~~Book of Genesis 1:1
~~The NASA Hubble Space Telescope photo of V838 Monocerotis (February 8, 2004)
Before physicists, the men of science, so to speak, were alchemists. Unlike modern theory today, the doctrine of the alchemists was very much centred around theology. To them, God was not some abstract philosphical concept, but rather, God was understood, and accepted as being something from which everything is made. In other words - God is everything - God is the Universe itself. In this sense, the alchemist was more closely related to the mystic than a scientist.
"Alchemists agree with chemists that there is unity in matter, but whereas chemistry teaches that atomic particles are the smallest units in matter, alchemists believe in an ultimate source they call Ether, or the universal fluid. Matter to the alchemist is therefore compact energy, which can be dissolved into free energy or force. For the alchemist energy and matter are the same thing, namely substance. The substance is the Absolute, the One that Hermes Trismegistus describes in the Emerald tablet. This One is divided into three parts: Intelligence or force, Energy and Matter."
~~The complete book of spells, ceremonies, and magic By Migene González-Wippler
~~The Alchymist by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97) 1771
Alchemists hoped to move closer to God by developing a greater understanding of God, not only in the spiritual sense, but in a real, physical sense too. If God truly was everything, and everything owed its existence to God, then it must be possible to find the existence of God in any thing, in any place we care to look. What the alchemist was seeking in all material things, and that includes himself, was the very substance of God. There is a real possibility that some alchemists may have found it. Even the word "alchemy" seems to hint at something of the nature of this substance.
"The word alchemy is derived from the words Al and chemia.
Al is an ancient word meaning ‘God’ in the sense of the ‘All’, the ‘Absolute’. As part of the word alchemy it means ‘divine’ or ‘universal’. The word was used in many ancient languages and cultures, including the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Hebrew and Celtic. Later, the Hebrew form of the word came to be written as El, which in the Christian bible is translated as ‘God’. In Islam the word appears as Allah.
Chemia is from the Greek word khemia, which itself is derived from the ancient Egyptian word kemit, meaning ‘black earth’."
In other words, the term "alchemy" could be interpreted as meaning "God is black earth." These choice of words to describe God may at first seem a bit off-key - one might have expected something a bit more poetic, more holy, more ethereal - such things as "God is mountain dew," or "God is sunshine." Instead, for those seeking the substance of God, the alchemist tells us to ignore all this fluffy idealism, and points only to the dirt at our feet. According to the Bible, this dirt, or dust is also the same foodstuff which the serpent of Eden is condemned to eat forever.
"And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life."
When God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, God makes a point of telling Adam that the dust of the ground served as the material from which he was created. This at first seems only slanderous, the final insult to be added to Adam's degradation - but this being the word of God, it is told only as a truth. It is intriguing that the only substance required by God to create intelligent life is little more than ordinary dust from the ground.
"By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Thus, a significant clue to the nature of God, and the powers of creation, are all contained in nothing more than a speck of dust. In searching for the substance of God, it is likely that these same thoughts must have occured to the alchemist. If one could gain knowledge of this biblical dust, then one would know the form which God takes before creation. In other words, the dust mentioned in the Bible, woefully unflattering as it is, could be interpreted as being the definitive description for the uncreated substance of God.
"Uncreated Independent Substance: thing that is not dependent upon the causal power of any other thing in order to exist or to remain in existence, and is not a property of any other thing.(The only thing that satisfies this definition of "uncreated substance" is God.)"
The alchemist believed that all material bodies are formed from only one substance, indeed, "the substance." The entire material of the Universe was said to consist of this one single element - the materia prima (first matter.) For some, the materia prima represented God in its most purest form. It represents the primordial matter from which all things, and especially living things, are made.
Using the Bible, Paracelsus and others, connected prima materia to God; "before Abraham was made, I am." (John 8:58) Since prima materia is supposedly the [philospher's] stone, also, this also demonstrated the stone is without beginning or end. Jung noted many Christians hearing this would not believe their ears, but it was plainly stated in the Liber Platonis quartorum, "That from which things arise is the invisible and immovable God."
If the alchemist was able to gain mastery over this substance, then it should, at least in theory, be possible for them to take dominance over the will of God. The forces of God would be subjucated to the whim of the alchemist, giving him/her the power to fulfil all their earthly desires instantaneously. The alchemist would at last become master of their own fate, and the need for a God will have been entirely displaced.
The goal of Alchemy is the Great Opus or the Great Work which is the purification of the lesser or gross and its elevation to the greater or more refined, whether in plants, metals, or inconsciousness. The ultimate goal of the alchemist is to find the Prima Materia or the First Matter of nature as the dark, passive, unformed and raw virgin and universal stuff of creation. Through the alchemical process the alchemist transforms this Prima Materia into the Philosophers Stone. This accomplishment is most commonly known as the transformation of Lead into Gold, the heaviest, darkest, densest most earthbound, least valuable metal becoming Gold: Incarnated Light; the most glittering, luminous, valuable metal; symbol of the sun and of spiritual attainment and consciousness, spiritual illumination as cosmic consciousness which is the ultimate goal of the human evolution.
Certainly, one of the goals of alchemy was to achieve great wealth (after all, regardless of how close they moved towards God, there was always the danger of getting deeper into debt!). Possessing the philospher's stone would allow the alchemist to turn lead into gold, which quite literally, would give them the power to print their own currency. This remarkable prize however, pales in significance when compared to the true treasure which awaits the seeker. It is the one thing which is universally prized by humans, and desired above all other things, though seldom believed possible - the gift of immortality. The alchemist would finally be allowed to lift the veil, and to enter the world hidden from view, and recieve the key which will give him/her the power, and ultimately freedom, to choose the day they die. To become immortal would signify the alchemist's completion of the Great Work.
This philosopher’s stone is a metaphor – which means that it has both an inner and outer reality, neither of which can be taken for granted or understood exclusively. The development of the philosopher’s stone could only occur through a refinement of the initially untransformed base material of the world – the “prima materia” or black earth, which is simultaneously the alchemist’s own psyche, both conscious and unconscious (Jung, 1967, 1978, 1993) 4, as well as the actual underlying physicality of all the world’s substances.
Descriptions of how the philospher's stone appears physically, are understandably evasive, but that does not mean that the stone, "a stone which is not a stone," is necessarily hidden from view. Quite the contrary, it was sometimes said to be a common substance, found everywhere but unrecognized and unappreciated.
As you can see, the importance of identifying the substance of the materia prima is essential to the creation of the philosopher's stone. So, what exactly is the materia prima? Which one of the elements from the periodic table is meant to be the hidden substance of God?
Alchemy: an introduction to the symbolism and the psychology By Marie-Luise von Franz