Supposing that Alchemy was either not concerned with the transmutation of metals, except as with a veil and an evasion, or that it was concerned with the transmutation of metals, except as with a veil and an evasion, or that it was concerned with it actually, but only as an inferior or collateral branch of experiment, there is one mark which we ought to find in its literature to distinguish it from an operation of merely physical science, and that is the Mark of the Supernatural. Now, Alchemy comes actually before us in every case, and under all its forms of presentation, even as in each century of its practice, as an essentially sacred science. It is sacred in its fabulous pedigree, sacred in its end and intention, sacred in its concealed methods, and classes among the Magnolia Dei et Nature as a special gift communicated from on high.
“Most happy is the son of that man,” says the author of the Golden Calf, “who, by his prayers, obtains this arts, unto the glory of God. For it is most certain that this Mystery can be known no other way, unless it be drawn and imbibed from God, the Fountain of Fountains. Therefore, let every serious lover of this inestimable Art judge that the whole work of him required is that he constantly, with the prayer of true faith, in all his labour implore and solicit the Divine Grace of the Holy Spirit. For the solemn manner of God alone is candidly and liberally, either mediately or immediately, to communicate His gifts and benefits, but unto none unless to candid and liberal minds. In this holy way of practical piety, all inquisitors of profound Arts find what they seek, when they in their work exercise themselves theosophically by solitary colloquies with Jehovah, religiously, with a pure heart and mouth. For the Heavenly Sophia indeed willingly embraces our friendship, presenting and offering to us her inexhaustible rivulets, most full of gracious goodness and benevolence. But happy is he to whom the Royal in which he is to walk shall be shown by some one expert in this Arcanum.”
So also the New Light of Alchymy assures us that the “commendable art” is the “gift of God, and truly it is not to be attained to but by the alone favour of God”. The Hermetical Triumph describes is as “a divine science which is communicated from God, and that only “to those who will make a good use of it”. The mode in which it is imparted is like that of all revelation, an “illumination of Mind”, for “the knowledge of our Magistery,” says the Key of the Secret Philosophy, comes by “the inspiration of Heaven”, and this truth is acknowledged by all Philosophers.” It is acknowledged by Geber when he forbids his disciples to meddle with sophistical operations, “because our art is reserved in the divine will of God, and is given to or withheld from whom He will, who is glorious, sublime, and full of all justice and goodness.” It is not therefore to be degraded or misused, and those who pervert it should be “blasphemed to eternity, because they have left to their posterity blasphemies, a curse by their error, and a diabological instigation instead of the invention of verity”. It is equally acknowledged by the initiates of the French school, and by the medieval German adepts. “Let no one expect to be enlightened on the mysteries of the Stone of the Philosophers who is blind in the mysteries of faith,” and the spirit of Christ is an indispensable element of the more composite spirit of philosophy, for Christ, says Benedictus Figulus, is “the true theosopher, Christ the true astronomer, Christ the universal physician, and to Him alone is the glory.” It is acknowledged by the English alchemists, for whom, as for Elias Ashmole, the physical work was but the lowest achievement of the great work of Philosophy.
“The Mineral Stone is wrought up to one degree only, and hath the power of transmuting any imperfect matter into its utmost perfection. But as to make gold was the chiefest intent of the Alchemists, so was it scarce any intent of the ancient philosophers, and the lowest use the adepts made of the Materia. For they, being lovers of wisdom more than of material wealth, drove at higher and more excellent operations. And certainly he to whom the whole course of Nature lies open rejoiceth not so much that he can make gold and silver, or the devils become subject to him, as that he sees the Heavens open, the Angels of God ascending and descending, and that his own name is fairly written in the Book of Life.”
For others, like Helvetius, all Heaven enters into the composition of the Grand Catholicon, and the initiation begun on earth is completed in aula cælestium. “Thus have I described what I myself have seen and done, and have caused the same to be printed for you, Candid Reader, out of mere liberality, gratis communicating it, according to that of Seneca: I desire in this to know somewhat that I may teach others. But if any man doubt of the real truth of the matter, let him only with a lively faith believe in his crucified Jesus, that in him, by the strict way of Regeneration, he may become a new creature, and may hence, through the watery ocean of this tempestuous and rocky world, arrive in safety at the most blessed port of Eternal Rest, and sing the New Song with the Triumphing Philosophers of the Heavenly Jerusalem.”
The pedigree of the science is supernatural, like the science itself; it is true, as we have already hinted, that it is a fabulous pedigree, its history has an inner meaning, and is not to be literally understood; the inner meaning connects it with the Holy Assemblies and the initiation of all the ages, even as all initiation connects with the soul’s history in the state which preceded generation, in the higher consciousness of the first subjective being, which is also the last interior state, the end and summit of philosophy. “Know, then, says Gloria Mundi, “that Almighty God first delivered this Art to ur father Adam in Paradise, for as soon as He had created and set him in the Garden of Eden, He imparted its arcana to him.” The secret knowledge is represented as descending from Adam to Abel, who established its first principles; it was imparted by Abel to Seth, and thence, as the most precious inheritance of the primeval world, to the chief college of Hermetic initiation, the Turba Philosophorum.
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