Introduction, Part III

Simply stated, Hermetism, or its synonym Alchemy, was in its primary intention and office the philosophic and exact science of the regeneration of the human soul from its present sense-immersed state into the perfection and nobility of that divine condition in which it was originally created. Secondarily and incidentally, as will presently appear, it carried with it a knowledge of the way in which the life-essence of things belonging to the subhuman kingdoms—the metallic genera in particular—can, correspondingly, be intensified and raised to a nobler form than that in which it exists in its present natural state. It is to this secondary aspect only that the popular mind turns when Alchemy is mentioned, unaware of the subject's larger and primary intention, and it is desirable, therefore, to treat of the science here first from the larger aspect, and subsequently from its lesser and subsidiary one.

The science postulates the premiss, which unless granted at the outset of inquiry into it renders its further consideration superfluous, that somehow, somewhere, and for reasons into which we need not now inquire, the human soul has sustained what is called by theology a “fall”; a declension from Super-nature into this world of Nature, a cutting-off—not total, but nearly so—from its original environment, allegiance and root of being; an arrest of the development it would have experienced but for its lapse into an alien state and plane of existence. {26} It promises that reversion to and re-attainment of its original state are alike feasible and desirable. It assumes, moreover, that despite the soul's fall there lingers in it, although in a condition of atrophy and enchantment, a residual germ of that divine principle which once wholly actuated it; a germ capable of being so stimulated into activity as to raise the personal consciousness even to the point of unity and identity with the Universal Mind and, through the healing efficacy of that principle's transmuting potencies, to effect such an organic change in the psychical, and even the physical, parts of our present frail and imperfect nature as will bring them into a divinised condition. Briefly, it implied that man's present fallen self, his natural consciousness and organic constitution, can be metamorphosed, reversed, turned as it were inside out and outside in; that divine principle which is now internalised and occulted being brought forward into consciousness and function, and the natural principle now animating him, and exercising in him a usurped self-willed control, becoming repressed and put back into subordinacy and hiddenness. Alchemy was therefore called, as its etymology implies, the “black art”; but black only in the sense of being kept religiously secret and dark, for good reasons which will appear, from those as yet unready or unfit to be entrusted with the knowledge of the vital experimentation involved in the science.

Man, of his own natural power and unaided ab extra, can never rise beyond that external Nature to whose wheel he is tied. He can develop only along her lines and within the limits of her laws and potentialities. And Nature herself being but a flux, a perpetual aggregation and dispersion of certain forces, the human soul, as, in Hamlet's words, it “passes through nature to eternity” would remain the perpetual sport of that flux, like a cork caught and revolving in a whirlpool, and be incapable of breaking loose from it, were it not for the supernatural principle—the latens Deltas of Aquinas, the hidden Mercury of the Hermetists—submergedly resident within him, but capable of being awakened into saving activity. “Man, without understanding, (i.e., the divine principle) is nothing worth and is as the beasts that perish.” His soul, his Ego, stands as a mean between the competing {27} claims of the sense-world and Super-nature. Generation has brought him into touch with and captivity to Nature, leaving his super-natural principle submerged and passive; Re-generation detaches him from the claims of Nature and the sense-life and re-awakens him to and in his super-natural principle, with which he can again become wholly identified and integrated. But the evolutionary processes of the world of external Nature do not of themselves suffice to awaken the latens Deltas in man. Left to his unaided natural intelligence he would fail even to divine the fact of its presence within him and would gravitate more and more towards his sense-pole, denying the existence of any higher light than that of his brute-reason; the world to-day abounds with people of great powers of natural reason but self-blinded to and incredulous of any larger light within them. Even when led notionally to accept the fact of the presence in him of such a light, he still remains unable to awaken the eternal within him or to discover the limitless potentialities inherent in that supernatural germ. So to do involves assistance, instruction, revelation, superadded moreover to those indispensable pre-requisites to reintegration—faith in the possibility of it, ardour of desire and consistency of purpose to its accomplishment, and lastly, upon approaching a great mystery, a humility and self-abnegation entirely foreign to the robust, self-reliant egoism ordinarily characterising the natural unregenerate man.

To provide such instruction and assistance has been in all ages and lands the office of Religion,—a term itself implying a “binding back” to its original of that which has deflected therefrom. Religion's primary object is to promote the re-birth of the human soul, to transfer its desires and its consciousness from the transient attractions of the world of sense and phenomena to the abiding realities of the world of spirit and noumena, and so to restore the soul to its true line of development which has become broken and arrested by its fall into Nature. The numerous religions, the various instituted religious systems and churches with their diverse forms of creed, ritual and theology, too often become a travesty of the primary purpose of Religion itself; they are born {28} from time to time with a view of re-establishing that primary purpose, which sooner or later tends to become overgrown and obscured by alien accretions of thought, doctrine and rites, and eventually degenerate and die for in a fallen world every human institution, every presentation of truth in so far as the natural mind seizes it but to distort it, sympathetically shares the fall of man himself and becomes like him, corrupt and liable to disintegration. Meanwhile the central original purpose of Religion persists, sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper. “There has never,” St. Augustine affirmed, “been but one religion, nor has it ever been absent from the world since time began, and it commenced to be called Christian in apostolic times.” It has passed through many vicissitudes, many forms of expression and per- version, and has ever been re-stated when the race plunged too deeply into materialism and spiritual blindness. And having but one function, it has also one catholic watchword: “Ye must be born again” (or “from above,” i.e., from the super-natural Principle).

Now of the process of re-birth there is and always has been a definite and exact science, the knowledge of which has been the property of the smallest of minorities and, for adequate reasons, has not been suffered to be promulgated to the multitude, although individuals who earnestly sought for it never failed in discovering it. The Mystery-schools of antiquity, at least before the days of their degeneracy, possessed and administered it; it was the raison d'etre of their existence, as was well known to the public of the time, any member of whom, prepared to abandon secular life and apply himself to the higher vocation, could seek admission therein. The Christianity of the first two centuries took over the doctrine and the science, confirmed and expanded as they became by the advent of Christ, but eventually lost them and put in their place the ecclesiastical machinery and dogmatic theology which have ruled throughout the subsequent centuries of European history, with the result that popular Christianity has for long known nothing of them. With the enjoinder of the assured necessity for regeneration proclaimed by the Master of their faith it and its theologians and pastors are well familiar. But can it be said {29} that “Ye must be born again” means for them more than a vague, mysterious, metaphoric counsel of perfection capable of being satisfied by living the ordinary natural life as far as possible in accordance with the standard of conduct indicated in the Gospels? Are the words accorded more than a value for ethical purposes, to the total neglect of the possibility of their literal practical fulfilment? “The common faith” says Mrs. Atwood, very truly,1) “is mystery without a fulcrum in this life whereon to rest the lever of the will”; yet such a fulcrum would be at hand were there a definitely recognised method of giving the Lord's injunction effect. Were that method generally known, however, it would still be impracticable in the present state of the world to put it into general practice; whilst, moreover, there exist good reasons, as will be made clear later on in this preface, for the temporary abeyance of a science that could at no time be taught or practised save in special circumstances of seclusion and secrecy. For the moment we are only emphasising the point that the Christian Master's words “Ye must be born again” constituted a re-affirmation of a doctrine which has never been absent from the world, although comprehended by none save the meagrest few who devoted themselves to its study or practical pursuit, and to which, for reasons that will appear, has long been attached the name Hermetic.

The secrecy surrounding the science has been due to the mental and moral unpreparedness for it on the part of those content to live the normal life of the world. Save under glyph and figure, cryptic memorials and allegories, the details of the experimental process of regeneration could never be made public, nor can they now. “Bind up the testimony; seal the law among My disciples”; “Procul este profani! conclamat vates”; “Hekas este bebeloi!”; “Cast not your pearls before swine”; “It is not meet to take the children's bread and give it unto dogs”; —such has uniformly been the instruction in regard to it, whether its expositor has been Hebrew prophet, ethnic hierophant, or the Christian Master Himself. And why? Because, apart from the {30} privacy inevitably attaching to sacrosanctities, it involves perils personal and general; it lays open the most secret recesses and properties of the human organism, stripping bare the quivering roots of the physical and psychic life; it leads into contact with magnetic forces of terrific potency from the knowledge and effects of which we are at present providentially sheltered and safeguarded by the grossness of our sense-bodies and the limitations these impose upon us until such time as we become fitted to function in independence of them. The subject was one suited only to true sons of wisdom,—philosophers in the sense in which Pythagoras and Plato would have understood a title now accorded to any expositor of the docta ignorantia concluded from the superficial researches of modern science. Candidates for the regenerate life, moreover, were such as were prepared, as how few of to-day are?, to renounce and transvalue all the world's values, to step entirely oat of the world-stream by the current of which the majority are content to be borne along, to negate the affirmations of the senses and natural reason which for the multitude provide the criterion of the desirable and the true, and generally to adopt towards phenomenal existence an attitude incomprehensible to the average man to whom that existence is of paramount moment. They were animated by no motives of merely personal salvation or of spiritual superiority over their fellows ; on the contrary they will be found to have been the humblest, as they were the wisest, of men. They had advanced far beyond that complacent stage where religion consists in fidelity to certain credal propositions and in “being good” or as good as one can, and where sufficiency and robustness of faith are represented by the facile optimism of “God's in His heaven; all's right with the world.” Their philosophic basis was rather that “the world is out of joint” and all men with it, and in a condition sorely needing saviours and co-operators with God to reduce and adjust the dislocation. A great gulf of incomprehension, attended always with derision and frequently with persecution, ever divides those whose energies have not yet spent themselves in attachment to this external world and those whose spiritual evolution has advanced far enough to enable them to turn away {31} from it, to see in it no abiding city and to beat a retreat inwards to the durable reality of the supra-sensible. The mental attitude of those for whom the Hermetic science was intended may be found further reflected in the following statement:—

“In man there must be forces which natural life does not develop. And the life might pass away unused if the forces remained idle. To open them up, thereby to make man like the divine,—this was the task of the Mysteries . . . We have to do here with a conception of immortality the significance of which lies bound up with the Universe. Everything which man undertakes in order to awaken the eternal within him, he does in order to raise the value of the world's existence. The fresh knowledge he gains does not make him an idle spectator of the Universe, forming images for himself of what would be there just as much if he did not exist. The force of his knowledge is a higher one ; it is one of the creative forces of nature. What flashes up within him spiritually is something divine which was previously under a spell and which, failing the knowledge he had gained, must have lain fallow and waited for some other exorcist. Thus a human personality does not live in and for itself but for the world.”2)

The force referred to, and with which the Hermetist sought to become identified, is that of the universal substrate of life; that which centrally subsists in all that circumferentially exists from it and without whose presence no existence would be possible; the Light which in the philosophical prologue to the fourth Gospel is called “the life of men” and “without which is nothing which has been made,” however unconscious of its latent presence its creatures may be—for it “dwelleth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” It is the Light that, anteriorly to that of the solar and stellar bodies and all other derivatives from it, originated at the primal Fiat Lux; “Light rare, untellable; lighting the very light; beyond all signs, descriptions, languages”; the garment, or “glory,” of God; the {32} “lumen gloriæ” of the Scholastics. It is that Fire which Heraclitus rightly called “the father of all things,” and that in the present volume is often spoken of as the Paternal Ens of life, or as Azoth, or as Magnesia (Magnus Ignis); and that elsewhere, under another metaphor, is spoken of (as in Swinburne's Hertha) as the vitalising sap of the universal Life Tree, or (as in the Gospels) as the life-essence of that mystical Vine of which we are the branches. The source therefore not alone of light external to us, but of light internal also; the well-spring of all intellectual light; nay more, that without which there could be no consciousness at all, but by larger and larger accessions of which, consciousness itself becomes enlarged and extended indefinitely. This root life-essence, then,—something at once spiritual and substantial (though not to sense)—is the Hermetists' Materia Prima, the “First Matter,” upon which their whole science is founded and, as they constantly affirm, without acquaintance with which no knowledge or practice of their art is feasible. Est una sola Res; and it is this “One Thing,” this basal substrate and reality underlying phenomena, this pure matrix around which has accreted the impure (because disordered) matter of the sense-world that one must consciously possess as a passport to the regenerative work. By the hypothesis, not being anything externalised, it can be cognised only introspectively, by the inwardly “turned eye” of the mind “it is gotten,” says our authoress, “in Divine contemplation,” by penetrating that darkness which comprehendeth it not, but in which it lies concealed.

Its explication will be simplified, perhaps, if we think of it by another of its many names,—Ether. Yet it is not the ether known to the modern physicist, though the latter is its fringe, its ultimated aspect. The Ether of the Hermetist is Free Either,—the pre-cosmic “Chaos” of Hesiod, the Eleutheros, immaculate and incorruptible, of the Greek philosophers and theologists; the Ain Soph, or Divine No-Thing, which is the matrix of all things, of the Hebrew Kabalists, which streaming free, formless and unconditioned from its source (it is the mystical river of Eden in the Mosaic cosmogony) becomes u divided into four heads,“ modes or aspects, in the last {33} of which it is conceived as fixed, bound and conditioned, the matrix of the protean manifestation, forms and chemical combinations of the externalised universe, as well as the plastic medium and vehicles through which our thoughts and wills function, and which, did we perceive the results, our psychologic energies are continually modifying and transposing into new forms. With this bound impure ether modern physics has in recent years brought us into touch. It has disclosed the electrical constitution of gross matter, demonstrated some of the ether's features, and discerned the probability (well known to the ancients as a fact) that the ether has many modes or, alternatively, that there are ethers within the ether; whilst the radio-active properties of certain metals have disclosed even to the physical eye external evidence of that primal Fire of whose potentalities the Hermetists knew infinitely more than modern physics has any chance of discerning. For in no subordinate or derived light, and by no outward-looking faculty of the mind or eye,can that Fire or Light be perceived. It must be cognised in and with its own light, not in that of Nature; “In Thy Light shall we see light,” says of it one of those references to it with which the Scriptures abound.

And thus the origin of the term Hermetic; for as, with the Greeks, Zeus omnipotent, the demiurgos and lord of the lightnings, personified the generative source of the electrical or “fiery” energies of Nature, and Hermes was the divine “messenger,” it is easy to see that, apart from the possible existence of any historic teacher of this science named Hermes, the term “messenger” was none other than an allusion to the vibrant universal Ether which in its various modes is in fact the medium and vehicle of all interaction between the different planes and intelligences of the Kosmos. Hermetism, therefore, is the science of the Ether and of its modes and potentialities in the human organism and the subhuman kingdoms. “The metals of the philosophers are the etherial metals; its (the ether's) progressive stages, its processes, the arising of the ether from and through its lower to its higher forms and qualities.”3){34}

Man being the measure and image of the universe and, on the Hermetic hypothesis, having in himself the Ether in all its modes, the purpose of the science was to effect a transposition of them, to subordinate the fixed, adulterated, bound mode, in virtue of which he lives and is conscious as a child of external Nature, and displace it by the free pure mode in virtue of which he would become relatively divinised, and invested with conscious- ness and powers impracticable to his natural condition. After purifying his natural self—his bound ether—as far as practicable, the free divine ether latent in him would emerge from its present obscurity and could become focused and nucleated. This, once interiorly glimpsed and held fast to with confidence and firm resolution, the gleam of it could be followed through the murk and fantasies of the psychical regions (or ether-modes) which intervene between the natural mentality and that supreme degree of consciousness the permanentised attainment of which was the desideratum. The process is cryptically described in the sixth Æneid where, at the instruction of the initiating Sibyl, Æneas plucks a twig of the “golden bough” and by its help penetrates the Tartarean gloom and phantasms of the “underworld” (his own subjectivity), emerging at length in Elysium (consciousness on the divine plane) and finding there “the Paternal Ens/ of life” personified by the poet as the explorer's human father. In a still older allegory, the ramus aureus of Virgil is expressed by the “golden thread” which enabled Ariadne to find her way through the labyrinth (of her own subjective nature), and our own mystical poet Blake repeats the same parable in his familiar lines:—

I give you the end of a golden string,
      Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at heaven's gate
      Built in Jerusalem's wall;

arid the metaphorical “winding into a ball” aptly illustrates the nucleating of the Light diffusedly latent in man under the concentration of his spiritual energies to effect an alliance with their source, until at length that Light becomes polarised within him, consolidating into a “philosophical stone,” a quasi-objective substantiality {35} destined to become for him a vehicle of consciousness and his new body of regeneration. Invisibile fiet palpabile et genninabit ut radix. “Would you fain find the Noble Stone? (asks Boehme). Behold we will shew it you plain enough if you be a Magus and worthy, else you shall remain blind still. Therefore go to work thus . . . . go about in the wheel of life from the first to the seventh number (power) and through that to the eighth number (the Fire) and when through it lay hold through the Tincture on the Eternity, which is the ninth number, and bring that upon the Cross, which is the tenth number, which is the end of nature. Here handle the Stone and take as much of it as you will. No fire will destroy it; it is free from the wrath and the outbirth; its splendour and light stand in the power of the Majesty; its body is out of the eternal substantiality.”4)

Now this initial process towards discovering the “stone”—for the matter of it had yet to be much segregated, confected and sublimated—was accomplished in a condition of magnetic trance mesmerically induced upon the aspirant by some wise and skilled operator. For a philosophical “separation” was necessary; 'thou shalt separate the gross from the subtle, gently, with great sagacity.” The separation was that of the aspirant's sense-nature and objective mind from his subjective nature. The former needed to be reduced to quiescence that his consciousness might function in the latter alone and in a necessarily quickened, vivid manner. The aspirant therefore would be placed in the condition of a person at the moment of death or in anaesthesia; but with this difference, that, whilst thus reduced to subjectivity, he would be at the mercy of the compelling will and direction of the operator into whose power he had committed himself. His consciousness, withdrawn from externals, would be restricted to and focused upon the mind's internal content, and these inania regna he would be directed to explore and to consider. It would be his business then to set about cleansing this, his own Augean stable (as the Herculean myth allegorises the process), to clarify it and extirpate from it those mala {36} mentis gaudia and other sorry decorations catalogued by the Roman initiate-poet5) as defacing the envelope of our unpurified subconscious deeps. The Hebrew poet, too, has eloquently if cryptically described6) his own perceptions in this state, when, he tells us, a certain entrancing hand “fell upon me” and he was bidden to look and consider the inward obstructions to the action of the divine Light; “so I went in and saw, and behold every form of creeping things and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel pourtrayed upon the walls round about,” upon which “wall” he perceived the things men “do in the dark, every man in the chamber of his imagery,” preserved upon the cinematograph-film of the mind. Gradually cleansing himself with the help of this self-introspection by a period of pure living and thinking, the candidate became prepared for the ulterior purpose for which the trance-state was employed. That purpose, our authoress explains in her first essay Early Magnetism (p. 9-10) of which the magnetic trance is the main theme, was “to conjoin the mind to its lost universality and pass the consciousness regressively through its many phases back to that long forgotten life in Reality . . . . passing behind the murky media of sense and fantasy to behold reflected in the brightened mirror of our own intelligence the pure Truth; not as it may appear individually or arbitrarily but in its characteristic necessity and universality.”

Tunc ire ad mundum archetypum saepe atque redire Cunctarumque Patrem rerum spectare licebit.

“The trance-state (to condense her further words), when justly and persevering]y ordered for that end, affords the metaphysical condition pre-eminently perfect; for it removes the sensible obstruction and presents a clearer glass before the mind than it can ever regard in the natural state. The patient is no sooner lightly entranced than he begins to feel an internality never before known to him and which may be intensified as the intention is fixed and the calibre of the mind and circumstantial conditions are favourable; the passive personality collapses from its circumferential and phenomenal life into that central {37} Omnipresence whose circumference is not; whilst the mind, rightly disciplined and related to the Universal, becomes universalised and one with the great magnetic Will of Nature, revolving with the Infinite Medium (the pure Ether) through all its spheres, perceiving all things in all and in itself, until at length becoming perfectly converted to its principle, the divinised microcosmic epitome moves with demiurgic power and grace.”

The process in its later stages and amplification is sufficiently, though with due reserve, indicated in the present volume, and we shall not therefore here enlarge upon it farther. But the following epitome of the alchemical work may be usefully cited. It is extracted from an article in a magazine7), long ago defunct, published in the interests of a small circle of enquirers into unconventional aspects of religion and philosophy. As the article appears over the initials of Mrs. Atwood's husband and appeared during her married life, it may be assumed that this passage had been approved and even inspired by herself, and that it represents her view of the work of the Alchemists some eighteen years after the publication of her Suggestive Inquiry:—

“Their primary aim was the rebirth (rebis is one of their obscure terms for this) of the human natural soul, and its direct alliance with vital force in nature; the anima in man was to be brought into intelligent, active, commanding relation with the anima media naturæ, the particular with the universal. The initiation was peculiar; it was connected with trance, and more, with all but total separation of soul from its corporeal dwelling. (We use this word soul to express the medial in the threefold nature of man, and as distinguished from spirit, by which we mean the polar opposite of body). This semi-separation was effected by means partly artificial and akin to those known to media in the present day. The secret was sometimes revealed to an earnest and truthful seeker in one word, and sometimes in a dream; experiment and study alone never imparted it; the agent and patient, both in one, was thus brought into relation with life and its various forces and forms, and in the wondrous regeneration which took place what was old passed away. But it was not intended that the neophyte should stop here; the process was to be repeated again and again before the great end was reached. The trials, the watchings, the labours, were tremendous; tot exantlatos labores, toils exceeding those of Atlas, is one of their frequent expressions. The serpentine nature had to be transformed in the vessel of Hermes, and the contest was. one demanding the utmost self-denial, fidelity, resolution, prayer, as well as surrender of will into God's will,—the gold was to be tried seven {38} times in the fire; not till then was the precious germ capable of realisation as a pure essence, still less of transformation of the baser elements of the psychical corporeity. The process is described as a death, a resurrection, a purification, an exaltation, a sublimation. In the course of it the neophyte, the candidate for the new nature, had to encounter strange enemies, to go through experiences like those alluded to in this volume, to reck little of the mocking voices and whisperings and all kinds of terrors and phantasies which would be certain to present themselves whilst, to use the figure of the fine old Eastern allegory which alludes to these things, he is ascending the mountain on the topmost height of which was to be found the 'fountain of golden water'.”

The Art was called “spagyric” (separative) because it entailed separating the subtle from the gross nature; first of the mind from the sense-nature, and later of that principle—nous or pure intellect—which is higher than mind, from mind itself. It was conserved as a secret in antiquity as it has also been by its isolated disciples in later centuries who employed it only in suitable cases and circumstances. We propose now to say something in justification of this secrecy and in explanation of the abeyance into which the Art has fallen.

If the deeper things of personal life be, as we know they are, ineffable and incommunicable, they create their own secrecy. Much more so when they pertain to that radical change of the life which is involved in regeneration. Regeneration cannot be taught; it must be lived through. The most loving and patient instructor cannot do more than indicate a certain route of conduct and thought desirable to be pursued. Every Hermetic author states that an illuminated understanding is needed to comprehend the processes of the higher ontological growth, which must needs be as much beyond the imagination of the average mind as the physiological and mental changes in an adult are beyond the comprehension of an infant. Boehme, who possessed such an illuminated understanding of both the theory and practice of the Hermetic science, though he states he never proceeded to the practice of it, writes:—“Everyone says, Shew me the way to the manifestation of the good!—Hear and observe well, dear reason; thou must thyself be the way; the understanding must be born in thee; thou must enter into it, so that the understanding of the work in its practic art (wherein I deal not) may be opened to thee. {39} I write only in the spirit of contemplation, how the generation of good and evil is, and open the fountain. He shall draw the water whom God has appointed thereunto.”8) The same writer has given the reasons for secrecy in regard to the practical or “manual” work. He can be quoted as a comparatively recent authority and he corroborates earlier ones in asserting that the experimental work should under no circumstances be attempted by any but a competent master, that is one who has himself been already regenerated. Man “has ability to change nature and to turn the evil into good, provided he has first changed himself, otherwise he cannot. . . . . We tell the seeker, and faithfully warn him as he loves his temporal and eternal welfare, that we do not first set upon this way to try the earth and restore that which is shut up, unless he himself be before born again through the divine mercury out of the curse and death and has the full knowledge of the divine regeneration, else all that he does is to no purpose; no learning or studying avails.”9) Again in his private correspondence with enquirers he says:—“Nothing is found of any fundamental worth unless one doth entrust another with somewhat, the which is forbidden to the children of God in whom the grace is revealed, that they cast not pearls before swine upon pain of eternal punishment. Only it is freely granted to them to declare the light and to show the way of attaining the pearl ; but to give the divine separator into the bestial hand is prohibited, unless a man knoweth the way and will of that man10).” And again:—“Concerning the philosophical work of the tincture, its progress is not so bluntly and plainly to be described; albeit I have it not in the praxis, the seal of God lieth before it to conceal the true ground of the same upon pain of eternal punishment, unless a man knew for certain that it might not be misused. There is also no power to attain it unless a man first become that himself which he seeketh therein; no skill nor art availeth; {40} unless one give the tincture into the hands of another he cannot prepare it unless he be certainly in the new birth.”11) “Trying the earth”; “entrusting another with somewhat”; “giving the tincture into the hands of another,” refer to the committal of the personal soul to the dominating will of an operator sufficiently wise and skilled to assume the responsibility of that soul and to expedite that regenerative process which in ordinary conditions would be achievable only in the slow course of normal development and purgative experiences alike in the present and the post mortem life. It is of this tremendous responsibility that Boehme wrote “Look well into whom you pour oil, for it is poison to many,” and that his great disciple, the saintly William Law, also spoke:—“No oneis a divine Magus till he is qualified to say to his subject, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradize. If he is not himself in paradise he can do no paradisaical work12).” And the Pythagorean injunction was to a like effect: “Increase not thy destiny; break not a superficies (i.e., do not separate body from soul) lest the sin of the patient be multiplied in the agent13).” It was by way of warning, in view of the unintelligent, uninstructed modern practices of mesmerism, hypnotism and spiritualistic mediumship, “the great psychological crime”14) as they have been termed—that the present volume and its authoress's earlier essay upon Magnetism were produced; she wished to indicate the perilous nature of practices tending to disintegrate what has been sealed in the providential order, and the unsealing of which can properly be effected only in and by the methods of the same order. “What God hath joined let no man put asunder.” For the practices referred to approximate very closely to the initial stage of the Hermetic experiment, though they are its travesty, the sinister shadow and unhallowed imitation of a process that can rightly be undertaken only in a state and in the cause of sanctity. {41} The experimental hypnotisation of subjects, the entrancemerit of mediums and the induced extension of psychical faculty from them to produce abnormal phenomena, the deflation of such persons by the extrusion of the stuff that goes to the making of séance-room “materialisations,”—what are these but examples à rebours of that “philo-sophical separation ” of the gross from the subtle nature already spoken of as a preliminary necessity to the Hermetic work? Exponents of modern psychical research have regarded such mediumistic faculties as indications of racial progress, as the budding of new and higher powers in man, and imagine such demonstrations to be useful contributions to science and our knowledge of truth. With such opinions the uniform teaching of all Hermetists and profound students of the science of self-knowledge is at sharpest issue, (and this independently of abstract thinkers like Hegel and some of his school who have reached a like conclusion). It regards them not as progressive but as retrograde, as a reversion to- ancestral types of subconscious faculty now superseded by consciousness and therefore on no account to be encouraged. It views man, i.e., the soul or true ego of man, as in process of restoration from the terrible calamity of his “fall,” in the course of which process development under the operation of the forces and laws of nature has partially redeemed him from chaos and disorder and brought him to a point from which, by the right application of his intelligence and will, he can co-operate in effecting his complete reintegration. But to reverse this process by inhibiting his normal consciousness and remitting into its pre-natal fluidity what, after æonian labour, has at last been brought thereout into individuality and fixation in physical conditions with a view to still further progression, is a crime against the natural order and involves those who indulge in it in consequences not physically apparent but entailing expiation and suffering in planes upon which the protection of the physical body will be wanting. The late Professor Tyndall spoke more truly than he knew, and would have been endorsed by every Hermetist, when he described enquiry into these phenomena as intellectual adultery,—the very term in which intercourse with the astral is {42} frequently referred to in the Scriptures; they belong to the sphere of mental and spiritual anarchy, to the 'sphynx's lair,“ as the old sages have called it, the great deep of the feculent astral-zone of impure unconditioned ether into which are gathered all the lees and shells and reflections of our collective thoughts and passions and where they continue to display a simulation of intelligent life. “Facts,” as Mrs. Atwood would frequently describe these manifestations, “but false facts,” i.e., having no true relation to the natural order we now live in.

Obviously there is grave peril in the exercise, by an irresponsible, uninstructed, or morally unfit person, of the will that puts a patient into a condition exposing him to unsuspected influences and force currents. “Will (as Early Magnetism explains) is itself the simple substantiality of all things, the omnia in omnibus, unparticled, homogeneous, one, in and above all created things; and the projected personal will of the magnetiser will affect his patient in proportion alike to its power, its purity or impurity, and its righteous or sinister motive. Transported by and through the universal etheric medium to the patient, that will is efficacious for good or evil; a vacuum is inevitably created somewhere by those trifling with the magnetic trance, which must in due time be expiated by its effects. Let none therefore presume to play idly with it, for to do so and to degrade it to selfish ends is perchance with the keys of heaven to unlock the easier gates of hell, so specifically does the intention immediately image its principle in act. Springing directly from ourselves, this highly effective agent flows forth, as the mind directs, to good or evil, and imposes, in sure consequences on him who wields it, its inherent accountability.”

Much is said in this volume of “the manual work,” the use of the hand—”the obstetric hand“—as the tractive instrument for conducting the operator's efficient will and manipulating the patient's psychical organism. The ordinary reader will be surprised at the suggestion of spiritual development being dependent upon or controllable by manual influence. Yet every one knows the unspoken language, and the attraction or repulsion {43} communicable by a casual touch or shake of the hand, whilst the “royal touch” for curative and the “laying on of hands” for consecrational purposes are still relics of a science which has long passed beyond the recognition of our cheap modern wisdom. From the mural decoration of ancient temples it is evident that batteries of hands were employed in the course of theurgic work, just as in a less intelligent way the same practice is nowadays applied in promoting spiritistic experiments. Egyptian frescoes, Indian idols, and Gnostic and early Christian art also contain many allusions to manual influence and display arms and hands in magnetic postures; each finger, even, having its different hieroglyphic, suggesting that the application of the projected influence was modifiable, like the stops of a musical instrument, by skilled operators; the whole hand being generally extended for healing or blessing, the thumb and two first fingers only being employed when the image suggests rather will or power. Strabo and Diodorus relate the fame of the mystical and healing cults called the Dactyli Idæi, literally the “fingers of Mount Ida,” whilst alike in pagan, Hebrew and Christian literature references to the mystical power of the hand continually crop up. ”Palmaque nobilis terrarum dominos evehit ad deos“; “Prosper Thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, prosper Thou our handiwork”; “He teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight”; “Thou shalt learn that thy own right hand can save thee”; ” Pull not upon thyself destruction with the work of your hands“; “If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning,”—and so on in scores of passages ordinarily supposed to be but figurative yet alluding to a literal manual exercise of an occult nature. And in the chief office of the Latin Church is not still the initial requirement of him who would serve the altar and minister in the things of the spirit that he be of “clean hands and a pure heart”? Mind(manas, mens) and hand (manus) are intimately and organically connected, the latter being the executive instrument of the former and the subtle purveyor of its secret motives and intentions. The degree of intelligence in the natural world, physiologists tell us, is indicated by that of the development of the prehensile organ, and in man alone is to be found the {44} fully developed hand. “Nature has no hands,” say the Hermetists, implying that she can never regenerate herself or her offspring but must in the long run be assisted to that end by the only one of her children who possesses them. And, Mrs. Atwood adds, “the hand outward is an image of the invisible hand, its clothing, which according to its attainment (i.e., the perfection of its own nature) works effects. The hands of the ether are its transverse poles, which are formed by the divine differentiation everywhere, and are in man 'natural fire,' i.e., the fire of the Ether in our life organism.”15)

By the manuductive art alluded to in this volume, therefore, the ether universally diffused in Nature but individualised in the human organism was polarised, nucleated, and finally elicited into objective form; the consciousness of the subject operated upon was awakened upon the plane of it by inhibiting the sense activities and exalting his attention to the plane of the pure magnetic element, the world of cosmic ideation. There, according to the power by which it could be held and the degree to which it was lifted, it would function in transcendence of every physical limitation and with a range of vision and a lucidity of perception into the interiors and causes of things16), co-extensive with that supra-natural Light with which it had become identified. From that high level, too, the epopt would be able to give his perceptions utterance, to speak oracularly, and to proclaim divine truths and monitions; to which source and method are to be ascribed the Oracles of antiquity (e.g., the well known Chaldean Oracles), the Platonic myths, and the inspired pronouncements or “prophecies” collected in the Hebrew Scriptures and prefaced by “Thus saith the Lord,”—the formula indicating their oracular origin. Striving ever after greater purification in himself and his co-operators, so that his own perviousness to the Divine Light and the measure of their understandings might correspondingly be enhanced, the epopt would be able clearly to discern whatever obstructive imperfections and etheric disorder {45} still lingered in them or in his own grosser organism, to give directions for improving the interior conditions of his collaborators, to clarify and rearrange the ethers composing them,—to “take out the mote from his own eye” (or interior mirror of spiritual perception) and “pull out the beam from his brother's,” as a well-known text explicitly alludes to the process we are describing for, as it is also written, the light of the body (i.e., the sense-consciousness) being the “eye” (or soul), if the “eye” were single (a pure mirror to the Divine principle) the bodily consciousness also would become correspondingly full of the supernal illumination. Further, the epopt could discriminate (as we find the Apocalyptic seer doing in addressing the seven “churches,” or assemblies of Hermetic adepts) as to the measure of spiritual fervour, torpor, disinterestedness or self-centredness characterising a particular group of workers at the regenerative science, and give advice as to including or excluding individuals with a view to perfecting the purpose to which they aspired and securing the conditions best suited to achieving it. But when himself sufficiently integrated in the supernatural principle,—being “in the spirit in the Lord's day” (or supreme degree of consciousness) under the magnetising control of the operator, it became possible also (and here is a great wonder) for the patient to reverse the process and himself to act as the agent force, to re-act upon, magnetise and entrance his magnetiser, and call him up into co-consciousness and identic relations with himself in the supreme Light.

It came to be the view of the learned authoress of this volume (though she developed it after the book was composed17)) that no utterance or revelation to physical {46} man from the true plane of Divine Spirit (with which of course astral communications or manifestations must in no way be confused) has ever been made, or is even capable of reception by our normal benighted brain-intelligence, save in conditions, such as are here referred to, of entrancement on the part of individuals segregated and dedicated for that purpose, and whose sense-liberated consciousness has been intromitted by the Hermetic method to the Mount of vision, whence have been proclaimed those “sermons on the mount” (as in the Gospels and the dialogues of Hermes Trismegistus and his “son” or pupil in the treatise known as the “Divine Pymander”) and prophetic books to which, under the names “Holy Scripture” and “Oracles of God,” supreme authority and reverence have always been accorded. Indeed she concluded that our Scriptures are almost wholly records of visions and utterances derived from these methods and that they contribute a collection of “oracles” uttered in secret sanctuaries which for centuries laboured to establish effective relations between the Divine Principle and this fallen corrupt external plane, and at last, after prolonged attempts and many failures, testified to in the narratives themselves and easily discernible to instructed perception, succeeded in establishing conditions in which became possible the manifestation of Christ Jesus our Lord, the prototypal reintegrate Man, the second and regenerate Adam and first-fruits of them that sleep in that deep torpor of spiritual nescience into which the primal and generic Adam fell, but from which in the fulness of time, the faithful promise ran, he should be awakened.

Such, then, in outline, was the Hermetic “Great Work” of human regeneration and the finding of that philosophical stone and elixir,—that root of immortal being by the appropriation of which the simulation of life constituting our present precarious existence can be transmuted and made whole. It was occultism in its highest and only safe, wise and justifiable form. Contrast it with the spurious occultism, the psychic vivisection and astral trafficking, the magic, hypnotism, and “spiritualistic” mediumism, which in all ages have dogged it as its shadow, and one realises the deprecation with which an informed mind {47} must needs regard irresponsible experimentation with Nature's and our own hidden potentialities undertaken by those uninstructed in their operation and without that basis of religious philosophy and personal sanctification which alone justifies the pursuit of the subject. Alike in intention and method the true science was constructive, reintegrative; founded on sure, traditional wisdom and sound principle, and applied to the highest of interests. It was under the control of masters enlightened in regard to the conditions in which the experiment might be attempted and the limits to which it might be proceeded with in individual cases. To magnetise a duly prepared patient and intromit him into interior planes is easy; to control him when there and know how far he might go with safety to his organism as a whole, to recall him from the bliss of pure being through the astral region, “the valley of the shadow of death,” to the prosaic sense-world, is another matter, and inability to preserve the patient's vital bond and organic integrity involves no small moral responsibility;

          Facilis descensus Averni;
Sed revocare gradus, superasque evadere ad auras,
Hie labor, hoc opus est.

The spurious occultism of to-day, on the other hand, is de-individualising, disruptive of the human personality and consciousness as hermetically sealed by the providential order. It deals not with the plane of the One pure Element, but with that fluidic region biblically called “the waters under the earth” because it is infra-terrestrial in the cosmical order and of a lower stage of development than even physical matter. It creates lesions in the psychic nature, opening gates—which who shall shut?—admitting into the organism the adulterate ether and its illusions, and resulting in infestment and obsession by any intelligent or quasi-intelligent denizen of that turbid, densely populated sphere. Not there or by such methods is the Stone of the Philosophers to be discovered, any more than it is by physical methods. But we commend the reader again to the words of the enlightened Boehme:—”Therefore, sir, do not trouble and toil yourself in the manner and way you mention, with any gold or minerals; it is all false. The best in {48} heaven and in the world above and below must be ingredient to it, which is far off and nigh at hand. The place is everywhere where it may be had; but every one is not fitted and prepared for it; neither doth it cost any money but what is spent upon the time and bodily maintenance; else it might be prepared with two florins, and less. The world must be made heaven, and heaven the world; it is not of earth, stones or metals, yet it is the ground of all metals; but a spiritual being, environed with the four elements, which also changeth the four elements into one; a doubled mercury, yet not quicksilver or any other mineral or metal. The work is easy and the art is simple; a boy of ten years might make it; but the wisdom therein is great and the greatest mystery. Every one must seek it for himself; it behoves us not to break the seal of God, for a fiery mountain lieth before it at which I myself am amazed and must wait whether it be God's will.“18)

To the reflective mind certain questions will needs now arise which deserve exhaustive answer, whereas but the briefest consideration can here be accorded them. If this be the science of human regeneration as taught and practised for the advancement of a few specially qualified individuals, is that science now valid and operative; or is it obsolete, needless? What virtue can so austere, difficult and transcendental a subject have for the multitude? How is it to be viewed in the light of Christian religion and Christian conceptions of soteriology; how relatable to the redemption of humanity as a whole?

Now religion's essential purpose being, as has been previously said, to promote human regeneration, no means conducing to that end can be deemed at any time superfluous or abrogated. A particular method suited to certain circumstances or individuals, however, is not necessarily the sole or the only efficacious one. Although it has a long history, at no time was the Hermetic method either suited to the comprehension of or employed for other than a few ardent, qualified individuals; it was a method of forced intensive spiritual growth, fitted for isolated adventurers, but beyond the compass of the {49} average man, for whom assuredly other provision existed. The exercise of ecclesiastical authority since the suppression of the Mysteries and the Gnosis, as also the conditions of European civilisation, have tended to relegate Hermetism into abeyance as far as all public knowledge goes. But that it has, nevertheless, not passed into entire suspense during that epoch is evident from such records of individuals who have worked in it in isolation and extreme secrecy as are to be found cited in this volume. There are grounds, however, for suggesting that the Hermetic science has been known and practically applied both in certain Orders within the Christian Church and in secret organisations without it, but again only in a most limited way and in such seclusion as has prevented information of it reaching the outside world. For those wishing to press enquiry upon this point, perhaps the best evidence, if they care to accept it as such, that the “Royal Art” has never been withdrawn from human service, and that its principles still hold valid and are administered for the benefit of those worthy to be called thereto, is to be found in that treatise of invaluable information and suggestiveness previously referred to, Eckhartshausen's The Cloud upon the Sanctuary. This work must be left to speak for itself, with the recommendation that the closest attention should be accorded it and with the opinion that, now that it has been brought from obscurity and made publicly available, that treatise is one which will exercise a growing and eventually wide-spread influence upon religious thought and doctrine in the future.

But the larger question, what provision exists for the regeneration of collective humanity,—the vast myriads of those beyond whose present reach and capacity so advanced and exotic a doctrine as this must always be?—opens up considerations of both temporal and spiritual history that can receive here but the briefest mention.

The pre-Christian Mysteries provided, in various parts of a semi-barbaric world, instruction in and facilities for spiritual advancement for such as were desirous and capable of it, and they carried the process of regeneration to such an extent as was feasible for the time being. For many centuries their enlightened magi and seers, among {50} whom are to be numbered those of the Holy Assembly of Israel some of whose records form the prophetic and wisdom books of our Old Testament, laboured continually and consistently, and in conscious co-operation with fellow-workers upon withdrawn planes of existence, towards the creation in the physical world of conditions in which the task of collective human regeneration might become possible. From their own spiritual lucidity, from their contact with interior planes and their knowledge of the operation of spiritual evolution, they were assured that in due course those conditions would be attained and their aspirations be gratified. As evidenced, for example, by such words as those to be found in the hymn of Eupolis, dating from the 5th Century B.C.—

And yet a greater Hero far,
(Unless great Socrates could err)
Shall rise to bless some future day
And teach to live and teach to pray.
Come, Unknown Instructor, come!
Our leaping hearts shall make Thee room;

and by many passages in our own Scriptures, all the hierarchs, oracles, prophets of the various Mystery Schools, expressing in different places a common doctrine in alternative forms, concurred in declaring the advent of a Revealer in whom the regenerative science would receive its full and final expression and in whom would be co-ordinated and summed up all antecedent systems. “The divine agents of the ancient alliance (says Eckhartshausen of the relation of the pre-Christian to the Christian school of spiritual science) hitherto represented only specialised perfections of God19); a powerful movement was required which should show all at once, all in one. An universal type appeared, which gave the touch of perfect unity to the picture, which opened a fresh door and destroyed the number of human bondage. The law of love began when the image emanating from Wisdom itself showed to man all the greatness of his being, vivified him anew, assured him of his immortality, and raised his intellectual status that it might become the true temple for the spirit. This chief Agent of all, this Saviour of the world and Universal Regenerator, claimed {51} man's whole attention to the primitive Truth whereby he might preserve his existence and recover his former dignity. Through the conditions of His own abasement He laid the foundation of the redemption of man and promised to accomplish it completely one day through His Spirit.”20)

Here, briefly and in terms that are theological rather than philosophical as their author intends them to be, is expressed a fact which is not, as it is to the average religious mind of to-day, merely a matter of faith, nor an arbitrary Divine intervention into the world's life, but one all the conditions for the occurrence of which were fore-known and duly prepared for by adepts skilled in philosophic mysticism and in the principles of a sacred science with which conventional theology has long lost all touch. The long hoped for, long worked for, result was at last achieved. The “second Adam” became manifested; generated out of the corruption of the first. Not merely subjectively, as perceived in lucid conditions, as had alone been possible up to then, but in actual objective form Man Regenerate appeared. The Word was made flesh in a single prototypal Person. The supra-natural Principle, along with its inseparable vehicle, the one pure primal Element, became, in that one Personality, grafted upon the maculate animal-human principle and nature, absorbing and transmuting the latter and establishing thenceforward a permanent inviolable nexus between the Divine Order and an apostate race. By man had come ” death“ (lapse into spiritual unconsciousness) and now in the person of a first-fruits of them that slept, by man also had come the resurrection from that death. In Adam all had died from pure being into a mere travesty of it; in Christ the whole race was to be made alive and at length restored to its original condition. Henceforth this, the first completely and perfectly regenerated Man, was to be the Universal Regenerator.

In virtue then of this supreme Fact of human history, the pre-Christian science of regeneration became relegated into relative, but not into absolute, abeyance. For the function of the Great Regenerator was not to destroy {52} existing methods, but to fulfil, extend and universalise a doctrine specialised, suited but to the few and taught in secret, was made accessible and, at least in an elementary way, comprehensible to all. He proclaimed that, lifted up before the eyes and imaginations of the whole world, He would draw all men unto Him; exhibiting to them, in the pageant of His dying life, a process which, duly contemplated and faithfully followed even by the simplest son of the first Adam, would infallibly promote his reintegration. Thenceforth no segregation in an isolated community was essential, no erudition in the philosophy of the sages and mystical wisdom of the Mystery-cults, no forced spiritual growths artificially induced by the arcane science of adept occultists. Life, lived where one stands, was henceforth to serve as one's preparation for the knowledge of divine things and as one's purgative discipline for advancement therein, but life viewed from a new standpoint and actuated by a fresh outlook and inspiration; the world itself a sacramental and sufficient temple of the Mysteries; and the only necessary manual of initiation, a few pages of narrative by which even the rudest would be refined and the simplest intellect find instruction suited to its capacity, entitled “The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Hermetism, we have shewn, was a science of applied magnetism, one by which an adept operator, employing a manual process, magnetically unsealed the organism of his duly prepared subject and intromitted his consciousness into its hypostatic Light. But this being the function of an individual operator upon an individual subject, a like relation must needs exist between a Universal Regenerator and collective humanity. And such, assuredly, is the case between Christ and all those souls who consent to submit themselves to His magistery, which in its interior effects upon the individual (for merely intellectual acceptance of certain credal propositions counts for nothing if unattended with an organic change of heart and life-quality) is nothing other than a work of magnetism influencing the ethers or subtler elements of human personality. In other words, Christianity in its intention and effect is Hermetism, but Hermetism {53} diluted and diffused, universalised, placed at the disposal of all according to their respective capacity and recipiency; a science of interior life adapted to every grade of understanding, simple to the simple, profound in its implications and arcana for the intellectually or spiritually advanced. Even in its most elementary presentation, even as crudely proclaimed by the street-religionist and pulpit-evangelist, it invites to a “conversion,” to a redisposing of the mind away from external and in the direction of interior interests; which “conversion ” is a rudimentary form of that “philosophical separation” of the sensuous from the spiritual inculcated in a more advanced way by those farther upon the path of regenerative science; whilst the great sacramental offices of those churches which perpetuate the catholic tradition in elaborated fulness are entirely framed towards imposing such a discipline upon the individual as the Hermetic doctrine inculcates in a more emphasised form. To an observant eye the correspondence between the exoteric catholic doctrine and the disciplina arcani of the Hermetic system is easily traceable, the differences between them consisting but in form and expression and in the fact that the former is intended for the spiritual neophyte and to give the mind of the average man a set in the required direction, whilst the latter is for the advanced disciple who is prepared to specialise in, and devote himself wholly to, the task of the Great Work.

Even in some of its rites the Christian Church preserves reminders of the magnetic manual work of the Hermetists, as in the laying on of hands and the consecration of the sacramental elements; what is “transubstantiation” but the alchemic transmutation postulated by the Hermetic teaching? So also in its doctrinal terminology. Of the Universal Regenerator it teaches that He “sitteth at the right hand of the Father, whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” We shall interpret these metaphors but truly if for “sitteth at” we read “is,” or “has become,” the Efficient Hand, the divine executive agent for effecting the regeneration of our race, and if we recognise that “judging the quick and the dead” implies no post mortem or post mundane judicial inquiry into individual merits, as is often supposed by the unwise, {54} but a persistent, present “separation,” in the philosophic sense, of the vital and fatal qualities of those magnetic ethers which permeate our being and indeed constitute the metaphysical basis of our lives. Just as the magnetising hand of the Hermetic adept was held above, and controlled the will of, the disciple, lifting his consciousness beyond the bondage of sense, so now a Hand has been lifted over collective humanity, the tractive action of which is subtly, but surely, drawing all men unto Him and constraining their wills into union with that of the Great Magnetiser. No one may presume to define the measure of His magnetic action in individual cases, but its influence is specially emphasised and noticeable in those lives which have passed into public notoriety as having been turned and devoted exclusively to contemplation of the person and symbolic life-story of Christ. A St. Francis or St. John of the Cross, a Ruysbroeck or a St. Theresa, to take but ready examples from the abundant annals of the dedicated life, exhibits and records precisely the same psychical features and organic changes as the Hermetic system testifies to. The language they employ is not of course Hermetic and doubtless the limits of ecclesiastical authority prevented the Great Work from reaching the fulness of attainment predicated by the hermetic hypothesis and achieved by some of the Hermetists. But although recorded in terms sanctioned by their Church, their teaching undoubtedly demonstrates that their devotion to Christ produced in them that very alchemic transmutation of both their interior and exterior natures at which Hermetism aimed. They too passed through their purifications, through those infernal regions of consciousness which the Hermetist describes but which the Christian aspirant to regeneration calls the “dark night of the soul.” They too emerged on the farther side thereof into the world of absolute Light and pure Being, and returned out of their trances, rapts and ecstasies to reassume the seals of their mortal bondage. They too learned how to separate the gross from the subtle in themselves and to distinguish between the elementated matter of this world and the prima materia, the root-substance of Life; and though they spoke of the latter {55} as “infused grace” and ”lumen gloriæ“ we still recognise in these terms a reference to the One Element whose purity, invoked and imbibed into their organisms (especially in the Eucharist), transmuted not merely their minds, passions and emotions but even their physical flesh-cells and tissues. O Salutaris Hostia/! exclaimed another of them—St. Thomas of Aquin—of this saving sustenance and salt of life which repolarised their carnality and refashioned the image of the earthy into that of the heavenly, visibly radiating from their persons as we are often credibly assured, in nimbi and aureoles of supranatural light, and so strongly tincturing their persons that even their cast-off bodies of mortality failed to follow the natural process of corruption.

“The most pious and experienced among the Adepts (says our authoress)21) do not demur to compare the phenomena of their work to the Gospel tradition and our human redemption; . . . . their magistery not only corresponds, but is in very deed a type and promise and foundation of our Christian creed.” If Hermetism promised the finding of the Philosopher's Stone, so also does the Christian doctrine: “To him that overcometh I will give a white stone.” And if the Hermetic way seem strange or alien to the modern aspirant to that Stone, let him refer to an alternative way, leading to the same term, as it has been described by a great Christian who probably never heard of Hermetism—John of Ruysbroeck; in his treatise De Calculo, “The Book of the Sparkling Stone.”

We have but scant place left for dealing with the lesser and subsidiary aspect of Alchemy, but indeed it calls for little mention. Popular ignorance regards Alchemy as the fumbling beginnings of an unenlightened age towards the modern science of inorganic chemistry, and views with contempt the reputed efforts of these by-gone experimenters to produce gold and transpose one metal into another. In part this contempt is justified; there certainly have been many greedy, foolish persons and charlatans who made endeavours and professions in this direction, and we need waste no words in considering them. On the other hand, and as this volume will {56} demonstrate, it is undoubtedly true that experimentation towards the metamorphosis of physical metals has been undertaken, and successfully, by not a few whose names fall within the genuine Hermetic tradition; and students of alchemical literature have been warranted in finding that the subject of Alchemy discloses two aspects, the simply material and the religious, sometimes in combination, at others separately. The findings of some of these students may be cited, though they are divergent and display very inadequate understanding of the real nature of Alchemy itself.

“The dogma that Alchemy was only a form of chemistry is untenable by anyone who has read the work of its chief professors. The doctrine that Alchemy was religion only, and that its chemical references were only blinds, is equally untenable in the face of history, which shows that many of its most noted professors were men who had made important discoveries in the domain of common chemistry and were in no way notable as teachers either of ethics or religion.”22)

Another writer affirms the curious and wholly unjustified opinion that:

“Alchemy had its origin in the attempt to apply, in a certain manner, the principles of Mysticism to the things of the physical plane.”23)

and still another:

“If the authors of the Suggestive Inquiry and of Remarks on Alchemy and the Alchemists had considered the lives of the symbolists, as well as the nature of their symbols, their views would have been very much modified; they would have found that the true method of Hermetic interpretation lies in a middle course . . . . the great alchemical theorem is one of universal development, which acknowledges that every substance contains undeveloped resources and potentialities, and can be brought outward and forward into perfection. They (the generality of Alchemists) applied their theory only to the development of metallic substances from a lower to a higher order, but we see by their writings that the grand hierophants of Oriental and Western alchemy alike were continually haunted by brief imperfect glimpses of glorious possibilities for man, if the evolution of his nature were accomplished along the lines of their theory.”24)

These findings strongly favour the supposition that inorganic chemistry of a crude kind gave birth to, or at least came within the ambit of, Hermetism. On the {57} other hand, an opposite finding is advanced in a work published but a few years after the Suggestive Inquiry and often associated with it as one of almost equal value. The work in question is the just quoted Remarks upon Alchemy and the Alchemists, by E. A. Hitchcock (Boston, 1857), and its subtitle sufficiently suggests its line of exposition by “indicating a method of discovering the true nature of Hermetic Philosophy and showing that the Philosopher's Stone had not for its object the discovery of an Agent for the transmutation of metals.”

The foregoing mutually conflicting theories are incapable of reconciliation and they all fall lamentably short of that clear grasp and comprehension of the Hermetic doctrine held by the authoress of the present volume. Her incomparable comprehension of the subject and her profound insight and intellectual grip of ontological truth enthrone her upon a level of authority immeasurably higher than that of critics and expositors with whom Alchemy has been a subject of but casual literary interest rather than, as with her, of exclusive and absorbing moment. It will be as well therefore to cite a few of her own deliberated dicta as to what Alchemy is and what it is not. and what its relation is to the chemistry of physical substances. Her comment upon Hitchcock's book (inscribed by her in a copy of it) is that it is a moral theory of interpretation, leading to a religious conclusion; true and forcible, but without discernment of the Hermetic method or process of Divine assimilation,”—a judgment in itself displaying fulness of knowledge as against tentative hypothesis and speculation. But in regard to the physical or chemical interpretation of Alchemy, her mind may be deduced from the following assertions of hers:—

Alchemy is philosophy; it is the philosophy, the finding of The Sophia in the mind.

Alchemy is an universal art of vital chemistry which by fermenting the human spirit purifies and finally dissolves it, opening the elementary germ into new life and consciousness ; and the Philosopher's Stone is the efflux of such a life, drawn to a focus and made manifest as a concrete essence of Light, which essence is the true Form or Idea of Gold. The process takes place in and through the human body in the blood, changing the relation of its component parts or principles, and reversing the circulatory order, so that, the sensible medium becoming occult, the inner source of its vitality is awakened and the consciousness {58} at* the same time being drawn centrally conies to know and feel itself in its own true source, which is The Universal Centre and Source of all things.

The metals of the philosophers are the etherial metals, its (the ether's) progressive stages, its processes, the arising of the ether from and through its lower to its higher forms and qualities.

The terms salt, sulphur, mercury, which are in use among the alchemists as denoting vital principles, though set down as “barbarous ” by Dr. Martensen25) and others who have not been practically conversant with the subject, are contrariwise found to be scientifically appropriate by students in the schools who have accepted them for continuous instruction in the Divine Art of prototypic Assimilation. The terms Magnesia, Antimony, Vitriol, Arsenic of the Wise, etc., also, as belonging primally to etherial nature, were not borrowed by Alchemists from vulgar chemistry, but by this from those who were interiorly conversant with such products, and they employed them to conceal rather than to reveal this science to their compeers.

The conclusion of the matter, then, is this. Far from Alchemy “having its origin”, as one writer cited above ineptly suggests, in the application of a mystical doctrine to physical things, physical Alchemy has been a result and a by-product of the original doctrine; an after-growth and to some extent a perversion of it, an adaptation evidenced chiefly in the middle ages—to inorganic material of a principle originally applied exclusively to the spiritual nature of man. Alchemy considered as inorganic chemistry is certainly not the Hermetism enshrined in the imagery of the Odyssey or the sixth Æneid, or that taught in the ancient myths and Mysteries, or that testified to by Plato and the Platonists, or veiled in the glyphs of the Bible. But it is the fate of every lofty truth, on percolating from its first shelter into universal knowledge, to become materialised and to degenerate into base uses. White magic by its perversion in unworthy hands becomes inverted into black magic. The high spiritual mythos, intended in the world's earlier and wiser days to raise the imagination Godwards, becomes in later centuries regarded as the foolish fable of barbarians and made the subject of jest and pantomime to pleasure modern minds infinitely more benighted still. Sacred Gnosis, once kept concealed from the profane, is to-day exploited by theologians with a remarkable faculty for {59} yielding to the temptation to turn bread into stones. And similarly the science of the alchemic metamorphosis of man's nature from a carnal to a divinised state terminated eventually in laboratory experiments in physics. But true Alchemy looked within. Chemistry looks without, and the modern world's quest of externals has so diverted attention from internals, which a wiser age deemed alone worth interrogating, that the study of the latter has nowadays become accounted the pastime of fools.

There is little doubt that Alchemy was a betrayed science. Some of its processes—such as the method of inducing the magnetic trance and promoting psychic lucidity—leaked out into the world from backsliding disciples of arcane science and garrulous assistants at its operations. The development and exercise of a certain measure of psychic faculty would readily enable the possessors of it to attain introspection into, and effect molecular transposition in, inert material, in a way exciting incredulity in the ordinary man who knows nothing of occult possibilities. And the quickening of lead into silver or of iron into gold by such means merely testifies to the application of the same methods as those employed by an oriental fakir of to-day who intensfies the growth of a seed into a fruited mango-tree within a few minutes. In every member of each kingdom of Nature—mineral, vegetable, animal, human,—resides a life-germ or vital seed common to that kingdom but encrusted with certain alien accretions arresting the full development of that germ and determining its species. The same germ that informs lead informs gold also ; but that in the former metal has undergone an arrest conditioning it as lead, whilst in the latter the germ having had greater scope for expansion has become conditioned as gold. Gold being the head of the family of metals, the ne plus ultra of development of the life-germ in the metallic kingdom, lead and other baser metals were its poor relations. But remove those extraneous superfluities in lead which arrest its life-germ's expansion, effect a purification of it that will purge it of its gross accretions—as is possible with the help of intermolecular psychic vision—and the lead's life-germ will forthwith advance up the family-tree {60} and become silver or gold according to the measure of the removal of the impurities; whilst gold itself, subjected to the same process, is capable of being quickened to a finer quality than that in which it is normally found, as is alleged of the coins made from gold produced by Raymond Lully in the Tower of London, still extant .specimens of which display greater purity than the modern metallurgist can account for or reproduce.26)

Man, the universe's epitome, comprises in himself all the kingdoms of Nature, and in the regression of consciousness through which an individual subjected to the magnetic trance would pass, contact would first and most easily be established with the simplest and most elementary of those kingdoms—the mineral. That, however, was no resting-place for him whose aim was the regeneration of his entire nature and who aspired so to quicken the germ of divine life in himself and rectify his own impurities and imperfections that he might “take his manhood into God.” But when he undertook visitare interiora terrae, it was open to him, if he so pleased, to linger there, to explore the physical world from within it (as modern science explores it only from without) and to manipulate the metaphysical forces determining its normal external guise. And doubtless many did linger there, content to push the experiment no farther. And to such would seem attributable that school and aspect of Alchemy which are associated with physical transmutation only, though this phase of it is to be regarded as but a vestibule to those inner courts wherein the great prizes of Hermetic science were to be won. To the thorough-going Hermetist the achievement of physical wonders was indeed possible, and, when called for in altruistic interests, undoubtedly indulged in; but they constituted but the negligible minutiæ of the wisdom after which he really aspired. In like manner we relegate here, as did the writer of the Suggestive Inquiry, this aspect of the subject to an altogether subordinate position.

Even in this secondary aspect, the Alchemical writers took the closest precautions to conceal the methods of their art, to elude unqualified enquirers and to mislead wrongly-motived emulators, by recording their knowledge {61} and experiments in the most baffling crypticism. In compiling their crabbed treatises, however, their purpose was not to provide text-books for a public unripe to appreciate, and unfitted to be trusted with, knowledge easily abused and, in its abuse, fraught with immeasurable consequences alike temporal and spiritual; for the basal forces of Nature are not, like her exteriorised aspects, the fit subject for the uninstructed and morally unfitted empiricist. They did not wear their knowledge upon their sleeve for the daws of criticism to peck at, but compiled their writings as memorials for themselves and their kinsmen in the science, as landmarks of accomplishment and guide-posts to others who might come to pursue the same path and who might be counted upon to discern the signata behind the signa and to detect the true facts suggested within statements often purposely designed even to mislead the incompetent. There is no uniformity in their cryptic terminology; words signifying one thing with this writer mean otherwise with that, and different writers describe the work at different stages and upon different planes; yet there is no inconsistency, nor does the enlightened eye find difficulty in the apparent contradictions. Accordingly, no common canon of interpretation can be applied whereby to unlock their records. In Alchemy and its literature no passage is open from particulars to universals. The student will beat his brains in vain who seeks to learn Alchemy by inductive methods and to determine Hermetic truth in the way in which the exoteric science of to-day aspires to do. But let the eye of his mind be opened in the universal and the puzzles and conflicting particulars in the records will forthwith leap into order, significance and clear-speaking, and it will become plain why the Alchemical writers could write only as they did.27) {62}

This book then, as its name imports, is indeed an inquiry full of suggestiveness. Its modest authoress might have given it a title more correspondent with the authoritativeness of its utterance, for she is indisputably our chief exponent of the Hermetic and Alchemic Mystery, and compared with her there is indeed no other that counts at all. But clear-sighted and masterly as was her grasp of the subject, self-assertiveness was not in her nature and she preferred to put forth her work in the form of a suggestive hint to those few who are prepared to accord to the science of life deeper reflection than does the light-hearted and self-satisfied multitude, and who are discontent with conventional conclusions thereupon. Modern science has been directed solely to investigating the exterior of things, in the vain hope of determining the ultimate secrets of existence by the patient accumulation and co-ordination of details observed by the outward eye and reflected upon by the unenlightened brain-intelligence. Religious thought, also, has in the main proceeded upon purely exoteric lines and has accordingly resulted in producing conditions of arid formalism and incredible doctrine from which the truly heart-hungry turn in revolt. Both are in conflict with the religio-philosophy and ontologic wisdom now accounted foolishness—of an ancient and more enlightened past, to a reconsideration of which all thoughtful minds, and in particular the modern physicist, psychologist, philosopher and theologian, are here invited; a wisdom inculcating that that Truth towards which all honest research, however misguided, is directed is not, as is so often misconceived, something indeterminate, progressive, enlarging evolutionary with our own evolution, but something predetermined, static, permanent—sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper; something from which our race in its self-blindedness and foolishness has deflected and wandered away, yet to the search for which, when its outward-looking energies fail in their vain quests, it will return through sheer exhaustion, to find that the kingdom of Truth is within and not without us.

As we have seen, the book was withdrawn by its authoress in diffidence of her own powers and distrust {63} of the capacity of the contemporary public to appreciate or profit by it. That was nearly seventy years ago, and since that time much has happened to secure for the volume a wider range of influence and a deeper appreciation than ever it had the chance of previously. Habent fata sua libelli; and it was not, I think, the destiny of such a treatise as this to perish at its birth, but rather, when the time should be more ripe for it, to re-emerge from its obscurity and assert that influence which its great merits are capable of exercising. With that clear, sure, prophetic vision with which its writer, then youthful, penetrated the tendencies of modern world-movements and conditions, she discerned the impending catastrophe to human society and institutions through which we are now passing;28) and the prognosis she then formed became but the more fully confirmed in her later years and was constantly reuttered by her privately up to the time of her death but a few years ago. Her forewarnings, based as they were upon accurate perception of the working of metaphysical forces concealed from external observation, has proved true. But she foresaw also that out of the general shipwreck new conditions would arise resulting in an abandonment of modern methods of research and a reversion to the wisdom of an earlier age, and that a time would arrive when Hermetism “the mother of sciences, will come forth, and greater things be discovered than have been hitherto.” To that end she wrote her book, hoping that “this incentive to enquiry might not be inopportunely offered, to advance the foremost intellect, and fix its dominion in. the self-discovery of truth.” And to that end, and that so great a talent may not be wasted, her book is now re-issued at a time marking the break-up of one age and the dawn of another. Were one able equally with her to see into the hidden springs of events, it might be found not fortuitous that its re-issue has been arrested—as from various causes it has been—until now, but that it synchronises with a renascence of the world and has a significance accordingly.

Walter L. Wilmshurst.

Gledholt, Huddersfield, February, 1918.

{64}


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1)
In a letter to C. C. Massey, quoted in his Memoir before cited, at p. 67.
2)
Christianity as Mystical Fact, by Rudolph Steiner, 3rd Ed. (Putnams), p. 55-56; a summary but able exposition of the history and purpose of the Mysteries of antiquity.
3)
See p. 597 post.
4)
Threefold Life of Man, ch. 10, 4-6, where the process is diagrammatically explained.
5)
Æneid, VI., 258-281.
6)
Ezekiel, ch. viii.
7)
The Recipient (Quarterly Magazine) for April, 1868, p. 340.
8)
Signatura Rerum, ch. XIV., I, a work which treats of the Hermetic doctrine extensively. (Everyman Series; Dent).
9)
Signatura Rerum, ch. VIII., 26, 40.
10)
Boehme's Epistles, 6th Epistle (11th November, 1623) in the 1649 edition (reprinted 1880 by J. Thomson, Glasgow).
11)
23rd Epistle.
12)
Law's Letters: Works, vol. 9, 1762 edition (reprinted 1893), p. 193.
13)
Between operator and patient a magnetic Jink becomes created on the psychic plane, entailing indefinite consequences to both.
14)
See an able American treatise of this title (1915, Indo-American Book Co., Chicago).
15)
Appendix p. 596 post.
16)
As alluded to in the well-known Lucretian lines “Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,” etc.
17)
It is much to be regretted that Mrs. Atwood's life-long studies, reflections and insight into the subject mentioned in this paragraph were never reduced by her into form for publication. They would have contributed perhaps the most enlightening volume of theological instruction and biblical exegesis of our time. She refrained from doing so from the same reasons as have been given for wishing to suppress this present volume and because, as her life advanced, she despaired of finding a sympathetic audience for considerations she held too profound and sacred for the public thought and superficial criticism of the day. Her private utterances and papers (the latter now in my care) provide, however, material from which one day, perhaps, her ideas may be reconstructed, at least, in outline. Only her own deep knowledge and grasp of the subject could do it adequate justice.
18)
23rd Epistle (1649 edition).
19)
The Epistle to the Hebrews is full of intimations on this subject.
20)
The Cloud upon the Sanctuary, letter II.
21)
p. 520, post; and c.f. p. 278.
22)
The Science of Alchymy, Spiritual and Material, by Sapere Aude, 1893. (Theosophical Publishing Society), p. 3, 4.
23)
Alchemy, Ancient and Modern, bv H. S. Redgrove, B.Sc, F.C.S., 1911 (W. Rider and Sons, Ltd.), page 8.
24)
Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers, by A. E. Waite, 1888,. p. 30, 31.
25)
Late Metropolitan Bishop of Denmark; author of “Jacob Boehme ” and other works.
26)
See pp. 36-7, post.
27)
It may be recorded here that an Alchemical Society existed in London for two years (1913-14) for the purpose of studying and elucidating the subject and the texts of the Alchemists. Its published Transactions (with one exception, a paper by Madame de Steiger) evince but an academic interest in the subject and show no comprehension of its vital intention or its practical methods. They suggest, moreover, what has been stated above to be a futile project—that no headway can be made in expounding Alchemy until its cryptic texts have been decoded and a standard of interpretation established. The Society now apppears to have become defunct.
28)
See pp. 534-5, post.