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Hermetic Library discussions
wherein all operations of Hermetic Philosophy are described and represented PRECEDED BY AN EXPLICATIVE HYPOTYPOSE OF MAGOPHON
Translated by Kjell Hellesøe
The following is the second half of a preliminary translation of Magophon’s French commentary to the Mutus Liber. We are counting on the assistance of skilled proof-readers to produce a final improved version where errors of spelling as well as such passages where the idiom remains unclear have been corrected. We then hope that this will present a valuable addition to the presently available selection of material on alchemy in the English language. Magophon was the pseudonym of Pierre Dujois, one of the greatest French erudites around the beginning of the XXth century. He belonged to the circle around Fulcanelli.
The Mutus Liber was first published at La Rochelle in 1677. The authors name was given as Altus, a pseudonym. The Mutus Liber also occurs in Manget’s Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa of 1707. More information may be found in A Prelude to Chemistry by John Read, London 1936, page 155 et seq.
HYPOTYPOSE, PART II
The sixth plate is the continuation of the fifth. One will notice that here the operations are always effectuated by a man and a woman, symbolizing the two natures. The exterior action of the two natures indicates the interior work of the mutually reacting bodies. In the first figure, the female agent plays a passive role, and the male agent an active role. The latter is the sulfur; the former, the moon.
One will doubtlessly want to know which is the mysterious sulfur concerning which the philosophers always speak without designating it by any other name. It is the sulfur of the metals. The secret of the art consists in extracting it from male bodies in order to write it to female bodies, which requires their previous decomposition. Present day science seems to consider this fact an absolute impossibility. But some of the great chemists of the XVIIIth century have demonstrated, in communications addressed to the academic societies, that the operation is realizable and that they had accomplished it. We have in our hands a magnificent sulfur of silver obtained by analogous means and which closely approaches the tincture of the Sages. But, in order to arrive at this result, a certain practice and profound knowledge of the mineral kingdom is required.
Do not trust the authors who speak of grindings, decantations, separations obtained by what they call “a slight of hand”. The manual action only contributes to the results in the manner of a kitchen maid preparing her pot-au-feu. When the ingredients have been put into the pot, the water cooks the compost brought to the required temperature by the exterior fire. The coction completed, there remains but to extract the products and employ them according to formula. But all untimely intervention is detrimental and darkness to the work.
Very particularly we must point out the figure which represents the hermetic rose obtained by the foregoing sublimations. On this there would be a lot to say. All alchemical tracts are but “Novels of the Rose”1 , both literally and figuratively. The artists foremost concern consists in separating the true from the false. This dominates and constitutes hermetic literature.
What is this rose? It is the flower of the philosophic tree which forebodes the fruit. Now the tree of the philosophers is the vegetable mercury; the Rose is hence the efflorescence of the metallic sap put into motion by the exterior fire, which excites the internal fire of the bodies. But the Sages speak of two different fires vested with this function. The disciple must therefore consider that there exists, outside of natural fire, another agent of this name, and this secret fire is the ferment of metals, which in the work plays a role analogous to the leaven in the bakers dough. But may the addition of this new element not trouble the minds of the sons of science. For even as leaven is made out of sugar and acidified water, so the ferment of metals is a product of sulfur and mercury, brought to a suitable state by means of art. The proportions are analogous to those used in bread-making.
Our plate shows a second smaller rose, and a third one smaller still. Would there be several roses? Yes and no. In principle there are two roses, according as one works for gold or for silver; and, basically there is but one. Nevertheless, the Mutus Liber presents three well defined ones. This is correct; but they are daughters of each other, i.e. of three different virtues. During the regimen of coction, Philalethes instructs one to first obtain the white rose, which he calls the moon; then the yellow or saffron; and finally the red or perfect rose. We are not using this authors exact terminology; but we are speaking with enough clarity to make ourselves well understood.
The obtaining of the roses is subordinate to putrefaction. The putrefaction gives rise to a succession of colors. The first is the black; it is the key to the others. Without the black there is no putrefaction; and without putrefaction no transformation. If such an accident should occur, it is because the materials brought into contact do not possess the desired qualities, or have been poorly prepared. See Philalethes for the rest and accept the subtle only.
The seventh plate is very important, but difficult to comprehend. Here we again find the four small triangles with the already explained correspondences; but we are arriving at a delicate operation, for it is here that Saturn devours his child.
The fable of Jupiter and Saturn is well known. But what is this Saturn and what is this Jupiter? The chemical nomenclature, to be found with the authorities, will inform you to what metals these two names correspond. But we remark, in all honesty, that the Saturn and Jupiter of the Sages are not the same as those of the vulgar chemists. One has to be on ones guard, and not try to produce it from the solder of plumber or tinman. We are not working with gross products, and while they have all been derived from the family of metals, they are not proper to the Work before having been submitted to a preparation that renders them “philosophic”.
If one adopts the humid way, one proceeds according to art if one brings our two elements into contact in such a way that the one absorbs the other, which gives a new product that will contain the two, without it being henceforth possible to separate them, at least not in a chemical manner. The dry way evidently supposes a combination obtained by a procedure adapted to the nature of the bodies. But one should not mix the two ways: liquids will unite to liquids and solids to solids.
In this operation the fire plays a certain role. One of the figures represents Saturn devouring his son in the midst of a fire. Here one must pay the greatest possible attention to the words of the philosophers. One of them will assure you that elementary fire is the destructor of the bodies, and that their fusion volatilises the soul; another will declare that the Sages burn with water, and at the same time prohibiting the use of corrosive liquors such as acids. The disciple thus finds himself enclosed within a vicious circle, from which it is extremely difficult for him to escape advantageously. One has to take the mean between the two doctrines in order to make them agree. It is a water which encloses the fire of Heaven; it is the dew, or the flos cœli, which we have seen being pressed out in a previous plate. One knows that the dew contains an acid principle which literally burns. The objects submitted to its action do not delay to turn to dust. We must observe, however, that the philosophic dew in reality differs from the common dew. Nevertheless, it is formed from the true tears of Dawn united to a terrestrial substance, which is the substance of the Work.
When Saturn has accomplished his horrible feast, one must, says Philalethes, cause all the waters of deluge to pass over him, not so that he drowns, but in order to correct the effects of a laborious digestion and eliminate the toxins resulting from fermentation. This is what one calls “to whiten the negro”. The operation is rude, but efficacious, if one perseveres, for it has to be repeated several times. This washing with the noble water derobes the body of its impurities, corrects its humors, and disposes it towards the subsequent operations. It is then distilled hermetically in order to loose nothing; one precipitates its salt which presents itself in small and very hygroscopic crystals, and which must immediately be removed from the influence of the air. This is why it has to be shut up, as shown in another figure, in a flask with a ground stopper, and which one has to have ready at hand.
The eighth plate shows us the realized philosophic mercury, whereas the second plate only showed its constituting principles. He is produced from the Sun and the Moon that are at his feet. The eagles are flying around him, because inside the matrass he has to undergo the necessary sublimations, which has been indicated at the bottom of the plate by the athanor where the egg has been placed for incubation.
The mercury of the philosophers, animated and sublimated according to the rules, must circulate a long time in the vase before producing the happy effects that one expects from him. But there are several mercuries in the work, and Philalethes points out a second one, very emphatically, under the name of virgins milk. This one differs in some respects from the first, though they are both of the same essence. Philaletes, Ripley and others go so far as to say that it pertains to common mercury. Basil Valentine, on the other hand, banishes it with malediction. Some have believed that the virgins milk could be obtained by combining the two. We are acquainted with one artist who has accomplished this tour de force merely for the pleasure of overcoming the difficulty, without pretending that it has any other advantages. We are thus in a position to acknowledge the operation as possible, which does not imply that we adhere to its use in the actual practice. Only with the utmost reserve should one accept all the bizarre names, imposed by the philosophers upon certain ingredients. These different epithets serve the sole purpose of disguising the course of operations. In this manner the same product carries a different name all according to whether it has or has not been exalted. And it is above all true that alcohol, though extracted from wine, differs from it in name as well as in appearance, in virtue as well as in effect, even as wine differs from the grape from which it has been drawn…
The ninth plate brings us back to the flos cœli. Why this return, and what is the point of repeating it when we were already provided with it? It is not that the author of the Mutus Liber would send us back to the fields to fetch some more; but surely he was obliged to repeat this symbol, the moment that this celestial agent had to enter into a new combination.
In one of the figures of this plate, we see Mercury in the process of buying a flask of this divine water from a country woman. He therefore has need for it for some use. Philalethes prescribes, effectively, to wash the mercury several times, in such a way as to make it loose some of its oily nature. He very carefully describes this operation which is accomplished by means of the celestial water brought to a certain temperature, nevertheless moderate, for it takes only a little too much heat for the fiery part of the flos cœli to retake its path to the stars. Philalethes is a great master, his word has authority and he presents the work with such ingenuity, that no suspicion of fraud could possibly arise. But we must here expose a ruse: In his work this author has purposely confounded the dry way with the wet way. It would thus be an error to apply to one method that which belongs to the other. But, having made this remark, we recognize that the astral spirit plays a permanent part in the operations.
And since we are using an expression of Cyliani, let us pause at the improbable interpretations to which this very recent term has given rise. Recent writers have seen in this astral spirit a magnetic emanation of the operator. According to them, one must, during a certain period, submit to a physical and moral training, in order to successfully practice this kind of fakirism or yoga. The strength of the product must be proportional to the power of the fluid in such a way that the power of projection obtained multiplies 100, 1 000 or 10 000 times, etc., according to the potential of the artist. Thus these phantasists pretend to impregnate the matter with astral spirit as one charges a battery with electricity. This is what the poorly understood and randomly applied analogy leads to. We shall not name these singular theoreticians whose sincerity is respectable; but we had to signal the fact, in order to put the studious and too confident disciple on his guard against the hazardous reading of authors without mandate and without consecration, who have never produced anything but books, but who from that time pass for Masters.
The tenth plate represents the conjunction. The first figure shows, on the scales of a balance, on one side the salt indicated by the star, on the other the sulfur designated by a flower, which with its heart forms seven petals. These are the proportions of the product. A man pours a liquid enclosed within a flask onto this flower. This is the mercury. In his other hand he holds another receiver filled with astral spirit to be used according to the circumstances. The woman places all these products into a long necked matrass; but here we must recall what we have said concerning the role of the woman in the Work: the two agents personified in this way are the matters themselves, and the diverse accessories that accompany them declare their state of exaltation.
In the second line, the artist seals the matrass with the seal of Hermes. He puts its neck into the flame of a lamp, in order to return the glass to a pasty and ductile state. Afterwards he has to draw it out very carefully in order to make it thinner at the desired point, while assuring himself that not even the slightest capillarity is produced through which the spirit of the compost might escape. Having come thus far, after having cut the glass, he turns the part adhering to the matrass back on itself, and shapes it into a thick cushion (pad). Today this operation is very easily performed with gas, by means of the blow-lamp. Some very competent practitioners employ an automatic procedure of even greater perfection. But whatever method is used, one thereafter places the egg in the athanor and the coction begins.
We shall say nothing about the athanor. The Mutus Liber presents its form and inner arrangement. Philalethes describes it very carefully. We shall add but one important remark to the sayings of this author: the construction of the furnace is partly allegoric, and there is much to be learned on the point of view of the governing of the fire and of the regimen of the Work. Concerning the latter, The Secret Work on the Philosophy of Hermes, attributed to d’Espagnet and favorably quoted, will be useful to follow, for one there finds the Zodiac of the Philosophers.
The last figure of this plate demonstrates that the conjunction is taking place: the Sun and the Moon are united. The work has given the required colors. Here they have been synthesized into a circle, at first black, then white and finally yellow and red. The obtained product multiplies ten times, as announced by the numbers.
The eleventh plate proclaims that the operator has entered the regimen of the Sun, i.e. he has obtained the gold of the philosophers, which is not vulgar gold. We have already spoken about this mysterious gold. Although Jupiter plays a nominal role in the operative process, it is not a question of bisulphur of tin, but of real “mosaic” or secret gold. Meanwhile we shall confess in all truth, that it is not a product of nature, but of art. Contemporary chemists - unduly taken for competent - have believed to find it in common vitriol, which they hope to render philosophic. They have poorly understood Basil Valentine. The stroma of the dissolution of this salt, considered by them to be “nascent gold”, is nothing but a fleeting image, and on analysis leaves nothing but deception.
One author, famous with other titles and who in certain circles has enjoyed a certain prestige - we must name Strindberg to warn against his strayings - got stranded on a puerile and ridiculous technique. His Book of Gold is an aberration that calls for charitable silence. Philalethes and others advise, to those who ignore artificial gold, to seek it in vulgar gold, albeit signaling this work to be long and arduous. One must, in this case, submit it to difficult and dangerous manipulations, for one may transform the metal into gold fulminate, and the memoirs of the XVIIIth century report several mortal accidents following upon this preparation. But if the disciple has been instructed in a good school, he will avoid this sophistic snare and operate hermetically; he will thus avert this redoubtable danger. The masters know how to reach their goal by following other paths, which they take good care not to indicate, but which are not undiscoverable if one reasons with ones reason rather than with the erroneous books of the Sages. “One needs gold in order to make gold”, says the classical axiom; this is correct, only there are two different kinds of gold needed to bring the Work to a good end. This plate shows how one here recommences all the preceding operations. One must elevate the mercury to a higher degree of sublimation by means of the eagles, redistil it in order to give it a greater animation.
The twelfth plate instructs us how one may carry this mercury to a superior gradation. To this end one must recommence the imbibitions of the flos cœli, until the mercury, which is eager for them, is impregnated by them to saturation.
The thirteenth plate is a repetition of the tenth, for in the work, all operations follow each other and resemble each other; but this new conjunction, which operates with substances sublimated to the extreme, is nothing but the beginning of the multiplication. The work is the same as in plate ten and, in the coction, one will see the colors reappear. Its duration decreases in proportion as the multiplicative power becomes augmented, in such a way that in the end it takes but one day to obtain the result that in the beginning required months. The numbers on this plate give the transmuting powers obtained by the subsequent coctions.
The fourteenth plate is mainly dedicated to the instrumentation. One there sees the matrass hermetically sealed with its pad, such as we have described it; the mortar and the pestle for the grindings; the spoon for skimming; the balances to determine the right weights; the furnace of the first operations before employing the athanor.
We recall that one must understand the grindings, the decantation, the skimming and all the rest in a philosophical manner, although a trituration, a decantation and skimming are positively necessary to render the substances fit for the work; but, after that, these operations take place by themselves and, so to speak, automatically by the reaction of the bodies on each other. The disciple will have to meditate profoundly on the woman with the distaff, and follow her with sagacity in his manipulations; they are not indifferent and all-telling to the true son of science. We cannot here transgress the will of the author, who witnesses of his well settled design to let the symbol alone express all his thought. If these lines come under the eyes of an adept, he will approve of our reserve, which nevertheless is close to indiscretion. But for the rest qui potest capere capiat.
The fifteenth and last plate represents the apotheosis of Saturn, victorious over his son Jupiter who had dethroned him, and lies inert upon the ground. It is the solarization of the vilest of metals, his resurrection and glorification in the light. The two branches of sweetbriar of the frontispiece are charged with red berries and white berries filled with active seeds where each one has the power to moult all the impure metals into gold or silver. The so-called mystics - who deny the possibility of the metallic work and have found nothing in the allegories of the philosophers but a treatise on asceticism where they would be very embarrassed to explain each symbol - these pseudomystics see in this plate an image of the resurrection of man and of his return to the celestial fatherland, and they become blissfully enraptured by this discovery, which they are not far from considering ingenious.
But if we become pure spirit again, it follows that our body enclosed its essence under its gross form and, under these conditions, one cannot deny the same property to the metals. The spirit or the fire is everywhere and in everything: it lies in the flint so cold in appearance, in the metals that one transforms into inflammable fulminates that explode upon the least shock. But, transmutation is a phenomenon that causes the species to pass from an inferior to a superior plane by means of a spiritual agent, a true seed called powder of projection. This marvelous product is obtained by the real death and putrefaction of a metallic substance, which, transfigured, has the property of in its turn modifying the nature of other creatures. Under its action these likewise undergo a prompt death and resurrection, that elevates them to their highest degree of dignity. The Hermetists compare this transformation to the one of wheat. The grain becomes corrupted in the earth, assimilates the gross elements of the soil to itself and, through the work of a long digestion, moults them into pure wheat in the ratio of a hundred to one. This digestion is more or less activated by the environment. In certain climates the harvest takes place three months after sowing, and in the tropics the vegetation has something almost instantaneous. It is thus altogether rational that a ferment endowed with great power and projected onto matter submitted to a high temperature may cause it to evolve at a speed that borders on the miraculous.
Evolution is the law of life: the mineral becomes a plant and the plant an animal, by way of intussusception; but this transit is subordinated to the mediation of an exterior agent, plant or beast. If then the metals are admitted to pass in this way from one kingdom to another with the assistance of a suitable element, it is still more logical that a certain perfect and quintessential gold, taken back to its radical and spermatic state has the virtue to exalt and to convert like natures into itself. Is it not thus that the human embryo, during gestation, assumes and transforms the substance of beings of a less noble origin? Nutrition is a continual metamorphosis. Just as, in the three kingdoms, everything converges towards man, among the minerals all ends in gold. But one cannot deduce from this, that nature, in the long run, makes gold from lead. For this effect she needs to be assisted by art, i.e. by the magical ferment that operates its transmutation.
Gold is called the sun, for, in Greek, aur is light; it is the heaven of the metals, the spiritualization of the species. The metals thus become gold as, in certain regards, our body becomes spirit by the work of posthumous fermentation. Putrefaction, disgusting and hideous, is nevertheless the amazing fairy that works all the miracles in the world. It is a gross error to believe that, in the case of man, the soul abandons the body with the last breath. It is itself entirely flesh, for matter is a modality of spirit in different states subordinated to a greater and more subtle spark, which is the God of each organism. And if science denies the reality of the spirit because it has never found any trace of it, it is dishonoring its own name. A corpse, rigid and cold, is by no means dead in an absolute sense. An intense life, but fortunately unconscious and without perceptible reflexes, continues in the tomb, and it is from this horrible and more or less long combat - which is the purgatory of the religions - that the matter, distilled, sublimated, transmuted and vaporized by the action of the sun, surges up to the amorphous plane, which has its grades from air to elementary light and from this one to the fire principle where all finishes by dissolution and from where all emanates anew.
We believe that we have accomplished our task with all the required honesty, and caused some new light to shine in an obscure domain. It is now up to the disciple to complete the work. As for those who pretend to acquire wisdom without merit and only for a vile and contemptible farthing, we say to them as saint Jerome in the legend of the rich and idle Cratus: “Philosophy does not fit you.”
And for you, son of Science, bear in mind the eloquent sign by which the terminal figures of the fourteenth plate address you, and the gloss that closes the Mutus Liber: “If you have understood, work in silence and for still some time keep your mouth shut on the Mystery.”
Quoted Authors And Works
- Agricola (Georg Bauer) 1494-1495. De Re Metalllica, 1556
- Arthepius, Le Livre Secret. French translation 1612
- Ariadnes Thread (anonymous)
- Marcellin Berthelot 1827-1907
- Thomas Corneille 1625-1709
- Jean d’Espagnet 1564-?,
The Secret Work on the Philosophy of Hermes
- Nicolas Flamel 1330-1418
- Dr. Helvetius, Vitulus Aureus, 1666
- Tiphaigne de Laroche
- Grand Paysan
- Petit Paysan
- Eireæus Philalethes,
An Open Entrance to the shut Palace of the King, 1669
- George Ripley 1415?-1490
- Typus Mundi, edited by the Jesuits
- August Strindberg 1849-1912, The Book of Gold
- The Abbot of Vallemont
- Basil Valentine
- The Lords of Grosparmi and Valois
- The Chaplain Vico
- Eteilla, Seven Hints on the Philosophic Work
- Hermogenes Vth century B.C., disciple of Socrates
1. This refers to Jean de Meung’s “Roman de la Rose”.
Table of Contents | From the Editors | The Rotation of the Elements | An Interview with Jean Dubuis | Liber Mutus | Opening the Fludd Gates | Byways of Esoteric History | Qabalah in Three Dimensions
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