The Monistic Theory
by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ
Preface | Chapters:
Esoteric Alchemy and the Monistic Theory
Alchemy is of a
twofold nature: an outward, or exoteric, and a hidden, or esoteric.
Exoteric alchemy attempts to prepare a substance, the Philosophers'
Stone, or simply the Stone, endowed with the power of transmuting the
base materials, lead, tin, copper, iron into gold. The Stone was also
known as the Elixir or Tincture, and was credited, not only with the
power of transmutation, but also with that of prolonging human life
alchemy, or mystical alchemy, aims at the transformation of sinful
man (Lead) into a perfect being (Gold) through prayer, submission to the
will of God, and through union with God (Philosophers' Stone). In this
sense, Alchemy is defined by Wilmshurst as "the exact science of the
Regeneration of the human soul from its sense-immersed state into the
perfection and nobility of that divine condition in which it was
We will not make
an exhaustive study of Alchemy. We are not concerned with the
acquisition of the material gold through alchemical process nor we are
interested in presenting the history of Alchemy as well as the life of
famous Alchemists such as: Hermes Trismegistus (date unknown -
pre-Christian), Gerbert afterwards Pope Sylvester II (999-1003), Michael
Scott (1194-1250), Albert the Great (1193-1280), Thomas Aquinas
(1225-1274), Raymond Lully (1235-1315), Roger Bacon (1214-1294),
Nicholas Flamel (1330-1418), Basil Valentine (the end of the 15th
century), Paracelsus (1493-1541) Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) etc We will
study Alchemy only as the endorser of the Monistic Theory, and as a
proponent of the mystical union with God. The Alchemical Quest of the
Philosopher's Stone and the views of Alchemists concerning the Universe
and Men also are of special concern.
The Emerald Table (Tabula Smaragdina) of
Hermes Trismegistus as the Alchemists' Magna Charta of the Monistic
1. True it is,
without falsehood, certain and most true.
What is below is
like what is above, and what is above is like what is below, for
accomplishing the marvels of the One Thing.
2. And as all
things were from one Thing, by the mediation of one thing, so all things
were born from this one Thing, by adaptation.
3. Its father is
the Sun, its mother is the Moon. The Wind carried it in the womb; its
nurse is the Earth.
4. It is the
father of all the Perfection of the whole world.
5. Its power is
integral, if it be turned into Earth.
6. Separate the
Earth from the Fire, the Subtle from the Gross, smoothly and with
7. It ascends
from the Earth into the Heaven, and again descends into the Earth and
unites in itself the powers of things superior and things inferior.
Thus, you will receive the brightness of the whole world and all
obscurity will fly far from you.
8. It is the
strong fortitude of all fortitude, for it will overcome every subtle
thing and penetrate every solid.
9. Thus was the
10. Hence, there
will be marvelous adaptations of which the manner is this.
11. For this
reason, I am called Hermes Trismegistus, because I hold three parts of
the wisdom of the world.
12. That which I had to say about the operation of
the Sun is completed.
There are many
versions of the Emerald Tablet: Phoenician, Latin, Arabic. It is then
natural to find divergence between these versions: For instance, the
sentence: "What is below is like what is above, and what is above is
like what is below, for accomplishing the marvels of one Thing" can also
be rendered as follows: "The highest comes from the lowest, and the
lowest from the highest". (Arabic version).
version (Latin) emphasizes on the law of analogy; the later version (the
Arabic) stresses on the interconnections and the interdependence between
things in the world.
sentence, in the Latin version runs: "Thus is the world created". It is
rendered in the Arabic version as follows: "Thus the little world is
created according to the prototype of the great world." "The little
world", perfect image of the "great world" is man, when he has realized
his original nature, which was "made in the image of God."
sentence is rendered differently: "From this and in this way, marvelous
applications are made". In the Arabic text: "This way is traversed by
Or: "Thus, in this very manner, wondrous
aggregations come about."
We can see, anyhow, that the Emerald
Table is the advocate of the Monistic Theory:
In the first
sentence, Hermes declares emphatically that the world is an Organic
Whole, in which every part is interconnected, interdependent.
In the second
sentence, Hermes asserts that everything proceeds from the One by
Adaptation, i.e. by all the mechanisms of changes.
In the third
sentence, it is asserted that the One is immanent in everything in the
world, such as sun, moon, wind, earth...
In the fourth
sentence, it is suggested that only this immanence of the One can
explain all the marvelous phenomena of the world.
From the fifth to
the seventh sentences, The Emerald Table brings out the significance of
the movement up-and-down, down-and-up. This cyclical movement is termed
as Involution and Evolution, or Egress and Regress, Expansion and
Contraction etc. In reading these sentences, we can visualize that the
same Spirit of the Universe is All-pervasive: It can be embodied, but
also can be liberated from the fetters of elemental and phenomenal
The Alchemist, in
possession of these keys, will soon realize that the Divine Spirit is
always present in his own soul. This Spirit can be captive for a while,
can be immersed in the world of bodily sensations, and of material
phenomena, but can also be divested from all formal "coagulation" and
soars back to the divine sphere, its original status. Endowed with such
a knowledge, "you will acquire the glory of the whole world", namely by
your union with the Spirit, which is the source of all light, "and all
darkness will leave you". This means that ignorance, deception,
uncertainty, doubt and foolishness will be removed from consciousness.
sentence again asserts that the One is the all-pervasive power that
penetrates everything fine and gross, subtle and solid. As this
all-pervasive power has created everything in the macrocosm, this same
power will create everything in the microcosm, namely in Man.
This is the
meaning of sentences ninth and tenth.
sentence runs: "For this reason, I am called Hermes Trismegistus, for I
possess the three parts of wisdom of the whole world. Trismegistus means
"thrice-great" or "thrice powerful". The "three parts of wisdom"
correspond to the three great divisions of the universe, namely, the
spiritual, psychic and corporeal realms, whose symbols are heaven, air,
If we are not
lured by the inferior aspect of Alchemy, which aims to transmute vile
metals into gold, we can use the Emerald Table as guide to the superior
phase of Alchemy, the transmutation of the Soul into the Divine Spirit.
It teaches that everything in the universe is interconnected as parts of
a Whole, that all the manifold forms in which matter occurs have but a
single origin: a Universal Soul permeates both macrocosm and microcosm,
and this unity in diversity implies the possibility of transmutation.
Thus this Universal Soul is immanent in us. Its quest is the aim of our
transcendental Alchemy; to purify and to prepare our soul are
preliminary phases in our Alchemical process; and the final union of our
soul with the Divine Spirit, with the Universal Soul which is also the
Philosopher's Stone which transmutes our human soul into the Divine One,
will be the completion of the Great Work.
In this way, the
Emerald Tablet will be for us a "Pegasus to supramundane travel".
The main tenets of Alchemy
Alchemists, all the phenomena of the world are differentiation and
combinations of a single prime energy, inaccessible to ordinary sense.
For them, if Creation develops itself from the One to the multiplicity,
Alchemy proceeds from the multiplicity to the One. The differentiation
of a Prime-Source substance into a phenomenal world is an operation of
Alchemy in the Macrocosm; the conversion of all psychic phenomena into
the Divine Spirit immanent in man is the Alchemy in the Microcosm. These
two kinds of Alchemy operate in reverse directions: the former proceeds
by analysis and multiplication; the later functions by synthesis and
reduction to Unity. Therefore, a true Alchemist envisions the world as a
Whole, as a unity under the veil of multiplicity: he devotes his life to
the quest of the One. What is the One? As followers of Hermes
Trismegistus, of Aristotle, the Alchemists believed that everything
derived from only one Stuff. This indefinable, ineffable, all-pervasive
Stuff is called by various names which can be classified under these
God, Allah, Tao,
Spirit, Great Master, Spiritus Mundi, Soul of the World, Trinity,
Essentia, Chaos, the Inchoate, the One, Quintessence, the Universal
Matter, the Stuff of the Universe, the Prime or Primitive Matter, Prima
Materia, the Universal Matter, the Basic Stuff, the First and the Last,
Alcahest, the Ouroboros, Azoth, the Active Principle of All Substance,
the Absolute etc
Pharmaceutical and medical names:
Elixir of Life,
Elixir Vitae, Magisterium Medicine, Great Elixir of Quintessence,
Universal Panacea, etc
Stone, Stone of Egypt, Stone, the Sublimate, Aurum Potabile, Mercurius
Animatus, Green Lion, Dragon, Menstruum, Serpent, Acid Water, Vinegar,
Philosophical Sulfur and Mercury, Universal Solvent, Philosophic
Mercury, Cervus Fugitivus, Alchemical Essence of all things, Powder of
Alchemists equate the One with God and with The Philosopher's Stone. It
is worth noting that in most Alchemical writings, the Alchemists avoid
speaking of God, as a personal God. One tendency is use alchemical or
philosophical names of the One, instead of its religious names.
The slogan of
"All is One" is emphasized by the Greek word: EN TO PAN and by the
symbol of the Ouroboros, the Serpent biting its tail. The Ouroboros
stands for the great cosmic cycle where the ending equates the
beginning; the beginning equates the ending, so that
The same idea is
rendered by AZOTH which consists of the First and the Last letters of
the Greek alphabet; of Latin alphabet, A and Z; and of the Hebrew
alphabet, A and T, or Aleph and Tau.
The Stone, also,
is one and manifold: in analysis, it is a powder, which is incorporated
in all things; before analysis and in synthesis, it is a Stone. Thus the
Philosopher's Stone has two aspects: it is immanent and at the same time
transcendent to the world. Thus, the Stone is far and near, manifest and
hidden. For the sage, it is his inner Spirit, but for the fool, it is
the cervus fugitivus which can never be conquered.
Gerhard Dorn, in
the Sixteenth Century, tells us:
"The Coelum (The
Stone) therefore is a heavenly substance and a universal form,
containing in itself all forms, distinct from one another but proceeding
from one single universal form..."
In Elias Ashmole'
s Theatricum Chemicum, p. 336, The Stone is described as:
thing was first employed,
shall not be destroyed:
compasseth the world so round,
easy to be found:
most hard to come by,
of secret pardye,
most vile and least set by,
my Love and Darling,
Conceived with all living thing,
travels to the world's endings."
A child begetting
his own Father, and bearing his Mother, killing himself to give life and
light to all other,
mild and most extreme.
the world that dwelt in me,
form and walk forth visibly;
not I then dwell in It,
dwelt in me for to unite
Three Powers in one seat to sit."
descriptions of the Stone do not mean indeed a true Stone, but allude to
the Immanent God in us, without whose power no transmutation is
The Stone has
also as synonym, Alkahest. According to some authors, it is derived from
the German All-Geist, Universal Spirit, or from All-Ist. It is
All-Nothing is more explicit than these descriptions...
In some books, we
can find the Stone termed as green lion, mercury, mercurius animatus,
serpent, dragon, acid water, vinegar etc.
appellations aimed only to throw confusion in the mind of the readers,
lest they know about the true nature of the Stone. Hitchcock equates the
Stone with our conscience.
This is a
marvelous work. The conscience is in fact the voice of God which
declares His presence in the innermost of our soul. To live a life in
accordance with the injunctions of our conscience will lead us to a
whom some think identical with Fludd (1574-1637), wrote that the Stone
stands for the Trinity indwelling in man.
cornerstone is built the macrocosm as well as the microcosm.
quest for the Stone must be inward.
Arthur Edward Waite, the genuine Alchemists were not in pursuit of
worldly wealth or honors. Their real object was the perfection, or at
least, the improvement of men. According to this theory, such perfection
lies in a certain unity, a living sense of the unity of the human with
the divine nature, the attainment of which, I can liken to nothing so
well as to the experience known in religion as the NEW BIRTH. The
desired perfection or unity, is a state of the soul, a condition of
Being, and not a mere condition of Knowing. This condition of Being is a
development of the nature of men from within, the result of the process
by which whatever is evil in our nature is cast out or suppressed, under
the name of superfluidities, and the good thereby allowed opportunities
for free activity. As this result is scarcely accessible to the
unassisted natural man, and requires the concurrence of divine power, it
is called Donum Dei."
In the main, the
quest for the Philosopher's Stone, the quest for the DIVINE, which
despite of its all-pervasiveness and transcendence, is nevertheless
IMMANENT in Man, should be done by Introversion, Meditation and
Concentration. Alchemists said that for so doing, we should have VITRIOL
available. And for them, V.I.T.R.I.O.L stands for: "Visita interiora
terrae rectificando invenies occultum lapidem". 'Visit the interior of
the earth and by purification you will find the secret Stone", a
sentence obtained from the word Vitriol by Notarikon. The interior of
the earth means of course the interior of the soul. And by the
purification of our soul from earthly desires and attachments, we can
see God. This reminds us of similar ideas expressed in the New
Testament. In Luke, 17:21, we read: "The kingdom of God cometh not with
observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or lo there! for, behold,
the Kingdom of God is within you", and in Matthew 5,8: "Blessed are the
pure in heart, for they shall see God."
The Two: the Living Male and Female.
assimilated with the indifferentiated Godhead or Kether is always
represented as Androgyne. To manifest itself into the phenomenal world,
it should first divide itself into two opposite energies, termed as Yin
and Yang, Masculine and Feminine, Creative Principle and Formative
Principle, the Positive and the Negative. The Purusa and the Shakti of
the Indian Philosophy, the Yang and the Yin of the Yi Jing, the Binah
and the Hockmah of the Kabbalah, become the Sun and the Moon, the
Sulphur and the Mercury, the Spirit and the Soul in the Alchemy.
The Spirit stands
for the Eternal, the Immutable; the Soul stands for the Ephemeral, the
Transient and the Mortal, the Ever-Changing.
Contrary to the
orthodox teachings of the institutional Church which hold that the Soul
is immortal, the Alchemists regard it as perishable and transitory. For
them, only the Spirit is immortal. Tyhey based their belief upon the
Bible: In Ezechiel, 18:4, we read: "The soul that sinned, it shall die",
and in Ecclesiastes 12:7, "and the Spirit shall return unto God who gave
Therefore, by its
proper action, the Soul can never be saved. Its condition, as human
being, is necessarily mortal. The Tree of Life has been kept away from
him, "lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree of Life, and
eat, and live for ever" (Genesis, 3:22).
The human soul
can only be regenerated, if it is illuminated by the divine rays of the
Immanent Spirit. Through faith and proximity to the immanent God, the
consciousness of man may be transmuted from base animal desires into a
pure, golden, and godly consciousness, illuminated and redeemed, and the
manifesting God within that one increased from a tiny spark to a great
and glorious Being, and the based metals of mental ignorance can,
through proper endeavor and training, through the touch of the Eternal
Light, can also be transmuted into transcendent genius and wisdom...The
Soul and the Spirit cannot exist separately, cannot work separately.
They should be merged into a new entity. This final status is termed as
Hieros Gomos, Sacred Marriage, Mysterium Conjunctionis (the mystery of
conjunction), the mystical union with God. In symbolism, it is
represented by Mercury = the conjunction of the Sun (Spirit) and the
The Three: The Sulphur-Mercury-Salt theory: The
Later, in the
history of Alchemy, The Mercury-Sulphur theory was extended by the
addition of a third elementary principle, Salt. If Sulphur stands for
Fire, Mercury, Water, Salt will represent the Earth. Albert Pike
assimilates Sulphur with the elementary form of fire, Mercury with the
Air and Water, and Salt with the Earth.
enough, the Alchemists professed the tripartite conception of Man;
Spirit (Sulphur), Soul (Mercury), and Body (Salt). This view about man
was in flagrant contradiction with the current teachings of the Church
which always defined man as composed only of Soul and Body. While Paul
professed also a tripartite conception of man: Spirit, Soul and Body in
1 Thessalonians, 5:23, the Latran IV Council (1215) and the Vatican I
Council (1870) promulgate the dogma on Man as composed of Soul and Body
and anathematized all the partisans of the tripartite conception.
So, for the
Alchemists, "body" is the outward manifestation and form; "soul" is the
inward individual spirit; and "spirit" is the universal Soul" in all
In the book of
Lambspring, there is a symbolical illustration, representing the Trinity
of Body, Soul and Spirit, in which the Sea is the Body; the two Fishes
are Soul and Spirit.
By the inclusion
of the Divine Spirit as an essential element in Man, once again, Alchemy
posits that God is in everything; that He is One Universal Spirit,
manifested through an infinity of forms. God, therefore is the spiritual
seed planted in the dark earth (material universe).
The Four: The Four Elements.
As we have said
before, the Four Elements is one of the main tenets of the Monistic
Theory. It is, then, natural that the Four Elements are professed by the
The meanings of
the Four Elements are manifold: Under the names of Fire, Air, Water,
Earth, the Four Elements can signify:
1)- The 4 basic
elements composing the material world. Philoleos even defined the
elements in term of geometrical figures: earth was made up by a cube,
fire by a tetrahedron, air by the octahedron, water by the icosahedron
(geometrical figures of 6,4,8,12 faces respectively).
2)- The 4 aspects
of the four status of the One (The Cosmic Stuff). According to
Aristotle, the basis of the material world was a prime or primitive
matter, which had, however, only a potential existence until impressed
by 'forms'. By form, he did not mean shape only by all that conferred
upon a body, its specific properties. In its simplest manifestation,
form gave rise to the four elements: fire, air, water and earth, which
are distinguished from one another by their 'qualities'. The four
primary qualities are the fluid (or moist), the dry, the hot and the
cold, and each element possesses two of them. Hot and cold, however, and
fluid and dry are contraries, and cannot be coupled; hence the four
possible combinations of them in pairs are:
Hot and dry,
assigned to Fire,
Hot and fluid (or
moist) assigned to Air,
Cold and fluid,
assigned to Water,
Cold and dry,
assigned to Earth.
In each element,
one quality predominates over the other; in Earth, dryness; in Water,
cold; in Air, fluidity; and in Fire, heat. None of the four elements is
unchangeable; they may pass into one another through the medium of that
quality which they possess in common; thus Fire can become Air, through
the medium of heat; Air can become Water through the medium of fluidity;
and so on. Two elements taken together, may become a third by removing
one quality from each, subject to this limitation that this process must
not leave two identical or contrary qualities; thus Fire and Water, by
parting with the dry and cold qualities, could give rise to Earth. In
all these changes, it is 'form' that alters; the prime matter of which
the element are made, never changes, however diverse and numerous
changes of form may be.
It is very
important to bear in mind, that the Alchemists asserted that the four
elements composed the world of phenomena, ever-changing by the various
combinations of these four elements, which, in turn, are also nothing
else than transient aspects of the One. If we do not consider Fire, Air,
Water, and Earth as true Fire, Air, Water and Earth, but only as
suggestions to four basic components of the phenomenal world
characterized by their specific densities and their tendencies (Up or
Down), we can assimilate Fire to Leptons, Water to Baryons, Air to
Mesons + (with clockwise spin), and Earth with Mesons - (anti-clockwise
spin), we can have this figure:
It is worth
noting that Ancient people used these terms only to convey their ideas,
so they are free to use Fire and Water as two extremes, seeing that Fire
is associated with spectacular upward movement, and Water with its
downward flow and that they are opposites. It is natural that they
consider Air and Earth as middle terms. Besides, it is also
understandable that Indians and Tibetans prefer the following vertical
conveyed in this figure can be compared with the following diagrams, one
taken from Jewish mysticism, another taken from the Yi-Jing:
We can grasp now
the main bases of Alchemists' thinking:
1). The idea of
the unitary process in nature, of some ultimate substance out of which
all things sprang and are built up.
2). The idea of
the interplay of opposites or polar forces which are held together by
the overriding unity, as the force driving the universe onwards.
3). All sensible
phenomena, all composites are manifold aggregations of the four
4). As all these
aggregations are transitory, all composites are then also subject to
dissolution, to corruption, and hence perishable.
5). As our body
is composed of the four elements, it should be perishable.
even the four elements are not everlasting elements, but they are
continuously transforming themselves into one another.
7). Everything is
then transient, and ever-changing. The only thing /unchanged is the One,
also called the Philosopher's Stone.
theoretically, and practically, based metals, such as Lead, can be
transmuted into Gold by nature and by man.
9). The world
created by the aggregation of the four elements is called the world of
multiplicity, the corruptible elementary world. The four elements are
termed 'corruptible elementary elements'.
10). In their
quest of immortality, alchemists endeavored to seek the incorruptible
element which transcends the world of multiplicity, but at the same time
is immanent in it. This element is the Prima Materia as we have seen, or
the Quintessence which we will deal with, later on.
11). The art of
Alchemy is aimed to disentangle the human soul from the perishable world
of appearances, to raise it above "The Cross of Elements", or "Cosmic
Tendencies"; then above the interplay of opposing forces, and finally to
unite it with the Eternal Spirit.
12). The main
claim of Alchemy is that the human soul can be transmuted into the
Divine Spirit, by the loving touch of the latter, acting as
Alchemy is thus a
cross-road where religion, philosophy, and science meet together.
It gives us
marvelous insights into these fields.
translation of the book of the travel of the Taoist's Ch'ang Chung
includes one little poem showing an identity of philosophical thought
with the Western alchemical world:
temporary compound of the Four Elements,
at last must suffer decay.
composed of one spiritual essence,
Is free to move wherever it will."
Paul had similar
views of the body, when he said: "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh
and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither doth corruption
inherit incorruption" (1 Cor. 15:50).
philosophers first admitted with Vasubandhu, Patriarch of the Abhidharma
school, (4th century A. D.) that the world composed of the aggregates of
elements was unreal. They made a further step, and admitted with
Harivarman, Patriarch of the Satyasidhi School (5th century A. D.) that
even the elements are unreal.
By the early
nineteenth century, the atomic theory had been developed, and chemists
were certain that it was quite impossible to manufacture gold under any
circumstances. The change of one substance into another, they knew, was
only the result of change in the way atoms were grouped.
contains sugar. Sugar molecules are made up of 45 atoms. These include
12 Carbon atoms, 22 Hydrogen atoms, and 11 Oxygen atoms. If the grape
juice is allowed to stand, microscopic little plants, called yeast,
break up these sugar molecules and change them into molecules of Alcohol
and Carbon Dioxide. The Alcohol molecules are made up of 9 atoms each;
these include 2 Carbon atoms, 6 Hydrogen atoms, and 1 Oxygen atom. The
Carbon Dioxide molecules are made up of 3 atoms each; these include 1
Carbon atom and 2 Oxygen atoms. The atoms themselves aren't changed. The
Carbon atoms in Alcohol are exactly the same as the Carbon atom in
sugar. The same is true of the Hydrogen atoms and the Oxygen atoms. It
is only the arrangement that is changed. But that is enough to make all
the difference between grape and wine.
"The changes that
we observe are like changes in patterns make up of colored threads. By
using red, green, blue, and yellow threads, we can make any number of
different patterns, but the red threads in one pattern will be just like
the red threads in any other. We can't change the color of the red
threads just by weaving them into a new pattern.
"In the same way,
no matter how you change atomic combinations, you can't change one kind
of atom into another.
alchemist tried to change Mercury or Lead into Gold, that is exactly
what he was trying to do, he was trying to change Mercury or Lead atoms
into Gold atoms, and this was beyond his power.
"The chemists of
the nineteenth century felt sure that transmutation was beyond anybody's
power. Atoms were changeless, they thought. They could be neither split
nor altered. Transmutation, they decide, must remain an impractical
dream of the alchemists."
became a fact in the 20th century: Atoms are not anymore indestructible.
But their nuclei can be not only chipped away, but also split or even
Uranium 238, for
instance, by emitting one Alpha particle, or a Beta particle, can give
birth successively to Protactinium, Thorium, Actinium, Radium, Francium,
Radon, Astatine, Polonium, Bismuth and Lead.
hit by cosmic rays, can be broken down and give birth to Carbon-14.
transmutation was accomplished in 1919, by Rutherford, and in 1925 by
Blackett, using Alpha particles as bullets: Then Nitrogen-14 is changed
into Oxygen-17 and Hydrogen-1. In 1932, in Rutherford Laboratory,
Lithium-7 bombarded with protons as bullets, changed itself into 2 atoms
Since then, many
Transuranians were man-made:
By 1944, 95
Americanum and 96 Curium have been formed.
In 1949, 97
Berkelium and 98 Californium were made.
In 1954, 99
Einsteinium, and 100 Fermium have been manufactured.
In 1955, 101
Mendelevium was manufactured.
In 1957, 102
Nobelium was synthesized .
In 1961, 103
Laurencium was formed...
We should include
in our list: 43 Technetium manufactured in 1937, and Promethium 61, in
Uranium 235, the
nuclei of which, hit by proton bullets, to cause chain-reactions, are
broken up in a few millionths of a second. And before very long, you
would expect the Uranium to melt, boil, and vaporize away. This lead to
the explosion of the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, in Alamogordo,
New Mexico, and of two others launched over the cities of Hiroshima and
Nasagaki in Japan, in August 1945.
Instead of the
fission of the atoms of Uranium 235, now scientists can use temperatures
of million of degrees to cause thermo-nuclear reactions. At such
unbelievable temperatures, the electrons could be stripped away from the
nuclei, the nuclei would be smashed together and nuclear reactions would
result. Under the explosion of Uranium 235 as trigger, the heavy
Hydrogen isotopes - Deuterion and Tritium- are combined with Lithium to
form Helium, liberating enormous quantities of energy. This led to the
creation of the H-bomb, or fusion-bomb.
Besides, in 1905,
Einstein devised a complete new way of looking at the universe. In his
Theory of Relativity, Einstein was able to show that matter and energy
are really different forms of the same thing. Matter can be "destroyed"
after all, but when it happens a certain amount of energy is
To sum up,
sciences can't contradict Alchemy...
The Five: The Fifth Element or the Quintessence.
We have just
shown that the Four elements are only the corruptible Elements. In that
case, it is very important to find out the Incorruptible One. This
incorruptible element is termed as Quintessence, or Fifth Element. By
describing it as eternal and incorruptible, we assimilate already the
Quintessence with the Prima Materia, and we also find this equation in
almost all the Alchemy Books. We read for instance in Alchemists through
the Ages: "The Prima Materia has been defined as the fifth Element, or
Quintessence, The Material Alpha and Omega, The Soul of the Elements,
Living Mercury, Regenerative Mercury, a Metallic Soul etc. It is
designated by such allegorical names as the Bird of Hermes, the Virgin's
Son, The Son of the Sun and Moon, the Virgin's Head, Azoth etc.
In that case, we
can attribute to the Quintessence all the puzzling names given to the
Prima Materia through the Ages, such as: Lapis Philosophicus
(Philosopher's Stone), Aqua Vitae (Water of Life), Venenum (Poison),
Spiritus (Spirit), Medicina (Medicine), Coelum (Sky), Nubes (Clouds),
Ros (Dew), Umbra (Shadow), Stella Signata (Marked Star), Lucifer, Luna
(Moon), Aqua Ardens (Fiery Water), Sponsa (Bethrothed), Conius (Wife),
Mater, Mother (Eve), Virgo (Virgin), Lac Virginis (Virgin's Milk),
Menstruum, Materia Hermaphrodita (Catholica Solis et Lunae (Catholic
Hermaphrodite Matter of Sun and Moon) etc.
the alchemical quintessence in the following equation: Astral Light =
Imponderable Ether = Quintessence = Electricity = Vedic Prana.
equates the Quintessence with the Living Spirit of God.
we can say that the Quintessence is the Essence, while the Four Elements
are Manifestations. The former is the Noumenon, the latter are the
Thus while the
Prima Materia has no connection with space and time, The Quintessence
has the connotation of immanence.
Therefore, if we
put the Four Elements on the cardinal points of the circle, of the wheel
of space-time, the Quintessence will occupy the hub of it.
wrote: "Alchemically speaking, the hub of the wheel is the Quintessence.
By this, it meant either the spiritual pole of the Four Elements or
their common substantial ground, Ether, in which they are all
indivisibly contained. In order once again to attain to this center, the
disequilibrium of the differentiated elements must be repaired: water
must become fiery, fire liquid, earth weightless and air solid. Here
however, one leaves the plane of the physical appearances and enters the
realm of spiritual Alchemy."
the Quintessence, the Living Spirit of God in the Center, surrounded by
the Four Elements, placed in the four cardinal points of the
Circumference, we will have a new world-picture, in which the Center is
not occupied by the Earth, nor by the Sun, but by God himself. Thus, our
world view is not GEOCENTRIC, nor HELIOCENTRIC, but rather THEOCENTRIC.
The All-Embracing Godhead is viewed as the radiating Center of all
manifestations. The Cosmic Wheel is conceived as the Wheel of Change,
the Wheel of Samsara, while the Center is looked upon as the Eternal
Center, the Nirvana, transcending space and time...
Once again, the
divine immanence is stressed: wherever is Phenomenon, there Essence is.
God is, then, not only present in our self, but also in everything in
the surrounding world, because all sensible things are characterized by
their phenomenal aspects...
Then, the search
for the Stone - The Quintessence - must be done inside man. "Hoec enim
res a te extractabitur; cujus etiam minera tu existis" (this thing is
extracted from you, for you are its mine). In fact, powers and life of
the soul, and of nature, derive from the action of this world-spirit,
this one essence underlying all the varied powers of nature, this One
Thing from which "all things were produced... by adaptation, and which
is the cause of all perfection throughout the whole world."
We can say with
certainty that man has sprung from God, and has fallen away from Him,
through self-love. Within man, however, is the seed of divine grace,
whereby, if he will follow the narrow road of self-renunciation, he may
be regenerated, born anew, becoming transformed into the likeness of
God, and ultimately indissolubly united to God in love. Alchemy, through
its charade, does not convey other teachings...
theory of Five Elements had its counterpart in the Yi Jing, in which the
Quintessence is represented by the symbol Tai Ji (Thái Cực),
☯ or by the letter Tu (Thổ)
土, meaning the Universal Ground of
everything, placed in the Center, while the double pair of opposite
elements are put at the four cardinal points of the external
circumference. We have the following figure:
Tibetan people built their temples according to the Five Elements
pattern, as follows:
quintessence, in the Center, occupies the highest place of the figure.
Thus, the Eternal Center of the universe will be the Most High in the
temples. Similarly, the same pattern is repeated in man.
While the Four
Elements and their aggregates belong to the sensible realm, and can be
caught by senses, the Quintessence or Akasa, according to Indians, or
Ether according to modern sciences, is infinite in extent, continuous
and eternal. It cannot be apprehended by the senses. It is also
described by certain authorities as all-pervasive, occupying the same
place that is occupied by the various forms of matter, and devoid of the
property of impenetrability, characterizing the elements. It does not
convey matter, but also sound and light. Deussen quotes from the
Upanishad a passage which convey an idea of Akasa as the Primal Element
from which the others were evolved.
"From the Atman
(the Universal Soul or Brahma) arose Akasa, from the Akasa the wind
(Air); from the wind, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth. When
this earth shall pass away, the reverse order of changes will take
place: earth to water; water to fire; fire to air; air to Akasa; Akasa
The Process of Transmutation.
As we have said,
there were two kinds of Alchemy: Exoteric Alchemy, and Esoteric Alchemy.
The Exoteric Alchemy was aimed to produce silver and gold from base
metals such as tin and lead. The Esoteric Alchemy was aimed to transmute
the Human Soul into the Divine Spirit to re-form the Androgenous
Primordial Godhead. These two Alchemies were intimately entwined: The
Esoteric Alchemy often was described under the disguise of the Exoteric
Anyhow, in our
study, Exoteric Alchemy is of no concern. Nevertheless, we acknowledge
some of its spectacular accomplishments, which were commemorated by
medallions, among them:
The medal struck
from alchemical gold before His Serene Highness Charles Philip, Count
Palatine of the Rhineland on December, 31, 1716.
struck in commemoration of transmutation performed in the presence of
Emperor Leopold I (The Alchemic Gold had the specific gravity of 12. 67,
while the natural gold has the specific gravity 19.3. (1675) (gold
obtained from tin by Wenzel Seyler).
Ducats in 1644,
1646, 1647 were coined by the King Christian IV of Denmark, to
commemorate the transmutation done by Kasper Harbach.
A medal struck by
the King Charles XII of Sweden in 1705 to commemorate the transmutation
of gold from lead by O. A. Von Paykhull.
Medals with the
inscriptions: Aurum Arte Factum, struck by the Master of the Lyons Mint,
and deposited in the Museum of Versailles, to commemorate the gold
obtained by Delisle from iron.
Medal struck by
the Emperor Ferdinand III, in January 1648, in commemoration of the
transmutation of mercury into gold done by Richthausen.
Medal struck in
1660, with the inscription: Aures progenies plumbo prognata parente (a
golden daughter born of a leaden parent), on the occasion of the
transmutation done by the Emperor Ferdinand III himself, with some of
We can find, now,
a specimen described as alchemical gold from the Department of Coins and
Medals, in the British Museum.
In spite of these
facts, we still opt for the Esoteric Alchemy. We maintain that, at
least, for many Alchemists, "Alchemy was concerned with man's soul, its
object was the perfection, not of material substances, but of man in a
spiritual sense. Those who hold this view, identify Alchemy with, or at
least regard it as a branch of Mysticism, from which it is supposed to
differ merely by the employment of a special language; and they hold
that the writings of the Alchemists must not be understood literally as
dealing with chemical operations, with furnaces, retorts, alembics,
pelicans and the like, with salt, sulfur, mercury, gold, and other
material substances, but must be understood as grand allegories dealing
with spiritual truths.
this view, the figure of the transmutation of the "base" metals into
gold, symbolized the salvation of man - the transmutation of his soul
into spiritual gold - which was to be obtained by the elimination of
evil and the development of good by the grace of God, and the
realization of which salvation or spiritual transmutation may be
described as the New Birth, or that condition of being known as union
with the Divine."
In other words,
"the genuine Alchemists were not in pursuit of worldly wealth or honors.
Their real object was the perfection or, at least, the improvement of
individual man, by a natural and appropriate process, devoid of haste
and violence, is brought into unity with himself by the harmonious
action of intelligence and will, he is on the threshold of comprehending
that transcendent Unity which is the perfection of the totality of
Nature, for what is called the "absolute", "the absolute perfection",
and the "perfection of Nature" are one and the same."
speaking, Alchemy aims toward the union of the Soul with God or with the
Spirit of God.
speaking, Alchemy aims toward the Reintegration of Polarity: Positive
and Negative, Soul and Spirit to effect the Coincidentia Oppositorum
(the coincidence of opposites), to return to a primordial state of
non-differentiation, to transcend the phenomenal world, to transcend the
opposites (the world of relativity), to reconquer the completeness that
precedes all creations, to arrest the process of manifestation, the
process of disintegration, to proceed against the current of phenomenal
productivity and, once again, to find the primordial motionless Unity.
speaking, Alchemy aims toward the conjugation of the King (Spirit) and
the Queen (Soul), described as the conjugal union or as a hierosgamos.
speaking, Alchemy aimed at conjugating the Son and the Moon (Spirit and
Soul) into Mercury (the Androgyne Godhead); at transmuting Lead (the
human Soul) into pure Gold (The Divine Spirit) through the power of the
Philosophers' Stone (The Divine presence within man).
Mercurius as "uniting symbol"
Put in plain
words, Alchemy aimed at the DIVINATION OF MAN
which was considered as the mortal sin of blasphemy, and a possible
sentence of capital punishment by the medieval Church. We understand now
why the medieval Alchemists should use an extravagant language, to
protect themselves and to mislead Inquisitors, and unworthy men.
When we present
Alchemy as such, we will find similarity of views between East and West.
We read in Mircea Eliade, Yoga, Immortality and Freedom, "Now, the ideal
of the Buddhist Tantrika is to transform himself into a "Being of
Diamond" - in which, on the one hand, he is at one with the ideal of the
Indian Alchemist, and on the other hand, renews the famous equation
Atman = Brahman. For Tantric metaphysics, both Hindu and Buddhist, the
Absolute Reality, the Urgrund, contains in itself all dualities and
polarities, but reunited, reintegrated, in a state of absolute Unity
(Advaya). The creation, and the becoming that arose from it, represent
the shattering of the Primordial Unity and the separation of the two
principles (Siva-Sakti etc..)- in consequence, man experiences a state
of duality (object-subject, etc.)- and this is suffering, illusion,
"bondage". The purpose of tantric sadhana is the reunion of the polar
principles within the disciple's own body."
As we have known,
Alchemy endeavors to search for the Philosopher's Stone. We have shown
that the Philosopher's Stone is equated to God, to the Prima Materia and
to the Quintessence. We have demonstrated that the Stone, the
Quintessence, the Prima Materia or God is all-pervasive. It is then
logical to say that the best way to find the Stone, or God, is to find
it or Him in our self.
This is, also, in
accordance with the Monistic doctrine of the identity of opposites that
the "noblest and most precious" is hidden precisely in the "basest and
most common". The Alchemists of the West did exactly the same when they
affirmed that the materia prima, identical with the lapis philosophorum,
was present everywhere and under the basest form, vili figura.
Naturae Concentratum, ascribed to Alipili declares that "The highest
wisdom consists in this, for man to know himself, because in him, God
has placed his eternal word, by which all things were made and upheld,
to be his Light and Life, by which he is capable of knowing all things,
in time and eternity... Therefore, let the high inquirers and searchers
into the deep mysteries of nature, learn first what they have in
themselves, before they seek in foreign matters without them, and by the
divine power within them let them first heal themselves and transmute
their own souls; then they may go on prosperously and seek with good
success the mysteries and wonders of God in all natural things.
The feeling of
the Presence of God within us is the prerequisite condition for the
transmutation of our Soul - transmutation from its human condition to
its ultimate Divine condition. Without this direct Divine touch, no
human soul - as base as Lead - can ever be transmuted into the Divine
Spirit - the true and perfect Gold. That is why the presence of God in
the adept is considered as the Philosophers' Stone...
To suggest the
concept of "the Godhead within", the English poet Robert Browing, wrote
a classically beautiful and instructive passage in which Paracelsus, a
seeker of truth, and an medial alchemist (1493-1591), says:
within our self; it takes no rise
outward things, whatever you may believe.
an inmost Center in us all,
truth abides in fullness; and around
upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
perfect, clear perception - which is truth.
baffling and perverting carnal mesh
it, and makes all error: and TO KNOW,
consists in opening out a way
the imprisoned splendour may escape,
effecting entry for light
Supposed to be without.
In sum, the
immanent at the same time transcendental God - The Philosopher's Stone -
is sought by many and found by few. It is beheld from afar and found
near; for it exists in everything, in every place, and at all times. It
has the powers of all creatures; its action is found in all elements,
and the qualities of all things are therein even in the highest
perfection... it heals all dead and living bodies without other
medicine... converts all metallic bodies into gold, and there is nothing
like unto it under Heaven.
assimilated the Philosopher's Stone, "the mystical and mysterious
instrument of preparation in the work of Alchemy, with THE HUMAN
CONSCIENCE. By means of this instrument, quickened into vital activity
under a sense of the presence of God, the matter of the Stone, namely,
Man, is in the first place, purged and purified, to make possible the
internal realization of Truth."
profession of the "God within", the medieval alchemists joined all the
mystics East and West.
In the Imitation
of Jesus Christ, chapter VI, verse 4, we read: "Always having God within
oneself, and not being attached to anything external, is the state of
the INTERIOR MAN."
St Teresa of
Avila said: "It is a great grace from God, when he helps us find Him in
"Ascend to God,
said Albertus Magnus, is enter in our self. Who enters in oneself and
penetrates to the innermost of his soul, transcends himself and truly
Having thus found
the true Lapis Philosophorum - the God within - the Spiritual Alchemy
begins to make sense...
laboratories and complex apparatus as required by the Exoteric Alchemy,
the VESSEL, the only Vessel, the VAS INSIGNE ELECTIONIS, required by the
Spiritual Alchemy, is MAN himself. The Alchemist considers Man as the
only "all-containing subject, to be investigated for the eventual
discovery of all. The modern adepts describe the life of man as a pure,
naked, and unmingled Fire of illimitable capability. Man, therefore, is
the true laboratory of the hermetic art; his life is the subject, the
grand distillery, the thing distilling, and the thing distilled; and
self-knowledge is at the root of all alchemical tradition".
As for the
ingredients used for the transmutation of based metals into gold, the
exoteric alchemist resorted not only to "specimens of all metals then
known, but also to pyrite, malachite, lapis-lazuli, gypsum, haematite,
turquoise, galena, stibnite, alun, green vitriol, natron, borax, common
salt, lime, potash, cinnabar, white lead, red lead, litharge, ferric
oxide, verdigris, vinegar, and perhaps caustic soda and glycerol,
sulfuric and nitric acid..."
used by the Spiritual Alchemists are much simpler: the ingredients are
even found as existing already in the living Athanor, namely the Human
Body: these are the Soul and the Spirit interacting between one another
in the presence of the Divine Catalyst, the Philosopher's Stone, namely
the Godhead itself.
Atalanta Fugies, Father Time is also an important ingredient.
Besides, in the
first page of Lully's Hermes Bird, the author gives us 10 conditions of
success: Conyng (Effort), experience (Experience), pracktike (Practice),
prudent (Prudence), pacience (Patience), gras (Grace), nature (Nature),
reson (Reason), speculative (Speculation), holi lifing (Holy Life).
More and more, we
are convinced that the true aim of all the true Alchemists was to show
us the Mystical Way of Life, using Alchemical language and symbols.
We had already
the Lapis Philosophorum, the Athanor, and all the ingredients required
for the Magnum Opus (Great Work); now we should learn how to proceed.
alchemists spoke lengthily about the processes. According to some, there
are seven processes, namely: Calcination, Sublimation, Solution,
Putrefaction, Distillation, Coagulation, and Tincture. To others, there
are 12 steps in the Great Work, corresponding to the 12 signs of the
Zodiac: (See Dictionaire Mytho-Hermetique)
Aries, the Ram.
Taurus, the Bull.
Gemini, the Twins
Cancer, the Crab
Leo, the Lion
Virgo, the Virgin
Libra, the Scales
Scorpio, the Scorpion
Sagittarius, the Sagittarius
Capricorn, the Goat
Aquarius, the Water-Carrier
Pisces, The Fishes
Some gave us the
ladder of the planets as follows:
We prefer this
Using the ladder
of planets so conceived, we can explain very easily the main steps of
the Great Work:
If we know that
the Cross ✚ in these symbols represent the
Cross of the Elements, we can say that in this natural state before the
beginning of the Great Work, the Soul is immersed in the phenomenal
world, in the world of bodily sensations, in the world of corruption and
the world of transiency ち
. It should know how to disentangle itself from the magnetic
attraction of the world of opposites, from its earthy desires for wealth
and honors, and thus follows the advice of the Gospel: "Lay not up for
yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and
where thieves break through and steal" (Mat. 6. 19). More and more, it
should know how to dominate the world of sensations and of appearances,
how to use the material world, at the same time is detached from its
influence. The progressive liberation of the soul from its bondage until
its last freedom is depicted by these symbols:
As for the
Spirit, it also must free itself from the bondage of the body and of the
external world. Instead of being dispersed in menial earthly activities,
the Spirit must concentrate itself to recover its divine status:
The human Soul,
and the Divine Spirit, after being so purified and so concentrated, can
be now joined themselves and merge into the Ultimate Godhead. This final
state is represented by Mercury, the Androgyne Deity:
Thus the soul not
only must die to the external world, but also die to itself, to be
transformed into the Primeval Godhead. This is the consummation of the
Great Work that the Kabbalists called as Kether. The Soul, then has
accomplished the long journey from the circumference of the world of
changes, of opposites, and of corruption, to rejoin the Eternal Center,
where God resides in all his essential glory...
In so doing, the
SOLVE and COAGULA slogan is realized: First the soul must be dissolved
to be freed from all earthly impurities and afterward, the Soul and the
Spirit must be combined to form a living Lapis Philosophorum. In so
doing, not only the Divine Spirit, the Spiritual Gold can be obtained
from the Human Soul, the Human Lead, but also the ultimate status of the
Androgyne Godhead can be realized, which state is depicted as Mercury,
the Androgyne Hermes-Trismegistus: (hinh 34)
Arthur Edward Waite commented on these steps of Alchemy as those of
spiritual Regeneration. "This gift of God, the Alchemists investigated
as a work of Nature within Nature. The repentance which in religion is
said to begin conversion, is the 'philosophical contrition' of hermetic
allegory. It is the first step of man towards the discovery of his whole
being. They also called it the black state of the matter, in which was
carried on the work of dissolution, calcination, separation, etc, after
which results purification, the white state, which contains the red, as
the black contained the white. The evolution of the glorious and radiant
red state resulted in the fixation or perfection of the matter, and
then, the soul was supposed to have entered into its true rest in God."
If we study
Alchemy as the Art of changing Lead or other base metals into Gold, we
will be lost in the labyrinth of symbols, of apparatuses, and of
extravagant processes. We can lose our fortune easily, and we will live
a very hard life. As for the result, it will be as chimerical as if we
catch the moon in the water. But if we consider Alchemy as a guide in
our quest for the inner God, and in our endeavor to perfect our self, to
live a mystical, holy life, a resplendent life resulting from the union
of our Soul with the Immanent God, everything become crystal-clear,
natural and within our scope and range.
It is, then,
natural to see that the author of the "Suggestive Inquiry" exalted the
seekers of the Philosophical Stone into the hierophants of the mystery
of God, and endowed them with the altitudo divitiarum sapientiae et
scientiae Dei (the height of the divine wisdom and sciences). According
to this author, the alchemists had crossed the threshold of eternity;
they had solved the absolute; they had seen Diana unveiled; they had
raised the cincture of Isis, and had devoured her supernatural beauty-
that is, they had accomplished the manifestation of the incarnate spirit
of man, and had invested it with deific glory. They did not grope after
physical secrets; they did not investigate, with Paracelsus, the
property of ordure and other matter in putrefaction; they did not work
with mercury and sulfur; they did not distill wine; they did not decoct
egg-shells. They were Soul seekers, and they had found the Soul; they
were artificers, and they adorned the Soul; they were Alchemists, and
had transmuted It.
This is indeed a
sublime view on Alchemy.
Mary Sworder, Trans., Fulcanelli: Master Alchemist, Brotherhood
of Life, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1984, p. 21.
John Maxon Stillman, The Story of Alchemy and Early Chemistry,
Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1960, p. 110. --
Deussen, P., Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie, Leipzig,
1906-1920, 2 volumes in 1 & 3, p. 597.
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