Volume 2 Fall 1981

Exemplar - Hans Sterneder
Boyle, Newton and Van Helmont: On The Transmutation of Water and Air
The Work in the Laboratory: A Paradox
Physical Immortality
Inquiries by Students ... and Answers
On Deciphering Alchemistical Language



Hans Sterneder

To the English reader the name of Hans Sterneder means very little because his works have not been translated into the English language. However, his books have been published by the hundreds of thousands and it is safe to say that the majority of Europeans over the age of fifty who are even slightly interested in the deeper meanings of life have read at least one of his books. The most widely known is undoubtedly Der Wunderapostel.

Sterneder's writing is unique. His simple poetic expression is of such extraordinary depth and feeling that it is difficult to translate into other languages. Born in Austria in 1889, the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner, he was raised by his grandmother. Although very poor, she managed to have Hans attend the Gymnasium. Eventually he graduated and became a village schoolteacher.

Hardly anyone else has described his love for the most intimate association with nature in his Austrian Alpine county with such intensity than Hans Sterneder. Eventually he began to write about his experiences but his attempts to get published were without success. One day, however, as he walked in the evening in Glodnitz, where he taught school, a stranger began to talk to him. In the conversation the young teacher spoke about his discouraging efforts to get his writings published. The stranger told him to write to a well known publisher. Sterneder said that he had done so but had received a rejection notice from them also. However, the stranger persisted with his suggestion for some unknown reason, even giving Sterneder a specific name to address at the publishing firm.

When Sterneder did mail his manuscript off again according to the directions of the mysterious stranger, a letter of acceptance immediately came and Sterneder's works were subsequently published with great success. He stopped teaching school and began a writing career which brought him in contact with the literary elite of his day. Eventually he became so well known that even the doors of royalty were open to him.

The extremes Sterneder experienced in his road from poverty to fame left a deep imprint on his life and were also a foundation for his masterful writings.

Having known Hans Sterneder personally for many years, not only being his guest whenever we were in Europe but actually experiencing with him another home at his villa in Bregenz overlooking Lake Constance, has woven a beautiful bond of friendship between us. In his own words, we were Seelenbruder, brothers of like soul.

Hans Sterneder passed on in March of this year after returning from his usual afternoon walk to the lake. We look forward to the time when his works will be found in the English language and he will experience a well deserved resurrection, bringing immense joy to still another generation, especially through his Wunderapostel.
- Frater Albertus

Boyle, Newton, and Van Helmont

On The Transmutation of Air and Water

Michael T. Walton*

"And one of these vegetables, cherished only by water, having obtained a a competent growth, I did, for tryals sake; cause to be distilled in a small retort, and thereby obtained some phlegme, a little empyreumatical spirit, a small quantity of adult oyl, and a caput mortuum ..." (Robert Boyle, Sceptical Chymist, part II).

J. B. VAN HELMONT's experiments in plant growth which seemed to indicate that water was transformed into plant matter intrigued Robert Boyle.1 Because Helmont's chemistry rested on concepts of aetherial ferments and other intermediate states of matter which seemed indistinct and old fashoned in light of the growing popularity of atomism, Boyle had to re-interpret the hydroponic experiments in terms of his atomic or corpuscular philosophy.2 He believed that the seminal principles, a concept not unrelated to the ferments of Helmont (see note 20), in plants drew atoms from water and recombined them to form the substance of plants. Boyle felt that the process of drawing atoms from fluid media like water and from the air not only explained the growth of plants but also the respiration of animals and the formation of minerals.3

Important to Boyle was the fact that his explanation of the transmutation of water not only accorded with the experimental data and his cherished corpuscular philosophy, but that it also agreed with the account of the Creation found in Genesis.4

Boyle's ideas concerning the transmutation of water and air probably influenced his friend Isaac Newton, who used similar conceptions in the Principia to explain the role of comets in the cosmic order.5 The existence of such chemical ideas in Newton's greatest work indicates their importance to his world view. The interplay of experiment with the atomic hypothesis and with theology in the development of Boyle's theory of transmutation provides an insight into some of the thinking which conditioned his world view. Newton's use of that theory demonstrates his acceptance of the essential elements of the "new" chemistry which Boyle and other "virtuosi" were elucidating.6

The many references to Helmont in Boyle's works prove that Helmont influenced him, but the extent of that is difficult to assess. In spite of the difficulties involved, Marie Boas Hall's opinion that Boyle was more taken by Helmont's experiments than by his obscure theorizing appears to be largely correct.7 Whatever his disdain for Helmont's speculations, however, Boyle acquired some of the Netherlander's interpretations in accepting certain of his experiments.8 This is especially true of the experiment in which Helmont grew a tree under controlled conditions and found that it gained weight not by assimilating soil but apparently by transmuting water. The tree experiment and the conclusions which Helmont drew from it became important factors in the Sceptical Chymist.

In part two of the Sceptical Chymist, Boyle undertook a discussion of why substances separated from bodies by chemical process were not necessarily the pre-existent elements of the bodies, as the "chemists" believed. The thrust of his argument was that, as atoms in a body could be rearranged into new structures by the chemical art, it was difficult to determine if the substances derived from a body through chemistry are its true elements. It is in this context that he mentions Helmots and his own experiments in plant growth. Boyle noted that, when plants were grown in earth or in water alone, they appeared to derive their substance primarily from water. On chemically reducing such plants, he found the "elements" earth, oil and phlegm. Boyle asked: if such "elements" could be produced from plant matter which was only water transformed by seminal principles, were they actually elements or rather concretions of the true elementary particles, atoms? 9


The realization that his adherence to the doctrine of water transmutation identified him with Helmontianism was very unsettling to Boyle. This was especially true in the light of his opinion of Helmont's The Magnetic Cure Of Wounds as resting on "extravagancies" and untruths".10 As a result sought to disassociate himself from Helmont. He did this by placing the origins of the transmutational theory prior in time to Helmont, though he credited Helmont for his experiments and development of the doctrine.

In his attempt to separate what he believed to be the empirically provable phenomenon of transmutation from the "extravagancies" of Helmontian theory, Boyle followed an interesting line of thought. He sought to show that the idea of the transmutation of water into solid matter reached back in time to antiquity. 11

'Yet this much I shall tell you at present, that you need not fear my rejecting this opinion for its novelty; Since, however, the Helmontians say in complement to their master, pretend it to be a new discovery, yet though the arguments [experiments] be for the most part, his, the opinion itself is very ancient.12

As proof for the antiquity of the idea that water was primary matter, Boyle invoked a genealogy similar to that which another Englishman, Walter Charleton, applied to the atomic philosophy.13 He reminded the reader in the "Sceptical Chymist" that Thales, Homer, and Hesiod thought that water was the substance from which the world arose. The Greeks, however, were not the originators of the transmutational hypothesis. They adopted it from the Phoenicians.14 While identifying the Phoenician origins of the transmutational hypothesis, Boyle noted that Strabo attributed atomism to Moschus the Phoenician.15 The juxtaposition of water-transmutation with atomism indicates that Boyle viewed them as complementary doctrines rooted in the same near eastern cosmology.

In Boyle's opinion, the origins of both the transmutational hypothesis and atomism extended beyond the Phoenicians to the Hebrews.16

" 'tis known that the Phoenicians borrowed most of their learning from the Hebrews, and among those that acknowledge the Books of Moses, many have been inclined to think water to have been the primitive and universal matter . . . "17

As a pious Christian, Boyle had studied Hebrew and Greek in order to read the Holy Scriptures in their original.18 It is little wonder, then, that in the light of his and Helmont's experiments, he turned to the waters of the Creation as a support for his scientific ideas. His training in Hebrew had a direct bearing on his interpretation of God's method of creation as he presented it in the Sceptical Chymist.

"[the world] whose component parts did orderly... emerge out of that vast abysse, by the operation of the Spirit of God, who is said to have been moving Himself as hatching females do (as the original Merahepet, is said to impart) upon the face of the water . . ." 19

Boyle's Biblical literalism was qualified by his predisposition to the atomic hypothesis. He could not say that his simple or earthly water was the substance referred to in Genesis. To him the waters of the Creation were a mixture of seminal principles, vague organizing powers coexistent with but somehow separate from atoms, and corpuscles which God's "production incubation activated.

'For I see no necessity to conceive that the waters mentioned in the beginning of Genesis, as the universal matter, was simple and elementary water; . . . we should suppose it to have been an agitated congeries or heap consisting of a great variety of seminal principles and rudiments, and of other corpuscles fit to be subdued and fashioned by them...." 20

Although Boyle perceived the waters of Genesis as being different from common water, his experiments convinced him that "elementary" or common water retained some of the creative water's propensity to be transmuted when worked on by a seminal influence. This continued trans mutability was due to water's mixed corpuscular composition. The fact that what the "chymists" believed to be elements could be derived from plants grown entirely in water appeared to support his view that the commonly defined "elements" and water were mixtures of corpuscles.

Even with his commitment to Biblical truth, Boyle was not comfortable mixing theology with natural philosophy. After discussing the relevance of his experimental data to the Creation, he wrote, "But you, I presume, expect that I should discourse of this matter like a naturalist, not a philologer. "21 Though he felt that the theological and the natural scientific aspects of his thought were best separated literally and methodologically, Boyle's comments on Genesis leave little doubt that his science took into account both experiment and Holy Writ.


Boyle's investigations into transmutations were not limited to water. He recognized that other substances contained a variety of atoms and were thereore capable of transmutation. He found that air was, perhaps, the most 'heterogenous Body in the world." 22Special atoms in the air sustained both flames and living things, though in time they were exhausted, as bell jar experiments demonstrated. Like water, air was a substrate which supported regular transmutations of its atoms into other substances. Experiments with water and air seemed to prove that rearrangeable atoms were the basis of all material objects. The experiments with air further indicated that transmutability was limited by the availability of atoms.

It is in the context of Boyle's work with water and air that his influence on Newton'sPrincipia23 can be seen. Newton apparently accepted as a fact continuous transmutation of water and air and the consequence, implied Boyle's work, that, in time. without an influx of new atoms the two substances would be exhausted. The problem of the exhaustion of the seas and atmosphere became an important aspect of his discussion of comets in the Principia.

To solve the problem of a continual reduction of transmutable fluids, Newton proposed that the tails of comets resupplied the atmospheres and seas of the earth and planets with new matter. " ... so for the conservation of and fluids of the planets, comets seem to be required, that, from their exhalations and vapors condensed [by gravity] the wastes of the planetary fluids spent upon vegetation and putrefaction, and converted into dry earth may be continually supplied and made up..." 24

That Newton was directly influenced by experiments on plant growth and respiration is proved further on in the text

" ... for all vegetables entirely derive their growths from fluids, and afterwards in great measure, are turned into dry earth by putrefaction...I suspect, moreover, that it is chiefly from the comets that spirit comes, which is indeed the smallest but most subtle and useful part of our air, and so much required to sustain the life of all things with us."25

The conjectures about the need to replenish the earth with matter from comets tie the Principia to the Opticks. In the Opticks Newton speculated that particles and their attractions were behind all chemical and colour phenomena.

Now the smallest Particles of Matter may cohere by the strongest Attraction, and may compose bigger Particles of Weaker Virtue ... and so on for divers Successions, until the Progression end in the biggest Particles on which the operations in chymistry, and the colours of natural Bodies depend.26

Chemical processes, thought Newton arise from the motion and attraction of particles just as salt was formed in the sea through the action of water and earth.

"As Gravity makes the Sea flow round the denser and weightier parts of the Globe of the Earth, so the Attraction may make the watery Acid flow round the denser and compacter Particles of Earth for composing the Particles of Salt . . . " 27

In the formation of salt, both earth and water became tied up and needed to be replaced if the process were to continue. The discussion of comets in The Principia suggests how that replacement occurred.

The theological content of Newton's chemical ideas is also clarified in the Opticks. Like Boyle in the Sceptical Chymist, Newton saw the validation of this thought in its close approximation to an accurate description of the Creation.

"It seems probable to me, that God in the Beginning, form'd Matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable Particles, of such Sizes and Figures, and with such other Properties, and in such Proportion to Space, as most conduced to the End for which he formed them. . ." 28

Only the non-mechanical seminal principles of Boyle do not appear in the matter oof Newton's Creation. They were replaced by the properties which Newton conferred on his atoms. Still Newton concentrated on the same kinds of processes as did Boyle. His atoms combined and were used up in chemical actions as were Boyle's. The reality of transmutation is similar in both views of the Creation.

Isaac Newton

Newton was obviously very concerned with transmutation and its relevance to life processes and theproduction of earth or he would not have discussed them in both the "Principia" and the speculative sections ofthe "Opticks." His association of transmutation with his impressive system of the world gave the chemical doctrine added prestige. Not only was transmutation seen as compatible with the atomic hypothesis but also with the universal laws of gravitation and celestial motion.

Newton's conjectures on the "usefulness" of comets were still identified as important features of his system in the early eighteenth century. Henry Pemberton paid homage to them in his popularization of the Principia.

The discussion of this appearance in comets [the irregular shape of the tail] has led Sir Isaac Newton ito some speculations relating to their use, which I cannot but extremely admire, as representing the strongest light imaginable the extensive providence of the great author of nature, who, besides the furnishing this of earth . . . so abundantly with every thing necessary for the support and continuance of the numerous races of plants and animals . . . has over and above provided a numerous train of comets . . . to rectify continually, and restore their gradual decay, which is our author's opinion concerning them. 29


Helmont's tree experiment stimulated Robert Boyle's thoughts on transmutation and led him to experiments which he believed confirmed his ideas about the nature of elements and the verity of the atomic hypothesis. Furthermore, the experimental data seemed to agree with the account of the Creation presented in Genesis. Unlike Helmont's "extravagant" views, Boyles's "experimental" chemistry was acceptable, with a few modifications (e.g the omission of seminal principles) to contemporary natural philosophers.

Isaac Newton seems to have been among those who were influenced by Boyle's chemical ideas. Like Boyle, he believed that the transmutation of water and the air was a continuous process, a process which resulted in a diminution of water and air. Newton solved the problem of the eventual exhaustion of the seas and atmosphere by suggesting that matter from the tails of comets replaced the transmuted atoms. Newton fitted the doctrine of transmutation into his world system with its neat mathematical laws. The authority of Boyle and Newton served to establish the doctrine of transmutation as a plausible explanation of certain important chemical processes established by the wisdom of "the great author of nature".


*I wish to thank Allen G. Debus and an anonymous referee for their valuable suggestions on improving this essay which was originally published in the march 1980 issue of Ambix, The Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry.

1 Allen G. Debus has noted Boyle's respect for Helmont in 'The Chemical Debates of the 17th Century: The Reaction to Robert Fludd and Jean Baptist van Helmont, in Reason, Experiment and mysticism in the Scientific Revolution, ed. by M. L. Righini Bonelli and William R. Shea, New York, Science History Publications, 1975, pp. 43 and 44.

2 This is not to say that Helmont was an alchemist or a Paracelsian. He rejected the macrocosm - microcosm analogy of both views and developed his own physiology. He also developed a theory of substances based on a series of transitions from aetherial ferments to coarser materials like gases and water. Helmont's was a system somewhere between the Paracelsian and the new atomic chemistry which Boyle and his colleagues were developing. For an excellent summary of Helmont's doctrines, see Walter Pagel, "The Religious and Philosophical Aspects of Van Helmont's Science and Medicine", Supplement to the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 1944, no, 2. The relationship of Helmontianism to atomism can perhaps be seen in the intellectual growth of Walter Charleton who translated Helmont's The Magnetic Cure of Wounds into English. At a later date he rejected Helmont and translated Gassendi's treatise on atomism.

3 Boyle's adherence to atomism or what he called the corpuscular philosophy did not mean that he totally rejected earlier chemical traditions. He was well read in both alchemical and Paracelsian literature. He tended to accept the experiments of "chemists" but rejected their theoretical considerations, adapting their data to atomism. Boyle's ambivalent position towards alchemy explains, at least in part, his belief in the reality of the transmutation of base metals by earlier workers and his interest in duplicating their successes which culminated in his petition for exemption from the Parliamentary act against "multipliers". Attempts to transmute by Boyle should not be taken as a sign that he was a traditional alchemist. All of his experimental aims were justifiable in terms of the chemical separation and recombination of atoms. Boyle's interest in transmutation is discussed by Muriel West in "Notes on the Importance of Alchemy to Modern Science in the Writings of Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle", Ambix, 9, 102-114, 1961. For an insight into Boyle's efforts at transmutation and Newton's reaction to them see D. Geoghehan, "Some Indications of Newton's Attitude Towards Alchemy", Ambix, 6, 102-6, 1957. Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs has discussed Boyle's belief that certain experiments resulted in the transmutation of silver into gold, see The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy, Cambridge, 1975, p. 200.

4 "The importance of religion to Boyle's natural philosophy is discussed at length by J. E. McGuire in "Boyle's Conception of Nature", Journal of the History of Ideas, 33, 523-42, 1972.

5 "That Boyle indeed influenced some of Newton's chemical thinking is seen in the Opticks (London, 1704), p. 374. There Newton wrote "Water by frequent Distillations changes into fix'd Earth, as Mr. Boyle has try'd." The present paper seeks to trace in detail some of the ways in which the chemical ideas of Newton were similar to those of Boyle. Newton was not, however, influenced by Boyle alone. He was personally interested in Helmont and had read his Opera omnia (1667). This is demonstrated by King's College, Cambridge, Keynes, Newton MS. 16, which contains his notes from Helmont's Opera. Debus in "Chemical Debates", p. 45, comments on the manuscript. In addition, Newton was himself well versed in alchemical thought, as the recent work of Richard Westfall and Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs demonstrates. Of interest to Newton in his chemical thinking was the idea that this earth resembles a great animal or rather inanimate vegetable and draws in aethereal breath for its daily refreshment... and thus a great P{ar}t if not all the moles of sensible matter is nothing but aether congealed. Newton MS> Bundy Library-Sotheby Sale Catalogue n 516, quoted in P.M. Rattansi, "Newton's Alchemical Studies", in Science, Medicine and Society in the Renaissance, ed. by Allen G. Debus. London, 1972; pp. 167-83. Boyle's thought was, however, as this study will attempt to show, a catalyst in Newton's opinions concerning transmutation; see Geogehan, "Some Indications of Newton's Attitude Towards Alchemy (3)

6 A chemistry based on rigorous experimentation and the atomic theory is what is meant by the term "new" chemistry. Boyle, Hooke, and others consciously sought to free chemistry from what they saw as unsound doctrines based on broad generalizations drawn from a few experiments or simply reasoning by anology. Dobbs in Newton's Alchemy (3), p. 203. notes the importance of Boyle's "Of Formes" to Newtons"Mechanical Ideas", especially his ideas on universal matter and transmutation. Newton's mechanical philosophy and acceptance of Boyle's chemistry poses a problem for Dobbs in"Newton's Alchemy". To her it appears anachronistic in light of his mechanism that Newton searched for the "mercury of metals". The solution of the difficulty may lie in a further similarity between Newton and Boyle, their interest in and acceptance of the experiments of many traditional alchemists. It is logical, though necessarily true, that Newton incorporated earlier terminology into his writings. There is no necessary contradiction in applying words for processes, changes and substances from one system to another.

7 Marie Boas, Robert Boyle and Seventeenth Century Chemistry, Cambridge, 1958, p. 55. Allen C. Debus in The Chemical Philosophy, York, 1977, provides the best account of the relationship of Boyle to Helmont and earlier chemists that this writer has encountered.

8 Boyle realized this relationship between experiment and theory in accepting Helmont and tried to break it, This will be discussed below.

9 The preceding is a distillation of Boyle's position in part two of the Sceptical Chymist and should not be viewed as a paraphrase of the text.

10 Sceptical Chymist (1860), Everyman Library P. 68.

11 Boyle was well aware of the alchemical teaching that the world was distilled from water. He seems however, to have differentiated between Helmont's experimental proof that plants transformed water and the alchemical reasoning by analogy from the process of distillation.

12 Sceptical Chymist (10), p. 70.

13 Danton B. Sailor in "Moses and Atomism, Journal of the History of Ideas, XXV pp. 3-16, 1964, discusses at length Charleton and others who sought to vindicate atomism from charges that it was pagan by tracing it back to Moses. Sailor notes that Boyle presented similar arguments in the Sceptical Chymist, The Excellency of Theology and Some Specimens of an Attempt to Make Chymical Experiments Useful to Illustrate Motions of Corpuscular Philosophy.

14 Sceptical Chymist (10), p. 71.

15 "Ibid., p. 73. See Sailor, "Moses and Atomism" (13), for details on the acceptance and impact of Strabo's opinion.

16 Sailor in "Moses and Atomism details the notion, widely held in the seventeenth century, that Moschus and other Phoenicians learned from the Hebrews. He points out that Moschus was often held to be a corruption of Moses.

17 Sceptical Chymist (10) p. 71. Most alchemists and Paracelsians believed that the creation in Genesis referred to a chemical separation from water. Boyle was, however, doing more than just mirroring this time-worn view. He seems to have believed that the novel experiment of Helmont and the atomic hypothesis supplied the keys which opened the door to the true explanation of how that separation took place.

18 "This is a point which Boyle himself makes in Some Considerations Touching the Style of the Holy Scriptures.

19 Sceptical Chymist (10), pp. 71 and 72.

20 Ibid., p. 75. As this passage indicates, Boyle was somewhat of a "sceptical atomist". He believed that atoms alone were too mechanical and insufficient to explain chemical phenomena. To augment the atomic theory, he hypothesized seminal principles as activating forces. The importance of the seminal principles to Boyle's view of chemical processes places him closer to Helmont and his ferments than to his fellow atomists and indeed Newton who emphasized innate attractive and repulsive virtues in atoms. This aspect of Boyle's chemistry has not been well developed by scholars but Debus touches on it in The Chemical Philosophy (7), vol. 11, p. 477.

21 Ibid., p.75 Though Boyle uses the term philoger, it is apparent his discussion transcends the bounds of determining the meaning of the Hebrew word, Merahephet and enters into theology.

22 Robert Boyle, Tracts: Containing 1. Suspicions about some Hidden Qualities of the Air, etc Much of the following discussion is based on a paper by Douglas McKie. "Some Early Work on Combustion, Respiration and Calcination" Ambix, 1, 143-65, 1938. No attempt will be made here to discuss Boyle's interest in the transmutation of metals. Of interest to the present writer is the relationship of the transmutation of water and air to Boyle's religious position and to Newton's Chemistry.

23 Though much has been written about the importance of alchemy to Newton by Richard Westfall and B. J. T. Dobbs, the following discussion will attempt to show that corpuscularian chemistry similar to that of Boyle was the most direct chemical influence on thePrincipia A general discussion of Newton's ideas and their relationship to his researchs and speculations on matter is found in McGuire, Transmutation and Immutability: Newton's Doctrine of Physical Qualities. Ambix, 14, 64-95, 1967.

24 Isaac Newton, Mathematical Principles trans. by Andrew Motte and revised by Florian Cajori. Berkeley, 1966, pp. 529-30, in the first edition of the Principia (1687), p. 506. The idea of the circulation of matter was not new to Newton, in the Principia. Earlier in his correspondence he had written of the atmosphere being supported by exhalations from the earth (Correspondence, 1, p. 365-6). The Principia saw this view applied on a cosmic scale. Newton was not the only one to link the replenishment of lost matter to celestial bodies. William Simpson in his Hydrologiaor the Chemical Anatomy of fhe Scarborough and other Spaws in Yorkshire London, 1669, pp. 303 and 304, wrote on the growth of vegetables. The earth can no more produce Vegetables or Minerals without the connatural circulation of water replenish'd with Celestial influences..." Debus notes Simpson's work in The Chemical Philosophy (7), vol ii p 498.

25 Principia (24), P. 530.

26 Opticks(5), p. 394.

27 Ibid. p.386. The fusion of alchemical and "new" chemical terms mentioned in reference 6 is seen in Newton's statement "note that what is said by chemists that everything is made from sulphur and mercury is true, because by sulphur they mean acid, and by mercury they mean Earth" (De natura acidorum, cited in Correspondence, III, pp. 206 and 210, and in Dobbs Newton's Alchemy, p. 220). It is obvious that acid and earth were ultimately corpuscular to Newton in spite of their original alchemical meanings

28 Opticks(5) p. 400. Newton's philosophical, rather than chemical, attitudes regarding the creation are discussed by Martin Tamny in ' Newton, Creation, and Perception", Isis, 70, 48 - 58. 1979

29Henry Pemberton, A View of Sir Isaac London, 1728, pp. 243-4. The subject of Newton's theory of comets is discussed in an unpublished paper by Phyllis J. Richardson'Newton's Comet Theory and His System of the World'. An interesting discussion of the fate of Newton's chemical ideas in the Eighteenth century is found in Arnold Thackray's 'Matter in a Nut-shell; Newton's Opticks and 18th century Chemistry, Ambix, 15, 29-53


The Work In The Laboratory: a Paradox

Frater Albertus

A paradox seems to reveal its when one begins active work in a laboratory. It is not very noticeable the beginning because chemical experimentation is supposed to result identical results under identical conditions. However, this is not necessarily the case when it comes alchemical attempts.

We are not speaking here of that initial experimentation in both strict chemical and alchemical endeavours which is always subject to trial a error. However, when we are past that experimental stage and a repetition of a proven formula or procedure is to expected, the alchemical aspirant very often confronted with unexplainable failures. For example, one may have witnessed, and then proven by personal experience, an occurrence in the laboratory - only to find when the same procedure is performed at a later date, perhaps at another location (but possibly even in the original setting) that the result is not the same.

Is it possible that alchemical procedures come under different laws than ordinary chemistry? This is very unlikely when we consider that every action is based upon a cause and every causation is based upon law. If a law needs no vindication because it has the inherent property of a predestined result why, then, does the student of alchemy get unexpected results?

This paradox has puzzled many students of alchemy. Some say, for whatever it is worth, that "higher forces," have their hands in the results. What "higher forces," one may well ask? Others claim that the equipment or materials have been handled by others and thus are "contaminated." There are many rationalizations of this kind.

Yet is it only too obvious in daily life that so-called routine work does not always proceed in a routine manner. There seems to be times when one experiences "a streak of bad luck." other words, things just don't occur correctly no matter how one tries, while at other times everything runs smoothly. Since this takes place in everyday life, why should we believe, that the work in the laboratory must always satisfy our expectations?

Actually there is no difference between the laboratory and the world outside. Success or failure, no matter where the place, are always based upon prevailing circumstances. These circumstances are a major cause of the actual results obtained.

Failure, even repeated failure, is the result of ignorance of the laws involved. Since a law in itself does not change, the application of the law can, and does, make all the difference. This is the main reason why insufficient knowledge causes failure in alchemical laboratory pursuits. Merely observing another working and then trying to duplicate the procedures does not always create the same results. If it was that easy there would never be any failures when an onlooker tried to repeat a procedure.

It is practice, constant practice, by oneself that develops a person as an adept in an undertaking!

Since the approach alone can be sufficient indication of impending success or failure, it is a necessity that alchemical work requires alchemical thinking. In many instances, a gradual shift from alchemical concepts to chemical interpretations creates the cause of failure in the laboratory. Not enough attention is given to the precept, "Know the Theory first before attempting the Praxis!"

Any attempt at practical laboratory work is dependent upon the knowledge we have. It may seem that we are "doing the same thing over again" but our way of thinking has changed, if have added our own interpretations and explanations, we probably are not doing the "same thing" at all.

Another aspect may be added here which is not "scientifically" acceptable but still very much evident. Circumstances over which we have no control have something to do with our laboratory results. We are not referring to physical circumstances such as temperature and ph but to celestial mechanics and celestial laws about which we are still very ignorant. It is here that we may have to look for an explanation of our difficulties in the laboratory as these celestial influences could possibly affect both the operator and the substances under consideration. Although the modern scientist is likely to ignore such factors, the interplay between cycles and celestial influences most likely holds the key to unexplainable results developing procedures.

When identical results do not appear from a repitition of the same experience there is no better known way to solve the paradox than by learning to think as an alchemist thinks. No violation of law is involved! Instead, one will then function with a knowledge of laws that modern science, unfortunately, does not consider as factors in its approch. One will then not indulge in hopeless rationalizations which necessarily fail to open up new avenues for experimentation. Finally this new alchemical approach, this new understanding of law, will lead the aspirant to properly modify procedures accord to the real circumstances. Thus the aspirant can achieve the desired alchemical results: the evolution of substances and not simply new combinations.


Physical Immortality

Richard and Isabella Ingalese

Editor's Note: One of the most fascinating personal experiences in the long history of alchemical research is that of the twentieth century American lawyer, Richard Ingalese, and his talented wife Isabella. In this introduction to their essay on physical immortality, we will only briefly recall their story for the reader who might not be aware of the small book which documents their experience.

Richard and Isabella Ingalese were prominent writers in the early 1900's with several insightful and useful books about personal transformation to their credit. In 1921 they decided to turn their brilliant minds to the study of laboratory alchemy. Their goal was the production of the legendary Philosopher's Stone and medicinal means to extend physical life. According to their account, they knew no one who could personally instruct them and worked entirely from the available English (Waite) translation of Paracelsus. Isabella did their first laboratory work while Richard went back to work as an attorney to finance their efforts.

After several years Isabella succeeded in extracting the necessary oils from metals. Richard then joined her in the laboratory research. After more years of work they finally produced and successfully tested a primitive medicinal stone with a group of friends known as "The Renewal Club." In 1928 Richard Ingalese gave a public talk about this experience with laboratory alchemy in such honest and open terms that it is impossible to doubt his integrity. It is this inspiring speech which was later printed as a limited edition booklet.

To this editor's knowledge, the following essay, excerpted from the 1930 edition of their book, The Greater Mysteries, is the only writing of the Ingalese's appearing after the 1928 speech which hints at their alchemical nowledge and provides valuable clues about the usage of "alchemical elixirs in conjunction with the tools of Mental Alchemy and ordinary hygienic law.

If any reader has further knowledge about the life and researches of this remarkable couple and would communicate such information to us, or could merely indicate posible sources to contact for this purpose, we would be exceedingly grateful.

In 1981, when the ordinary scientific research commented upon by the Ingalese's has reached a point where it is anticipated that normal humans may have a 600-year life span by the end of the century, the following comments by two profound thinkers about the possibility and methods of achieving immortality deserve special attention.

There is a phase of immortality which appeals to many minds at this time. We refer to physical immortality.

The chemist, the physician, the masseur and the electrician are all drafted into the army which is arrayed against old age and death. Many magazines are devoted to the subject of physical culture. Every hamlet, town and city has its teachers of deep breathing and its beauty doctors. Every city, school, college and pleasure resort makes provision for athletic exercises or out sports. Every city has its Board of Health working, more or less intelligently and successfully, to lessen the death rate. All these things are indicative of the popular and growing desire for longevity or physical immortality.

Then, in the realms of metaphysics we have many teachers who are endeavoring to demonstrate over old age and death and who are attempting to teach their followers how to attain physical immortality through mental means. These tremendous demands going forth into Divine Mind, as desire, prayer and conscious effort, must in time bring results to those demanding. But, since the majority of people do not believe in physical immortality, and only hope for prolonged youth and longevity, their demands will doubtless be met in this way.

In point of fact there cannot be a literal physical immortality in the present gross forms, because even if the body could be renewed indefinitely, the time will come when the earth and all such forms upon it will die and disintegrate. By physical immortality, hen, is meant the renewal and retention of the body for as long a time as may be desired, or the transmutation of the physical body into a finer form of matter. Those who believe in such physical immortality and desire to have it, will have their demands met, when they comply with the Laws of Life.

According to Occultism there are six things that must be done to acquire socalled perpetual youth. First, eliminate all bad Karma. Second, frequently make the demand of Divine Consciousness for perpetual youth, using the renewing Cosmic Forces to aid the materialization of the demand. Third, prepare and use either an alchemical elixir or a vegetable compound which will renew the tissues of the body as rapidly as its normal waste requires, or transmute it into an ethereal form. Fourth obey the hygienic laws. Fifth, conserve mental and physical forces. Sixth, sleep from seven to twelve hours out of each twenty-four.

It is not an easy task to preserve youth and to live the strenuous lives that most of us do at this time in our evolution. Merely to live is not altogether desirable, though many there are who do prolong their lives to, and beyond three score years and ten; and there are a few who have lived beyond their century cycle. But usually, after this age has been reached, the body then becomes cumbersome to its possessor and a trial to his associates and friends. "Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything is merely physical existence and not that Perpetual youth which is desired. An old alchemist eating the apples of immmortality

If one should observe the last five requisites and still have or make bad Karma, the power to renew youth would prove unavailing, for "the wages of sin" or ignorance "is death."

It matters not what power one may have to renew one's body, if one is guilty of infractions of the moral code, then the Law would pay the wages of sin. To live a moral, harmonious life is the first and greatest requisite toward attaining perpetual youth. It was these characteristics which enabled the Nazarene to escape the dominion of death; and we cannot think of that Divine Personage as an old man. Thought stamps itself upon the body and particularly upon the face. A sin-stamped face is never youthful, it always suggests experience and age, no matter what art or science may do for it. It is ignorance of this requisite that has caused so many people in the past to fail in their attempts to prolong their youthful appearance, though they had considerable knowledge of some of the other requisites.

It is also necessary to make the demand of Diety for youth. This demand, in itself, is helpful both as an autosuggestion and as a means of putting the law into operation to meet the demand. The conscious use of Cosmic Force is always constructive to the body, because it brings new and necessary atoms and elements into it. Those who know nothing of the Occult Forces in Nature accomplish the same results, only in a lesser degree, by demanding, or praying for health and youth, or by asserting in a creative way the possession of these qualities.

For example, a Christian Scientist, with a limited knowledge of the law, will accomplish good results by denying old age and death and affirming the possession of youth and life. A student of Occultism would not only make the same affirmations but would also consciously draw into himself the Cosmic Force which would help to objectivize the desire.

But the use of mind alone, either consciously, as in the manipulation of nature's finer forces, or less consciously, as in denials and affirmations, will not prolong youth or life except in very rare cases of powerful and trained minds. But even when such minds do accomplish this purpose, so much time and force is given to the self-treatments that not much is left for the accomplishment of any other purpose. In other words, mere existence is maintained by using nearly all one's force to hold an old worn-out body.

This is not intended as a criticism of those metaphysical schools of thought which disapprove of the use of physical means to heal the body or to aid in maintaining its youth. All these schools are but different aspects of ancient thought applied to modern conditions. They are all good and helpful in their way, but by reason of their recent origin, are necessarily passing through an experimental stage. In time they will, through experience, discover that since food is necessary to maintain the body at all stags of its development, so, after fifty years of age, special preparations are necessary to maintain youth and to promote longevity.

No modern school of metaphysical thought has yet reached a point where any of its members or leaders can successfully claim to have maintained youth one hundred years or even to have prolonged physical life, with full faculties, beyond that period. Occultism, however, has ages of experience to its credit. In the Orient, where it is more generally known, tradition is rife with accounts of lives prolonged hundreds of years. And even in the Occi dent there are traditions of magicians who brewed and drank the elixir of life, and thus lived from age to age. And even as late as the end of the eighteenth century Comte de Saint Germain. and other Occultists, even' according to the prejudiced, vilifying writers, produced evidence of having lived two hundred years or more, and were well preserved at the time of the French Revolution. This great age they attributed to an alchemical elixir of life which they possessed.

Whenever there are legends which persist age after age, among different people, you may be sure they have some basis in fact, whether it be a legend of a flood or of the elixir of life. The Occultist says there are both vegetable and alchemical compounds which will renew the tissues of the body. The masters of Occultism give their alchemical secrets only to their very advanced students, or to initiates who would not misuse the knowledge thus received. But it is interesting to know that our chemists are becoming so expert that persons wishing to prolong youth can obtain many material aids from them.

Where one has the knowledge and power to maintain youthfulness, generation after generation, in time it becomes a question of desirability to do so. Styles change in bodies as well as in raiment. Each generation produces better bodies and brains than the previous one. The seat of civil ization changes also. With these changes, an adept under an old regime might feel unpleasantly conspicuous in a differently colored, or different kind of body in a new civilization.

To the person who can, at will, per petuate or lay down his life, the prolongation of youth and life are but matters of convenience to facilitate his evolution. In most people, back of the desire for physical immortality, is the fear of death, and yet such life can never be gained until that fear has been conquered.

Occultism differs also from certain other contemporaneous schools of metaphysics in regard to hygiene. It true that mind can dominate matter and control physical conditions an environment, but conditions also affect the mind. The Occultist thinks that it is a conservation of mental force to obey hygienic laws, rather than to remonstrate over the conditions that arise from disregarding them.


Inquiries by Students ... and Answers

Frater Albertus

Q. It seems that not all classes receive the same instructions. Why is it that some are shown how to make an emerald green tincture from antimony and even a bright blue one while others never get to see them?

A. A great deal depends on those present in a class. Since every class is working on a joint project to begin with from the Prima to the Quarta (or formerly from the Prima to Septa at the Paracelsus Research Society), some receive more or somewhat different instructions because of their joint efforts. Some students are only concerned about what they can use for personal gain and not what can be done to assist in the work. The degree of individual consciousness while engaged in the work is the deciding factor.

Q. There is much talk about the phil. mercury among the students, but little or few results are to be had as to its effectiveness according to all that can be found in the literature. Why is that?

A. First of all, there are many alkahests. The phil. mercury is of special interest to those engaged in alchemistical research because of the greater energy found in it. When we have shown in the laboratory and openly declared in our literature the preparatory steps to get a crude starting media, it does not mean that the final or end result of the phil. mercury has been given. This has been and will be reserved, as has been in the past, for those who have proven themselves ready to receive it. Those who know about it will decide whom they shall entrust with it.

Several have approached me and wanted to know why it has been withheld from them. The answer is obvious. They will have to prove themselves to receive it. It has turned out to be a blessing that some of those who thought that they should automatically receive such information have turned against us. It is a sign that speaks for itself as to why such knowledge is reserved for others.

Q. There are letters circulating that indicate the College is going out of existence and that all teachings have stopped. There has been no reply forthcoming about all sorts of talk and accusations against Frater Albertus and the College. Can we expect an answer?

A. Here is your answer. The Paracelsus College is as active as ever, if not even better and more so than before. Attendance is excellent and class results even more productive than before since changes in the administration have been made. Any statements made by individuals or groups or the media have their origin with them and not with us.

We have no control over anyone as to what is written, said or printed. Statements have appeared in the media that I am the greatest living alchemist. Such statements were not made by myself. Others say I am a dangerous person, a liar and a cheat. Anyone can form an opinion about the teachings of the College or my person as it pleases or not pleases them. It is suggested that anyone contact the sources of such information directly. We here at the College, including my person, have other and more important work to do than reply to all kinds of statements and gossips.

You may perhaps recall the statement made in the book "The Occult Explosion" that the PRS taught in a two weeks course how to transmute lead into gold. Many suggested that we should sue the author and start legal proceedings against him. We did not even deem it worth our time to write to the author about such misleading statements. We have more important things to do than respond to malicious propaganda of individuals whose ulterior motives are only too evident.

Q. Rumors are circulating that most students who previously attended classes at the former PRS have not returned. Is this so, and why?

A. This is correct. Anyone who has attended any College or University and received the instructions one set out to receive has finished that aspect of their lives. They are thereafter on their own, as it is said. This applies likewise to both the PRS and now Paracelsus College. However, many students have studied and remained in close contact with the College after their regular study groups. We still enjoy the presence of those who were even with us in the very beginning when we came into the open. That is now over twenty years and a truly noteworthy sign one has reason to rejoice about. It is very unlikely that a majority of students would ever maintain a lifelong affiliation with their respective Alma Maters.

Q. Are you still going to teach in other foreign countries?

A. Yes. Commitments are already made for 1982.

Q. Will you personally supervise the special Elective Classes to continue this instruction after the Quarta class?

A. Yes, until other help is trained to assist me at home and abroad.

Q. Why do students have to come from foreign countries to Salt Lake City. Would it not be better to go to them? You now have students coming from Africa, Australia, Mexico and other countries.

A. We have been invited to teach in other European countries besides Switzerland and Austria. We would like to do so but there is a time factor. There is just not enough time available to teach more classes. Anyone who is interested enough in receiving what we have to offer will have to find ways and means to reach us. That is how it was formerly and most likely will be in the future. Besides, we are not proselytizing and trying to get members for Paracelsus College as no memberships are available. Teachings for those who make an effort to find and to receive them are available free of charge, as these teachings can not be paid for with material ways and means.

Q. There is a correspondence between the three Gunas (Satva, Raja, and Tama) and what may be called Proticity, Neutricity, and Electricity. Is it presumptuous to extend this correspondence directly to the Alchemical Salt, Sulphur and Mercury?

A. It is not presumptuous to extend this correspondence directly with the three alchemistical essentials.


On Deciphering Alchemistical Language

R. W. Councell

The claims of the alchemists are twotold: first, that a law of evolution obtains in the mineral and metallic realm; and second, that its working has been practically demonstrated. Modern writers on chemistry, and modern critics of alchemy, do not definitely deny the possibility of evolution, but they do assert that the practical proof of the existence of such a law has not yet passed successfully through the crucial test. Yet the truth of the alchemists assertions is vouched for in the most solemn language possible. Without any obligation to do so, writers have pledged their hopes of eternal salvation upon the truthfulness of their statements.

If he reads many alchemic books, the unbiased man will be unable to avoid one conclusion that the alchemist had 'one that which he solemnly asserted he has actually accomplished, viz, produced gold which was not previously in existence. The whole possibility turns on this point: Is gold a compound body?" Chemists can only say they have not yet succeeded in splitting it up, if indeed such a statement is true. It could also be said that it acts like a simple body. This latter is not a suffcient argument for many compounds - take for example, ethyl and ammonia - act as simple bodies to form bases, salts, amalgams and so on. These compounds were formerly considered to be simple.

In order to understand the alchemic writer it is necessary to follow his mental processes, to enter into the same mental view. It is obvious that the alchemist dared not openly name his materials in the practical part of his book; neither did he describe in detail his first handling of these materials. These important points he apparently hinted at in a very circuitous way in his theory or philosophy.

In nature it often happens that the obvious is false and the concealed is true. So it is in the speech of the alchemists. It would indeed, in some respects, be easier to follow their methods, if blank spaces, or mere letters of the alphabet, were substituted for most of the names given. The student would then - instead of wasting his thought, time and means on the wrongly named materials - be compelled to guide himself by the properties of the things. As matters are, he probably works on things which, though indicated, or even named, by the alchemic writers, could not possibly accomplish the work, because they are not in the true evolutionary path to silver or gold. The following points should be considered. -
1. The place where the substance is found.
2. Whether liquid or solid.
3. How treated.
4. Any change when heated.
5. Its action in contact with other bodies.
6. Does it solidify, or liquefy, on exposure to air?
7. Does it evaporate?
8. Is it easily distilled or with difficulty, and great heat?
9. Its scent or taste.
10. Its ordinary outward appearance.
11. Is it acid or alkaline?
12. On mixture does it evolve heat, or produce cold?
13. If a fluid, does it swim on, mix with, or sink in other fluids? These and other signs will aid in determining whether or not the worker has succeeded in "spotting" the materials used by the alchemist.

All this is very elementary; but apparently students usually rush at the thing which the writer has called antimony - for instance - and try to force from it the signs and reactions described. If much more thought were used, before the actual practice began, these blunders would be less frequent.

The curious names used - since the writers cannot use the real names indicate, as before remarked, properties cognizable by the senses; if this be kept constantly in mind, it may be that the correct name (or names) will fit into the proper place. By the association of ideas in the student, it is quite possible to alight on the association of ideas which led the writers to select these obscure but permissibly relevant terms.

In the present day, however, we are seriously handicapped by our scientific training in our attempts to probe these tergiversations. We are taught to attach one meaning to one word, so far as the limits of language allow. We strive to get the "currency of thoughs as pure and unadulterated as possible. Thus we naturally fall easy victims to an apparent simplicity and candour (the critics call it ignorance), which is in reality a deliberately designed subtlety.

The trouble is not entirely with the parables and the analogies, many of which are of as much force and appropriateness now as then: it is also with the names of chemicals, and the difficulty of estimating exactly what substances they knew. Again, it is certain that the handled things which were then unnamed, things which today are well known. It is of assistance to get the most ancient books on chemistry such as Boerhaave, Macquer, and work up through Ure and other men to the present day. Also books on mining and metallurgy from Basil Valentine, and so consecutively to the 20th century.

When the sage speaks of a single simple sulphur, and a single simple mercury, it is necessary to remind onself that, for all we know to the contrary, the substances may have been compounds, which the alchemist could not analyze further. Even if they were compounds, it would make no difference, for if the working were the same method as used by the alchemist we should get the same results, if operating on the same subjects. But it might make a difference mentally, when trying to discover what these "simple" things might be. Thus it is evident that the correct interpretations of the words and phrases of the alchemists is the only key which avails to unlock the mystery.

(Excerpted from "Apologia Alchymiae," London, 1925.)