Alchemical Texts, Alchemy, argent vive, Eirenæus Philalethes, George Starkey, Lapidus, mercury, Metals, Philosopher’s Mercury, quicksilver, Robert Boyle, Secret Fire, Sophic Fire, The Marrow of Alchemy, The Pass-Keys to Alchemy
Long held among the foremost of mysterious and unknown adepts, Eirenæus Philalethes is now usually, but not universally, considered the nom de plume of the brilliant American doctor and alchemist George Starkey. Born George Stirk in Bermuda in 1628, this prolific Paracelsian iatrochemist and associate of the renowned chemist, physicist and natural philosopher Robert Boyle, is reported to have died during the Great Plague of London in 1665. During the course of his lifetime he authored close to thirty significant treatises. Among these, The Marrow of Alchemy is a long poem celebrated by sons of the art; extracts from which form the basis for the first of Lapidus’ seven pass-keys. Lapidus goes so far as to describe The Marrow of Alchemy as “the most outstanding and informative treatise on the art ever revealed so openly.”
Lapidus begins by stating that although “… the art of alchemy is commenced by gold and mercury,” the greatest stumbling block placed in the path of the alchemical tyro is understanding what is meant by mercury. Quoting verses from the Philalethes poems, Lapidus states that the mercury referred to is not – at least at this stage of the work – “the common or metallic kind and is not even mercury, but called mercury to mislead … past experimenters of alchemy still come back to trying the ordinary mercury, or quicksilver, and never believing that there might be two kinds of mercury, one of which is not mercury at all, and because this is another way of misleading those researchers who still persist not knowing there is another, which is falsely named mercury.”
He continues to elaborate a few of the hundreds of names used by alchemists to describe this liquid, including water, Philosopher’s Mercury, metalline water, Secret Fire, Sophic Fire, maydew, flying stone, the crying bird of Hermes, venomous burning water, invisible fire, the mover, and the first agent.
Lapidus writes that this mercury or Sophic Fire has “the power to dissolve the strongest or hardest metals into water in a heat no more than that of a hot Summer’s day …” and that although “it is called by some adepts, our Secret Fire” it is not a fire. This Secret Fire or mercury “can change [metals] into a black liquid like mud in the short time of about 42 days, if left in a heat which must not fade out.”
Lapidus writes that common mercury or quicksilver is, indeed, an essential ingredient of the work, “but only in conjunction with the Philosopher’s Mercury which is the liquid Secret Fire.” The Secret Fire is a water which “must be prepared, before use, and produced by distilling a certain clear water from certain metals.” Lapidus continues that “… this water, which by the way is not water at all, will not finally become a metal, but must be used again and again as a catalyst to bring forward the work.”
Lapidus quotes from The Marrow of Alchemy:
But when that gold with its own Metalline mercury
is tempted and within a fit glass closed,
and in a due heat digested, bye and bye it
doth begin to act, for thus disposed,
it is like to good seed into good ground cast,
which shall augment itself in kind at last.
As then each earth for each seed is not fit,
so each metalline water for our art,
Tis not to be desired. They who hit
on our true water have the hidden part
of our rare stone, which if they can espouse,
and so with the sun digest, in its due house,
With a due fire, I may be bold to say,
that they may go to the Hesperian Tree,
and pluck its apples. These are such as may,
advance corporal gold to such degree,
that all metals which imperfect are,
it may enter, tinge, and fix to gold most rare.
Lapidus then continues to investigate the great secret of the water, that is, the Secret Fire or mercury. Again, he quotes at length from The Marrow of Alchemy:
But of this secret mercury; if you desire,
the secret for to learn, attend to me:
For this is a water which yet is fire,
which conquers bodies from their degree,
and makes them fly much like a spirit pure,
and this after fixing all flames to endure.
This water it doth flow from a fourfold spring,
which is but three, which two, and which but one,
is the only bath to bathe our king,
This is our maydew, this our flying stone;
our bird of Hermes in the mountains flying,
and without voice or note is always crying.
Lapidus assert that the above verses describe “the most important secret of the whole art of alchemy” and that “When this is known, and understood, the secret method of preparation for use will be simple and plain.” He continues that “The fourfold spring above is the water in which metals are soaking up the water, in a gentle heat, continuously sending up a vapour, which is the Secret Fire. When these metals are melted, what is left, after proper distillation is only one thing … Then the metals and the water will result in One only thing, a black liquid in 50 days.”
To affect this alchemical putrefaction – the signature of which is pitch black – the artificer must, of course, understand the art of preparing the Secret Fire. From The Marrow of Alchemy:
Tis Saturn’s offspring who a well doth keep,
In which cause Mars to be drowned, then
Let Saturn behold his face in this well.
Which will seem fresh, and young and tender, when
the souls of both are both together blended,
for each by the other need to be amended.
Then behold, a star into this well shall fall,
and with its lustrous rays the earth shall shine,
Let Venus add her influence with all,
for she is nurse of this stone divine,
The bond of crystalline mercury:
This is the spring in which our Sun must die.
Take thou that substance which is Saturn’s child;
This is the serpent which thou shalt devour,
Cadmus and his companions, though defiled they be.
Yet thou shalt with a gentle shower,
wash off its blackness till a moon appear,
shining most bright. Know then the day is near.
Philalethes mentions “Saturn’s offspring” and “Saturn’s child” which Lapidus identifies as a liquid, antimonial argent vive. Lapidus refers to and extols The Secret Book of Artephius in which Saturn’s offspring is identified as antimony, “a mineral participating of Saturnine parts.” Writes Lapidus: ”No other book has clarified this fact, and indeed it is Saturn’s offspring. Thus we have a sure start in alchemy. Add to this antimony, Mars and Venus, and the Secret Fire, and you have the fourfold spring of Saturn’s well.”
Lapidus then cautions the tyro that “There is an instruction here of which to be warned. It reads: ‘wash off its blackness till a moon appear.’ This is misleading advice, and on no account should this be done, for this blackness will eventually turn into whiteness. If the truth be told, the advice should be: WHEN THE WATER IS ALL DISTILLED OFF, pour back the clear water, and repeat a few times, so that the distilled water becomes more powerful to act its part. Each time the black matter may be left fairly firm and be stirred up with a firm wire, so that the water enters in.”
Lapidus again quotes from The Marrow of Alchemy:
Then take our mercury (which is our Moon),
And espouse it with the terrestrial Sun,
Thus man and wife are joined, and to them soon
add the reviving spirit: this when done
a noble game you soon shall espy, because
you have attended Nature’s noble laws.
Of the red man one: of the white wife three,
take thou, and mix which is good proportion.
Then of the water, four parts let there be,
This mixture is our lead, which unto motion
will be moved by a most gentle heat,
Which must increased be until it sweat.
Lapidus writes that “this last verse above clearly informs the searcher that having prepared the water, he may now mix it with the gold in due proportion … The red man, of course, is gold, and the white wife is the clear white water, the Secret Fire, and soon add a little more of the metalline mercury, and later a little more, and this may only be learned by slow careful experiment.”
Lapidus closes the first pass-key with additional practical advice. He advises that, where possible, the metals used should be purchased in powder form to expedite the work. He also reminds the tyro to prepare a sufficient quantity of Secret Fire or mercury, and emphasises the importance of patience along with temperature control and not moving or opening the vessel once the work has begun.
This post is extracted from Paul Hardacre’s 15,000+ word paper, ‘The Lost Book of Lapidus’, presented at the 2012 Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle.
The Pass-Keys to Alchemy is available from Salamander and Sons.