Servus Fugitivus

In The Mystery of the Cathedrals by Fulcanelli, there is a photograph of a relief on the central porch of Notre Dame in Paris, which the author labels “The Queen Kicks Down Mercury, Servus Fugitivus.” Within the text he provides a more complete description of it: “… a queen seated on a throne kicks over the servant, who comes with a cup in his hand to offer her his services.” This could just as easily be a depiction of the goddess of the ancient world abusing her young husband, who was in reality her sex slave. “Servus Fugitivus” means “runaway slave.”

The Queen Kicks Down Mercury
The Queen Kicks Down Mercury

Matheus Franciscus Maria van den Berk wrote about this concept in his alchemical analysis of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. He said that Mercury was the “universal agent,” whose “blood” was used as a solvent to “wash” gold from out of the dross of other metals, and was also viewed as a coagulant that could unite elements to turn them into gold. Alchemists thought this was possible only because, in their view, Mercury contained within himself both lunar and solar essences, and was thus naturally hermaphroditic. Because of his work as a mediator, Mercury was viewed as a slave by alchemists, and was literally called a “Servator.” This is a term now used by ceremonial magicians to refer to demons that can be captured and bound to serve the master’s wishes, like the proverbial “genie in a bottle.”

Likewise, in keeping with Mercury’s reputation as a trickster god, alchemists were warned that the philosophic mercury needs to be somehow imprisoned or kept on a leash. As seventeenth century alchemist Eirenaeus Philalethes put it: “You must be very wary how you lead him, for if he can find an opportunity he will give you the slip, and leave you to a world of misfortune.” Mercury was described in terms very similar to that of the devil. This makes sense when you consider that the earlier Greek legends of this god as Hermes depict a man that was half-goat and looked very much like the modern conception of Satan. The admonition to alchemists about the importance of imprisoning Mercury could be a warning to trap the mercury vapors that are emitted during the chemical process, rather than breathing them in, which famously causes madness.

This was done via the “Vas Hermeticum,” or vase of Hermes, closed airtight, to prevent mercury leakage (which is the actual origin of the term “hermetically sealed.”) This was part of what was called “fixing” the Mercury, and this is the practical reason why Chronos is shown in the manuscripts chopping off Mercury’s feet: to prevent his escape. As Van den Berk notes, alchemy involves breaking these substances down into their base components, which he believes is the reason for the profusion of alchemical images depicting violent death and dismemberment. “The substance must fall apart completely, be smelted and die in order to be fertile again afterwards. Especially Mercury needed to be tortured.”

— Tracy R. Twyman, Money Grows on the Tree of Knowledge