From antiquity we have inherited definite traditions concerning magic, astrology, and alchemy. The magic of the ancients, now termed variously Mental Science, Christian Science, Metaphysical Science, and New Thought, is today being used with satisfactory results by many esteemed people. Astrology is the foundation upon which has been erected in the course of time the modern science of astronomy. As astrology, furthermore, it is helping an ever-widening circle of humanity to overcome the difficulties offered by life. Like magic and astrology, alchemy was laughed at by the schoolman until the twentieth century gave indisputable proof of transmutation in his own laboratory. Transmutation and the flying machine, as the older generation well remembers, were the two standing jokes. Anyone interested in either was supposed to be ridiculously credulous. But transmutation can now be produced at will by our chemists, magic under another name is gaining in popularity, and astrology is being verified by thousands every day. It is time, therefore, that someone should seriously set forth a clear exposition of what the ancient alchemists really thought and taught.
The learning of the ancients, in so far as it existed outside secret occult orders, was collected in the Alexandrian Library. This library was begun by Ptolemy I in the third century B.C., and was added to in great measure by Ptolemy II. With the ascendancy of Christianity no pains were spared to destroy every record, monument, or scroll of more ancient times, either in the fear that it would contradict the Bible, or in the belief that it was pagan. The second Library in the Serapeum was completely destroyed when the Christians sacked that temple in 390 A.D. The main library also disappeared under persistent hostile influences, the Mohammedans, when they gained the power, finishing the work of destruction commenced earlier by the Christians.
Libraries elsewhere met a similar fate at the hands of Christian bigots and Mohammedan fanatics. But though the libraries were destroyed, the statuary wrecked, and the evidence of ancient culture largely erased, not all of the scrolls were consigned to the flames. Some found their way to secret, safe sanctuary in the heart of the Arabian Desert.
From thence, at a later date, mathematics, magic, astrology, and alchemy found their way to Europe. The word Alchemy, therefore, is Arabic, being derived from "al," the, and "kimia," hidden, or occult. To the Arabians alchemy was the science of hidden properties and essences. It dealt with the occult attributes of things.
It is nevertheless linked up through association with the art of transmutation; for a long line of alchemical experimenters sought to change base metals into gold. In addition they sought the philosopher's stone, the elixir of life, and the accomplishment of the great work.
The sciences, brought to Europe by Arabian scholars, were not universally welcomed. Certain monks, like Placidus de Titus, expounder of the semi-arc system of directing, were fortunate enough to be allowed to delve deeply into astrology. Magic, of course, was widely frowned upon. Friar Roger Bacon and certain others made notable discoveries while conducting alchemical experiments. But all such delving into nature's mysteries was commonly considered to be a matter that depended upon trafficking with the devil. Inside the sacred precincts of the Church it was occasionally permitted, but any delving by outsiders met quick disapproval of the ecclesiastics.
It was not an age of free speech. It was an age of terrorism to anyone
guilty of discovering some fact at variance with the teachings of established
religion. Spiritual truths could not openly be proclaimed. If they were
to be conveyed to another, a secret code must be used to escape the accusation
of heresy. Otherwise, the torture chamber awaited.
Not all alchemists, however, were interested in searching out the origin, history, and destiny of the human soul. Some there were who sought to make gold that might be exchanged for coin of the realm. Those that found this secret felt an obligation to society. They knew that should the process be learned by unscrupulous persons it might well upset the economic relations of the world and enable knaves and criminals, through vast wealth easily acquired, to rule and oppress more honest men. Against this they must guard by keeping the method a secret.
Because they were secretive about a matter of such tremendous importance to the selfish ambitions of others they were often sadly persecuted. Some were murdered by villains in the expectation that the recipe for making gold would be found about their persons or concealed in their lodgings. Others were hailed before feudal lords and potentates with the demand that they make gold. Refusing this, they were imprisoned and promised freedom only at the price of the secret process. Not a few were tortured, and some were killed, in the effort to compel them to perform transmutations or to reveal how it was done. Take it all in all, whatever they may have gained through the possession of alchemical knowledge they well paid for in lack of peace and comfort. For they have been hounded from place to place no less than the traditional Wandering Jew.
They lived in an age antedating science. No terminology as yet existed for expressing many of their ideas in ordinary language. Words were coined, therefore, to meet the demands of the occasion. Thus it came about, as a little reading of the alchemical works left by them makes obvious, that the same thing was called by a different name by different alchemists. This at first sight is very confusing. But it need not remain so, for in common language we have different words, called synonyms, to express the same idea. What we must do to understand their writings is to determine the basic idea that may be expressed by a variety of these synonyms.
They wished to conceal their knowledge from the vulgar and to reveal it to the worthy. It often served to protect them from the designing to talk, write, and act as if mentally unsound. They needed a code to convey information, and such a code came to them ready at hand from the same source as came the science of alchemy. Astrology and alchemy arrived in Europe together. A language that was applicable to one was likewise applicable to the other. Astrology teaches that everything on earth has its correspondence in the sky, and everything in the sky has its correspondence on earth. This is the key to alchemical synonyms.
A thing on earth is ruled by a planet or sign in the sky. This planet
or sign rules other things on the earth having the same vibratory quality.
The principle or quality or spiritual bias designated by an alchemist may
be called by the name of any one of the various familiar objects ruled
by the same astrological influence. Thus did the alchemists write and talk
and think in the language of celestial correspondence.
There is a great similarity to be found in the language used and in the methods of procedure advocated by alchemists living in different centuries and in different lands. One who delves into the rare and musty tomes still extant concerning the Hermetic Art, as it was called by these sages, can not fail to be struck by the parallel methods of those who obviously sought different ends.
A sifting of their writings reveals that some wanted mineral gold with
which to buy leisure, comfort, and luxury, and with which, perhaps, to
help the poor. Some, however, had no thought of this, but labored to transmute
bodily fluids and forces into magnetic power with which to perform wonders.
Knowing nothing of the Yogis, they yet desired to do the things the Yogis
are reputed to do. Some worked solely with the vegetable kingdom, some
with animals, and still others sought to establish an ecstatic rapport
with the source of all life, light, and love to the end of transmuting
the gross trials of life into golden spiritual treasures.
In spite of the wide variety of ends sought, the principles followed and the succession of steps must be the same in all transmutation. A process carried out on one plane gives the same result as when carried out on another plane, except that the result as well as the process is on a different level. The tones C, G, and E sounded in combination on one instrument, and in one octave, give a resultant chord that is similar to C, G, and E sounded in combination in another octave on the same instrument, in the same octave on a different kind of instrument, or in another octave on another instrument. The same combination of tone vibrations produces a similar result whatever the instrument or whatever the octave, but it may be on a different vibratory plane. Likewise, the combination of alchemical elements by means of similar processes gives the same result if carried out in the mineral kingdom, in the world of vegetation, in the mental economy of man, or in the realm of spiritual potencies. The only real difference is that the result as well as the operation is on a different plane.
To state the matter mathematically, let us call certain definite things on one plane, A, B, C, and X. Then the things on any other plane having the same astrological (astral) vibration, or rulership, let us call A', B', C', and X'. A' has the same astrological vibration as A, B' the same as B, C the same as C, and X' the same as X. Then if A plus B plus C equal X, it follows that A' plus B' plus C' must equal X'.
What the things are on one plane that correspond to definite things
on another plane may be determined through their astrological rulership.
Everything in existence on any plane vibrates in its inner (alchemical)
nature to some astrological tone.
In Course 9, Mental Alchemy, I have considered the mental plane, and show how to bring about those mental transmutations that conduce to material happiness and success. But now it is the spiritual plane that interests us. The word spirit comes to us from the Latin, "spirare," meaning, to breathe. It connotes the breath of life. As used here it signifies the inmost principle. Spiritual Alchemy, therefore, is concerned with the most interior plane. It works to transmute that which is commonly gross into spiritual gold.
Now what can spiritual gold be? This we must find out by applying the law of correspondences.
It is said that gold is the most perfect of all metals. Therefore, spiritual gold, as applied to man, must be the most perfect part of his constitution. Gold is extremely malleable and ductile. Consequently we must seek a human principle that adapts itself to numerous states and conditions. Gold is practicably indestructible, so that which we seek in man must be eternal. Gold is not tarnished, nor is it readily attacked by other chemical elements. Let us then explore human existence for an unchangeable element that remains pure and resists the acids of criticism and the fire of affliction. Gold is a precious metal that is used as a standard of value. What is the standard of value in man?
This auriferous principle can not be the body; for the body is neither changeless nor durable, but easily corroded by external influences. It can not be the soul; for the soul is affected by all that man contacts. The most characteristic thing about the soul (the sum total of experiences that persist as mind) is its ceaseless change and movement.
The Ego, however, answers all requirements. What the Sun is to astrology, and gold to economics and industry, the ego is to individual man.
It is an imperishable spark of Deity. It is malleable; for it adapts itself to the requirement of every form of life through which the soul in its journey passes. It is ductile; for its vital rays reach out to energize the soul wherever the soul may sojourn. It is not tarnished by contact with external life, nor does it deteriorate when exposed to the acids of criticism or the fires of affliction. It is man's most precious possession. It is the standard, likewise, of the value of human life; for in so much as the ego expresses itself through the character the noble qualities are made manifest and the man attains true greatness.
The ego, undoubtedly, then, is spiritual gold. Yet as the ego already exists, a spiritual potency supplying energy to the soul as the Sun supplies light to the Moon, what need is there for transmutation?
Reading the works of the alchemists we find that there are two kinds of gold. There is natural gold, and there is transmuted gold. And these alchemists assert that the transmuted gold is far finer than that found in a natural state. Furthermore, they maintain that it takes gold to make gold, and that some natural gold must be supplied before transmutation is possible.
The ego, according to Hermetic tradition, is unable to contact the physical plane directly. During its involution it descends only as far as the boundary of the sixth and seventh state of the spiritual world. From thence it sends the dual souls on the further journey to contact external conditions, and adapts itself to the astral and physical planes by the rays of vitality that it sends to the souls.
These souls experiencing life on the external plane may raise the vibrations of their mental states to a point where energy is communicated not only to the astral plane, but also to the spiritual level. Such vibratory rates, experienced by an individual, affect spiritual substance, and may build up a spiritual body. This spiritual body is composed of the substance of the plane occupied by the ego. Like the ego it is relatively imperishable, and it partakes in great measure of the other qualities of the ego. It is not natural gold, but transmuted gold.
This imperishable spiritual body persists after the second death, which
takes place in the astral realm. In this transmuted gold of the spiritual
alchemist the soul must finally function if it is to survive. It is finer
and more valuable than the ego because, while the ego is imperishable,
such a golden form provides for the persistence of self-consciousness.
Immortality of a kind is already assured to the ego, but by the addition
of this transmuted gold it acquires a value it did not have before. It
has acquired the priceless treasure of Self-Conscious-Immortality.
The material alchemist works with the common minerals, such as copper,
lead, tin, and iron, in the endeavor to change them into a metal more valuable.
The mental alchemist follows similar principles; but the elements with
which he works are his thoughts. He seeks to flux them one against the
other, reduce them in the astral light, and recombine them in a mental
gold that will attract to him ability, wealth, power and success. The spiritual
alchemist goes a step still further. In fact, he takes the highest step
possible to embodied man. He uses as his metals the various experiences
of life. If some are not at hand that are necessary for this transmutation
he seeks them out. He purifies them, fluxes them in proper proportion,
dissolves them in the spiritual light by the aid of a reverberatory
furnace, and if the resultant transmutation is successful he comes into possession of a golden chariot in which his soul may wing its heavenly flight through boundless time and eternity.
One of the most essential features of the laboratory of any chemist or alchemist is some means of increasing the vibratory rate of the materials upon which he works. On the material plane when the vibratory rate of the molecules of matter is increased the object is said to be gaining in temperature. That is, heat is an increase in the vibratory rate of matter. If the heat be increased still further until the object glows, and thus emits light, the molecules have reached an intensity of vibration that enables them to affect a substance interior to matter; for light is not a vibration of matter, but an electromagnetic movement.
If an electromagnetic rate is greatly increased, in a like manner energy is imparted to the substance next interior to it. Astral substance is thus set in motion and effects are produced on the astral plane. This is the plane of substance in which memory resides. It is the plane occupied by the unconscious mind while embodied, and by the soul immediately after death. By our thoughts we build on the astral plane.
If the vibratory rate of our thoughts is still further increased, these motions in astral substance, following the same general process, reach an intensity in which they impart their motion to the plane next interior to them. As a bar of iron when it reaches a certain temperature emits light, which is an effect in a substance inferior to matter, so a man's thoughts when sufficiently raised in their vibratory rate, impart motion to the substance next interior to the astral. By these thoughts, or mental attitudes that have their vibration intensified in a marked manner, man can build upon the spiritual plane.
By them he can construct a spiritual body in which to function after death without a preparatory sojourn on the astral plane. Commonly after death man continues his progress on the astral plane for a long time while he gradually acquires the ability to raise his consciousness to an intensity that enables it to build up a spiritual body. But the spiritual alchemist expects to skip this extensive astral sojourn. While yet on earth he does the work that most accomplish only long after death. He builds his spiritual body while yet occupying the physical form.
The mere raising of the vibratory rate does not result in transmutation. It does enable the substance of an interior plane to be affected. Thoughts sufficiently intensified do affect spiritual substance, but they may or may not build an immortal spiritual body. A form to be immortal must have a high degree of perfection. All its parts must be there. They must be there in proper proportions. But transmutation is not possible without, in addition to the proper ingredients that have been fully purified and present in the right amounts, there being a marked increase in vibration. Proper fluxing the materials assists in making it possible to raise their vibrations. But in addition to this, heat must be applied to the substances.
Some kind of furnace is essential to both the chemist and the alchemist. A reverberatory furnace enables the metallurgist to obtain the heat necessary to melt his ores. Such a furnace is equally valuable to the alchemist. By its means very high temperatures are produced. On the mental plane, of course, it is a mental reverberatory furnace. The necessary vibration, or heat, is produced by controlling the feelings that accompany the thoughts. As molecular motion is the vibratory agent of the furnace on the physical plane, so the feeling of pleasure or pain is the vibratory agent used by the mental alchemist to control the conditions on the astral plane.
The spiritual alchemist, who operates on the experiences of life, follows a similar plan. He uses, to control and determine effects on the spiritual plane, not merely pleasure and pain, but still higher and more interior vibratory rates known as aspiration and inspiration.
This reverberatory furnace of the spiritual alchemist has a heat, or energy, or vibration, of a very definite kind. To be sure, it is feeling, but a feeling that arises from unusual spiritual perception. This spiritual perception embraces the all of life. It recognizes the universe as an organic whole, moving toward intelligible ends. It views itself as one unit of the cosmic plan. And the desire arises to assist in the great universal work of progress. An insatiable longing is present to use every faculty and power to advance the welfare of all. A relation is established between the soul and the universe. It is felt that nothing, not even life itself, is quite so important as contributing something to the general good.
It is a feeling, but it derives from the spiritual plane. It enters into rapport with the divine in nature. There is a higher state of consciousness. The heart overflows with a zealous religious devotion to cosmic prosperity.
This reverberatory furnace of the spiritual alchemist is fed by an outpouring of love. Nothing raises the vibrations as quickly as love. It is the love of the oxygen of the air for the carbon in the fuel that gives the material furnace its intensity. Love operates on various planes. But only unselfish love affects spiritual substance.
Any exalted and unselfish love has this power. The love of a mother for her babe, of a man for his mate, or a welfare worker for her charges may have this exalted and unselfish quality. More often, however, these are too mixed with the coarser rates derived from ambition, possession, or passion to affect spiritual substance. But the love of God and His works when devoutly felt lifts the soul above all that is sordid. A higher state of consciousness is experienced. The adoration of Deity, and the thirsting to be of utmost service in his scheme of things, provides the spiritual alchemist with a furnace that may ever be relied upon.