Illeidos (Ships Engendered from Metallic Seeds) explores the alchemy of incorporeal elements that imbues life into all things. Illeidos is known as Prima Materia, but also by many other names, 'Water of Life,' 'Philosopher's Stone,' 'fifth element,' 'the material beginning and end of all things,' etc. Illeidos consists of three basic substances, mercury, sulphur, and salt. Leonora Carrington explored different aspects of this alchemical phenomenon in Birth of a Satellite, Quinta Essentia, Spirito Mercurialis, and The Garden of Paracelsus, among other works.
In Illeidos, the ocean of life is birthing a microcosm out of Chaos. This developing universe determines its own shape, and contains within heaven, earth, fire, water, as well as its material beginning and end. In this moist world, moonlight shadows the outline of floating Palladian buildings, independent towers, amphibian ships, and reflects light onto constellations, which otherwise would be concealed by darkness. Nebulae ascend from the earth in bubble form, with other worlds forming within. The fiery liquid out of which this imaginary place rises has the innate power to melt and smelt. Its alchemical operation consists of separating the prima materia, or chaos, into body and soul. It differentiates them intuitively and, through corporeal imagination, reunites them as a solid body.
In order to understand how Leonora Carrington came upon the concept of Illeidos, one needs to learn about Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) who, as a controversial physician and alchemist, influenced future chemical medicine and natural science with medication he prepared from his knowledge of secret remedies. His goal in life was to help and heal, and his belief was that God would make manifest its work to a true believer. Humans, he wrote, were twofold, part temporal and part eternal, and knowledge about ourselves came from our awareness of these two aspects. The light of nature informed us of natural things and our mortal side, and the Holy Spirit provided us with revelations about our eternal side. But ultimately, both derived from God--as everything else. Although these two aspects were at the root of our duality, each could operate individually. His interest in the Illiaster had to do with the prolongation of life, and how arcane remedies might fight disease.
Paracelsus anteceded today's psychology when he explained that although we may not understand tension between opposing forces within us, conflict effects our bodies and our minds producing illnesses. Paracelsus's driving force was compassion, which he referred to as "the physician's school master," but he walked the thin line of a profoundly religious man whose alchemical philosophy read like the work of a pagan. Our understanding of disease, he believed, came from the pagan light of nature, not from intuitive apprehension of facts, which is born in our heart. To help his patients, Paracelsus steeped himself in folk beliefs, superstition, and magical arts; for that, and for his quarrelsome personality, he was accused of being a sorcerer, at best, and for having had "intercourse with demons," at worst.
After Carl Jung's death, unpublished documents about Paracelsus, Illiastrum, the balsam of life, and the spiritus mercurialis of the alchemists, were found among his papers. Leonora Carrington read the published material and, under its influence, created several of the works mentioned above.
One relevant passage reads:
"This concept--if one can call it such--not only has a wealth of meanings but appears in variant form as Illiastrum, Illiastes, Illiadus, Yleides, Yleidus, etc...Sometimes the Illiaster is the principium, the prima materia, the chaos, the prima composition...sometimes it is the aer elementalis or coelum, 'the true spirit in man, which pervades all his limbs.' In its highest form, the Illiaster signifies the passage of the mind or soul into another world...Not only it is the life giver, it is the psycho pomp in the mystic transformation, leading the way to incorruptibility or immortality. The 'seed of the Illiastric soul' is the spirit of God itself, and on it is imprinted 'God's likeness.'"
Salomon Grimberg, March 2007, Dallas, Texas