Perhaps the quaintest and most celebrated of all these allegories is that which describes the quest of the Philosopher's Stone as the hunting of the Green Lion. The Green Lion, though few would divine it, is the First Matter of the Great Work: hence, in spiritual alchemy, natural man in his wholeness, Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury in their crude state. He is called green because, seen from the transcendent standpoint, he is still unripe, his latent powers undeveloped; and a Lion, because of his strength, fierceness, and virility. Here the common opinion that a pious effeminacy, a diluted and amiable spirituality, is the proper raw material of the mystic life, is emphatically contradicted. It is not by the education of the lamb, but by the hunting and taming of the wild intractable lion, instinct with vitality, full of ardour and courage, exhibiting heroic qualities on the sensual plane, that the Great Work is achieved. The lives of the saints enforce the same law.
Our lyon wanting maturitie
Is called greene for his unripeness trust me:
And yet full quickly he can run,
And soon can overtake the Sun.
The Green Lion, then, in his strength and wholeness is the only creature potentially able to attain Perfection. It needs the adoption and purification of all the wealth and resources of man's nature, not merely the encouragement of his transcendental tastes, if he is to "overtake the Sun" and achieve the Great Work. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence, not by amiable aspiration. "The Green Lion," says one alchemist, "is the priest by whom Sol and Luna are wed." In other words, the raw stuff of indomitable human nature is the means by which man is to attain union with the Absolute. The duty of the alchemist, the transmuting process, is therefore described as the hunting of the Green Lion through the forest of the sensual world. He, like the Hound of Heaven, is on a love chase down the nights and down the days.