A building near Old Town Square shows a hint of the alchemy that is woven in Prague’s past
In alchemy, everything has its counterpart, its mirror image. The science that would later develop into chemistry saw the world as a set of perfect pairs, not unrelated to the yin and yang concept of Daoist philosophy. The black sun also turns up in many cultures, with slightly different meanings.
The Hanged Man card in The Tarot of Prague features the door sign from the House at the Black Sun (U Černého slunce) on Celetná Street, right next to Old Town Square in Prague. Other black sun symbols can be found in the city as well, including on a fence in Malá Strana on Tržiště Street. The fence is on the Eight of Pentacles.
The black sun is an easy symbol to misunderstand. It is not an image of evil or doom. Instead it is a positive symbol. The type of black sun on these cards, the “sol niger”, comes from the earliest stages of creating the philosopher’s stone. The alchemical process, the nigredo, or blackening is when elements decompose or putrefy as part of the purification process. All the ingredients in making the philosopher’s stone had to first be cooked into a black mass of matter.
Marsilio Ficino, a 15th century philosopher wrote in his treatise Liber de Arte Chemica (Book of the Chemical Art) that the nature of the dissolution of the body was known by ancient philosophers as the crow’s head, or the black sun. It is followed by a white sun and a red sun to complete the process of transformation.
The black sun as part of an alchemical transformation is also referred to in Splendor Solis (The Splendor of the Sun) a 16th century German alchemical text.
Another interpretation is that the black sun is a dark force of of material possession. A 15th century pseudo-religious text call The Book of the Holy Trinity which claims that after Adam’s fall from grace, and due to Original Sin, man was made from the fire of the black sun. The book is attributed to Frater Ulmannus, a German Franciscan.
Finally, the black sun may just seem that way to the uninitiated. Its energy is too pure for most people to sense. But to the true alchemist who knows its secrets, the black sun is not black at all but shines with the brightest of lights.
Interestingly enough, modern science does not completely oppose the concept of the black sun. Black holes, areas of collapsed matter in space, suck in all the matter and energy around them. One type of black hole is thought to be created from the mass of large dead star. With a little poetic license, one can see it purifying the matter that enters its event horizon by turning it into a new type of matter that defies the laws of physics.
The search for dark matter in the universe is also a current topic of real astronomy. And of course new atomic elements including gold are forged in the cores of stars by nuclear fusion.
Symbols of black suns are not confined to Europe. There is also a black sun in Aztec mythology, linked to the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl. The sun in this culture is a symbol of both death and birth, the tomb and the womb.
The symbol has been surprisingly persistent in popular culture. The band Soundgarden had a hit with “Black Hole Sun” in 1994, and David Bowie’s last album, recorded when he was terminally ill, was called Blackstar. Linkin Park also uses an image of a black sun on its 2010 album A Thousand Suns.
Several occult thriller novels and video games also make reference to brotherhoods, orders or cults of the black sun.
The House of the Black Sun was built originally in the Gothic style in the 13th century, and it was expanded in the 14th century. The first mention of it was in 1360, and the owner was someone named Plaier. The first mention of a name of the house is in 1516, when it was the House at the Sun, or Golden Sun. At the time scribe Petr Drdák lived there.
This must have caused confusion as there were other houses using the sun as a name. So at least by the time of Emperor Rudolf II it was known as the House of the Black Sun.
The most famous occupant of the house was opera singer Josefína Dušková, whose maiden name was Josepha Hambacher. She was married to František Xaver Dušek, a composer and harpsichordist, and a patron of Mozart — one of the people that supported his Prague trips.
Over the years the house was remodeled into a Renaissance design and a late Baroque design with classicist details. It currently houses some shops and in the passage to the side there is the Restaurant at the Black Sun.
Current plans call for the building to be joined with seven others to make a big hotel that preserves the facades. The developers have attempting to push the project forward from 20 years, but have faced opposition from tenants and preservationists. The hotel would be called U Sixtů, after one of the other buildings in the proposed complex.
The documentary “Les mystères du Tarot de Marseille”, which aired in France in February 2015, claims Marsilio Ficino, who wrote about the black sun, was also the inventor of the Tarot de Marseille, one of the earliest standard tarot decks.