"The science of alchemy I like very well, and indeed, 'tis the philosophy of the ancients. I like it not only for the profits it brings in melting metals, in decocting, preparing, extracting and distilling herbs, roots; I like it also for the sake of the allegory and secret signification, which is exceedingly fine, touching the resurrection of the dead at the last day."
- Isaac Newton
Well, Alchemy has always fascinated people. It first grabbed my attention several years ago, when I read a Nancy Drue book called "The Mystery Of The 99 Steps". If you've read that book then you'd know what I'm talking about.
Later, I read a book on the famous Pracelsus that also intrigued me. Alchemy is indeed intriguing, because no one knows if it's true or if it's pure imagination.
Alchemy is an ancient art and science dealing with the transmutation of base metals into gold, with the discovery of a super cure for all diseases, with and elixir of immortality, and with the fabrication of artificial life. Alchemy was the name given in Latin Europe in the 12th century to a science assimilated with Astrology, as both attempt to discover the relationship of man to the cosmos and to exploit that relationship to his benefit. Both sciences believe that Nature manifests the will of God. Alchemy first emerged in Ancient China, Egypt and Greece. The word is Ancient Egyptian for "Art of the black earth" and Greek for “Art of making metal ingots". Aristotle taught that all matter was composed of four elements: water, earth, fire, and air; and that most materials found in nature had different ratios of these four elements. Therefore, a base metal could be changed into gold. Of course, since Celestial bodies were thought to influence Nature, Alchemists always waited for an ‘appropriate’ configuration of the moon and the stars to transform metals effectively.
As early as the 13th century, Alchemical treatises contained not only mystical theory but also important practical recipes. Arnold of Villanova explained the distillation of wine; Roger Bacon gave a recipe for gunpowder and instructions for constructing a telescope. Consequently, a few kings used Alchemists to increase their fortune; if an Alchemist should fail, he would lose his life. Therefore, from the 15th to the 17th century, alchemical symbolism and allegory became complex. Alchemy used to be considered a criminal activity of witchcraft and blasphemy, yet it was the basis of today’s Chemistry. So Alchemists referred to chemicals, acids and metals in a symbolized way only they could understand. A secret language. For example, a chemical formula mentioning ‘Gold’ would be easily intercepted. And so ‘Gold’ was referred to as ‘The Red Lion’ in all messages exchanged between Alchemists. Thus, ‘The White Queen’ would mean ‘Silver’, and so forth.
Alchemists made sure their labs were impossible to find; often they were located in hidden basements. These labs were filled with numerous instruments, manuscripts, skulls, animal specimens, and mystical objects including altars.
The Famous Paracelsus on Alchemy
Nothing has been created as ultima materia -- in its final state. Everything is at first created in its prima materia, its original stuff. For alchemy means: to carry to its end something that has not yet been completed. To obtain the lead from the ore and to transform it into what it is made for.... Accordingly, you should understand that alchemy is nothing but the art that makes the impure into the pure through fire.... It can separate the useful from the useless, and transmute it into its final substance and its ultimate essence.
The transmutation of metals is a great mystery of nature. However laborious and difficult this task may be, whatever impediments and obstacles may lie in the way of its accomplishments, this transmutation does not go counter to nature, nor is it incompatible with the order of God, as is falsely asserted by many persons. But the base, impure five metals-- that is, copper, tin, lead, iron, and quicksilver-- cannot be transmuted into the nobler, pure, and perfect metals-- namely, into gold and silver-- without a tinctura, or without the philosophers' stone...."
Excerpt from Paracelsus, Selected writings, ed. Jolande Jacobi, trans. Norbert Guterman.
In the Renaissance, necromancers, wizards and Alchemists obsessed about the Philosopher's Stone. Chinese and Arab Alchemists especially believed it to be a medicine that could turn a base metal into gold and also act as an Elixir of Life. He who possesses the Philosopher's Stone possesses Truth; he is immortal because Reason counters death and he is healed of Ignorance _ the worst of all diseases. Here are excerpts from a famous text titled: The Water Stone of the Wise.
From the beginning of the world, there have always been experienced philosophers and wise gentiles who studied the nature and properties of the lower Creation. By the most careful search they gradually found out that there was nothing in this world that could procure for our earthly and corruptible body immunity from death. But they did discover one thing which, being itself incorruptible, has been ordained of God for the good of man, to remove disease, to cure all imperfection, to purge old age, and to prolong our brief life.
This wonderful remedy was industriously sought by the wise, until they discovered it, and its precious virtue. Thus, the Patriarchs used it to restore their bodily vigor, and prolong their lives; and it was no doubt revealed by God to Adam, our thrice-great parent, who bequeathed the secret to all the Patriarchs who were his descendants. But that the secret might not be lost, they expounded it most faithfully, both in their writings and in oral teaching to their faithful disciples, for the benefit of posterity.
If any man desires to reach this great and unspeakable Mystery, he must remember that it is obtained not by the might of man, but by the grace of God. For this reason you must first of all cleanse your heart, lift it to Him alone, and ask of Him this gift in true, earnest, and undoubting prayer.
The numerous writers on our most noble Art have never wearied of singing its praises. Its most precious object they have called the PHILOSOPHER'S STONE, or the most ancient, secret, natural, incomprehensible, heavenly, blessed, beatified, and triune universal Stone of the Sages. Their reason for naming it a stone, or likening it to a stone, was this: first because its original Matter is really a kind of stone, which, being hard and solid like a stone, may be pounded, reduced to powder, and resolved into its three elements and then again may be re-combined into a solid stone of the fusibility of wax. It is composed of three things, yet it is only one. They also call it the Universal Magnesia, or the seed of the world, from which all-natural objects take their origin. It is neither hot and dry like fire, nor cold and wet like water, nor cold and dry like earth, but a perfect preparation of all the elements. Men have it before their eyes, handle it with their hands, yet know it not, though they constantly tread it under their feet. It is the greatest wealth, and he who knows the Art may rival the richest.
Now when you have exercised yourself with exceeding diligence in the oratory, the matter being ready to your hand, go into the laboratory, take the substance indicated, and set to work in the following manner. Above all things you must let it be your first object to solve this substance. Then it must be purged of its watery and earthy nature (for at first it appears an earthy, heavy, thick, slimy, and misty body), and all that is thick, nebulous, opaque, and dark in it must be removed, that thus, by a final sublimation, the heart and inner soul contained in it may be separated and reduced to a Precious essence. Then the extracted Heart, Soul, and Spirit must once more be distilled and condensed into one by their own proper salt (which in the interior of the substance is first of a blood-red color, but then becomes of a bright, clear, and transparent white, and is called by the Sages the Salt of Wisdom). You have thus first, by what is called the anterior process, separated the pure from the impure. For this reason the Sages call it mercurial water, or water of the sun, or mercury of the sun, or mercury of the wise. You should take two parts of the prepared aqueous matter, and again three different parts The first two parts you should keep; but to the three parts add another matter, viz., the most precious and divinely endowed Body of Gold, which is most intimately akin to the First Matter. Of this add one twelfth for the first fermentation; for both, the spiritual and heavenly prepared substance, and this earthly Body of Gold, must be joined together, and coagulated into one body.
You must, therefore, seek to obtain gold which has a pure, living spirit, and of which the sulfur is not yet weakened and sophisticated. Now when these unequal parts of the water and gold have been combined and reduced to a dry liquid or amalgam, they should be left six or seven days exposed to gentle heat. Then take one part of the three parts of water, and pour it into a round, oval glass phial, similar to an egg in shape; put the tempered liquid in the midst thereof, and leave it once more for six or seven days; the Body of the Sun will then be gradually dissolved by the water. Thereupon both will begin to combine, and one will mingle with the other as gently and insensibly as ice with warm water. When this is done, add the third part (which you have kept) to the rest, but not all at once, or in one day: otherwise the Body would become too liquid, and entirely corrupted by too much moisture. All this being done, let the phial be carefully closed and sealed, to prevent the compound from evaporating or losing its odor; and place it in the furnace, there exposing it to a gentle, continuous, airy, vaporous, and well-tempered heat. Thus I have most faithfully explained to you the whole process by which this most noble Art, and highest achievement, to wit, the Egg of the Sages, or Philosopher's Stone, may be begun and successfully completed.
(1) observe that before the compound is solved and turns black, anything is sublimed, or evaporated, or something resembling a red oil floats on the surface of the substance;
or (2) if before or after it has turned white, it turns red too suddenly;
or (3) if, towards the end, it does not properly coagulate;
or (4) if the substance is so strongly affected by the heat that, being taken out, it does not instantly melt on red hot iron like wax, but tinges and colors the iron, and afterwards will not remain fixed in the fire - If one or more of the above defects are observed, the whole compound must again be taken out of the phial, and once more solved in the aforesaid water of mercury (also called virgin's milk, water of life, which nevertheless contains the most malignant poison); with this water it must once more be moistened and saturated, and then subjected to the action of the fire, until there is no longer any sublimation or formation of gaseous vapors; or till the final coagulation has duly taken place, as described above. Much has been said concerning the operation, virtue, and utility of this Art, as, for example, unto what extent the said Stone, becomes a medicine which is above every medicine. It has been denominated the universal panacea, to which not only all diseases yield (as, for instance, leprosy and gout), but by the use of which, old men may become young again, recover their lost faculties, and their former strength, and by which those who are already half dead may be revivified and quickened.
Take one part of the Essence, and add to it three parts of purest gold, which has been purged and melted by means of antimony, and reduced to very thin plates. Let them be placed together in the crucible. Thereupon the whole compound will be transformed into a pure and efficacious Tincture, which, when applied to base metals, in the ratio of 1:1000, will change them into pure gold.
Almighty God deigned to give us a fuller revelation and a corporal, visible, and apprehensible idea of His heavenly treasures and gifts in the Person of His Son. This earthly and bodily manifestation He plainly foretold in the Prophet Isaiah (chapter. xxviii.): "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a corner stone, a tried stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." To the same effect the Royal Seer David speaks, though the Holy Spirit, in Psalm cxviii.: "The Stone which the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes." This type, the aforesaid Corner Stone, Christ applies to Himself (Matthew xxi.) when He says: "Have ye never read in the Scriptures?"
The Stone that the builders rejected has become the chief stone of the corner. This tried, blessed, and heavenly Stone Jesus Christ was longingly expected from the beginning of the world by the Fathers and Holy Patriarchs. But although that heavenly Stone was bestowed by God as a free gift on the whole human race, the rich as well as the poor (Matthew xi., 6.); yet to this very day comparatively few have been able to know and apprehend Him. If they will not believe God and His Holy Word, they might at least be enlightened by a study of our chemical Art, and of the union of two waters (viz., that of mercury and that of the Sun). As the Philosopher's Stone, which is the Chemical King, has virtue by means of its tincture and its developed perfection to change other imperfect and base metals into pure gold, so our heavenly King and fundamental Corner Stone, Jesus Christ, can alone purify us sinners and imperfect men with His Blessed ruby-colored Tincture, that is to say, His Blood. It is not merely difficult, but quite impossible, to prepare the Philosopher's Stone without a true knowledge of Christ, the heavenly Corner Stone, in whom all Nature lives and moves, and has its being."
Well, that is all I know about Alchemy. Isn’t it fascinating? Let us conclude with a few words from Thomas Norton, a 15th century British Alchemist, words that stress on the secrecy of Alchemy.
"This art must ever secret be.
The cause whereof is this, as ye may see:
If one evil man had thereof all his will,
All Christian peace he might easily spill,
And with his pride he might pull down
Rightful kings and princes of renown."
The pictures on this page, taken from drawings from manuscripts, have been hand-colored by Adam McLean.
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