The Perfect Metal is Gold, it is Born from a Seed. A Summary of Alchemical Theory, Part 2 of 5

The Perfect Metal is Gold, it is Born from a Seed. A Summary of Alchemical Theory, Part 2of5

Looking around him, and observing the changes of things, the alchemist was deeply impressed by the growth and modification of plants and animals; he argued that minerals and metals also grow, change, develop. He said in effect: “Nature is one, there must be unity in all the diversity I see. When a grain of corn falls into the earth it dies, but this dying is the first step towards a new life; the dead seed is changed into the living plant. So it must be with all other things in nature: the mineral, or the metal, seems dead when it is buried in the earth, but, in reality, it is growing, changing, and becoming more perfect.” The perfection of the seed is the plant. What is the perfection of the common metals?


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“Evidently,” the alchemist replied, “the perfect metal is gold; the common metals are trying to become gold.” “Gold is the intention of Nature in regard to all metals,” said an alchemical writer. Plants are preserved by the preservation of their seed. “In like manner,” the alchemist’s argument proceeded, “there must be a seed in metals which is their essence; if I can separate the seed and bring it under the proper conditions, I can cause it to grow into the perfect metal.” “Animal life, and human life also,” we may suppose the alchemist saying, “are continued by the same method as that whereby the life of plants is continued; all life springs from seed; the seed is fructified by the union of the male and the female; in metals also there must be the two characters; the union of these is needed for the production of new metals; the conjoining of metals must go before the birth of the perfect metal.”

“Now,” we may suppose the argument to proceed, “now, the passage from the imperfect to the more perfect is not easy. It is harder to practise virtue than to acquiesce in vice; virtue comes not naturally to man; that he may gain the higher life, he must be helped by grace. Therefore, the task of exalting the purer metals into the perfect gold, of developing the lower order into the higher, is not easy. If Nature does this, she does it slowly and painfully; if the exaltation of the common metals to a higher plane is to be effected rapidly, it can be done only by the help of man.”

So far as I can judge from their writings, the argument of the alchemists may be rendered by some such form as the foregoing. A careful examination of the alchemical argument shows that it rests on a (supposed) intimate knowledge of nature’s plan of working, and the certainty that simplicity is the essential mark of that plan.

That the alchemists were satisfied of the great simplicity of nature, and their own knowledge of the ways of nature’s work, is apparent from their writings.

The author of The New Chemical Light (17th century) says: “Simplicity is the seal of truth…. Nature is wonderfully simple, and the characteristic mark of a childlike simplicity is stamped upon all that is true and noble in Nature.” In another place the same author says: “Nature is one, true, simple, self-contained, created of God, and informed with a certain universal spirit.” The same author, Michael Sendivogius, remarks: “It may be asked how I come to have this knowledge about heavenly things which are far removed beyond human ken. My answer is that the sages have been taught by God that this natural world is only an image and material copy of a heavenly and spiritual pattern; that the very existence of this world is based upon the reality of its heavenly archetype…. Thus the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.”

The Only True Way advises all who wish to become true alchemists to leave the circuitous paths of pretended philosophers, and to follow nature, which is simple; the complicated processes described in books are said to be the traps laid by the “cunning sophists” to catch the unwary.

In A Catechism of Alchemy, Paracelsus asks: “What road should the philosopher follow?” He answers, “That exactly which was followed by the Great Architect of the Universe in the creation of the world.”

One might suppose it would be easier, and perhaps more profitable, to examine, observe, and experiment, than to turn one’s eyes inwards with the hope of discovering exactly “the road followed by the Great Architect of the Universe in the creation of the world.” But the alchemical method found it easier to begin by introspection. The alchemist spun his universe from his own ideas of order, symmetry, and simplicity, as the spider spins her web from her own substance.