ALCHEMY HPB Part I
Nov 21, 2004 02:52 AM
by W.Dallas TenBroeck
ALCHEMY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY --- H.P.B.
[This article in 3 parts, was written in French by H. P. Blavatsky. It
appeared in Vol. II of La Revue Theosophique, October, November and December
1889 and is translated from that.
[ It was reprinted in The Theosophical Movement, Vol. 26 - pp. 81, 105. A
copy of the original is in Blavatsky: Collected Works, Vol. XI, p. 505.
[This translation is prepared by D T B using the original French version.]
Archaic chemistry or Alchemy has always used the language of symbolism. And
this symbolism is found to be similar to that which all ancient religions
In The Secret Doctrine we have shown that everything in this, the world of
effects, has three attributes--a triple synthesis of the seven principles of
In order to state this more clearly, let us say that everything in the world
around us, as also in man, is composed of three principles and four aspects.
Man, is himself a complex unity, consisting of the physical body, a
rational soul and divine spirit; so too, every being in nature has its
objective form, its vital soul, and the divine spark purely spiritual and
subjective. Neither the first, nor the second of these division can be
denied or objected to; for, if we admit that metals, certain woods,
minerals and drugs possess innate powers that affect other living organisms,
even science will agree to this fact. As to the third: the presence of an
absolute quintessence in each atom, materialism, unable to deal with the
concept of a vital anima mundi, denies it utterly.
We fear it will derive little good from this attitude. We, for our part,
finding in materialism ample proof of moral and spiritual blindness, remain
unimpressed by its denial, and, leaving the blind to continue leading the
blind, we proceed on our own path.
In sympathy with all nature, every science has three fundamental aspects,
and when of these it chooses to make practical applications, it may use any
one or all of them together. Before Alchemy existed as a science its
quintessence alone acted in nature's correlations on all its planes, (as
indeed, it still does).
When men of the highest intelligence first appeared on earth, they allowed
to this supreme power full and unlimited freedom of action, and observing
this, they, from those beginnings learned great secrets. All that they
needed to do was to imitate it in its action. But in order to produce
similar effects using their individual will, they were obliged to develop in
their human constitution a power called Kriyasakti in occult phraseology.
This faculty is creative, and is the direct agent on the objective plane of
the prime creative principle. Its operation resembles electricity
descending a lightning rod, since it conducts and gives finite shape to the
creative quintessence, which, if released ignorantly into the lower planes,
will kill; but which, when delivered through the channel of a wise human
intellect, creates according to preset plan.
>From this primitive Alchemy, magnetic Magic and many other branches of the
tree of true occult science were born.
When in the course of time the nations of men developed a nature so
intensely saturated with egotism and vanity as to be convinced of their
complete superiority to all others--living now, or in the past; when the
use of Kriyasakti became increasingly difficult and this divine faculty
almost disappeared from the earth; men lost by degrees the science of their
They went further, and rejecting altogether the traditions of their
antediluvian progenitors, they began to contemptuously deny any presence of
spirit and soul to this wisdom, the most ancient of all on our earth. Of
the three attributes of nature they only acknowledged matter, or rather its
illusory aspect, for of real matter or substance, materialists confesses
that they cannot discern it, and so are completely
ignorant of it.
Thus, modern chemistry was developed. Change is the visible result of all
The perfect circle becomes the One, then a triangle, and from these it
develops into the quaternary, and then, of these, the quinary is formed.
The creative principle issues from the Rootless Root of absolute
Existence--that which has neither beginning nor end--the symbol for which is
a serpent, the perpetuum mobile, which is shown swallowing its tail so that
these two are again united. This was the Azoth of the Alchemists of the
The circle then becomes a triangle, emanating like Minerva from Jupiter's
head. The circle represents the metaphysical Absolute; a line issuing from
its right side represents a synthesis of all that is metaphysical, and that
issuing from its left, represents all that is physical. When Mother Nature
produced a line that joined these two original lines, we may trace there the
reawakening of Cosmic Life. Until then Purusha or Spirit, is separated from
Prakriti or Matter, which has not yet manifested.
These "legs" exist only potentially, they cannot move; nor have "arms" been
yet produced, wherewith to mold into objective forms sublunary beings.
Deprived of limbs, Purusha [Spirit] can only begin to build when it has
mounted symbolically on to the shoulders of blind Prakriti * [matter];
Footnote * From Kapila's Sankhya philosophy.
then the triangle becomes the pentacle, the star of the microcosm. Before
this stage is reached both must pass through the condition of the quaternary
state, that of the creative cross.
This is the symbolic cross of the terrestrial mystics. And it is they who
debased and defiled it. This symbolic cross divided into four, may be read
at will: "Taro," "Tora," "Ator," and "Rota." Primordial virgin matter,
called "adamic earth," or the "Holy Spirit" of the ancient Alchemists of the
"Rosy Cross," was altered by some Kabalists--who made themselves the
flunkeys of modern science--into Na2 CO3, soda, and C2H 6O, alcohol !
Ah ! Star of the Morning, Daughter of the Dawn, how thou hast fallen from
thy high celestial estate--poor Alchemy ! All, on this poor, ancient planet
are thrice deceived; all on it are doomed to weariness, to fracture, and to
pass away. And yet, all that once was, which is, and shall be will remain
for ever the same, until the end of time. Words are traps, and soon the
meaning underlying them is disfigured.
But eternal root ideas shall for ever endure. Under the "asses' skin" in
which Princess Nature wraps herself--so that fools may be deceived, as we
are told in the fables of Perrault--the disciple of those ancient
philosophers perceives eternal truth, and -- adores ! This asses' skin,
instead of Princess Nature stark and true, we are made to believe is more
acceptable to the taste of our modern philosophicules and materialistic
Alchemists. They sacrifice the living soul to dead forms. But all that
ugly skin falls away before the piercing glance of Prince Charming who
recognizes by the marriage ring his original pledge.
To all those anxious courtiers hovering round Dame Nature, each seeking to
peer through her veils of matter, she offers nought but that ugly rind. And
so, they now console themselves, giving fresh names to things as old as the
world, while loudly proclaiming their latest discoveries.
The necromancy of Moses became by transformation, modern Spiritualism, the
Science of venerable Temple Initiates, the Magnetism of Indian
Gymnosophists, and the healing Mesmerism of Esculapius "the Saviour," are
only now acknowledged on condition that they be renamed hypnotism, which is,
in truth, black magic.
Modern materialists would have us believe that Alchemy, or the transmutation
of base metals into gold and silver, has from the earliest of ages been no
more than mystification and flummery. According to them it is not science
but a delusion, and therefore all who believe, or show interest in it, are
either dupes or impostors. Our modern encyclopedias are seen to contain
many a derogative epithet leveled at alchemists and occultists.
Gentlemen of the French Académie! This may be all very well for you, butif
you are so sure of yourselves, give us clear, irrefutable proof of the
absolute impossibility of transmuting metals ! How is it that a metallic
base is found everywhere, even in alkalis ? We know of some scientists, men
of outstanding ability, who believe that the concept of reducing elements to
their primordial state, and even to their original essence (see for instance
Mr. Crookes' meta-elements) is not as strange as it seemed at first hearing.
These elements, now hypothesized to exist from the beginning as an igneous
mass, and from which you claim the earth's crust has been formed, surely
these may be again dissolved and returned to their original state, by a
series of transformations.
The real problem is to find a solvent of sufficient potency to do in a few
days or years that which nature has taken ages to do. Chemistry, through
Mr. Crookes, has demonstrated that a strong family relationship exists
between metals, indicating not only similarity of properties, but an
identity of genesis.
Gentlemen! You who scoff and laugh at Alchemy and Alchemists, may I ask you
how it is that one of your finest chemists, M. Berthelot, author of La
Synthèse Chimique, has read deeply into Alchemical lore, and will not
deny to Alchemists a most profound knowledge of the subject ?
Again, how is it that M. Chevreul, that respected savant whose great age, no
less than his living to his death in full possession of all his faculties,
who has ever moved our generation to admiration, inspite of its overwhelming
self-sufficiency--a pride so difficult to penetrate; how does it happen,
that he who made so many practical and useful applications available to
industry, should have possessed so many books and works on Alchemy ?
Could it be possible that the key to the secret of his longevity may be
found in one of those very works, which, according to you are but a
collection of superstitions, as useless as they are ridiculous ?
The fact remains that this great savant, the father of modern chemistry,
took pains to bequeath after his death, to the Library of the Museum, the
numerous works he possessed on this "false science," and in this act of his
we see unmistakable evidence of the esteem in which he held them. Nor have
we yet heard that the luminaries of science attached to this Sanctuary have
thrown those books on alchemy into the waste-paper basket as "useless
rubbish full of fantastic reveries engendered by the sick imagination of
diseased and maddened brains."
Our wise men are forgetful--in the first place, having never yet found a key
to the jargon used in Hermetic manuscripts, they have no right to pronounce
decisions on their veracity; and secondly, wisdom has certainly not born
for the first time with them alone, nor will it necessarily disappear from
the world upon their death.
Each science, we say, has three aspects, and at least two are acknowledged
by all: the objective and the subjective. We can classify Alchemical
transmutation under the first, whether with or without the powder of
projection; under the second, we would place all that relates to the mind.
Under the third is concealed a suspicion relating to the loftiest
spirituality. Since the symbols used for the first two are similar, and
possess moreover, as I have tried to show in The Secret Doctrine, seven
interpretations varying each in their application to any of these three
planes: the physical, the psychic, or the purely spiritual; it is now easy
to see that for a clear comprehension, only great Initiates can correctly
interpret the jargon of the Hermetic philosophers.
Since many more false than true Hermetic writings exist, if Hermes himself
were to read them now, even he might be confused. Who knows, as a case in
point, whether a series of well defined formulas used to produce a
predictable result in technical Alchemy, may not imply and produce a totally
different result, were they to be applied in the dead-letter sense to
matters belonging to the domain of psychology ? Our late brother Kenneth
Mackenzie when, speaking of Hermetic Societies says:-
“….for the practicing Alchemist, whose object was the production of gold by
the use of those special laws belonging to his own art, the formulating of a
mystical philosophy was of secondary importance, for his art might be
pursued without direct reference to any system of theosophy; while the Sage
who had raised himself to a superior plane of metaphysical contemplation,
would naturally reject the crude material part of his studies, considering
these beneath the level of his goals.”
--Royal Masonic Cyclopedia
Thus it becomes clear that symbols taken as guides for the transmutation of
metals are found to be of small value when compared with methods which we
now call chemical. We would like to ask further: Who of our "great men"
today would dare to treat as impostors men such as Paracelsus, Van Helmont,
Roger Bacon, Boerhaave and many other illustrious Alchemists ?
While French Academicians may mock the Kabala or Alchemy today (we find them
deriving their inspiration from these) and many discoveries of the Kabalists
and Occultists of Europe, sub rosa, show evidence of the existence of the
Secret Sciences of the East. In fact, the wisdom the Orient no longer
exists for our wise men of the West; it died with the Magi.
Nevertheless, Alchemy, which if we search diligently we shall find, as the
foundation of every occult science, came to them from the far East. Some
pretend it is only the posthumous evolution of the magic of Chaldea. We
shall try to prove that this latter is only the heir, first to an
antediluvian Alchemy, and then to an Alchemy of the Egyptians. Olaus
Borrichius, an authority on this question, asks us to search for its origin
in remotest antiquity.
To what epoch may we ascribe the origin of Alchemy ? No modern writer is
able to tell us exactly. Some give us Adam as its first adept; others
place it to the account of an indiscretion: "the sons of God, who, seeing
that the daughters of man were beautiful, took them for their wives."
Moses and Solomon are later Adepts in the science, for they were preceded by
Abraham, who was in turn antedated in the science of Sciences by Hermes. Is
it not Avicenna who says that the Smaragdine Tablet--the oldest existing
treatise on Alchemy--was found on the body of Hermes buried centuries ago at
Hebron by Sarah, the wife of Abraham ? That Hermes never was the name of a
man, but a generic title, just as in former times we had the Neo-Platonists,
and in the present the Theosophists.
What in fact is known about Hermes Trismegistus, or Hermes three times the
greatest ? Less than we know of Abraham, his wife Sarah and his concubine
Hagar, which St. Paul declares to be an allegory.
Even in the time of Plato, Hermes was already identified with the Thoth of
the Egyptians. But this word Thoth does not mean only "intelligence;" it
means also "assembly," a school. In truth Thoth Hermes is simply the
personification of the voice of the priestly caste of Egypt; that is to
say, of the Grand Hierophants.
And if this is the case, can we tell at what epoch of prehistoric times did
this hierarchy of initiated priests began to flourish in the land of Chemi ?
And even if this were possible we should still be far from having arrived at
a complete solution of our problem. For ancient China, no less than ancient
Egypt, claims to be the land of the alkahest and of physical and
transcendental Alchemy; and China may very probably be right.
A missionary, an old resident of Peking, William A. P. Martin, calls it the
"cradle of Alchemy." Cradle is hardly the right word perhaps, but it is
certain that the celestial empire has the right to class herself amongst the
very oldest schools of occult science. In any case Alchemy has penetrated
into Europe from China, as we shall prove.
In the meantime our reader has a choice of solutions, for another pious
missionary, Hood, assures us solemnly that Alchemy was born in the garden
"planted in Haden on the side towards the east." If we may believe him, it
is the offspring of Satan who tempted Eve in the shape of a Serpent; but
the good man forgot to follow up his assertion to its legitimate
conclusion as is proved even by the name of the science. For the Hebrew
word for Serpent is Nahash, plural Nahashim. Now it is from this last
syllable shim that the words chemistry and alchemy are derived. Is this not
clear as day and established in agreement with the severest rules of
Let us now consider our proofs.
The first authorities in archaic sciences--William Godwin amongst
others--have shown us on incontestable evidence that, though Alchemy was
cultivated by nearly all the nations of antiquity long before our era, the
Greeks only began to study it after the beginning of the Christian era and
that it was only popularized very much later.
Of course by this is meant only the lay Greeks, not the Initiates. For the
adepts of the Hellenic temples of Magna Grecia knew it from the days of the
Argonauts. The European origin of Alchemy dates from this time, as is well
illustrated by the allegorical story of the Golden Fleece.
Thus we need only read that which Suidas says in his lexicon with reference
to this expedition of Jason, too well known to require telling here:-
“Deras, the Golden Fleece which Jason and the Argonauts, after a voyage on
the Black Sea in Colchis, took with the aid of Medea, daughter of AEtes, of
AEa. Only instead of taking that which the poets pretended the hero took, it
was a treatise written on a skin which explained how gold could be made by
chemical means. Contemporaries called this skin of a ram the Golden Fleece,
most probably because of the great value attaching to the instructions on
This explanation is clearer and much more probable than the erudite vagaries
of our modern mythologists *, for we must remember that the
* M. de Gubernatis (Mythol. Zool., 1427) finds that because "in Sanscrit
the ram is called mesha or meha, he who spills or who pours out," so the
golden fleece of the Greeks should be " the mist...raining down water;" and
Mr. Schwartz compares the fleece of a ram to a stormy night and tells us
that the ram speaking is the voice which seems to issue from an electric
cloud. We imagine these learned men are rather too full of vapours
themselves to be ever taken seriously by students And yet M. P. Decharme,
the author of Mythologie de la Grece Antique, seems to share their opinions.
Colchis of the Greeks is the modern Meretie of the Black Sea; that the
Rion, the great river which crosses the country, is the Phasis of the
ancients, which even to this day contains traces of gold; and that the
traditions of the indigenous races who live on the shores of the Black Sea,
such as the Mingrelians, the Abhazians and the Meretians know full well this
old legend of the Golden Fleece. Their ancestors say they have all been
"makers of gold," that is to say, they possessed the secret of transmutation
which in modern times we call Alchemy.
In any case it is certain that the Greeks were ignorant of the Hermetic
science up to the time of the Neo-Platonists (towards the end of the fourth
and fifth centuries) with the exception of the initiated, and that they knew
nothing of the real Alchemy of the Ancient Egyptians, whose secrets were
certainly not--revealed to the public at large.
In the third century we find the Emperor Diocletian publishing his famous
edict and ordering a careful search to be made in Egypt for books treating
of the fabrication of gold, which were collected together and made into a
public auto-da-fé. W. Godwin tells us that after this there did not remain
one single work on Alchemy above ground in the kingdom of the Pharaohs and
for the space of two centuries it was never spoken of. He might have added
that there still remained underground a large number of such works written
on papyrus and buried with the mummies ten times millenarian.
The whole secret lies in the power to recognize such a treatise on Alchemy
in what appears to be only a fairy tale, such as we have in that of the
Golden Fleece or in the romances of the earlier Pharaohs. But it was not
the secret wisdom hidden in the allegories of the papyri which introduced
Alchemy into Europe or the Hermetic sciences.
History tells us that Alchemy was cultivated in China more than 16 centuries
before our era and that it had never been more flourishing than during the
first centuries of Christianity. And it is towards the end of the fourth
century, when the East opened its ports to the commerce of the Latin races,
that Alchemy once again penetrated into Europe. Byzantium and Alexandria,
the two principal centres of this commerce, were quickly inundated with
works on transmutation.
Let us compare the Chinese system with that which is called Hermetic
1. The twofold object which both schools aim at is identical: the
making of gold and the rejuvenating and prolonging of human life by means of
the menstruum universale and lapis philosophorum. The third object or true
meaning of the "transmutation" has been completely neglected by Christian
adepts; for, being satisfied with their belief in the immortality of the
soul, the adherents of the older Alchemists have never properly understood
this question. Now, partly through negligence, partly through habit, it has
been completely struck out of the summum bonum sought for by the Alchemists
of Christian countries. Nevertheless it is only this last of the three
objects which interests the real Oriental Alchemists. All initiated adepts,
despising gold and having a profound indifference for life, cared very
little about the first two.
2. Both these schools recognize the existence of two elixirs: the
great and the small one. The use of the second on the physical plane
transmutes metals and restores youth. The Great Elixir, which was only
symbolically an elixir, conferred the greatest boon of all: the immortality
of consciousness in the Spirit, the Nirvana which in the sequence of
evolution precedes Paranirvana or absolute union with the One Essence.
3. The principles which form the basis of the two systems are also
identical, that is to say: the compound nature of metals and their
emanation from one common seminal germ. The letters tsing in the Chinese
alphabet, which stands for "germ," and t'ai, "matrix," which is found so
constantly in Chinese works on Alchemy, are the ancestors of the same words
which we meet with so frequently in the Alchemical treatises of the
4. Mercury and lead, mercury and sulphur are equally in use in the
East and in the West, and adding to these many others we find that both
schools accepted them under a triple meaning, the last or third of these
being that which European Alchemists do not understand.
6. Both schools of Alchemy are closely allied to astrology and
7. And finally they both make use of a fantastic phraseology, a fact
which is noticed by the Author of Studies of Alchemy in China * who finds
that the language of Western Alchemists, while so
Footnote * By Rev. W. A. Martin, of Peking.
entirely different from that of all other Western sciences, imitates
perfectly the metaphorical jargon of Eastern nations, proving that Alchemy
in Europe had its origin in the far East. Nor should any prejudices be
entertained against Alchemy because we say that it is closely connected with
astrology and magic.
Source: The Theosophical Movement, Vol 26, pp 81... and 105...
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