(Gr. eidos/morphe, Ar. jasad, La. forma)

The term ‘Form’ is of fundamental importance as a constituting concept within alchemy. Forms contain the abstract qualitative properties of materially manifest things (whence Form is sometimes considered to be a “tissue of powers”). It is separable from, and independent of, that matter (Body) which receives it. This brings us to the concept of the ‘Principle’, the three Principles, and the ‘Origin’.

The term ‘Principle’ refers to that substantive essence from which Forms derive their being and qualities through ‘participation’. In this sense the Principle might be likened to a sower of ‘Seed’. The qualities or powers of the Seed —when sown in the earth of the Form— are imprinted or impressed upon the Form which in turn transmutes the passive and more or less chaotic matter with which it is associated so that it [the matter] begins to conform to the paradigm or model of the Active Agent (or Principle) and is enabled to serve as a support, or fixative, for higher spiritual States and Stations. Titus Burckhardt, in his excellent text, Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul, speaks directly to this:

These three powers or principles [i.e. Sulphur (Spirit), Quicksilver (Soul) and Salt (Body) -jR] together constitute the nature of metal – or of man. Salt is in a sense the static, and thus also the neutral, element of the ternary.
Transposed to man, salt is not simply the body in its outward and visible form; it is its psychic form … Sulphur produces combustion, Quicksilver evapouration. Salt is the ash that remains over and serves to fix the ‘volatile’ spirit … [I]n the various contemplative traditions of East and West, purified bodily consciousness plays the role of a fixative or support for a higher state of the spirit, which in its breadth and originality eludes all conceptual limitation.

The Form of a Body thus has a direct relation to the state of the Soul to which that Body is joined. If the Soul becomes ‘fixed’ while still in the station of the Flesh and the Senses (the Heart attached to the creation), then it is considered to be ‘Lead’ (bright on the inside, dark on the outside). If the Soul manages to turn the light around to circulate within itself (rather than leaking out through an externally-directed sensorium) and in so doing frees itself from bondage to the Flesh and the Senses, it will ascend to the station of the Self and the Imagination and then is considered to be ‘Silver’ (bright both outside and in, but wanting fixity). If the Soul has managed to free itself from bondage to the station of the Self and the Imagination through contemplation of the Principle/Origin/Source, it will have entered the station of Discrimination and Divinity and is then considered to be ‘Gold’ (bright both outside and in and properly fixed) — wanting nothing.

Theory, in this tradition, is conveyed in order to elicit a desire for experience, not to provide a system of belief. The central reality to which the alchemists are all pointing remains one, and the alchemists speak of this reality, despite their considerable diversity of terms and images, with remarkable consistency. The precise details of the conception of Body, Form and Principle and their inter-relation(s) may differ from treatise to treatise depending upon the degree to which the author or lineage draws from the Platonic, Neo-Platonic, Aristotilian, Scholastic (Christian), or Muslim philosophic models in their exposition. In article ‘C’ of A Form and Method of Perfecting Base Metals, Petrus Bonus tells us in no uncertain terms, what he understands by the term ‘Form’:

The FORM is (that by which) the intelligent outward influence (the Master ‘Q’) sets in motion the principles (of our art).

In article ‘A’ he had mentioned that this ‘Master’ (‘Q’) emerges from the chaos of matter:

From CHAOS (‘A’) goes forth an intelligent Master (‘Q’), who, amidst the rude, confused, and undigested mass of the elements, perceives himself advancing towards M (Perfect Form) or Q (Formative Tincture), until by B (Substance), C (Form), D (Sky), and by the primordial elements, which follow from Nature herself, he arrives thither.

This author also discusses the relationship of the Form (‘C’), the Perfect Form (‘M’) and the Principle (‘Q’):

“Q [the Quintessence or Red Powder: result of the Rubedo or ‘Red’ Work -jR] is the Formative Tincture, consummately perfect, and consisting of the equilibrium of all the elements [though greater than the mere sum of their parts]. Hence its virtue [qualitative power -jR] is far greater and more potent than that of ‘M’ [the Perfect Form or ‘Silver’: result of the Albedo or ‘White’ Work -jR]. It (‘Q’) transmutes imperfect metals into Silver (‘Y’’) or Gold (‘X’), and it is an efficacious remedy for all intellectual and bodily disease in man, seeing that it expels all disturbing elements; it also makes and keeps men good and kindly disposed towards others. It is, finally, a sovereign cure of the weakness of old age.

In the Enchyridion Physicae Restitutae, Jean D’Espagnet spends a great deal of time and attention on the many and various aspects of this. However, he is not always very technically precise in his use of terms. Being that he is being very clear with regard to his content, he was wont to employ technically ambiguous terms as a safeguard against the ignorant and ‘unworthy’.

The Soul or Form of a mixt body is a spark of the fire of [Divine -jR] Nature —an invisible Ray of Celestial Light— brought into act from the power of the seed, and by the motion of generation bound to an Elementary body by the mediation of the Spirit [the full continuum from Spirit to spiritus -jR], giving its individual Being [Transcendental Spirit -jR] to the mixt body. The nearest principle and efficient cause of life, it acts according to the disposed matter and qualities of the Organs [and the blood – jR].

And again, employing the exact terminology used by Petrus Bonus:

…mixt bodies…consist of a three-fold nature: a Celestial, an Elementary and a Mixt nature. The Celestial is a ray of Light from the Sun [Sulphur -jR], endued with all heavenly vigor, the principle of action, motion, generation and life; by whose help the seeds, through their renewed vigor do resemble the constant permanency of the Stars, and being in a manner as so many immortal grafts of Celestial plants, ingrafted upon corruptible nature as upon a strange stock, do, by a kind of eternal succession, vindicate it from death. The Elementary, corporeal and sensible portion, which in creatures is called Sperm, is the shell and keeper of the seed, which putrifies and is corrupted and generates an invisible seed. The Radical Moisture, or the Ferment of [Divine-jR] Nature —inwhich lies the Spirit [again, the full continuum from Spirit to spiritus -jR] — is a middle substance, coupling the Celestial and Elementary, in the material part answering to the Elements; in the spirtual part, to the Form … Life is a harmonious act, proceeding from the copulation of Matter and Form, constituting the perfect Being of an individual nature… mixt bodies have the roots of their generation and life in Heaven, from whence spring their Causes and Principles, whence also —as inverted trees— they suck their alimentary juices. Nor is it suitable for the Understanding [Reason, or the faculty of Discernment -jR] to be made a vassal to the Rule of the Senses, which comprehend nothing but what is sensible. Rather, the Intellect ranges far abroad —beyond the Cloisters of the Senses— and searches to a greater height, hunting out of the bounds of nature. Bodies are, as it were, the bark, the grosser parts of the Elements —the accidents of things— under which lie hidden the pure and sprightly Essences which do not acknowledge the subjection and censure of the Senses, and which it was necessary to clothe under a dark cloud, that they might pass from their heavenly to their earthly province in corporeal beings.

The ‘ray of light’ mentioned by Petrus Bonus is simlar to the Ray [Heb. Kav], mentioned in Zoharic Kabbalah, which proceeds from the Infinite [Heb. EinSoph] and enters vacant or void space [Heb. Hallal] leaving an imprint or trace [Heb. Reshimu]. No Forms can come into existence without their root in this impression.

In every Form the Seed of a higher Form is hidden. Through the power of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (attraction and repulsion, or inclusion and exclusion) and through the third principle, ‘harmony’, (circulation and reconciliation) we advance the work by dissolving the bondage of the inferior qualities of lower Forms while drawing to ourselves the tincturing or tingeing qualities of higher Forms, as Arnoldus Villaneueve declares in his Speculum:

There is in Nature a certain fine essence, which being discovered and brought by art to perfection converts to itself proportionately all imperfect bodies that it touches.

[see the glossary entry for water to learn more about the relationship between form and essence]

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