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
Today is Tuesday, which corresponds with the planetary influences of Mars (Oil of Iron). Here is some more in-depth information on the qualities of this oil and how you can use it on a day like today to benefit in your physical and spiritual development.
The Oil of Iron is associated with the energies of Mars and the chakra center situated within the Solar Plexus. This center is known to govern the digestion and conversion of food into energy for the body. Physically the Oil of Iron works on all systems associated with digestion (Stomach, Intestines, Liver, Gallbladder, Pancreas, etc.). When the Oil of Iron is incorporated into the body, these systems are balanced to help you effectively break down ingested foods and distribute nutrients more adequately. Problems of over or under acidity in the digestive system as well as diabetic issues are also balanced with the usage of this oil.
Spiritually, the Oil of Iron builds upon the two energy centers below it. The self-esteem associated with the energies of Saturn (Oil of Lead), and the raw emotions associated with the energies of Jupiter (Oil of Tin), are elevated and incorporated into the chakra center of the solar plexus. These energies may then be harnessed by the Will to be transmuted towards higher forms of expression and consciousness. When properly balanced this center allows you to thoroughly “digest” your thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are stimulated by the interactions in your interior and exterior environments. With thorough digestion of both physical and emotional intake, the body and consciousness can use these vital energies accordingly so that the organism may flourish.
With energy effectively distributed throughout the body, personal power increases, providing you a better grasp to utilize your Will. This strengthening of Will is the vital aspect of the Oil of Iron. With proper digestion of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and the conversion of these energies into power or will, the stage is set for the higher energies of the heart (Oil of Copper) to use these things as tools to reconnect you with infinite and divine consciousness.
For more information on the Oil of Iron click here.
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Modern students researching the practices and philosophies of Alchemy will often read the general definition of alchemy as “the art of transformation.” In actuality, there are various definitions and explanations attempting to define just what it is that Alchemy is. There are definitions that represent Transmutation, chemical marriages, raising of vibrations, and so on. These varying definitions lead many to misuse the term Alchemy and attribute it to many new age philosophies or healing practices that may or may not reflect the true nature of the word. Muddying up the practice, and inaccurately defining the word, we now see things in our society like: “Alchemical Massage, Alchemically prepared chocolates, Alchemy in Business, etc.” In no way do I wish to diminish these practices or modes of thinking, but taking something and using it to make something else is not necessarily what Alchemy truly is.
This article, “what is alchemy,” is an exploration into the definition of the word alchemy. This defining is intended to help make alchemical practices and theories clear, distinct, and relevant. Through explanation and exploration of the word alchemy I wish to define alchemy, and also call for a standardization of the definition throughout the alchemical community, and beyond, into adjacent realms of study – which, when understood and applied, can be found to be relevant to all things, all people, and areas of interest. To uncover the true essence of the art of alchemy, it is necessary to explore ancient alchemical texts themselves. The exploration of these texts reveals what the alchemists of old believed their Art to be. To do this, two of the most authoritative texts from eastern and western alchemical traditions will be used - the Emerald Tablet and the Rig Veda. The Emerald Tablet is reported to be more than three thousand years old and was referenced by alchemists of the west. Even today it is considered a corner stone in the beginning studies of any fledgling alchemist, and is quoted in almost every modern book pertaining to the study and practice of alchemy. The Rig Veda is believed to be at least six thousand years old and was the text used primarily by Indian alchemists. Indian alchemy and the studies of rasashastra are becoming more widely recognized and studied, making this a worthy resource for understanding alchemy on whole.
Though these texts come from vastly different places and different times, when compared side by side there are remarkable similarities. Although many ancient and sacred texts can be referenced and quoted for the sake of this exploration, only the two will be used as to maintain an air of simplicity.
Enough with prefaces, let’s explore how ancient alchemists thought of their own study and practice so that we may define and understand Alchemy.
From the Emerald Tablet:
“That which is below corresponds to that which is above, and that which is above corresponds to that which is below, in the accomplishment of the miracle of one thing”
And from the Rig Veda:
“He who knows the Father of this world as that which is below, associated with that which is above, and that which is above associated with that which is below, will have the mind of a sage.”
-Mandala 1, hymn CLXIV: 18
What does all that mean? And how does this talk of above and below explain what alchemy is?
Pulling apart these verses helps to isolate the truths that these texts are woven from.
We see that the Rig Veda describes the “Father of this world” as the Association of that which is above to that which is below. The Emerald Tablet also states that “all things have come from this one thing” (the association) - that “one thing” in the Emerald Tablet is the “father” we hear of in the Rig Veda.
What is this “one thing?” who or what is the “father?”
As stated above, the Father (the One thing) is defined as the Association of the “above corresponding to that which is below.”
ok, the “one thing/Father” is the association. But what is the “above and below” that are being referred to in these texts, and that our “one thing” is associated to and with.
The above was seen as the “heavens” - the macrocosm - that which is bigger than the biggest, or infinity. It was an inner world, a divine world, which gave birth to all that is.
The below was seen as the “Earth” – the physical manifestation - the microcosm - that which is smaller than the smallest – or the infinitesimal. It was the physicality of reality that was born from the Above.
In the Vedic perspective, the concept of below was known as point, and in contrast the concept of Above was known as infinite. To the Vedic sages, both of these concepts – the above and the below – were considered to be aspects of the self. Defining these in Sanskrit we see them named as Ananta – the infinite self, and Jiva – the point self or individual self.
Applying ancient Vedic perspective to our readings and understandings of the Emerald tablet helps to shed light on just what this thing called alchemy is.
Knowing the Above and below as aspects of the self we can see that when the infinite self (above) adopted a “point of view” to know itself, it became an individual (Jiva – the below) while still remaining infinite. This was known classically to the Vedics as Kshetragyah – the knower of the field. The “knower” was the one who has adopted a point of view as an individual to see itself as an infinite being of pure and unbounded consciousness. So then the “knower” becomes everything in between point and infinity. The Knower becomes the association between the above and the below.
The “one thing” who is the “father of this world” this “association” has now become the self. It is you. The self is not only the individual self and surely not the individual body, but rather the association between the individual and infinite, which is the whole. Whole can be defined as: Undivided, entire, or total. Whole signifies no separation, and no separation means there are no divisions between you and “it.” The world and the self. You, the association are the inside and the outside, the above and the below.
The association of the above and the below is the consciousness (which is you) - the awareness of the individual that proclaims to the self (consciousness) that “I exist – I am.” Consciousness in alchemical perspective was understood as Sulfur, which constitutes the soul of any individual form found in the universe. (Further readings pertaining to this topic – sulfur/soul - can be found in Truth of the Matter.)
Possessing true and unadulterated consciousness, one is made aware of both the individual self and infinite consciousness as the source of all. This individual, this knower, stands in-between point and infinity. His feet planted in the below and his head reaching into the above.
Understanding this association between the above and the below is the key to understanding the relationship between consciousness and matter which is the true essence of the science of Alchemy. By first understanding the association between consciousness and matter, one can then move on to the next step and become that association, becoming the “knower” of all that lies in-between point and infinity. The art and practice of alchemy is an avenue in which one can come to know that association and “know thy self.”
To answer the question of “What is alchemy?” in plain language: Alchemy is the understanding of the relationship between consciousness and matter. When these understandings are employed practically in the laboratory work, and internally to the psyche, the science and art of alchemy become manifest. Then the creations that come from the alchemist’s laboratory become the tools that he may use to direct his awareness back towards divine consciousness.
It is this definition of alchemy that must be standardized for truth to root into the minds and being of all. If alchemy is at all an “art of transformation” it is one that understands how consciousness creates and transforms itself into matter. Knowing alchemy as a practice and theory that recognizes the relationship of consciousness to matter, we can then unlock the general principles that structure alchemical theory (sulfur, mercury, & salt – The 4 elements – prima materia – etc.) Opening the doors to these understandings gives the power of wisdom back to every individual. Alchemy is just one of many paths that can be walked to know this and all as so. Understanding and incorporating this definition of alchemy is one step in recognizing the truths that alchemy points to and embodies.
Avery is the lead Alchemist at Kymia Arts and routinely shares information on general alchemy topics as well as our methods and products.