Thursday, April 20, 2017
Alchemy & the Philosopher's Stone by C.J.S. Thompson 1897
THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE by C.J.S. Thompson 1897
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The dominating ambition of the early alchemists was to discover the unknown. In the same spirit the modern worker in science gropes onward, and dreams of discovering some contribution towards solving the elixir of life, in the form, it may be, of conquering at least one fell disease. The ancient workers in alchemy confined their researches almost exclusively to metals; they believed that all natural things were composed of four elements, which they termed Fire, Air, Earth, and Water. "When these four elements are conjoined," says Roger Bacon, in his Radix Mundi, "they become another thing, whereas it is evident that all things in Nature are composed of the said elements being altered and changed."
But the patient researches of the alchemists were not so much due to a love for scientific investigation as to the overwhelming desire to gain wealth.
The majority had two fixed objects in view as the goals of their ambition, one being the discovery of some body that would be capable of transmuting the baser metals into gold and silver; and the other, the discovery of an elixir which would prolong the span of human life to an indefinite period. Both these objects seem to have been sought for by man from prehistoric times, and their origin is lost in antiquity. Berthelot remarks that the term "Philosopher's Stone" does not occur in writings earlier than the seventh century, although the central idea is much more ancient.
The philosopher's stone was sought for by the Chinese philosophers at a very remote period, afterwards by the Greeks, Arabs, and others down to the seventeenth century.
Men of undoubted ability and genius wasted both their lives and their fortunes over the search for this illusive chimera, and-others condescended to fraud and trickery of the meanest description
in its pursuit. Apparently no alchemist of any repute thought it right to die until he had at least claimed to have solved one of these great problems. Thus claimants to the discovery were numerous. The descriptions given of the various processes in ancient manuscripts and works for producing the philosopher's stone are usually of a very elaborate description, and couched in the most fantastic language.
Failure to produce the desired result was invariably accounted for by -the omission to carry out some minute detail. Some who professed to have discovered the secret demanded large sums of money to reveal it, and several visited the various courts of Europe to demonstrate it by means of trickery and conjuring.
The notorious Dr. Dee, who flourished in the time of Queen Elizabeth, was one of the last claimants to the discovery, and is said to have received immense sums of money from dupes for imparting the coveted secret, which he demonstrated by means of an ingenious trick.
Realgar, mercury, sulphur, and many other substances were credited with the magical property of transmutation.
In the illustration, which is taken from an authentic engraving of the sixteenth century, we have a figure of the apparatus used for distilling the "Water of Life," the process for which is
described by Gesnerus in the Newe Jewell of Healthy printed in 1576. The alchemist, arrayed in his imposing robes, is depicted giving instructions to his assistant as to certain precautions to be taken in conducting the process.
Bacon states that sulphur and mercury are the mineral roots and natural principles upon which Nature herself acts and works in the mines and caverns of the earth ; the latter metal he believed to be the true elixir of the philosopher's stone; others, including Rhazes and Merlin, believed it to be an amalgam of gold and mercury, fantastically called the Red man and his White wife.
Concerning the vessels for producing this "Citrine body," as Bacon calls it, the most exact precautions were taken. Special apparatus was used, and a special heat, which was not to exceed the heat of the body. For this purpose horse-dung was employed. Senier, the philosopher, says: " Dig a sepulchre and bury the woman (mercury) with her man (gold) in horse-dung, the fire of the philosopher, until such time as they be conjoined".
Bacon's definition of alchemy was: "Alchymie is the art or science teaching how to make or generate a certain kind of medicine which is called the elixir. It teaches how to transmute all kinds of metals, one with another; and this by a proper medicine." George Ripley, a monk, in 1476, thought that he had discovered the much-coveted stone in pure sulphur. He says: "Let the two sulphurs, viz. the white and the red, be mingled with the oil of the white elixir that they may work the more strongly, and you shall have the highest medicine in the world to heal and cure human bodies, and to transmute the bodies of metals into the most pure fine gold and silver". Berthelot, who has made an exhaustive study of the subject, comes to the conclusion that the doctrines of alchemy concerning the transmutation of metals, did not originate in the philosophical views of the constitution of matter as generally supposed, but in the practical experiments of goldsmiths occupied in making fraudulent substitutes for the precious metals. One cannot but think with pity of the immense labour expended and lost in the attempt made by many of these pioneers of science in their pursuit after this chemical chimera.
Paracelsus, as well as his predecessors, laboured studiously to discover some method for prolonging life. Like Bacon and Verulam, he maintained that the human body could be rejuvenated to a certain extent by a fresh supply of vitality, and it was his aim to find means by which such a supply could be obtained. In one of his works he gives the following reasons for this belief: "Metals may be preserved from rust and wood may be protected against rot. Blood may be preserved a long time if the air is excluded. Egyptian mummies have kept their form for centuries without undergoing putrefaction. Animals awaken from their winter sleep, and flies having become torpid from cold become nimble again when they are warmed. Therefore, if inanimate objects can be kept from destruction, why should there be no possibility to preserve the life-essence of animate forms?" For this purpose he prepared a remedy he called Primum Ens Melissa, which was made by dissolving pure carbonate of potass, and macerating in the liquid the fresh leaves of the melissa plant. On this absolute alcohol was poured several times in successive portions to absorb the colouring matter, after which it was collected, distilled, and evaporated to the thickness of a syrup. The second great secret elixir of Paracelsus was his Primum Ens Sanguinis. This was prepared by mixing blood from the medium vein of a healthy young person, and digesting it in a warm place with twice its quantity of alcahesl, after which the red fluid was to be separated from the sediment, filtered, and preserved.
The alcahest was his celebrated universal medicine, and was considered the greatest mystery of all. It was made with freshly prepared caustic lime and absolute alcohol. These were distilled together ten times. The residue left in the retort was mixed with pure carbonate of potass and dried. This was again distilled with alcohol. It was then placed in a dish and set on fire, and the residue that remained was the alcahest.
The following lines were found inscribed on the fly-leaf of an old work on alchemy, printed in 1550, and signed "Philo Veritas": —
When fire and water, earth and air
In love's true bond united are,
For all diseases then be sure
You have a safe and certain cure.
I will affirm it's here alone
Exists the Philosophic Stone.
This is fair nature's virgin root,
Thrice blest are they who reap the fruit:
But oh! where one true adept's found.
Ten thousand thousand cheats abound.
In an ancient work in the library of York Minster, the writer came across the following in manuscript, signed "Raymund Lull:" :—
Remember man that is the most noble creature in com-
position that ever God wrought;
In whom be four elements proportioned by nature,
A neutral mercuriallyte which costeth right naught,
Out of his monie by manie it is bought;
And our monie be not all but our oxtalle towe,
Of the sun and the moon; which Raymund Said So.
For more see Forbidden Knowledge and the Occult - 300 Books on DVDrom and Alchemy, the Philosopher's Stone and the Esoteric - 100 Books on DVDrom
[For a list of all of my disks, with links click here]