”The Hermaphrodite [detail]” - Heinrich Khunrath’s “Amphitheater of Eternal Knowledge”
Here we get a sense of the bafflingly complex nature of these images. The figure of the hermaphrodite as a metaphor for the dualistic nature of the universe and the human body is a common one in alchemical imagery. Likewise, the sun and moon are frequently used to symbolize the male and female natures inherent in different elements (the sun is gold/male, the moon female/silver, etc.) The black peacock labelled “AZOTH” leads us deeper into Hermetic territory. Azoth was the hypothesized universal solvent, the “ultimate substance” which could transform all elements. Here it seems to be used to convey the union of male and female (and of all elements) which would allow the corporeal human form to transcend to a divine plane (note the symbol of the trinity above the peacock feathers, which resemble diagrams of the celestial spheres). To top it all off, the “O” in “Azoth” made out of John Dee’s “hieroglyphic monad”!