There are very few occult students today who have not heard of the alchemist, but there are very few who know anything about the strange men who lived during the Middle Ages and concealed under chemical symbolism the history of the soul. At a time, when to express a religious thought was to court annihilation at the stake or wheel, they labored silently in underground caves and cellars to learn the mysteries of nature which the religious opinions of their day denied them the privilege of doing. Let us picture the alchemist of old, deep in the study of natural lore. We find him among the test tubes and retorts of his hidden laboratory. Around him are massive tomes and books by ancient writers; he is a student of nature’s mystery, and has devoted years, lives maybe, to the work he loves. His hair has long since grayed with age.
By the light of his little lamp he reads slowly and with difficulty the strange symbols on the pages before him. His mind is centered upon one thing, and that is the finding of the Philosopher’s Stone. With all the chemicals at his command, their various combinations thoroughly understood, he is laboring with his furnace and his burners to make of the base metals the Philosopher’s Gold. At last he finds the key and gives to the world the secret of the Philosopher’s Gold and the Immortal Stone. Salt, sulphur, and mercury are the answer to his problem; from them he makes the Philosopher’s Stone; from them he extracts the Elixir of Life; with the power that they give him he transmutes the base metals into gold. The world laughs at him, but he goes on in silence, really doing the things the world believes impossible.
After many years of labor he takes his little lamp and silently slips away into the Great Unknown. No one knows what he has done, or the discoveries that he has made, but he, with his little lamp, still explores the mysteries of the universe. As the close of the fifteenth century clouded him with mystery, so the dawn of the twentieth century is crowning him with the glory of his just reward, for the world is beginning to realize the truths he knew, and to marvel at the understanding which his years of labor had earned for him.
Man has been an alchemist from the time when he first raised himself, and with the powers long latent pronounced himself as human. Experiences are the chemicals of life which the philosopher is experimenting with. Nature is the great book whose secrets he seeks to understand through her own wondrous symbolism. His own Spiritual Flame is the lamp by which he reads, and without this the printed pages mean nothing to him. His own body is the furnace in which he prepares the Philosopher’s Stone; his senses and organs are the test tubes, and incentive is the flame from the burner. Salt, sulphur, and mercury are the chemicals of his craft. According to the ancient philosophers, salt was of the earth earthy, sulphur was a fire which was spirit, while mercury was nothing, only a messenger like the winged Hermes of the Greeks. His color is purple, which is the blending of the red and the blue—the blue of the spirit and the red of the body.
The alchemist realizes that he himself is the Philosopher’s Stone, and that this stone is made diamond-like when the salt and the sulphur, or the spirit and the body, are united through mercury, the link of mind. Man is the incarnated principle of mind as the animal is of emotion. He stands with one foot on the heavens and the other on the earth. His higher being is lifted to the celestial spheres, but the lower man ties him to matter. Now the philosopher, building his sacred stone, is doing so by harmonizing his spirit and his body. The result is the Philosopher’s Stone. The hard knocks of life chip it away and facet it until it reflects lights from a million different angles.
The Elixir of Life is once again the Spirit Fire, or rather the fuel which nourishes that fire, and the turning of the base metal into gold is accomplished when he transmutes the lower man into spiritual gold. This he does by study and love. Thus he is building within himself the lost panacea for the world’s woe. The turning of the base metal into gold can be called a literal fact, as the same chemical combination which spiritually produces gold, will also do this physically. It is a known fact that many of the ancient alchemists really did create the precious metal out of lead, alloy, etc. But it was upon the principle that all things contain some part of everything else; in other words, every grain of sand or drop of water has in some proportion every element of the universe therein. Therefore the alchemist did not try to make something from nothing, but rather to extract and build that which already was, and this the student knows is the only possible course of procedure.
Man can create nothing from nothing, but he does contain within, in potential energy, all things; and like the alchemist with his metals, he is simply working with that which he already has. The living Philosopher’s Stone is a very beautiful thing. Indeed, like the fire opal, it shines with a million different lights, changing with the mood of the wearer. The transmuting process, whereby the spiritual fire passing through the furnace of purification radiates from the body as the soul body of gold and blue, is a very beautiful one.
The Masons have among their symbols that of a five-pointed star with two clasped hands within it, and in that we have the mystery of the Philosopher’s Stone. The clasped hands represent the united man in which the higher and the lower are working for their mutual betterment, by a co-operative rather than a competitive system. The five-pointed star is the soul body, born of this co-operation; it is the living Philosopher’s Stone, more precious than all the jewels of earth. From it pour the rivers of life spoken of in the Bible; it is the Star of the Morning that heralds the dawn of Mastery, and is the reward that comes to those who follow in the footsteps of the ancient alchemist.
It is well for the student to realize that the alchemy of life produces in natural sequence all of the states of progression which are explained in the writings of the alchemist, until finally the sun and the moon are united as described in the Hermetic Marriage, which is, in truth, the marriage of the body and the spirit for the mutual development of each other. We are the alchemists who centuries ago carried on in secret our studies of the soul, and we still have the same opportunity that we had then, even more than then, for now we can state our opinions with little danger of personal injury. The modern alchemist thus has an opportunity that his ancient brother never had. On a busy street corner he daily sees nature’s experiments carried on. He sees the mixing of metals, and from the everyday book of life, through the power of analogy, he may study Divinity. Through experience and often suffering the steel of his spirit is tempered by the flame of life. As the moon in the zodiac touches off like a fuse the happenings of life, so his own desires and wishes touch off the powers of his soul, and the experiences may be transmuted into soul qualities when he has developed the eye which enables him to read the simplest of all books—everyday life.
The alchemist of today is not hidden in caves and cellars, studying alone, but as he goes on with his work, it is seen that walls are built around him, and while he is in the world, like the master of old, he is not of it. As he goes further in his work, the light of other people’s advice and outside help grows weaker and weaker, until finally he stands alone in darkness, and then comes the time that he must use his own lamp, and the various experiments which he has carried on must be his guide. He must take the Elixir of Life which he has developed and with it fill the lamp of his spiritual consciousness, and holding that above his head, walk into the Great Unknown, where if he has been a good and faithful servant, he will learn of the alchemy of Divinity. Where now test tubes and bottles are his implements, then worlds and globes he will study, and as a silent watcher will learn from that Divine One, who is the Great Alchemist of all the universe, the greatest alchemy of all, the creation of life, the maintenance of form, and the building of worlds.
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