By Ben Collinson
The Theory and Philosophy of Alchemy
The grand objects of the alchemical art were (1) the discovery of a process by which the baser metals might be transmuted into gold and silver; (2) the discovery of an elixir by which life might be prolonged indefinitely. Religiously, the transmutation of metals can be thought of as a symbol of the transmutation of the self to a higher consciousness and the discovery of the elixir as an affirmation of eternal life.
The transmutation of metals was to be accomplished by a powder, stone, or elixir often called the philosophers' stone, the application of which would effect the transmutation of the baser metals into gold or silver, depending on the length of time of its application. Basing their conclusions on the examination of natural processes and metaphysical speculation concerning the secrets of nature, the alchemists arrived at the axiom that nature was divided into four principal regions: the dry, the moist, the warm, the cold, from which all that exists must be derived. Nature was also divisible into the male and the female. She is the divine breath, the central fire, invisible yet ever active, and is typified by sulphur, which is the mercury of the sages, that slowly fructifies under the genial warmth of nature.
The alchemist had to be ingenuous, of a truthful disposition, and gifted with patience and prudence, following nature in every alchemical performance. He recalled that like attracts like, and had to know how to obtain the "seed" of metals, which was produced by the four elements through the will of the Supreme Being and the Imagination of Nature. We are told that the original matter of metals was double in its essence, being a dry heat combined with a warm moisture, and that air is water coagulated by fire, capable of producing a universal dissolvent.
The novice alchemist also had to acquire a thorough knowledge of the manner in which metals "grow" in the bowels of the earth. They were said to be engendered by sulphur, which is male, and mercury, which is female, and the crux of alchemy was to obtain their "seed"—a process the alchemistical philosophers did not describe with any degree of clarity. The physical theory of transmutation is based on the composite character of metals, and on the presumed existence of a substance which, applied to matter, exalts and perfects it.
Earth is the symbol of life. All life.
The other elements (water, air and fire) are life forces too, but Earth is the accommodator:
Earth Accommodates Other Elements
- She allows great swaths to be sliced from her body as she yields to the waters of our world.
- She communicates with the air and without the Earth; air would be a lost and sorrowful daughter.
- Fire lives in the belly of Earth, and could not consummate without the foundational spark originating from Earth-based matter.
Within these contemplative contexts, we sense all threads of life are first woven with the fibre of Earth.
Furthermore, this interconnectedness reminds us not only is the Earth a stabilizing and a wholly physical symbol, it also represents a network. Earth is synonymous with belonging. She represents community and tribal wisdom. Earth is the embodiment of the concept of HOME.