“How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind”
-Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind
Alchemy is a fairly complex subject in its relationship with Medicine, not easy to cover in a single post. I will therefore have to confine myself to illustrating the essential concepts, in the hope of being able to clearly explain the ancient alchemical concepts, apparently naive and abstruse, but so fascinating that they have fascinated men of great genius such as Isaac Newton and Carl Gustav Jung.
Alchemy saw its birth on the banks of the Nile, over three thousand years ago. However, its origins are much more remote, being lost in the mists of time. The term Alchemy comes from the Egyptian word Kem, meaning black, dark, referring to the brown colour of the Egyptian soil, due to the periodic flooding of the Nile.
The ancient Egyptians had understood, in fact, that the great fertility of their land depended on the continuous maceration of leaves, trees and organic debris. And humans too, like plants and lower animals, were an integral part of the “Biological Chain”, the transformative cycle of Nature in which, decomposing with death, they inevitably ended up being reabsorbed.
In short, after death humans too returned to the womb of the Earth, the Great Mother from which everything drew life. Thus the ancient Egyptians tried to oppose the fatality of the natural cycle by developing Alchemy, in order to protect the deceased from death, so that their body, alchemically mummified, remained unchanged for eternity.
In this way we can begin to understand the meaning of Alchemy or Science of Transformations, which has its roots in the secret doctrines of Hermetic Philosophy and which, in the following centuries, was destined to spread throughout the ancient world: from Greece to Rome, from the Middle East to distant China.
We cannot talk about Alchemy without referring to Hermeticism, which represents the doctrinal and philosophical basis of Alchemy. Legend has it that Hermes, called Trismegistus by the ancient Greeks, that means three times great – because his knowledge extended to the three Kingdoms of Nature – taught the Egyptians the truths of the Holy Science which took its name from him.
According to Tradition, Hermes organized the Knowledge, coming from a dark antiquity, into a coherent system of knowledge, from which the alchemists then drew their practices.
According to Clement of Alexandria there were as many as forty-two “Books of Hermes”. Of these, the last 6 dealt with diseases of the body and remedies to cure them.
In the teachings attributed to Hermes, the Templar Doctrine was harmoniously integrated with the principles of Therapeutics, influencing the medical concepts and systems of antiquity. It is no coincidence that among Hermes’ disciples is the legendary Egyptian doctor Imhotep, whom the Greeks identified with their God “Aesculapius”.
I wanted to underline the Egyptian origin of Alchemy, and its close relationships with Hermeticism, because Western civilization came from Egypt, when the other civilizations of the Mediterranean basin were still in their infancy.
Over the centuries, Alchemy became a complex magical system, applied by its followers to the processes of transformation of bodies in the natural world.
Therefore: transmutation of metals from the most vulgar (lead) to the most noble (gold); transformation of plants into healthy principles, as in Spagyria procedures; and finally, at the time of Paracelsus, transformation of bodily substances and of the human psyche itself.
If we want to understand the meaning of alchemical research, we need to take a step back, going back to the hermetic theories on Nature. According to Hermeticism, everything exists in the way most congenial to its Essence, defined by alchemists as “Sulphur”.
This Sulphurous Essence would induce bodies to evolve by acting on their embryonic form, that is, on their Raw Material (or Mercury) which, under the pressing impulse of Sulphur, would slowly transform into Salt, that is, into the mature corporeal being, as it is observable in the composite kaleidoscope of Nature.
Everything, therefore, is fatally transformed under the powerful action of Sulphur, or “Breath of Life”, using the hermetic terminology. And every transformation always takes place in an improving sense, from the worst to the better and from the less noble to the more perfect.
In the Mineral Kingdom, for example, lead and iron represent base metals, which the Earth abounds in. But their essence, that is their Sulphur, even in remote times, acting on the Raw Material, will lead them to natural transmutation: first into Tin and then into Copper and Silver, that is, into increasingly noble and precious metals and, finally, in the most sublime of metals, that is, in Gold, which represents the ultimate term of every balanced transformation in Nature.
Similarly to the three Essential Principles (Sulfur, Mercury and Salt), the multiplicity of natural manifestations in the bodies was explained by the alchemists with the different combination, of the Four Elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire, which depicted differentiated aspects of a single Transcendent energy (or Ether), which permeates the Universe and which they defined with the name “Anima Mundi”.
The Elements would be endowed with four fundamental qualities: Hot, Cold, Humid and Dry. In particular, Fire is hot and dry, Earth is dry and cold, Water is cold and humid, Air is humid and hot.
So the Elements represent Principles, qualities of matter in its objective manifestation, the roots of the variable characteristics of bodies which, depending on the predominance of one element or another, can exist in solid, liquid, gaseous or radiant form.
However, it is not my intention to insist on the doctrinal aspects of Hermetic Philosophy, but to provide essential concepts for an initial understanding of Alchemy, considered in its medical application.
Many centuries ago, alchemists certainly had to ask themselves whether it was possible to reproduce, with their procedures, the subtle dynamisms of Nature, in order to accelerate its evolutionary processes in an ameliorative sense; and even if it were possible to extract the “Spirit of Life” (which they called Sulphur) from bodies, so that, by masterfully joining it to the Prima Materia, that is to the “Mercury” of forms, a new Body could be generated, different from the first, but by far closer to the Goal of Goals, that is, to its golden transmutation.
Their response was probably positive, judging by the intense chemistry work conducted, sometimes for decades, by these curious characters, who we can imagine in their dark laboratories, in perfect solitude, in the light of feeble oil luminaries, intent on distilling from their still mysterious substances, blowing with the “Bellows of the Philosophers” into the Athanor, so that the right fusion temperatures were produced.
In fact, the metallurgical aspect of Alchemy constituted one of the richest, although not the only, strands of the medieval Alchemical Tradition: transforming lead into gold, overcoming the misery of a life of sacrifices with the triumph of the apparently absurd!. .. In reality there is no certain proof that a true golden transmutation ever occurred, but it is certain that Kings and nobles of the time were very interested in Alchemy, becoming hosts of famous Alchemists.
On the other hand, ancient iconography dwells much in the detailed depictions of the mysterious procedures of the Art, while the indecipherable alchemical language, interwoven with allegories, symbolic visions, mythological references and so on, became part of the treatises of the talkative alchemists. Ancient Blowers used everything to hide their work.
I realize that it is not easy to briefly summarize a journey that spans more than a thousand years, trying to explain the cornerstones of a random philosophy far from the mentality of modern mankind.
Alchemy must probably be felt in the soul, before allowing it to penetrate the intellect, in the form of constructions of ideas deduced from experience.
The Researcher of antiquity derived his knowledge from the “theophanic” conceptions of Hermeticism, deducing his logarithms according to the equations of Nature. It was therefore not a question of perceptions subjected to the scrutiny of reason, but of pure intuitions, only apparently absurd, but endowed with an intrinsic perfection, superior to any social meta-analysis.
Not for love of Science, the ancient alchemist distilled the “solute” from his sauces, but following the inspiration of a subtle inner harmony, not accessible to many wise mystifiers of scientific thought.
They attempted to extract their “Quintessence” from bodies, working tirelessly on the “Primary Matter” with the aim of purifying it, believing in the idea that, if they succeeded in the undertaking, any impure body could be brought back to original purity, that is, be regenerated and expressed at its highest quotients.
In this sense, the alchemists set themselves the difficult task of selecting arts and techniques capable of producing the “Salt of Wisdom” or, even better, that mysterious and magical ingredient which was called the “Philosophers’ Stone”.
About the Philosopher’s Stone, the true agent of natural transmutations, is still discussed today. Is it a fable and a naive invention of the ancients?… Or a marvelous reality, available to any wise man who is able to manufacture it?
The alchemists knew how to recognize the Raw Material on which they would conduct their operations. Acting on the Raw Material, deposited in the Philosophical Egg, the ancient Blower heated the mixture until it produced a brackish precipitate, which they separated from the coarser inclusions. At the end of their work, they generated – step after step – a new product, different but consubstantial with the first.
The Alchemist had to be aware of the Work in every phase. The mineral, under the life-giving force of the furnace fire, melted, coagulating a “menstruation”, so defined by analogy with the periodic bleeding of women.
Furthermore, with the expedient of the Fires of Art, artfully directed to stratify the product according to the golden consistency of the metals inherent in the “Mother Substance”, the “Essence of Gold”, or “Amalgam of the Philosophers”, was forced to direct itself towards the central phase of the Work, so as to constitute its epigone. Thus, over the course of a few hours, the transmutation of the Lead was determined, first into Silver and finally into Gold.
I realize that it is not easy for the reader not accustomed to alchemical terminology to understand what I have succinctly described. Perhaps by reading and rereading the text, the Historical Man will send, to some lucky person, the few internal signals that will help him at least to intuit, if not to rationally understand, the truth. The fact remains that attempting to interpret the complex symbolism of Alchemy is a very difficult undertaking, especially when trying to establish analogies between the modern scientific mentality and remote hermetic conceptions.
Hermetic Philosophy teaches that every body contains a “Divine Spark”, a sort of elementary Quintessence of bodies.
In Physics, the priority of the molecular and atomic structure of matter is universally recognized. In working his wonders, the 21st century scientist separates planes and subplanes of the atom, developing complex theories to explain the many paradoxes of Science, which can be highlighted during the observation of natural phenomena.
However, Nature refuses to be translated into the Euclidean vocabulary, and theoretical physics increasingly becomes Philosophy of Science. Antimatter, the superstructure of the atom, constitutes the emblematic example of how the idea of a thing is simpler – sometimes – than the thing itself.
If you imagine the Neutron, with its Proton allele, as Antimatter, i.e. as the non-substantial counterpart of Matter, the next step will be to conceive the Unique Law of the atom divided into the complex formulas of Relativistic Physics, not easily incardinatable in the rationalistic system of contemporary man.
The alchemical conception of a “Quintessence” of bodies, extractable from gross matter with the procedures of the Art, therefore translates, in modern language, into the hypothetical explosion of an atom, understanding the latter as “force-essence” which projects a corpuscle of Antimatter into the objective.
In simpler words, the effect of the alchemical procedure would be to structurally modify the atom, shifting its “orbital” with sublimation techniques derived from ancient knowledge and artfully used by the alchemist.
If the essence of a body generates only that given body, or metal, this will depend on the particular molecular structure of the matter. By adding or subtracting electrons, or “quantum” of energy, according to the mysterious knowledge derived from antiquity, it would be possible to do the transmutation work.
In this way we could demonstrate the illusory nature of the world, compared to the perennial boiling of the Matter of “Chaos”, the dark magma of Divine Thought, which tends to organize itself in Nature according to the Laws of Evolution, which Darwin studied in vain, without worry about investigating the true origins of the human species.
Alchemy’s attempt was to carry out a work of transmutation, not only in the metallurgical field, but also in the vegetal field and in mankind.
In the plant world, the application of alchemical principles led to the development of Spagyric Medicine, that is, the extraction from plants of extremely purified medicinal principles (quintessences), essential products which today appear in the pharmacopoeia of Alternative Medicine. In the human field, the application of alchemical knowledge led to the development of Spiritual Alchemy, on which we will focus later.
END OF THE FIRST PART