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Any one that makes a thorough study of the alchemistic literature must be struck with the religious seriousness that prevails in the writings of the more important authors. Every “master” who enjoyed the highest honor among his fellows in the hermetic art has a certain lofty manner that keeps aloof from the detailed description of chemical laboratory work, although they do not depart from the alchemistic technical language. They obviously have a leaning toward some themes that are far more important than the production of a chemical preparation can be, even if this is a tincture with which they can tinge lead into gold. Looking forth to higher nobler things, these authors, whose homely language frequently touches our feelings deeply, make the reader notice that they have nothing in common with the sloppy cooks who boil their pots in chemical kitchens, and that the gold they write about is not the gold of the multitude; not the venal gold that they can exchange for money. Their language seems to sound as if they said, “Our gold is not of this world.” Indeed they use expressions that can with absolute clearness be shown to have this sense. Authors of this type did not weary of enjoining on the novices of the art, that belief, scripture and righteousness  were the most important requisites for the alchemistic process.
[With the sloppers it was indeed a prime question, how many and what kinds of stoves, retorts, kettles, crucibles, ores, fires, etc., in short, what necessary implements they needed, for the great work.] He whose eyes are open needs no special hints to see, in reading, that the so-called alchemistic prescriptions did not center upon a chemical process. A faint notion of the circumstance that 114 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts even in their beginnings, alchemistic theories were blended with cosmogonic and religious ideas, must make it quite evident that, for example, in the famous Smaragdine Tablet of Hermes [Its real author is unknown.] a noble pillar of alchemy, something more must be contained than a mere chemical recipe. The language of the Smaragdine tablet is notoriously the most obscure that the hermetic literature has produced; in it there are no clear recommendations to belief or righteousness; and yet I think that an unprejudiced reader, who was not looking specially for a chemical prescription, would perceive at least a feeling for something of philosophy or theology.
[1.] Verum, sine mendacio, certum et [verissimum]: [2.] Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius, et quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius, ad perpetranda [also: penetranda, praeparanda] miracula rei unius. [3.] Et sicut res omnes fuerunt ab uno, meditatione unius: sic omnes res natae fuerunt ab hac una re, adaptatione [adoptione.]. [4.] Pater ejus est Sol, mater  ejus est Luna. [5.] Portavit illud ventus in ventre suo. [6.] Nutrix ejus terra est. [7.] Pater omnis Telesmi totius mundi est hic. [8.] Virtus ejus integra est, si versa fuerit in terram. [9.] Separabis terram ab igne, subtile ab spisso, suaviter, magno cum ingenio.
[10.] Ascendit a terra in coelum, iterumque descendit in terram, et recipit vim superiorum et inferiorum. [11.] Sic habebis Gloriam totius mundi. Ideo fugiet a te omnis obscuritas. Haec est totius fortitudinis fortitudo fortis, quia vincet omnem rem subtilem, omnemque solidam [solidum] penetrabit. [12.] Sic mundus creatus est. [13.] Hinc erunt adaptationes mirabiles, quarum modus est hic. [14.] Itaque vocatus sum Hermes Trismegistus, habens tres partes philosophiae totius mundi. [15.] Completum est quod dixi de operatione Solis.
Translation: [1.] It is true, without lies and quite certain. [2.] What is lower is just like what is higher, and what is higher is just like what is lower, for the accomplishment of the miracle of a thing. [3.] And just as all things come from one and by Section III. The Hermetic Art. 115 mediation of one, thus all things have been derived from this one thing by adoption. [4.] The father of it is the sun, the mother is the moon. [5.] The wind has carried it in his belly. [6.] The earth has nourished it. [7.] It is the father [cause] of all completion of the whole world. [8.] His power is undiminished, if it has been turned towards the earth. [9.] You will separate the earth from fire, the fine from the coarse, gently and with great skill.  [10.] It ascends from the earth to the sky, again descends to the earth, and receives the powers of what is higher and what is lower. [11.] Thus you will have the glory of the whole world, and all darkness will depart from you. It is the strength of all strength, because it will conquer all the fine and penetrate all the solid. [12.] Thus the world was created. [13.] From this will be wonderful applications of which it is the pattern. [14.] And so I have been called Hermes, thrice greatest, possessing three parts of the knowledge of the whole world. [15.] Finished is what I have said about the work of the sun.
Sun and gold are identical in the hieroglyphic mode of expression. Whoever seeks only the chemical must therefore read: The work of gold, the production of gold; and that is what thousands and millions have read. The mere word gold was enough to make countless souls blind to everything besides the gold recipe that might be found in the Smaragdine tablet. But surely there were alchemistic masters who did not let themselves be blinded by the word gold and sympathetically carried out still further the language of the Smaragdine tablet. They were the previously mentioned lofty-minded men. The covetous crowd of sloppers, however, adhered to the gold of the Smaragdine tablet and other writings and had no appreciation of anything else. For a long time alchemy meant no more for modern historians.  The fact that modern chemical science is sprung from the hermetic works,—as the only branch at present clearly visible and comprehensible of this misty tree of knowledge,—has had for result that in looking back we have received a false impression.
116 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts Chemical specialists have made researches in the hermetic art and have been caught just as completely in the tangle of its hieroglyphics as were the blind seekers of gold before them. The hermetic art, or alchemy in the wider sense, is not exclusively limited to gold making or even to primitive chemistry. It should, however, not be surprising to us who are acquainted with the philosophical presuppositions of alchemy, that in addition to the chemical and mechanical side of alchemy a philosophical and religious side also received consideration and care. I think, however, that such historical knowledge was not at all necessary to enable us to gather their pious views from the religious language of many masters of the hermetic art. However, this naïve childish logic was a closed book to the chemists who made historical researches. They were hindered by their special knowledge. It is far from my purpose to desire in the least to minimize the services that a Chevreul or a Kopp has performed for the history of chemistry; what I should like to draw attention to is merely that the honored fathers of the history of chemistry saw only the lower—“inferius”—and not the higher—“superius”—phase of alchemy, for example, in the Smaragdine tablet; and that they used it as the type of universal judgment in such a way that it needed a special faculty for  discovery to reopen a fountain that had been choked up.
I now realize that the poets have been more fortunate than the scientists. Thus Wieland, who, for example, makes Theophron
say in the Musarion (Book II):
Because of a lack of higher discriminative art Becomes for the truly wise A Pegasus to supramundane travel.
But the poets usually speak only in figures. I will therefore rest satisfied with this one example.
The service of having rediscovered the intrinsic value of alchemy over and above its chemical and physical phase, is to be ascribed probably to the American, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who published his views on the alchemists in the book, “Remarks upon Alchemy and the Alchemists,” that appeared in Boston in 1857, and to the Frenchman, N. Landur, a writer on the scientific periodical “L'Institut,” who wrote in 1868 in similar vein [in the organ “L'Institut,” 1st Section, Vol. XXXVI, pp. 273 ff.], though I do not know whether he wrote with knowledge of the American work. Landur's observations are reported by Kopp (Alch., II,  p. 192), but he does not rightly value their worth. It need not be a reproach to him. He undertook as a chemical specialist a work that would have required quite as much a psychologist, a philosopher or a theologian.
The discoveries made by the acute Hitchcock are so important for our analysis, that a complete exposition of them cannot be dispensed with. I should like better to refer to Hitchcock's book if it were not practically inaccessible.
We have heard that the greatest stumbling block for the uninitiated into the hermetic art lay in the determination of the true subject, the prima materia. The authors mentioned it by a hundred names; and the gold seeking toilers were therefore misled in a hundred ways. Hitchcock with a single word furnishes us the key to the understanding of the hermetic masters, when he says: The subject is man. We can also avail ourselves of a play on words and say the subject or substance is the subject.
The uninitiated read with amazement in many alchemists that “our subjectum,” that is, the material to be worked upon, is 118 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts also identical with the vessel, the still, the philosopher's egg, etc. That becomes intelligible now. Hitchcock writes (H. A., p. 117) very pertinently: “The work of the alchemists was one of contemplation and not a work of the hands. Their alembic, furnace, cucurbit, retort, philosophical egg, etc., etc., in which the work of fermentation, distillation, extraction of essences and  spirits and the preparation of salts is said to have taken place was Man,—yourself, friendly reader,—and if you will take yourself into your own study and be candid and honest, acknowledging no other guide or authority but Truth, you may easily discover something of hermetic philosophy; and if at the beginning there should be ‘fear and trembling’ the end may be a more than compensating peace.” The alchemist Alipili (H. A., p. 34) writes: “The highest wisdom consists in this, for man to know himself, because in him God has placed his eternal Word.... Therefore let the high inquirers and searchers into the deep mysteries of nature learn first to know what they have in themselves, and by the divine power within them let them first heal themselves and transmute their own souls,... if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee. If thou knowest not the excellency of thine house, why dost thou seek and search after the excellency of other things? The universal Orb of the world contains not so great mysteries and excellences as does a little man formed by God in his own image. And he who desires the primacy amongst the students of nature, will nowhere find a greater or better field of study than himself. Therefore will I here follow the example of the Egyptians and... from certain true experience proclaim, O Man, know thyself; in thee is hid the treasure of treasures.” A seminalist has concluded from this that the prima materia  is semen, a stercoralist, that it is dung.
George Ripley describes the subject of the philosopher's stone
Section III. The Hermetic Art. 119 “For as of one mass was made the thing, Right must it so in our praxis be, All our secrets of one image must spring;
In philosophers' books therefore who wishes may see, Our stone is called the less-world, one and three.” The stone is therefore the world in little, the microcosm,
man; one, a unity, three, [Symbol: Mercury] mercury, [Symbol:
Sulphur] sulphur, [Symbol: Salt] salt, or spirit, soul, body.
Dichotomy also appears, mercury and sulphur, which can then generally be rendered soul and body. One author says, “We must choose such minerals as consist of a living mercury and a living sulphur; work it gently, not with haste and hurry.” [Cf. Tabula Smaragdina 9, “suaviter”...] Hitchcock (H. A., p. 42): “The ‘one’ thing of the alchemists is above all man, according to his nature [as a nature] essentially and substantially one. But if the authors refer to man phenomenally they speak of him under different names, indicating different states as he is before or after ‘purification’ or they refer to his body, his soul or his spirit under different names. Sometimes they speak of the whole man as mercury,... and then by the same word perhaps they speak of something special, as our mercury which has besides, a multitude of other names... although men are of diverse dispositions and temperaments, some being angelic and others satanic, yet the alchemists maintain with St. Paul that  ‘all the nations of men are of one blood,’ that is, of one nature.
And it is that in man by which he is of one nature which it is the special object of alchemy to bring into life and activity; that by whose means, if it could universally prevail, mankind would be constituted into a brotherhood.” The alchemist says that a great difficulty at the outset of the work is the finding or making of their necessarily indispensable mercury, which they also call green lion, mercurius animatus, the serpent, the dragon, acid water, vinegar, etc.
120 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts What is this mysterious mercury, susceptible to evolution, lying in mankind, common to all, but differently worked out?