The alchemical dragon has been a symbol used by mystics for ages. The most iconic of these illustrations from the Theatrum chemicum Britannicum is the two headed dragon facing the sun and moon. It comes from page 212 at the end of the chapter called Liber Patris Sapientiae.
This Robert Vaughan illustration is one of many that were commissioned for the book. In it, we have a two headed dragon with its necks entangled but heading out in opposite directions. One head faces the sun while the other faces the moon. The dragon represents the process of alchemy. Symbolically, the dragon is action – making “it” happen. His drawing is masterfully executed earning it a place amongst the greatest alchemical illustrations.
This alchemical process is an action that is influenced by the opposing forces in nature. The Sun and the moon represent the opposing forces of heating and cooling. During the alchemical process, a substance is heated and cooled many times producing evaporation and condensation.
The sphere at the bottom is the elixir it stirs. It represents the cycle of transmutation in progress. The dragon sits atop it like a mother hen on an egg. This can also be seen as the world and the alchemical process transpiring within it.
I like to ponder the idea that the universe is an alchemical experiment. The intended outcome is pretty reliable. As parts of the experiment, we have a tendency to buy into the idea that the time we live in currently is the only one that matters and that we must be the culmination of the intentions of history. This could not be so based on the evidence of the culture around us. I find it helpful to think of the world as an alchemical process that is ever changing toward a positive outcome. The alchemical dragon serves as a reminder to me.
By the way, it also makes for a great t shirt: