Twelve Keys – Clavis I

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 First Key

I – The First Key

Let my friend know that no impure or spotted things are useful for our purpose. For there is nothing in their leprous nature capable of advancing the interests of our Art. There is much more likelihood of that which is in itself good being spoiled by that which is impure. Everything that is obtained from the mines has its value, unless, indeed, it is adulterated. Adulteration, then, spoils its goodness and its efficacy.

As the physician purges and cleanses the inward parts of the body, and removes all unhealthy matter by means of his medicines, so our metallic substances must be purified and refined of all foreign matter, in order to ensure the success of our task. Therefore, our Masters require a pure, immaculate body, that is untainted with any foreign admixture, which admixture is the leprosy of our metals.

Let the diadem of the King be of pure gold [red], and let the Queen that is united to him in wedlock be chaste and immaculate [white].

If you would operate by means of our bodies, take a fierce grey wolf [lead], which, though on account of its name it be subject to the sway of warlike Mars, is by birth the offspring of ancient Saturn, and is found in the valleys and mountains of the world, where he roams about savage with hunger. Cast to him the body of the King, and when he has devoured it, burn him entirely to ashes in a great fire. By this process the King will be liberated; and when it has been performed thrice the Lion has overcome the wolf, and will find nothing more to devour in him. Thus our Body has been rendered fit for the first stage of our work.

Know that this is the only right and legitimate way of purifying our substance: for the Lion purifies himself with the blood of the wolf, and the tincture of its blood agrees most wonderfully with the tincture of the Lion, seeing that the two liquids are closely akin to each other. When the Lion’s hunger is appeased, his spirit becomes more powerful than before, and his eyes glitter like the Sun. His internal essence is now of inestimable value for the removing of all defects, and the healing of all diseases. He is pursued by the ten lepers, who desire to drink his blood; and all that are tormented with any kind of sickness are refreshed with this blood.

For whoever drinks of this golden fountain, experiences a renovation of his whole nature, a vanishing of all unhealthy matter, a fresh supply of blood, a strengthening of the heart and of all the vitals, and a permanent bracing of every limb. For it opens all the pores, and through them bears away all that prevents the perfect health of the body, but allows all that is beneficial to remain therein unmolested.

But let my friend be scrupulously careful to preserve the fountain of life limpid and clear. If any strange water be mixed with it, it is spoiled, and becomes positively injurious. If it still retain any of the solvent which has been used for its dissolution, you must carefully purge it off. For no corrosive can be of the least use for the prevention of internal diseases.

When a tree is found to bear sour and unwholesome fruit, its branches must be cut off, and scions of better trees grafted upon it. The new branches thereupon become organically united to the trunk; but though nourished with its sap, they thence forward produce good and pleasant fruit.

The King travels through six regions in the heavenly firmament, and in the seventh he fixes his abode. There the royal palace is adorned with golden tapestry. If you understand my meaning, this Key will open the first lock, and push back the first bolt; but if you do not, no spectacles or natural eyesight will enable you to understand what follows. But Lucius Papirius* has instructed me not to say any more about this Key.

*note – This is probably a reference to Lucius Papirius Cursor (a very strict Roman General, Consul and Dictator) who, in 325 BC, was appointed to carry on the 2nd Samnite War. He quarreled with Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, his magister equitum, who had engaged the enemy against orders. For this Rullianus was condemned to death, and only the intercession of his father, the senate and the people, saved his life.



  1. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    October 9, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Can you please say something about the use of images in alchemical literature, particularly how they might be approached in a useful way?

  2. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    October 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    But before you answer, let me expend a bit of effort working with this image. First, an inventory. Of the figures present we know (because they are mentioned in the text) the King and Queen, the wolf and Saturn (the lame old man with the scythe). There are also two fires burning, the one by Saturn containing an egg-like object, the one over which the wolf is leaping seems to contain an empty vessel.
    The Queen is holding in her right hand a stem with three flowers, and in her left hand a peacock feather.
    We know from the text this key is all about purification, and the fire and the scythe are all about breaking down to basics by burning or cutting.

  3. October 15, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Your inventory is accurate and yet it brings us to one caveat in the answer to your question: without access to the original prints or sufficiently clear copies thereof, use of the alchemical images can be problematic. You have employed the correct procedure of looking back to the text to correlate the images with the language. However you could easily have gone astray with the peacock feather. My point is simply that one must be careful in the use of the images unless the image is very clear and one should always refer back to the text when in doubt. Also an overarching familiarity with the broad range of alchemical symbolism is very valuable.

    So, you mention the inventory as ‘first’, what’s ‘second’?

  4. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    October 15, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Thank you, the necessity for caution is noted.

    Second, I believe one way to read this image is as an illustration of alpha and omega, the end also here at the beginning: you have the pure red King and pure white Queen, the King being the celestial influence, the Queen being the purified soul, holding the tri-petal of Sulphur Mercury and Salt in her right hand, while in her left (the less pure) there is what I think (since this reading is not confirmed by the text accompanying the image) are the peacock colors. The peacock colors in the alchemical literature usually, I believe, indicate that some slight adulteration remains in the soul. So the upper part of the image indicates the final goal … or close to the relative final goal, since absolute purity belongs to One alone.

    But at the bottom of the picture is the very beginning, Saturn, lamed by the scythe of time, tending a purifying fire with an egg in it, and the wolf being burned in a fire. Frankly I don’t really get much from the wolf or its fire and the empty container yet.

    So the lower part of the picture is the beginning of the Work, the purification, while the upper part is the end (‘the end is contained in the beginning’).

  5. October 16, 2011 at 7:42 am

    This is good … the first key is something of a resumé, summary or overview of the work. Also, while the work is often delineated in a more or less linear fashion, it is more of a circle, or better, a spiral. We start with Saturn, who says in the Introduction:

    I, Saturn, the greatest of the planets in the firmament, declare here before you all, that I am the meanest and most unprofitable of all that are here present, that my body is weak, corruptible, and of a swarthy hue, but that, nevertheless, it is I that try you all. For having nothing that is fixed about me, I carry away with me all that is of a kindred nature. My wretchedness is entirely caused by that fickle and inconstant Mercury, by his careless and neglectful conduct. Therefore, I pray you, let us be avenged on him, shut him up in prison, and keep him there till he dies and is decomposed, nay, until not a drop of his blood is to be seen.

    Saturn (is associated with the base metal “Lead” and with leprosy) and is clearly indicative of the first or ‘Black’ work (i.e. the Nigredo). The ‘Gripe’s Egg’ or ‘Vulture’s Egg’ in Saturn’s fire indicates that the process of putrefaction (which precedes purification) is well on its way. For the Vulture must precede the appearance of the Peacock. The Wolf is the Lead made molten which signifies the spiritus made volatile yet with adventitious gross impurities remaining.

    When the text speaks of the Wolf consuming the King (representing prematurely fixed, or inverted, Gold) and the Lion overcoming the Wolf, this relates to the image where the Wolf is over the empty vessel. It is said that the Wolf, though a child of Saturn, is “subject to the sway of Mars”. This means that the Wolf (Lead) has become Iron (the base metal associated with Mars). This Wolf, as Iron, is once again put into the fire, The Lion is indicative of the spiritus at a more advanced, yet still very impure, state (related to Venus and Copper) from which Mercury (the blood of the Wolf and then, in turn, of the Lion) or the seed of metals will be extracted. With the arrival of the Green (immature) Lion, we have the first matter suitable for real work (Copper). The alchemist catches the blood, or tincture, in the empty vessel.

    [If it be complained that a green lion cannot well represent reddish Copper and Venus, it should be remembered that corrosion of copper is green, and that in the Introduction, Venus is described as being one “who appeared in a crimson robe, intertissued with threads of green.”

    [Here again a return to the Introduction is useful.]

    Amatory Venus is clothed with abundant colour, and her whole body is one pure tincture, not unlike the red colour which is found in the most precious of metals. But though her spirit is of good quality, her body is leprous and affords no permanent substratum to the fixed tincture.

    Where the text above reads :

    Know that this is the only right and legitimate way of purifying our substance: for the Lion purifies himself with the blood of the wolf, and the tincture of its blood agrees most wonderfully with the tincture of the Lion, seeing that the two liquids are closely akin to each other.

    You can very profitably relate it to the text (again from the Introduction) which reads:

    Fixed salt has imparted to warlike Mars a hard, firm, and durable body, which is evidence of the generosity of his soul; nor can fire be said to have much power over it. And if its strength be united to the beauty of Venus, I do not say but that a precious and harmonious result may be obtained. For the phlegmatic or humid quality of the Moon may be heated with the ardent blood of Venus, and the blackness of Venus removed with the strong salt of Mars.

    From here we move to the Peacocks feather. The many colors exhibited by the feather represents the tincture of Venus who is “clothed with abundant colour.” This is a very good sign, however insufficient and unstable it may be. One arrives at this stage immediately after the Black work and immediately before the White work. It is one of the common axioms of the alchemic art that if one sees the peacocks feather after the white work has begun in earnest, one needs to start the work over from the beginning.

    So, we take Venus, with the remaining (subtle) impure Sulphurs and purge them off the surface to arrive at Silver. In the image, then, we move from the left hand of the Queen, to the queen herself, who represents the ‘Noble’ metal Silver and the White Work (or Albedo). We once again return to the Introduction to read:

    For though a body may be vitalized by a spirit, yet it need not, therefore, be fixed, unless, indeed, it possess a rational soul, that strong bond between body and spirit, which represents their union, and resists all efforts to separate them. Where there is no soul, there is no hope of redemption. Nothing can be perfect or lasting without a soul. This is a profound and most important truth, which I feel in conscience bound to make known to my readers. Now, the spirits of metals have this property of fixedness in a greater or less degree; they are more or less volatile in proportion to the mutual fitness of their bodies and souls. A metal that has the three conditions of fixedness is not affected by fire or overcome by any other outward agent. But there is only one metal that fulfils these conditions, namely, gold. Silver also contains fixed mercury, and is not so quickly volatilised as the imperfect metals, but stands the trial of fire, and yields no food to voracious Saturn.

    The phrase ‘voracious Saturn’ is in reference to the Wolf and to the bit quoted earlier where Saturn says “it is I that try you all.”

    This brings us to the Tri-Petal Flower which indicates, as you correctly perceive, the triplex unity of the alchemystical principle of Sulphur, Mercury and Salt – or Spirit, Soul and Body. The unification or integration of these three principles is indicative of the ‘Red’ work (or Rubedo). This part of the images references the text (again from the Introduction) which reads:

    You need not look for our metallic seed among the elements. It need not be sought so far back. If you can only rectify the Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt (understand, those of the Sages) until the metallic spirit and body are inseparably joined together by means of the metallic soul, you thereby firmly rivet the chain of love, and prepare the palace for the coronation.

    Which brings us to the King (who represents the ‘Noble’ metal Gold), his Crown (representing successful work), his Scepter of Sovereignty (indicating that the Spirit is in proper relationship to Soul and body/form), and the Palace seen in the distance (the harmonious realm thus attained). As you mentioned, we arrive at the beginning again, for we have destroyed and revivified our Gold – the King (Spirit, Gold, Sulphur) being killed and fed to the Wolf, but through the work of purification of the vital essence (Vulture, Wolf, Lion and Peacock) is eventually wed to the Queen (Soul, Silver, Mercury) and rules over and also serves the Old Man (Body/Form, Lead, Salt).

    So, as with so much in this art, even interpretation does not proceed in a straight line, but more of a spiral: round and around but ever upward.

    Your reading, then, had all the necessary elements – all it needed was successive readings to relate each graphic image with the descriptive text which would unlock its meaning and its position in the process (though you did well with that too).

  6. July 16, 2012 at 3:09 am

    Hello, I am having trouble interpreting this Key,
    aIn the comments, James has written, ‘The Wolf is the Lead made molten which signifies the spiritus made volatile yet with adventitious gross impurities remaining.’

    Other sources refer to the wolf as representing Antimony, and the old man as representing Saturn, or Lead. Is Antimony another state or station(eg liquid lead), or some other factor, implied by terms such as Antimonial Cup, a kind of emetic preparatory stage?

    “The fierce grey wolf is antimony. The sentence “Cast to him the body of the king” implies on the exoteric level that gold is to be purified by three successive fusions with antimony”
    Metal transformations – WW Mullins

    Antimony seems here to take the role of a Mercury as a solution for Metals. Hmm.

    On another note, I have read that the images may not correspond accurately with the texts, but are a later addition.

    In short what is Antimony, is it important to understand it in order to interpret these 12 keys?

    Many thanks, Otove

  7. July 16, 2012 at 3:23 am

    I meant to include this Quote Below in support of the last one.

    “Here[ in the First Key], the grey wolf is alchemical antimony (antimony sulphide, or stibnite), known also as lupus metallorum, or ‘wolf of the metals/ because of its capacity to unite with all the alchemical metals except gold. The repeated fusion of gold in this way, shown in the emblem of the First Key by a wolf leaping over a heated crucible, was therefore justifiably used as a purifying process for this noble metal. Also, silver, represented by the Queen, was purified by heating it with lead in a cupel.”

    From Alchemy to Chemistry – John Read

  8. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    July 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Dear Otove,

    1) We must reiterate that ours is a lineage strictly concerned with spiritual alchemy, not psychological (except insofar as this leads into the spiritual), metallurgical, or chemical/medicinal. To keep returning to such sources (as WW Mullins and John Read) will only cause confusion. Occasionally such sources may be apt enough, but this is more by accident (since some alchemists based their language on the analogue between spiritual transformation and metallic transmutation). However, since the ultimate goal is different, such sources will not always be useful. A decision needs to be made regarding what form of alchemy one is intent on pursuing. Mixing sources is contra-indicated. As Mary Anne Atwood has said: “The moment men begin to reduce the ontological ground taken by Adepts to physical science they begin to twaddle.”

    Titus Burckhardt, again, who I know you have read, says (on p. 153 of Alchemy):
    “The more one strives to dispense with symbols and to replace them with scientific concepts of one sort or another, the more rapidly does that spiritual presence vanish which is the very heart of the matter, and which can only be transmitted by symbols, whose nature is conceptually inexhaustible.”

    2) You say: “James has written, ‘The Wolf is the Lead made molten which signifies the spiritus made volatile yet with adventitious gross impurities remaining.’ And then say ‘Other sources refer to the wolf as representing Antimony, and the old man as representing Saturn, or Lead.’ These are not contradictory interpretations. The term ‘antimony’ is often used in reference to the nigredo in general, or the last stage of that work when the matter has become luminously black (also known as the happy gate of blackness), just before we reach that stage represented by the green lion. In ‘The Golden Tract’ (found in the ‘Hermetic Museum’) antimony is said to be called so on account of ‘the brilliant blackness it assumes after solution.’ This is a precise reference to what James is referring to when he says ‘the spiritus [is] made volatile yet with adventitious gross impurities remaining.’

    3) You say: “On another note, I have read that the images may not correspond accurately with the texts, but are a later addition.”
    Yes it does seem, on the face of it, that the image “Rubellus Petrinus” excavated from Michael Maier correlates better with the text of Basil Valentine. And it is good to doubt and question. The problem is, Otove, you do not question ENOUGH. You stop at the point where the answer fits your prejudices. You did not go on to question: since that image seems to match so much better, why was it not used?
    Titus Burckhardt again, on his very first page, says that our tendency is to take the view that “until a century ago all humanity seemed to be dreaming a stupid dream, the awakening from which came only with our own times, as if the spiritual-intellectual faculty of man—his powers to distinguish real from unreal—were itself subject to some sort of biological evolution.”
    Our prejudice is that “we moderns” are so much smarter, and somehow the ancient adepts did not notice that this image was not such a good correlation, but we, the more intelligent, can. All very self-congratulatory, and we need to be careful when our questions seem to end up with answers that make us feel superior.

    Alchemical literature, as I am sure you have noticed, is quintessentially and by nature designed to awaken what the zen people call the hijo or doubt factor, driving one to question deeply the meaning. “Deeply” meaning within oneself, not externally in various and sundry putative experts.

    In any case, we are not in the least concerned with any historical facts or factoids in regard to the images and their relationship to the keys under consideration. Our only concern is for their spiritual validity. And these images have been determined to have such validity. Again, one needs to make a choice about what is important.

    4) Also, there is always a tendency when beginning the study of alchemy to over-reify terms and to assume that alchemical terms have a one-to-one correlation with some aspect of reality. But these terms are symbolic, and like all good symbols they adjust their meaning in different phases of the work.

    5) Some outside work was done and this is good, however, if you do not keep to texts that are genuine products of adept spiritual alchemists, as opposed to those dealing with other aspects of alchemy and written by persons who have not experienced the fruits of spiritual alchemy, you will actually only make your work (and ours) more difficult.

  9. July 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Thankyou xiaoyaoxing, i appreciate your help.


  10. August 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Hello xiaoyaoxing, back again. I have been mulling over both your writings and James’ here, and seem to have reached an impasse. In short, every time i come up with some solution to an alchemical conundrum, doubt takes hold and and the insight is driven off. How can one be sure that ones insights are correct and ones doubts are any more justifiable than ones prudjudices? If the insight is genuine how can one make use of it?

    Further, as no praxis are to be found here, I feel compelled to ask: what is there to be done?! Initially I assumed your reference to books like ‘The secret of the Golden Flower’ was a generous hint toward profound meditation, and several revelations occurred whilst watching spirit, but again are they impure sulfurs, are they pure?

    Here is one ‘insight’ I hope you can verify; Philosophic Mercury represents that stage in meditation where ones concentration stays put/detached (on/from the breath in my case). It is fleeting and the slightest distraction is a hint towards it’s impurity. Assuming Sulphur to represent Imagination/intellect (hypothetically) there can be a way of retaining the mercurial spontaneous mind whilst the imagination and intellect play their roles unhindered by familiarity and anticipation.

    Well your guidance is always appreciated, and this is most definitely the tradition for me, or at least it is the one that feels right.

    Thankyou, Otove

  11. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    August 18, 2012 at 5:12 pm


    First : relax.

    Second: beware of ‘understanding,’ of thinking that you know the final answer. Solve et coagula: first you must dissolve, and an important part of what you dissolve is the frozen ideas and concepts that block you. Just when you think Ah! I have got it! You can be sure that IT has got YOU. Ie the concept has you trapped. Hang loose. Let go for a while of the desire to understand. Soak yourself in the literature and let it work on you.

    As you know, Question 28 of the Short Catechism quotes Rais-el-Aflak, ‘The Lord of the Skies’, who said to any who would listen:

    ‘Almost all men who come to [the Tradition] have strange imaginings about man. The strangest of these is that they can progress only by improvement. Those who will understand me are those who realize that man is just as much in need of stripping off rigid accretions to reveal the knowing essence, as he is of adding anything. Man thinks in terms of inclusion into a plan of people, teachings and ideas. Those who are really the Wise know that the Teaching may be carried out also by exclusion of those things which make man blind and deaf.’

    Many of those inhibiting ideas will not even be visible until you have dissolved the grosser and more crude ones. Grasp things very lightly, and be prepared to let go as the next vista arises before you.
    Eg, you say, ‘No praxis are to be found here.’ That may well be true: for you. For me, everywhere I look now on this site is praxis. But this has not always been the case.

    James told me, long ago, and I have found it to be true: ‘Alchemy seeps in, almost by osmosis – a gradual assimilation. The more of the associated life-work you manage to do, the more the opacity of the text resolves gently and almost imperceptibly into translucency and then transparency.’

    The life-work means attending to those things universally suggested as crucial to success in alchemical undertakings: eg, to be simple, patient, and persevering, as well as appealing for aid to a higher power, and being thankful when such aid is vouchsafed (and even when it isn’t!), and to develop the oft-derided qualities of faith, hope and charity; but it also means practice in turning the light around, as explained in detail in the Golden Flower. Yes, that was indeed a suggestion for practice, and there is much in that book that would bear further perusal, esp:

    ‘Look back again and again into the source of mind, whatever you are doing, not sticking to any image of person or self at all, then this is ‘turning the light around wherever you are.’ This is the finest practice.’

    One important thing is not to get to bogged down in detail, but rather to do and become, without worrying about form too much. Really each person must find a method which suits them best.

    There are reasons that this lineage does not specify detailed step-by-step practices for auditors, and even rarely for disciples, and one is that such practices can easily become idols and traps: This is the key! If I do this I will go to Heaven! (And then soon after that): Guess what, a teacher said I should do this. Maybe you should try it too! After all, if it is good for me, it must be good for you. And good for everybody! In fact, I have set up a franchise, yes indeedy, learned from a GENuwyne Spiritual Teacher (G-S-T)™.

    Another reason is that (except in very special circumstances) giving specific practices fosters dependence upon an external human authority instead of allowing one to gradually and sanely develop contact with an inner teacher. At the same time it atrophies an important ability that you must develop: discernment.

    ‘I had forgotten that,’ said Eomer. ‘It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange … How shall a man judge what to do in such times?’
    ‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.’

    The more we do in response to what we see, the more we can see and do—or the more we can see what we need to do. And this is the answer to your question: if an insight is genuine, how can one make use of it?

    Again, the technical terms found in alchemical literature are not simple concepts, nor are they exclusively intellectual concepts, but a skein of complex meaning that incorporates aspects of bodily sensation, mental posture and spiritual appetence.
    So beware of simple ‘this’ = ‘that’ answers that you can concretise and hold on to, rather one should gather multiple possible understandings to create complex meaning. And again, these ‘understandings’ are not just intellectual, but use many aspects of our body-mind complex. A female adept said ‘what we find depends upon what we seek with, that is, the ontological quality of the faculty we seek with determines what we can find.’
    Also James has reminded us:

    ‘On reading any one text, or in reading multiple texts, a given term may indicate what may seem to be a broad and unrelated variety of things.
    Sulphur, for instance, can indicate that which stinks, that which is yellow, that which purifies the blood, that which burns, that which does not burn but which causes other things to burn, that which preserves, that which is active, burning in the earth, etc.
    Sulphur can, therefore, indicate in the space of a single paragraph a phantasm, imaginary forms, false idea or ideal, misdirected desire, etc.; gold, activity, leaven (yeast), etc; spiritual desire aspiration, spiritual passion, spiritual love, clear conscience, etc.; sin, hamartia, lower passion, worldly love, guilty conscience, etc.; the intellect/nous/al-aql, contemplation, uplifted reason, etc.; and so on.

    The discipline of alchemy requires being able to keep fluid, to entertain and retain all these many factors in ones mind at one time without having to ‘collapse the wave’ as it were.

    The most important thing for one to know in the beginning is : one does not need to understand the texts, or heroically strive to mentally puzzle them out as one would do were they written in Morse code. At this phase, multiple relaxed readings are required.’

    As regards the metals and what specifically they represent and how we go about transmuting, tinging, multiplying, etc., the same female adept states:
    ‘To those whom inclination has led thus far, with a benevolent spirit, to the inquiry, it may appear no trifling object we are in pursuit of, or irrational . . . nor, let us be assured, will a few short years of study or idle handling of the Matter, be sufficient to admit a man to the arcana of Hermetic Science.’

    Hermes has recorded it in a dialogue between himself and his Nous, Poimandres:

    ” ‘But tell further, how shall I return to life, my Nous? For God declares: Let the man endowed with Nous remember himself. Do not all men have Nous?’
    ‘Mark your words,’ he replied. ‘I, Nous itself, come to the aid of the devout, the noble, pure, merciful, and those who live piously, and my presence becomes a help, and straightaway they know all things. By a life full of love they win the favour of the Father and lovingly they give thanks . . . I Nous, will not allow the activities of the body which assail them to have effect. Being the gatekeeper, I shall close the entrances to evil and dishonourable actions, cutting off their thoughts.’ ”

    As the Quran (13:11) indicates:
    Verily, Allah does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves.

    Now, almost any of the points mentioned here can be taken deeper, even (or even especially) my first piece of advice. So why don’t we take that ride, instead of you beginning a line of enquiry, then dropping it and moving on to another random starting point?

  12. August 22, 2012 at 5:10 am

    “Now, almost any of the points mentioned here can be taken deeper, even (or even especially) my first piece of advice. So why don’t we take that ride, instead of you beginning a line of enquiry, then dropping it and moving on to another random starting point?”

    Yes, I had just realized i was doing that!

    “You can be sure that… the concept has you trapped. Hang loose. Let go for a while of the desire to understand. Soak yourself in the literature and let it work on you.”

    The concept of Metals certainly has me trapped, and your advice, to absorb alchemical writings without engaging with them is worth pursuing, maybe it will become clearer with time.Thanks again, back to the trestle board .


  13. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    August 22, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    “I had just realized I was doing that!”

    Yes, this is progress: you begin to see patterns in your attention and actions that are less helpful in taking you forward, and you can then work on eliminating or at least reducing them or their harmful effects. A Sufi once said “Eliminate greed and anger. Or if you cannot do so, at least do not bring them into the circle of the Wise.” So we should aim to have a modicum of control over how and when we express our tendencies.

    Did you notice, for example (in your last post in the “context and guidance” section) where you said:
    “So I will hold back further questions” and then at the end of the next full paragraph go right ahead and ask another question?

    I do not say this to poke fun, but to illustrate how our everyday mind (or really, minds, what Robert Ornstein described as our “ship of fools”) are split and carry us here there and everywhere, just like beads of mercury scattered all over a floor.
    Beginning to notice these patterns, reducing the most harmful, and thereby developing some focus, is called “gathering the mercury.”

    Random is not always bad, by the way. I opened a book at random this morning and found this:

    The answer is always there, but people need the question to bring it out … To get the answer without truly asking the question can defuse the dynamic power of questioning. “Great doubt, great awakening” says a Zen dictum. One of the great masters who took a very long time to solve a certain problem was told by his teacher, “I want your understanding to come late.” The answer that comes too early, that relaxes the doubt before doubt penetrates the whole being, becomes a mere slogan, and the seeker “dies at the words” as a Zen phrase describes it; “skulls litter the fields.”

  14. August 26, 2012 at 3:55 am

    “I do not say this to poke fun, but to illustrate how our everyday mind (or really, minds, what Robert Ornstein described as our “ship of fools”) are split and carry us here there and everywhere, just like beads of mercury scattered all over a floor.”

    Are these, ‘noticings’ the black stage of the work then? If so, I can see why, it is quite humiliating to read over past writings / events, to realise the contradictions and hypocrisy once hidden. I guess we can choose humility or face humiliation – a sombre feeling indeed.


  15. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    September 3, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Are these, ‘noticings’ the black stage of the work then? If so, I can see why, it is quite humiliating to read over past writings / events, to realise the contradictions and hypocrisy once hidden. I guess we can choose humility or face humiliation – a sombre feeling indeed.

    A very good question! My apologies for the slow answer – but I have my own wars at the moment.
    Yes, this is indeed the very beginning of the Black Work, a stage characterized by pain, tedium, melancholy and frustration, but also known as the “Happy Gate of Blackness”, for it leads gradually into the White Work. The pain comes from the burning of conscience as we confront our falsity, and thus alchemy speaks of formless poisons, beating, striking, knocking down and symbols for this phase include anything capable of inflicting wounds (such as swords, spears, etc) as our strong self-will is battered back into its rightful place as a servant to the One.

    On the other hand, this stage can be seen as one in which we reduce the amount of energy spent on vain and counterproductive activity. These are often the result of learned behaviour patterns that we have to unravel, but before we can even do that, we have to observe them. Hence the importance of the ‘noticings’, and you should begin to notice more and more as your concentration gathers (it gathers because you are wasting less on random stuff).

    The Black Work, the Nigredo, is the stage of Putrefaction: dissolution of the way one has lived hitherto, in order that a new way of life can supersede. It is the Opus Contra Natura (work against nature), the back-ward flowing method, as you go against your usual habits and break up your reflexive-patterned reactions. (And before you ask: you do this by observing them).

    James told me:

    The first, or black work (in Hermeticism) is a matter of going against the natural propensity which is to concentrate on and desire those objects which the externally directed sensorium falls upon. We tend to become obsessed with this ‘life’ we lead and forget there is more to LIFE than merely living. So we (temporarily) go against this by concentrating on Essence, by ‘reverse gazing’, ‘introspection’, ‘voyaging within’, ‘turning the light around’, etc. Once we have continuous and stable contact with Essence, we can attempt to reconcile and balance Essence and Life.

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