Combs of Bronze or the Fascination with Metal

April 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm Leave a comment

Look around your room  and mentally take away everything made of metal or joined with metal screws. Only the books are left. The pictures are hanging on nails. Without metal there would be no cars, no bicycles, no airplanes, no satellites. The electricity needs copper wires, the telephone and computer, too.

We live among things made of metal and they make us forget the miracle that certain reddish, bluish, greenish or grayish stones being smelted at a temperature of 3300 degrees Fahrenheit (1200 degrees Celsius) begin to ooze a fiery substance that, once cooled, can be formed into objects. This discovery must have been as overpowering as when the blond fibers appeared inside the dead nettles and when the fragile clay became hard pottery.

Bronze comb from Italy

Bronze comb from Veji, Italy. 700 BC.

No wonder that the earliest alchemical treaties written in Egypt and China, and the Medieval ones written in Europe a thousand years later, are full of  the miraculous and with the  symbolic logic, that — as fibers can be changed  into flaxen hair and  stones into a golden liquid —  we ought to be able to do the opposite transformation of liquids into gold.

However it would be wrong to believe that the alchemists only wanted to make gold. Their work went much deeper. In the Medieval world governed by a religious dictatorship, they hid their thoughts that would have been regarded as heresy in incomprehensible alchemical words. C. G. Jung became fascinated by their writings and began using the terminology as analogies to certain psychological situations:  Lapis, the foundation stone, the core; soror mistica, the hidden sister, that is, the feminine inside each man, his psychological inner sister; coniunctio oppositorum, the impossible unity of two contradictions, are alchemical names given to problems that already prehistoric men and women faced. Alchemy is as poignant today as it was then.

Silver comb as handle

Modern silver spoon with comb on handle

My question, however, goes even further because I began asking myself where our fascination with gold, silver and copper comes from. A stone hatchet is much more practical when you need to fell a tree than one made of copper or even of bronze. Amulets made of stone have been used for hundred thousands of years.

Why do we like to adorn ourselves with gold, silver or copper jewelry?  The answer that they make us look beautiful,  is not sufficient. Do we wear them to show our social position? Certainly, but it is not enough. As amulets and talismans to protect the head that is the seat of our thoughts, intelligence, and feelings? To protect the neck that is the go-between of the head and the body? To protect the arms? Certainly, but why? Because polished copper mirrors the light where it is very dark at night.

Bronze comb, France

Bronce comb, France, ca 700 BC

Copper jewelry and copper axes reflect the light and carry deep inside themselves a memory of that inner light that visionaries, artists, and shamans see. We need the sun’s light to see the true colors in nature. We need light to become enlightened. All of a sudden human beings were able to create light.

The copper smelting is a relatively young science compared to that of the pottery and the textile work. From the date of the pottery found inside the shafts in the mine of Rudna Glava near Majdanpek in Serbia, we know that this was in use around 7 000 ago.  According to the excavator Borislav Jovanović, at this time the copper fabrication had become common knowledge: The earliest copper finds date back to 9 000 years ago and come from Cayönü where a rare source of pure copper is found that can be hammered and does not need the smelting process. Around 8 000 years ago the goddess from Porodin, Macedonia had been adorned with a necklace of big round beads, and in the Near East the goddess figurines also begin to wear necklaces. This may be the time when the smelting of copper began.

The fascination with the copper was symbolic; it was the fascination not only of the fiery substance that oozed from the stones and of the light the new material emanated, but also of entering the womb of the Earth where the ore slowly matured with the terrestrial rhythm of the mother. When they were ready to be born, she gave them birth. As the Earth gives birth to plants, she can also give birth to plants of metal. This image is not as strange as it may seem: The cosmos is compared to a tree of gold in alchemy and we accept, without question, metal candle-holders with flowers on them and silver and golden Christmas trees.

The men and women who crawled into the narrow corridors extracted the immature, yet-to-be-born ore from the mines, the womb of the Earth. It then became the task of the smith to give birth to the metal in the artificial womb of the furnace. Thus, the smith replaced the mother giving birth to her children, who became his objects and the god separated himself from the goddess. In the third verse of Genesis, Elohim creates the light. He creates it before he creates anything else. The Father who creates light now enters into the center relegating the mother to the periphery. She doesn’t create; she only transforms the embryo into a child.  However, although the discovery may have been instant, it took several thousand years before the new symbols had been accepted.


I published the material in this and the following chapter in 2004 in Transoxiania as Homo Faber and Homo Symbolicus. The fascination with copper in the sixth millennium.


Bronze comb from the pre-Etruscan cemetery in Veji, Quattro Fontanili. Ca 700-650 BC.

Silver spoon with comb on handle. Modern. Los Angeles, perhaps central America. Photo K.B.

Bronze comb from France. Ca 700 BC. Drawing K.B.

Abstract drawing of a tree. Freiburg im Breisgau. Early 20th century. Photo K.B.


Entry filed under: bronze, Combs.

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