Stanley Kubric's 2001; A Space Odyssey is the tale of mankind's ascent to the stars, and their eventual encounter with a mysterious alien intelligence. The film opens with a group of proto-humans scavenging on the African plains. All of a sudden, a black monolith appears and gives them instruction on how to hunt and coordinate defensive strategies. The next time we see the monolith, it is being excavated by a group of astronauts on the moon. The planets form an auspicious conjunction, and the monolith broadcasts a signal into outer space; somewhere in the vicinity of Jupiter. A mission is hastily assembled to go out and investigate.
I believe that the chief motivation behind the making of this movie is not to ground a space adventure in classical mythology, but to produce a allegory for the pursuit of the Great Work/Alchemy. People often mistakenly assume that alchemy is about transforming lead into gold, but this isn't strictly the case;
If alchemy isn't gold making, what is it? Wilmshurst has defined ~ it as 'the exact science of the regeneration of the human soul from, its present sense-immersed state into the perfection and nobility of ~ that divine condition in which it was originally created'. However, he immediately goes on to offer a second definition which clearly implies that, as with gold making, soul-making is again only a specific case. By inference, a general theory of alchemy might be ventured. Alchemy is a total science of energy transformation.
"A total science of energy transformation." This statement is very relevant in terms of the nature of the ideas expressed in Kubrick's 2001; A Space Odyssey, because the aliens responsible for building the inter-dimensional monolith eventually superceded this technology by transforming their physical forms into pure energy. We know this because of the famous scene at the end of 2001;A Space Odyssey were the astronaut Bowman is seen floating in space as a foetus; having just been reborn as an energy being. The benefits for space travel attained by becoming an energy being are apparent; for instance one would no longer have any need for life-support systems, having satisfactorily achieved the status of Gods. In Kubrick's 2001, the method of physical transformation is the monolith, while in alchemy the method transformation is achieved through the Philosopher's Stone.
One of the primary works of modern alchemy is Fulcanelli's La Mystere des Cathedrales. In it he extensively details all the religious iconography of relevance to alchemy that exist in the gothic cathedral's of Europe. One such example is of the Black Madonnas; a series of small statuettes carved of either a black material or painted that way, which invariably remain hidden in the vaults underneath the main cathedrals. It was due to the surreptitious nature of the Black Madonna's, as well as their unusual colour, which lead Fulcanelli to suppose they may be representative of the alchemist's prima materia, the first matter of the alchemist's Philosopher's Stone.
The esoteric meaning of our black Virgins cannot better be defined.
They represent in hermetic symbolism the virgin earth, which the
artist must choose as the subject of his Great Work. It is first matter
in mineral state, as it comes out of the ore-bearing strata, deeply
buried under the rocky mass. It is, the texts tells us, 'a heavy, brittle,
friable black substance, which has the appearance of a stone and,
like a stone, can shatter into minute fragments.' Thus it appears to
be the rule that the personified hieroglyph of this mineral possesses
its special colour and that the subterranean parts of temples are
reserved as its dwelling place.
In 2001; A Space Odyssey, the black monolith is seen at the bottom of an excavation trench on the surface of the moon. As such it is analogous to the prima materia of the alchemist, as described in the above excerpt. La Mystere de Cathedrales contains another description of how to obtain the elusive material, which is revealing;
'Take some real earth... well impregnated with
the rays of the sun, the moon and the other stars.'
This instantly suggests to me a meteor of some kind–– a space rock of extraterrestrial origin, just like the monolith. Incidentally, the Islamists worship a black meteor located at the Kaaba, in Mecca. The Kaaba is Arabic for cube and, as we saw in previous posts, Saturn is both associated with the cube and the colour black, suggesting an inter-dimensional gateway of some kind; See Gateway Solid.