Twelve Keys – Preface

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.


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The Preface of Basilius Valentinus, the Benedictine,
Concerning the Great Stone of the Ancient Sages.

When I had emptied to the dregs the cup of human suffering, I was led to consider the wretchedness of this world, and the fearful consequences of our first parents’ disobedience. Then I saw that there was no hope of repentance for mankind, that they were getting worse day by day, and that for their impenitence God’s everlasting punishment was hanging over them; and I made haste to withdraw myself from the evil world, to bid farewell to it, and to devote myself to the service of God.

When I had spent some years at the monastery, I found that after I had performed my work and my daily devotions I still had some time on my hands. This I did not wish to pass in idleness, lest my evil thoughts should lead me into new sins; and so I determined to use it for the study and investigation of those natural secrets by which God has shadowed out eternal things. So I read a great many books in our monastery written in olden times by philosophers who had pursued the same study, and was thereby stimulated to a more ardent desire of knowing that which they also knew. Though I did not make much progress at first, yet at last God granted my earnest prayer, and opened my eyes that I might see what others had seen before me.

In the convent there was a brother, who was afflicted with a severe disease of the kidneys, and to whom none of the many physicians he had consulted had been able to give even momentary relief. So he had committed himself to the hand of God, and despaired of all human aid.

As I loved him, I gathered all manner of herbs, extracted their salts, and distilled various medicines. But none of them seemed to do him the slightest good, and after six years I found that I had tried every possible vegetable substance, without any beneficial effect.

At last I determined to devote myself to the study of the powers and virtues which God has laid into metals and minerals and the more I searched the more I found. One discovery led to another, and, after God had permitted unto me many experiments, I understood clearly the nature and properties, and the secret potency, imparted by God to minerals and metals.

Among the mineral substances I found one which exhibited many colours, and proved to be of the greatest efficacy in art. The spiritual essence of this substance I extracted, and therewith restored our sick brother, in a few days, to perfect health. For the strength of this spirit was so great as to quicken the prostrate spirit of my diseased brother, who, from that day to the day of his death, remembered me in his hourly prayers. And his prayers, together with my own diligence, so prevailed with God, that there was revealed to me that great secret which God ever conceals from those who are wise in their own conceits.

Thus have I been wishing to reveal to you in this treatise, as far as may be lawful to me, the Stone of the Ancients, that you, too, might possess the knowledge of this highest of earthly treasures for your health and comfort in this valley of sorrow. I write about it, not for my own good, but for that of posterity, and though my words be few and simple, that which they import is of immeasurable magnitude. Ponder them well, that you also may find the Rock which is the foundation Stone of truth, the temporal blessing, and the eternal reward.


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  1. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    January 29, 2012 at 1:39 am

    As I was reading this, it occurred to me that the principles that applied to the more obviously allegorical passages could well apply here as well, and with that eye I aimed to raed this.

    The ‘brother’ with the ‘kidney’ disease caught my attention, and I did a bit of research into the 15th century idea of the function of the kidneys (since that is the idea that his contemporaries would be approaching this text with), and found that it was ‘to separate solid from liquid’.

    After our discussions regarding water and other substances this seemed it might be a fruitful vein for inquiry.
    I think the ‘brother’ is a part of the Monk Valentine himself, the part that can (or could, if trained) discern the difference between the liquid essence and the reified granular world. The disease is the inability to do this.

    I am not clear regarding the vegetable substances and why they were ineffective, and also why the mineral substance exhibited many colours. I would expect it to be of a single pure substance.

    Can I ask for assistance?

  2. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    January 29, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    A simple search for “vegetable” on the site has cleared up my confusion regarding the “vegetable substances,” since the question is abundantly referenced throughout this website. I should have done this before presenting the question. My apologies.

    And yet asking has prompted a better understanding, so it was also worthwhile.

    The vegetable substance refers to the growth-causing substance of the vital soul, here contrasting the efficacy of that with the mineral/spiritus which descends from above.

    It also refers to combustible things. There is a famous Islamic tradition which described how Abraham first worshiped plants, then stones, then stars, but all these eventually disappeared. He finally stated “I love not those that set.”
    And yet, as Basil Valentine informs us, the combustion of the vegetable substances leave a certain salt.

    So the meaning of his statement is that he could do nothing to heal “his brother” on his own account, but required celestial assistance. Once that “brother” was healed, the combined “prayers” (proper functioning) of these parts of himself allowed him to be open to the next step in the ever ascending spiral.

    However, I am still not clear regarding the many colours of the mineral substance …

  3. January 30, 2012 at 4:34 am

    “However, I am still not clear regarding the many colours of the mineral substance …”

    Me neither and I don’t wish to derail the line of inquiry. I suspect this is one of those occasions where the oft-referenced polyvalency of terms in alchemy is being deployed. That in mind, perhaps the following from Meditations of the Greek Master apply:

    “In that image are all science and knowledge, because when it emanated from the Primary Agent, it focused on its cause, and beheld it according to its power and thus became intellect and essence”

    “Whoever wishes to know how the true One creates a multiplicity of phenomena should set his gaze on the true One alone, leaving aside all things, which come from It; and should return to Its essence and stay there: for he will see, by means of his intellect, the true One, motionless, standing high above all things intelligible and sensible.

    And he will see the totality of things as if they were productions emanated from It and inclining to It.”

  4. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    January 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I think that is a good Greek paraphrase of Abraham’s quip 🙂

    I am beginning to find that the polyvalency of the terms has yet an inner consistency that reveals itself more and more as one pours regard into it. This ‘many colours’ question has come up for me before (in the Third Key) and I didn’t completely understand it there, so it has come up again.
    By the way, the term also appears in the Introduction:

    Then Mars presented himself, with sword drawn — a sword that shone with many colours, and gave out a beautiful and unwonted splendour. This sword he gave to the warder Vulcan, and bade him slay Mercury, and burn him, together with his bones, to ashes. This Vulcan consented to do.

    As we have been advised, often finding the same terms in different contexts will illuminate a different facet and bring out more of the whole.

  5. January 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Some good work there…

    ‘Many colors’ – this is related to what is also called ‘peacock’s tail’. It refers to a state after the black work has been passed but before the pure white of the unitive state has been established.

    The ‘many colors’ of mother-of-pearl line the inside of the oyster shell in which is cradled the actual pearl (Latin ‘Unio’).

    It is said in the oral tradition, and one can also find it in the literature, that seeing the ‘peackcock’s tail’ (many colors) after the black work is a positive sign. Seeing it after the white work has been passed is a negative sign and indicates the need to begin again.

    In the first instance it is indicative of both the freeing of the vitality, and also the beginning of wisdom. In the latter it indicates diffusion and the return to folly.

    To be enamored with the ‘many colors’ prevents appreciation of the pearl.

    –best wishes and warm regards to all–

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