Although today alchemy is widely considered crackpot science dedicated to the transmu-tation of common metals into gold, historical alchemy had a spiritual, philosophical impulse. If popular alchemy focused on gold, it was because gold was considered God’s element: the metal that could not corrode or become corrupted. Alchemy was interested in transforma-tion in general, in the creation of higher things from lower things, in Creation itself, in the practices of God. The holy grail of alchemy— the key to unlocking its processes — is the mythical “Philosopher’s Stone,” a magic element potentially revealed in the symbolic pic-tures in the Minus Liber that we see Lemorne studying. For Lemorne (and alchemists), sci-ence becomes the road to God, who is best described as the Master Chemist, the proprietor of all transformations. More important than incorruptible gold, which is ultimately just a metaphor, is God’s ability to transform mortal man into an immortal entity with an after-life.
The key that unlocked the door leading to the mirror of erised was flying in the room among many other keys. Of course, this represents the search for the Philosopher’s Stone. When the key was retrieved, they could then unlock the door, turn the hinge and proceed through the mysteries that would lead to the “elixir of life.”
When you comprehend, in a broad generalization, these laws in their fullness, you will then possess the ” philosopher’s stone” the key, rather, which will unlock every conceivable mystery in the world—converting science, morals, religion, spirituality, into harmonious facts.
If the entire initiatory process is successful, the Initiate will have been given an infusion of divine energy, in the hope that he will indeed attain the increased awareness that is needed to exalt the soul and achieve the completion of the Great Work. Although the ini-tiating officers can provide the necessary magical momentum and guidance for this end, it is up to each individual to travel the path of initiation “in essence as well as in form:’
So, after all is said and done, how does one create the Philosopher’s Stone, precious to alchemists and theurgists alike? The secret lies within the old alchemical formula concealed within the word VITRIOL.
The initial letters of which are used in an anagram which reads in Latin: Visita Interiora Terrae, Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem, which means “Visit the interior of the earth, through purifi-cation, thou wilt find the hidden stone This is phrase is a crucial key to the working of spiritual alchemy. It means that we must look within ourselves, purify our own souls, and reveal the spark of the Divine Creator inside.
God is within us. If we can only look deep within ourselves, beyond our own self-centeredness, we will find that true center within us—whether we chose to call it the Philosopher’s Stone, the Highest Good, the sacred heart of Christ, or the Elixir of Life. This Great Work, the quest for spiritual gold, is a long and hard undertaking. Although the goal may be distant, every step along the path is infinitely rewarding. Alchemists would be wise to remember the words of the following prayer from the Golden Dawn’s Adeptus Minor ceremony:
Unto Thee, sole wise, sole eternal and sole merciful One, be the praise and the glory forever. Who hath permitted me, who now standeth humbly before Thee, to enter thus far into the sanctuary of Thy mysteries. Not unto me, but unto Thy name be the glory. Let the influence of Thy Divine Ones descend upon my head, and teach me the value of self-sacrifice, so that I shrink not in the hour of trial, but that thus my name may be written on high, and my Genius may stand in the presence of the Holy Ones—in that hour when the Son of Man is invoked before the Lord of the Universe and His name in the presence of the Ancient of Days. Amen.
That is the elixir of enlightenment; that is what transforms and reveals everything. When this elixir—a transformative agent full of presence, energy, and aliveness—appears as the nature of everything, we call it true nature. We can experience true nature as light, as illumination, as love, as emptiness, as presence, as aware-ness, as consciousness, as truth. In fact, there is no one way of experiencing true nature, and that is one of the secrets that is revealed in the fourth turning of the teaching. There is no final or ultimately definitive experience of true nature. When true nature has not only force and power and energy and presence but also contains understanding and il-luminated cognition, then it attains a diamond-like quality, experienced as objectivity, clarity, and precision.
The alchemists. They thought that whoever found the philosophers’ stone would be able to unlock all the secrets of existence. The stone has all the qualities and faculties necessary to illuminate and discriminate reality, to distinguish what is false and what is true.
From the perspective of the fourth turning of the wheel, what is relevant, or dominant is not the transformation, liberation, and enlightenment of the individual consciousness, which is usually seen as the function of the elixir. Rather, the fourth turning highlights the recognition of the philosophers’ stone as the key to all the secrets of existence. And that is the interest in the fourth turning of the wheel—that the secrets of reality and life become available and accessible.
What is important for us to understand here—we can understand it in any of the turnings, but it becomes most obvious in the third and fourth turnings—is that without the philosophers’ stone, without this miraculous, magical whatever, which is difficult to confine to any one word, there is no illumination. Without it, the transformation of human conscious-ness is not possible. Without it, we would continue living as semiconscious animals, as brutes, as clods of consciousness.
Human consciousness, if we consider it in the conventional sense, lacks two truths that I think of as the twin truths of the philosophers’ stone. First of all, true nature is inherently incorruptible. The philosophers’ stone cannot be corrupted; it cannot be destroyed; it cannot be distorted. It retains its purity regardless of what our experience is and what is happening.
Whenever we discover it, we recognize it as a purity that is totally unmarred. The second truth of true nature is its illuminating and liberating power. It is the power of illumination, the power of liberation, the power of enlightenment, the power of discrimination and intelligence, the power of creative revelation, the power of consciousness and awareness.
Without the philosophers’ stone, human beings have no chance of seeing through and understanding the delusions and the structures that form our conventional experience. We do not have the intelligence. We do not have the heart. We do not have the will. From the conventional point of view, when we embark on the spiritual path, we are so enmeshed and so obscured—with so many issues, delusions, and illusions that are all intertwined and overlapping—that it requires a miraculous, illuminating light to discern, reveal, and penetrate all that obscuration.
Human beings in ordinary experience simply do not have the kind of intelligence that can decipher the delusions of our everyday life, nor the kind of capacity that can transform our consciousness. So if it weren’t for this magical illuminating power of true nature, the situation would basically be static and hopeless.
We would be living eternally in the conventional perspective, which is neither good nor bad but simply limited. For real transformation to happen, for our consciousness to become free, to become realized and enlightened, to become open to all the possibilities of reality—which means we can begin to explore reality, discover its secrets, and live and express them—we definitely need the help of true nature. When awakening experiences arise, most of us think that they do so because of our practices and what we do, because of our intelligence and understanding, because of our sincerity and diligence.
Although there is some truth to this view, the shadow of arrogance persists in it. This is called “the tail of the devil”; the head may be gone, but the tail still trails be-hind. From the perspective of the fourth turning, we don’t do any of it nor can we do any of it, not because we are failures, but because reality is simply not designed that way. Reality is not designed for individual human beings to liberate them-selves.
Reality is designed for true nature to manifest itself in a way that human beings call liberation. Part of the secret of the philosophers’ stone is that it reveals itself by liberating itself from the shackles that it experiences through whatever human being it is experiencing itself as. And you could say, “It is my nature, my light, my intelligence.” But the situation is tricky: Is it yours or are you its? When we are experiencing ourselves as true nature, we realize that a human being is really the alchemical laboratory.
The human being, the human consciousness, the hu-man body is the laboratory where alchemy happens, where the philosophers’ stone does its work. The human consciousness, the human mind, the human heart are the instruments through which the magician works. So it’s true that our mind functions, our heart functions, and our body functions, but they all function simply as conduits. The more we recognize them as instruments and conduits, the more the elixir flows through the veins of the human consciousness revealing the light that illuminates itself by illuminating the obstacles in its way.
And by illuminating itself, this light—which is our nature, which is what we are—illuminates whatever it comes in contact with. So we will explore in detail who the prime mover is, who the illuminator is, and what is responsible for realization. What is responsible for the arising of clarity, understanding, and spiritual experience? Every time we have a spiritual experience, it is nothing but the philosophers’ stone appearing in one form or another. It is nothing but true nature manifesting itself.
The philosophers’ stone or true nature is pure spirit, but we will see as we go on that spirit is also everything. It is every single thing and all things. It is every single thing among all other single things, and it is all things as the unity of the collection of every single thing. And it is also every single thing as all things.
This gets very interesting and is part of what I mean by the secrets of existence. Besides being fascinating and beautiful and magnificent, this self-illuminating light is helpful. Illumination is not merely illuminating, it is also compassionate and loving and tender and considerate. It is contagious and infectious.
The more we are illuminated, the more we want others to experience that also. We can’t help but be generous and giving, because self and other is one, and the nature of self and the nature of other is one; it is true nature giving itself to itself. Because at the beginning of inner work our understanding is limited, we need many different manifestations of true nature to address precisely the complexity of our proclivities, issues, obscurations, and delusions.
In the understanding of the philosophers’ stone because there can’t be many true natures. Otherwise, they would be in competition. We can only know this kind of oneness in our direct experience.