FROM “THE THEOSOPHICAL GLOSSARY” (p. 14-16)
BY H. P. BLAVATSKY
Alchemy, in Arabic Ul-Khemi, is, as the name suggests, the chemistry of nature. Ui-Khemi or Al-Kîmîa, however, is only an Arabianized word, taken from the Greek χημεία (chemeia) from χυμός – “juice”, sap extracted from a plant.
Says Dr. Wynn Westcott: “The earliest use of the actual term ‘alchemy’ is found in the works of Julius Firmicus Maternus, who lived in the days of Constantine the Great. The Imperial Library in Paris contains the oldest-extant alchemic treatise known in Europe; it was written by Zosimus the Panopolite about 400 A.D. in the Greek language, the next oldest is by Æneas Gazeus, 480 A.D.”
It deals with the finer forces of nature and the various conditions in which they are found to operate.
Seeking under the veil of language, more or less artificial, to convey to the uninitiated so much of the mysterium magnum as is safe in the hands of a selfish world, the alchemist postulates as his first principle the existence of a certain Universal Solvent by which all composite bodies are resolved into the homogeneous substance from which they are evolved, which substance he calls pure gold, or summa materia. This solvent, also called menstruum universale, possesses the power of removing all the seeds of disease from the human body, of renewing youth and prolonging life. Such is the lapis philosophorum (philosopher’s stone).
Alchemy first penetrated into Europe through Geber, the great Arabian sage and philosopher, in the eighth century of our era; but it was known and practised long ages ago in China and in Egypt, numerous papyri on alchemy and other proofs of its being the favourite study of kings and priests having been exhumed and preserved under the generic name of Hermetic treatises. (See “Tabula Smaragdina”).
Alchemy is studied under three distinct aspects, which admit of many different interpretations, viz.: the Cosmic, Human, and Terrestrial. These three methods were typified under the three alchemical properties – sulphur, mercury, and salt.
Different writers have stated that there are three, seven, ten, and twelve processes respectively; but they are all agreed that there is but one object in alchemy, which is to transmute gross metals into pure gold. What that gold, however, really is, very few people understand correctly.
No doubt that there is such a thing in nature as transmutation of the baser metals into the nobler, or gold. But this is only one aspect of alchemy, the terrestrial or purely material, for we sense logically the same process taking place in the bowels of the earth. Yet, besides and beyond this interpretation, there is in alchemy a symbolical meaning, purely psychic and spiritual. While the Kabbalist-Alchemist seeks for the realization of the former, the Occultist-Alchemist, spurning the gold of the mines, gives all his attention and directs his efforts only towards the transmutation of the baser quaternary into the divine upper trinity of man, which when finally blended are one.
The spiritual, mental, psychic, and physical planes of human existence are in alchemy compared to the four elements, fire, air, water and earth, and are each capable of a threefold constitution, i.e., fixed, mutable and volatile.
Little or nothing is known by the word concerning the origin of this archaic branch of philosophy; but it is certain that it antedates the construction of any known Zodiac, and, as dealing with the personified forces of nature, probably also any of the mythologies of the world; nor is there any doubt that the true secret of transmutation (on the physical plane) was known in days of old, and lost before the dawn of the so-called historical period.
Modern chemistry owes its best fundamental discoveries to alchemy, but regardless of the undeniable truism of the latter that there is but one element in the universe, chemistry has placed metals in the class of elements and is only now beginning to find out its gross mistake. Even some Encyclopædists are now forced to confess that if most of the accounts of transmutations are fraud or delusion, “yet some of them are accompanied by testimony which renders them probable. . . By means of the galvanic battery even the alkalis have been discovered to have a metallic base. The possibility of obtaining metal from other substances which contain the ingredients composing it, and of changing one metal into another . . . must therefore be left undecided. Nor are all alchemists to be considered impostors. Many have laboured under the conviction of obtaining their object, with indefatigable patience and purity of heart, which is earnestly recommended by sound alchemists as the principal requisite for the success of their labours.” (Pop. Encyclop.)
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