Secrets from the Fire: A Note on the Noble Art of Alchemy

It has become common place that many people today use the words alchemy and alchemical incorrectly. There is glamour to the Art that all desire, but empty words are empty words. New Age spirituality has all but bankrupted the common mind through confusion spawned by idealist notions that “if I name it thus it is.”

Alchemy is a science with ancient lineage and is at its core concerned with material things. After all we cannot transmute what is immaterial. The work of alchemy is the assisting of Natura in her perfection of all things. We are taking the material and spiritualizing it, not the other way around, by the freeing of the core principles of its being: Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt.

The three essentials, hidden within all things, are ever present, the very epicenter of our being resides in the eternal cycles of these three. But through the labors summed up in the alchemist’s motto, solve et coagua*, we elevate a material being by separating and purifying each of these principles before recombining them. The recombining of the Three Essentials constitutes the “resurrection” of the matter we began with, now elevated by philosophical means.

Each step of the way is an initiation that can only truly be grasped by doing it. The mysteries of this Art will never be revealed by the pages of books alone. There are secrets that fire alone can reveal. Fire after all is the most spiritual of the elements, it’s sparks ever rising higher. It is a medium of transmutation as we continue to elevate the herb with which we began into a philosophical medicine. But there are primary and secondary to fire in our work.

Pyromancy, or flame scrying is a divinatory technique that can be employed whenever we are using fire in our magic. The hypnotic dance of a candle or from our crucibles can reveal hidden influences and the outcome of our workings. This is the secondary use of fire in calcination. As we free the salt from the physical being of the prima materia we also free its spiritual virtues to be seen in the flames of its pyre. Only the alchemist can understand these secrets by way of daring to do the work. The salamanders, or fire elementals, believed to lie in the heart of ever flame, are the ones who complete our work alongside us in the crucible. Remember the old motto: Igne natura renovatur integra “Through Fire, nature is reborn whole.”

A Rose for the Philosophers: the Alchemy of the Rosary

Alchemy, the art of “raising vibrations” as Frater Albertus, the teacher of my teacher, Robert Bartlett put it, is the process of assisting nature in its perfection. All of the cosmos is naturally headed towards perfection, but it has been left unfinished so that we might actively participate alongside our Creator. It is called the Great Work because there is no other task through which we might attain a greater good. We may alchemically, or philosophically, prepare many medicines from many matters, but perhaps no greater medicine can we perfect than that of prayer. The work begins with the first matter, as the Creator intended. The first matter is that which we shall breakdown through the beginning stages, to procure the three essentials: sulfur, mercury, and salt. In herbs this begins with a steam extraction of the essential oils (sulfur), next the fermentation of the remaining matter into a “wine” (mercury) where the plant “dies”, and finally leaving the dregs to be calcined to an ash and imbibed and diffused until a fine crystalline salt is produced. These are the essentials of the philosophers, and they are recombined into a reborn and elevated form of the original plant.

The alchemical process mimics in many ways the story of Christ, the God-in-Man, who descended, and incarnated physically, to suffer and die, “giving up the ghost”, only to rise again. Or perhaps it is the other way around. Alchemy surely is an older science than the religion of Christianity, but through the long ages dominated by the churches that stole his name, Christological symbolism has been used to conceal the Great Arcana of the Fire Sages. Indeed, it is not just the medicine produced with alchemy that is reborn through the work, but it is the alchemist themself who is reborn spiritually through their efforts. Just the same as we are transformed through prayer.

As Christians we pray in the manner Jesus taught us, reciting the Our Father as found in the Gospel of Luke. Indeed, in Luke we find the source of the Hail Mary as well in the accounts of the Annunciation and the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and it is this humble prayer I wish to focus upon for this topic. In the Great Work there are many circulations, some lesser and some greater, but it is the circulation of light within our souls that I am concerned with here. The alchemist’s lab is full of many instruments, made of glass, metal, clay, and stone, but today we concern ourselves with that simple instrument of divine glorification known as the rosary.

The rosary is a circle made of 54 beads, 5 decads separated by 4 lone beads. A Hail Mary is offered for each of them grouped in 10, and an Our Father for each that stands apart. This circle holds 15 mysteries, divided into three groups: the Joyous, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious, each given their own circulation. Through meditation upon these mysteries we walk beside Mary and Jesus through faith, by recitation of these most holy words “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.” With each recitation we move through the mysteries from the Annunciation to the Coronation of Mary by the Angels. But there is a wide gulf between the appearance of Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Mother to her elevation and crowning, and in this gulf is the work accomplished.

Lab alchemy follows three stages from raw matter, to perfected philosophical medicine. First comes the Nigredo, or Blackness, wherein the original matter is deconstructed to separate the three essentials. Next comes the Albedo, or Whiteness, wherein the separated essentials are purified. And finally Rubedo, or the Redness, where the three are recombined and circulated, purifying them even farther. This work is simplest with herbs, but can be performed upon animal, mineral or vegetable. Many consider the work as having a dual effect: one is very literal, and physical, upon the matter chosen to be philosophically prepared; the second is upon the alchemist themself. Whatever work you engage with will always have an equal effect upon your soul. All that is trapped within will be discovered. This is the true meaning of “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Luke 12:2)

Following suit as we pray the rosary, we go full round the circle three times, each being a circulation. Beginning with the Joyous mysteries we start with that which is concealed. The themes of these mysteries pertain to prophecy, be it in the form of Gabriel speaking to Mary, or Saint Elizabeth greeting her sister, or Saint Anne prophesying over the child in the temple, or finding Jesus debating with the great teachers and rabbis. All of these mysteries only hint at the glories to come, which can only be fully revealed through the separation of the Soul and Spirit from the Body. As we pray, moving from one mystery to the next we elevate our soul, strengthening our bond with our Creator, by imitating them ritualistically through prayer. With each set of five mysteries we move closer and closer to God. With each circulation an elixir is made more powerful and purer, and the same may be said of our souls. With each “circulation” of the rosary we grow. We change ourselves by way of the process. Our soul is made “lighter.”

Next, we move to the Sorrowful mysteries where the Man is torn down. It is through these mysteries that the godhood of Christ is exposed, purified and elevated, just as the first matter is broken down to separate our three essentials. As we pray these mysteries and walk beside our God in his mortal form, so too are we torn down. Without the Sorrowful we cannot reveal the Glorious and it is only through this work we ourselves may be crowned with glory. Remember each circulation brings added purity and strength to the medicine, so too when we pray fervently is our soul edified. Finally, we find ourselves in our last circulation, wherein we recount the Glorious mysteries, that which could not be without the blood and the passion of what came before. With the flesh stripped of the spirit, the Man Christ died, only to rise again. This is the greatest mystery of them all. The Resurrection is not just remembered at Easter and every Sunday, but every time we pray the rosary, we are to recall it. Just as powerful elixirs and spagyrics lie hidden within the plants, so too does God lie hidden within us, waiting to be separated and redissolved.

As the alchemists say “Ora et labora.” Pray and work.