During the 8th century a man by the name of Jabir ibn Hayyan (A.K.A Geber), a well-known alchemist of Persian descent, wrote of two alchemical principles: Sulfur and Mercury. These two principles revolutionized the understandings that future alchemists would gain on the nature of matter and its origins. But Geber was a very cryptic author and was careful to conceal the true principles of alchemy. He encoded his writings with a veiled style of language. Due to this coded language, we now have our modern word “jibberish”,which refers directly to Jabir and his style of writing which appeared to be pure jibberish to those unaware of the principles of alchemy. But don’t be confused by these titles of Sulfur and Mercury. Understanding the nature of Jabir’s writing style, we can see beyond the code words of Sulfur and Mercury which would lead us to believe these two properties to be elemental sulfur with its pungent smell and liquid mercury or quicksilver. Understanding Sulfur as a code word for a deeper principle, we can now begin to answer the question of “what is Sulfur?” For the sake of this article let us forget about the principle of Mercury and focus specifically on the alchemical Sulfur and what it truly is.
Alchemists studying the works of Jabir knew their Sulfur as an oily substance. This oil could be extracted and concentrated out of their choice of any substance (Plant, animal, mineral, or metal). Frater Albertus, a widely known and respected modern alchemist also points this out by saying: “Sulfur, that is, the alchemical sulfur, is usually found in its oily form adhering to the Mercury.” Although we can pin-point alchemical sulfur as an oil, it functioned as a much deeper symbol to ancient and modern alchemists. In Paracelsus’s book “Concerning the Nature of Things,”he writes that “Sulfur is the soul.” But how can an oil now become the Soul of the substance in question?
The Webster dictionary defines Soul as: The immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life. To the alchemists, the oily characteristics of their Sulfur were described in just the same manner. The Sulfur was seen as the individual signature of the plant, animal, mineral, or metal in question. It was what gave each form of life its own unique characteristics. It was the closest material manifestation of a universal principle that gave all of life its spark and being. This source of all was known to the alchemists as Prima Materia. It was the alchemists “First Matter”, or that from which all things originated from and gained life through. Ancient Indian alchemist called this First Matter Adrishta, which translates as “unseen influence.” To ancient philosophers the unseen influence behind the physical cosmos could be attributed to pure and unbounded consciousness.
Referring back to our definition of Soul, we can now attribute consciousness to the “actuating cause of an individual life.” In all ancient philosophies, consciousness proceeded matter. It created matter by interacting with itself in an internal dialogue known to the Greeks as Logos. The alchemists Sulfur became the soul of the material they were working closely with in their laboratories. This Soul was understood as the Consciousness of that material, and that consciousness was seen as the source of that particular material. Not only was consciousness the source of the material being explored, but that same consciousness was the source of all. Universal and infinite in its expression this one consciousness gave life to all forms.
Freeing the Sulfur from its corporeal body made the universal life giving force of consciousness more available to the alchemists. Further research and study into this substance as the “actuating cause” of life would later lead alchemists into deeper understandings of the nature of all life. In time this would gift the alchemists the ability to extend life indefinitely in any body (Plant, animal, even Human) by creating a direct and permanent link with the subject and the unbounded consciousness residing in all life.
With closer examination the alchemists deepened there knowledge of the relationship of consciousness to matter. Diligent study and practice would eventually lead some to awaken infinite consciousness - acting as the source of life – in matter, and in effect finishing their “great work.” The Magnum Opus of the alchemists. The confection of the philosophers stone.
“He who does not know the Sulfur knows nothing, and can accomplish nothing, neither of medicine, nor of philosophy, nor any of the secrets of Nature.” -Paracelsus
Avery is the lead Alchemist at Kymia Arts and routinely shares information on general alchemy topics as well as our methods and products.