Chapter 4. the Wisdom of Artephius

21. After the putrefaction, then and dissolution of these bodies, our bodies also ascend to the top, even to the surface of the dissolving water, in a whiteness of colour, which whiteness is life. And in this whiteness, the antimonial and mercurial soul, is by natural compact infused into, and joined with the spirits of sol and luna, which separate the thin from the thick, and the pure from the impure. That is, by lifting up, by little and little, the thin and the pure part of the body, from the faeces and impurity, until all the pure parts are separated and ascended. And in this work is our natural and philosophical sublimation work completed. Now in this whiteness is the soul infused into the body, to wit, the mineral virtue, which is more subtile than fire, being indeed the true quintessence and life, which desires or hungers to be born again, and to put off the defilements and be spoiled of its gross and earthy faeces, which it has taken from its monstrous womb, and corrupt place of its original. And in this our philosophical sublimation, not in the impure, corrupt, vulgar mercury, which has no qualities or properties like to those, with which our mercury, drawn from its vitriolic caverns is adorned. But let us return to our sublimation.

22. It is most certain therefore in this art, that this soul extracted from the bodies, cannot be made to ascend, but by adding to it a volatile matter, which is of its own kind. By which the bodies will be made volatile and spiritual, lifting themselves up, subtilizing and subliming themselves, contrary to their own proper nature, which is corporeal, heavy, and ponderous. And by this means they are unbodied, or made no bodies, to wit, incorporeal, and a quintessence of the nature of a spirit, which is called, “avis hermetis”, and “ mercurius extractus”, drawn from a red subject or matter. And so the terrene or earthy parts remain below, or rather the grosser parts of the bodies, which can by no industry or ingenuity of man be brought to a perfect dissolution.

23. And this white vapour, this white gold, to wit, this quintessence, is called also the compound magnesia, which like a man does contain, or like man is composed of a body, soul and spirit. Now the body is the fixed solar earth, exceeding the most subtile matter, which by the help of our divine water is with difficulty lifted up or separated. The soul is the tincture of sol and luna, proceeding from the conjunction, or communicationof these two, to wit, the bodies of sol and luna, and our water, and the spirit is the mineral power, or virtue of the bodies, and of the water which carries the soul or white tincture, in or upon the bodies, and also out of the bodies like as the tinctures or colours in dying cloth are by the water put upon, and diffused in and through the cloth. And this mercurial spirit is the chain or band of the solar soul; and the solar body is that body which contains the spirit and soul, having the power of fixing in itself, being joined with luna. The spirit therefore penetrates, the body fixes, and the soul joins together, tinges and whitens. From these three bodies united together is our stone made; to wit, sol, luna, and mercury.

24. Therefore with this our golden water, a natural substance is extracted, exceeding all natural substances; and so, except the bodies be broken and destroyed, imbibed, made subtile and fine, thriftily, and diligently managed, till they are abstracted from, or lose their grossness or solid substance, and be changed into a subtile spirit, all our labour will be in vain. And unless the bodies be made no bodies or incorporeal, that is converted into the philosophers mercury, there is no rule of art yet found out to work by. The reason is, because it is impossible to draw out of the bodies all that most thin and subtile spirit, which has in itself the tincture, except it first be resolved in our water. Dissolve then the bodies in this our golden water, and boil them until all the tincture is brought forth by the water, in a white colour and a white oil; and when you see this whiteness upon the water, then know that the bodies are melted, liquified, or dissolved. Continue then this boiling, till the dark, black, and white cloud is brought forth, which they have conceived.

25. Put therefore the perfect bodies of metals, to wit, sol and luna, into our water in a vessel, hermetically sealed, upon a gentle fire, and digest continually, till they are perfectly resolved into a most precious oil. Saith Adfar, digest with a gentle fire, as it were for the hatching of chickens, so long till the bodies are dissolved, and their perfectly conjoined tincture is extracted, mark this well. But it is not extracted all at once, but it is drawn out by little and little, day by day, and hour by hour, till after a long time, the solution thereof is completed, and that which is dissolved always swims atop. And while this dissolution is in hand, let the fire be gentle and continual, till the bodies are dissolved into a viscous and most subtile water, and the whole tincture be educed, in colour first black, which is the sign of a true dissolution.

26. Then continue the digestion, till it become a white fixed water, for being digested in balance, it will afterwards become clear, and in the end become like common argent vive, ascending by the spirit above the first water. When there you see bodies dissolved in the first viscous water, then know, that they are turned into a vapour, and the soul is separated from the dead body, and by sublimation, turned into the order of spirits. Whence both of them, with a part of our water, are made spirits flyingup in the air; and there the compounded body, made of the male and female, viz. of sol and luna, and of that most subtile nature, cleansed by sublimation, taketh life, and is made spiritual by its own humidity. That is by its own water; like as a man is sustained by the air, whereby from thenceforth it is multiplied, and increases in its own kind, as do all other things. In such an ascention therefore, and philosophical sublimation, all are joined one with another, and the new body subtilized, or made living by the spirit, miraculously liveth or springs like a vegetable.

27. Wherefore, unless the bodies be attenuated, or made thin, by the fire and water, till they ascend in a spirit, and are made or do become like water and vapour or mercury, you labour wholly in vain. But when they arise or ascend, they are born or brought forth in the air or spirit, and in the same they are changed, and made life with life, so as they can never be separated, but are as water mixed with water. And therefore, it is wisely said, that the stone is born of the spirit, because it is altogether spiritual. For the vulture himself flying without wings cries upon the top of the mountain, saying, I am the white brought forth from the black, and the red brought forth from the white, the citrine son of the red; I speak the truth and lie not.

28. It sufficeth thee then to put the bodies in the vessel, and into the water once and for all, and to close the vessel well, until a true separation is made. This the obscure artist calls conjunction, sublimation, assation, extraction, putrefaction, ligation, desponsation, subtilization, generation, etc.

29. Now the whole magistery may be perfected, work, as in the generation of man, and of every vegetable; put the seed once into the womb, and shut it up well. Thus you may see that you need not many things, and that this our work requires no great charges, for that there is but one stone, there is but one medicine, one vessel, one order of working, and one successive disposition to the white and to the red. And although we say in many places, take this, and take that, yet we understand, that it behoves us to take but one thing, and put it once into the vessel, until the work be perfected. But these things are so set down by obscure philosophers to deceive the unwary, as we have before spoken; for is not this “ars cabalistica” or a secret and a hidden art? Is it not an art full of secrets? And believest thou O fool that we plainly teach this secret of secrets, taking our words according to their literal signification? Truly, I tell thee, that as for myself, I am no ways self seeking, or envious as others are; but he that takes the words of the other philosophers according to their common signification, he even already, having lost Ariadne’s clue of thread, wanders in the midst of the labyrinth, multiplies errors, and casts away his money for nought.

30. And I, Artephius, after I became an adept, and had attained to the true and complete wisdom, by studying the books of the most faithful Hermes, the speaker of truth, was sometimes obscure also as others were. But when I had for the space of a thousand years, or thereabouts, which has now passed over my head, since the time I was born to this day, through the alone goodness of God Almighty, by the use of this wonderful quintessence. When I say for so very long a time, I found no man that had found out or obtained this hermetic secret, because of the obscurity of the philosophers words. Being moved with a generous mind, and the integrity of a good man, I have determined in these latter days of my life, to declare all things truly and sincerely, that you may not want anything for the perfecting of this stone of the philosophers. Excepting one certain thing, which is not lawful for me to discover to any, because it is either revealed or made known by God Himself, or taught by some master, which notwithstanding he that can bend himself to the search thereof, by the help of a little experience, may easily learn in this book.

31. In this book I have therefore written the naked truth, though clothed or disguised with a few colours; yet so that every good and wise man may happily have those desirable apples of the Hesperides from this our philosophers tree. Wherefore praises be given to the most high God, who has poured into our soul of his goodness; and through a good old age, even an almost infinite number of years, has truly filled our hearts with his love, in which, methinks, I embrace, cherish, and truly love all mankind together. But to return to our business. Truly our work is perfectly performed; for that which the heat of the sun is a hundred years in doing, for the generation of one metal in the bowels of the earth; our secret fire, that is, our fiery and sulphureous water, which is called Balneum Mariae, doth as I have often seen in a very short time.

32. Now this operation or work is a thing of no great labour to him who knows and understands it; nor is the matter so dear, consideration how small a quantity does suffice, that it may cause any man to withdraw his hand from it. It is indeed, a work so short and easy, that it may well be called a woman’s work, and the play of children. Go to it then, my son, put up thy supplications to God Almighty; be diligent in searching the books of the learned in this science; for one book openeth another; think and meditate of these things profoundly; and avoid all things which vanish in or will not endure the fire, because from those adustible, perishing or consuming things, you can never attain to the perfect matter, which is only found in the digesting of your water, extracted from sol and luna. For by this water, colour, and ponderosity or weight, are infinitely given to the matter; and this water is a white vapour, which like a soul flows through the perfect bodies, taking wholly from them their blackness, and impurities, uniting the two bodies in one, and increasing their water. Nor is there any other thing than Azoth, to wit, this our water, which can take from the perfect bodies of sol and luna, their natural colour, making the red body white, according to the disposition thereof.

33. Now let us speak of the fire. Our fire then is mineral, equal, continuous; it fumes not, unless it be too much stirred up, participates of sulphur, and is taken from other things than from the matter; it overturns all things, dissolves, congeals, and calcines, and is to be found out by art, or after an artificial manner. It is a compendious thing, got without cost or charge, or at least without any great purchase; it is humid, vapourous, digestive, altering, penetrating, subtile, spiritous, not violent, incombustible, circumspective, continent, and one only thing. It is also a fountain of living water, which circumvolveth and contains the place, in which the king and queen bathe themselves; through the whole work this moist fire is sufficient; in the beginning, middle and end, because in it, the whole art does consist. This is the natural fire, which is yet against nature, not natural and which burns not; and lastly, this fire is hot, cold, dry, moist; meditate on these things, and proceed directly without anything of a foreign nature. If you understand not these fires, give ear to what I have yet to say, never as yet written in any book, but drawn from the more abstruse and occult riddles of the ancients.

34. We have properly three fires, without which our art cannot be perfected; and whosoever works without them takes a great deal of labour in vain. The first fire is that of the lamp, which is continuous, humid, vaporous, spiritous, and found out by art. This lamp ought to be proportioned to the enclosure; wherein you must use great judgment, which none can attain to, but he that can bend to the search thereof. For if this fire of the lamp be not measured, or duly proportioned or fitted to the furnace, it will be, that either for the want of heat you will not see the expected signs, in their limited times, whereby you will lose your hopes and expectation by a too long delay; or else, by reason of too much heat, you will burn the “flores auri”, the golden flowers, and so foolishly bewail your lost expense.

35. The second fire is ignis cinerum, an ash heat, in which the vessel hermetically sealed is recluded, or buried; or rather it is that most sweet and gentle heat, which proceeding from the temperate vapours of the lamp, does equally surround your vessel. This fire is not violent or forcing, except it be too much excited or stirred up; it is a fire digestive; alterative, and taken from another body than the matter; being but one only, moist also, and not natural.

36. The third fire, is the natural fire of water, which is also called the fire against nature, because it is water; and yet nevertheless, it makes a mere spirit of gold, which common fire is not able to do. This fire is mineral, equal, and participates of sulphur; it overturns or destroys, congeals, dissolves, and calcines; it is penetrating, subtile, incombustible and not burning, and is the fountain of living water, wherein the king and queen bathe themselves, whose help we stand in need of through the whole work, through the beginning, middle, and end. But the other two above mentioned, we have not always occasion for, but only at sometimes. In reading therefore the books of the philosophers, conjoin these three fires in your judgment, and without doubt, you will understand whatever they have written of them.

37. Now as to the colours, that which does not make black cannot make white, because blackness is the beginning of whiteness, and a sign of putrefaction and alteration, and that the body is now penetrated and mortified. From the putrefaction therefore in this water, there first appears blackness, like unto broth wherein some bloody thing is boiled. Secondly, the black earth by continual digestion is whitened, because the soul of the two bodies swims above upon the water, like white cream; and in this only whiteness, all the spirits are so united, that they can never fly one from another. And therefore the laton must be whitened, and its leaves unfolded, i.e., its body broken or opened, lest we labour in vain; for this whiteness is the perfect stone for the white work, and a body ennobled to that end; even the tincture of a most exuberant glory, and shining brightness, which never departs from the body it is once joined with. Therefore you must note here, that the spirits are not fixed but in the white colour, which is more noble than the other colours, and is more vehemently to be desired, for that as it were the complement or perfection of the whole work.

38. For our earth putrefies and becomes black, then it is putrefied in lifting up or separation; afterwards being dried, its blackness goes away from it, and then it is whitened, and the feminine dominion of the darkness and humidity perisheth; then also the white vapour penetrates through the new body, and the spirits are bound up or fixed in the dryness. And that which is corrupting, deformed and black through the moisture, vanishes away; so the new body rises again clear, pure, white, and immortal, obtaining the victory over all its enemies. And as heat working upon that which is moist, causeth or generates blackness, which is the prime or first colour, so always by decoction more and more heat working upon that which is dry begats whiteness, which is the second colour; and then working upon that which is purely and perfectly dry, it produces citrinity and redness, thus much for colours. We must know therefore, that thing which has its head red and white, but its feet white and afterwards red; and its eyes beforehand black, that this thing, I say, is the only matter of our magistery.

39. Dissolve then sol and luna in our dissolving water, which is familiar and friendly, and the next in nature to them; and is also sweet and pleasant to them, and as it were a womb, a mother, an or iginal, the beginning and the end of their life. That is the reason why they are meliorated or amended in this water, because like nature, rejoices in like nature, and like nature retains like nature, being joined the one to the other, in a true marriage, by which they are made one nature, one new body, raised again from the dead, and immortal. Thus it behoves you to join consanguinity, or sameness of kind, by which these natures, will meet and follow one another, purify themselves and generate, and make one another rejoice; for that like nature now is disposed by like nature, even that which is nearest, and most friendly to it.

40. Our water then is the most beautiful, lovely, and clear fountain, prepared only for the king, and queen, whom it knows verywell, and they it. For it attracts them to itself, and they abide therein for two or three days, to wit, two or three months, to wash themselves therewith, whereby they are made young again and beautiful. And because sol and luna have their original from this water their mother; it is necessary therefore that they enter into it again, to wit, into their mothers womb, that they may be regenerated and born again, and made more healthy, more noble and more strong. If therefore these do not die and be converted into water, they remain alone or as they were and without fruit; but if they die, and are resolved in our water, they bring forth fruit a hundred fold; and from that very place in which they seem to perish, from thence shall they appear to be that which they were not before.

41. Let therefore the spirit of our living water be, with all care and industry, fixed with sol and luna; for that they being converted into the nature of water become dead, and appear like to the dead; from thence afterwards being revived, they increase and multiply, even as do all sorts of vegetable substances; it suffices then to dispose the matter sufficiently without, because that within, it sufficiently disposes itself for the perfection of its work. For it has in itself a certain and inherent motion, according to the true way and method, and a much better order than it is possible for any man to invent or think of. For this cause it is that you need only to prepare the matter, nature herself will perfect it; and if she be not hindered by some contrary thing, she will not overpass her own certain motion, neither in conceiving or generating, nor in bringing forth.

42. Wherefore, after the preparation of the matter, beware only lest by too much heat or fire, you inflame the bath, or make it too hot; secondly, take heed, lest the spirit should exhale, lest it hurt the operator, to wit, lest it destroy the work, and induce many infirmities, as trouble, sadness, vexation, and discontent. From these things which have been spoken, this axiom is manifest, to wit, that he can never know the necessary course of nature, in the making or generating of metals, who is ignorant of the way of destroying them. You must therefore join them together that are of one consanguinity or kindred; for like natures do find out and join with their like natures, and by putrefying themselves, and mix together and mortify themselves. It is needful therefore to know this corruption and generation, and the natures do embrace one another, and are brought to a fixity in a slow and gentle fire; how like natures rejoiceth with like natures; and how they retain one another, and are converted into a white consistency.

43. This white substance, if you will make it red, you must continually decoct it in a dry fire till it be rubified, or become red as blood, which is nothing but water, fire, and true tincture. And so by a continual dry fire, the whiteness is changed, removed, perfected, made citrine, and still digested till it become to a true red and fixed colour. And consequently by how much more this red is decocted in this gentle heat, by so much more it is heightened in colour, and made a true tincture of perfect redness. Wherefore with a dry fire, and a dry calcination, without any moisture, you must decoct this compositum, till it be invested with a most perfect red colour, and then it will be the true and perfect elixir.

44. Now if afterwards you would multiply your tincture, you must again resolve that red, in new and fresh dissolving water, and then by decoctions first whiten, and then rubify it again, by the degrees of fire, reiterating the first method of operating in this work. Dissolve, coagulate, and reiterate the closing up, the opening and multiplying in quantity and quality at your own pleasure. For by a new corruption and generation, there is introduced a new motion. Thus we can never find an end if we do always work by reiterating the same thing over and over again, viz. by solution and coagulation, by the help of our dissolving water, by which we dissolve and congeal, as we have formerly said, in the beginning of the work. Thus also is the virtue thereof increased, and multiplied both in quantity and quality; so that if after the first course of operation you obtain a hundred fold; by a second fold you will have a thousand fold; and by a third; ten thousand fold increase. And by pursuing your work,your projection will come to infinity, tinging truly and perfectly, and fixing the greatest quantity how much soever. Thus by a thing of easy and small price, you have both colour, goodness, and weight.

45. Our fire then and azoth are sufficient for you: decoct, reiterate, dissolve, congeal, and continue this course, according as you please, multiplying it as you think good, until your medicine is made fusible as wax, and has attained the quantity and goodness or fixity and colour you desire. This then is the compleating of the whole work of our second stone (observe it well) that you take the perfect body, and put it into our water in a glass vesica or body well closed, lest the air get in, or the enclosed humidity get out. Keep it in digestion in a gentle heat, as it were of a balneum, and assiduously continue the operation or work upon the fire, till the decoction and digestion is perfect. And keep it in this digestion of a gentle heat, until it be putrified and re-solved into blackness, and be drawn up and sublimed by the water, and is thereby cleaned from all blackness and impurity, that it may be white and subtile. Until it comes to the ultimate or highest purity of sublimation, and utmost volatility, and be made white both within and without: for the vulture flying in the air without wings, cries out, that it might get up upon the mountain, that is upon the waters, upon which the “spiritus albus” or spirit of whiteness is born. Continue still a fitting fire, and that spirit, which is the subtile being of the body, and of the mercury will ascend upon the top of the water, which quintessence is more white than the driven snow. Continue yet still, and towards the end, increase the fire, till the whole spiritual substance ascend to the top. And know well, that whatsoever is clear, white-pure and spiritual, ascends in the air to the top of the water in the substance of a white vapour, which the philosophers call their virgin milk.

46. It ought to be, therefore, as one of the Sybills said, that the son of the virgin be exalted from the earth, and that the white quintessence after its rising out of the dead earth, be raised up towards heaven; the gross and thick remaining in the bottom, of the vessel and the water. Afterwards, the vessel being cooled, you will find in the bottom the black faeces, scorched and burnt, which separate from the spirit and quintessence of whiteness, and cast them away. Then will the argent vive fall down from our air and spirit, upon the new earth, which is called argent vive sublimed by the air or spirit, whereof is made a viscous water, pure and white. This water is the true tincture separated from all its black faeces, and our brass or latten is prepared with our water, putrified and brought to a white colour. Which white colour is not obtained but by decoction and coagulation of the water; decoct therefore, continually, wash away the blackness from the latten, not with your hands, but with the stone, or the fire, or our second mercurial water which is the true tincture. This separation of the pure from the impure is not done with hands, but nature herself does it, and brings it to perfection by a circular operation.

47. It appears then, that this composition is not a work of the hands, but a change of the natures; because nature dissolves and joins itself, sublimes and lifts itself up, and grows white, being separated from the faeces. And in such a sublimation the more subtile, pure, and essential parts are conjoined; for that with the fiery nature or property lifts up the subtile parts, it separates always the more pure, leaving the grosser at the bottom. Wherefore your fire ought to be gentle and a continual vapour, with which you sublime, that the matter may be filled with spirit from the air, and live. For naturally all things take life from the inbreathing of the air; and so also our magistery receives in the vapour or spirit, by the sublimation of the water.

48. Our brass or latten then, is to be made to ascend by the degrees of fire, but of its own accord, freely, and without violence; except the body therefore be by the fire and the water broken, or dissolved, and attenuated, until it ascends as a spirit, or climbs like argent vive, or rather as the white soul, separated from the body, and by sublimation dilated or brought into a spirit, nothing is or can be done. But when it ascends on high, it is born in the air or spirit, and is changed into spirit: and becomes life with life, being only spiritual and incorruptible. And by such an operation it is that the body is made spirit, of a subtile nature, and the spirit is incorporated with the body, and made one with it; and by such a sublimation, conjunction, and raising up, the whole, both body and spirit are made white.

49. This philosophical and natural sublimation therefore is necessary, which makes peace between, or fixes the body and spirit, which is impossible to be done otherwise, than in the separation of these parts. Therefore it behoves you to sublime both, that the pure may ascend, and the impure and earthy may descend, or be left at the bottom, in the perplexity of a troubled sea. And for this reason it must be continually decocted, that it may be brought to a subtile property, and the body may assume, and draw to itself the white mercurial soul, which it naturally holds, and suffers not to be separated from it, because it is like to it in the nearness of the first, pure and simple nature. From these things it is necessary, to make a separation by decoction, till no more remains of the purity of the soul, which is not ascended and exalted to the higher part, whereby they will both be reduced to an equality of properties, and a simple pure whiteness.

50. The vulture flying through the air, and the toad creeping upon the ground, are the emblems of our magistery. When therefore gently and with much care, you separate the earth from the water, that is from the fire, and the thin from the thick, then that which is pure will separate itself from the earth, and ascend to the upper part, as it were into heaven, and the impure will descend beneath, as to the earth. And the more subtile part in the superior place will take upon it the nature of a spirit, and that in the lower place, the nature of an earthy body. Wherefore, let the white property with the more subtile part of the body, be by this operation, made to ascend leaving the faeces behind, which is done in a short time. For the soul is aided by her associate and fellow, and perfected by it. My mother, saith the body, has begotten me, and by me she herself is begotten; now after I have taken from her, her flying, she, after an admirable manner becomes kind and nourishing, and cherishing the son whom she has begotten, till he come to a Ape or perfect age.

51. Hear now this secret: keep the body in our mercurial water, till it ascends with the white soul, and the earthy part descends to the bottom, which is called the residing earth. Then you shall see the water to coagulate itself with the body, and be assured the art is true; because the body coagulates the moisture into dryness, like as the rennet of a lamb or calf turns milk into cheese. In the same manner the spirit penetrates the body, and is perfectly comixed with it in its smallest atoms, and the body draws to itself his moisture, to wit, its white soul, like as the loadstone draws iron, because of the nearness and likeness of its nature; and then one contains the other. And this is the sublimation and coagulation, which retaineth every volatile thing, making it fixed for ever.

52. This compositum then is not a mechanical thing, or a work of the hands, but as I said, a changing of natures; and a wonderful connexion of their cold with hot, and the moist with the dry; the hot is mixed with the cold, and the dry with the moist: By this means is made the mixture and conjunction of body and spirit, which is called a conversion of contrary spirits and natures, because by such a dissolution and sublimation, the spirit is converted into a body and body in a spirit. So that the natures being mingled together, and reduced into one, do change one another: and as the body corporifies the spirit, or changes it into a body, so also does the spirit convert the body into a tinging and white spirit.

53. Wherefore as the last time I say, decoct the body in our white water, viz. mercury, till it is dissolved into blackness, and then by continual decoction, let it be deprived of the same blackness, and the body so dissolved, will at length ascend or rise with a white soul. And then the one will be mixed with the other, and so embrace one another that it shall not be possible any more to separate them, but the spirit, with a real agreement, will be united with the body, and make one permanent or fixed substance. And this is the solution of the body, and coagulation of the spirit which have one and the same operation. Who therefore knows how to conjoin the principles, or direct the work, to impregnate, to mortify, to putrefy, to generate, to quicken the species, to make white, to cleanse the vulture from its blackness and darkness, till he is purged by the fire and tinged, and purified from all his spots, shall be the possessor of a treasure so great that even kings themselves shall venerate him.

54. Wherefore, let our body remain in the water till it is dissolved into a subtile powder in the bottom of the vessel and the water, which is called the black ashes; this is the corruption of the body which is called by the philosophers or wise men, “Saturnus plumbum philosophorum”, and pulvis discontinuatus, viz. saturn, latten or brass, the lead of the philosophers, the disguised powder. And in this putrefaction and resolution of the body, three signs appear, viz, a black colour, a discontinuity of parts, and a stinking smell, not much unlike to the smell of a vault where dead bodies are buried. These ashes then are those of which the philosophers have spoken so much which remained in the lower part of the vessel, which we ought not to undervalue or despise; in them is the royal diadem, and the black and unclean argent vive, which ought to be cleansed from its blackness, by a continual digestion in our water, till it be elevated above in a white colour, which is called the gander, and the bird of Hermes. He therefore that maketh the red earth black, and then renders it white, has obtained the magistery. So also he who kills the living, and revives the dead. Therefore make the black white, and the white black, and you perfect the work.

55. And when you see the true whiteness appear, which shineth like a bright sword, or polished silver, know that in that whiteness there is redness hidden. But then beware that you take not that whiteness out of the vessel, but only digest it to the end, that with heat and dryness, it may assume a citron colour, and a most beautiful redness. Which when you see, render praises and thanksgiving to the most great and good God, who gives wisdom and riches to whomsoever He pleases, and takes them away according to the wickedness of a person. To Him, I say, the most wise and Almighty God, be glory for ages and ages. AMEN.




Chapter 5. The Secrets of Antimony

With the termination of the Secret Book by Artephius in Chapter 4, it is well to recall John Pontanus, who informs us that this book is the only one among hundreds of others to speak the truth, and without any equivocation.
Pontanus writes, speaking of those who are searching:

“I wonder not that so many, and so great men, have not attained unto the work. They have erred, they do err, and they will err; because the philosophers, Artephius only excepted, have concealed the principle or proper agent. And unless I had read Artephius, and sensibly understood his speech I had never arrived to the completement of the work.”

Artephius writes in paragraph 31 of his book:

“I have therefore written the naked truth in this book.”

Now the first word that appears in the treatise is antimony, the metal which was rarely mentioned in alchemical literature and, even where noticed, was passed over as though it were of no account. The reader might search in hundreds of alchemical works, and still not come across this metal called antimony. Yet Artephius is so frank that, right at the outset, he makes known to us the secret, that antimony is essential to the work. But he has left the searcher one problem.

Artephius writes in paragraph 30:

“Being moved with a generous mind, I have determined to declare all things truly, and sincerely, that you may not want anything for the perfecting of this stone of the philosophers. Excepting one certain thing, which is not lawful for me to discover, to any, because it is either revealed or made known by God Himself, or taught by some master, which notwithstanding, he that can bend himself to the search thereof, by the help of a little experience, may easily learn in this book” (and this is the secret fire of Pontanus).

In this last sentence, Artephius speaks true, for in the treatise he mentions “the red servant”, which is the key to the mystery. Thus we are presented with a beautiful castle, which has the one and only path to it blocked, but there is a way to clear this path.

A line from one of the many books by Thomas Vaughan often caused the
present writer much thought, and it supplies the key that fits. The line
is: “to think, that an iron key should be the means to open a treasury of
gold “. And so, it may be inferred, iron is the metal which is also
essential to antimony in alchemical work and yet is never mentioned in his

* Further, it is quite revealing to compare the physical and chemical qualitia of antimony with the passages in treatises which deal with the preparation of “our mercury”. Antimony is obtained from the sulphide known as stibnite by heating it with scrap iron, which removes the sulphur. This perhaps throws light on why iron was a very necessary catalyst in the preparation of “our mercury”.

There are three forms of antimony: a grey lustrous crystalline metal, a black powder like soot which acquires a metallic lustre when polished (this is obtained when antimony is precipitated chemically), an unstable yellow form, and finally an explosive amorphous form which has a silvery colour and which explodes if dropped or heated to 100°C. Obviously when experimenting with antimony, the experimenter should be very careful of the last form.

Although most forms of antimony are poisonous it is still used in some modern medicines, these uses providing an indication of its possible action in the “elixir of life”.

It was earlier explained that in the alchemical art, the first step is to amalgamate certain metals; not in the usual manner as carried out in metallurgy, but dissolved and liquefied into their smallest components or elements, so that when mixed, it is no easy matter to restore them into the original form, and this process can so change their condition that an entirely new metal or powder is formed. Now it was found that antimony can help to facilitate this. Professor Hermann Boerhaave, a famous Dutch doctor and scientist who lived from 1668 to 1738, whom writing on the subject of alchemy, wrote the following with regard to antimony (which by the way is in exact agreement with Artephius):

“The term ‘Menstruum’ seems to have had its rise thus: Lully and other ancient chemists observing the most kindly solutions to be made by digestion with a heat no greater than that of the human body, in about 42 days, they termed this space of time a philosophical month, and the solvent employed a menstruum intimating that the body performed the dissolution by a menstrual digestion. This term indeed, was first appropriated to the solvent for the philosophers’ stone, but it afterwards came to be applied generally to all solvents. All minerals of a metalline nature are solid menstrua, and especially antimony which dissolves metals with as much ease as fire thaws ice. But there is no method yet known of recovering the metals with which antimony has once been fused: all of them including gold, being lost in copellation therewith, which furnishes reason to suspect that it destroys the metalline form. This is certain, that nothing is better suited to alter the nature of metals than antimony. Whence I cannot but suspect that the adepts made use of antimony as a menstruum in the preparation of their stone: Nor do I believe there is a better way to obtain the secret. At least, were I to go in quest of it, I should willingly begin my enquiries with this property of antimony.”

Here is confirmation of the importance of antimony in the art of alchemy. Boerhaave tells us that most metals will fuse with antimony permanently, including gold. Although Artephius has not mentioned iron, many adepts have claimed that iron is an essential ingredient; therefore we may assume that in the works of the philosophers, antimony and iron are essential to bring success in the art. Among other claims, it has been said that iron is fiery in nature, and in conjunction with gentle antimony it will bring about the desired end. Thus we now have two ingredients, yet note that these two when dissolved and fused together into a Regulus,* are counted as one ingredient or principle. Now the consensus of adepts always said that only three principles were used to produce the Stone. The third principle is not a metal, but we need three metals and, although the “Secret Fire” is used, remember the “Secret Fire” is not accounted a metal. Sol therefore takes the place of the “Secret Fire”-as a metal.

We must now return to Artephius for the mercury we require. In paragraph 3, Artephius has told us:

*A metallic compound-the word being derived from regis, king.
“The whole then of this antimonial secret is, that we know by it to extract or draw forth argent vive, out of the body of magnesia (the compound or regulus) not burning, and this is antimony and a mercurial sublimate. That is, you must extract a living and incombustible water . . . “ [Magnesia is the alchemists name for the metallic compound or regulus, and the mercurial sublimate is always referred to as water; often they call it vinegar.]

Later in paragraph 4 he says:

“. . . and therefore without this our antimonial vinegar, the aurum album of the philosophers cannot be made. And because in our vinegar, there is a double substance of argentum vivum, the one from antimony and the other from mercury sublimated; it does give a double weight and substance of fixed argent vive.”

Herein then, in this substance known as “our Mercury”, which is a mercurial sublimate, a vapour of metals, it would appear, the greatest secret of alchemy lies deeply buried, and may only be unearthed by the empirical method of trial and error. This salt, this aurum album or white gold, as they have called it, is the base we have to find before one can proceed, for obviously after what has been said above, ordinary quicksilver is of no use in the creation of the Philosophers’ Stone.
Here in the following quotations from several alchemical treatises, a variety of statements on the subject is presented: these may just present a few more hints to lead the researcher to the truth.

“Praised be the Most High who has created ‘our mercury’, and has given it a nature overcoming all things.”
“’Our mercury’ is the salt of the wiseman, without which, whoever operates, is like an archer who shoots without a bow-string, and yet it is nowhere to be found on earth, but is formed by us, not by creation, but by extracting it out of those things in which it is, nature co-operating in a wonderful manner, by a witty art.”

And a little further on, Philalethes says:

“As flesh is generated from coagulated blood, so gold is generated out of coagulated mercury.”

Bernard Trevisan affirms that:

“Gold is nothing but quicksilver congealed by its sulphur.”

And in another place he writes:

“The solvent differs from the soluble only in proportion and degree of digestion, but not in matter, since nature has formed the one out of the other without any addition, even by a process, equally simple and wonderful, she evolves gold out of quicksilver.”


“The sages have it that gold is nothing but quicksilver perfected and digested in the bowels of the earth, and they have signified that this is brought about only by sulphur, which coagulates the mercury, and digests it by its own heat. Hence the sages have said, that gold is nothing but mature quicksilver.”

The Sound of the Trumpet gives forth in no uncertain tones:

“Extract quicksilver from the bodies, and you have above ground quicksilver and sulphur of the same substance of which gold and silver are made in the earth.”

In the Art of Alchemy we read:

“All the sages agree that metal is generated from the vapour of sulphur and mercury.”

The effect of reading all the above quotations is to impress the student that his first work is to discover this well-hidden secret: the art of extracting Philosophers’ mercury from metals, rather than using the crude mercury we know. The task is to produce vapour from certain metals, which vapour must carry up with it all the elements of the dissolved metallic bodies, and which entering them again will change them into so powerful a metallic catalyst, that gold and silver may be dissolved in it. In fact, it will then be a powder, red for the transmutation into gold, and white for changing into silver. Either of these last two may be used for the preparation of the principles required to begin experiments. So that now three metals have been mentioned: antimony, iron, gold or silver, the latter two never worked together.

One more fact must be known, and it is that the metals must be aided by a catalyst in the first process, and this catalyst must be a liquid, a nitrate salt. Artephius, along with other masters, has spoken of a water, the mercurial sublimate. But this in indeed another water, and is mentioned in paragraph 2 of Artephius. Pontanus also speaks of it, and says that it is “not of the matter”, which means that it is not a metal or a mineral. The student can now understand why the art of making gold has rarely been found out!

Artephius speaks of three different fires to be used in the art, but actual fire is not used, but ordinary heat is one fire, “our mercury” is another, and the water mentioned in the “Sophic Fire” is the third, because of the power it has of burning, calcinating, or bringing changes about.

Here are some of the names applied to the Philosophers’ mercury, culled from many treatises. The descriptive names should hint of the virtues of “our mercury”, and be of help in the mystery of its production. It has been called:

“The spirit; the spirit of life; the water of life; the water of our sea; the mineral water; burning water; ardent water. The fire; the secret fire; fire against nature; the invisible fire; our fire; the fire of snowy whiteness; a fire continuous; digesting, not violent, subtile, inclosed, aerial, surrounding, altering, yet not burning, clear, close, circulating, penetrating and alive. The mover; the first agent; philosophical vitriol; that subtle nature cleaned by sublimation; the fat of the mercurial wind; our mercurial water; the second sophic mercury; the venomous fiery dragon;
Medea, Theseus who had black sails to his ship; the ‘unhappy spring’ in Ripley Revived; the porter or servant of Count Bernard; Artephius’s ‘lamp fire ‘; the eagles; the vulture of Hermes; the priest. It is called venus, the nymph venus, born of the froth of the ocean; because of the marine acid which enters into the composition of ‘the matter of our sea’, which acid is the alchemists ‘Universal Lunar Mercury’. “

(This last sentence is really the catalyst, a key to the whole work, without which no start can be made, and which is not mercury of any kind, but indeed acid; in fact the nitrate spoken of in the last para graph, is sometimes called vinegar. In practice all that is required is a pure muriate or oxymuriate.)

“From the thousands of names that have been written in treatises to hide the nature of this mysterious “sophic fire”, here are a few more from which the perspicacious might pick out some useful indications.

“They call it heaven, celestial water and rain, parting water, aqua (water) regis, a corrosive aqua forte, sharp vinegar, growthful green juice, a growing mercury, a viridescent water, the green lion, quicksilver (on no account use this), menstruum, blood, urine, horsepiss, milk, virgin’s milk, white arsenick, sulphureous vapouring and smokey, a fiery burning spirit, a deadly poison piercing and killing all, serpent, dragon, a scorpion devouring his children, a hellish fire, a sharp salt, salammoniac, common salt, an eagle, vulture, bird of Hermes, a melting and calcining furnace”, birds, beasts, herbs, juices.

Every one of these names has been used, but until the preparation of this “secret fire” is achieved one cannot even commence the work of alchemy. This is the only ingredient whose name was hidden by all the philosophers.

“The philosophers’ mercury when made is a brilliantly clear water; it is so clear in appearance that one might be tempted to drink it, but beware, for it is a quick poison, which contains an extract from all the metals used. When mixed with them it becomes a lovely green, and this is known in alchemy as the Green Lion”.

The “Red Lion”, the colour of blood, comes from this same pure water when the metals it is mixed with turn into a bloody appearance, some time after melting. This usually arises when philosophers’ mercury is mixed with sol (gold) and other metals.
Finally, here is an extract from a Summary of Philosophy, a short treatise written by Nicholas Flamel, in 1409. It is a short description of this mysterious mercury and what it can do.

“This is the right and subtle mercury of the philosophers, which you are to take, which will make the first white work, and then the red. If you have well understood me, both of them are nothing else, as they term them, but the practice, which is so easy and so simple, that a woman sitting by her distaff, may perfect it. As if in winter, she would put her eggs under a hen, without washing them, and no more labour is required about them, than that they should be every day turned, that the chickens may be better and sooner hatched; concerning which enough is said.”

Additional proofs of the use of antimony and iron in the alchemical works of Jacob Behmen follow. This work finally sets forth and summarises the preparation and use of the “mercury” derived from antimony through the catalytic action of iron.


by Jacob Behmen (Abridged)

“There is nothing in nature capable of qualifying matter to be harmonised, but one mineral spirit, the ore of which is equal in attraction and repulsion, and the pure metal in a star-like circle of irradiated circulation. Antimony, purified by iron and pounded fine, might be circulated, that is digested to a perfect harmony of the principles. But in the fusion of its purification it has lost the proportion of its subtle spirit. In order to restore it, use fresh powder.
Digest in a long neck flask, three months at blood heat, three months at fever heat, and three months at water boiling heat by a thermometer. If the moisture is scanty, the process will fail as a plant without rain; if the powder is too wet, it will be a long time drying up, and the vessel may burst by the heat rarefying the moisture.

“The matter should fill one-fourth of the glass, and is called the earth; the empty part is the heaven, in which the circulation is performed, harmonising the dense attraction of the fixed, with the subtle repulsion of the volatile parts, and in consequence of its original irradiation in its crude state, it is now capable of a superior irradiation-from the same cause, which is the ethereal fire of the spiritual gas or vapour of antimony ascending and descending, going round inside the glass, piercing the fixity of the earth, and obtaining fixation for itself.

“The action in the retort imitates nature which distils the mineral spirit in the chasms of the globe by a moderate heat. The invisible universal mercury passes into suitable earth and forms metallic ores; -the action in the sealed flasks is like nature under the rocky roof of the mine, which retains the sublimation and reverberates it until it coagulates into metal.

“The agent of the work is the invisible mercury, which is the gas, spirit, or air of antimony, excited in a steady sand-heat as warm as blood. Various methods will arrive at the same end if this agent is not omitted. Some of these methods in the hands of an experienced adept are less liable to accidental mischances than the former.

“For instance, an unintermitting distillation of the gas will impregnate and open the powder to solution in the form of water, which will partly or wholly dissolve fresh powder, according to the proportion. By continual abstraction or cohobated distillation from the residuum, it acquires permanency, and when a bright clear water is separated, the residuum yields a red oil in a stronger fire, and leaves a black residuum, which may be calcined to a white fixed earth.

“Fresh antimony in powder will unite easier and safer with these together than with the first gas or water, and the time lost in distilling is saved in digesting. The white water easily absorbs the white fixed earth, and then unites sooner with the red oil by digestion.

“ The powder of antimony fixes in digestion sooner with the thick permanent white water of antimony than it would with the volatile clear bright water. It digests rapidly with the red oil, which contains a large proportion of the invisible mercury in a permanent and nearly fixed state of action.

“The calcined white earth made of the residuum of these white and red mercuries contains no mercury and is therefore only fit for union with the said mercuries in some of their various degrees of volatility, and is the best magnet for condensing the first gas.

“The simple work first described performs all these separations virtually in the sealed glass; the other varieties of separation afford permanency to the disolvent, or vehicle which contains the prime agent, so as to allow intervals for its application to various purposes. No process can finally fail where the invisible universal mercury, or spiritual air of antimony is present-condensed in its proper vehicle in any of the degrees of its permanency.

“ The principle of the work is the power of harmonising the threefold discordent principles of attraction, repulsion, and circulation. In three months circulation by digestion, the powder is completely black; the opposition of attraction and repulsion ceases; the attraction of the fixed which produced the repulsion of the volatile is slain by the circulation which also dies itself, and all three enter into rest. There is no more compression or expansion, ascent or descent; it has all sunk down black and motionless.

“The same three principles gradually assume a new life, infinitely more powerful in virtue, but without any violent contest, and in three months further, the mild action of the principles in harmony have produced a brilliant whiteness in the matter, which in three months more, becomes a brilliant yellow, red, or purple.

“Every other metal labours after this perfection in vain. Nothing can attain the union that the fiery spirit of antimony forms between the extremes. This spirit of antimony is so full of life, either in its oil or watery form, that if the process fails at any stage, an addition of the spirit will renew it. The white and red powder is increased ten-fold in strength and quality by each digestion of it with fresh antimony in powder wet with gas, water or oil of antimony as at first. Each digestion is made in tenfold shorter time than the former, from a few weeks to a few hours.

“The prime matter is antimony purified by iron, and finely pounded. The invisible mercury is the spiritual air of antimony which combines with vegetable or animal fluids, and the solids in its spiritual or watery form, and from thence, combines with metals and stones. From this, the affinities may be learned for practice. The gas will not unite easily with metals or minerals, until it is embodied for that purpose. This may be done either with the thick red or white mercuries, which are the oil or water of antimony as described. By circulating, that is digesting the impregnated liquid two months, the gas floats as an oil on weak liquids, or is united with the strong, subduing their corrosion. In these states, it is able to make extracts from or unite with the solids in the three kingdoms, according to the quality to which it was united. These solutions are more powerful and rapid than those with the unctuous water or oil of antimony, but require great skill and experience of the sophic fire.”