The Alchemical Art
By John H. Reid III
Copyright 2005 - 2006 John H. Reid III

If anything it is easy to get lost in the tangle of the voluminous forest of alchemical authors. To this add the many disparate approaches heaped upon the art, especially modern themes, which have nothing to do with alchemy except its hijacked name, and its no wonder many feel the art is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

My concern today is with helping aspiring practicing laboratory alchemist with defining the parameters of the work so that they may gain a firm mental underpinning with which to gauge their progress and critique the disparate methods they will undoubtedly come across.

Simplicity is the key to Nature's efforts and for me there are only two laws in this art-science, with which I have built up my entire philosophy and modus operandi.

First and foremost it must be understood that the alchemical art is transcendent, its operations find expression and validity in all three kingdoms of Nature. The first law of alchemy may well be stated "As above so below, as below so above for performing the miracle of the One Thing". One can expand the first law by enumerating what I call the five postulates of the First Law.

1) That the entire universe is divine in origin. Therefore Wisdom and Guidance must be sought from the source from which all creation flows.

2) All organisms, no matter how subtle or gross they are, have within them the divine spark of life and are interrelated with each other. It is therefore our task to understand this kinship, so that we may utilize inspired knowledge to aid in our understanding of how to prepare the quintessence of our matter.

3) All organisms are in a state of constant evolution as they continue their synthesis towards unveiling their inherent perfection. Upon reaching an understanding of postulate two (above), the true work begins, i.e., the aiding of nature by the art of alchemy to reach its highest point of perfection.

4) Humans are a part of the universe. Therefore, they are divine in origin and they can affect all organisms on all spheres of existence by their actions or inaction.

5) Humans, by understanding the basic laws that govern their beings and conversely the entire universe may learn to recognize the divine spark of vital energy in all organisms, isolate it, purify it, and manipulate it to speed up the processes of evolution.

The second law of alchemy is one of simplicity and conservnce, in that the alchemical work is circular in nature, with this I mean it follows the natural life-cycle of a thing, and thus the beginning, end, and entirety of the work, is found within the very subject matter itself. The second Law of alchemy may be stated succinctly as: "Use only the materials and products obtained from your matter, in revealing the glory of the One Thing".

For example when performing the alchemical work on plants we use only products from the plant world, which we have generated from the plant itself. This same caveat holds true for the work in the mineral and animal kingdoms. This is the big riddle in alchemy, how does one de-compound a thing, using only the matter of the thing itself? The alchemists claim that when done properly the work will produce a Philosophical Agent from the matter. This Agent holds dominion over the kingdom from whence it was engendered, and has the authority to call out in a moment's notice the true quintessence, from any other subject of that kingdom, without the use of any foreign device or heat.

The Philosophical Agent allows the alchemist to elicit from the matter its quintessence, which the alchemists say contains intact, the regenerative germ of the matter. All other methods of acquisition or de-compounding the subject known to science are incapable of achieving this goal. It is with this Quintessence and the properly prepared body that the Stone of the Philosophers is made.

The Philosophical Agent of the Philosophers is known by many names, and indeed each kingdom has its own agent. Some common names are "Mercury of the Philosophers", "Circulata", or "Alkahest". While many people claim the ability to make such things a distinction needs to be made as to what is being produced when the menstruum is applied to the matter being worked on. The pulling of a tincture, no matter how quickly it occurs, is not proof of alchemical virility. Only that which causes a true separation, of the quintessence from the matter, through its own power, without external heat or device can be deemed a Philosophical Agent, all else is simply a spagyric menstruum. To be clear, just as the name implies a "separation" is a taking apart of the matter, causing its quintessence to become discernibly divided, while an "extraction" is a solution or tincture made by steeping or soaking a substance.

Again the cry goes up, "this art is circular nonsense, one can never gain entry, without breaching the no foreign substance code, and no menstruum extant is known to modern science to be able to separate the so-called quintessence from minerals in the way alchemist have described, especially from gold".

If alchemy is renowned for one thing it is the secrecy put forward by erstwhile Adepts concerning the prized Philosophical Agent of the mineral kingdom. It is possible though, to prove and openly demonstrate the validity of Our Arts practice and laws, using the kingdom of the plant world. Adepts in the art have cautioned us first to master the plant kingdom before attempting the mineral work. If one follows their advice, they will be amazed at the corollary in practical laboratory procedure and experience that directly translates to operations in the mineral kingdom. Therefore leaving for a moment the mineral realm behind, we seek a menstruum of the plant kingdom, capable of separating the quintessence from a plant at room temperature. Alchemist claim that their circulata of the plant kingdom will cause the essential oils of a fresh plant to be separated from its body in a manner, so that it may be seen suspended in the menstruum like iridescent pearls. This separation of course is carried out with out any outside heat or device, indeed one winter I did the separation it in my basement, the ambient temperature of the room at the time was 65 F.

Some may scoff at this excursion into the plant kingdom but I remind them of the first law of the Art. In fact, is not the separation Circulata Minor accomplishes in the plant kingdom, what we seek to do with one aspect of the Philosophical Mercury in the Mineral Kingdom? Here we have our first glimpse of the dual woman enthroned in Binah. In this aspect she is dark, sterile, and chaotic reducing all things to their first matter, while eliciting the fructifying principle, the regenerative sperm itself, from the matter. Indeed all attempts at acquiring the regenerative principle without this substance sterilizes that which is sought, thus mortifying it. Only her menstrual waters have the ability to call forth that, which lay hidden in an instant, while preserving it.

If there is one stumbling block in the plant work, nay the entire Royal Art, I would have to say it is from the paving stone that thinks itself a cornerstone, thus occluding the work at its inception. In the mind of many the word spagyric means alchemy. The pursuit of its three essentials, alcohol, essential oil, and salt in the plant kingdom, or acetone, hydrocarbon, and calx produced in a destructive distillation in the mineral kingdom, has become the end all of the Alchemical work for many modern practitioners. In the frenzy of the spagyric rapture more and more heat is used, as the big bad wolf huffs and puffs to wrest these fabled three from the matter, and with hammer and anvil, pounds them together in the hopes of producing a child diadem. What can such actions hope to produce but an aborting mass of jelly? My God man you took a hammer to her womb!

So bedazzled have we become with obtaining the mythic Three that no mind is given to the generation of the Four. How eschewed and troublesome Nature with her intricacies has become. Packaged and sterile, I will take my one pound of herb, steam distilled essential oil, and grain alcohol please. Where are birth, growth, and death in all of this? Where have we seen the differentiation of the spirit from light, fire, air, water, and earth? If you have not seen the elements fold one into another to form matter, how do you suppose to un-fold them back into chaos? Observe Nature, for the Art begins where Nature ends. Understanding this art/science lies in the use of analogy and above all, common sense and reason.

Our first task then is to understand the generation of the elements from the universal aspect of the Three Essentials so that we may use them to go about our philosophical work. The alchemist is above all interested in generating the vehicles of the Four Elements from his matter using art, not store bought off the shelf items. Such things are anathema to the work, and though they come in handy for quick demonstration of certain principles, what you are truly after is always missing from commercially prepared items, because it has been thrown out in the trash! An alchemist makes his wine, a Spagyricist at worst buys distilled grain alcohol, or at best buys commercial wine from the store. You see in the practice of the art we are after much more than mere ethyl alcohol from wine. There are a myriad of substances that can be gathered from wine made by ones own hand, and depending on how one goes about collecting and preparing said substances, makes them suitable for use in Our Art.

But back to the generation of the four elements in the plant work, in a very broad sense one could say that alcohol equates to the fire element, while vinegar is the water element. The volatile essential oil and tincture extracted from a plant are respectively the volatile and fixed portions of the air element, while the water soluble, and non-soluble salts are the analogous volatile and fixed aspects of earth. This though is an over simplification of the matter at hand, and if allowed to become one's sole barometer of the work, will lead to the same type of tunnel vision suffered by many in connection with the Three Essentials. The simple truth of the matter is that things evolve and change in the laboratory so that at one point simple water can and is rightly understood as the fire element, and in another point of the work a distilled liquid like 190 proof ethyl alcohol might be. This is why it is so important to understand the generation of the elements throughout our matter's life, as it allows us to bring in pre-cursor objects from sources within the kingdom where they are more abundant.

As an example let us take what is called plant mercury in spagyrics, and for want of a better term at the moment the fire element in plant alchemy, your friend and mine, ethyl alcohol. Many alchemical writers are interpreted as saying that there is only one material, one matter with which to work with to acquire our Philosophical Agent, this though flies in the face of reason and the actions of Nature herself. If such a folly where true then it would be analogous to one individual male in each species set aside to be the sole inseminator of all the females. This obviously is not the case, for each male has the capacity to pass on its genes, though some desired traits are found more readily in certain individuals than others. So too, is it with eliciting what we desire from our matter, when properly fermented all members of the plant kingdom will produce an alcohol or something analogous to it, yet the quantity and quality of said production will vary from plant to plant. This is simply because certain plants have a higher starch or out right sugar content than other plants do. As was mentioned before though we are after other substances than just pure ethyl alcohol in our work, and while each plant will also yield these desired fractions their quantity and quality vary greatly. The ancients having also been confronted with this problem found that in the plant kingdom no other substance gave the copious quantity and consistently high quality of all the needed fractions for the work, than the grape, which they hold as King, or a "root philosophical item". Now it would be sheer and utter folly to say that it is only from the grape that alcohol can be gained in the plant kingdom, or for that matter any of the other desired fraction, but as to the parameters of our work it is absolutely ideal. Indeed there is a specific mineral, which product for product yields in quality and quantity the fractions of substances needed for the philosophical work in minerals, with the same lordship the grape shows in the plant kingdom. Besides the "root philosophical item"I use, the only other exception I allow for Law Two is the introduction of water obtained from rain, dew, or snow.

The manner in which one works to bring about the decomposition of the matter and engender the Philosophical Agent and ultimately the stone are known as the labors of Hercules and they are the 12 Operations of the Art. These twelve operations are the procedures and devices the alchemist uses to carry out the Art of Nature, for they mimic Nature's work they are, putrefaction, dissolution, distillation, separation, calcination, fixation, digestion, sublimation, incineration, multiplication, projection, and congelation.

The exact when and why a person utilizes one of these operations is I believe an intensely personal matter as no two alchemists are going to operate in the same manner. Each will have his own predilections and technical slights of hand when it comes to the work of incinerating an herb or ore. What is important is that one strictly adheres to Law Two in using fractions produced from the matter itself. For a horse cannot give birth to a man anymore than a grape can give birth to gold. This is why attempts at making the Philosophical Mercury from acetates is doomed to failure it matters not if one is using lead, zinc, or antimony it will not produce the Mercury of the Philosophers. That is not to say that one cannot produce a rather strong and interesting alkahest but it is not the Alkahest.

For the sake of argument let us suppose then that we have prepared our Philosophical Agent correctly and it gives us a true separation of the essentials from the matter. Mind you we are not talking about the mere drawing of a tincture out of the matter, but a true separation of the essentials from the matter. If the results are similar to our experience with circulata we can expect to have a substance analogous to a plant's essential oil, either floating on top of our menstruum or it will be settled on the bottom of our container. In either case this essential will clearly and easily be seen and delineated from our menstruum. Our menstruum itself will also be tinged by our matter, this colored substance -when the menstruum is removed- along with the remnants of the matters body needs to be processed according to the art to produce the crystalline body of our diadem.

Again we come back to Mercury. Terms like "water that does not wet the hands", "glue of the eagle", "virgins milk", "water of chaos", "celestial rain", "May dew", and "sweat of the dunghill" have been used to denote the Mercury of the Philosophers. Each of these terms is supposed to be referring to a singular substance, but none evoke a singular image or utility in the mind. Glue is meant to hold, or refrain, a thing from movement, while milk evokes a nutritive and nurturing line of thought, and water of chaos shouts of dissolution and resolution. But when viewed as a series of events certain characteristics of the Mercury can be seen. Again my mind goes to Binah, which in one case is bright and fertile, and in another corrosive and dissolving, and I know I am dealing with two separate substances. Each of these disparate substances essentially from the same fraction of the matter, each though prepared uniquely, and used at different times during the work. Indeed what use would one have of a substance capable of causing a separation when one has entered the bridal chamber?

A modern misconception about alchemy in regards to making either the mineral or plant stone is that one combines the three essentials to make the stone. The truth is there are only two, the white and red mercury. The latter is of course the Sulphur of the Philosophers, the red oil which carries the regenerative sperm of the matter -hence the need for its acquirement by a specially prepared Philosophical Agent hailing from the kingdom in question-, the former being the body containing the seed. As odd as it may seem the Mercury and the Salt are one, because in all cases what is seen as the Philosophical Mercury comes from and is made from the Philosophically prepared Body. For those enthralled with manage et trois, we should remember that the old philosophers described a King and Queen entering the bridal chamber, the third did not show up until after consummation of the union and a period of gestation. It is the appearance of this neo-substance that announces the birth of a rarified singularity, the One true Stone.

In the proper preparation then of your Philosophical Body a very interesting thing happens which allows you to tell it is animated and fertile, it will increase in size and weight even though you have not added anything to it, not even more of the aforementioned Philosophically prepared body. It accomplishes this task solely through an act analogous to our respiration, though its inhalations and exhalations are far longer. Observation of the weight of the matter before and after completing this tedious process will show an increase of weight by two or three fold; in this way the volatile becomes fixed.

Finally there is of course the proper preparation of the essential known as sulphur. It is not enough to merely get this oil, even with the Philosophical Agent, the soul must also be made capable of flight, and thus the fixed is made volatile. As per Law One we see this is indeed possible in all three kingdoms; for can not the soul of a man who is the most disdained among us be changed and ennobled when the true inner light of divinity is found? Brother Basilius Valentinus speaks of a dexterous distillation wherein the very tincture of the soul of a mineral or a metal is made to transcend the head of the alembic and condense in the receiver, not as a clear spirit, but the very color of the original oil, only brighter! The plant kingdom also gives us this phenomenon but it is not solely found in the volatile essential oils of the plant, this mystery is fully expressed in making the tincture gently ascend also. The mythology surrounding the life and death of Jesus the Christ is the Adepts tell us, a record of instruction of the alchemical process, especially germane to the discussion of the sublimation of the soul/tincture is his resurrection. The mythology surrounding the event states that when Mary went to the tomb and looked within, she found it empty of Christ body, whereupon she began to weep. A voice from behind her asked "Woman why are you weeping"? With tears still falling she turned and addressed a man whom she supposed was the gardener, and beseeched him to tell where he had laid the body of her Master. He called her by her name and she instantly recognized him. We see in the resurrected Christ the power and demonstration of the Philosophical Agent, by its ability to elicit the light from within, but this event also points silently to the matter concerning the soul/tincture. Mary saw the risen Christ as a man, not a translucent essential spirit, but rather a flesh and blood man. Thus we seek in the plant world also the transformation of the soul where its volatile and supposed fixed colored tincture transcends the alembic's head, entwined with the spirit and body.