PHILOSOPHIC EGGS Of ALCHEMY
as inspired by
The Twelve Gates
Sir George Ripley
Still regarded among England’s foremost alchemists, the writings of Sir George Ripley (1415–1490) influenced various historical figures, including John Dee, Robert Boyle, and Sir Isaac Newton.
Contained in the 1471 book titled The Compound of Alchymy, written in a lyrical, free style verse, Ripley presents his Twelve Gates Leading to the Discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone. The preface also includes a fold out drawing known as Ripley’s Wheel, considered key to decoding the secrets hidden in the text. Contained upon this allegorical Wheel is our solar system, with planets, metals and their elements, together with other obscure alchemical recipes, the whole encoded into one fascinating, cyclic diagram.
My appreciation of Ripley’s Twelve Gates has been profoundly influenced by C.G. Jung, and the interpretation contained within Psychology and Alchemy, among his other collected works. Although singled out for detailed scrutiny, Jung seemingly is rather indifferent in his acceptance of Ripley’s particular compilation. Expressing concern over so many differing lists of processes available, Jung says “it is therefore pointless to go further into the variations of the alchemical procedure…”
So let’s just agree that no single list, regardless of its author, or number and order of processes, can ever be considered definitive or complete. Instead, remember the Alchemists of ancient days sought their wisdom as revealed through direct experience, achieving their success only after “following in the footsteps of Nature, to be guided by Her methods.”
It is said Plato had a pedagogical trick, where he described the Self as essentially just a circle. He’d draw a horizontal line across such a circle, saying it represented the separation between conscious and unconscious. Then a dot was placed at the center of the circle, below the horizontal line. This was to represent the true source from which all vital energy flows. Symbolized by the square, the ego resides above the horizontal line, firmly in the realm of consciousness. Although the multifaceted ego believes that it alone holds the center, in truth, it’s completely off-center! Naively assuming it was in control, poor ego never really had a chance. The unrelenting and overarching influence of our Inner Self will ultimately win out every time. Thus, a successful Alchemist subordinates the desires of Ego, yielding instead to the whispered call and subtle guidance of the Inner Self.
Make a circle out of a man and a woman,
out of this a square, out of this a triangle,
make a circle and you will have the Philosopher’s Stone.
Make a circle out of a man and a woman,
From which a quadrangular body arises with equal sides,
Derive from it a triangle, which is in contact on all sides with a round sphere:
Then the Stone will have come into existence.
If such a great thing is not immediately clear in your mind
Then know, that you will understand everything, if you understand the theory of Geometry.
The “squaring of the circle” is one of the many archetypal motifs which form the basic patterns of our dreams and fantasies. But it is distinguished by the fact that it is one of the most important of them from the functional point of view. Indeed, it could even be called the archetype of wholeness. – from Mandalas – C. G. Jung
FOUR ELEMENTAL CONDITIONS
The true embodiment of physicality, Earth represents qualities of dry and cold, of solidity, structure, stability, and of being at rest. Preserving and healing, Earth serves as the indispensable vessel which contains the vital pith of sustaining nourishment. A symbol for things perceived as heavy, dense, or impenetrable to light, frequently associated with darkness, death, and hidden decay, or a subterranean existence. Yet still deeper beneath the surface, the humid warmth infuses her breath with noxious and corrupting vapors, thus Earth also acts to putrefy things in preparation for their germination. As in the myth of Adam’s creation, Earth provides the underlying Prima Materia and physical vehicle through which the unceasing generations are conceived and supported.
Representing that which is wet and cold, with qualities fixed in principle, Water remains formless, and is constantly changing. Possessing unbounded mutability, Water adapts to any shape, contracts into tiny spaces, or expands to fill vast oceans. Water captures the fertile niter of spring in morning dewdrops, while as rain, serves as messenger between Heaven and Earth. Symbolized by the moon, by cups and bowls, or essentially anything hollow, associated with the primordial mind, the subconscious, memories, and self reflection. Water is a deep pool of wisdom, a wellspring of emotion, and thus is also akin to chaos, with its tendency of intermingling and confounding the elements. As Nature’s Menstrum, Water also purifies and cleanses, providing dissolution and absolution, resurrection and rebirth.
With properties of wet and hot, Air is associated with wind and breath, and possessing a penetrating quality, is generally perceived as transient, diffuse, transparent, and immaterial. Being permeable and opened, Air is susceptible to external substances, with the capacity for transmitting the most delicate essences, passing subtle influences invisibly between things. Representing the infinite universe, and eternity too, the conscious mind, contemplation and inspiration, spiritual desire and divine messengers, also being the source of dreams. In Christian tradition, Air is shunned as being the infernal mirror realm of Satan and his devils. Yet indispensable vapors percolate up from deep within the earth, mingling and condensing with cooler Air, thus conveying vital, life sustaining nutrients to surface dwelling plants and animals.
With an ever present potential for sudden expansion, the attributes of Fire are hot and dry, scattering warmth and light indiscriminately in all directions, pushing back the darkness.
Activating Principle of movement as light and heat. Three kinds of Fire: the Celestial in which elements themselves are forged, the Terrestrial warmth bringing forth the chemistry of life, and the Artificial, which Alchemists used for their work. Artificial fire must be handled with great care, as it can destroy Nature’s living creation, consume the body, leaving only smoke and ash.
has qualities of expansion, warmth, and light, being the hot and dry properties, associated both with Universal Self, and Individual Ego. Divine Love, Source of Light, Enlightenment, Illumination, Purification, Renewal, Warmth, Authority and the Male Principle. Often associated with Red or Yellow, being That which pushes back against Darkness. Also signifying Death, Destruction, Retribution, Persecution and Sacrifice. Qualities include Ascension, Penetration, Volatility, Dynamic Energy, Creative Vitality, and Animating Force. In some myths, it’s a great conflagration, rather than a flood, that wipes away the previous age.
THREE ESSENTIAL QUALITIES
Salt is the body that provides the matrix through which Sulfur and Mercury may be activated. Salt is the body or matrix for the two other essentials to consolidate within, providing the principle of fixity, and focus. A passive medium with fixed energies, crystalized from solution influenced by environmental, psychic and celestial conditions. All things can be burn to ash, and from ashes make Salt, thus cleansed of its combustible, earthly parts. Salt comes in forms: Nitre made from by attenuation and cleansing the crude earthly parts mixed within. Tartar is further digested by the inner heat of the matrix containing it. Passing through two earlier stages, the calcination of Vitriol requires even longer stays in still hotter furnaces. Incorruptibility, purification, virtue, wisdom, wit, a benediction, symbol of vitality, or exorcism of evil spirits. Often yielded through evaporation, incorruptible, preserving, cleansing, solid and corporeal. Uniting Sulfur and Mercury with Salt, consequently abstract serving to designate the ensemble of properties.
Sulfur or fiery soul of a thing acts as conductor between more volatile principles. The fat of the earth, the soul inhabiting the thing, Sulfur conveys the true quality, character, and flavor of a substance. An expression of the formative principle, partly gaseous, partly fiery, of an ethereal nature, from whence strength proceeds, and life inheres, Sulfur possesses the virtue of malleability. Naturally adhering to Mercury in it’s oily form, the glue binding spirit and soul together, the abundant essence remaining in tinctures after separation by distillation. Activity, Passion, Infernal Fumes. Representing ‘that which burns’ or the energy and animating ‘soul’ in Nature. Considered infernal, often attributed to the Devil, due to flames and odor. In metal, represents its color, hardness, combustibility, and faculty to attack other metals.
Mercury is the spirit of things, a vital force given dominion over the other essentials, while also binding them together. The vital life force and animating spirit, subtle and spiritualized, bridging the spiritual and material worlds, the volatile and the fixed. Properties reflect interactions with psychic and celestial influences. Dissolved by Mercury, to free spirit locked within, from potentiality to actuality. A dry, acidic vapor, very subtle and volatile, with the property of penetrating and dissolving metals. Rising up from the earth, Dissolving Mercury is necessary to sow the seed of metals. The soul drawn out from body, lifted away and concocted by Mercury. Also called ‘Quick Silver’ representing the ephemeral spirit, Deity of Wind, Conductor of Souls to the Underworld, normally depicted wearing winged hat and sandals, bearing a caduceus. With some eloquence, a bearer of news, patron of rogues, thieves, travelers, and vagabonds. Conscience, Intelligence, Intermediary, Inventive, Active. Adaptive and changeable, inconsistent, flighty, also known as quicksilver. Brilliancy, Volatility, Fusibility, Malleability.
TWELEVE TRANSFORMATIVE PROCESSES
The purification of Salts taken from the Prima Materia through reduction by use of intense heat. Enclosed within the furnace or Athanor, held inside its crucible, the raw material is heated to just below its melting point. Continued high temperature oxidization causes the internal carbonates to decompose, while expelling any impurities or moisture remaining within. After cooling, the Salts are extracted and crushed with mortar and pestle, then the entire process is repeated until all that remains is a fine calx, or pure white ash. The objective is to completely destroy the previous external form of the substance being worked, revealing its true, inner nature. In this way the Salts are fully opened, and prepared to absorb the purified Oils (Sulfur) and Spirits (Mercury) to be reintroduced later.
The process of dissolving an otherwise solid body, or to liquefy any material into a free flowing substance. Some materials can simply be crumbled and mixed with fresh water, while others require lengthy preparation, such as being finely chopped prior to an extended maceration saturated in alcohol. In the more challenging metallic kingdom, the work frequently demands use of acids or corrosive solvents to disintegrate the elemental substance entirely. The degree of heat applied, and or solvents used, is determined by the type and quantity of material being processed, understanding any liquids remaining must be filtered or distilled off after completion. Dissolved into a thoroughly homogeneous state, the material can finally be considered fully prepared for continued separation.
The process of isolating the elemental substances, differentiated and crystallized into independent existence, before they are once again conjoined. Removing any unwanted contaminants still remaining within the conglomeration, but done without adversely effecting the primary mixture of desirable elemental essences. Transitioning by degrees through each successive state of manifestation, the disintegration slowly proceeds by the application of familiar methods. These include repeated grinding, sifting and filtering powders, to boiling, stirring and skimming liquids, as well as extracting, evaporating or distilling vapors. The goal is to discard any unwanted impurities, while retaining the most active, vital, and refined qualities that still express the genuine nature of the material.
The act of rejoining the previously separated fundamental substances, to be reconstituted according to their innate elemental affinities. Best performed while celestial alignments are highly favorable, as the emerging constellation of substances shall reflect in microcosm subtle influences drawn down from the heavenly macrocosm. The work at this stage includes such things as mixing bowls, compounding jars and reaction vessels, or similar apparatus to help better amalgamate the substances into an altogether uniform consistency. Often referred to as the Sacred Marriage or Reconciliation of Opposites, this stage represents more than just a synergistic embodiment and harmonious union. It is a profound moment in the process: Transitioning from material, into more spiritual operations.
Freshly recombined elemental material is given a long undisturbed rest, providing time to break down in slow, moist decomposition. Traditionally, putrefaction makes use of microscopic bacteria and fungi that contribute to loss of internal cohesion, while also introducing their own noxious vapors into the mixture. This totally organic oxidization process increases internal warmth, while intensifying the rate of natural disintegration. In such an advanced state of decay, the over ripened nature of the substance is cast off and eliminated, as the host medium is being prepared for improved qualities to be seeded back in. Thus from their death, corruption and ultimate destruction, the primordial essences are regenerated, to begin development of their more highly evolved qualities.
Overtly the process of evaporating excess moisture by heating, or to reduce a dissolution by cooling. Following catalyzasion from a viscous liquid, the increase in internal density enables the material to return again to a uniform mass. When conducted at times of auspicious celestial providence, elemental qualities deep within the substance are realigned in accordance with those higher resonate influences. Chemical precursors then initiate reactions which activate the natural compounds to begin palingenesis, or the emergence of a reinvigorated organism from refined Prima Materia. A kind of matter reborn, this agglomeration of essences is the manifestation of Spirit, Soul and Body, in harmony and balance, ready and prepared for the next stage of the work.
Saturated inside a feedback-distillation apparatus, the developing elemental substance is warmed by a gentle process of recirculation, further increasing its potency. To maintain moisture and prevent drying, periodically fresh material will be introduced, as the contents must be fully suffused in liquid throughout the operation. However, the primary source of nourishment is now the transformative tincture activated within the substance itself, drawn from volatile spirits ceaselessly circulating inside the vessel. Symbolically, the infant Stone is nourished by the blood which drips from the Pelican’s pierced breast, also representing the Alchemists own life force, and the important contribution of such spiritual energy to the growth of the Stone.
The process of applying extreme heat to the alembic, causing the elemental substance within to spontaneously volatilize, and rapidly become elevated. The material is fractionated and differentiated between multiple stacked retorts, dispersed according to subtleties innate to their own airy nature. During this near instantaneous transition to gaseous state, the vaporized material is also increasingly refined and purified. With application of rapid cooling, the resulting Salt crystals are of highest quality, and potency of Soul and Spirit are both increased. The Alchemical texts concerning this process of transitioning “bodies” into “spirits” will often describe the dual function of sublimation, and the metaphysical implications of Spiritualizing the Body, and Corporalizing the Spirit.
The elemental substance is reduced once again to its fundamental components through interactions with yeast, or some other chemical enzyme. Sealed in an airtight vessel, freed alcohol and gasses represent volatile spirits, soluble oils the soul, while discarded salt bodies sink toward the bottom. Gradually converting starches and sugars into alcohol, or creating carbon dioxide that gives bread its rise, warming fermentation breaks down and transforms the material into something more than it was before. By introducing this tiny amount of philosophical ferment, the leavened material is transfigured, and acquires significant new qualities. One byproduct is the Aqua Vitae, or Water of Life, which repeated distillation leaves increasingly concentrated, and spagyrically activated.
Heat generated within the elemental substance concentrates its strength, while dissolving circulation and ablution elevate it to a still purer and more perfect nature. This volatization and condensation process, and the continuous recirculation of purging vapors, has symbolically taken on many forms. There might be a fountainhead showering Philosophical Mercury into a bath, or a king sweating in his own blood, or being washed in virgin’s milk, cleansed by falling rain, dew, or fiery drops from heaven. However represented, scoured after prolonged ablution, expunged of trace impurities, complete elemental rectification further ripens the Stone. Ultimately the transformation brightens in stages from black, to white, then red, when the Stone is said capable of infinite multiplication.
The process of amplification by multiplication, increasing that which is already present within, further enhancing the strength of the Stone. As the Golden Ratio propagates through the crystalline matrix, the energy field is magnified and harmonized, concentrating it within the material. This establishes a resonant sphere of transference between the Stone and Alchemist, granting access to wisdom normally veiled to human consciousness. The geometrization of this prime building block of nature is accomplished by the formula: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10, with repeating cycles of 10 multiplied to infinity. As the Uroboros in endless death and rebirth, the perfected Stone possesses the capacity to replenish more than just itself, it can also impart this limitless potential upon other substances.
According to legend, the Stone is wrapped in a wax pellet, then projected or thrust into a crucible of molten metal. Once introduced, this ruby tincture or powder increases internal heat, bringing about rapid transmutation of raw elements into exceptionally refined substances. Historically, this process is preoccupied with transmuting lead into gold, bringing the alchemist untold wealth. Other traditions hold the Philosophers’ Stone to be a true Solar Medicine, and its projection serves to heal the intrinsic sickness of unperfected matter. The dark chaos of the Prima Materia is akin to a sinner striving for redemption, or the unaware struggling to arise from slumber. Throwing off corruption and awakening divine potential, the Stone liberates the material to attain its highest possible state of perfection.
“Study what thou art,
Where of thou art a part,
What thou knowest of this art,
This is what thou really art,
All that is without thee,
Also is within.”Salomon Trismosin