One of the foundational manuscripts of alchemy is known as the emerald tablet, which is said to contain the secrets of the art. Many translations are available, perhaps one of the most well known was done by Isaac Newton.
In Alchemy, we have a very sacred science for bringing the lead of an undeveloped consciousness, up to the level of a fully developed consciousness of Gold, magnificent and incorruptible. In this one can see past the allegory of symbols and cryptic artwork, commonly associated with Alchemy. The Great Work is filled with some of the most spectacular symbolism ever created and seen in our time, deciphering them and applying them to ourselves displays one of the greatest secret’s ever to be revealed.
The list of alchemists is known to originate with, Thoth, who is widely credited with being the author of science, religion, mathematics, geometry, philosophy, medicine, and magic. Thoth is said to bring to civilization, the calculations for the establishment of the heavens, stars, Earth, and everything in them. In other words, matter. Compare this to how his feminine counterpart, Maatt was the force which maintained the Universe, otherwise, spirit. The unification of matter and spirit became a centerpiece in alchemical thought.
As the teachings spread, Thoth became known in other cultures as the Greek god Hermes, the two formally became the same as Hermes Trismegistus, of which he is currently known.
Another well known alchemist was Paracelsus, who brought many great works to the practice of alchemy. Paracelsus was born December 17th, 1493 in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, in a small village known as Maria.
Studying medicine by the age of 16, he quickly received his doctorate from the University of Ferrara. Paracelsus then began to study Hermetic, Neoplatonic, and Pythagorean philosophies, as well as being an astute Astrologer.
In medicine, he was a pioneer in the use of chemicals and minerals to treat ailments of the human body.
Perhaps one of the most important symbols in Alchemy is that of the Philosophers Stone, while it may not be as well known, its significance cannot be taken lightly. The symbol of the stone can be used as a key, in order to aid in the decrypting of alchemical imagery and lend meaning to many other symbols.
But what exactly is the meaning of this symbol? The generally accepted explanation seems to be that of describing the relationship between the physical and spiritual realms, and our part of that relationship. In the Stone we can be seen as a Divine being encased in matter, with the intent of performing work on the physical plane.
This work is nothing short of being able to exist beyond the material world, a consciousness perfected as a stone, by doing the work needed to achieve it, the Great Work. By working with the constituent parts represented by the symbol, and bring them together as a whole, we come into union with that which is whole, the One.
The Great Work: Lesson 1
The alchemist’s journey is known as the great work, and is broken down into several chemical, Psychological, Physiological, societal, and planetary levels.
The great work is broken down into four major categories, these are:
The Lesser Work - Nigredo
The Great Work begins in the stage of what is known as Nigredo, or the blackness. With our consciousness as the Prima Materia, is where we find ourselves in the current condition as the lead of the Alchemical allegory. With spirit we can dissolve and place our Prima Materia into the athanor or furnace and begin the calcination process and eliminating energies which may be blocking growth. Nigredo can be a very powerful stage, as it often signifies a point in one’s life where a spiritual evolution is necessary or eminent. It is unfortunate, however a knowing that the material plane cannot fulfill and a seeking of spiritual truth is an inevitable and required event.
In the illustration, take note of the black crow or raven in the setting, signifying undergoing the stage of Nigredo. This is a very personal time, where you begin to look deep into the soul, no matter how uncomfortable it may be at first.
The Greater Work: Citrinitas (Cauda Pavonis)
There is some debate about if next stage known as the Cauda Pavonis or the peacocks tail is placed after Albedo or Nigredo. Perhaps it may be different for some individuals; however for the purposes of this discussion - we will describe this stage here.
Out of the whiteness, clarity begins to occur, and the alchemist can experience all the aspects of the whiteness as one because unity is found. As Isaac Newton showed us with a prism work, that whiteness enters from above, and can be broken down seen in all of its brilliance display of colors. We, as divine beings, are the prism.
This may be a euphoric experience for the alchemist, as new energies and knowledge not previously experienced come into play. When the peacock’s tail emerges and discipline is established, it signifies the alchemist is entering the next stage, known as Albedo.
The Greater Work: Albedo
To experience and understand the following stage known as Albedo, one generally must have been fully immersed in Nigredo, having looked deep within themselves - The source of all existence appears through the void, and is seen as a “whiteness” or bright light.
This occurs due to the understanding of unity in all polarities, as is seen in “The One”. In this, the Alchemist knows of the source, from which everything sprang, and is aware that the real beauty of the spiritual path is becoming this unification once again.
As was mentioned earlier concerning the two opposing forces, this can be seen as the hermaphrodite or Mercury – which is spirit. Spirit has no gender, and is associated with pure consciousness.
The Greater Work: Rubedo
As Albedo continues, Spirit begins to coagulate with matter and the volatile is becoming fixed, becoming Red.
This is done when our conscious mind peers deep into the subconscious, and bring it back into the conscious mind to be observed. Spirit is entering the soul, purifying and coagulating to become solidified and constant in our lives. This is when we begin to actually work with spirit and put action to it on the material plane, culminating in the formation of the diamond body.
Similar to the resurrection of Christ, this can be seen as a body of solid light, purified and incorruptible.
These have been merely brief descriptions of the alchemical stages one may experience on their path, and is primarily intended for providing reference for further material at a later time.
We will now go through some basic aspects to understand the process of the Great Work, which began with the One or as it’s sometimes referred to as The All. Please take note as we begin, this is not about religion, or established dogma or creed – this is about advanced spiritual science pure and simple.
Therefore, when we mention The One or The All, it may or may not be directly referring to deity, but rather the creative force which encompasses all that is and is not. The one is everything, every potentiality, every outcome; it is the Divine Principle and Prima Materia.
The One is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of the Great Work and in this is sometime represented by the Ouroboros. This is one of the most perplexing and fulfilling aspects to fully understand, and many of us spend a lifetime attempting to do so.
Everything in Alchemy, as in life, begins with the one.
The Two Opposing Forces
Duality is also very strongly expressed in alchemical works.In this principle, we examine the concept of duality. In Alchemy, we see what is perhaps one of the most easily understood depictions of duality from all traditions. This is seen as the Sun and the Moon, or Sol and Luna, Sulphur and Mercury, or the Red King and the White Queen. This is found through that entire attempt to describe the law of opposites, male/female, light/dark, active/passive, and high/low. In eastern traditions, we see this as the Yin/Yang of the Tao, as well as the ida and pingala energies. Surely, aspects of the nature of duality are no accident or coincidence.
These are sometimes represented in alchemical imagery as two opposing dragons, one is winged (volatile), and one is wingless (fixed). Although we have opposing forces that represent separation, they seek union, and to be in balance and harmony. For the alchemist, they strive to reconcile these differences within themselves and create this union.
This is done through a process known as Solve Et Coagula, to separate the pure from the impure, the subtle from the gross in the emerald tablet. When done properly and in sufficient repetition, the two can come together perfected and as one, this is represented as the perfect matter in the androgyne or hermaphrodite in alchemical imagery.
The Three Primes (Tria Prima)
Alchemist’s see this principle as Tria Prima, or the three primes. These are Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt, or Spirit, Soul, and body. When the two opposing principles of Sulphur (masculine) and Mercury (feminine) come together, we get the Salt or body which brings together and reconciles these opposing principles within it in order to exist on the material plane in physical form.
In the Great Work, the Alchemists work with the three primes through the same process spoke of earlier, Solve Et Coagula, which is interpreted as dissolve and coagulate. This dissolving is done to free the Soul and body, or Sulphur and Salt, using Mercury or Sprit. In this way soul and body can be calcinated or purified, and rejoined or bound with Spirit making it one again, free from imperfections. All things which exist contain these three principles, corresponding to the Law of the Triangle, in that when the two come together, the third is born, creating the one.
These are the forces of Creation, and all parts of nature. One of the more well studied aspects of this three-fold nature is that of Spirit, or Mercury, which is the reconciliatory subtle energy. Known as Hermes, this energy of wisdom can be seen as the staff of the Caduceus, which allows balance and steady rising of the dual nature subtle energies. In eastern traditions, this threefold creational energy corresponds to Kundalini with Mercury as the Center Pillar, called Shushumna. This is the “Raw Matter” of the Alchemist. In Roscrucianism, Mercury is known as the Sophic Hydrolith – which is associated with Wisdom / Sophia, Watery Substance, and a Stone like aspect. In this well fitting ancient description, Mercury can be seen as the Watery Stone of Wisdom.
The four commonly known aspects are Fire, Water, Air, and Earth as elements, which correspond to current scientific knowledge of Plasma, Liquids, Gas, and Solids. In Qabala, these are known as Yod, He, Vav, He, or Jehovah. The Fire is our Will, the Life-Force or Chi/Qi as it is seen in eastern tradition. The Water is our emotions, and describes how they can easily flow from one temperature to the next when not under our control, The Air is our Intellect, and the Earth, is our body or matter here on the material plane.
These four aspects encompass many things, and can be used to easily identify areas of our personality which needs refined and how. Balance between these aspects is the key, and where one aspect is lacking it can be balanced with another as an opposite. All of this builds towards a fully integrated Self, capable of refraining from one extreme of the spectrum.
A great example of this can be seen if the works of Carl Jung, who helped a lot in ushering a modern revival in alchemical thought, and discovered its correspondence in his works in alchemy and psychology.
In Alchemy, the concept of Spirit is seen as having great importance, and is viewed as an Fifth or additional element to the original four. Modern science at some points accepts this concept, and views the fifth element to be what is known as Ether, where an Alchemist knows this element as the Quintessence.
The Quintessence is not only the glue which binds all other element together; it is also seen as what keeps the elements independent of each other. In Qabala, with what is known as Shin, which also has a quality of Fire, and is generally placed right in the middle, as Yod He Shin Vav He.
Seven Planetary Aspects
The Alchemist is familiar with seven primary metals which are ruled, influenced, or dominated by 7 planetary influences used in alchemical work. They are:
This now concludes Lesson 1