Alchemical Processes Part I
am so blessed and fortunate to have received this incalculable gift from the Universe near my sixtieth birthday. It is astonishing to me that this should happen, as the journey began fifty years ago when I came across a collection of books by Edgar Cayce that my grandmother kept in her basement. The following fifty years were filled with wonder and awe as some unseen hand gently revealed the foundation of what would become my life’s work. As the pieces of the puzzle slowly fell and came together before me, it became clear these areas of interest, although at first glance appeared to be disparate, would soon be connected in ways I had never imagined. The pinnacle and it appears, the end result, of this connection is alchemy. Here are the simple beginnings of my notes concerning this vast and fulfilling journey of fifty years. But my close friend, the Universe has prepared me for this by laying a foundation on which I can draw understanding from as I am only beginning to comprehend the dynamics involved. Please understand that I am not being mystical; I am just being honest!
The catalyst that eventually drew me to alchemy was the enigmatic illustrations depicting metaphorical activities involved in the process of transmutation and transformation. As such, these images accompany my notes in a full fledged attempt to understand them, the context from which they evolved, and their complex and layered meaning and purpose.
Many of these illustrations are very old; even so, as we are visual creatures and I believe they help me to better understand alchemy. Alchemists of times past had to shroud their practice in secrecy as outside agencies became hostile to the craft. Many of the ideologies were considered to be heretical, (or worse, occult), in nature by religious organizations. Another factor responsible for the secrecy were nefarious and greedy individuals who misused alchemical tenets for financial gain (these charlatans were known as, “Puffers,” as they used a bellows in an attempt to make their fires burn brighter in feeble attempts to turn lead into gold for financial gain or to gain the favor of kings). These miscreants did not care to understand the deeper, spiritual and metaphorical meaning of that process and as a result, alchemists were eventually looked upon as frauds and opportunists. Subsequently, sincere, humble, and respecting alchemists had to go into hiding and create cryptic imagery to communicate with each other so as to not be unjustly accused of crimes against religion.
It is critically important to understand that, while these are powerful images, many of them are taken out of context or are removed from a sequence of images and that can greatly affect their deeper meaning or perhaps obfuscate the intent of the author of the images. Nonetheless, I will do my best to annotate this in descriptions of the imagery or at least remind myself (and whoever reads this) of this very important component. I will quote directly from Adam McClean's wonderful book, "A Study Course on Alchemical Symbolism," where he states it eloquently and succinctly;
"One of the main aims of this study course is to persuade us to read the alchemical emblems from inside their symbols rather than projecting external ideas upon them. If you can do this then you will find that you get closer to nature or Alchemy itself, as your interpretation or reading of these emblems will not differ essentially from that of the original creator of the emblem." (118)
This is a most important point of which I constantly remind myself as I have been guilty of doing exactly what McClean is addressing! But that's okay because he admits that he fell into the same "trap" early on in his studies. Additionally, I need to be clear that I will be using examples or images that, although not necessarily of alchemical origin, have deep meaning for me as they are part of my life's journey and have been epiphanies through the synchronicities that have led me here. These examples may assist in understanding alchemical principles or demonstrate to you that this teaching has taken place through various phases (whether they be physical or mental) throughout my life.
Below are listed the three Alchemical Phases which contain seven operations that are the primary mechanisms leading to the creation of the Philosopher's Stone in the alchemist's laboratory. Just as importantly, however, as these processes play themselves out they represent a simultaneous spiritual paradigm shift in the Alchemist. As the Alchemist performs these steps in the lab, he or she is simultaneously performing them deep within their soul to promulgate transformation externally and internally. Early Alchemists recognized the transformative power of fire as they heated metals within their furnaces. They may not have fully understood these transformations on a chemical level but they embraced the magical qualities of their results and aligned them with powerful metaphor and imagery. As Alchemists learned the techniques to purify or transform metals (into gold particularly), they extrapolated that concept to understanding the nature of reality and more importantly, to purify themselves on a spiritual level (hence the notion that if Alchemists were able to turn common metals into gold, they should be able to turn themselves into enlightened beings).
The primary objective developed here is this; before we are introduced to these three phases and seven alchemical operations, (again, which are performed through chemical operations in the Alchemist’s laboratory and simultaneously within the consciousness of the Alchemist), we are a swirling mass of energies, erratic emotions, confusion and angst that needs to be “stabilized" by the Philosopher’s Stone. This stability comes through the recognition of the imbalance of the masculine and feminine energies within us. My favorite quote concerning this process was penned by Manly P. Hall in his “Secret Teachings of All Ages,” when discussing the symbology of the double-headed eagle:
"...That being alone is perfect in which all opposites are reconciled...for it signifies the Philosopher’s Stone, the ultimate soul condition and that absolute and transcendent perfection which arises only from the fullest unfoldment of the latent potentialities within the individual."
Let it be known that I am merely a student of many teachers including Dennis William Hauck, Adam McLean, Donna Bilak, Avery Hopkins, Michael Maier, Heinrich Khunrath, Alexander Roob, and Manly P. Hall to name a few, whose books, manuscripts, and videos have opened my eyes to the beginning of understanding.
The Nigredo Process
A powerful furnace called an athenator is used to burn substances to white ash, which is a metaphor for what is known as the “Secret Fire.” The Secret Fire is a form of meditation used to purge negative attributes from the soul, eliminating parts no longer needed in order to transform consciousness to the next level. It is letting go of the material things in order to embark on a journey of embracing the spiritual nature of humanity. Alchemists link the transmutation of various substances to the transformation of mind, soul and body.
To quote directly from Hauck's, "The Philosopher's Stone,":
"The Alchemists attempted to perfect the One Thing of Hermes, what they called the First Matter, by using specific physical, psychological and spiritual techniques that they described in chemical terms and demonstrated in laboratory experiments. However, while the Alchemistic philosophers spoke in terms of chemicals, furnaces, flasks, and beakers, they were really talking about the changes taking place within their own bodies, minds, and souls."
Alchemists linked the transmutation of metals to the transformation of mind, soul, and body. As stated earlier, the study of alchemy is rife with symbols and imagery. Symbols and illustrations of the Nigredo Process depict skeletons, salamanders, fire-breathing dragons, crows, and the King and we will explore these symbols throughout this section. Again, when taken out of context, these images can be misinterpreted, so I will be sure to include the context and original intent of the author within these notes wherever possible.
The Nigredo Process contains two operations known as, Calcination and Dissolution, which are discussed below.
THE PROCESS OF CALCINATION
The Alchemist uses sophisticated furnaces or crucibles to subject various substances to intense heat. Eventually, substances are reduced to ashes. It is the process of dehydration by fire that removes water and other volatile compounds from the original substance (whether that be metals, wood, plants or animals). As such, a longer, gradual Calcination is far more effective than a faster or more volatile one. After Calcination, the substance is left dry and hard but is no longer affected by the flames of the Alchemist's fire as it is reduced to its most basic essence; salt. This ash is seen as the purified remains of the original substance and is used for the next phase of transformation which is known as Dissolution. These are two of seven laboratory operations employed to create the Philosopher's Stone. The Philosopher's Stone is thought to have properties that permit the transmutation of ordinary metals into gold and was perceived by some as an elixir to prolong life. Essentially, it is many things both metaphorical and physical but overall, it is the goal of what is known as, "The Great Work." The Great Work is what this is all about; both the physical transmutation of metals and the transformation of the soul of the Alchemist.
The alchemist, Dennis William Hauck briefly defines Calcination here;
“…Calcination represents the burning off of the dross of the personality to reveal one’s soul. This essence is a person’s First Matter, from which he or she develops in their lifetime. But to perfect the soul, we must expose it, and that can only be accomplished through the often painful process of Calcination, in which the ego and its attachments to the material work are eliminated,” (“The Emerald Tablet,” p. 75).
This is the twelfth emblem of twenty two from the book, “Splendor Solis,” (Splendor of the Sun), allegedly written by Salomon Trismosin and recently colored by Adam McLean (www.alchemywebsite.com). Each of the seven Alchemical sections will feature an emblem from this work as they depict the seven phases using a simple illustration. This emblem bears the title, “Saturn, Dragon and Child.” In alchemy and more occult sciences, Saturn is the planet associated with lead and is metaphorically linked to the Calcination process. The child appears to be extinguishing the fire of the dragon by applying a bellows to its mouth. In the Alchemist's lab, the process of Calcination involves the heating or burning of a solid to eliminate water and other potentially volatile compounds. The result of this process leaves white ashes and this phase is known as, "The Fire-Breathing Dragaon who drinks the water," as water is associated with emotions and must be absorbed by the purification of the flames.
From Splendor Solis we have a commentary provided by its author:
ARISTOTLE in the Book of Origins speaks thus: ‘Sun and man create a Man, for the Sun’s force and spirit give life, and the process has to be gone through seven times, by means of the Sun’s heat’. But as the Philosophers in their work have to aid Nature with Art, so have they also to govern the heat according to the Sun, so as to create the before-mentioned Stone, which as well has to undergo seven processes. For such a work requires FIRSTLY, a heat powerful enough to soften and melt these parts of the earth that have become thick, hard and baked, as mentioned by SOCRATES when he says: that the holes and cracks of the earth will be opened to receive the influence of Fire and Water.
Adam McLean offers a more extensive commentary on the book here:
The Splendor Solis is one of the most beautiful of illuminated alchemical manuscripts. The earliest version, considered to be that now in the Kupferstichkabinett in the Prussian State Museum in Berlin, is dated 1532-35, and was made in the form of a medieval manuscript and illuminated on vellum, with decorative borders like a book of hours, beautifully painted and heightened with gold. The later copies in London, Kassel, Paris and Nuremberg are equally fine. The work itself consists of a sequence of 22 elaborate images, set in ornamental borders and niches. The symbolic process shows the classical alchemical death and rebirth of the king, and incorporates a series of seven flasks, each associated with one of the planets. Within the flasks a process is shown involving the transformation of bird and animal symbols into the Queen and King, the white and the red tincture. This echoes the Pretiosissimum Donum Dei sequence which is probably earlier, dating from the 15th century. Although the style of the Splendor Solis illuminations suggest an earlier date, they are quite clearly of the 16th century.The Splendor Solis was associated with the legendary Salomon Trismosin, allegedly the teacher of Paracelsus. The Trismosin writings were later published with woodcut illustrations, in the Aureum Vellus, oder Guldin Schatz und Kunst-kammer, 1598, which was reprinted a number of times.
I've presented more detailed Alchemical laboratory explanation of the Calcination process here:
Alchemists distinguished two kinds of calcination, actual and potential. Actual calcination is that brought about by actual fire, from wood, coals, or other fuel, raised to a certain temperature. Potential calcination is that brought about by potential fire, such as corrosive chemicals; for example, gold was calcined in a reverberatory furnace with mercury and sal ammoniac; silver with common salt and alkali salt; copper with salt and sulfur; iron with sal ammoniac and vinegar; tin with antimony; lead with sulfur; and mercury with aqua fortis.
There was also philosophical calcination, which was said to occur when horns, hooves, etc., were hung over boiling water, or other liquor, until they had lost their mucilage, and were easily reducible into powder. (Chambers, Ephraim, ed. (1728). "Calcination". Cyclopædia, or a Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (first ed.). James and John Knapton, et al.)
As mentioned earlier, in many alchemical illustrations and emblems, skeletons, salamanders, fire-breathing dragons, and crows are depicted metaphorically to represent the Calcination Process. Although these creatures are featured in many instances, the most prominent imagery of Calcination is the King who is represented in various stages of destruction.
The image above is from Michael Maier's, "Atalanta Fugiens," (published in 1617 with illustrations by Matthias Merian and recently colored by Adam McLean www.alchemywebsite.com). Maier's deeply profound book contains fifty enigmatic emblems, this one designated, Emblem 28, is entitled, "The king is sitting in a vaporous bath, and is freed from the Black Gall by the physician Pharut." According to, Donna Bilak, of Columbia University and co-editor of a wonderful digital version of, "Atalanta Fugiens" at Brown University, this emblem is interpreted thus:
"With the motto and epigram, Maier draws reference yet again from the Theatrum chemicum in relating to us the story of a sick king named Deunech, who was cured of his melancholy by his physician Pharut by means of steam. Thus, Maier presents another furnace operation through his allegorization of the Vapor Bath. While the Water Bath (balneo maris) operates by immersing the vessel in water to heat the matter it contains, the vessel in the Vapour Bath is heated by rising vapor from the hot water stored beneath it. Essentially, the vessel is suspended over the steam, and it is the action of being bathed by the hot steam that dissolves the matter contained therein. Note how the perforated floor depicted in Emblem XXVIII keeps the king from immersion in the hot water below, but allows the steam to rise up into his chamber and thus heat up his body. The type of action produced by the Vapour Bath is also referred to as digestion – a slow, steady, even application of heat - which is precisely what the king in Emblem XXVIII is being subjected to. Hence, our naked king represents alchemical matter in a vessel, sweating out his "black bile" in the Vapour Bath until he is freed from this condition until he is purified."
The remarkable image above from, "The Book of Lambspring," (by Lucas Jennis published in 1625 and recently colored by Adam McLean www.alchemywebsite.com), is Emblem 10 in a sequence of 15 emblems, where we find a man roasting a salamander in the fire. This is an attempt to purify it as the salamander was initially a dragon at the beginning of the sequence. Once the salamander is purified it is imbued with new spiritual energy which is a representation of the inner workings of the soul of the Alchemist. The stars on the back of the salamander represent the evolution of the energy as a purified life force. Early Alchemists associated the salamander with fire and in fact, believed salamanders were born within fire. Taking this a step further, the dehydration process associated with fire was known as, “The Dragon who Drinks the Water,” hence, the fire-breathing dragon is yet another symbol of calcination .
This image, Emblem 39 from, "Atalanta Fugiens," is given the title, “As the Salamander lives in the fire, so also the Stone," is a metaphor for the Philosopher’s Stone. In Maier’s discourse on this particular emblem he further elucidates, in his own mysterious way;
"But the Salamander of the Philosophers is very different from this, although it be likened to it. For that of the Philosophers is born in Fire. This is not so with the common Salamander, but if it falls in the Fire by reason of its extreme coldness and moisture it is not presently burnt, but can freely pass through the Flame that is Hot and Dry. The common Salamander is Cold an Moist, for every thing participates of the Nature of the Mother’s womb and resembles the place and country of its production…The Philosophical Salamander by the Similitude of its Nature rejoices in Fire; the common Salamander by the Contrariety of Nature extinguishes it or for some time relies upon its force."
The image above depicts a three-headed dragon which represents Mercury, Sulphur and Salt (they symbols for these elements are depicted above each head), and of course is identified with calcination through its fire-breathing. Illustration from A fascinating manuscript known as, "Clavis des Artisberuhmten Juden und Rabbi Zoroaster," pub. 1738. The manuscript was dedicated to Zarathustra, the great Persian prophet of the Zoroastrian faith.
When I think of this process, I am reminded of the film, "The Matrix," specifically the scene where Neo goes to see the Oracle. Neo had to die (Calcination process) to begin his journey to become The One (Coagulation process where he was reborn via the code of the Matrix which could represent the elixir of life - the Philosopher's Stone). I am using the first Matrix film simply as example of the Calcination process. I am not suggesting it is an alchemical treatise. What I did find interesting in that scene was the small, bird-like metal sculpture hanging from the beaded doorway. It resembles a double-headed eagle to me, which might suggest an Alchemical framework. To quote the great, Manly P. Hall from his opus, “The Secret Teachings of All Ages;”
“Here is depicted the Supreme Hierophant, Master of the double Holy Empire of the superior and the inferior universes. The ancient emblem of equilibrium consisted of an androgynous body surmounted by two heads, one male, and the other female, wearing a single, imperial crown. That being alone is perfect in which all opposites are reconciled and this state of perfection is appropriately typified by the two heads of equal dignity. Hence, the double-headed eagle is reserved as the emblem of completion, for it signifies the Philosopher’s Stone, the ultimate soul condition and that absolute and transcendent perfection which arises only from the fullest unfoldment of the latent potentialities within the individual."
Again, I'm using this as an example but there is a very interesting article which does suggest the film has an alchemical and occult influence: https://jaysanalysis.com/2014/01/20/the-matrix-1999-esoteric-analysis/
Above is another illustration of the Nigredo process represented by the black crow sitting on the decomposing body. This powerful image, from Basilius Valentinus's, "L’Azoth des philosphes" series (colored by Adam McLean www.alchemywebsite.com) depicts the Calcination process in one emblem. Interestingly, Valentine was allegedly a Benedictine monk, specifically the Canon of the Benedictine Priory of Saint Peter in Erfurt, Germany, yet there is no record of his existence (according to Maxson Stillman, author of “The History of Chemistry.”) It is believed his true identity was, Johann Tholde, a salt manufacturer in Germany, who may have published these works under this pseudonym. In this image, the planet Saturn is depicted as the black star on the right, (Saturn governs the process of Nigredo). As demonstrated in countless Alchemical images, the sun and the moon are on opposite sides of the sky and must be united as they are complementary opposites. On the bottom left, the burning sun recalls fire and on the bottom right, air is represented by clouds and the wind as these are the elements are shown propagating the bodily and spiritual decomposition. The two cherubs leaving the body via the mouth, (strings attached), are the soul and spirit. The colored stars represent the planets as they contain the planetary symbols therein.
THE PROCESS OF DISSOLUTION
Taking white ashes from the Calcination process and immersing them in water is the second step in the Alchemical process called, Dissolution. The ashes reintegrate themselves into the water, returning it, as Alchemists say, “back to the womb for rebirth.” The process is metaphorically known as, "The water which does not wet the hands."
This is the thirteenth emblem of twenty-two from the book, “Splendor Solis,” (Splendor of the Sun), allegedly written by Salomon Trismosin (colored by Adam McLean www.alchemywebsite.com). The accompanying text states, "The Heat is necessary because through its power the earth becomes freed from darkness and blessed with light instead. In regard to which SENIOR says: that heat turns every black thing white, and every white thing red. So, as water bleaches, fire gives off light, and also color to the subtilized earth, which appears like a Ruby, through the tinging Spirit she receives from the force of the fire, thus causing SOCRATES to say: that a peculiar light shall be seen in the darkness."
Here is an "official" laboratory definition of Dissolution:
The dissolution of gases, liquids, or solids into a liquid or other solvent is a process by which these original states become solutes (dissolved components), forming a solution of the gas, liquid, or solid in the original solvent. Solid solutions are the result of the dissolution of one solid into another and occur, e.g., in metal alloys, where their formation is governed and described by the relevant phase diagram. In the case of a crystalline solid dissolving in a liquid, the crystalline structure must be disintegrated such that the separate atoms, ions, or molecules are released. For liquids and gases, the molecules must be able to form non-covalent intermolecular interactions with those of the solvent for a solution to form. By immersing a substance in water, the Alchemist is transforming it to break down artificial and corruptive structures. It releases inner dynamics, properties, and energies of a substance as the ashes from the calcination process dissolve. The water subsequently acquires the properties of the original substance, but in a purer, more concentrated form.
The stag typically represents the sun and the unicorn the moon in alchemical images like this one, This image, from, "The Book of Lamspring" by Lucas Jennis, is no exception. In the original context of this image, Jennis is suggesting to us the unification or meeting of complementary opposites in the forest of the soul (Image colored by Adam McLean, www.alchemywebsite.com).
The Black Phase of Alchemy is a most difficult process and requires great strength and courage. Now that the Alchemist has passed through that phase he or she can move on to the second of three phases known as the Albedo Phase. The essence of what was purged during the Nigredo Phase will now be purified so they can be integrated into a substance as metaphor for a new soul. The dregs or dross that have risen to the surface are subsequently removed from the Alchemist's solutions yet still maintain masculine and feminine characteristics. Hence, alchemical emblems and imagery in the Albedo Phase will depict the King and Queen once again, but this time, standing side by side.
The King stands in the sun (masculine, active) and the Queen stands upon the moon (feminine, passive). This image is from a rather mysterious book, "The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosencruz," (original title in German, "Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz anno, the third book from a trilogy concerning Rosicrucianism pub. 1459"), which is considered to be an allegorical story. No author was credited in the book, other than Christian Rosenkreutz yet Johannes Valentinus Andreae (1586–1654) claimed to be its author. Nevertheless, the book remains an enigma. From her most excellent book, "Art in Alchemy: Visual Communication of Symbols," by Guity Novin, she explains, "In alchemy, the king is often a symbol for the Philosopher’s Stone itself, which will undergo transmutation to become the Red King reborn. Hidden within the ailing degenerate king are seeds of the transcendent Red King, the fiery masculine element, symbolic of a mixture of spirit and soul; yet in order to bring them to a union, he must undergo dissolution and darkness. A new order will grow into the emptiness left by uprooting the old corruption. As the watery ‘body’ of the united King-Queen is further heated, its airy ‘soul’ is seen to ascend to the top of the vessel, or ‘heaven’ whence it condenses and returns as a ‘dew’ to consummate the marriage of the Above and the Below. Months, even years, of circulations, might be needed to cleanse and purify ‘our body’ before the sudden iridescence of the Peacock’s Tail heralds the soul’s readiness to raise it up in Whiteness, Luna rising in cold glory out of Sol’s grave."
Hermes and Aphrodite ignite two torches heating a retort above which the moon and the sun appear. They are united here. Aphrodite holds the other torch towards the ground representing the earthly desires that must be purged. The image is from Nicolas de Locques's, "Les Rudiments de la Philosophie Naturelle," (colored by Adam McLean, www.alchemywebsite.com.)
THE PROCESS OF SEPARATION
Separation is the process of breaking substances down and retrieving their most basic constituents or essences. Besides filtration, other methods used by Alchemists in the process of separation include skimming or sifting. Extraneous material is separated from the primary promptly discarded while the remaining essence is isolated in glass containers. By recognizing the discarded components through separation, the Alchemist also begins to recognize the pure and beneficial components of the soul and spirit.
This is the fourteenth emblem of twenty two from the book, “Splendor Solis,” (Splendor of the Sun), allegedly written by Salomon Trismosin. The accompanying text states: "The Heat causes earthly things to be penetrated by a Spiritual Force, of which it is said in the TURBA: Spiritualize the bodies and make Volatile that which is Fixed. Of which RHAZES reminds in his ‘LIGHT OF LIGHTS’, as follows: ‘A heavy body cannot be made light without the help of a light body, nor can a light body be kept pressed down to the ground without the aid of a heavy body." Image colored by Adam McLean, www.alchemywebsite.com.
A more specific scientific definition of the Separation process is eloquently defined here:
"A separation process is a method to achieve any phenomenon that converts a mixture of a chemical substance into two or more distinct product mixtures, which may be referred to as mixture at least one of which is enriched in one or more of the mixture's constituents. In some cases, a separation may fully divide the mixture into its pure constituents. Separations differ in chemical properties or physical properties such as size, shape, mass, density, or chemical affinity, between the constituents of a mixture. They are often classified according to the particular differences they use to achieve separation. Usually, there is only physical movement and no substantial chemical modification. If no single difference can be used to accomplish the desired separation, multiple operations will often be performed in combination to achieve the desired end.
With a few exceptions, elements or compounds are naturally found in an impure state. Often these impure raw materials must be separated into their purified components before they can be put to productive use, making separation techniques essential for the modern industrial economy. In some cases, these separations require total purification, as in the electrolysis refining of bauxite ore for aluminum metal, but a good example of an incomplete separation technique is oil refining. Crude oil occurs naturally as a mixture of various hydrocarbons and impurities. The refining process splits this mixture into other, more valuable mixtures such as natural gas, gasoline, and chemical feedstocks, none of which are pure substances, but each of which must be separated from the raw crude. In both of these cases, a series of separations is necessary to obtain the desired end products. In the case of oil refining, crude is subjected to a long series of individual distillation steps, each of which produces a different product or intermediate.
Separators are used for the separation of liquid. In fact, they are vertically supported centrifuges and are built with flying bearings. They work with centrifugal force. A separator belongs to the continues sedimentation centrifuges. Both the purified liquid and the liquid separated from each other are continuously discharged by using a pump (under pressure) or pressure free. The solid material can be discharged discontinuously (chamber drum, solid walled disc drum), pseudo continuously (self-cleaning disc drum) or continuously (nozzle drum). The drum is the centerpiece of the separator, in which the separation process takes place. There are two types of drums: the chamber drum (known as chamber separators) and the disc drum (known as disc separators). The power transmission on the spindle and thereby on the drum can take place by using one of the three drive motors: helical gears, a belt drive or direct drive, via a special motor. The sealing of the separators is differentiated into four types: open, semi-closed, hydro-hermetic (sealing of the product space) or fully hermetic (absolute airtight).
The purpose of a separation may be analytical, can be used as a lie components in the original mixture without any attempt to save the fractions, or may be preparative, i.e. to "prepare" fractions or samples of the components that can be saved. The separation can be done on a small scale, effectively a laboratory scale for analytical or preparative purposes, or on a large scale, effectively an industrial scale for preparative purposes, or on some intermediate scale." (Wilson, Ian D.; Adlard, Edward R.; Cooke, Michael; et al., eds. (2000). Encyclopedia of separation science. San Diego: Academic Press)
Alchemical images illustrating Separation typically depict dismemberment with swords or double axes as demonstrated in the image below;
This illustration is yet another example of separation. The egg contains the essence of our soul and it is naturally self-contained which is metaphorical for the retorts that are hermetically sealed in the Alchemist’s laboratory. This represents an internalized process. To cut into this egg is to bring about profound changes in our soul; total disruption of its darker components. Michael Maier's, "Atalanta Fugiens," published in 1617 with illustrations by Matthias Merian and colored by Adam McLean, www.alchemywebsite.com.) It is Emblem VIII, which is entitled, "Take an Egg and smite if with a fiery sword." Maier, in his usual, mysterious and fascinating way, informs us, using Greek mythology and other sources concerning this image, "...Mercury was imprisoned by Vulcan at the command of Mars, and could not be released before he was wholly purified and dead. But this death is to him the beginning of a New Life, as the Corruption or death of the Egg brings new generation and life to the chicken. So an embryo being freed from that human vegetable life which alone it enjoyed in the Mother's womb, obtains another, more perfect one, by his birth and coming into the light of the world. So when we shall pass from the present life, there remains for us another that is most perfect and Eternal. Lully in many places calls this fiery sword a sharp lance, because fire as a lance or sharp sword perforates bodies and makes them porous and pervious, so that they maybe penetrated by waters and be dissolved..." He's telling us the alchemical operations take us from a comfortable, unenlightened stage and thrust us into an enlightened stage as a new creation. You've got to love this guy!
This emblem is from the book, “Splendor Solis,” allegedly written by Salomon Trismosin, and is another example of the process of separation. According to an excellent paper by J. Peter Sodergard, this emblem represents, "The transformation or dismemberment of the body of a man serving as a metaphor for the transmutation of a metal body." It is important to understand this concept, that Alchemists believed base metals could be transformed into gold or silver. Sodergard further explains, "Gold was thought to be composed of the four elements in perfect proportion, and as nature, according to Aristotle, is striving after perfection, the other metals will, in their due time, be perfected and be transmuted to gold. The Alchemist may speed up this teleology of metals by his processes." (J. Peter Sodergard, "Decoding the Hermetic Discourse in Salomon Trismonsin's Splendor Solis - A Semiotic Study of Three Ways of Reading")
In this image, from Michael Maier's, "Atalanta Fugiens," (published in 1617 with illustrations by Matthias Merian), the man and the woman create a circle, then the square, then the triangle and finally surrounded by a greater circle, this creates The Philosopher's Stone. This is a very important alchemical drawing. The circle represents infinity or the ouroboros, the triangle symbolizes the three substances, (sulfur, mercury, and salt), while the square represents the four elements (earth, fire, air, and water). Finally, the circle encompasses the male and female energies. Image colored by Adam McLean, www.alchemywebsite.com.
This emblem from, “The Book of Lambspring,” by Lucas Jennis, reveals two birds in a tree. One is anchored to its nest while the other is about to take flight. Here we see the fixed and volatile and how they must be united to be whole. Although they are separated they are one. The caption reads, “ The one that below holds the one that is above,” a direct homage to the opening phrase of the Emerald Tablet. This is a sequence of five emblems referencing this tenet and is part of 15 beautiful emblems portraying Alchemical processes in allegorical form. Image colored by Adam McLean, www.alchemywebsite.com.
Another Alchemical Separation metaphor (specifically, dismemberment), that recently occurred to me is the Egyptian story of Osiris. Now, this ancient myth may have nothing to do with alchemy or the alchemical process of Separation, so please bear this in mind as you read it. To be transparent, it reminds me of this process so I am putting it in my notes.
The basic idea of the story is that Osiris was a great god/king who ruled Egypt long ago. As was traditional in Egypt at that time, brothers and sisters would marry to keep the hereditary bloodline in tact. As such, Osiris was married to his sister, Isis. His brother Seth was jealous of Osiris's position as king and planned to kill Osiris so that he could ascend the throne. Seth plotted and killed Osiris but later on, Osiris's son, Horace avenged his father's death. The story is a timeless one that has been told and retold over the millennia but under different guises (see Joseph Cambell's, "Hero with a Thousand Faces," book). Disney's film, "The Lion King," is another example of the same story with different names for each character. I thought this idea about Osiris was just another crazy theory of mine until I found this article that explained what happened to Osiris, (from an Alchemical perspective), via a most interesting website, Soul Guidance:
"The Great Work can be found in its entirety in the Egyptian myth of Osiris. Osiris was a god-king who was locked up in a chest by his brother Seth. Seth is the symbol of the powers of decomposition, the fire that causes putrefaction. The chest is the alchemical ‘vas’, or vessel. The chest was closed with nails and lead (lead is the metal of
nigredo or blackness).
Then, Seth threw the chest into the ocean. The ocean is the alchemical water or the second stage of the Great Work when the earth has been reduced to water. The ocean itself is a symbol of the prima materia to which the matter has been reduced.
The chest eventually washed ashore under a tamarind tree. The tamarind is also a symbol of the second stage, albedo or whiteness, because of its white blossom.
Isis, the wife of Osiris finds the chest and brings it back to Egypt. This is the coagulation of condensation. By her magical powers, she is able to receive the seed of Osiris and gives birth to Horus. Here the alchemical seed of matter has been found, and a new birth takes place, that of a pure consciousness. Horus is a sun god, thus the light has come through.
When Set also finds the chest with the dead Osiris (Osiris is the symbol of the common man that has died) he cuts the body up into fourteen pieces and scatters them around. This again refers to the decomposition and sublimation, that needs to happen again and again until everything is pure. Isis looks for all the pieces and buries each of them at the spot (the fixation). Only the phallus of Osiris she could not find because an oxyrhynchus fish had swallowed it. This could mean that the sexual power has been transformed into a higher energy, and will nevermore express itself on a lower level. It is said that the lower expression of the sexual drive binds man to the physical world or the world of darkness.
The phallus is no longer necessary because Horus has been conceived. Horus represents the reborn man. In his appearance as a child, he is called Harpocrates and corresponds with the boy Mercurius. Horus is also the resurrected Osiris. In alchemical terms, the old King has died and the young King is born.
Osiris is also the universal principle of life. He is the seed, like the wheat berry. The Egyptian would sow wheat berries on mummies, so they would sprout, symbolizing the resurrection of the dead. Osiris was also a god of fertility, and thus he had the name "the Great Green One". His skin color was often painted green. The alchemists talk about the ‘green seed’ in nature, that is the ‘prima materia’, or green dragon, the fertile energy of life that penetrates everything."
The above excerpt is part of a series on Alchemy and can be accessed at this link:
Interestingly, The cipher for Separation is the astrological sign, Scorpio, which the Egyptians associated with a descent into the “Duat" or Egyptian underworld so that it may retrieve and bring back wisdom and truth.
The mummified Osiris with crook and flail. The crook represents the emotions, while the flail represents the mind (this information comes from the documentary series, "The Pyramid Code," by Dr. Carmen Boulder). Osiris is the Egyptian Neter of the Underworld and as such is always depicted as being mummified.
THE PROCESS OF CONJUNCTION
In general terms, Conjunction is the Alchemical process by where remains from the process of Separation are combined to create a new paradigm. In the laboratory, that can mean the combination of two purified substances that create a third even more purified substance as a result of their union. However, this new paradigm is still weak and needs to be nurtured and cared for. As it begins to evolve into a more defined concept of what higher consciousness is supposed to be, Alchemists refer to this as the lesser stone or the hermaphrodite child.
As the Alchemist, Dennis William Hauck explains, "For many, the Conjunction experience as an increase in intuitive insight - what Egyptian Alchemists called the birth of the, "Intelligence of the Heart." This newly found faculty produces a sense of reality superior to either thought or feeling. As if to herald the viability of this new state of being, synchronicities begin to occur that confirm the Alchemist is on the right track." (From, "The Philosopher's Stone," p. 152)
I can attest to this statement concerning synchronicities as when my epiphany occured a few weeks before my sixtieth birthday, all was synchronicity. I was overwhelmed by the magnificent onslaught of them! Additionally, for my notes, recall that another Alchemist, R.A. Schwaller De Lubicz refers to his scholarly work on Egypt as, "The Intelligence of the Heart." Essentially, this phase of Alchemy prepares you for virtually anything life can throw at you because you maintain both intelligences but within a new and wonderful framework. It is the very beginning of bringing the Above and Below together. The Nigredo process works with the Below, while the Albedo with the Above (the union of matter and spirit). Conjunction is known as the literal turning point for our soul and spirit.
This is the fifteenth emblem of twenty-two from the book, “Splendor Solis,” (Splendor of the Sun), allegedly written by Salomon Trismosin and the emblem colored by Adam McLean, www.alchemywebsite.com. The accompanying text states:
"The Heat cleanses that which is unclean. It throws off the mineral impurities and bad odors and nourishes the Elixir. In mention of which HERMES advises: Separate the gross from the Subtil, the earth from the fire. Whereof says ALPHIDIUS: The earth can be molten and becomes fire. Thereon says RHAZES: There are several Purifications preceding the perfect preparation, namely, Mundification and Separation."
This image depicts the Materia Prima of the Philosophers Stone. The Lower region of this image represents the chaos of the philosophers. It is divided into nine windows that are colored blue with each of these windows bearing a planetary symbol. The clouds emanating from the mountain are caused from the fires inside the mountain which are generated by the planetary energies. On either side of the flask above the mountain is the red king and the green queen and above their heads are the symbols of the sun and the moon. On the king side of the flask the words, "great heat" is written and on the queen's side of the flask the words, "great cold' is written. Together they create the perfect temperature - that of moderation. Inside the double flask at the bottom lies a dead child surrounded by flames while above the child is a black crow with a crown and above the crow is a seated resurrected child. Here we can see the alchemical transformation taking place involving calcination and then coagulation. The king and the queen support the child with a rod that passes through the flask creating harmony and balance within. The neck of the flask penetrates the alchemist's heaven and has turned the blue planets inside the mountain into beautiful flowers through the transformation. The King and Queen are reunited and a new entity is born of their union. This is the child of enlightenment.
The King and Queen (Sun and Moon respectively) are shown copulating here, which is merely a metaphoric image of the Conjunction process. This emblem is from Michael Maier's, "Atalanta Fugiens," (published in 1617 with illustrations by Matthias Merian and colored by Adam McLean, www.alchemywebsite.com) and is entitled, Emblem 34, to be precise and its title reads, "He is conceived in Baths, born in the Air, and being made Red he walks upon the Waters.” In this sequence, McLean is alluding to the Philosopher’s Stone and the Rubedo Process. In the emblem, we see, presented in allegorical form, Maier’s commentary, as always fascinating as he describes the process:
"Therefore when conception is made he ascends into the Alembeck and his Birth appears in a White Colour. Blacknesse rules in the bottom, of this saith the Rosary: "It is conception when the Earth is dissolved into a black powder and begins to retain somewhat of the Mercury, for then the male acts upon the female, that is, Azoth upon the Earth." And a little after: "Conception and Dispensation is made in Putrefaction in the bottom of the Vessell, and the generation of things is made in the Air, to wit, in the Head of the Vessell that is the Alembeck." And conception in Baths is nothing but putrefaction in Dung, for the same Rosary proceeds, "The Body does nothing unless it be putrefied, and it cannot be putrefied but with Mercury"; and again, "Let putrefaction be made with the most gentle heat of warm and moist dung, and by no other thing so that no thing ascend, for if any thing doth ascend there would be a separation of the parts, which ought not to be till the male and female be perfectly joined together and one receives the other, whose sign of perfect solution is blackness in the superficies." His birth is white, which is made on the Top of mountains, that is, in the Air or the Alembeck. This is explained by Rosinus ad Euthiciam: "After this manner the wise man said, take things out of their mines and exalt them to higher places, and send them from the Top of their Mountains and reduce them to their roots. By Mountains he signifies Cucurbites, and by the Tops of Mountains Alembecks, and to send after that way of speaking is to receive the Waters of them through an Alembeck in a Receiver, and to reduce to their roots is to carry back to that from which they proceed. And he calls Cucurbites mountains because Sol and Luna are found in mountains; so also in their Mountains, which are Cucurbites, their Sol and Luna is generated." And so far this Author. Afterwards: "The Son of the Philosophers becomes red and begins to go upon the Waters, that is upon Metalls melted by Fire which stands in the form of a Mercurial Water. For he is the Lord of Waters, upon which he exercises Authority as Neptune is King of the Sea and possessor of Mountains."
Ultimately, Conjunction is the rebuilding of soul and spirit with new beliefs; something new being born from the joining of opposites. Specifically, it represents the empowerment of the soul, the union of both the feminine and masculine components of our souls.
The two complementary opposites are now naked as they are purified and are coming together in a peaceful way. The light of the moon is the reflected light of the sun and in higher realms, these two heavenly bodies are considered the same and thus can be conjoined. The rooster represents earthly fertility. They are ready for the next stage. Once again, I’ve called upon Michael Maier's, “Atalanta Fugiens,” with this emblem being 30 in the series of 50, bearing the title, "Luna is as requisite to Sol as a Hen is to a Cock.”
This is the third and final phase of the Alchemical process. This phase signals an explosion of powerful energies released following the Albedo process. The Alchemist is essentially, “turning up the heat” in the Rubedo phase in order to release these energies. But before they are released, they go through a brief period of, “Putrefaction," in the final cleansing of the elements or a final purging of aspects of the soul.
Putrefaction (an intermediate process)
Some Alchemists place this process before the Albedo Process, which makes sense as it is a return to the darkness of the soul but some place it here as well. At the darkest moment of putrefaction, when metals are heated, oils emerge which emit a multi-colored residue on the surface which Alchemists call, "the Peacock’s Tail.”
In, “The Complete Guide to Alchemy,” the author speaks to this in such a way that it immediately reminded me of the chapter from Moby Dick entitled, “The Whiteness of the Whale.” Here is the excerpt from Hauck’s book concerning the Peacock’s Tail:
“The rainbow of colors seen in the Peacock’s Tail gradually merged together into pure whiteness. Because black is the absence of color, the sudden appearance of colors in the Peacock’s Tail during putrefaction signaled a fundamental change in the matter. And it’s only natural that the Peacock’s Tail eventually turned white because white contains all colors together.”
Here is yet another one of my ideas, introduced to me over the course of my life. Again, this has nothing to do with Alchemy but was a cathartic experience that helps me better understand. It is an excerpt from Moby Dick, where Melville dedicates an entire chapter explaining the whiteness of the whale and then speaks to the rainbow that appears when the whale expels water from his spout (which is described as an “oil butt" :
"Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows - a colorless, all- color of atheism from which we shrink?”
Notice how close it is to Dennis William Hauck's definition! And this concerning the Peacock Tail…
"I saw his sprout; he threw up a pair of as pretty rainbows as a Christian would wish to look at. He's a real oil-butt, that fellow!"
A Rainbow is commonly seen over a whale's spout, which, if the white whale is a symbol of the Albedo or Dissolution Process, and Moby Dick has some Alchemical references within its grand scheme, then it stands to reason the rainbow represents the putrefaction or peacock's tail. Just another one of my own obscure observations based on the late Professor Dreyfus's interpretation of Melville's work. Let it be known that Professor Dreyfus's interpretation was NOT an Alchemical one, but based on what I've learned thus far, I alone am suggesting this. Professor Dreyfus believed the rainbow, (like the multicolored coral Pip encounters under the ocean and the bed of colorful flowers in the whale-bone chapel in the Arsacides), represented acceptance of myriad perspectives of the nature of God.
Moby Dick represents many things to me and to me alone, but whoever reads this (if anyone) I hope will agree. First, the white whale can be thought of as an alchemical metaphor for both the Albedo and Dissolution processes and the end result of Putrefaction Process. Second, the white to me, represents the White Queen.
Subsequently, we have Ahab, who I suggest represents the Red King Being predominantly patriarchal, over the millennia, Western culture and its affiliated religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), consistently attempt to eliminate the feminine's influence on our culture by replacing it with the patriarchal. I recall from one of my anthropology classes, archaeologists came across alters that ancient Hebrews constructed in their homes that had both a masculine and feminine component. In fact, many of these sites contained two alters, one for Jehovah and another for a female deity named, Asherah. Here is an excerpt from one of those scholarly articles:
“…The evidence points to the worship of at least two deities. This is a good point to wonder what these deities’ names were. In fact, we know, from several inscriptions."
"The first is an inscription that was found in an 8th-century tomb at the site of Khirbet el-Qom, in the heart of Judah, in a tomb. The inscription is a prayer and contains the names of YHWH and that of Asherah, the latter is invoked three times… Another famous inscription was found at the site of Knutillet ajrud, on the border of Judah. It also dates to approximately the same period as the Khirbit el-Qom findings."
"The site is scattered with dedicatory inscriptions to “YHWH and his ASHERAH.” One stands out in particular: “To YHWH of SHOMRON and his ASHERAH.” (Meshes 2012: 86-101)”
the excerpt is from Haaretz article, “Archaeologists Discover: God’s Wife?" http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/.premium-1.547147
-Palestinian ... Traditions, SyroFrom the book, "History's Vanquished Goddess ASHERAH: God's Wife: the Goddess Asherah, Wife of Yahweh. Archaeological & Historical Aspects of Macrocosmically Examined,” by Darlene Kosnik:
"The Bible states upon arrival, the ancient Israelites began worship of the goddess Asherah (Judges 2:13; 10:6)."
"Asherah worship was widespread through the time of Samuel (1 Sam 7:3-4; 12:10) and was royally sanctioned by King Solomon (1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:13). After the Philistines killed Israel’s first King, Saul, his armor was placed in the Beth Shean temple of Asherah (1 Sam 31:10).”
Back to Moby Dick and the feminine…
Perhaps Melville was trying to demonstrate that the feminine is a powerful force to be reckoned with (similar to Hindu avatars like Kali and Durga whose feminine natures are ferocious), for, in his masterpiece, the whale destroys Ahab.
Unlike Western religions, the feminine is embraced in Hinduism and maintains a powerful and very important presence. The Hindu Goddess, Kali, whose ferocious nature makes her a force to be reckoned with, is one of the primary deities. She is the protector who bestows Moksha (freedom from the cycle of Samsara - the process of karma that keeps us chained to this earth in the circle of suffering for our misdeeds) on humanity. She is also revered as the Divine Mother or Mother of the Universe.
It should be noted that when Ahab speaks about hunting Moby Dick, he is not hunting the whale, as he considers the whale itself to be a “mask,” but instead he hunts, "what lies behind the mask" - the whale is indeed metaphor (like the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey - more on that later).
This emblem, from Johann Daniel Mylius's, "Philosophia Reformata," published in 1622, represents the Putrefaction operation. There is scant information about this text and obviously requires more research, which I shall attend to presently. My interpretation of this emblem is naively simple, the skeleton represents Putrefaction as his flesh has decayed and he is standing on an eclipsed sun while holding the crow, which is a symbol for the Calcination operation as well. The sun is eclipsed, which would indicate the union of male and female. The angels represent masculine and feminine energies as they are in the presence of the sun and moon. The angel on the left points to a village while the angel on the right points to the eclipse and possibly the forest. There is a tree stump which has a branch growing from it which could represent new life from a dead tree. Again, as this is my interpretation of this image based on what I have learned so it may or may not be entirely accurate but I will find out what this means within the context of the sequence. Emblem colored by Adam McLean, www.alchemywebsite.com.
The cipher of the Putrefaction process is Leo the Lion which the Egyptians held to be the most powerful Neter (god), Sekhmet. Ironically, when I was a gallery guide for the Phoenix Museum during the Egyptian exhibit, I was stationed in front of a massive statue of Sekhmet! Such odd synchronicities!
Like Hinduism, ancient Egyptian religion embraced the feminine. Here is a statue (nearly identical to the one I for which I was stationed in the exhibit in Phoenix, AZ), of Sekhmet, who, like Kali, is a powerful and enigmatic presence in Egyptian culture. Her name means, “The Powerful One,” and is depicted as a lioness, the fiercest hunter known to the Egyptians. It was said that her breath formed the desert. She was seen as the protector of the pharaohs and led them in warfare.
The Final three operations of Alchemy are continued at: