“As our most ancient Stone is not derived from combustible things, you should cease to seek it in substances which cannot stand the test of fire. For this reason it is absurd to suppose that we can make any use of vegetable substances, though the Stone, too, is endowed ‘with a principle of growth.
If our Stone were a vegetable substance, it would, like other vegetables, be consumed by fire, leaving only a certain salt. Ancient writers have, indeed, described our Stone as the vegetable Stone. But that name was suggested to them by the fact that it grows and increases in size, like a plant.
Know also that animals only multiply after their kind, and within their own species. Hence our Stone can only be prepared out of its own seed, from which it was taken in the beginning; and hence also you will perceive that the soul of an animal must not be the subject of this investigation. Animals are a class by themselves; nor can anything ever be obtained from them that is not animal in its nature.” – from The Golden Tripod, by Basil Valentinus
“The study of the organs will not teach us about the inner essence of man any more than the mere observation of the letters in a sentence can convey its meaning to one who does not know how to read. The only possibility of knowledge lies in sinking into one’s own interiority in order to follow from there the mysterious ways leading toward the material body.” – from First Steps Toward the Experience of the “Subtle Body,” in Introduction to Magic, ed. Julius Evola
“Seek and ye shall find…”
The questions presented to the truth seeker are simple, “What truth is it that you seek?” and “Why do you seek it?” Science, as understood up until the triumph of rationalism, was a study of the unity of being. With such an understanding any starting point leads towards self study, the same mechanics that exist in the celestial domain are applicable to the individual consciousness if the proper meditation is followed.
There is much scholarly debate over whether the alchemists went beyond early chemistry, if their Art was more than a coded form of chemical lab work. This question seems to ignore the mindset of those who sought the Stone. Spiritual alchemy i s the Art of ancient chemistry applied to the development of the human spirit. It’s historical basis is implied in the thoroughness of the ancient conception of the universe and it’s unity.
What we all too often miss in historical analysis is that the end of the Great Work is the restoration of unity, the solution is succinctly given by Socrates, “Know thy self.” This self knowledge, however, is unified with the knowledge of the whole.
Even if chemistry were the sole end, a deeper understanding of the Art always leads back to an understanding of ourselves. This is all too often lost in contemporary science, this sense of an in depth understanding of our own place in the discovery. The focus on material ends used to be known as vulgar mathematics, the study of number for material ends outside of contemplation.
Alchemy has been so overladden with alternative narratives, be they psychological, theosophic, therapeutic or general new age, it’s a welcome change that the historical roots are being more clearly exposed. The difficulty is in maintaining a clear picture of the Art and not allowing historicism to take away from it’s full exposition.
Every Art holds the potential to act as a ladder to enlightenment, but it’s very easy to take an axe to the rungs by cutting out the steps leading up to the end or by limiting the reach of the ladder. Every angle of analysis has to be properly aligned; giving too much weight to one over another creates an imbalanced view. Historicism is valuable for tracing the roots of ideas, for gaining a better understanding of their development, their affects over time, however it can be very damning to the search for the application of those ideas in practice.
Similarly too much focus on practice and self revelation can limit the full flowering of an idea. Without a clear view of the whole, including historical antecedents, we remain outside the organic development of life that can be traced through looking at the past. False teachers set themselves up on our lack of historical memory and much confusion comes from not understanding the basic origins of an idea.
We all too often throw out what could be reused or reawoken. I was recently struck by an article that Peter Stockinger posted regarding Raymond Lull’s Art of Memory. In it Chiromancy, or palm reading, is turned into a mnemonic device. Similarly when reading Richard Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche, what I found most revealing was his concept of reinvigorating the astrological cosmology with a sense of psychology, reformulating what is commonly considered superstition into a powerful cultural mnemonic device capable of acting as a tool for psychological therapy, very close to what Giordano Bruno recommends in his work, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast.
In any interpretation the answers given to the questions presented to the truth seeker provide a guide to what will be discovered. We should be careful that our answers and our methods of seeking don’t blind us to the revelations that lay close at hand.