ALCHEMY HPB Part II
Nov 21, 2004 02:52 AM
by W.Dallas TenBroeck
ALCHEMY HPB Part II
Part II ALCHEMY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY ---
[ This is the concluding portion of an article by H. P. Blavatsky,
which first appeared in the French journal, La Revue Theosophique, for
October, November and December 1889.-- Eds.]
The word “magic“ is an old Persian term which means "knowledge," and
embraced the knowledge of all sciences, both physical and metaphysical,
studied in those days. The wise and priestly classes of the Chaldeans taught
magic, from which came Magism and Gnosticism.
Was not Abraham called a Chaldean ? And was it not Joseph, a pious Jew, who,
speaking of the patriarch, said that he taught mathematics, or the esoteric
science, in Egypt, including the science of the stars, a professor of Magism
being necessarily an astrologer ?
But it would be a great mistake to confuse the Alchemy of the Middle Ages
with that of antediluvian times. As it is understood in the present day the
philosopher's stone used in the transmutation of metals has three principal
The Alchemists of both countries accept the alkahest or the universal
solvent--and the equally the doctrine of a cycle of transmutation elixir
vitale possessing the property of indefinitely luring -- which the precious
metals pass back to prolonging human life. But neither of these has the
real quality of their basic elements. Neither philosophers nor the
Initiates occupied themselves with the last two. The three Alchemical
agents, like the Trinity, one and indivisible, have become three distinct
agents solely through falling under the influence of human egotism. While
the sacerdotal caste, grasping and ambitious, anthropomorphised the
Spiritual One by dividing it into three persons, the false mystics separated
the Divine Force from a universal Kriyasakti and turned it into three
In his Magie Naturelle, Baptista Porta tells us at all times, it is clearly
called the final aim of all:
“I do not promise you mountains of gold, nor the philosopher's stone, nor
even the golden liquor which renders immortal him who drinks it...All that
is only visionary; for, the world being mutable and subject to change, all
that it produces must be destroyed.”
Geber, the great Arabian Alchemist, is even more explicit. He seems, indeed,
to have written down the following words in prophetic forecast of the
“If we have hidden aught from thee, thou son of science, be not surprised;
for we have not hidden it especially from thee, but have made use of a
language which will hide the truth from the wicked in order that men who are
unjust and ignoble may not understand it. But thou, son of Truth, seek and
thou wilt find the gift, the most precious of all. You, sons of folly,
impiety and profane works, cease endeavoring to penetrate the secrets of
this science; for they will destroy you and will hurl you into the most
Let us see what other writers have to say on the question. Having begun to
think that Alchemy was after all solely a philosophy, entirely metaphysical,
instead of a physical science (in which they erred), they declared that the
extraordinary transmutation of base metals into gold was merely a figurative
expression for the transformation of man, freeing him of his hereditary
evils and of his infirmities in order that he might attain to a degree of
regeneration which would elevate him into a divine Being.*
Footnote * Hermetic Philosophy, by A. Wilder.
This in fact is the synthesis of transcendental Alchemy and is its principal
object; but this does not for all that represent every end which his
science has in view. Aristotle said in Alexandria that "the philosopher's
stone was not a stone at all, that it is in each man, everywhere, at all
times, and is called the final aim of all philosophers."
Aristotle was mistaken in his first proposition, though right with regard to
the second. In the physical kingdom, the secret of the alkahest produces an
ingredient which is called the philosopher's stone; but, for those who care
not for perishable gold, the alkahest, as Professor Wilder tells us, is only
the allgeist, the divine Spirit, which dissolves gross matter in order that
the unsanctified elements may be destroyed...The elixir vitae therefore is
only the waters of life which, as Godwin says, "is a universal medicine
possessing the power to rejuvenate man and to prolong life indefinitely."
Dr. Kopp, in Germany, published a History of Chemistry 40 years ago.
Speaking of Alchemy, looked at especially as the forerunner of modern
chemistry, the German doctor makes use of a very significant expression such
as the Pythagorean and the Platonist will understand at once. "If," says he,
"for the word World we substitute the microcosm represented by man, then it
becomes easy to interpret."
Irenaeus Philalethes declares:
“The philosopher's stone represents the whole universe (or macrocosm) and
possesses all the virtues of the great system collected and compressed into
the lesser system. This last has a magnetic power which draws to it that
which has affinities with it in the universe. It is the celestial virtue
which spreads throughout creation, but which is epitomized in a miniature
abridgment of itself (as man).”
Listen to what Alipile says in one of his translated works:
“He who knows the microcosm cannot long remain ignorant of the macrocosm.
This is why the Egyptians, those zealous investigators of Nature, so often
said: "Man, know thy Self" But their disciples, more restricted in their
powers of appreciation, took this adage as being allegorical and in their
ignorance inscribed it in their temples. But I declare to you, whoever you
may be, who desire to plunge into the depths of Nature, that if that which
you seek you do not find within yourself, you will never find it without.
He who aspires to a first place in the ranks of Nature's students will never
find a vaster or better subject of study than he himself presents.
Therefore following in this the example of the Egyptians and in agreement
with the Truth which has been shown to me by experience, I repeat these very
words of the Egyptians with a loud voice and from the very bottom of my
soul, " Oh man, know thyself, for the treasure of treasures is entombed
Irenaeus Philalethes, cosmopolitan, an English Alchemist and Hermetic
philosopher, wrote in 1659, alluding to the persecution to which philosophy
“Many of those who are strangers to the art think that to possess it they
must do such and such a thing; like many others we thought so too; but,
having become more careful and less ambitious of the three rewards (offered
by Alchemy), on account of the great peril we run, we have chosen the only
infallible one and the most hidden...”
And in truth the Alchemists were wise to do so. For, living in an age when
for a slight difference of opinion on religious questions men and women were
treated as heretics, placed under a ban and proscribed, and when science was
stigmatized as sorcery, it was quite natural, as Professor A. Wilder says,
"that men who cultivate ideas which are out of the general line of thought
should invent a symbological language and means of communication amongst
themselves which should conceal their identity from those thirsting for
The author reminds us of the Hindu allegory of Krishna asking his adopted
mother to look into his mouth. She did so and saw there the entire
universe. This agrees exactly with the Kabalistic teaching which holds that
the microcosm is but the faithful reflection of the macrocosm--a
photographic copy to him who understands. This is why Cornelius Agrippa,
perhaps the most widely known of all the Alchemists, says:-
“It is a created thing, the object of astonishment both to heaven and earth.
It is a compound of the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms; it is found
every-where, though recognized by few, and is called by its real name by no
one; for it is buried under numbers, signs, and enigmas without the help of
which neither Alchemy nor natural magic could reach perfection.”
The allusion becomes even clearer if we read a certain passage in the
Enchiridion of Alchemists (1672):-
“Therefore I will render visible to you in this discourse the natural
condition of the philosopher's stone wrapped in its triple garment, this
stone of richness and of charity, which holds all secrets and which is a
divine mystery the like of which Nature in her sublimity has not in all the
world. Observe well what I tell you and remember that it has a triple
covering, namely: the Body, the Soul, and the Spirit.”
In other words this stone contains the secret of the transmutation of
metals, that of the elixir of long life and of conscious immortality.
This last secret was the one which the old philosophers chose to unravel,
leaving to the lesser lights of modern times the pleasure of wearing
themselves out in the attempt to solve the two first. It is the "Word" or
the "infallible name," of which Moses said that there was no need to seek it
in distant places "for the Word is close to you; it is in your mouth and in
Philalethes, the English Alchemist, says the same thing in other terms:--
“Our writings will be like a double-edged knife for the world at large;
some will use them to hew out works of art, others will only cut their
fingers with them. Nevertheless it is not we who are to blame, since we
warn most seriously all those who attempt the task that they are undertaking
to master the most elevated philosophy in Nature. And this is so whether we
write well or badly. For though we write in English, these writings will be
Greek to some who will, nevertheless, persist in believing that they have
well understood us, while in reality they distort in the most perverse
manner that which we teach; for can it be supposed that those who are
naturally fools should become wise simply by reading books which testify to
their own natures ?”
Espagnet warned his readers in the same way. He prays the lovers of Nature
to read little, and then only those whose veracity and intelligence is above
suspicion. Let the reader seize quickly a meaning which the author may
probably only darkly hint at; for, he adds, truth lives in obscurity;
(Hermetic) philosophers deceive most when they appear to write most clearly,
and ever divulge more secrets the more obscurely they write.
The truth cannot be given to the public; even less in these days than in
those days when the Apostles were advised not to cast pearls before swine.
All these fragments which we have just cited are, we hold, so many proofs of
that which we have advanced.
Outside of the schools of Adepts, almost unapproachable for Western
students, there does not exist in the whole world--and more especially in
Europe, one single work on Occultism, and above all on Alchemy, which is
written in clear and precise language, or which offers to the public a
system or a method which could be followed as in the physical sciences.
All treatises, which come from an Initiate or from an Adept, ancient or
modern, unable to reveal all, limit themselves to throwing light on certain
problems which are allowed to be disclosed to those worthy of knowing, while
remaining at the same time hidden from those who are unworthy of receiving
the truth, for fear they should make a selfish use of their knowledge.
Therefore he who, complaining of the obscurity of writers of the Eastern
school, should confront them with those of either the Middle Ages or of
modern times which seem to be more clearly written, would prove only two
things: first, he deceives his readers in deceiving himself; secondly, he
would advertise modern charlatanism, knowing all the time that he is
deceiving the public.
It is very easy to find semi-modern works which are written with precision
and method, but giving only the personal ideas of the writer on the subject;
that is to say, of value only to those who know absolutely nothing of the
true occult science.
We are beginning to make much of Eliphas Levi, who alone knew probably more
than all our wise men of Europe of 1889 put together. But, when once the
half dozen books of the Abbe Louis Constant have been read, reread and
learnt by heart, how far are we advanced in practical Occultism, or even in
the understanding of the theories of the Kabala?
His style is poetical and quite charming. His paradoxes, and nearly every
phrase in each of his volumes is one, are thoroughly French in character.
But even if we learn them so as to repeat them by heart from the beginning
to the end, what, pray, has he really taught us ? Nothing, absolutely
nothing--except, perhaps, the French language.
We know several of the pupils of this great magician of modern times,
English, French and German, all men of learning, of iron wills, many of whom
have sacrificed whole years to these studies. One of his disciples made him
a life annuity which he paid him for upwards of ten years, besides paying
him 100 francs for every letter when he was obliged to be away. This person
at the end of ten years knew less of magic and of the Kabala than a chela of
ten years' standing of an Indian astrologer.
We have in the library at Adyar his letters on magic in several volumes of
manuscripts, written in French and translated into English, and we defy the
admirers of Eliphas Levi to show us one single individual who would have
become an Occultist even in theory, by following the teaching of the French
Why is this since he evidently got his secrets from an Initiate ? Simply
because he never possessed the right to initiate others. Those who know
something of Occultism will understand what we mean by this; those who are
only pretenders will contradict us, and probably hate us all the more for
having told such hard truths.
The secret sciences, or rather the key which alone explains the mystery of
the jargon in which they are expressed, cannot be developed. Like the Sphinx
who dies the moment the enigma of its being is guessed by an Oedipus, they
are only occult as long as they remain unknown to the uninitiated. Then
again they cannot be bought or sold.
A Rosicrucian "becomes, he is not made," says an old adage of the Hermetic
philosophers, to which the Occultists add, "The science of the gods is
mastered by violence; conquered it may be, but it never is to be had for
the mere asking."
This is exactly what the author of the Acts of the Apostles intended to
convey when he wrote the answer of Peter to Simon Magus: "May thy gold
perish with thee since thou hast thought that the gifts of God may be bought
Occult wisdom should never be used either to make money, or for the
attainment of any egotistical ends, or even to minister to personal pride.
Let us go further and say at once that--except in an exceptional case where
gold might be the means of saving a whole nation--even the act itself of
transmutation, when the only motive is the acquisition of riches, becomes
So that neither the secrets of Magic, nor of Occultism, nor of Alchemy, can
ever be revealed during the existence of our race, which worships the golden
calf with an ever-increasing frenzy.
Therefore, of what value can those works be which promise to give us the key
of initiation for any of these sciences, which are in fact only one ?
We understand perfectly such Adepts as Paracelsus and Roger Bacon. The
first was one of the great harbingers of modern chemistry; the second, that
of physics. Roger Bacon, in his "Treatise on the Admirable Forces of Art
and of Nature," shows this clearly.
We find in it a foreshadowing of all the sciences of our day. He speaks in
it of powder for cannons, and predicts the use of steam as a motive power.
The hydraulic press, the diving bell and the kaleidoscope, are all
described; he prophesies the invention of flying machines, constructed in
such a way that he who is seated in the middle of this mechanical
contrivance, in which we easily recognize a type of the modern balloon, has
only to turn a mechanism to set in motion artificial wings which begin to
beat the air in imitation of those of a bird.
Then he defends his brother Alchemists against the accusation of using a
“The reason for the secrecy which is maintained by the Wise of all countries
is the general contempt and indifference shown for the profounder truths of
knowledge, the generality of people being unable to use those things which
are of the highest good. Even those amongst them who do have an idea which
proves related to something of real utility, owe it generally to chance and
their good fortune; so that failing to appreciate its full meaning they
fall into scientific errors to the great detriment and ruin, not only of the
few, but often of the many.”
All of which proves that he who divulges our secrets is worse than foolish,
unless he veils that which he discloses to the multitude, and dis-guises it
so cleverly that even the wise understand with difficulty.
There are those amongst us who hide their secrets under a certain way of
writing, as for example using only consonants, so that those who read this
style of writing can only decipher the true meaning when they know the
meaning of the words (the Hermetic jargon).
This kind (of cryptography) was in use amongst the Jews, the Chaldeans, the
Syrians, the Arabs, and even the Greeks, and largely adopted in former times
especially by the Jews. This is proved by the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old
Testament, the books of Moses or the Pentateuch rendered ten times more
fantastic by the introduction of Masoretic points.
But as with the Bible, which has been made to say everything required of it
except that which it really did say, thanks to Masorite and the Fathers of
the Church, so it was also with Kabalistic and Alchemical books. The key of
both having been lost centuries ago in Europe, the Kabala (the good Kabala
of the Marquis de Mirville, according to the ex-rabbi, the Chevalier Drach,
that pious and most Catholic Hebrew scholar) serves now as a witness
confirmatory of both the New and the Old Testaments.
According to modern Kabalists, the Zohar is a book of modern prophecies,
especially relating to the Catholic dogmas of the Latin Church, and is the
fundamental stone of the Gospel; which indeed might be true if it were
admitted that both in the Gospels and in the Bible, each name is symbolical
and each story allegorical, just as was the case with all sacred writings
preceding the Christian canon.
Before closing this article, which has already become too long, let us make
a rapid resumé of what we have said.
I do not know if our argument and copious extracts will have any effect on
the generality of our readers. But I am sure, at all events, that what we
have said will have the same effect on Kabalists and modern Masters as the
waving of a red rag in front of a bull; but we have long ceased to fear the
These Masters owe all their science to the dead letter of the Kabala and to
the fantastic interpretation placed on it by some few mystics of the present
and the last century, on which "Initiates" of libraries and museums have in
their turn made variations, so that they are bound to defend them, tooth and
nail. People will see only the raging fire of contest, and he who raises
the greatest conflagration will remain the victor.
Nevertheless--Magna est veritas et prevalebit. [Great is truth and it
I. It has been asserted that Alchemy penetrated into Europe from
China, and that, falling into profane hands, Alchemy (like astrology) is no
longer the pure and divine science of the schools of Thoth-Hermes of the
first Egyptian Dynasties.
2. It is also certain that the Zohar, of which both Europe and
other Christian countries possess fragments, is not the same as the Zohar of
Simon Ben Jochai, but a compilation of old writings and traditions collected
by Moses de Leon of Cordova in the 13th century, who, according to Mosheim,
has followed in many cases the interpretations which were given him by
Christian Gnostics of Chaldea and Syria where he went to seek them.
The real, old Zohar is only found whole in the Chaldean Book of Numbers, of
which there now exist only two or three incomplete copies, which are in the
possession of initiated rabbis.
One of these lived in Poland, in strict seclusion, and he destroyed his copy
before dying in 1817; as for the other, the wisest rabbi of Palestine, he
emigrated from Jaffa some few years ago.
3. Of the real Hermetic books there only remains a fragment known
as the "Smaragdine Tablet," of which we shall presently speak. All the works
compiled on the books of Thoth had been destroyed and burnt in Egypt by the
order of Diocletian in the third century of our era.
All the others, including Pymander, are in their present form merely
recollections, more or less vague and erroneous, of different Greek or even
Latin authors, who often did not hesitate to palm them off as genuine
Hermetic fragments. And, even if by chance these exist, they would be as
incomprehensible to the "Masters" of today as the books of the Alchemists of
the Middle Ages.
In proof of this we have quoted their own thoroughly sincere confessions. We
have shown the reasons they give for this:
(a) their mysteries were too sacred to be profaned by the ignorant, being
written down and explained only for the use of a few Initiates; and they
are also too dangerous to be trusted in the hands of those who might mistake
(b) in the Middle Ages the precautions taken were ten times as great; for
otherwise they stood a good chance of being roasted alive to the greater
glory of God and His Church.
The key to the jargon of the Alchemists and of the real meaning of the
symbols and allegories of the Kabala are now to be found only in the East.
Never having been rediscovered in Europe, what now serves as the guiding
star to our modern Kabalists so that they shall recognize the truths in the
writings of the Alchemists and in the small number of treatises which,
written by real Initiates, are still to be found in our national libraries ?
We conclude, therefore, that in rejecting aid from the only quarter from
whence in this our century they may expect to find the Key to the old
esotericisms and to the Wisdom-Religion, they, whether Kabalists, elect of
God or modern Prophets throw to the winds their only chance of studying
primitive truths and profiting by them.
In any event we may be assured that it is not the Eastern School which loses
by the exchange.
We have dared to say that many French Kabalists have often expressed the
opinion that the Eastern School could never be worth much, no matter how it
may pride itself on possessing secrets unknown to Europeans, because
it admits women into its ranks.
To this we might answer by repeating the fable told by brother Jos. N. Nutt,
Grand Master of the Masonic lodges of the United States for women, to show
what women would do if they were not shackled by males:
“A lion, passing by a monument representing an athletic and powerful figure
of a man tearing open the jaws of a lion, said: "If this scene had been
carved by a lion the two figures would have been exchanged." The same
remark holds good for woman.
If only she were allowed to represent the phases of human life she would
distribute the parts in reverse order.
She it was who first took man to the Tree of Knowledge, and made him to know
Good and Evil; and if she had been left free to do that which she desired,
she would have then led him to the Tree of Life and thus would have made him
H. P. Blavatsky
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