The Nature of Physical Achievement

We propose to refer briefly to the nature of the physical achievement. The aim or object of occult chemistry was then to perform the Magnum Opus, to accomplish the confession of the shinning and wondrous Stone of the Philosophers, which again has a dual aspect, for in one of its applications it serves for the transmutation of all metals into the ideal Gold, and in another it constitutes the “pearly drink of bright Phœbus,” in other words, the veritable elixir of life and of philosophy. To the confection of this Stone, thousands, no doubt, in past ages must have devoted the energies of long lives in which laborious research ultimate but too frequently in the bitterness of complete failure. The physical alchemists may be therefore divided into: – (a) Those who discovered, or believed themselves to have discovered, the secret of metallic transmutation. (b) Those who attempted the experiment and did not succeed in their design. (c) A vast crowd of later pretenders who neither found nor sought, but exploited the credulity of their period by proclaiming that they possessed chemical secrets. Representatives of each of these divisions betook themselves to writing books – the first to announce their achievements, the second to register for the guidance of future experiment what matters of moment they had discovered by the way, the third to support their imposture, as well as to reap further spoils from publications which sold readily. The representatives of the middle division wrote little, as a rule, but they had the merit of speaking plainly, having no motive for concealment. The actual discoveries veiled their revelations in a symbolic language and in pictorial symbols; in a word, they did everything to confuse their readers, and to make their own attainment impossible to their successors. The impostors, whose name became legion, were more secret and mysterious than their antitypes. To distinguish a true adept and a genuine process among the chaos of failure and stimulation requires infinite pains and wide reading in alchemical literature. Even then the result will provide us with the process only, and not with the materials. It is useless for anyone to undertake the study of alchemy in the hope that he will be able, as a result, to transmute metals. That Arcanum can be learnt only in two ways – by communication from the Holy Assembly which we believe to be still possible, but the knowledge would be entailed as a consequence of attainment in the transcendental order, and would not be otherwise derived – or by some future revelation of analytical chemistry, independently of all arcane knowledge, and from that we anticipate disaster.

Shall we ever manufacture gold by science, is at first sight a tempting question, and the enquiry – in advance of any answer – cannot fail to bring a pactolian water into the mouth of the average man and woman. Theoretically, of course, all right thinking persons are supposed to despise money, and we know that it is generally regarded as a normal act to speak of it in an impolite manner. The philosopher terms it vain nothingness, filthy lucre, the root of all evil, and claims high authority for doing so. Those who are not philosophers are depreciatory after their own fashion. It is the correct thing to describe gold by its opposites, and in compliance with this sentiment, it is known vulgarly as brass, tin, dross, and it has also other titles which would indicate its worthless character. All this is exceedingly satisfactory; it is a good thing to be superior to our necessities; but the thing is after all a necessity, and most persons, perforce, spend their lives mainly in ministration to their need of it. Now it is commonly so hard to make money that it might well seem more easy to manufacture gold itself. and then – if we only could! Ah! – in however small a quantity – however little at a time – it would be like possessing the purse of Fortunatus. The purse of Fortunatus was a very narrow one, but it always had one coin in it. Its owner lived respectably in a quiet way, and had no fear of his creditors.

“Shall we manufacture gold?” would appear to be a reasonable question. There are persons of some consideration who regard the achievement as possible. M. Louis Figuier, the French scientists – and a very exact gentleman – thinks so and says it. Mr. Edward Pinter, the last of the alchemists, may not think so, but he also says it, and was prepared, on a memorable occasion, to transmute metals in the presence of learned counsel, and under the auspices of a court of law. It is only a short time since that we heard of a Paris philosopher, who had studied mineralogy in Mexico and found out how the whole process was managed by Nature herself. And he says it. But he despises the purse of Fortunatus and of its one inexhaustible dime. Give him the necessary plant – for he is a poor man – and then watch for a change in the Bank rate, a panic on the Bourse, and chaos in all securities. The most sober of all sciences is chemistry, because, par excellence, it is the experimental science. And chemistry, though it does not say actually that we shall manufacture gold, because it never forecasts the future, does practically admit that there are, so to speak, shadows around it which may be cast by some coming event of the kind. It is yearly discovering new elements. Within a recent period, it has presented us with “Damaria” – the lightest of known substances – and with the grey metal, Germania, which is similar to antimony in character, and becomes volatile at red heat. But, what is more to the purpose, this same science is no less persistent, and quite as successful, in decomposing those substance which have been hitherto supposed to be elements, and not capable of decomposition. Thus a chemist of Munich is said to have separated the constituent principles of cobalt and nickel.

These are technological matters which are of little moment to the ordinary reader, but it will be interesting to anyone to learn the direction in which they point. They substantiate the theory that our supposed elementary substances – of which gold is one – are mere compounds and alloys, in which case it would be possible to manufacture gold, as we now manufacture rubies, by a chemical process.

Of course, it is natural to suppose that the result of such a discovery would be something approaching a metallic millennium, in which there would be

Gold! And gold! And gold without end!

.           .           .           .           .           .

Gold to lay by any gold to spend,

And reversions of gold in futuro!

We should realize the dream of the alchemists, and the precious metal would become a kitchen ornament and the material for stewpans. But, as a fact, nothing of the kind would result. Gold, or its equivalent in paper currency, is the summum bonum from a commercial standpoint. The Moonstone (of Mr. Wilkie Collins), the Koh-i-Nor, and the Idol’s Eye, or, for that matter, certain black pearls which may be seen occasionally in the Palais Royal, may be intrinsically more valuable, but to ascertain or express their preciousness we must refer to gold as a standard. It is like the “milk-white hind” of Dryden; it is, so to speak, “immortal and unchanged.” It is alone genuine, alone immutable, alone a legal tender. He who owns it in a solid and collective sense possesses all Mammon potentially therein. Now, every attempt against the absolute of finance, and of all such attempts, that of manufacturing the precious metal on a large scale by a cheap process would be at once the most vicious and insane. It would be vicious, because it would strike almost at the roots of society, making our system of exchange worthless, and annihilating our legal tender. It would be foolish, because it would make paltry that which is precious and give us nothing precious in return; it must, in fact, impoverish the whole world without enriching anyone.

Should, therefore, a process for the inexperience production of gold be at any time discovered by science, it is obvious that its unlicensed manufacture must be at once made penal, and that to a degree of penality which would be barbarous in minor matters, like that of the illicit whisky-still. Otherwise, the chemical crucible which first transmutes metals will decompose more than a scientific element, for it will contain the materials of a financial and social cataclysm. Whosoever may discover such a process had better remember that silence is more precious than any metal or any ore. Let him be content to become the billionaire of the future, whom we have described upon the financial horizon and, above all, if it be possible, may he permit his secret to die with him! By so doing he will deserve well of society, which he will have saved from the most disastrous of revolutions.

But the prophetic foresight and the claimed achievements of the old workers have been so frequently fulfilled independently by the experiments of modern research that we must face the possibility at least of success in this instance, and for any consequences that it may entail. The denial of such a possibility will not help matters any more than we can reasonably expect to elucidate the mysteries of spiritual chemistry by denying that there was a physical end in alchemy, or that the transmutation of metals was sought with as much earnestness as the elixir of life. For the elixir of life was sought in all earnestness, though here, as in the process on metals, there is no uncommon insight required to discern that this also had two fields of application.

There was a spiritual and a physical Medicine, there was a dual reconstruction of humanity, the grand restitution included both body and soul, the processes were intimately united, and in a sense they were almost one; the composition of the physical elixir was analogous to that of the spiritual; regeneration within was the divine complement of renewal without, nor could the lesser achievement be truly and permanently achieved till the larger work had been accomplished. As in alchemy, so also in the Universal Medicine. Physical transmutation we regard as having literally taken place; the youth of the body can, we believe, be renewed, but even were these lesser dreams spurious from the external standpoint, yet for the inner, the true and real man, they cannot be either fond or foolish. They are the consciousness of operating potencies whose ultimate evolution we can only distinguish in prophecy, but they are there and they do act. Let the faculty of interpretation distinguish by all means between the less and the great, but do not let it ignore the less, or absorb one into another. Concerning the physical perpetuation of youth, we repeat that it was sought, even as the achievement of conversion in metallic alchemy. That is a short-sighted criticism which is content with the showiness of merely suggestive interpretations, such as that of Eliphas Levi, which is set forth in the ensuing citation: “The Great Master has said: My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life. And when the crowd murmured, He added: Here the flesh profit nothing, the words which I speak unto you are spirit and life. Therefore He meant to say: Drink of my spirit and live by my life. And when He was about to die, He attached the memory of His life to the sign of bread, and that of His spirit to the sign of wine, and instituted thus the communion of faith, hope, and charity. In the same manner the Hermetic Masters say: Make gold potable, and you will have the Universal Medicine. That is, appropriate truth to your use; let it be the spring from which you daily drink, and then will you possess within you the immortality of the Sages.”

Such interpretations eliminate the entire raison d’etre of Hermetic terminology. The aphorisms of a commonplace morality neither deserve nor require the elaboration of a conventional language, nor a vast sequence of allegorical symbols. It is an insult to the intellect of the Hermetic ages to suppose that the labours of all the philosophers were confined to the enclosure of metaphysical truisms in the many splendours of a pompous typology. The apercus which have already been allowed to the students of a modern psychology are sufficient to warrant them in concluding that the masquerade of the Mystics was the first act of the grand Mysteries, and a prelude to the “unheard of curiosities” which are stored in the penetralia of the soul.

Now, physical alchemy, according to Eliphas Levi, was a species of metallic culture; the alchemists everywhere recognize that their theory could be applied also in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, and the science in the hands of Paracelsus was as much the artificial generation of fruit as it was the ripening of minerals. He taught the incubation of eggs into living birds after the same manner as we now perform it, and with as much gravity as the generation of gold or silver. The process in all cases was concerned with the application of a certain arcane heat. Alchemical experiments in the vegetable world which were not concerned with the manufacture of an elixir of life do not seem to have been pursued in the past, but the possibilities then indicated have become actualities in the present. Let us take an illustration at random from a recent achievement in that electrical world which is the true fairyland of science, and enchanted ground where all things seem possible, and where every explorer is sure to meet with great adventures and to discover hidden treasures. It is said that the development of vegetable seeds may be rendered far more rapid by submitting them to the action of an electric current. The influence of this treatment is shown by a larger crop, and by the growth of vegetables of enormous dimensions. The monster mangel, the colossal carrot, and the herculean haricot will be a godsend to vegetarian societies at the dawn of the twentieth century. The epicure of that day will also revel in the titanic tomato and the mammoth mushroom, for the amiable “force of the future” will doubtless preserve delicacy of flavor, while, at the same time, it magnifies size. Experiments extending over a period of five years have been tried with satisfactory results at Kief in Russia, upon the seeds of beans, sunflower, and spring and winter rye, as also upon pot-herbs and flowering plants. In fact, we may shortly expect in our gardens a flora that would do honour to the vaster orbs of Neptune or Saturn. Rapidity of development and increase in dimensions are not, it may be objected, everything. Is it not possible that gigantic vegetables may be attacked by titanic diseases and Brobdingnagian parasites? It is possible, no doubt, but electricity is equal to the occasion; it is said to be the human cure-all, and it is the cure-all of the vegetable kingdom. Manipulate the seed with electricity, and the potato, it has already been discovered, shall know no blight. Subject the seed of the grape vine to the gentle and vitalizing shock of the continuous current, and the vine shall have immunity from phylloxera. We are practically in possession of new weapons with which to do battle against the enemies of vegetable growth.

What a prospect is here opened to agriculture! Will the process stop short at the vegetable kingdom! It is impossible to expect too much of a science from which anything may be expected. If electricity can be usefully applied to any germ of life, it is reasonable to conclude that it may ultimately, and with as much profit, be extended to all. We shall then have an improved process of horse-breeding by the application of the electric current, the natural selection which perpetuates favourable variations, and has been assisted by the selection of humanity, being still further supplemented by the all-potent force. To go a step further, who among modern scientist can affirm at the moment that someone, greatest among the physiologists of the future, may not succeed in elaborating the perfect man – the dream of all idealists, and the ideal of all Utopias – by a judicious adaptation of the mysterious force of electricity to incipient human life? It is at least certain that, should a material golden age ever be restored it will be by the assistance of electricity; should a time ever come when, in the words of Philalethes, “all currencies shall be destroyed,” it will be when electricity has accomplished the Magnum Opus of manufacturing the precious metals. We conclude that evolved man, subsisting independently of currencies in a world renovated by electricity, having electrically accomplished the navigation of the air, the colonization of the sea, and the secret of universal fecundity, is as good an illustration of a material age of gold as can be supplied by the imagination of the most inspired prophet of any physical science.

The sequence of processes in the evolution of the metallic natures has been variously classified by the alchemists. Purgation, Dissolution, Separation, Conjunction, Cibation, Fermentation, Exaltation, and the Magical Marriage, are designations applied to the various stages of the work; and when we treat, in our second part, of Mysticism as a practical Science, we shall make use of this chain of development to indicate the analogical stages in the operation of spiritual evolution. It is set before us in other presentations under the guise of the Keys of Philosophy. There is that which opens the dark prisons, that which dissolves the compound, that which perfectionizes Mercury, that which reduces philosophical water into philosophical earth, that which produces the fermentation of the Stone with the perfect body, “to make thereof the Medicine of the Third Order,” and that which gives entrance to the secret of the Multiplication of the Stone. It would be easy to elaborate the pneumatic significance which abides in this sequence; it would be easy to provide others, and to explain them all, for all proceed after the same mode and make for the same end. That end is the “Supernatural Generation of the Son of the Sun,” and it is accomplished in each case amidst a manifestation of light and a coruscation of glory, a radiance and ravishment of the eye, which has won for the perfect achievement that name, at once most dear and most familiar to all true philosophers, the Work of the Light. No matter how the process was accomplished, with what tinctures or medicines, with whatsoever sulphurs or mercuries, and however assisted by the salts of life and the Protean spirits of the worlds philosophical, its end was the development of a perfection which was brought forth after much labour amidst a great glory.