Gloria Orenstein Links

return to main page


By Gloria Feman Orenstein1

Leonora Carrington’s painting THE CHRYSOPEIA OF MARY THE JEWESS (1964) is a visual conundrum like so many of her other works. This is, in part, because her images and symbols can be read in multiple ways, yielding diverse layers of interpretation. While on the surface an overt narrative is displayed, minor figures and symbol complexes often carry hidden meanings, which enrich, qualify, and complicate the meaning by creating a variety of sub-texts. I have selected this painting for its unique subject matter. This is obviously a very rare artistic depiction of a Jewish female Alchemist in all of western art history.

It was through this painting that I first came to learn about Mary the Jewess, the historical subject of the work. Thus, I will begin with a few words about who she was historically, and what her contribution was to our knowledge of alchemy and it processes. Naturally, Leonora Carrington’s representation of her incorporates many dimensions of analysis and interpretation that stray far afield from the historical facts. Nontheless, Leonora was familiar with these facts, too, and knowing them will assist us in understanding the highly original ways in which her art enables us “see through” conventional history in order to envision a mythic, Carringtonian truth, that ultimately enlarges the scope of our perception.

Maria Prophetissa, as she was known, was a key figure in Hellenistic Alchemy. “She was responsible for innovations in the apparatus in the adepts’ laboratory. She is credited with inventing the “tribikos” and seems to have used the “kerotakis”. She was famous for her mystical cry or exclamation: “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth .”

“Maria may have originated the whole idea of a color sequence in ancient alchemy: there being four colors to represent stages in Hellenistic times.”2 Maria seems to have excelled in both the mystical philosophical or gnostic approach to Alchemy as well as the experimental aspect or the laboratory science approach to Alchemy. The famous “bain marie” is attributed to Maria’s laboratory science approach to alchemical experimentation. Referred to as a “prophetess”, we are led to assume that she was, in some ways, viewed as a mystical and religious teacher. It is possible that since Alchemy in the west has been associated with the Cabbala, that Maria may have had a knowledge of the Cabbala as well. Later we will examine the way in which Leonora Carrington depicts Maria’s knowledge of both Alchemy and Cabbala.

The first source of our knowledge about Maria is Zosimos, a Greek alchemical author from Hellenistic Egypt, circa 300 c.e. Zosimos informs us that Maria invented many ovens and vessels for cooking and distilling the alchemical elements, and it is undoubtedly the combination of both cooking and mysticism that Leonora Carrington identified with when she chose to depict Mary the Jewess.

We also know that Leonora’s husband, Chiki Weiss, is a Jewish survivor (orphan) of the Shoah,3 and that her two sons, Gaby and Pablo, have chosen to identify as Jewish. Thus, it follows that as an artist with a mystical vision, who has always connected her painting with culinary alchemy (as she uses egg tempera made from very fresh eggs, and sees art as food for the eyes in the way that vegetables are food for the mouth),… and as a war survivor, herself, married to a Jewish child--survivor of the Holocaust, Leonora would be interested in the example of a Jewish woman who connected her own mystical art, Alchemy, with the science of cooking. Both food, and art, enter the body—the eyes and the mouth, and then actually work to transform the being who has ingested them. In that sense they are similar to Alchemy, for they both chemically transform the person who has prepared them. The Artist, the Alchemist, the Cook are all affected and changed, themselves, by the processes involved in performing their arts.

Having elaborated upon the identity of Mary the Jewess and the connection between cooking and alchemy, we might expect that some of these themes or their iconic depiction and symbology would be immediately evident as we view the painting. But this is not the case because the imagery and symbolism relating to cooking, alchemy and mysticism are veiled in a language of disguises, dual meanings, and specific signs that we will first have to decipher in order to interpret the allegorical narratives underlying the surface appearance of the work. We must take into consideration that its title prepares us for an Alchemical Tractate, for that is what a Chrysopeia is. Alchemical tractates were always composed using systems of visual symbols that created allegorical narratives. This is true of Leonora’s Chrysopeia as well. It is the Alchemical Tractate that she imagines Mary the Jewess’ alchemical formula would be for the chemical transmutation of brute matter into gold. While that is the overt text of alchemical chemistry, its subtext is always the spiritual enlightenment of the human soul of the Alchemist and of all involved in the process.

Typically, the visual vocabulary of alchemical tractates included symbols of the sun and the moon, mercury and suphur, male and female, the athanor (oven) and the colors of the phases of the processes of transformation. If we expected to find any of these familiar symbols foregrounded in her painting, we would be in for quite a surprise. Here, instead, we find depicted a mystical rite performed by the woman Alchemist, Mary the Jewess. The familiar symbols of Alchemy seem to be hidden except for the Athanor—the insect-like, space-craft looking edifice. The Alchemist’s name is Mary, which suggests the Nativity, and indeed, as we shall see, this painting is based upon a Nativity scene in which Mary is performing her own kind of Alchemy, a combination of alchemical, shamanistic, cabbalistic and white witchcraft techniques with just a pinch of Jewish folk magic added in order to protect her offspring. Our Alchemist, Mary, is wearing the costume of a male lion. Here, then, is another important alchemical symbol—the marriage of the male and the female. In this case it takes place within the Alchemist, herself, as she becomes a female human and a male Lion. Her face and breasts are those of a female human, but her body beneath the breasts is that of a male Lion. Her breasts are exposed much like in the iconography associated with the Cretan or Minoan Goddess, who brandished the serpents with her arms uplifted.

When I spoke of the painting being a conundrum, I was referring to the complex hieroglyphs that Leonora creates in her depiction of the personae in this Nativity narrative of which Mary is the protagonist. Let us take Mary as an example. She is a female in a male animal costume. She is also an icon of a Goddess from a non-patriarchal culture. Beyond that, she is , as well, a historical Jewish woman Alchemist.


What suggests that this painting makes reference to the Christian Nativity scene is the fact that we immediately perceive The Three Wise Men behind Mary, as well as two baby animals, one a tiny Lion King, and one a serpentine ermine (a symbol connected with the Goddess linked to the ermine of nobility) on the ground in front of Mary. The Wise Men or Kings are wearing fur outfits with fur hats, some conical in shape. The conical hats identify them as Jews, for this has become part of standard anti-semitic iconography in which the conic hat indicated that the Jew was hiding his horns (associated with the Devil). I shall have more to say about the horns later, as well as about how in this case the horns are not used as anti-semitic symbolism, but rather to identify these Jews with other persecuted peoples associated with horns such as the women burned as witches (their Horned God) and the Celts (their horned deities). These wise onlookers seem riveted to the spot as they observe the Alchemical performance of Mary. This Mary, the Alchemist, a Jewish woman, has taken her power back from the males, who, in traditional Judaism are usually the ones empowered to perform sacred rituals. Here she is the Woman of Power who performs the sacred ritual instead of the men. They simply stand behind her and observe her the way women formerly observed men performing sacred rites.

In front of Mary and on the bottom right of the painting are three mini old people. The one on the right is hunched over, and has a long beard. On his back are angel wings, and he carries two chickens on his arm. The middle one has horns and a high cone-shaped hat, which could also be a hat in the form of a stupa, possibly the kind that is found on temples in S.E. Asia and Tibet. The first one, on the left of the threesome seems to be a monk with the face of a monkey. These three mini folk seem to be the reverse of the tall patriarchs. These mini folk are involved in the magical rites performed by Mary the Jewess. Jews, for example, have often used chickens to purify a space. The chicken absorbs the negative energy. At the feet of these three mini people we see energy forms swirling about—perhaps being dissolved by the outstretched arm of the horned man and the chickens carried by the bearded man. One interpretation of this mini trinity is that they are all connected with the community of the exiles that Leonora creates (of the Jews, the Tibetans, the Celts, and the animal god and goddess cultures). The name given to the community that is in exile in the Cabbala is the Shekinah, also known as the feminine aspect of God. In Leonora’s vision, those in exile are the sacred animal gods, the Tibetans, the ancient Goddess-worshipping peoples like the Minoans, the Jews, and the madwomen and men, here all reconnected by the ceremony that this female Alchemist is performing . In my interpretation, as we shall see, Mary is engaged in this specific alchemical practice in order to undue the negativity of the reigning racist (Nazi), patriarchal order from which they are all outcasts. (More on this later).

In my vision of this Nativity scene, the future King, or the Messiah, is the mini Lion King at the foot of the painting. My interpretation, in this case, is related to knowledge of Cabbala, where God is imaged as the King, and the feminine aspect of God’s full identity, the Shekinah, is identified with the sacred community of Israel, that is in exile. In this case, Leonora’s sacred community includes both the Jews and other exiled cultures. We shall turn to an expanded discussion of the Cabbala in the fourth section. This new birth is being protected by Mary the Jewess (actually, The Virgin Mary was a Jewess, too, which permits us to see the two Marys, Maria Prophetissa and The Virgin Mary, superimposed upon each other). Mary, the three mini wise men and all the energies issuing forth from Mary’s outstretched hand are creating a wall of white light protection that draws all attention away from the baby King, or, in my interpretation the future Messiah. She makes it impossible or at least extremely difficult for the spirit entities flying around and climbing over the wall (etc.) to see the vulnerable baby. In Jewish folklore, one does many things to protect babies from The Evil Eye and from attacks by negative spirits. Mary’s breasts are bared, perhaps not only because she is an icon of the Cretan Goddess, but also because she may have been suckling her child, the baby Lion King.

Why is everyone costumed in fur? Why is Mary wearing the Lion’s costume? Or is she partially a Lion? I will suggest a few interpretations, and leave the rest to the imagination of the viewer.

On the one hand, Leonora has always told me, personally, that she wished she had been an animal rather than a human. She feels that animals are superior to humans…that animals have not destroyed the planet as humans have done. At the end of her novel THE HEARING TRUMPET, Carrington envisages a superior future: “After I die Anubeth’s werecubs will continue the document, till the planet is peopled with cats, werewolves, bees and goats. We all fervently hope that this will be an improvement on humanity, which deliberately renounced the Pneuma of the Goddess.” 4 For Leonora Carrington, in rejecting our animal-nature, in renouncing our interconnectedness with non-human nature (the Pneuma that was sacred to the Goddess), humans have assumed an arrogant superiority to all other species, which has led to the destruction of many life-forms as well as to the poisoning of the Earth. So, for Mary to take on the costume or the vestment of an animal is, to some degree, to take on the superior power of the animal. This is the power of the mask in ancient theatre, and the power of the costume in shamanic ritual. Perhaps the Lion is chosen to represent The Lion of Judah, symbol of Israel. The lion outfit also shows her connection to the baby Lion King, whose depiction as king, we shall discuss later. While the three patriarchs are in fur, they are not lions. Their fur might indicate that they are also in touch with their deepest or highest level of humanity. However, they do not possess the power of Mary The Jewess. Leonora has restored Mary the Jewess to all the dimensions of her spiritual power.

I would claim that there is a resemblance between the iconography of the depiction of Mary the Jewess in this painting and of Maria the Jewess in Raphael Patai’s THE JEWISH ALCHEMIST.5 Here she stands with her outstretched arm pointing to a fume of “the white herb” or “moonwort” rising from a cooking vessel. I find a strange resemblance between the depiction of this rising fire with the fur-clad totemic figure from which a fire and black smoke arise, that Mary the Jewess is pointing to. But more about that totemic figure later. I see the relationship of Maria to the cooking vessel in that figure as the basis for the relationship of Leonora’s Mary to the totem, which I also see as a camouflaged cooking vessel.

What we have here, then, from the point of view of the Nativity, is an image of Mary the Jewess wresting female power from the Jewish patriarchs, and showing them the kind of work she can accomplish via her extraordinary spiritual prowess. She is of the kingdom of Judah, perhaps the mother of the future Messiah (the Lion King), and she is assisted by three “little people” (perhaps a “Shekinaztion” of the Celtic fairy folk, or the “little people”).


In the center of the painting we have a Hieronymous Bosch-like structure, the kind that is often used for fantastic depictions of the alchemical athanor or the alchemical oven. Indeed, this structure, that looks somewhat like a spaceship and somewhat like a large insect, has four windows with flames in each of them. It is an oven. In my interpretation it is a crematorium. On this oven structure the artist has faintly etched the alchemical symbol for common salt, 6which is used to dissolve negative energy. There is also an inscription on this athanor. 7 Here is my attempt to reproduce it. I have viewed it with a magnifying glass, and compared its markings to those in dictionaries of alchemical symbols, and to the best of my ability, I have concluded that these are not actual alchemical symbols, but that they are an artist’s imitation of alchemical symbolism. The structure is, then, an alchemical oven of sorts, and the artist has marked it with her special symbols as well as with the symbol for common salt. It is as if she were trying to use the alchemical symbolism and the symbol for common salt to purify the structure. We also know that once we have salt, we will also find Sulfur and Mercury to complete the trinity of potent alchemical agents. In this painting we do find first Mercury lightly engraved on a second large crematorium furnace to the left of the insect-like structure. Sulfur’s symbol is inscribed on top of the cage in which the little black spirit is trapped. All three symbols, Salt, Sulfur, and Mercury, work together to produce a powerful alchemical reaction. In this case, I content that the reaction desired is an undoing of the dark spirits and a purification of the creamatoria so that their negative purposes will not be accomplished.

Johannes Isaac Hollandus wrote in his work OPERA VEGETABILIA: “Consequently, these three, namely ;, , and , are none without the other; where you find one of them, you find them all three, and there is no created thing in the world wherein you do not find them. From these three everything has arisen that is in the world.”8

All this might be of precious little interest to anyone were it not for the fact that the structure has a door on its tail, and that a bier with what may be a madperson or a dying person wrapped in bandages and tied to it. Nearby two figures in black, one with a conical hat, seem to be accompanying it—perhaps praying over it. You must use a powerful magnifying glass in order to see the head of the person swathed in bandages who is tied down to that stretcher or bier. It closely resembles a victim of the Shoah or a victim of a seizure of insanity. Is it being taken into or being let out of the oven?

As I mentioned previously in a footnote, I have been attending a class on the Shoah and Literature. Thus, I have been thinking about both Judaism and Alchemy simultaneously. Suddenly I realized that the Shoah and Alchemy share in common their use of the word OVEN, but that whereas the oven performs a positive function in Alchemy, it performs a negative one in the Shoah. Yet, that negative function was a kind of dark Alchemy, for Jews were burned in the ovens, and then all the gold was removed from their teeth, and their gold jewelry was collected and melted down into piles of the precious metal. This was Hitler’s negative Alchemy—turning Jews into material piles of gold. I then remembered that Leonora Carrington had been in Europe during the second World War, and that it was precisely at that time that she suffered a severe mental breakdown. Surely she had seen the parallel between the torture of the Jews, their deaths in the crematoria (ovens) of the concentration camps, and the torture of mentally ill people, and their incarceration and torture in madhouses, like the one where she was tortured with drugs in Spain during the war. The figure bound in bandages on the stretcher and carried into or out of the oven, is a clue to the fact that this is no benign alchemical athanor, but rather a disguised crematorium.

Mary The Jewess is performing an alchemical ritual that counters the negative alchemy of the crematorium. Her positive alchemy, about which we will have more to say later, is designed to save the life of the person on the stretcher and to protect the life of the baby Lion King/Messiah.


We have noted that the Jews have been traditionally depicted wearing conical hats in anti-semitic propagada. These conical hats were said to be hiding their horns, associating the Jews with the Devil. However, although Leonora puts both horns and conical caps on the Jews here, her association with horns and conical hats is completely the opposiste of the anti-semitic interpretation. For her, conical hats are associated with the witches, who were burned in their own Shoah, the witchburnings of Europe. She also gives a positive interpretation to horns. They are, on the one hand, the Cretan Horns of Consecration (from the Minoan Mother-Goddess culture), as well as the horns of the Horned God of the witches (women of wisdom burned as witches in Europe), on the other hand. They can be associated, too, with Cernunnos, the horned Celtic God, and in her own artistic iconography they function like The Cornucopia or The Hearing Trumpet, which was a Horn, and was used in her novel of that name as an instrument of telepathic hearing.

Depicting the Jews as horned people in this work then, rather than being a form of anti-semitic propaganda, actually serves to link the Jews to the people of the Celtic Mother-Goddess tradition, and to the wisdom of the women who were burned as witches in Europe. In Leonora Carrington’s art both witches and the people of the Celtic tribe of the Goddess Dana were all persecuted and driven out of existence. Here the fates of these peoples are linked with the fate of the Jews at the crematoria as well as with the fate of madwomen and men, all of whom were to be eliminated from the face of the earth by various historical shoahs. Since she has also used the Horn in THE HEARING TRUMPET to symbolize clairaudience, might we not add that for Leonora those persecuted peoples of the Horn, the Jews, the Witches, the Celts, and those accused of being “mad”, all possessed powers of clairaudience, of hearing from realms of the beyond. I will later claim that Leonora has created a community of the exiled through her linking of the peoples associated with horns in their positive symbolism, cross-culturally, and that this corresponds, Cabbalistically, to her interpretation of the Shekinah, the feminine presence of God, defined as the community of Israel that is in exile. It is the work of the Cabbalist, a work called Tikkun, or repairing the world, to bring the Shekinah out of exile, and to reunite the Shekinah with the Godhead.


Mary the Jewess, the male-female incarnation of the symbolism of the Lion of Judah, is performing her own kind of alchemical ritual via shamanic, cabbalistic, and white-witchcraft techniques. Her hand is outstretched, and the energy that issues forth from her hand sends spirits switling in all directions. Sparks fly out from Mary’s left hand. They whirl in spirals and concentric circles, and their energy or emanations seem to rise. They also establish a ring of white light or protection around the mini people who stand before her. Her flaming red hair flies behind her as she glares upwards and across at a totemic entity that is truly mysterious. Her magical ritual seems to be visually directed at this tall fur-clad figure. The entity has either flaming red hair or fire above, and a face similar to that of a human. But it is not clear whether this is a person or a totem, a simulacrum. In my interpretation the hairy exterior is a costume with a mask that covers up something that is cooking within its headpiece. From its red flames there issues forth, to the left, a white spirit entity, and from within its cauldron-headpiece there rises up a long, undulating, black, smoky flare of dark spiritual material on top of which a black vulture is chained down to a branch. What I see here is that Mary’s alchemical ritual, her powerful energy, has unleashed the black smoke or energy that has trapped the vulture.

Mary has chained down several volatile elements in this work, and “the chaining of the volatile” is a stage in the alchemical process. She has chained down the dark spirit of the vulture. She has chained a smaller dark spirit to a pole with a cage on top in which yet another dark spirit has been trapped. This pole is behind and to the right of the patriarchs. The crematorium, seems to be a living insect. Mary has grounded and immobilized it, so that the person on the stretcher could be spewed out from the door at the tail. Thus, this person’s fragile life may have been saved. These chainings of volatile elements can be read in two ways just as we have learned to read the meaning of “oven” and “horns” in two ways. On the one hand they can symbolize a stage in Alchemy known as “the chaining of the volatile”, but since the Alchemy that was associated with the athanor/creamatorium was negative, this “chaining of the volatile” is also the way Mary impedes the movement of negative forces, grounds them, and works to defeat the purposes of the negative Alchemy of the implied patriarchal forces of the Nazis.

Mary also uses the shamanic technique of ritual costuming in order to take on the power of the Lion of Judah, who she becomes during the ritual. Thus, through cooking the brew in the head of the totem, that unleashes the power to ground the negative vulture-spirit, and through shamanically taking on the power of her animal spirit, Mary performs her unique Jewish female Alchemy, a combination of alchemical, white witchcraft (the brew she is cooking inside the totem), cabbalistic (more about these later) and shamanic techniques in order to protect the Messiah or the baby Lion King, and save the world of the future.

If we think of Mary as an incarnation of the Minoan Goddess or priestesses, then hers is as well the work of the wise women who revered Creation in the image of a female Mother Goddess. Hence, looking to the higher planes of the painting, we find lightly defined in white two female Goddess or fairy Godmother images of women flying by—one with the face of animal wisdom in her large womb and a broomstick in her right hand (on the left side of the figure); the other’s hair and arm are in positions similar to those of Mary the Jewess below. She is her spiritual counterpart, her double in the spirit world. Thus, Mary’s alchemy/or witchcraft not only restores the Shekinah (the feminine aspect of God in the Cabbala) to God, but also restores the pre-patriarchal concept of the Goddess to her rightful place in the Creation Story according to Leonora Carrington’s artistic and mythic vision.

As the ritual gets underway, as the sparks and energies permeate the atmosphere, we can see many spirits and energic entities released in the background. I will interpret the meaning of these sparks and energies according to Cabbala, which Leonora Carrington had read about, and which she has always told me was fundamental to understanding many of her paintings.9


Leonora Carrington has been reading texts about the Cabbala for many years, certainly ever since I have known her, which is almost thirty years. She has often made it very clear to me that Cabbala plays a large role in her intellectual and spiritual life and in her art. Thus, it became evident, as I worked on the analysis of this painting, that Leonora had projected a lot of what she knows about the Cabbala onto her interpretation of Mary the Jewess.

If Mary the Jewess had a knowledge of Cabbala similar to that of Leonora, she would have known that the task of the Tsaddik, or the righteous person, similar to that of the saint in Christianity, is to repair the world by restoring the fallen sparks of light to the Godhead, or by enabling the spirit of God to be united with the the Shekinah, the feminine aspect of God, that has been in exile . When the Shekinah, which is an exile, but which is conceived of by the Cabbala as the community of Israel and as the feminine aspect of God, is reunited with the rest of God (the other Sephiroth of The Tree of Life), then the Messianic era will commence.

Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, in A KABBALISTIC UNIVERSE tells us that: “The lifting of the Divine sparks that are buried in the lower depths of Creation is the occupation of mankind at large in relation to the physical World, and this it fulfils by the refining and improvement of the mineral, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, despite its mistakes (which it is currently correcting, for example with anti-pollution measures and the movement for more humane and intelligent methods of farming). There are some who are concerned with aiding the redemption of those Divine sparks that are buried in the depths of lower humanity itself.”10 THE CHRYSOPEIA OF MARY THE JEWESS (1964) clearly shows us that the work of this Jewish female Alchemist enables the lifting of Divine sparks by immobilizing those negative energies, entities and forces that would annihilate them. In the painting we see the divine sparks rise as Mary’s Jewish alchemical and cabbalistic work sets the process in motion. The Divine sparks are the positive energies that enable the Shekinah to be reunited with God.

Gershom Scholem, a major scholar of Cabbala, tells us that: “Not all the lights which are held in captivity by the powers of darkness are set free by their own efforts; it is man who adds the final touch to the divine countenance; it is he who completes the enthronement of God, the King, the mystical Creator of all things, in His Own kingdom of Heaven; it is he who perfects the Maker of All Things!…..The historical process and its innermost soul, the religious act of the Jew, prepare the way for the final restitution of all the scattered and exiled lights and sparks……..It follows from this that for Luria (a medieval Cabbalist) the appearance of the Messiah is nothing but the consummation of the continuous process of Restoration, of tikkun.”11

Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, along with Tschuvah, or Redemption, are the goals of the work of the Cabbalist and the Righteous Person, known as the Tsaddik. In this painting Mary the Jewess is doing the work of both the Cabbalist and the Tsaddik. Scholem goes on to tell us that : “The ‘world of Tikkun’ is therefore the world of Messianic action. The coming of the Messiah means that this world of Tikkun has received its final shape.”12 Here we see clearly that the evil in the world has both a spiritual (demonic spirit forces) and a political dimension (crematoria), and that it is the role of the Jewish female Alchemist/Cabbalist, who has a knowledge of Cabbala’s goal of lifting the Divine sparks of creation as well as of the techniques of the Cabbalist, the Tsaddik, the Shaman, and the Wise Women known as Witches, to redeem the world from evil. Mary the Jewess counters the negativity of the crematorium with her powerful spiritual work of lifting the Divine sparks and immobilizing the negative forces. When the sparks have been restored to the Godhead, when unification of the Shekinah, (the community in exile that she has here identified by their connection with the Holy Horns in the positive interpretation of the horn, cross-culturally), with the Creator will have taken place, then the reign of the Messiah will begin.

In this painting as I have interpreted it, the Messiah already exists as the child born to Mary, but in order for his reign to flourish, Mary, the Jewish Alchemist/Cabbalist, must cleanse the world of negativity. The Messiah is depicted as the baby Lion King. The Lion of Judah is the symbol of Israel, and the King is the symbol of God for the Cabbalists. According to Gershon Scholem: “the idea that “God is King” lends itself more easily to …symbolical expression than the conception of God as Spirit. Again we see that it was the exaltation of His Kingship and His theopahany which appealed to these mystics, not His spirituality.”13 Mary the Jewess must first disempower the crematorium, and then she must save all the people associated with the community of the symbolism of the holy horns in their positive interpretation, the community in exile of the Shekinah, in Leonora’s imaginative interpretation of the feminine aspect of God. Scholem tells us that the picture of the Shekinah drawn in the ZOHAR is: “above all she was now identified with the “Community of Israel”, a sort of Invisible Church, representing the mystical idea of Israel in its bond with God and in its bliss, but also in its suffering and its exile. She is not only Queen, daughter and bride of God, but also the mother of every individual in Israel.”14

THE CHRYSOPEIA OF MARY THE JEWESS narrates visually and symbolically the drama of the spirit war that transpires when a Jewish female Alchemist/Cabbalist fights negativity with spiritual power. In this drama the patriarchs stand in awe before the power of the female. Mary the Jewess reminds us of our empowered connection to our sacred animal nature. She teaches us that spiritual power is strong enough to defeat the evil of the crematorium. She shows us how she enlists the support of “the little people”, perhaps a Jewish version of the “fairy folk”. Leonora Carrington’s Mary carries within herself the restored powers of all the people of Israel, the Shekinah in exile, whom she identifies as all the peoples who have been persecuted for revering creation in its feminine aspect—the wise women persecuted as witches, the Celts, the Tibetans (suggested by the stupa), the Cabbalists who sought to restore the Shekinah from exile to the Godhead—the Jews, and all people labeled as “mad”, who have, like Leonora, herself, perceived the absence of the female from the Christian Trinity )15—a community she symbolizes by the positive interpretation of the Holy Horns.16 She alone, via the syncretism of her spiritual powers combining those of Alchemy, Cabbala, White Witchcraft, and Shamanism, is able to restore the Shekinah to God, and to make the world safe for the reign of the Messiah. Leonora’s Mary the Jewess is not depicted as inventing scientific paraphernalia in a laboratory. Perhaps those scientific inventions were the ones that led to the construction of crematoria in the first place. On the contrary, Mary’s power is spiritual, not scientific. It is energic and vitalistic. This Woman of Power, Mary the Jewess, unites within herself the masculine and the feminine, human and non-human nature (the male lion and the female human), spirit and matter, and religious and political forms of resistance to evil.

As a CHRYSOPEIA, this alchemical tractate’s formula for the transmutaion of brute matter into gold, and of the Alchemist into an Enlightened being, recommends that the “feminine” and the female be restored to their full powers, both spiritual and political, so that the female Tsaddik or Righteous Person will be “empowered” to activate all the energies of her interconnectedness with the community of peoples known Cabbalistically as the Shekinah, the community of Israel that is in exile. Through her restoration to her rightful place of spiritual and political power, and through the recognition of her role as Protector of the Redeemer, she can perform her mission of tikkun olam, of repairing the world in order to achieve tschuvah, redemption so that the Messianic Era may commence.


1 Gloria Feman Orenstein , Comparative Literature and Gender Studies , University of Southern California , Los Angeles

2 Hoeffner, Mark THE DICTIONARY OF ALCHEMY: FROM MARIA PROPHETISSA TO ISAAC NEWTON. (London: Harper Collins, The Aquarian Press), 1991.

3 Throughout this paper I will use the word Shoah instead of Holocaust. I am studying The Holocaust and Art with Prof. Moshe Lazar, who explained that the word Holocaust is the translation of the Hebrew word that means “a ritual burnt offering to God”. As he explained, “Surely this horrific genocide was NOT in any way, an offering to God. Thus, we should not use the word Holocaust . Instead, the word Shoah is used in the Bible to speak about any immense calamity that is so enormous that we can barely conceive of it. Shoah is the appropriate word to use for the historic events in Europe in which millions of Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and others were incinerated by the Nazis. iv. Carrington, Leonora THE HEARING TRUMPET.(Boston: Exact Change, 1996) p.199.

4 v. Patai, Raphael. THE JEWISH ALCHEMISTS: A HISTORY AND SOURCE BOOK. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1994). Figure 5.6 , p. 79.

5 Junius, Manfred M. THE PRACTICAL HANDBOOK OF PLANT ALCHEMY. (Rochester, Vt.: Healiing Arts Press, 1993) p.242.

7 The inscription I have hand-written here is lightly inscribed on the Athanor/Crematorium in the painting.

8 Quoted in Ibid. THE PRACTICAL HANDBOOK OF PLANT ALCHEMY. (Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press, 1993) p. 45

9 I have known Leonora Carrington since 1972, but we had already been in correspondence since 1969. I have spent several summers with her in Mexico, much time (12 years) with her in the U.S. when she would come to N.Y. to visit her son, Pablo, who was then a meJical student in N.Y, and then when she would return to N.Y. for exhibitions and work with her gallery, The Brewster Gallery in N.Y. My knowledge of Leonora’s interests, then, covers a span of almost thirty years.

10 Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi A KABBALISTIC UNIVERSE, (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1977) p.190. This work was recommended to me by Leonora Carrington.

11 Scholem, Gershon MAJOR TRENDS IN JEWISH MYSTICISM. ((New York: Schocken Books, 1974) p. 274.

12 Ibid. p.274.

13 Ibid. p. 64.

14 ibid. p. 230.

15 Leonora Carrington wrote about her perception of a powerful female from the Christian Trinity in her narrative of her experiences in the asylum in Spain, DOWN BELOW, which originally appeared in English translation in the American surrealist jouornal VVV (No. 4, 1944). The French text was published by editions Fontaine as a pamphlet in 1945, under the title EN BAS.