Does anyone know what the Philosopher’s Stone is? Not even the alchemists would reveal its secret. Morienus once wrote: ‘This thing is extracted from you; you are its mineral … if you recognise this the love and approbation of the stone will grow within you.’ Notice how Morienus doesn’t actually tell us what the stone is – no self-respecting Alchemist would ever vouchsafe this fully. So what is the Philosopher’s Stone, then? Well, for one, it certainly isn’t a stone. But as the other half of its name implies, it is concerned with the love of wisdom, or philosophy. We’ll get to a full revelation later (I promise); let us say, for now, that the Philosopher’s Stone is a spiritual metaphor. However, it’s now story time – the fable below ought to make everything clear for those with eyes to see. Before we begin, though, heed these words by Wolfram von Eschenbach at the beginning of his medieval Arthurian romance, Parzival.
‛However wise a man may be, he will surely be glad to know what are the guiding thoughts in this narrative. If he sit not overlong, neither errs in his steps, but understands, then only will he reach his goal. He who enters all kinds of falsehood in his disposition is led thereby into hell-fire; he destroys all his good fame as a hailstorm destroys fruit.’
Once upon a time in a land far away – for, do not all great fables begin like this? – a pilgrim set out to gain knowledge of the world and its mysteries. Soon enough, he encountered a stranger named Mr Ubiquitous, who enquired of him: “Where is your guide, young man?” The pilgrim replied that he had none.
‘Well then, you will – dare I say it – accomplish nothing. Follow me, and pay attention.’
Mr Ubiquitous then told his acquaintance about the labyrinth of Greek myth.
‘T’is a building with so many rooms, partitions, and passages that anyone entering it without a guide was doomed to wander and grope about it without ever finding his way out. But, mark my words, it was nothing compared to the Labyrinth that is this world. Take the advice of an experienced man, and do not trust yourself into it alone!”
Later that day, Mr. Ubiquitous showed the pilgrim a cellar full of fireplaces, small ovens, kettles, and glass instruments, all shining brightly. Men tending the fires were gathering and piling on brushwood and blowing into it, filling and pouring things from one glass into another.
‘These men are the most ingenious of philosophers, and seek something which has the power to turn base metal into gold,’ announced Mr Ubiquitous. ‘In fact, if men knew how to use it, they could make themselves immortal. For the stone is nothing less than the seed of life, the kernel and the quintessence of the universe.’
Just then, a commotion could be heard in the town square. A stranger was addressing those gathered there.
‘I come with news of the Natural Philosophers who – after years of toil – have restored the wisdom of mankind to the same degree of perfection it had in paradise before the Fall. I speak of those gifted in the Hermetic Art. Believe me when I tell you that to make gold is the least among hundreds of their accomplishments. These men belong to the Rosicrucian Brotherhood, and so possess the Philosopher’s Stone, the elixir of life. They live hundred years of without sickness or grey hairs. And the hidden masters are now willing to reveal themselves and share their secrets with any worthy person.’
Full of unbelief, some of the assembled crowd turned away, uttering curses and imprecations. Yet others were astounded and took the news with great delight. What a gift it must be to know everything, to possess everything in abundance. The ones who had turned their backs became openly hostile, accusing the stranger and calling him a liar, or ‘Satan.’ Just then, the pilgrim saw another crowd gathered around a booth where a trader had laid out his wares – a set of brightly painted boxes with ornate legends: ‘A Good Guide to the Large and the Small Cosmos; A Harmony of the Two Worlds; The Christian Cabala; The Case of Nature; The Castle of Primordial Matter; The Divine Magic; The Triumphal Pyramid; Hallelujah.’ It was said these boxes contained ‘wonderful mysteries’ donated by the ‘holy Brotherhood of the Rose,’ the Rosicrucians. The Brotherhood had liberally shared its treasures, but this came with a warning. Whosoever bought such a box must – on no account – open them. The power residing in the secret wisdom (contained therein) would disappear should the box be opened.
Of course, human curiosity overcame many there. Those who bought one swiftly opened their box and found it empty. Angry cries of ‘fraud’ rang out. Some assaulted the trader with blows, and as he hid his face, he shouted that they’d misunderstood. He asked them to be calm; for the most secret part of the mystery lay in the fact that these things were ‘invisible to all save the sons of science.’ Is it not certain that the doubters were unsatisfied with this explanation?
In time, life in the Labyrinth was eventually restored to normal and an uneasy peace settled over the town again. But then something strange happened. The people who – earlier – had protested the loudest, were seen in obscure, darkened corners with their mouths closed. What had come over them? Why had all their angry words dried up? Were they tight lipped because they had finally been (as a Rosicrucian text has it) ‘admitted to the mysteries’?
And thus ends our fable. Firstly, the ‘joke’ is clearly on those duped, disgruntled citizens who find they have just bought an empty box. But our author is using this device to convey a specific truth – the fast answers you’re looking for, or the instant magical powers you hope to acquire by parting with money do not exist. But it says something much less obvious – what you are seeking (i.e. the Philosopher’s Stone) must be cultivated within yourself. For some of the angry mob do eventually acquire ‘the secret’, and the reason their mouths are now closed is simple: the mysteries they have been vouchsafed do not lend themselves to words. Such things must be experienced.
THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE REVEALED
Even so, let’s now break with tradition: remember how Morienus remarked on the ‘stone growing’ in you? Anyone who undertakes Magic (or modern Positive Thinking) and makes progress will understand what’s meant by this. Certainly it is some kind of ‛substance’ – a powerful fragment of divinity within which must be ‘sought’. The Stone, for the alchemists, was a magical force or power which, after a time, was available to the one who seeks it. Conversely, it is said that you need the Stone to begin with. One could thus say that the Stone is present at the both the beginning and end of the work. But this is – admittedly – yet more obscurity. (Sorry – I couldn’t resist!) Let us see what the great Gerhard Dorn had to say about it:
‘There is in natural things a certain truth which cannot be seen with the outward eye … and of this the Philosophers have had experience, and have ascertained that its virtue is such as to work miracles … As faith works miracles in man, so this power, the veritas efficaciae, brings them about in matter. This truth is the highest power and an impregnable fortress wherein the stone of the philosophers lies hid’1
There you have it again amidst all the flowery symbolism – a truth which must first be sought and wrested from its ‘impregnable fortress’. However, what Dorn is saying should be clear enough: his ‘efficacious truth’ (the veritas efficaciae) is the complete, unsullied faith one must have in the goal before embarking on any Alchemical Operation, Magical Spell, or Postive Thinking technique. It is the ‘highest power’ contained in the Stone. This need for unreserved belief is expressed thus in another alchemical work, the Golden Tract: ‘If you know the beginning, the end will duly follow by the help of God’. The Philosopher’s Stone, then, is the elusive Power of Belief on the part of the practitioner. Only with belief is the process ‘efficacious’. Only this way does the ‘help of God’ finally arrive. Only this way does Magic work. It couldn’t be simpler – could it?
Adapted from from Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart, by Jan Amos Comenius.
1. Quoted in Jung, Psychology And Alchemy, RKP Paperback, 1980, p. 269.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of Diamond Fire magazine (XXXI No.1) Diamond Fire can be found on Facebook.