampering with natural cycles, something man has increasingly engaged in since early chalcolithic times. It is a parallel to the enormous removal of copper from the lithosphere for the purpose of artifacts, resulting in the locking of metal into forms not easily recycled through the vast natural distribution patterns that fluctuate in the living earth, ocean and atmosphere. The whole meaning behind the symbol of copper has to do with malleability, fusibility and ductility. Somehow humanity has understood how to work with the metal in harmony with its nature, but not how to use it as a means of evolving better human relations or conducting higher spiritual energy between peoples everywhere. Copper, though smelted and cast in extraordinary and varied forms, is locked into these forms. Poisonous excesses contaminate mankind biologically and spiritually. Deprivation results in psychological and metabolic log-jams which need to be swept aside in order to move in step with the flexible nature of the Aquarian Age.

 Aphrodite, Ishtar, Isis-Hathor or Io – they are all aspects of the same sacred spirit watching over the earth, so beautifully typified by Venus, who gives to her adopted offspring one-third of the light she receives from the sun. Venus is Freyja, whose sacred day is Friday, and her beneficence manifests in the earth through the soft glow of copper. This is her gift which has played such a crucial role in quickening human consciousness. Dissolve her metal and one obtains an indigo fluid, the colour of which is symbolic of the higher mind. Rub the indigo and a copper lustre reminds one of the great love exemplified by Venus. In her Nordic guise Venus as Freyja was worshipped by the Valkyries, who were so eager to become brides of the heroes and gods. As Frigg, she was the wife of Odin and queen of heaven, draped in the indigo of the Cosmic Sea. Indeed, Venus is the personified sea and mother of the god of love. She is Lakshmi and Stella del Mare as well as "the most occult, powerful and mysterious of all the planets".

 The Egyptians believed that Venus nourished the divine spark in man, which was Osiris (the bound or mummified Sun), so that it would become a flame capable of rising like the morning star. This Venus, or Isis-Hathor, is the same as the Babylonian Ishtar, the goddess who begot mankind. It was believed that Ishtar entered into the underworld and passed through all of its seven gates. At each portal she was divested of her crown, jewels and finally even her garments, until she stood naked in front of Allat, the queen of Hades, who inflicted upon Ishtar the diseases of each part of the body. But Ea commanded her release, and her mission ended successfully. This wonderful myth describes the fall of Venus (Virgo) into the pit, the descent of the human soul by even stages into the bondage of matter. Losing its divine powers one by one, the soul is corrupted by mental and physical diseases until it finally receives the aid of the higher divine will. The human Ego develops its consciousness fully at these portals, learning to control the bodies which it constructs from them and to use them effectively as vehicles, so that they may not only serve as bridges to carry impressions from outside to the soul, but can also enable that soul to express itself on their several planes through their instrumentality. At the last portal the soul receives the Aquarian crown of unconditional Divine Love and no longer suffers the rigidity and blockages created by the lower principles.

 The principle most likely to create rigidity is that of kama manas or the lower, personal mind of man. Venus in her fall spans the realms of the higher and lower. Just as she is both the morning and evening star, so also she and her sacred copper are symbolic of the dual mind. The Egyptians thought that Isis-Hathor rose from the green malachite lakes to preside over the malachite mines which yielded copper ore. Thus, the goddess rose out of the green of the lower mind and took her station by the copper yield associated with the indigo of the higher mind. Indigo represents an intensification of the colour of heaven and the upward tendency of Manas as it merges with Buddhi to become the true hermaphroditic god. On the way to this merger of indigo and golden yellow, green is encountered. It is the raw ore or the patina of the mind principle which must be heated and cleansed in order to enable it to express its deeper potential.

 The fall of Venus can be understood in terms of the Great War in Heaven depicted in the Puranas where Shukra (Venus), son of Bhrigu (one of the Prajapatis), took an active role in defending Soma (regent of the visible moon) against Brihaspati (Jupiter) and the gods. Jupiter is associated with tin, which, alloyed with copper, ushered in the Bronze Age, wherein so many psychological and social forms developed to become the basis of modern civilization with all its formal structures and exoteric concerns. Bronze actually symbolizes a fusion of the lower mind with even baser principles, and, beautiful though its forms might be, it acted as a critical step leading to the Iron Age of Kali Yuga. Soma is the mysterious god of the mystical in man and nature and becomes the parent of Buddha, who is Mercury-Hermes, the messenger of the Spiritual Sun. Thus, Venus has a key role in breaking the mould which separated the gods from mankind below and reduced the spiritual quest to exoteric ritualism. In order to do this, Venus-Shukra falls, taking on the form of raw ore and merging with the baser metals of the world. But she-he rises to reflect the pure golden fire of the Divine Solar Source, which never falls or changes position in the still centre of the universe.

 In esoteric philosophy Venus is hermaphroditic, a blending of Hermes and Aphrodite. She-He was personified in the Third Race of humanity which descended, it is said, through Shukra. Like copper, Venus is part of the same subgroup combining gold and silver, the sun and the moon. As Shukra, the hermaphroditic Logos, Venus bridges the gap between the pure gold of Spiritual Light and the mystical spark in man and nature. Suffused with the reddish fire of the sacrificial heart, Shukra is ready to assist in the battle against inflexibility and separatism. Like molten copper capable of flowing in and out of any and all forms, capable of conducting the most intense heat and Divine Electricity, Venus pours forth the fusing power which can join the lower to the higher and bathe the whole in a beautiful burnished reflection of the sun. Copper is the pure manifestation of this power, which can enable humanity to absorb the effects of the Iron Age and move on, break up structures and build new forms, and thus strengthen the elasticity of the mind as it moves rapidly through the world of effects, culling out the essential germs. Accepting great heat, letting go and flowing, copper, like Venus, strives to become the bride of the highest Logos. Through the selfless release of her glowing love, she is ever malleable and ever capable of acting as a conductor of the pure Spiritual Light of her god. Thus, she merges with him, copper blended into gold, surrounded by a mystical silver aura. The great journey through all of the ages, the portals of divestment and of the acquisition of great arts and powers, has come round full circle. All is pure and ever flowing. All is functioning in perfect harmony in service of the Divine. The hammer is gone, the wax has fled, the mould is broken and the goddess of fair Cyprian groves is one with Lohitanga, her Fiery Lord.

O Bright Ishtar!
Thy heart is afire,
Beaming from thy indigo robes.
Its warmth flows towards me,
Healing and quickening,
Releasing the Spirit within.