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the philosopher's stone
(Part One)  
Some background notes
(post to a yahoo group)

By Rubaphilos 2009

It was requested, last week, to discuss the subject of the Philosopher's Stone. Having woken in the early hours and not been able to get back to sleep, I thought now might be as good a time as any to start the ball rolling.

I won't complicate the subject by discussing the relationship between the 'outer' (physical) Stone and the 'inner' (psycho-spiritual) Stone, but will adhere strictly to comment on the former, which we should understand is an actual physical substance that is produced by a Master alchemist.

I think the first concept about the Philosopher's Stone that needs to be grasped is that all respected Adepts of the work insist that the method for making the Stone was first copied, and adapted, from a process that was recognised as existing in nature. In this way alchemists referred to themselves as Philosophers of Nature (that is, lovers of the wisdom that can be grasped by observing natural laws). The old Adepts constantly make reference to the fact that if you want to discover the true method of making the Stone, to search for the facts concerning that process in nature. This is an extremely important concept, because everything a successful Adept does in his laboratory is based on this natural and original process. 

When considering what this process might be, in nature, we need to understand that nature herself does not carry out the Great Work by a number of different paths. She has one path, and it is the single original path upon which all the various paths that alchemists use are based. The technical term for the process inside nature that is the Great Work, is called 'spagyria'. Or the spagyric process. The details of how this process operates in nature are best described in the "Golden Chain of Homer" (copies of which can be found for free online). In the first few chapters of that famous book the author describes how there is a single substance in nature, which he calls the anima mundi (world spirit), and the universal fire, which is the agent that is the basis of the spagyric process. The universal fire, he tells us, brings into existence every thing that exists, maintains every thing once it is in existence, decomposes (kills-off) everything when its time is complete, and re-creates every thing when necessity requires it. This birth, life, death and rebirth process, governed by the universal fire, is what Paracelsus named the 'spagyric' process.

The science of alchemy is the study of the spagyric process, and its application in many areas of human endeavour, especially, and traditionally, to the realm of chemistry. When the spagyric process is applied to the realm of minerals (and metals) that process is generally referred to as the Great Work, because ultimately the result of that work is a substance which has the power to transmute base metals into noble metals. This substance, which is the agent of transmutation, is what alchemists call a Quintessence ... or a fifth Element. After an understanding of what spagyrics is, the concept of Quintessences is of secondary importance. All properly performed spagyric works have the ultimate goal of producing Quintessences. Therefore, ultimately, alchemy itself is primarily concerned with the production of Quintessences ... just as nature herself is. Everything else that come under the heading of alchemical study or practice is but an off-shoot of the spagyric process that produces Quintessences.

Over the several centuries that alchemists have been studying their science, they have learned from nature the structure and function of the spagyric process. Then they have modified and adapted her method, and by 'art' have produced many different tweaks on her spagyric process, in order that they can more easily and more quickly produce Quintessences, and in particular that most coverted Quintessence, the Philosopher's Stone. In this way, in the 21st century, we can learn about many different 'paths' to the Stone. These paths are called things like the wet path, dry path, path of the red dragon, acetate path, niter path, etc, etc. taking for granted that some of these paths may be fakes (since we know, historically, that fake techniques were created and introduced into the alchemical tradition), but putting this idea of fake paths to one side for the moment ... every path which can lead to the Stone must be based on the one original source process ... the spagyric process found in nature. But each path is a tweak, or encompasses a number of tweaks, on the natural process, that makes the work easier and faster.

But, we know from experience, that the alchemists who wrote about the particular paths they followed, nearly always wrote in such vague and cryptic terms that it is virtually impossible to discover exactly what they were saying by reading their books. Because of this wise Adepts from past eras insist that, if you want to discover a real workable way of producing the Stone "study nature". In other words, go back to the original source. One of the reasons why it is advised to do this is because the various paths of the Great Work described by alchemists are often very complex processes, whereas in nature the original path is very simple.

All of this preceeding information is important and necessary background to the study of advanced alchemy. Important because it defines exactly what alchemy really is (as opposed to what some people want to believe it is). For example, the reaction we commonly know as thermonuclear explosion (as in, a nuclear weapon), involves the change of one chemical element in to another, during the explosive process. This chemical change is what alchemists call 'transmutation' - the change of one chemical element in to another. But ... this atomic nuclear process is *not* alchemy. Alchemy is itself a very specific approach to the effect of transmutation, and this specific approach (again) is based on a process that exists in nature.

In order to 'be' alchemy, a process must be spagyric. It must involve a separation of the alchemical Elements of the 'matter' (chemical substance). That separation must be carried out philosophically ... and is called variously 'putrefaction' and 'philosophic death'. When the Elements are separated they must then be isolated and purifed. Finally the pure isolated Elements must then be recombined, in such a way that they 'wed' into a single chemical substance, which is a new form of matter (called a Quintessence). 

Any process which does not involve a separation, purification and recombination of alchemical Elements, no matter what else it might be (even if it results in effecting transmutation), is technically *not* alchemy. At the same time, any substance which might cause transmutation, but was not created spagyrically, is *not* the Philosopher's Stone. The Philosopher's Stone is a specific substance created by a specific process, with and for specific effects.

So, for example, a question was asked in the last couple of days ... how can a substance be tested to see if it is or is not the Philosopher's Stone, if it is the right colour and looks like the Stone?

The answer to the question is simple. (1) Was it produced spagyrically? (2) Does it transmute base metals in to gold? If the answer to either of these questions is 'no', then no matter what you have, and no matter how great it is, it is not 'the' Philosopher's Stone. It is something else that displays some or all of the properties that the Philosopher's Stone possesses.

I might add (to the answer to that question) that because of the nature of Quintessences, especially 'the' Quintessence (the Philosopher's Stone), you simply could not stumble across it by accident. It requires several kinds of precise operations to be performed on the right kind of substance, and the final operation (that of cohobating or recombining the Elements) is such a tricky process that out of 10s of 1000s of students of alchemy in the last 3000 years, only a couple of dozen of them ever managed to succeed in getting it right ... and out of those that did the bulk of the respected commentators 'insist' that the only way you would ever figure it out is if someone who already knows how it is done shows you, or if you get the solution to the problem by divine inspiration ... and the latter method they insist can not happen by accident. Everything I know about this subject leads me to also insist that what the old Adepts said about how we can learn this method of producing an alchemical transmutation agent is completely accurate.

So, to sum up, alchemy is considered to be a science because it is based on natural facts. It is not something you just make up as you go along. The process was discovered and proved in the same way that modern science discovers and proves facts about natural law. It was observed in nature and reproduced in the laboratory. The facts of alchemical science are as accurate and repeatible as any modern science. It is a falsehood to insist that weird so-called mystical conditions must be present in order to produce the Stone. Just as nature constantly works on this process at all times in all kinds of weather, so too can any person of average intelligence be taught by an expert to produce the Stone anywhere, at any time, without any special kind of spiritual accomplishments or understanding.

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