What Is Alchemy?
What is Alchemy?
The gold of alchemy was simply hastened perfection, inner and outer, the divinization of matter and man. This idea is certainly not strange to any craftsman. "When a man undertakes to create something," wrote Paracelsus, "he establishes a new heaven, as it were, and from it the work that he desires to create flows into him." In order that it may be expressed, that it may resound, the Word must be made flesh; immortality must be incarnated outwardly in gold and inwardly in the development of a subtle body within this ordinary body: the "glorious body" or "diamond body" of oriental tradition, the "spiritual body " of the Christian.This "becoming" is what alchemy is about. Its process can also be expressed by the traditional formulas of initiation: the suffering, death, and resurrection of the god or the neophyte, represented by the substances in the crucible or by the material of the craftsman -- the symbolic formula of transformation. Whether raw material, base metal, divine or human spirit, there must be the suffering of purification and separation. The patience that is the quality more vital to the craftsman is, in the final analysis, no other than this suffering, as it applies to the process of creation operating in and upon the artisan himself (Latin patiens from pati, to suffer).
Alchemy is a Science
Alchemy is a Science of Soul that results from an understanding of God, Nature, and Man. A perfect knowledge of any of one them cannot be obtained without the knowledge of the other two, for these three are one and inseparable. Alchemy is not merely an intellectual but a spiritual science, because that which belongs to the spirit can only be spiritually known. Nevertheless, it is also a science dealing with material things, for spirit and matter are only two opposite manifestations or poles of the eternal One.
Alchemy in its more material aspect teaches how minerals, metals, plants, animals, and men may be generated or made to grow from their "seeds." In other words, how that generation, which is accomplished during long periods of time in the due course of the action of evolution and natural law, may be accomplished in a comparatively short time, if these natural laws are guided and supplied with the proper material by the spiritual knowledge of man. There is no doubt that gold can be made to grow by alchemical means, though it requires an alchemist to make the experiment succeed, and he who is attracted by the material power of gold will not obtain possession of the spiritual power necessary to practice the art.
It is therefore a grave mistake to confuse alchemy with chemistry. Modern chemistry is an artificial science that deals only with the external forms in which the elements of matter are manifesting themselves. It never produces anything truly new to creation; it can only recombine atoms and molecules into different substances. We may mix and compound and decompose chemical bodies an unlimited number of times and cause them to appear in various different forms, but at the end, we will have no augmentation of the underlying substances nor anything more than the recombinations of the substances that have been employed at the beginning. Alchemy does not mix or compound anything; it causes that which already pre-exists in a latent state to become active and grow. Alchemy is, therefore, more comparable to biology than to chemistry; and, in fact, the growth of a plant, a tree, or an animal or the evolution of whole species are alchemical processes going on in the laboratory of nature, and performed by the Great Alchemist -- the power of the divine Mind acting in nature
The One Thing (or the Subtle Ether)
Space, whether interplanetary, inner matter, or inter-organic, is filled with a subtle presence emanating from the One Thing of the universe. Later alchemists called it, as did the ancients, the subtle Ether. This primordial fluid or fabric of space pervades everything and all matter. Metal, mineral, tree, plant, animal, man; each is charged with the Ether in varying degrees. All life on the planet is charged in like manner; a world is built up in this fluid and move through a sea of it.
Alchemical Ether, which some Hermeticists call the Astral Light, determines the constitution of bodies. Hardness and softness, solidity and liquidity, all depend on the relative proportion of ethereal and ponderable matter of which they me composed. The arbitrary division and classification of physical science, the whole range of physical phenomena, proceeds from the primary Ether, for science has reduced matter as we know it to nothing but Ether, which, although not solid matter, is still matter, the First Matter of the alchemists. When most of us speak of matter, of course, we usually visualize solid substance, but it has been proved by that matter is not actually solid, but merely a stress, a strain in the etheric field of time and space. The atom and the electrons and protons of which it is composed, all move in a sea of Ether, so, that in accordance with this theory of alchemy, the very air we breathe, the very bodies we inhabit, all things most likewise be moving in this sea of Ether, the parent element from which all manifestation has come.
This principle that all things proceed from One Thing is demonstrable in the realm of biology, for the multicellular organisms, complex as they may be in their structure, nevertheless arise from a single cell. Science postulates that all matter is composed of atoms; atoms, however, are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, and those in turn composed of still finer components until we the Ether. This Ether is.a universal connecting medium, filling all space to the furthest limits, penetrating the interstices of the atoms without a break in its continuity. So completely does it fill space that it is sometimes identified with space itself, and has, in fact, been spoken of as Absolute Space.
"The Ether of space," according to physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, "is a theme of unknown and apparently infinite magnitude and of a reality beyond the present conception of man. It is that of which everyday material consists, a link between the worlds, a consummate substance of overpowering grandeur. By a kind of instinct, one feels it to be the home of spiritual existence, the realm of the awe-inspiring. and supernal. It is co-extensive with the physical universe and is absent from no part of space. Beyond the furthest star the Ether extends, in the heart of the atom it has its being. It permeates and controls and dominates all. It eludes the human senses and can only be envisaged by the powers of the mind. Yet the Ether is a physical thing; it is not a physical entity, yet it has definite properties. It is not matter any more than hydrogen and oxygen are water, but it is the vehicle of both matter and spirit."
Now, the alchemist has divided matter, seen and unseen, into seven principles or planes, and of these the fifth principle, or Quintessence, corresponds to science's Ether or in more contemporary parlance, the Space-Time Continuum. If we are willing to admit that there is some truth in this relationship of ideas, then we may begin to see that alchemy is based on absolute law. All the forces of our scientists have originated in the Vital Principle, that one collective life. Our life is a part of, or rather one of the aspects of, the One Universal Life.
During a person's life, there is present a finely diffused form of matter, a vapor filling not merely every part of his physical body but actually stored in some parts; a matter constantly renewed by the vital chemistry; a matter as easily disposed of as the breath, once the breath has served its purpose. Paracelsus named this First Matter of life the Archaeus, meaning the oldest principle. "The Archaeus is an essence that is equally distributed in all parts of the human body," he wrote. "The Spiritus Vitae (Spirit of Life) takes its origin from the Spiritus Mundi (Spirit of the Universe). Being an emanation of the latter, the Archaeus contains the elements of all cosmic influences and is therefore the cause by which the action of the cosmic forces act upon the body."
The Archaeus is of a magnetic nature and is not enclosed in a body but radiates within and around it like a luminous sphere. Alchemy and alchemy alone, within the current historical epoch, has succeeded in obtaining a real element, or a particle of homogeneous matter. This is the true Mysterium Magnum. By this age-old science the alchemist may set free this Vital Principle in his laboratory, destroy the body of the metal on which he is working, purify its Salt, and reassemble its principles together in a higher form. The alchemical process, which is, after all, but a miniature reproduction of a superior process in operation around us all the time, undoubtedly proceeds from Master Intelligences who have lived at some time or another on our earth.
The Scientific Approach
It is a pity that science must always reject old ideas and cast them away as useless before rediscovering them as something new to be incorporated into current theories. To discard the alchemist's theories is about as intelligent as to dismiss as rubbish Einstein's Theory of Relativity merely because one does not happen to understand his language. Some of our scientists have realized this for a long time. F. Hoefer in Histoire de la Chimie (Paris 1866) remarked: "The systems that confront the intelligence must remain basically unchanged through the ages, although they assume different forms [depending on the age and culture of man]. Thus, through mistaking form for basic truth, one conceives of an erroneous sequence. We most remember that there is nothing so disastrous in science as the arrogant dogmatism that despises the past and admires nothing but the present innovation."
If scientists would try to understand the conception of the universe as taught by Hermeticism (the Perennial Philosophy) throughout the ages, taking as its starting-point the teaching of the One Mind in Manifestation; its seven planes of consciousness; its infinite archetypal forces, and as the basis of its philosophy the Emerald Tablet axiom "As Above, so Below," it would create a lasting system of understanding based on eternal Truth instead of on a quicksand of egocentric theories. Science will never really understand the truth about life until it reaches this realization. Such a realization cannot be attained through its instruments and appliances but only through the inner powers of the mind.
Paracelsus noted: "Nothing of true value is located in the body of a substance, but in the virtue thereof, and this is the principle of the Quintessence, which reduces, say 20 lbs. of a given substance into a single Ounce, and that ounce far exceeds the 20 lbs. in potency. Hence the less there is of body, the more in proportion is the virtue thereof."
"The Magi in their wisdom asserted that all creatures might be brought to one unified substance," he continued, "which may by purification and purgation, attain to so high a degree of subtlety, such divine nature and Hermetic property, as to work wonderful results. For they considered that by returning to the Earth, and by a supreme and magical separation, a certain perfect substance would come forth, which is at length, by many industrious and prolonged preparations, exalted and raised up above the range of vegetable substances into mineral, above mineral into metallic, and above perfect metallic substances into a perpetually alive and divine Quintessence. The evolutionary perfection includes within itself the essence of all celestial and terrestrial creatures." By this Quintessence or quintum esse, Paracelsus meant the nucleus of the essences and properties of all things in the universal world.
From the Golden Casket of Benedictus Figulus comes the following wisdom: "For the elements and their compounds in addition to crass matter, are composed of a subtle substance, or intrinsic radical humidity, diffused through the elemental parts, simple and wholly incorruptible, long preserving the things themselves in vigor and called the Spirit of the World, proceeding as it does from the Soul of the World. This is the one certain Life filling and fathoming all things, so that from the three emanations of sentient beings (Intellectual, Celestial, and Corruptible), there is formed the One Machine of the Whole World. This spirit by its virtue fecundates all subjects natural and artificial, pouring into them those hidden properties that we have been want to call the Fifth Essence, or Quintessence. But this Fifth Essence is created by the Almighty for the preservation of the four qualities of the human body, even as, Heaven is for the preservation of the Universe. Therefore is this Fifth Essence and Spiritual Medicine, which is of Nature and the Heart of Heaven and not of a mortal and corrupt quality, makes life possible. The Fount of Medicine, the preservation of life, the restoration of health, and in this may be the cherished renewal of lost youth and serene health be found."
The Great Work of the Hermetic Art is before all things the creation of man himself. That is to say:
First - The full and complete conquest of his faculties.
Second - The development of all his forces and energies.
Third - The perfect Emancipation of his Will.
Forth - The establishment of Manhood and the attainment of absolute Individualization.
Man is not truly man unless he is a FREE-man.
So long as man is shackled by limitations, whether self-created or by man-made legislative enactments, he is not a free-man, therefore a slave.
This is in no wise indicative that man should ignore the statutes created by other men. On the contrary, it stipulates that the free-man is so proud of his inheritance that he will not stoop to commit "sin" or a wrong against other me or society. Having attained such a freedom from the dictates of his own passions, he is too noble to stoop to any unworthy act. It was written of such: "The men best governed are those least governed," because they govern themselves.
The concept of the Hermetic Science and Alchemical processes is the development of the three fold man: body mind and Soul; the complete activation of all his forces, powers and energies, the attainment of Soul Consciousness here and now and the severing of all man-made shackles.
Hermetic Science and the Alchemical Process
The aim of Initiation
"May the Children of DarknessBecome the Sons of Light!"
The study and mastery of Occult Science reveals to man the mysteries of his nature, the secrets of his organization, the hidden potentialities with their possibilities and the means by which he may attain happiness, the successful achievements of his life's purpose and, lastly, a degree of perfection; in short, the aim and end of his destiny.
This is the secret of Initiation and has been its purpose since the first man became conscious of his Soul or spiritual self and inaugurated the Mysteries whereby all men might, if they so desired, attain spiritual consciousness.
The "key" to this process is the hidden teaching in all sacred writings: it is the basic foundation of all religious inculcations.
The older Mysteries were dual in their object; that is to say, the Masters had two distinct purposes in view; it was a double doctrine.
The first object was to draw man from his state of barbarity and civilize him and then take civilized man and instruct him toward his perfection; in other words, to lead man, who was universally believed to be lost or fallen, back to his firs nature. According to his doctrine, man must become regenerated, his spiritual nature brought to the ascendant, and this is only possible through a process known as Initiation, the method being Alchemical and the means transmutatory.
The Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir
Gold became the symbol of this first matter and has so remained, because gold is the purest substance known to man and resists even fire, the universal cleanser, and gold was to matter that which the AEtheric Fire is to the Soul. Thus Initiation had two divisions:
In the first division only the propensities were purified; the "man" only was put though the crucible. This was a spiritual alchemy, a process of transmutation, a human Initiation.
The second Initiation led up to the mysterious operations of nature and was an initiation of the "Body."
In the one was contained the search for the Cornerstone of the Philosophic Temple of Mankind, and with ingenious symbolism it taught the Neophyte that all humanity should and could be reunited into one great fold of universality, differing in expression, but united as to objective - a diversity of Unity.
In the second division the Neophyte was taught to search for that which led back to a new Golden Age, the Philosopher's Stone of turning failure into success and the Elixir which not alone prolongs life, but maintains health and well-being.
The object of all this philosophy and of all Initiation is to obtain that Knowledge and Art of how to make perfect that which either nature has left imperfect or man has degraded by the misuse of his free will, and to apply this power to the benefit of himself first and then to his fellow-man, Occult knowledge recognizing that man's first duty is an unselfish one to himself.
Afar in the past, when man first commenced to reflect on himself, he became aware that, although knowing and approving the good, yet he was strongly inclined to do what was neither to the ultimate benefit of himself or others, and this in itself proved that the strength of his desires was far greater than his reason. He enjoyed only partly, or in appearance only, his inheritance of free will. It quickly became apparent to him that if he utilized his right of choosing and determining his actions throughout his life, he must subdue those unruly passions which controlled his very being. From thence sprang the first idea of the sage, to be free-man and master of himself. Every institution and philosophy which has in view the making of Masters and Adepts must primarily have in view this self-mastery.
The Greatest of All Victories Is the Victory Gained Over the Carnal Self
Alchemical Science had its origin in Arabia and was closely associated with religious rites. Geber is its accredited founder. The Egyptian priests were initiated into the mysteries of the Divine. Like its predecessors, Alchemy postulated an orderly Universe, but Alchemy was richer in its varied details, far more picturesquely embroidered, more prodigal of strange fancies to make it interesting, that the Initiatory Art and Science of Egypt. The Alchemist constructed his ordered scheme of nature on the basis of a universality of life. The Alchemist saw life in everything and that life threefold in its aspect. He recognizes the manifestation of life in the form or body of a thing, in its spirit and in its Soul.
Things may differ materially in appearance, in size, taste, smell and other outward properties and yet, according to alchemical science, be intimately related, because they were produced from the identical principles and animated by the same universal Soul. On the other hand, things might resemble one another closely in their appearances outwardly, yet differ in their essential qualities, because, according to alchemy, they were formed from different elements and in their spiritual properties were vastly different. The transformation of one thing into another, according to this science, can only be effected by spiritual means acting on the spirit of the thing, because the true transformation consists essentially in raising the substance to the highest perfection whereof it is capable(2).
(2) Within man there are two constantly active fires. One is his creative energy, while the other is his Divine Principle. All men are familiar with their creative energy, how it governs and controls their every action. Because of lack of control, all the crimes in the catalog are committed daily. It makes a monster out of a weakling, a demon out of a physical wreck. Under control, it is the impetus of the imaginative faculty, and men become inventors, artists, scientist, musicians, authors, physicians, masters of scientists, musicians, authors, physicians, masters of science, but still no more than men. But when this creative energy, this sex fire, is raised up to its highest perfection, then meek and lowly man becomes an Initiate, a Master, one of the Gods - a free man in every sense of the term; and to be truly free, no longer under the dominion of any other man or set of men, is the highest that man can attain in this mundane sphere and is the Odyssey sought by all the philosophers.
The Four Elements
Alchemy, was the progenitor of chemistry. It gained notoriety in the middle ages when people hoped to become rich by turning lead or other base metals into gold. Even kings and popes were hopeful of benefiting from its methods. Eventually its popularity waned and as "physical science" has become dominant, it has been relegated by the general public to the dump pile of forgotten ideas.
As with many teachings from peoples from our ancient past, it bears a second look. It is not my intention to delve into the physical chemistry involved in their processes or to teach the method whereby gold may be derived from the lesser metals. My interest is in the underlying religious and philosophic ideas hidden in their jargon of symbols.
In Europe, during the middle ages, it was not safe to express ideas which varied from those accepted at the time by the church. In order to communicate ideas considered heretical without being persecuted, some very learned people began to write using the ancient symbols of alchemy to express ideas. Today the symbols seem fairly easy to interpret, but in those early times, they were sufficiently veiled to convince the church that their intent was purely chemical and physical.
The word alchemy comes from al which means the and chemica which means chemical. Whereas chemistry deals with scientifically verifiable phenomena, alchemy teaches a hidden reality which is the essence of all truths and of all religions. The perfection of this essence can be realized only if consciousness is altered and transmuted (changed)from the base, normal level (lead) to a high spiritual level (gold).
Alchemy can be traced back to Zoroaster and the Persians of about 700 B.C. But, it is said to have originated still earlier from the ancient Egyptian god-king, Thoth or Hermes. From Egypt, it made its way to Byzantium, to Arabia and Spain. Plotinous and Plato were influenced by it. Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, Raymond Lully and Paracelsus, to name a few practiced and wrote on alchemy.
It differs from mysticism and has become the basis for a western metaphysical tradition some what different from that found in eastern religions. Where the essence and aim of mysticism is union with God, a sort of nirvana where the individual ceases to exist; the goal of alchemy is an inward process, the perfecting of the individual and the immortalization of the Soul.
Whether or not you accept its concepts, it is difficult to understand western religious traditions, especially the so called New Thought and New Age movements without having some understanding of this ancient teaching.
The alchemists wrote using symbols. Great truths have often been taught using symbolism, parables or metaphor. The symbols can be interpreted on many different levels, and as a person gains greater understanding his interpretation of a symbol will gain a greater depth. "A picture is worth a thousand words," and the same is true of a symbol, parable or metaphor. Symbolism is the most universal language that can be conceived.
All of the outer procedures had an inner correspondent, so that they described inner procedures as well as those in the outer chemical laboratory in the same words. This is based on the Hermetic Law: "As above; so below. As without; so within." The alchemists taught that the first goal is to find the Philosopher's Stone or the Elixir of Life, the Key to Immortality. Then, the Stone is applied to the lead, or man himself, to change it into gold, or the immortal.
Alchemy teaches the raising of vibrations: the belief in the ability to transmute or change matter to a higher level. One of the most important principles that the alchemists used has to do with the basic duality of the universe. The method of procedure to achieve the Philosopher's Stone is the harmonizing of this duality.
Alchemy is not a religion. "It is primarily neither theological, metaphysical nor ethical. It looks on the play of the powers of the Soul from a purely cosmological point of view, and treats the soul as a ‘substance' which has to be purified, dissolved and crystallized anew." Yet, as Dr. R. Swinburne Clymer continues, "All of the Sacred Art is to be found in Holy Writ if one has ‘eyes to see."
There are those who claim that one of the examples of this is Tubal Cain, mentioned in Genesis. A descendant of Cain, his name, translated from the Aramaic, means mineral principle, metals and physical power. He is described as an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron. He was knowledgeable in the art of metals. He is the first person in the Bible to be so described.
Clearly, alchemy is applicable on two different levels: the outer or physical and the inner or spiritual. In this discussion, we will treat the outer in a cursory manner and emphasize the inner, which is consistent with our purpose.
The alchemists reasoned thusly: everything that grows comes from a seed. The fruit or highest form of the thing must be contained in the seed. They believed that there are four elements: earth, air, water and fire. In addition, something called the quintessence which may be thought of as life force, was also required. These four elements are the seeds from which all physical creation comes.
Their approach was contrary, in that they looked on material things qualitatively or spiritually; and soulual things quantitatively or materially. Dr. Clymer said, "Man is the central subject in all Alchemical books; yet, not man as he is a person, but as he is a nature, containing or manifesting the great world, or as he is the Image of God."
The process of developing the Great Elixir or Philosopher's Stone is the transmutation of the base metals, which mean the base or animal passions into pure gold or pure love. The actual process is described in detail. It is broken down into the fore work or the Lesser Work and the main work or the Greater Work.
There are some basic ideas we need to understand. They found that when a material is heated it goes through a consistent process. First it gives off water. Second it gives off gas or air. Third it burns or gives off fire. And finally, all that is left is ash or earth. And so they found in this process the evolution of all of the elements.
They taught that there are four natural qualities as well as four elements. They arise from the interaction of the four elements. Fire and earth interrelate to form dryness. Earth and water interact as coldness. Water and air interact as humidity. And Air and fire interact to produce heat. They diagramed them as follows. Note that they are arranged as opposites.
Processing the Four Elements
Three basic materials
The basic process involves three materials: Sulfur, Mercury and Lead or sometimes, Salt. Sulfur symbolizes fire, spirit, the sun, masculine, the creative principle, and the intellect, and is represented by the color red. Mercury symbolizes water, the moon, feminine, the nurturing or love principle and the heart, and is represented by the color white. To be reborn of the water and the spirit is the goal of this ancient art.
The making of the Philosopher's Stone requires the combination of the purest possible Sulfur and the purest possible Mercury. They are to be combined in a vessel called an athanor which is an oven usually shaped like an egg. This egg shaped vessel represents the person, for in truth, we are dealing with these principles within each person.
The Union of Opposites
In our previous issue, we discussed the four elements, Fire, Water, Earth and Air. The Alchemists believed that all created matter was composed of one or more of these four elements. Consistent with Hermetic Law which is the basis for Alchemy, this includes man himself. Hermetic Law says "As above; so below; as without, so within." All outer conditions are reflections of, or correspondences of inner conditions.
The Alchemists' four elements correlate to four of the basic elements of organic chemistry:
Fire------nitrogen or sulfur
In turn, they each have a rarefied elemental essence:
Earth – rarified – Gnomes
Water - fluid essence - Nymphs
Air — intangible - AEth - Sylphs
Fire - etheric flame - Salamanders
And consistent with their love of opposites: Earth must become weightless, Water must become fiery, Air must become solid and Fire must become liquid. The four elements were at one in a mysterious object. This object is man. And so Alchemy has to do with a balancing of opposites within ourselves.
The Alchemists' materials which they used in their physical art also symbolize the aspects of the Great Work of spiritual development. Three materials involved in the Alchemical processes correlate to the three aspects of man; body, mind and spirit. Sulfur symbolizes the intellect, the conscious or masculine. Mercury or Quicksilver symbolizes the emotions, the unconscious or feminine.
The great secret, which for centuries was known only to the Initiated, was finally exposed by General Ethan Allan Hitchcock, a century ago, is that Lead, the prima materia, which is called by a hundred names, every one a riddle, symbolizes the unregenerate man himself.
This lead is us before we have become spiritual beings. It is the base material, negative thoughts, lustful passions and harmful emotions which the aspirant of alchemy must change or transmute into the spiritual or gold. Lead represents the chaotic, heavy and sick condition of metal or the inward man. Gold expresses the perfection of both metallic and human existence.
Remember we said that the Alchemists believed that everything could be raised to a higher level of being. And recently, science has shown that even elements may be changed from one to another, something that was unthinkable only a few decades ago.
This idea was most important as it related to man. The process of raising the level of man has become known as the Great Work.
The Great Work.
There are three stages to this Work:
1. The Lesser work, also called the fore work or the purification.
2. The Greater work, also called the Main work, the making of the Philosopher's Stone or Grand Elixir.
3. The After Work, the projection of the Philosopher's Stone upon the lead to turn it into gold.
The Lesser Work.
The Lesser Work, the successful completion of which is called Luna, is the spiritualization of man, the purified, exalted emotions that have been stabilized or sublimated - brought into the sublime. It is symbolized by the purest possible Quicksilver, which when completed is symbolized by Silver. It is the result of faith followed by works.
The Greater Work
The Greater Work, which when completed is called Sol, is the embodying of spirit; an operation of the Holy Spirit which penetrates from without. It is symbolized by the purest possible sulfur, which when completed is symbolized by gold. It is the result of the preparation of the mind followed by grace. The completion of these two stages of the Work result in the Philosopher's Stone, that which will transmute Lead, the base man, into gold.
The After Work
The After Work, or third stage, is almost never discussed. The culmination of this third stage is Illumination.
The Seal of Solomon or the Star of David: Using the symbolism above for the masculine and feminine duality of the universe, we will use Fire for the former and Water for the latter. Fire then, represents the intellect, the spirit and the masculine. Water represents the emotions, the unconscious, the heart and the feminine.
This same symbolism can be found in the story of creation in Genesis. "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." It is the two coming together which is necessary for creation. Together they provide the synthesis of all elements, the union of all opposites.
An equilateral (meaning that all three sides are equal in length) triangle with its apex pointing upward, is used as a symbol for Fire. The same equilateral triangle with its apex pointing downward is a symbol for Water. When the two come together, as in the Seal of Solomon or Star of David the two intertwined triangles represent the union of the opposites both within man and out in the universe.
The Union of Opposites
These two triangles can be symbols in another way as well. The triangle with its apex pointed upwards also represents man. This is part of the symbolism of the pyramid on the dollar bill.
On the lowest level of the triangle is the physical or animal man. This correlates to the level of most of mankind and is the starting point in the Lesser Work. This is the body.
The second level of this triangle is the level of desire. It relates to the appetites and as yet unregenerate desires of the flesh. This is the heart or emotions.
The third level of the triangle is the level of the intellect, as yet unenlightened. It is in the realm of concrete thought. It represents the mind. These three aspects make up the mortal, unregenerate man: body, mind and heart.
If we are to reach Spiritual Illumination, the triangle must be inverted. The top of the first triangle becomes the bottom of the second. The mind, now on the first level, must change and become regenerated and capable of more abstract thought. It becomes higher mind, imbued with higher ideals. This is the First Degree.
The second level, the heart or desire nature becomes purified and through its lofty desires reaches the point of communion with the Hierarchies. This is the Second Degree.
Finally, on the third level, the fully regenerated or spiritualized mind and heart enable the regeneration of the mortal into the immortal. This is the true self and the Third Degree.
The Lessor and the Greater Work
The understanding of metals and the processes that affect them are of vital importance to the work of the Alchemists. Not only for their material, chemical work but also, and integral to it is the understanding of the spiritual principles symbolized by the work.
The more important metals with which they deal are also symbols for astrological bodies and spiritual ideas. These astrological references were used because almost all of the western world was familiar with the meaning and interpretations of these symbols.
Lead is an imperfect metal. It is represented astrologically by Saturn. The Alchemists taught that all secrets are in Saturn. Remember, this lead of the Alchemists, or Saturn, represents the unregenerated man; man in his low, animal state. It is heavy, chaotic and the sick condition of the inner, unregenerate man.
The lead of man is absolutely essential to the Work; for it is man who must be transmuted to gold or Illumination. It is represented by the death of the first born, the death of the earthly carnal self. This helps to explain the many stories in the Old Testament where the first born, who according to Jewish law would inherit, does not. For it is the second born or spiritual level of consciousness which will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Lead then is the basic material, the prima materia.
Sulphur is one of two of the substances which the Alchemists used to act on metals. It has a masculine character and is symbolized by fire. Sulphur represents the mind, the intellect. It is related to the color red and symbolized by the Sun.
One of the two substances which they used is Mercury or Quicksilver. Its character is feminine and it is symbolized by water and the Moon. It represents the heart, the emotions. It is related to the color white.
These two elements, Sulphur and Quicksilver when elevated or transmuted into their highest possible expression become Gold and Silver, respectively. The process can be represented symbolically as follows:
The First Stage or The Lesser Work
This process is the spiritualization of the body. It is the result of faith. When completed, it is pure white; Luna; the glorified emotions or Heart, the feminine or Bride in the chemical marriage to come. Take special note of the symbols used in the process.
In the first level the moon is beneath the cross which represents man. This indicates that at this level, the emotions are subservient to the carnal man. In the second phase the moon is beside the cross which indicates that the emotions are being elevated. Finally, in the third phase the carnal man is overcome and the elevated emotions or heart are free of the influence of the lower passions.
1. Saturn, Lead, black
This is the consciousness at its lowest stage of development. It relates to the thinking and passions of the material world, chaos. There is no understanding of spiritual things. The process needed to pass out of this stage is what the Alchemists called mortification, symbolized in the Bible by the death of the firstborn and the Passover of the Israelites.
2. Jupiter, Tin, gray
Once across the Red Sea this next stage is one of growth into the newly recognized spiritual person which must be undertaken to reach the goal. This is the development of the soul's receptivity. The Alchemists called it sublimation. It is represented in the Bible by the 40 year wandering of the Israelites, seeking greater understanding of what their God required of them.
3. Moon, Silver, white
The final stage of the Lesser Work is that of spiritualized, purified emotions and heart. The accomplishment of this stage, what the Alchemists called the completion of the Lesser Work, represents the regeneration of the feminine side of man. The lunar crescent has raised above, dissolved and now contains, all the potentialities of the soul which were in the original chaos of Saturn. They have now been united and purified. It is the perfection of the Heart, the Bride, and is represented by the Blessed Virgin. It is being reborn of water (heart).
The Second Stage or The Greater Work
This is the process of embodying of the spirit. It is the development of the mental consciousness so that it may be worthy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the result of grace. When completed it is crimson and the Sun, the spiritualized intellect, or mind, the masculine or Bridegroom in the Chemical Marriage.
1. (Image of Venus) Copper, yellow
The first stage of the Greater Work indicates the beginning of contact with the Holy Spirit. The very highest level of the human, + is just able to reach up to the lowest level of the Spirit, O. The Alchemists called this process crystallization. It is the birth of the Christ, the rising of the inward sun, which is only possible after the preparation of the Lesser Work.
2. (Image of Mars) Iron, orange
The second stage of the Greater Work indicates an active descent of the Spirit into the lower levels of human consciousness. The body itself is completely penetrated by the spiritual forces from on high. This new creation is not yet perfect, for the spiritual sun, represented in the symbol, is not yet detached from the cross of the elements, the material man. This is called by the Alchemists coagulation. This transformation is one of the body into Spirit-become-form.
3. (Image of Sun) Gold red
This is the final stage in the Greater Work. It represents the completion of the embodiment of the spirit. It is the highest level of the intellect, or masculine. The Alchemists called it the completion of the Greater Work. The Sun or Spirit has now incorporated all aspects of the lower, material intellect. This is the red; the fire. The completion of this process is the Baptism by Fire. This is the Bridegroom. It is symbolized in the Bible by the resurrection.
Throughout this process and guiding it at every step of the way is the Will, symbolized by , which is also the symbol for Mercury, or Thoth. Notice that this symbol contains both the feminine Moon, horizontally across the top, the masculine Sun, in the middle, and a cross, which is one of the symbols for man, at the base. The implication is that the Will is a combination of Thought and Desire. The sign of Mercury does not represent a stage of the work but is a key to the whole. There are seven planets represented, those known to the known to the ancients, but there are six phases of the work.
The first two steps in each stage include the cross + which is man. The placement of the Moon and the Sun (which represents the feminine heart and the masculine intellect, respectively), in the symbols used helps to identify the progress which has been made.
These two processes are not necessarily sequential. More often they proceed side by side, for they are related. Once the two states of the Work have been accomplished, the Bride, or perfected heart, the white unites with the Bridegroom, or perfected intellect, the red.
This then is the Chemical Marriage. The Alchemists represented this concept as a male-female androgyne: a person, half male and half female. It is also the marriage of "the red and white." And as we shall see, many classical stories contain references to the red and the white. The spiritually enlightened person is indeed a balance of heart and intellect, of feeling and reason. From this combination, is prepared the Philosopher's Stone of the Great Elixir.
With this final resource, the ultimate goal is assured. The Illumination of the Soul is accomplished, and of course, "all else will be added unto you."
The Chemical Marriage
In continuing our discussion of Alchemy, I first want to elaborate on some of the material from last month. I ended the last article with a symbolic representation of the Lesser and Greater Work. It is one of many ways to subdivide the processes of spiritual alchemy. It may seem to over simplify the processes involved, but it is a short hand way to represent them and understand what is involved.
Notice that each stage is represented by a color. These colors may originate with the metallurgic aspect of Alchemy which comes from the processes used in the transformation of metals. Black is the absence of light. White is purity; light undivided or not broken down into colors. It is color at its greatest intensity.
These colors, black, white and red are often represented in heraldry. One finds these symbols in various places. All of the colors in between represent different states of spiritual development.
The Lesser Work is the spiritualization of the body, a lifting up of the carnal man; an ascending movement. The Greater Work is embodying the spirit, a coming down of the Holy Ghost to indwell in the now purified body; a descending movement.
The Androgynous Man
We have been discussing some of the symbols used by the Alchemists to represent their philosophy. There are a few more to explain and then we can use our understanding to interpret a famous Alchemical Drawing called The Androgynous Man.
The Philosopher's Egg has been used to represent the body of man. It has also been called the Athanor which means oven. And it is used in the Chemical and metallurgical operation. It is the "oven" in which the elixir is prepared. Whether oven or egg, the meaning as far as the Great Work is concerned is the same. The Work is to be done within us.
The most important element in the oven is Fire. For the spiritual work, this is love - elevated and spiritualized, but passionate. Fire corresponds to the generative power. It must first be aroused and then tamed or controlled. For this reason Alchemists have always warned against a violent or unsteady fire.
Another symbol for this same concept is the serpent or dragon. This is the serpent which must be lifted up as demonstrated by Moses in the wilderness. This is the dragon that must be overcome as demonstrated by the Knights of Camelot. This is the same force as the creative force of God, in whose image man was made.
Sometimes the representation is that of two serpents; one red and one white. The red relates to the Masculine, Sol, and the white to the feminine, Luna. The two intertwined up the staff represent the harmonious union and balance of the opposites or dualities. They are always headed up the staff to indicate that they have been lifted up and spiritualized. This is the caduceus.
This spiritual fire, just as the physical fire, requires air - in this case, the breath. In the Bible you will find numerous references to the breath. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man become a living soul." (Gen. 2:7) "And when he (Jesus) had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." (St. John 20:22) Regulation of the breath is required for the fire to burn properly.
The globe is another representation for a person. When winged, it denotes a person who is spiritually elevated. The circle or globe is a perfect circle to describe the balancing of all aspects and attributes which is to be accomplished by the spiritualized person.
The carpenter's square and the compass are symbols which are used in Alchemy and also in Masonry. The square on one level, means to be honest and trustworthy. On a deeper level, it represents the physical or manifest universe; the material and is denoted by the number four and a square. On one level, it represents the unmanifested, spiritual universe and is denoted by the number three and an equilateral triangle.
Now let's apply this information to the interpretation of a famous alchemical figure, The Androgenous Man or Rebis, from Materia Prima by Basilius Valentinus, published in Frankfurt, in 1613.
More About the Androgynous Man
"I am the Egg of Nature, known to the Sages only, who, pious and modest, engender from me the Microcosm."
The entire figure is encompassed within an egg. This is the body and so we know that all the things alluded to are inner processes which each of us must accomplish to complete the Great Work. The name of this figure, "Rebis," comes from res bina and means double thing.
The equilateral triangle with the number three, and the square with the number four, stand for all creation, manifest and unmanifest. The three and the four added together give us the number seven which is the number of perfection.
Both the square and the triangle are imposed over the winged globe, which represents the illumined soul. Sitting on the globe, is the dragon. Still breathing fire, but apparently harmless. Note that the dragon is also winged. This must mean that the physical passions have been successfully lifted up or spiritualized.
The person astride the dragon represents the luna and sol within in perfect harmony and equilibrium - the balance of the heart and the intellect. This is the meaning of the person depicted as half female and half male.
The female is holding the carpenter's square and the male is holding the compass. Again, these are symbols of the entire creation and here indicate that the illumined soul has an understanding of both.
To the right, on the female side are pictured the three planets which represent the Lesser Work, the feminine side, Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon. To the left are the three planets which represent the Greater Work, the masculine side; Venus, Mars and the Sun.
Finally overhead, is the symbol for Mercury or Thoth who represents the Will and is the Key to the entire process.
Squaring the Circle: Stage One; The Lessor Work
We will now go into detail regarding the spiritual application of the operations or stages of Alchemy. Though there is an important physical meaning for each of these operations, we are here concerned with how we can apply this information in our own spiritual development.
The first operation or stage is blackening or Calcination and is represented by Saturn .
The dictionary defines it as to change to ashes. The Alchemists called this the blackening stage.
What must be driven off in the process is the "humidity" or water and other volatile compounds. In man, this is referring to the material, non-spiritual part of us that must be removed, in order to find the spiritual or soul that remains.
Basilius Valentinus says:
"All flesh, born of the earth, will be destroyed and given to the earth again, just as it has already been earth. Then the earthly salt will bring forth a new birth by means of the breath of heavenly life."
It is the dying to the old way of life; the old ideas. A ‘dying to the world' which must occur if we are to progress on the spiritual path. As we grow-up we tend to lose touch with our inner spiritual selves. We must turn inward to find the pure condition of our youth. "Ye must become as little children." Or as a great Alchemist wrote, "The philosophical work is to dissolve and calcine the stone into its mercury, so that it is reduced and brought back to its prima materia, i.e., original condition, purest form."
Man can only know his real self when he has renounced all in him that is perishable, or unreal. It was common that ancient initiatory rites included the symbolic death, burial and resurrection of the neophyte. These ancient rites often involved the death of the mystic or god, who was killed and frequently dismembered. (Osiris is one example.)
The sacrificial experience of the death of the god was to demonstrate that death is only of the mortal, that the god did not die, but remained immortal, timeless and indivisible.
These fires of calcination are to be used to expose deep layers of our essence in order to uncover our true selves. Without diligent effort, it is all too easy to immerse ourselves in the material world and never have time for this inner work. In the loving way God works, if we do not apply this heat or fire to eliminate the extraneous, external and materialistic self (which I shall call ‘ego' then our experiences in the world will help to do it for us.
It is the gradual application of Love, love of God, love of another, but Love (intense desire) which eventually enables us to let go of our ‘ego.' Until we have done so, life can be hell. During this process, the extravagances and illusions we have built up during our lives are eliminated.
Physical possessions are not the real problem. It is the significance we give them that is the problem. This is symbolized in many stories which tell of the death of the king, (‘ego') in order to benefit the inhabitants of the kingdom (the remaining parts of us.)
How do we know how much control our ‘ego' or "king" still has over us? How much energy do we spend defending it? It actually is a parasite and a detriment to our true self. Are we easily embarrassed? Do we frequently blame others for problems? These are all actions of the ‘ego.' They interfere with our true self by focusing our attention and wasting our energy on unimportant things.
How can we eliminate our ‘ego?' A very good way is through mediation or contemplative prayer. (See Contemplative Prayer by George Benner available from the Spiritual Venturer.) It is the art of turning inward to contact the essence of our true self. For the alchemists, meditation is more than just quieting the mind, it also involves using the imagination to bring up images that will then guide us to their source, yielding valuable self knowledge.
The Alchemists used many symbols to represent this process. These symbols contain subliminal messages that speak directly to the unconscious. Carl Jung, the noted psychologist and Alchemist discovered that these Alchemical images convey archetypal meanings which are universal. Images of Calcination include skulls, purgatory, torture, ravens, and dragons.
The fires of calcination create a heightened awareness which combines body, mind and soul in a new way. This heightened consciousness or elevated consciousness is one of the most powerful forces for transformation. Breathing, combining as it does, the elements of Fire and Air, is a powerful combination of Alchemical forces. This combination of fire and air or Will power is the real element of change.
The process of calcination is the reason why the Alchemists were sometimes know as the Fire Philosophers. Allegorically, they sought to consume themselves in spiritual flames in order to find their true, pure, essential selves. The furnace or athanor was the human body, where hardened thoughts and emotions (metals) were to be heated in the hermetically sealed vessel of the mind until purified.
But this is only the first process.
Stage Two & Three; The Lessor Work
We continue to go into detail regarding the practical application of the operations or stages of Alchemy.
The second operation or stage of the alchemical process is Sublimation, Dissolution or Separation and is represented by Jupiter . The dictionary defines sublimation as to change a solid to a gasious state without going through an intermediate liquid state.
Once the First Matter, or man, has been Calcined and all negative emotions have been transmuted or replaced by positive and healthy ones, what remains are ashes. These ashes must be either Sublimed or Dissolved in water and then the desired material may be extracted and Separated.
In man, this is referring to the negative emotions that must be replaced, in order to find the true spiritual part of us or our Soul. Hermes, the creator of Alchemy wrote:
"The Second Key dissolves the compound of the Stone, and begins the separation of the Elements in a Philosophical manner: this separation of the elements is not made but by raising up the subtle and pure parts above the thick and terrestrial parts."
The ‘subtle and pure parts' are the parts we wish to retain. The ‘thick and terrestrial' or earthly parts are the parts we wish to discard or change. Dissecting and discarding what is no longer relevant or useful is the important goal of this second process.
We must confront the inner emotional baggage which we have brought to light with the first stage or Calcination. This is the territory of the unconscious, where we have hidden the memories, thoughts and desires which we wish to forget.
The process includes further heating, filtering and sorting. Heating refers to Love which, along with Will, is required throughout; love for the Great Work of spiritual development as well as love, patience and forgiveness for the self and others.
This is the process which happens after the travail of the First Operation. It is picking up the pieces of our lives and sorting out what is useful and really important from what isn't. It is possible that we may go through a process like this more than once.
Each time we release a little more of ego, and the material and transitory things it values, we come closer to those spiritual values which - last, and truly bring us happiness and fulfillment.
The process may be painful while we are going through it. But, when we look back from a distance, we frequently recognize that these experiences are important and have a lasting positive impact on us.
Symbols of this separation or filtering include images of tools such as knives, hatchets and swords; all of which may be used to separate things; decapitation, dismemberment, and mutilation. It is a process of sorting through and saving those essences of the inner self which are worthy of the Illuminated Being which we are trying to develop.
The third operation or stage is Coagulation or Conjunction and is represented by the elevated Moon which was called Luna (see April, 1999 Part 4). The dictionary defines Coagulation as to cause to become a soft, semisolid mass or a joining together or being joined together, union.
After the spiritual essence has been sorted out, it must be joined with the heart, which as a result of this clearing process, is full of love and compassion. This is the completion of the Lesser Work. Its color is silver or white. It is the Virgin because it is sinless, spotless and innocent.
There is a certain subtleness involved in this stage which has to do with the acceptance by the heart of its own purity. It is what Jesus meant when he talked about becoming as a little child. We must not be embarrassed of or feel superior to these pure emotions, for at this stage, they are our closest link to God. This aspect of the heart is actually the developing reality of the Soul. These elevated emotions will cause us to feel different from others around us. It is this stage that Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the need to be ‘in the world but not of it' Once these emotions are in harmony and we have eliminated those ideas which heretofore have limited us, we will change the way we live, for we will be intolerant of our own past hypocrisy and limitation.
This perfected feminine, or heart is the culmination of hard work and brings us to a most elevated state of the emotions: a peace and joy which is above the opposition of the duality of the natural. The soul's full potential has been developed and brought to light. This is the state in which Mary, the Blessed Virgin waited to receive the Divine word, the annunciation from the angel. It is the completion of the Lesser Work, and ascending movement, as we reach higher and higher levels of spiritual development.
How can we eliminate our negative emotions? Besides replacing them with positive ones (transmutation), a good way is through meditation or contemplative prayer. (See Contemplative Prayer by George Benner available from the Spiritual Venturer.) It is the art of turning inward to contact the essence of our true self.
Stage Four; The Greater Work
We continue to go into detail regarding the practical application of the operations or stages of Alchemy.
We discussed the third operation or stage in the November issue. It completes the initial process of purification of the emotions, to prepare for the stage that follows. It is the Lesser Work, the baptism by Water, which prepares for the Greater Work, or the baptism by Fire.
Now, we will begin the Greater work which covers the next three stages. As we have purified and elevated our emotions (the feminine), in the Lesser Work, with the accomplishment of the exalted Luna; now we must return to the original matter, specifically the mind or material intellect (the masculine), and spiritualize it. The enlightened mind will then incorporate or embody the spirit and together with the enlightened emotions, build a Spiritual Body, a proper Temple for the Soul.
The fourth operation or stage (the first of the Greater Work) of the alchemic process is Fermentation and is represented by Venus. It is the infusion of spiritual energy from a higher level. The Dictionary defies fermentation as the breakdown of complex molecules in organic compounds. This is the breakdown of complex mind into its components so that the essential spiritual aspects may be discovered and separated.
The first part of the Fermentation is Putrefaction; when matter is allowed to rot and decompose. This is the necessary preliminary step for the mind to be spiritualized. Fermentation then follows. The mind's impurities or gross materiality, like those of the emotions, must be separated.
We must guard against depression in this process. For the insight gained from the elevation of the emotions enables us to realize our inherent deficiencies. This is sometimes referred to as the "dark night of the soul." Or the valley of the shadow of death." But, gradually, as we persist, the white light of resurrection begins to dawn, like the light at the end of the tunnel.
There is a danger here also of pridefulness. It is absolutely necessary that we avoid this pitfall, for it can destroy the Work. If we are successful, the ego is sublimated and gradually becomes willing to give up control to the developing Soul.
This is the Yellow stage and indicates that we are indeed approaching the Gold which is our goal. As the fire of Calcination, the beginning stage, comes from the raw passions and emotions; the yellow warmth of Fermentation comes from the inspiration from Above uniting with the Imagination of the developing mind below.
This stage requires the opening up to these higher realms and maintaining a state of acceptance to these spiritual forces. This step is accomplished through the inspired imagination. Symbols of this state include ladders, thunderstorms and lightning.
Dr. Carl Jung wrote of the process:
"The concept of Imaginatio (imagination, ed.), is the most important key to understanding the Opus (Work, ed.). We have to conceive of these imaginal processes not as the immaterial phantoms that we readily take fantasy pictures to be, but as something corporeal, a subtle body. The Imagination, or the act of imagining, was a physical activity that could be fit into the cycle of material changes - an activity that brought these about and was brought about by them (Alchemists-ed.) in turn."
Where the Lesser Work involves the feminine, this first step in the Greater work begins to involve the masculine. It is the first stage of the transmutation of the intellect.
Stage Five; The Greater Work
We continue to go into detail regarding the practical application of the operations or stages of Alchemy.
In our last issue, we discussed the fourth operation or stage of Alchemy called Fermentation. We continue now, with the fifth operation which is called Distillation. The dictionary says that Distillation means boiling and condensing of liquid; the process of separating, concentrating or purifying liquid by boiling it and then condensing the resulting vapor.
The purifying fire (love) cleanses and spiritualizes the impurities which were separated out during the fourth operation of Fermentation. Distillation is represented by Mars and the color orange. In this operation the Spirit, which has begun to descend into the body in Fermentation, now completely enters the body.
Mars is the god of war and here represents death. This death is that of the material, 'first-born" consciousness which must give way to the newly evolving Spiritual Consciousness.
This is matter becoming spiritualized. It is the creative energy of a glowing globe of orange; vibrant and alive. We have stripped away the dross and are now preparing to emerge from the darkness, reclothed in the Light. As Venus represents the feminine or Heart aspect of this work, so Mars represents the masculine or Mental aspect.
The setting sun represents the spirit becoming engulfed by the earth. The dawning sun represents the spirit returning from the earth or the physical, out of the darkness; reborn and reclothed in Light. Its solar rays are the rays of the spirit infusing the body. All repeating the symbolism of this process, the embodying of the spirit.
It is here that the gold first begins to appear. The sun is still sinking, (into the body of the physical), and yet there is a beginning of Illumination. In Alchemical terms, ‘the moist earthly body yields to the dry.' The ‘dry' refers to heaven or the sun, while the moist refers to the earth and the material body. This is the awakening of the consciousness in which it becomes aware of its own light.
During this period we will have experiences which will cause us to fall back on our own resources, where we will learn to depend on our own inner guidance. These experiences may not be pleasant, but they will be instrumental in our awakening of Sol, our masculine: just as our Luna or feminine was awakened in the first three stages or Alchemical operations.
As we begin to perceive the Light, though at first dimly, we can use it to help to overthrow the hold of the ego. The spiritual aspects are then removed from the fermentation by this process of Distillation. But the Distillation process must be repeated many times before we arrive at a higher level.
This operation may not only be painful, it is also usually slow. It is the masculine coming into touch with and claiming its own power and perception, especially the Will. Thus, it is about manhood, or a man finding himself. For a woman, it is about finding her masculine, positive attributes and internalizing them rather than seeking those attributes from without. It is what each of them needs to accomplish in order to be free, independent and Spiritually Illumined beings.
As the heat rises, the moisture (referring to the Earth or material) is evaporated. What remains is the dryness (referring to the sun or heaven). This distillate or remaining material is solidified or fixed. This is called coagula. It symbolizes the need for constancy and stability. We must learn to stand our ground and be dependable and responsible. The need here is to continue our spiritual growth, not to be daunted by the negative or painful feelings, until we ‘catch fire' and have the strength of the rising sun or Sol.
The white light of luna gradually changes to the golden light of Sol. The above and the below come together. The body is penetrated by the ‘incombustible sulfur.' While the heat of calcination of the first stage comes from the emotions of the heart, (see Alchemy, Part 9), the heat of Distillation comes from the inspiration from Above and the imagination from Below.
An important aspect of this process is to open up to the higher realms and accept its influence in our lives. We must open to the Love of God if we are to achieve the Philosophers Stone. The noted Jesuit philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin said:
"Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover Fire."
But this is only the fifth stage, there are still two operations or stages left. This ‘new creation' is not yet perfect, for the Sol or spiritual fire is still contained within the earthly body.
Stage Six; The Greater Work
We are now ready for the sixth stage of the Alchemic process. This operation is called Coagula. It means Coagulation. The dictionary says that Coagulation means to cause a liquid to become a soft, semi-solid mass.
In this stage, all aspects of our life are becoming more solid - stable, flexible, but no longer changeable. The body is made spiritual and the spirit is made corporeal. This is the result of the spirit indwelling the body. Coagulation is represented by the Sun and the color red. Nicholas Flamel, the great Alchemist, said,
"The scarlet color of the flying lion, which resembles the pure and clear scarlet of pomegranate seeds, indicates that this color is now genuinely and harmoniously completed. It is like a lion which devours all the purely metallic nature and transmutes it into its own substance, namely, into true and pure gold, finer than that from the best mines."
The Sun represents Light. This is the Light of a new day dawning. When completed, the symbol changes from the Sun to Sol. It is also symbolized by the metal Gold.
This is the realization that to become immortal, we must embrace our mortality, to become truly spiritual beings, we must accept ourselves as we are, and also as we are becoming. As the French Alchemist, Francois Trojani said,
"In Alchemical language, it is facing up to the darkness of matter, the darkness of death, and beyond that to the ‘darkness which is darker than dark,' which is none other than my truest Self, or Source. Which could just as well be described as boundless and infinite Light."
It is the diamond and the coal; opposite in value and beauty, yet made from the same material. This is the great paradox expressed. Grojani continued,
"The Coagulation, the deep and relentless asking of the question ‘Who am I?' is not other than the solution of the question. The coagulated Salt is not other than the dissolved Salt. ...An ancient Alchemical expression of the paradox is: from the One towards the One, by means of the One."
When this stage is completed, it allows for the chemical marriage of Luna and Sol, the enlightened heart and the illumined mind. The result of this marriage is the ‘The Philosopher's Stone.' This is the King (Sol) and the Queen (Luna) joined together.
It is also the ‘androgynous man' which reminds us that this marriage is an internal one. We are each the masculine and the feminine; the mind and the heart. And it is only after these two have come together, spiritually uplifted and in harmony, that we can perform the final work. This union results in the great Elixir or the Philosopher's Stone which is required to complete the process of producing Alchemical Gold.
Nicholas Flamel says,
"...This color has the power to remove man from this vale of sorrow, that is to say, from the evil of poverty and sickness, by raising him up with its own wings from the foul waters of Egypt (the ordinary thoughts of mortals), so that he will despise worldly life with its riches, and think day and night of God and His saints, desiring the Empyrean and thirsting after the sweet springs of eternal hope."
The Lesser and the Greater Work come together at this point and are joined in harmony. It is not that one is less important than the other, or easier, but the Work must begin with the Heart or feminine, for it is the source of the Desire and progresses to encompass the mind and body.
This is the joining of opposites on all levels. Titus Burckhardt in his wonderful book Alchemy, says,
"It can be said that through the reconciliation or marriage of these two initially hostile forces, the opposition between ‘above' and ‘below' also disappears, to the extent, in fact, that the darkness is dispelled by light."
This is symbolized in the stories of Alchemy by the relationship between marriage and death. Burckhardt continues:
"Closely related to the symbolism of marriage is that of death. According to some representations of the ‘chemical marriage,' the king and queen, on marrying, are killed and buried together, only to rise again rejuvenated.
"...On ‘chemical marriage' Quicksilver takes unto itself Sulfur, and Sulfur, Quicksilver. Both forces ‘die' as foes and lovers. Then the changing and reflective moon of the soul unites with the immutable sum of the spirit so that it is extinguished, and yet illumined, at one and the same time."
Stage Seven; The Greater Work
We come now to the seventh and last of the stages of the Alchemic process; the Rubedo or Philosopher's Stone.
The first three stages, representing the ascending and purification of the inner or emotional self, culminated with Luna, the symbol of the perfected feminine. They are called "the Lesser Work."
The second three stages, represent the descending of the Spirit which results in the purification of the outer or body and material consciousness, culmination with Sol, the symbol of the perfected masculine. They are called "the Greater Work".
Titus Burkhardt said, "The lesser work has as its goal the regaining of the original purity and receptivity of the soul, the goal of the ‘greater work' is the illumination of the soul by the revelation of the spirit within it."
These six stages have been designated here as Calcination, Sublimation, Coagulation, Fermentation, Distillation and Coagulation. Notice that under this nomenclature Coagulation appears twice, once as the completion of the Lesser Work and again as the completion of the Greater Work.
The six stages remain the same with most of the major Alchemic authors, but they are very inconsistent with the order and the names. Some sources use Mortification in place of calcination. Some use Dissolution in place of Sublimation; and Conjunction in place of Coagulation. Crystallization is sometimes used instead of Fermentation and so forth. For spiritual purposes, the concepts are the same regardless of the names applied or even the order. Most aspirants report that they are involved with several processes simultaneously; that there is overlapping and repetition. So the exact order is probably not important.
However, if one were attempting to produce these results in the chemical laboratory it would be important to choose one author and follow his scheme altogether. it is apparent that each author was consistent within his or her own framework.
Most authors also designate procedures or stages within each of the six major categories. For example: Coagulation of Coagulatio may be made up of the separatio, fermentatio, illuminatio, nutrimentum, fixatio, multiplicatio, revificatio and sublimatio.
Once the six stages have been completed, whatever you choose to call them, the seventh operation is the joining of these two aspects, Luna and Sol, in what the Alchemists called the ‘Chemical Marriage.' This has also been represented as a male-female androgyny.
The result of this conjunction is called the Philosopher's Stone or just ‘the Stone.' This is true integration, true wholeness; the sacred marriage of the mind or consciousness with the heart or unconsciousness in one totally conscious being. At this point of conjunction, all opposition has been overcome.
There are several aspects to this accomplishment of wholeness. One of them is that we learn to embrace our shadow, for ‘the Stone' is composed of both light and shadow. In the end, we find that we must embrace our shadow, for we need our dross as well as our light. For gold comes from the dross yet it is more than the light alone.
Another aspect to this stage is called ‘the squaring of the circle.' A motto in one of the alchemical writings reads,
"Make a circle out of a man and woman derive from it a square, and from the square a triangle: make a circle and you will have the Philosopher's Stone."