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Twelve Keys — Now follows concerning Sulphur

The original source material is generally attributed to Basil Valentine. Current revision is made from the translation included in ‘The Hermetic Museum’ originally translated by Elias Ashmole and edited by A.E. Waite.



Seek your Mercury in a similar metal. Then when you know how to extract the metal from its body by purification, the destruction of the first Mars, and reverberation, without the use of any corrosive (the method of doing which I have indicated in my Third Key,) — you must dissolve that Mercury in its own blood, out of which it was made before it became fixed (as indicated in the Sixth Key,); and you have then nourished and dissolved the true lion with the blood of the green lion. For the fixed blood of the Red Lion has been made out of the volatile blood of the Green Lion; hence, they are of one nature, and the unfixed blood again renders that which is volatile fixed, and the fixed blood in its turn fixes that which is volatile, as it was before its solution. Then foster it in gentle heat, until the whole of the mercury is dissolved, and you obtain the second ferment (by nourishing the fixed sulphur with that which is not fixed), as all Sages unite with me in testifying. Afterwards this becomes, by sublimation with spirit of wine, of a blood-red colour, and is called potable gold.


Now I will also give my Opinion respecting the Salt of the Sages

The original source material is generally attributed to Basil Valentine. Current revision is made from the translation included in ‘The Hermetic Museum’ originally translated by Elias Ashmole and edited by A.E. Waite.



The effect of “salt” is to fix or volatilize, according as it is prepared and used. For the spirit of the salt of tartar, if extracted by itself without any addition, has power to render all metals volatile by dissolution and putrefaction, and to dissolve quick or liquid silver into the true mercury, as my practical directions show.
Salt of tartar by itself is a powerful fixative, particularly if the heat of quicklime be incorporated with it. For these two substances are singularly efficacious in producing fixation.
In the same way, the vegetable salt of wine fixes and volatilizes according to the manner of its preparation. Its use is one of the arcana of Nature, and a miracle of the philosopher’s art. When a man drinks wine, there may be gained from his urine a clear salt, which is volatile, and renders other fixed substances volatile, causing them to rise with it in the alembic. But the same does not fix. If a man drank nothing but wine, yet for all that the salt obtained from his urine would have a different property from that gained out of the lees of wine. For it has undergone a chemical change in the human body, having become transmuted from a vegetable into an animal salt — just as horses that feed on oats, straw, etc., change those vegetable substances into flesh and fat, while the bee prepares honey out of the precious juices of flowers and herbs.
The great change which takes place in these and other substances is due to putrefaction, which separates and transmutes the constituent elements.
The common spirit of salt, which is extracted according to the direction given in my last declaration, if there be added to it a small quantity of the “spirit of the dragon,” dissolves, volatilizes, and raises together with itself in the alembic, gold and silver; just as the “eagle,” together with the spirit of the dragon (which is found in stony places), before the spirit is separated from its body, is much more powerful in producing fixation than volatility.
This I also say, that if the spirit of common salt be joined to the spirit of wine, and distilled together with it, it becomes sweet, and loses its acidity. This prepared spirit does not dissolve gold bodily, but if it be poured on prepared calx of gold, it extracts the essence of its colour and redness. If this be rightly done, it reduces the white and pure moon to the colour of that body from which it was itself extracted. The old body may also receive back its former colour through the love of alluring Venus, from whose blood it, in the first instance, derived its origin.
But observe, likewise, that the spirit of salt also destroys the moon, and reduces it to a spiritual essence, according to my teaching, out of which the ” potable moon ” may be prepared. This spirit of the moon belongs to the spirit of the sun, as the female answers to the male, by the copulation or conjunction of the spirit of mercury or its oil.
The spirit lies hid in mercury, the colour you must seek in sulphur, and their coagulation in salt; then you have three things which together are capable of once more generating a perfect thing. The spirit is fermented in the gold with its own proper oil; the sulphur is found in abundance in the property of precious Venus. This kindles the fixed blood which is sprung from it, the spirit of the salt of the Sages imparts strength and firmness, though the spirit of tartar and the spirit of urine together with true vinegar, have great virtue. For the spirit of vinegar is cold, and the spirit of lime is intensely hot, and thus the two spirits are found to be of opposite natures. I do not here speak according to the customary manner of the Sages. But I must not say too openly how the inner gates are to be unlocked.
In bidding farewell, let me impart to you a faithful word. Seek your material in a metallic substance. Thence prepare mercury. This ferment with the mercury of its own proper sulphur, and coagulate them with salt. Distil them together; mix all according to weight. Then you will obtain one thing, consisting of elements sprung from one thing. Coagulate and fix it by means of continuous warmth. Thereupon augment and ferment it a third time, according to the teaching of my two last Keys, and you will find the object and goal of your desire. The uses of the Tincture are set forth plainly in my twelfth Key.


Verse on the Threefold Sophic Fire


Heat, that produces many things, must prepare
Their Bodies, and disclose what Forms they wear,
By Fire, the Sovereign Element, we thence
A Vinegar derive, no Friend to Sense,
Nor flatterer of the Palate, ’tis composed
Of Earth and Water, amicably closed;
Thence it dissolves to Water, and the white
Sublimate Sal-Armoniac, which unite
Into Earths White and Red, and Mercury,
To form the Prior Body does comply,
And Triple Vessel of Philosophy:
The Blood, that fiery Dragon qualifies,
And makes the Mercurial Vessel rise;
And thence the Female Dragon does proceed,
Who to the Male must afterward recede:
As Nature in the Orb does circulate
By sending (ordered by the Laws of Fate)
The Spermatic Doses to the Earth, which sink,
And thence the Sun does rising moisture drink;
And leaves the multiplying Sperm, which does
Proceed on Bodies; ’tis the way that’s chosen
By Nature, and her Circulation shows.
Three Eagles do resemble it, and show
The Compound Vinegar’s free Medium there,
By which the Blood and Body strengthened are;
The one its Central Spirit does allow,
The other does its vital Life bestow;
And both combine together to produce
Our Second Fire of Philosophic use;
Thence the Third Fire, the Mountain’s Floody Sperm
Is freed; and this we Artfully affirm;
Unveiled, unbound, from Earthly Chains set free,
This third most sacred Fire the Sophi see;
Which Azoth some, but others do it name
The Lion Green, well known in Rolls of Fame;
By which they do their Sun and Moon conjoin,
And Nature thus with nature does Combine:
By this are clipped the swift Cyllenian Wings;
The Body this to Dissolution brings;
By this moist Heat the Sun and Moon descend,
And all their Virtues downward it attend;
These downward drawn afford a lovely sight,
While in the Blood and Body they unite;
And under these two Forms when they come near,
Far stronger than before they then appear;
Since in the Triune Fountain we behold
What e’er in Mystic Fable we are told,
Of that fierce fiery Colchian Beast,
Within whose Bowels Treasures hid do rest;
Who doth the Magi’s Chalybs there conceal,
Which worthy is of Wisdom to reveal:
The Elixir gives our Second Fire complete,
The Volatile is fixed by its Heat;
Nor of Addition is here any need,
Besides it can produce a living Seed;
The living Seed of Metals here does lie,
Not dead, discovered by the Artists Eye;
This is that Gur, that noble Lunar Oil,
For which so many vainly rove and toil;
This Fire it is which made Pontanus wise,
The Fire, which made Artephius so to rise.
In Years, and all the living Weights excel;
For nothing can its mighty force repel:
From Sulphur is its Birth; but make not haste,
If you would not your Time and Labour waste;
Since from the Matter this you must not take,
For it’s a Sulphur of another make:
But when the Blood and Mercury you have found,
And it by dextrous hidden Art have bound;
Then Nature learn sweetly to imitate,
As she will teach you how to circulate;
In her Circulations your Pattern see
Always; and from this Pattern never flee:
This now to animate and fortify,
Eagles, be sure, you must seven more let fly;
By every flight the Light begets a day,
While Darkness from the Light makes haste away;
In every one a Separation is made,
The vanquished Darkness now can’t make afraid;
For see, behold the Splendour that appears;
See the bright Nymph, that here her Head uprears;
A living Resplendent Fountain now doth run,
With a Transcendent Brightness, as the Sun,
Shining and streaming Virtue all around,
By which it penetrates whole Nature’s Ground;
This, as the Azoth true, our living Spring,
The Body to Perfection soon will bring:
Here Laton, melted, opened and calcined,
By this Mercurial Fire is refined;
Laton, our Gold, here many times baptize,
We do imbibe and wash, till to its Size
And Standard true, it do at last arrive,
For which it will be worth our while to strive;
Nor is there loss of any other part,
But all remains, neither touched, nor changed by Art:
For this Immortal Fiery Liquor is such
As naught can ever change, or ever touch;
This with the Matter cannot altered be;
By it the Matter altered we shall see;
So as thereby to be transparent quite,
And thus made almost of a radiant white;
Which to the Nature of a Spirit turns,
While it in Spirit unconsumed burns:
The Spirit with the Body thus conjoined,
We thence a most excelling Creature find;
In which a Trine of Principles doth lie,
Pure Salt, pure Sulphur and pure Mercury;
These Art can separate, and then unite;
That Art of which the hidden Sophi write,
But none besides, none but Dame Nature’s Art
This wondrous Secret ever did impart:
Within this Mine two Stones of old were found,
Whence this the Ancients called Holy Ground;
Who knew their Value, Power and Extent,
And Nature how with Nature to Ferment
For these if you Ferment with Natural Gold
Or Silver, their hid Treasures they unfold,
According to their Natures then proceed,
And take care properly each one to feed;
Imbibe, Multiply, and when you project,
Then shall be seen the wonderful Effect;
Which may indeed the ignorant amaze,
Not so the Wise, who will not vainly gaze;
But falling prostrate down will God adore
And, joyful, offer up to him their Store.


A short Appendix and clear Resumption of the foregoing Tract concerning the Great Stone of the Ancient Sages

November 1, 2013 Leave a comment

The original source material is generally attributed to Basil Valentine. Current revision is made from the translation included in ‘The Hermetic Museum’ originally translated by Elias Ashmole and edited by A.E. Waite.



short Appendix and clear Resumption

I, Basil Valentine, brother of the Benedictine Order, do testify that I have written this little book, wherein, after the manner of the Ancients, I have philosophically indicated how this most rare treasure may be acquired, whereby the true Sages did prolong life unto its furthest limit.

But, notwithstanding that my conscience doth bear me witness in the sight of the Most High, before whom all concealed matters are laid bare, that I have written no falsehood, but have so exposed the truth that understanding men can require no further light (that which is laid down in the theoretical part being borne out and confirmed by the practice of the Twelve Keys), yet have I been impelled by various considerations to demonstrate by a shorter way what I have written in the said treatise, and thus cast further light thereon, whereby also the lover of the desired wisdom may obtain an increased illumination for the fulfilment of his desire. There are many who will consider that I am speaking too openly, and will hold me answerable for the wickedness that they think will follow, but let them rest assured that it will be sufficiently difficult, notwithstanding, for any thick-headed persons to find what they seek herein. At the same time the matter shall be made clear to the elect. Hearken then, thou follower of truth, to these my words, and so shalt thou find the true way !

Behold, I write nothing more than I am willing to hold by after my death and resurrection! Do thou faithfully and simply lay to heart this shorter way, as hereinafter exhibited, for my words are grounded in simplicity, and my teaching is not confused by a labyrinth of language.

I have already indicated that all things are constituted of three essences – namely, mercury, sulphur, and salt – and herein I have taught what is true. But know that the Stone is composed out of one, two, three, four, and five. Out of five – that is, the quintessence of its own substance. Out of four, by which we must understand the four elements. Out of three, and these are the three principles of all things. Out of two, for the mercurial substance is twofold. Out of one, and this is the first essence of everything which emanated from the primal fiat of creation.

But many may by all these discourses be rendered doubtful in mind as to what they must start with, and as to the consequent theory. So I will, in the first place, speak very briefly concerning Mercury, secondly concerning Sulphur, thirdly concerning Salt; for these are the essence of the Matter of our Stone.

In the first place, you must know that no ordinary quicksilver is useful, but our quicksilver is produced from the best metal by the spagyric art, pure, subtle, clear, and glistening, like a spring, pellucid even as crystal, free from all dross. Hence make water or combustible oil. For Mercury was in the beginning water, and herein all the Sages agree with my dictum and teaching. In this oil of Mercury dissolve its own Mercury, from which the water in question was made, and precipitate the Mercury with its own oil. Then we have a twofold mercurial substance; but you must know that gold must first be dissolved in a certain water, as explained in my second Key, after the purification described in the first Key, and must be reduced into a subtle calx, as is mentioned in the fourth Key. Next, this calx must be sublimated by the spirit of salt, again precipitated, and by reverberation reduced into a subtle powder. Then its own sulphur can more easily enter into its substance, and have great friendship with the same, for they have a wondrous love towards each other. Thus you have two substances in one, and it is called Mercury of the Sages, but is yet a single substance, which is the first ferment.


The Epistle of John Pontanus

May 28, 2013 10 comments

by John Pontanus, translated (into more-or-less contemporary English) by an anonymous friend of the art.


[Note – I had long desired to present the ‘sudden’ version of the alchemical teaching on this site but despaired of recalling to mind a text with sufficient authority to use which did not require wearying circumlocution to make the teaching clear. I had nearly given up when lo and behold out of the blue a certain patron and practitioner of the art sends a very nice copy of Flamel’s Heiroglyphics, with ‘The Secret Book of Artephius’ and John Pontanus’ epistle on the same. For which: Thank you!]


I, John Pontanus, traveled into diverse realms and domains on my quest to know with certainty the Philosophers’ Stone. Thus journeying through all parts of the world, I have found only false Philosophers and deceivers. Ever studying the books of the wise, my doubt mounting, I [at length] discovered the truth: yet, notwithstanding [the fact that] I had knowledge of the matter in general, I [nevertheless] erred two hundred times before I found out the operation, practice and true material. I commenced my operations first via putrefaction of the body of the matter, which I continued over a period of nine months, but it came to naught. I placed it in the balneum–marie for lengthy periods, erring just the same. I took and placed it in a calcinating fire for three months, proceeding awry yet again. All manner and variety of distillations and sublimations mentioned—or apparently mentioned—by the Philosophers (Geber, Archelaus, and all the others) I have attempted, tried and have similarly found wanting. In brief, I tried to arrive at and perfect in every way conceivable the subject of all the art of alchemy, be this by manure, baths, ashes, or the thousands of other sorts of fire [or sources of warmth] mentioned by the Philosophers in their works, but nothing did I discover of any worth.

Comments: Here the author makes a bold and clever claim using the dependent clause ‘or apparently mentioned by the Philosophers‘ to indicate that he is not writing against the likes of Geber, but against common misunderstandings of the writings of the philosophers and also making the point that the philosophers mentioned almost always write regarding the ‘gradual’ method rather than the ‘sudden’ method. The so-called ‘gradual’ method is considered to be for those with considerable capacity and great leisure, for those who can devote themselves to the single-minded pursuit of the hermetic disciplina arcani which requires the ‘laying on of hands’ (and so is sometimes described as ‘manual’ or ‘co-operative’ work’). The ‘sudden’ method, on the other hand, is considered appropriate for those with lesser capacities and even less leisure, and does not require ‘laying on of hands’ (and so is sometimes described as ‘solo’ work).

It was for this reason that I set myself to the study of the books of the philosophers; for three years continually studying, among others, those of Hermes, whose brief words contain the whole mastery of the stone; though he speaks quite obscurely of things above and below, of heaven and earth. All one’s application and care must be only to know the correct practice in the first, second and third works. It is not at all the fire of the manure, bath or ash, nor any of the other fires of which the philosophers sing or describe for us in their books. What then is this fire which perfects and achieves the entire work from beginning to end? Certainly all the philosophers have hidden it; but as for myself, having been touched by a moment of pity, I would declare it and the accomplishment of the whole work.

Comments: So, we are to understand that after much study he discovered that the fire with which he alone could accomplish the work was not that of the ‘gradual’ method. In that method one is gradually purified of the gross impediments and then one is placed into a strong fire and the remaining work is accomplished suddenly as a result, whereas in the ‘sudden’ method, one suddenly experiences the gentle fire and the gross impediments are gradually burned away as a result. Both works rely on the same fire “which perfects and achieves the entire work from beginning to end”, it is only the ‘operation’ or ‘practice‘ that differs. These last two technical terms are very worth meditating upon.

The philosophers’ stone is one and unique, but hidden and veiled by a multiplicity of diverse names, and before knowing it you will have endured great struggle. By your own genius you will come to know it only with difficulty. It is watery, airy, fiery and earthy, phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine and melancholic. It is sulphur and equally quick-silver. It has several superfluities which, I assure you by the living God transform themselves into a sole and unique essence if there be only our fire. And whoever—believing such to be necessary—would subtract some thing from the subject, knows of a certainty nothing of philosophy. For the superfluous, unclean, foul, scurvy, miry and, in general, entire substance of the subject, is perfected into one fixed and spiritual body by means of our fire which has never been revealed by the wise, thus making it so that but few succeed in this art, imagining that some foul and unworthy thing must be separated out.

Comments: The philosopher’s stone, we are told, is only known after “great struggle”. This is a veiled reference to the Persian text entitled The Alchemy of Happiness by famed Muslim jurist and philosopher Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazzali, which text is the author’s own redaction of his more encompassing and challenging Arabic text entitled ‘The Revival of Religious Sciences’ (Ihya’ Ulum al-Din) in which he speaks of the ‘great(er) struggle’ (al-jihad al-akbar) as a struggle against the self (or soul – nafs). After this, Pontanus describes all the superfluities (passing states of the soul while under the impression of various desires and their objects) before all is “by the living God” transformed into one “sole and unique essence”. And here, our author gets clever and disingenuous again, saying rightly that nothing is added or subtracted from the subject, but making it seem that the other philosophers err on this point. The other philosophers (Hermes and Artephius included) mention the need for separation and sublimation while Pontanus asserts that the reason “few succeed in this art” is that they imagine that “some foul and unworthy thing must be separated out”. There is only apparent contradiction here as our author well knows, but again he wants to make a distinction between true understanding of the works of the philosophers and the many and various misunderstandings, as also to point out the difference between the ‘gradual’ and ‘sudden’ methods. As mentioned previously, in the ‘gradual’ method, which is a method of intellect and discipline, an adept operator uses the laying-on-of-hands to remove the mote from another’s eye. This method of purification gradually removes the inania regna or mentis gaudia from the subject, and what is realized during this interior process must then find reflection in one’s thoughts, words and deeds which entails ‘great struggle’ against one’s conditioning. In the ‘sudden’ method, which is a method of affect and devotion (but not sentimentalism which is the death of true religion), a lay person relies on the commemoration (recollection or remembrance) of the Sole and Unique Essence of the one thing needful (una sola res) to accomplish the work of transformation such that ‘great struggle’ against the self is not required, just grateful and willing (but never willful) submission of that self to the fire. This entails realization and acceptance of the limitations of the self-nature and the hamartia and hubris involved in the exercise of self-will. In both cases, all superfluities are acknowledged to be adventitious stains and not inherent characteristics and so since they are not of the essence there is no need (or possibility) of separating them from it; be that as it may, in the former (‘gradual’) method, the fruit of the work is contingent upon successful purification of the accidents, scoria or superfluities, while in the latter (‘sudden’) method the fruit of the work is contingent upon the presence, acceptance and transcendence of the scoria.

It behooves us to now make apparent and enumerate the properties of our fire. If it agree with our matter in the way of which I have spoken, that is to say, if it be transmuted with the matter, then this fire burns the material not at all, nor separates anything from it, nor divides nor separates the pure and impure, as is told by all the philosophers, but converts the whole subject into purity. It does not sublime as Geber or Arnoldus, and all others who have spoken of sublimation and distillation, sublime. And it makes and perfects itself in little time. This fire is mineral, moderate [or even] and continual, and does not fume unless over-aroused; it has certain of the characteristics of sulphur, but is taken and originates elsewhere than in material forms. It ruptures, dissolves, and congeals all things; it similarly congeals and calcines; and is difficult to find by industry or artifice. This fire is the epitome and abridgement of the Work in its entirety, taking nothing else, or very little, and this same fire introduces itself and is of moderate heat; for with this little fire is the whole Work perfected, and all due and necessary sublimation achieved.

Comments: To ask if ‘our fire’ is ‘agreeable’ to/with ‘our matter’ is another way of asking whether the subject has been properly disposed to the fire. If such is the case, then the fire and the subject matter will become ever more united (“transmuted with the matter”), and it will not burn (that is, it will be a gentle heat: “My burden is gentle and my yoke is light”) which will not stir up any resistance (“resist not evil”) but will nevertheless (the moment faith/submission is true and complete) instantly and permanently transform the individual though the scoria are dissolved gradually. This method does not proceed by fits and starts, nor does it require the accumulation of perfection in qualities and attributes, rather these are bestowed from the Source, by grace and not by industry, the moment we have seen and acknowledged the limitations of the self, forsaking it and its ways and giving up that self to the desire of the ‘one thing needful’ (una sola res) spoken of by the wise. When one has re-collected or re-membered the one thing such that one has forgotten the self, the superfluities cannot defile the self for there is no longer a self to which they may attach, or which may become (or remain) attached to them.

Those who read Geber and all other philosophers shall never come to an understanding of it though they live one hundred thousand years; for this fire cannot be discovered except by the sole and profound meditation of the mind, following which one will understand the books, and not otherwise. Error in this Art, consists only in the acquisition or otherwise of this fire which converts the whole material into the stone of the wise. Study, then, this fire, for had I myself found it at the first I should not have erred two hundred times regarding the true matter; because of which [experience] I am no longer surprised that so few arrive at the accomplishment of the work. They err, have erred and ever will err, due to [ignorance of the fact] that the Philosophers have placed their true agent in but one single thing, which Artephius alone named, but speaking only for himself. Had I not read Artephius, and had not penetrated and understood [what I had read], I would never have arrived at the accomplishment of the Work.

Comments: This is another reference to al-Ghazzali’s Alchemy of Happiness wherein it is related that “meditation is for three things: a spiritual insight, a state, and a task. The task follows upon the state, the state follows upon the spiritual insight, and the spiritual insight follows upon meditation.” and also: “Know that a human being is created in darkness and in ignorance. He is need of a light … the light of spiritual insight, and this light of spiritual insight appears during meditation.” He also writes: “…meditation, consideration and contemplation have been commanded [by God]. All of these are meditation.” It is also worthwhile in this context to remember what San Juan de la Cruz taught: ““Seek in reading/ And you will find in meditation/ Knock in prayer/ And it will be opened to you in contemplation.” Pontanus tells us in a very straightforward manner that (as regards the ‘sudden’ method) the fruit of lab-oratory work allows one to understand the books, and not necessarily the other way around. So this fire is the key of the work; the one thing needful. So necessary is the certain knowledge of this fire that it is the very thing that distinguishes those who succeed from those who err. It is worthwhile to meditate on the terms lab and oratory.

Here, then, is the practice: take the matter and, with all due diligence, grind and pulverize it with a philosophic contrition next placing it upon the fire within the furnace. The degree and proportion of the fire must also be known, to wit: the external fire should only arouse [or dispose] the matter; and in but little time this fire, without putting a hand to it in any manner, will assuredly realize the work in its entirety, for it will purify, corrupt, engender and bring to perfection the whole working, making to appear the three principal colors—the black, white and red. And, by our fire, the medicine will multiply, not only in quantity but also in virtue, if joined with the matter in its first estate.

Comments: Here our author informs us to take the subject matter and grind it down into powder with a philosophic contrition. The qualifier, ‘philosophic’, is used to indicate that this is not a discussion of the popular notion of a ‘guilty conscience’ per se, but a more technical and philosophic understanding of contrition which Wilmshurst, after Atwood, described as “the metaphysical rubbing against or together of two unreconciled elements; e.g. the mind’s consciousness of transgression and ‘sin’ self-revealed in the presence of the divine light made manifest within oneself, would set up such a metaphysical ‘contrition’ of the two as would result in the moral state known as penitence and the physical concomitant of tears.” In the Alchemy of Happiness it is written that “if accompanied by Divine Grace, the one who submits to the Will of God will be receptive of positive dispositions … and able to avoid negative dispositions but only on the condition that others benefit from the positive dispositions one has attained. This, then, makes it obligatory on the one who has submitted to the Will of God to come to know and act upon the commands that underlie the relationship of self to others (adab).” Pontanus then tells us that the fire (or light) accomplishes the whole work without the laying-on-of-hands. The first estate of the matter (that is, before it is ever manifest) is simple (sole and unique, whole and undivided) and white (pure) to begin with. When we find the manifest subject matter, it appears complex (mixed and divided) and black (covered with a matrix of adventitious stains). Through submission the light manifests and we see the darkness (of the stains) for what it is, superfluity. In the sudden work, even with the stains remaining we are made aware of the whiteness of the sole and unique essence. But virtue consists in acknowledging this original unity even when it is manifest in multiplicity, letting neither unity nor multiplicity veil one another. So, as the whiteness emerges from within, and the stains gradually dissolve, we not only become white, but as we live from that new self (which has given up the old), we exhibit more and more the red (indicative of integration of above and below, unity and multiplicity, shared virtue become virtue shared.

Search out, therefore, this fire with all the strength of your mind and you shall attain the goal you have set for yourself; for it is this that brings to completion all stages of the work, and is the key of all [the works of the] philosophers, which they have never revealed in their books. If you consider well and deeply what has been discovered above you will know it and not otherwise. Thus, moved by a spirit of pity, I have written this; but, and that I satisfy myself, as I made mention above, the fire is in no wise transmuted with the matter. I wished to speak this and to warn well the prudent concerning these things, that they spend not in vain their money, but know in advance what it is that they seek and, by this means, arrive at the truth of the Art; not otherwise.

Comments: The first sentence is a reference to Matthew 22:37 (“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”), for it is this sole and unique thing that brings everything to completion. Contrary to Pontanus’ disingenuous assertion, the alchemystical philosophers do often mention this ‘key’ in their books (as for instance in the extraordinarily clear Sophic Hydrolith), but few profit from the mention. When our author states that he wishes to make it clear that “the fire is in no wise transmuted with the matter” he is merely repeating what he mentioned earlier regarding nothing being added or subtracted from the subject matter. The fire is the source, the original form and substance of all things. It is also that which dissolves all things, that into which all things are resolved and that from which the subject re-emerges purified and re-formed. Despite all this, the fire is in no way altered at any phase of the process.

If it has not yet become clear, the ‘sudden’ method follows the statement in Matthew 6:22, to wit: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” whereas the ‘gradual’ method follows the statement in Hebrews 12:4-7. Wilmshurst, after Atwood, affirms regarding the ‘sudden’ method that “no segregation in an isolated community was essential, no erudition in the philosophy of the sages and mystical wisdom of the Mystery-cults, no forced spiritual growths artificially induced by the arcane science of adept[s] … Life, lived where one stands, was henceforth to serve as one’s preparation for the knowledge of divine things and as one’s purgative discipline for advancement therein … placed at the disposal of all according to their respective capacity and recipiency”. It is to the latter clause we would direct your attention: there is value in meditating upon the technical terms ‘capacity‘ and ‘recipiency‘.

God keep thee.


Twelve Keys — Clavis IX

September 22, 2012 5 comments

The original source material is generally attributed to Basil Valentine. Current revision is made from the translation included in ‘The Hermetic Museum’ originally translated by Elias Ashmole and edited by A.E. Waite.



The Ninth Key


IX – The Ninth Key

Saturn, who is called the greatest of the planets, is the least useful in our Magistery. Nevertheless, it is the chief Key of the whole Art, howbeit set in the lowest and meanest place. Although by its swift flight it has risen to the loftiest height, far above all other luminaries, its feathers must be clipped, and itself brought down to the lowest place, from whence it may once more be raised by putrefaction, and the quickening caused by putrefaction, by which the black is changed to white, and the white to red, until the glorious colour of the triumphant King has been attained. Therefore, I say that though Saturn may seem the vilest thing in the world, yet it has such power and efficacy that if its precious essence, which is excessively cold, be reduced to a metallic body by being deprived of its volatility, it becomes as corporeal as, but far more fixed than, Saturn itself. This transmutation is begun, continued, and completed with Mercury, sulphur, and salt. This will seem unintelligible to many, and it certainly does make an extraordinary demand upon the mental faculties; but that must be so because the substance is within the reach of everyone, and there is no other way of keeping up the divinely ordained difference between rich and poor.

In the preparation of Saturn there appears a great variety of different colours; and you must expect to observe successively black, grey, white, yellow, red, and all the different intermediate shades. In the same way, the Matter of all the Sages passes through the several varieties of colour, and may be said to change its appearance as often as a new gate of entrance is opened to the fire.

The King shares his royal dignity with noble Venus, and appears in splendid state, surrounded by all the dignitaries of his court. Before him is borne a beautiful crimson banner, in which there is an embroidered representation of Charity in green garments. Saturn is the prefect of the royal household, and in front of him Astronomy bears a black standard, with a representation of Faith in yellow and red garments.

Jupiter is the Grand Marshal, and is preceded by a banner of grey colour, borne by Rhetoric, and adorned with a variegated representation of Hope.

Mars is at the head of military affairs, and executes his office with a certain fiery ardour. Geometry carries before him a crimson banner, on which you may behold Courage in a crimson cloak. Mercury holds the office of Chancellor; Arithmetic is his standard bearer, and his standard is of many colours; on it may be observed the figure of Temperance in a many coloured robe.

The Sun is Vice-Regent, and is preceded by Grammar, bearing a yellow banner, on which Justice is represented in a golden robe Though Venus seems to cast him into the shade by the gorgeous magnificence of her appearance, he really possesses more power in the kingdom than she.

Before the Moon, Dialectic bears a shining silver banner, with the figure of Prudence wrought into it in sky-blue, and because the husband of the Moon is dead, he has transferred to her his task of resisting the domination of Queen Venus. For among all these there is enmity, and they are all striving to supplant each other. Indeed, the tendency of events is to give the highest place to the most excellent and the most deserving. For the present state of things is passing away, and a new world is about to be created, and one Planet is devouring another spiritually, until only the strongest survive.

Let me tell you allegorically that you must put into the heavenly Balance the Ram, Bull, Cancer, Scorpion, and Goat. In the other scale of the Balance you must place the Twins, the Archer, the Water-bearer, and the Virgin. Then let the Lion jump into the Virgin’s lap, which will cause the other scale to kick the beam. Thereupon, let the signs of the Zodiac enter into opposition to the Pleiads, and when all the colours of the world have shewn themselves, let there be a conjunction and union between the greatest and the smallest, and the smallest and the greatest.

If the whole world’s nature

Were seen in one figure,

And nothing could be evolved by Art,

Nothing wonderful would be found in the Universe,

And Nature would have nothing to tell us.

For which let us laud and praise God.



Twelve Keys – Clavis VIII

The original source material is generally attributed to Basil Valentine. Current revision is made from the translation included in ‘The Hermetic Museum’ originally translated by Elias Ashmole and edited by A.E. Waite.



The Eighth Key


VIII – The Eighth Key

Neither human nor animal bodies can be multiplied or propagated without decomposition; the grain and all vegetable seed, when cast into the ground, must decay before it can spring up again; moreover, putrefaction imparts life to many worms and other animalculae. The process of augmentation and quickening is mostly performed in [the] earth, while it is caused by spiritual seed through the other elements.

The farmer’s wife knows that she cannot hope to obtain chickens except through the decomposition of the egg. If bread is placed in honeys and suffered to decay, ants are generated; worms are bred in the putrefying bodies of men, horses, and other animals; maggots are also developed by the decay of nuts, apples, and pears.

The same thing may be observed in regard to vegetable life. Nettles and other weeds spring up where no such seed has ever been sown. This occurs only by putrefaction. The reason is that the soil in such places is so disposed, and, as it were, impregnated, that it produces these fruits, which is a result of the properties of sidereal influence; consequently the seed is spiritually produced in the earth, and putrefies in the earth, and by the operation of the elements generates corporeal matter according to the species of Nature. Thus the stars and the elements may generate new spiritual, and, ultimately, new vegetable seed, by means of putrefaction. But man cannot create new seed; for it is not in his power to order the operation of the elements and the essential influences of the stars. By natural conditions, however, new plants are generated simply through putrefaction. This fact is not noticed by the farmer, simply because it is a thing that he has always been used to, and for which he is unable to find an explanation. But you who should know more than the vulgar herd, must search into the causes of things, and endeavor to understand how the process of generation and resuscitation is accomplished by means of decomposition, and how all life is produced out of decay.

Each element is in its turn decomposed and regenerated by that which is contained in it. For you should know that every element contains the three others. In air, for instance, there is fire, water, and earth. This assertion may appear incredible, but it is nevertheless true. In like manner, fire includes air, water, and earth, since otherwise it could generate nothing. Water contains fire, air, and earth; for if it did not, there could be no growth. At the same time, each element is distinct, though each contains the others. All this is: found by distillation in the separation of the elements.

In order to rationally prove this to you, who are investigating the separation of Nature. and purpose to understand the division of the elements, lest you should think my words inventions, and not true, I tell you that if you distil earth, you will find that, first of all, there is an escape of air, which, in its turn, always contains fire, as they are both of a spiritual essence, and exercise an irresistible mutual attraction. In the next place, there issues water from the earth, and the earth, in which is the precious salt, remains by itself at the bottom of the vessel.

When water is distilled, air and fire issue from it, and the water and material earth remain at the bottom. Again, when the invisible part of elementary fire is extracted, you get water and earth by themselves. Nor can any of the three other elements exist without air. It is air that gives to earth its power of production, to fire its power of burning, to water its power of generating fruit. Again, air can consume nothing, nor dry up any moisture, without that natural heat which must be imparted to it by fire. For everything that is hot and dry contains fire. From these considerations we conclude that no element can exist without the others, and that in the generation of all things there is a mingling of the four elements. He who states the contrary in no wise understands the secrets of Nature, nor has he investigated the properties of the elements. For if anything is to be generated by putrefaction, the process must be as follows: The earth is first decomposed by the moisture which it contains; for without moisture, or water, there can be no true decay; thereupon the decomposed substance is kindled and quickened by the natural heat of fire: for without natural heat no generation can take place. Again, if that which has received the spark of life, is to be stirred up to motion and growth, it must be acted upon by air. For without air, the quickened substance would be choked and stifled in the germ. Hence it manifestly appears that no one element can work effectually without the aid of the others, and that all must contribute towards the generation of anything. Thus their quickening cooperation takes the form of putrefaction, without which there can be neither generation, life, nor growth. That there can be no perfect generation or resuscitation without the co-operation of the four elements, you may see from the fact that when Adam had been formed by the Creator out of earth, there was no life in him, until God breathed into him a living spirit. Then the earth was quickened into motion. In the earth was the salt that is, the Body; the air that was breathed into it was mercury or the Spirit, and this air imparted to him a genuine and temperate heat, which was sulphur, or fire. Then Adam moved and by his power of motion, shewed that there had been infused into him a life-giving spirit. For as there is no fire without air so neither is there any air without fire. Water was incorporated with the earth Thus living man is an harmonious mixture of the four elements; and Adam was generated out of earth, water, air, and fire, out of soul, spirit, and body, out of mercury, sulphur, and salt.

In the same way, Eve, our common mother, was created; for her body was built up and formed out of Adam’s body – a fact which I wish you particularly to notice.

To return again to putrefaction, O seeker of the Magistery and devotee of philosophy, know that, in like manner, no metallic seed can develop, or multiply, unless the said seed, by itself alone, and without the introduction of any foreign substance, be reduced to a perfect putrefaction.

The putrefaction of metallic seed must, like that of animal and vegetable seed, take place through the co-operation of the four elements. I have already explained that the elements themselves are not the seed. But it ought by this time to be clear to you that the metallic seed which was produced by the combined operation of heavenly, sidereal, and elementary essences, and reduced into bodily form, must, in due course, be corrupted and putrefied by means of the elements.

Observe that this seed contains a living volatile spirit. For when it is distilled, there issues from it first a spirit, and then that which is less volatile. But when by continued gentle heat, it is reduced to an acid, the spirit is not so volatile as it was before. For in the distillation of the acid the water issues first, and then the spirit. And though the substance remains the same, its properties have become very different. It is no longer wine, but has been transmuted by the putrefaction of gentle heat into an acid. That which is extracted with wine or its spirit, has widely different properties and powers from that which is extracted with an acid. For if the crystal of antimony be extracted with wine or the spirit of wine, it causes vomiting and diarrhoea, because it is a poison, and its poisonous quality is not destroyed by the wine. But if it be extracted with a good distilled acid, it furnishes a beautiful extract of a rich colour. If the acid be removed by means of the St. Mary’s Bath, and the residuum of yellow powder washed away, you obtain a sweet powder which causes no diarrhoea, but is justly regarded as a marvellously beneficial medicine.

This excellent powder is dissolved in a moist place into a liquid which is profitably employed as a painless agent in surgery.

Let me sum up in few words what I have to say. The substance is of heavenly birth, its life is preserved by the stars, and nourished by the four elements; then it must perish, and be putrefied; again, by the influence of the stars, which works through the elements, it is restored to life, and becomes once more a heavenly thing that has its habitation in the highest region of the firmament. Then you will find that the heavenly has assumed an earthly body, and that the earthly body has been reduced to a heavenly substance.



Twelve Keys – Clavis V

October 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The original source material is generally attributed to Basil Valentine. Current revision is made from the translation included in ‘The Hermetic Museum’ originally translated by Elias Ashmole and edited by A.E. Waite.



The Fifth Key

V – The Fifth Key

The quickening power of the earth produces all things that grow forth from it, and he who says that the earth has no life makes a statement which is flatly contradicted by the most ordinary facts. For what is dead cannot produce life and growth, seeing that it is devoid of the quickening spirit. This spirit is the life and soul that dwell in the earth, and are nourished by heavenly and sidereal influences. For all herbs, trees, and roots, and all metals and minerals, receive their growth and nutriment from the spirit of the earth, which is the spirit of life. This spirit is itself fed by the stars, and is thereby rendered capable of imparting nutriment to all things that grow, and of nursing them as a mother does her child while it is yet in the womb. The minerals are hidden in the womb of the earth, and nourished by her with the spirit which she receives from above.

Thus the power of growth that I speak of is imparted not by the earth, but by the life-giving spirit that is in it. If the earth were deserted by this spirit, it would be dead, and no longer able to afford nourishment to anything. For its sulphur or richness would lack the quickening spirit without which there can be neither life nor growth.

Two contrary spirits can scarcely dwell together, nor do they easily combine. For when a thunderbolt blazes amidst a tempest of rain, the two spirits, out of which it is formed, fly from one another with a great shock and noise, and circle in the air, so that no one can know or say whither they go, unless the same has been ascertained by experience as to the mode in which these spirits manifest.

Know then, gentle Reader, that life is the only true spirit, and that that which the ignorant herd look upon as dead may be brought back to permanent, visible, and spiritual life, if but the spirit be restored to the body — the spirit which is supported by heavenly nutriment, and derived from heavenly, elementary, and earthly substances, which are also called formless matter. Moreover, as iron has its magnet which draws it with the invisible bonds of love, so our gold has its magnet, viz., the first Matter of the great Stone. If you understand these my words, you are richer and more blessed than the whole world.

Let me conclude this chapter with one more remark. When a man looks into a mirror, he sees therein reflected an image of himself. If, however, he try to touch it, he will find that it is not palpable, and that he has laid his hand upon the mirror only. In the same way, the spirit which must be evolved from this Matter is visible, but not palpable. This spirit is the root of the life of our bodies, and the Mercury of the Philosophers, from which is prepared the liquid water of our Art – the water which must once more receive a material form, and be rectified by means of certain purifying agents into the most perfect Medicine. For we begin with a firm and palpable body, which subsequently becomes a volatile spirit, and a golden water, without any conversion, from which our Sages derive their principle of life. Ultimately we obtain the indestructible medicine of human and metallic bodies, which is fitter to be known to angels than to men, except such as seek it at God’s hands in heartfelt prayer, and give genuine proofs of their gratitude by service rendered to Him, and to their needy neighbour.

Hereunto I may add, in conclusion, that one work is developed from another. First, our Matter should be carefully purified, then dissolved, destroyed, decomposed, and reduced to dust and ashes. Thereupon prepare from it a volatile spirit, which is white as snow, and another volatile spirit, which is red as blood. These two spirits contain a third, and are yet but one spirit. Now these are the three spirits which preserve and multiply life. Therefore unite them, give them the meat and drink that Nature requires, and keep them in a warm chamber until the perfect birth takes place. Then you will see and experience the virtue of the gift bestowed upon you by God and Nature. Know, also, that hitherto my lips have not revealed this secret to any one, and that God has endowed natural substances with greater powers than most men are ready to believe. Upon my mouth God has set a seal, that there might be scope for others after me to write about the wonderful things of Nature, which by the foolish are looked upon as unnatural. For they do not understand that all things are ultimately traceable to supernatural causes, but nevertheless are, in this present state of the world, subject to natural conditions.




The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine

October 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Twelve Keys – Clavis IV

October 1, 2011 Leave a comment

The original source material is generally attributed to Basil Valentine. Current revision is made from the translation included in ‘The Hermetic Museum’ originally translated by Elias Ashmole and edited by A.E. Waite.

The Fourth Key

IV – The Fourth Key

All flesh that is derived from the earth, must be decomposed and again reduced to earth; then the earthy salt produces a new generation by celestial resuscitation. For where there was not first earth, there can be no resurrection in our Magistery. For in earth is the balm of Nature, and the salt of the Sages.

At the end of the world, the world shall be judged by fire, and all those things that God has made of nothing shall by fire be reduced to ashes, from which ashes the Phoenix is to produce her young. For in the ashes slumbers a true and genuine tartaric substance, which, being dissolved, will enable us to open the strongest bolt of the royal chamber.

After the conflagration, there shall be formed a new heaven and a new earth, and the new man will be more noble in his glorified state than he was before.

When the sand and ashes have been well matured and ripened with fire, the glass-blower makes out of it glass, which remains hard and firm in the fire, and in colour resembles a crystal stone. To the uninitiated this is a great mystery, but not to the master whom long experience has familiarized with the process.

Out of stones the master also prepares lime by burning which is very useful for our work — but before they are prepared with fire, they are mere stones. The stone must be matured and rendered fervent with fire, and then it becomes so potent that few things are to be compared to the fiery spirit of lime.

By burning anything to ashes you may gain its salt. If in this dissolution the sulphur and mercury be kept apart, and restored to its salt, you may once more obtain that form which was destroyed by the process of combustion. This assertion the wise of this world denounce as the greatest folly, and count as a rebellion, saying that such a transformation would amount to a new creation, and that God has denied such creative power to sinful man. But the folly is all on their side. For they do not understand that our Artist does not claim to create anything, but only to evolve new things from the seed made ready to his hand by the Creator.

If you do not possess the ashes, you will be unable to obtain our salt; and without our salt you will not be able to impart to our substance a bodily form; for the coagulation of all things is produced by salt alone.

As salt is the great preserving principle that protects all things from decay, so the Salt of our Magistery preserves metal from decomposition and utter annihilation. If their Balm were to perish, and the Spirit to leave the body, the body would be quite dead, and no longer available for any good purpose. The metallic spirit would have departed, and would have left its habitation empty, bare, and lifeless.

Observe also, thou who art a lover of this Art, that the salt that is gained from ashes has great potency, and possesses many concealed virtues. Nevertheless, the salt is unprofitable, until its inward substance has been extracted. For the spirit alone gives strength and life. The body by itself profits nothing. If you know how to find this spirit, you have the Salt of the Sages, and the incombustible oil, concerning which many things have been written before my time.

Although many philosophers
Have sought for me with eagerness,
Yet very few succeed at length
In finding out my secret virtue.

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