My wealth let sons and brethren part;
Some things they cannot share –
My work well done, my noble heart,
These are mine own to wear.
The great 8th century Arabian alchemist, Abu Musa Jābir ibn Hayyān
So wrote the great 8th century Arabian alchemist, Abu Musa Jābir ibn Hayyān, known in the West as Geber or Jabir. The son of the druggist Hayyān of Kufa, a city located on the western bank of the Euphrates River in what is now Iraq, Jabir was a man of exceptional intellectual calibre, embodying the early pinnacle of Islamic alchemy. A vast corpus is attributed to this great alchemical mind. It was in his Summa perfectionis magisterii (or The Sum of Perfection or the Perfect Magistery) that Jabir declared, “… in this book I have never taught our science explicitly. Had I described the order of its development, ill-intentioned persons might have understood it and have used it for pernicious ends.” The science that Jabir refers to is, of course, none other than the strand of occultism referred to as the Hermetic science of alchemy. Jabir was by no means the first, nor the last, of the Hermetic philosophers who endeavoured to protect the secrets of the art from the eyes of malignant and ignorant men. As recently as the time of the enigmatic Fulcanelli, the duty of the adept or initiate to ensure that the most sacred secrets of the art are not profaned has been clearly articulated. In his conclusion to Le Mystère des Cathédrales (or The Mystery of the Cathedrals), written in 1922, Fulcanelli elucidates upon this duty in no uncertain terms:
Nature does not open the door of the sanctuary indiscriminately to everyone … No one may aspire to possess the great secret, if he does not direct his life in accordance with the researches he has undertaken. It is not enough to be studious, active and persevering, if one has no firm principles, no solid basis, if immoderate enthusiasm blinds one to reason, if pride overrules judgment, if greed expands before the prospect of a golden future … By constant exercise of the faculties of observation and reasoning and by meditation, the novice will climb the steps leading to KNOWLEDGE. A simple imitation of natural processes, skill combined with ingenuity, the insight born of long experience will secure for him the POWER. Having obtained that, he will still have need of patience, constancy and unshakeable will. Brave and resolute, he will be enabled by the certainty and confidence born of a strong faith to DARE. Finally, when success has crowned so many years of labour, when his desires have been accomplished, the Wise Man, despising the vanities of the world, will draw near to the humble, the disinherited, to all those who work, suffer, struggle and weep here below. As an anonymous and dumb disciple of eternal Nature … he will remain faithful to his vow of silence. In Science, in Goodness, the Adept must evermore KEEP SILENT.
Three editions of Le Mystère des Cathédrales (or The Mystery of the Cathedrals), by Fulcanelli
Bound, in many instances, by traditional vows of secrecy, it remains a point of honour for some initiates to maintain silence or, at the least, observe extreme discretion. Although many adepts and, indeed, students of alchemy would heartily endorse the validity of the continued obfuscation of the secrets of the Great Work from the broader public and the scientific community, lovers of the art are increasingly sharing their own opinions, unbound by oaths of membership of, and fealty to, any particular fraternal organisation, and viewing the supposed need for secrecy as a relic of the past. Reflective, to at least some degree, of the broader contemporary social phenomenon that is the erosion of privacy, such revelation or removal of the veil is seen by some as detrimental to the holy tradition of alchemy, and by others as integral not only to the preservation of the art, but to its recovery and restoration.
Lapidus, evidently, falls into the latter category of Philosophers by Fire. In his introduction to The Pass-Keys to Alchemy, he asserts that unless the art of alchemy is seriously investigated “it will forever remain a lost art” and that “This book … is indeed that which it claims to be, for it is the first time that such an alchemical treatise is written so clearly and truthfully … This book has been produced in an effort to clear up the seeming gibberish that writers have formed, and so to pave the way to study, and rearrange into a clear picture. It is fair to say that with the help provided, one might be amazed at the simplicity of this wonderful art, when it is known.”
Alchemists and Gold, by Jacques Sadoul (published by Neville Spearman Limited / G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972)
In Alchemists and Gold, the erudite Jacques Sadoul writes that “An alchemist is said to be ‘grudging’ if he knowingly gives wrong information about his Art, and ‘generous’ if he reveals a truth.” By suggesting that The Pass-Keys to Alchemy – with its frank disclosure of great canonical secrets – could provide a starting point for serious alchemical investigations, Lapidus places himself among the ranks of the generous. By employing the structural approach that he has – which involves the quotation of extracts from renowned alchemical treatises by a range of authors, accompanied by insightful commentary and advice derived from decades of diligent toil in the laboratory – Lapidus with The Pass-Keys to Alchemy joins the likes of Dom Antoine-Joseph Pernety with his Dictionnaire mytho-hermétique (or Mytho-Hermetic Dictionary) and Dr. Sigismund Bacstrom with his Alchemical Anthology, both of which utilised a similar textual technique. By digesting the vast alchemical literature, disentangling the ingeniously knotted texts, presenting only the most essential passages drawn from the many thousands of volumes extant, and alerting the tyro to stumbling blocks and red herrings, Lapidus has done the student of alchemy a great service. As he did in his earlier published work, In Pursuit of Gold, Lapidus warns against the haphazard reading of too many alchemical books, in order to avoid confusion, and instead recommends the close study of his own generous writings, along with the texts of a limited number of acknowledged adepts (such as those detailed in the bibliography of In Pursuit of Gold), accompanied by practical experiment.
Lapidus continues in his introduction to The Pass-Keys to Alchemy that “This science of alchemy has been claimed to be just child’s play and a woman’s work: no doubt it is so, when the processes are known, but this can come true with patience and perseverance, and by trial and error in the experiments, as is usual in scientific investigation, and patience to await changes taking place … it is a fact that when one is conversant with the subject, it amounts to a natural simple process, carried out in metals.” That the whole of the alchemical work follows a purely natural process, and that the art can quicken the work of Nature – accomplishing within a year or even as little as a few months what Nature takes thousands of years or longer to achieve – is emphasised. Echoing Fulcanelli, among others, Lapidus writes that “[the alchemists] have always, in all their treatises repeated just set the conditions, and as in every other living thing, Nature will do the rest.”
The Pass-Keys to Alchemy … the ‘lost’ book of Lapidus, found
Lapidus professes that, in the course of time, alchemy will not only be considered the most advanced knowledge of metals in existence, but that the art “will be called one of the greatest blessings to mankind in the form of a golden powder known as the Elixir of Life and the Philosophers Stone, the cure of most diseases that afflict mankind and could heal anyone, even on the point of death.”
In closing his introduction to The Pass-Keys to Alchemy, Lapidus highlights that “unlike so many other discoveries, which cost so much to carry on, alchemy and all that is necessary to carry on the work is well within the cost that an average person can stand. Space to experiment, a small room, and all the equipment and materials required can be bought for a few hundred pounds at most …” and that, although continuous heat is required, the acquisition and maintenance of such should not prove prohibitive to the pursuit of the Great Work. As Lapidus puts it: “… with close attention, patience and perseverance, in the experiments carried out, and with the teaching provided in this book, no serious researcher can fail to find the goal he is seeking.”
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. This professionally typeset, book-length paper is included gratis with every pre-order of The Pass-Keys to Alchemy.
The Pass-Keys to Alchemy is forthcoming via Salamander and Sons during December 2012.