Volume I: Number 4 Autumn 1973




Alchemy Throughout The Ages p.80
Questions and Answers p.90

p. 80

Alchemy Throughout The Ages*

By Heinz Fischer-Lichtental

Munich, Germany

Fundamental Considerations

An alchemist is a peculiar man, a lone wolf, possibly with a pointed medieval magician's hat. He vegetates in an attic where it smells like sulphur. Surrounded by an agglomeration of laboratory utensils, he maintains a continuous fire on which different unsavory mixtures are brewed. And all of this to make gold!

So much for the surprisingly still existing stereotype of an alchemist. It has been transmitted to a large extent by the tradition which is based on the medieval Dr. Faustus and his contemporaries. Furthermore, this view seems to be confirmed by the enlightenment that took place since the beginning of modern chemistry and in the charmingly-tender to contemplative-romantic casts in the paintings by Karl Spitzweg.

The rather meager education and information of past centuries did not enable most people to differentiate between charlatanry and serious alchemistical activity. Also, the powers of the former absolute rulers endangered the freedom of the genuine adept by the attempts to force him to live in complete dependence of and to perform undesirable services for a ruling potentate or to be subjected to much persecution. This explains the fact that the majority of the handed-down alchemistical writings were published either anonymously or under a pseudonym. Furthermore, the trend had already been established by the Arabs and Alexandrians to express themselves in allegories and to embellish their subjects of discussion. The abundance of traditions makes it impossible to penetrate the thicket. All we can hope to do is to establish a historical leitmotiv at the surface of events.

The prevalent contemporary view of alchemy and its essential features has been derived from that of the sciences of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was then that the separation of alchemy and chemistry took place which has been perpetuated to the present. The common point of view is that alchemy can be nothing else but a remnant of medieval superstition and mental obscureness when contrasted to the exact science of chemistry. Such a belief is of course understandable.

For centuries the charlatanries of defrauding speculators dominated the public scenes in Europe. The seriously and also scientifically working alchemists operated almost exclusively outside of the public view. As the belief in alchemy finally became obscure, the attacks upon it became less strong and specific achievements by certain alchemists in the science of chemistry found recognition and their belief in alchemy was tolerated. However, the chasm of misunderstanding which had been formed seemed to remain irreconcilable.

The genuine alchemists not only held on to the theory that all manifestations are based on a primary substance but also that the transmutation of matter from one form into another one is in principle possible. As far as application is concerned the pointed question remains to the present day: "Is it or is it not possible to transmute common metals into gold or silver?" Alchemists have continued to answer this question resolutely with YES. Chemists, on the other hand, had to continuously modify their position in the light of expanding chemical-physical knowledge that gold can be produced synthetically. Also, the newer insights that the single atom does not represent the ultimate indivisible building block of matter fully endorse the correctness of the alchemistical hypothesis but not its processes of application. It is herein where to the present day and age the differences are to be found.

During the Middle Ages the concepts of alchemy and chemistry were inseparable. The basic literal meaning of both words is the same. Only the addition or omittance of the syllable al differentiates their style of writing.** It is a fact that the science of alchemy contained the field of theoretical and applied chemistry. This included the production of metal alloys, the making of glass, pearls, and of artificial gems, the coloring of textiles, and the preparations of medications and cosmetics as well as the distillation of aromatic and alcoholic liquids. This development once started with the simple process of mixing and smelting, However, because alchemy was resting on scientific theories it went beyond the purely practical and in a certain sense mechanical manufacture based upon handed-down practical knowledge. But even in the light of this discussion alchemy has not been done full justice. In Its more profound sense it represents a practical natural philosophy. It represents not only a longing for the understanding of what essentially holds the world together but also an orientation of one's life according to recognized principles.

This attitude, in turn, resulted in a close connection to religion. According to the moral maturity of the individual personalities involved, one encounters of course all imaginable variations, from the desire of harmony with the will of God to the purely egotistical point of view, from the pure desire for knowledge to greed and the most brutal exercise of power.

To inquire about the origins of alchemy implies to go back to the beginning of creation. Anchored in the latter it represents a functional law of nature and eventually penetrated the consciousness of thinking, observing, and also lonely men. In the course of eternal evolution the insight evolved not only to a laboratory practice but also to a Weltanschauung which we call in its narrow sense alchemy.

We are tied to historical standards which lie outside our daily lives. According to contemporary science our earth is about five billion years old. But only a very minute part of this unimaginable long time span has exhibited human life. Still, men have existed since a million years ago. About 30,000 - 40,000 years ago, man has already lived in Europe, i.e., before the last great ice age, These people-friends of alchemy take note of this-were versed in a smelting process of enamel. Maybe they were more interested in it per se, as a leisurely preoccupation, or liked the colorful gloss. Also, the forerunners of our present coins, the so-called rainbow dishes, which were only recently thought of as being of celtic origin and therefore of an earlier vintage, date from them. These dishes are small leaves of pure gold, indented at the center and resembling a tiny dish, engraved with figures reminding one of animal heads and bodies or which have to be viewed as other symbolic depictions. It therefore follows that the metal must have already been known which later was to play a crucial and also fateful role in the history of alchemy.

(to be continued next issue)

*Translated from "Der Weg der Alchemic durch die Jhrtausende" by Siegfried G. Karsten. **In German.



Questions and Answers


Q. In an experiment with iron powder, I got a good tincture, but the color did not remain in solution, and finally, after a day or so, the solution became clear. Why. wouldn't the red color remain in solution?

A. PARACHEMY stands ready to answer freely and as best it can the questions of sincere students engaged in the pursuit of the alchemical work. But we have selected the above question as typical of many we receive that are framed in such vague terms, that no answer is possible. In what sort of experiment was the writer engaged? What was its purpose? Of what substances did his solution consist? Unfortunately, the questioner supplies none of the pertinent facts. He just wants to know what happened to the red color! We hope that this questioner-and all our readers-will please take note that specific details of one's work must be supplied before specific answers can be given. That is the only safe and sure way by which we, or our readers, can proceed.

Q. How does one get the sulphuric acid out of the Sb2S3 with distilled rain water?

A. Calcine the Sb2S3. This will rid it of the sulphur, and no sulphuric acid will show.

Q. Please clarify the difference between an alchemist and a chemist. Given the laws and formulae, why wouldn't a chemist come up with the same end product as the alchemist?

A. A chemist would do so only if he worked alchemistically. Perhaps it could also be phrased this way: A chemist analyzes by decomposing while an alchemist reconstructs what has been decomposed, according to the given laws.

Q. A friend gave me the lees (argol?) of red wine. Should I save it?

A. Yes. It will prove useful.

Q. Has an alchemical Sb2O3 powder been treated with an acid? If so, is it then a fixed powder and would the results be a fixed tincture or a fixed oil?

A. It depends. When acetic acid is used it will get us a fixed tincture or residue. When sulphuric acid is used, for instance it will yield an antimony sulphide, which, of course, is not fixed. This goes for phosphoric acid, nitric acids and its like.

Q. How do we separate acetic acid from the vinegar of antimony?

A. Hardly possible.

Q. We received information earlier that oil of turpentine (instead of spirits of turpentine) is the commercially available volatile sulphur of pine. Experience indicates this commercial oil requires purification prior to cohobation. What technique can be used to purify volatile sulphur? We experimented with adding absolute alcohol to the sulphur (equal volume) and leaving in a sand bath for a week (colorless mixture). After a week, the color changed to yellow. This mixture was then distilled-the distillate was clear, but smelled of turpentine. The oily residue was brown. Would the distillate be a mixture of volatile sulphur and mercury to use in preparing the vegetable stone?

A. Yes. However, it does not contain enough of the sulphur you would need. The oily residue needs further rectification.

Q. If alcohol is used in the vegetable and mineral (K.M.) kingdoms, please explain why ether is also used as a menstruum.

A. Because it is alcohol oxidized (ethyl oxide).

Q. Is it safe to mix ether and alcohol?

A. Yes, but only if there is no flame or spark nearby. Eliminate the presence of anything that could ignite either the alcohol or the ether.

Q. Would you enlighten us as to what was meant by the early alchemists when they made use of such terms as the Black Dragon, the Red Dragon, the Red Lion, the Green Blood of the Red Dragon?

A. When alchemists spoke of their Black Dragon, they referred thereby to the black dregs that remain in the work on antimony. From this they extracted the Dragon's Blood or the Blood of the Red Lion. The green color they referred to as their Green Gum or the Green Lion, from which is extracted, again, its essence. However, one must make due allowance when it comes to interpreting alchemistical terminology, as not every alchemist gave the same meaning to each allegorical expression. The Philosopher's Stone, for example, has also been named by some as the Red Lion, etc.

Q. What is the relation of the P, V, and K factors to the herbs? How nay we use them?

A. The answer is too lengthy to give here. Details may be found in the "Tridosha."

Q. You have mentioned, in one of the P.R.S. BULLFTINS, the Schuessler Tissue Salts, which I have used. You stated that the tissue salts were dead, the minerals used, that is. Will you comment on their use and potency?

A. Actually, there are more than twelve tissue salts. In Dr. Schuessler's system, only six are given as basic substances. You will notice that Kali (Potassium) and Sodium (Natrium) are among others which are given in three different forms, once as sulphate, then as muriate and phosphate. In the case of iron (ferrum.), common iron wire is dissolved in phosphoric acid. The remainilrig residue (ferrum. phosphate) is washed and taken as such.

To get the full value of iron would require all three essentials found therein, namely its sulphur and mercury as well as its salt. Such mineral preparations are presently not to be had in pharmacies.

Q. What can be put in alcohol to absorb the water that may be in it?

A. Dehydrated lime or potassium carbonate anhydrous.


Q. What do you mean by "a conscious worker"? Wherein does he differ from an attentive, hard-working, conscientious worker?

A. A "conscious worker" is one who knows what he is doing and why. An individual may have all the characteristics you describe attentive, hard-working, conscientious-and still not know what his work is all about in the end. We could liken such a person to those who do work on top secret government projects. They may meet all the qualifications you cite and yet have no idea of the ultimate end product for which they are supplying certain parts. Therefore, they are not "conscious workers."

Q. In making contact with someone on the other side, is it necessary for them to lower their consciousness and us to raise ours?

A. This is like asking, 'If you have a telephone and I have a telephone, is it necessary for me to call you or for you to call me?" Either situation may prevail.

Q. You have said that the intangible, or non-matter, is what scientists call anti-matter. Yet, if we do not err, science has been of the opinion that matter and anti-matter, if they came into contact, would cancel each other out in an explosion.

A. Correct. An explosion, however, does not mean annihilation. Assuming such an explosion of matter and anti-matter took place, it would only mean a state of superior refinement of substance into a state of extreme subtlety unknown to us. Inasmuch as no substance can be annihilated but only changed in its atomic structure, the result would be a structure not presently known to men. +