The sulfur (brimstone) sign, aesthetically the prettiest symbol I know, got a new life when alternative brands like Killstar, Banned and Re-Style started to print it on…well, everything.
It’s also known as the Leviathan or Satanic Cross since Anton Szandor LaVey started using it for his work with the Church of Satan in the 60’s. Since fire and brimstone is repeatedly used for symbolizing God’s wrath in the Bible it’s kind of self explanatory why LaVey thought it would be a neat idea to piss off the Catholic church by borrowing that cool, forgotten alchemical sign. Especially since this particular glyph for sulfur in alchemy stands for black sulfur.
Like I just said, this is an alchemical sign. Without going into to too much detail (here’s wikipedia for ya, go nuts!), alchemy is often viewed as a protoscientific tradition that stems back thousands of years. There are a few different lines of alchemy but all of them use symbolic encryption for their work. Most commonly known are the efforts to create gold and Nicholas Flamel’s pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone (No, he’s not just a character from Harry Potter).
In early modern Europe it got a real boost with the medical renaissance and it was Paracelsus (1493-1541) who came up with Tria Prima. He assumed that every object could be divided in three fundamental components; mercury, salt and sulfur. Mercury for the soul, salt for the matter and sulfur for the spirit.
The earliest usage that I have found of the symbol for soulfre noir/sulphur nigra/black sulfur is from the 17:th century, 1669 to be exact and it’s from Traichté de la Chymie by Nicolas Lefèvre. Can you find it?
The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) thought that alchemical symbols were part of the archetypes that dreams, visions and imagination of our subconscious is constructed. It’s still a vital part of the analytical or Jungian psychology.
For sulfur and Jungian psychology in particular, I have a favorite quote from The Book of Symbols. It’s originally written by Jung and can be found the article on Fire (as a symbol), p. 84. “”Sulphur” was the name alchemy gave to its “secret fire”, a tincturing agent that was the key to the opus because it brought out the vital essence of matter. Sulphur could be creative, hellish, healing and stinking. Its fire is sometimes golden and luminous, sometimes it burns in the depths but gives off no light or it glows but does not consume – all ways of expressing the unknown “inflammable element” and “motive factor” behind the mystery of unconscious compulsion and conscious will.”
What’s my connection?
I have always been fascinated by history and alchemy but I stumbled upon the sulfur sign when I met a boyfriend who was a satanist. Out of curiosity I read the Satanic Bible by LaVey, found the sign and started to look for its origin. This was before google but there was Yahoo! and Altavista, somehow they got the job done. I did not convert but I still have a copy of the book and here’s exactly where I found it.
I fell for the aesthetics but fell in love with its origins in alchemy and it’s the symbol I draw pretty much on everything if I only have a pen with me. I’ve got a coffin purse with a huge sulfur emblem on it but I actually don’t own any jewelry with a sulfur sign. I feel like I need a new necklace soon…