The Search for the Philosophers Stone

he Rosicrucianism of the Andreae era was only partly concerned with alchemy, but later revivals of the Rosicrucian idea were to lay great stress on their claims to possess the secrets of transmutation and the knowledge of the Philosophers' Stone or Elixir of Life. Had it not been for the defence of the Rosicrucians by the German alchemist Michael Maier, the movement might have developed in a totally different direction. But Maier's apologies for the brotherhood, chiefly Symbola Aureae Mensae (1617) and Themis Aurea (1618), emphasized the alchemical element in the movement. This was reaffirmed by later adherents and by a considerable number of charlatans who made use of the alchemical connection for their own ends.

It was a century after Maier that alchemical Rosicrucianism became firmly established. During the interval very little was heard of the Rosy Cross in Germany. Then, in 1710, there was published in Breslau a work entitled Die wahrhafte und volkommene Bereitung des philosophischen Steins der Brüderschafft aus dem Orden des Gulden und Rosen Kreutzes (The True and Complete Preparation of the Philosophers' Stone of the Brotherhood, from the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross). The author was 'Sincerus Renatus', in reality one Sigmund or Samuel Richter, a pastor from Hartmannsdorf, near Landshut in Silesia, who had studied Protestant theology in Halle. He was a follower of Paracelsus and Jacob Boehme and was deeply interested in medicine and alchemy. In The True and Complete Preparation, as well as describing a number of alchemical processes, Renatus also sets out the rules and constitution of an alleged Rosicrucian order. The contents of his book lean heavily on a number of previous works, chiefly: Echo der von Gott hocherleuchteten Fraternitet, des löblichen Ordens R.C. (Echo of the God-illuminated Brotherhood of the Venerable Order R.C.) by Julius Sperber (1615); and Michael Maier's Themis Aurea.

The brotherhood, as presented by Renatus, lacked the anti-papal spirit of the earlier Rosicrucian writings and allowed Roman Catholic members. It was to have an imperator elected for life and a membership restricted to sixty-three. The imperator was to change his name and place of abode every ten years and was to keep a record of each individual brother. Each brother, after being accepted, received a sufficient portion of the Philosophers' Stone to ensure his life continuing for another sixty years, but in return he had to observe a number of rules. The stone, for example, must never be carried in the form of oil but only as 'powder of the first projection' contained in a metal box with a metal stopper. Furthermore it must never be administered to a woman in labour, otherwise 'she would be brought prematurely to bed'. There is also a highly puzzling provision that 'the stone shall not be used at the chase'.

Renatus also gives details of initiation procedures, vows and greetings. When two brethren meet each other in the street, the first brother shall say: 'Ave, Frater', to which the second shall reply: 'Roseae et Aureae', the first then adding the word 'Cruris'. Having thus established each other's status, they shall then say to each other: 'Benedictus Dominus Deus Noster Qui dedit nobis signum' and uncover their respective seals of the order.

The question that raises itself is whether any real order lay behind Renatus's document. Waite, in his rather vague and ponderous way, says Renatus's book shows that 'a notable change has come over the spirit and form of the Order and that it has passed under a methodized rule, suggesting something behind it which had been growing up in the silence, far from the common ken.'

Waite here was thinking along the right lines, and I believe that we can go a step further and make a reasonable guess as to what this 'something' was that had been 'growing up in the silence'. We can deduce a certain amount from what we know of Richter and his work. At the beginning of The True and Faithful Preparation Richter says that the book is not his own work but was copied from a manuscript given to him by a 'Professor of the Art' whose name he will not reveal. The manuscript, he says, names the true practices and regulations of the order as well as the two places where they were in the habit of meeting. The references to meeting-places have, however, been altered 'since none of them [the brothers] remain in Europe but a few years ago departed for India in order to live there in greater peace.' This departure for India had already been mentioned by the anti-Rosicrucian writer Heinrich Neuhaus in his Pia et Utilissima Admonitio de Fratribus Rosae Cruris (1618). The reference to India could have been passed on to Richter from such an earlier source, but it seems unlikely that an honest Protestant pastor would have invented the story of the 'Professor of the Art' who had given him the manuscript. Nor does it seem likely that he would have spoken with such conviction of an existing brotherhood without reason. It is possible that Richter himself was a member of the brotherhood, in which case Sincerus Renatus could have been the name he assumed in the order, 'Sincerus' meaning 'true', 'genuine' or 'sincere' and 'Renatus' meaning 'reborn'.

Richter, as I mentioned, had studied theology in Halle, a town which was a great centre of alchemical studies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was also, as mentioned in Chapter Three, the home of a lodge of the Unzertrennlichen which bore the name of Sincera Confoederatio, suggesting a connection with the first half of Richter's pseudonym. It seems likely, therefore, that Richter was a member of the Unzertrennlichen. If so, then the Unzertrennlichen become an even more important key to the history of Rosicrucianism that I have already suggested. We have seen how the order seems to have been intimately connected with the original manifestos. Now it appears that the Unzertrennlichen were also the 'missing link' between the old Rosicrucians of the Andreae era and the new Gold- und Rosenkreuz order of the eighteenth century. It is therefore worth taking a closer look at this interesting order.

In his monumental book on esoteric movements, Die Erleuchteten, Karl Frick describes the symbolism used by the Unzertrennlichen. In their meetings a bible, skull and hour glass stood on a table. Their symbols included Sun, Moon and stars, a female figure representing Pansophia, a compass, a circle and three globes. They also spoke of ascending seven steps to a 'source of wisdom', the 'highest architect of the world'. This is Gnostic terminology reminiscent of the ascent thro.ugh the seven planets to reach the divine source, a fragment of which is present in man. The order had five grades. Initiates of the first and second wore a silver cross and those of the higher grades a golden cross. Possibly when a member had reached the highest grade he was then admitted to an inner order where the 'golden cross' became the 'golden and rosy cross', the addition of the rose signifying initiation into a special teaching deriving from oriental sources and possibly involving sexual techniques - a fact which would explain the extreme secrecy of the order. I shall return to this theme shortly.

The evidence so far points to the existence of an alchemical brotherhood, calling itself the Gold- und Rosenkreuz, widely spread but operating secretly. We have other documents besides Renatus's which support this view. Scattered over the German-speaking world are manuscripts bearing the name 'Gold- und Rosenkreuz'. They contain identical alchemical formulae, but describe them in different words. This suggests that these documents were not simply copied from the same source but reflected a teaching circulated among a certain group of people orally or in the form of notes.

One of these manuscripts is now in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. It is entitled Testamentum der Fraternitet Roseae et Aureae Crucis (the Testament of the Fraternity of the Rosy and Golden Gross), and a note on one of the endpapers records that it was acquired by Johann Adalbert, Prinz de Buchau, in 1735.

This document begins by listing a series of rules of the order similar to those set out by Renatus, with a few differences. For example, the number of brethren has been raised from sixty-three to seventy-seven. It then goes on to describe a number of alchemical processes, including the manufacture of the elixir of life from bodily fluids such as blood and urine.

Earlier I had discovered a similar manuscript in the Württemberg State Library in Stüttgart, Thesaurus Thesaurorum a Fraternitate Rosae et Aureae Crucis (the Treasure House of Treasure Houses of the Fraternity of the Rosy and Golden Cross), which I have already mentioned in Chapter Three. The author has written on the title page the date 1580, which may or may not be genuine. This likewise contains rules of the order and some of the same alchemical processes but described in different language. The processes for making the elixir from blood and urine are lengthy and complex. The instructions for using sweat, however, are simpler, the essence of them being as follows:

Take some sweat and pound it with some gold leaf in a mortar until it turns black. Put it in a glass vessel and leave it to settle. It will turn a variety of colours ending a blood-red. Leave it for a month to putrefy, then distill in a retort. When you have distilled five grams you will have a substance with which you can perform great wonders.

The Golden and Rosy Cross must be seen against the background of the general resurgence of alchemy in the eighteenth century, which presents a very interesting phenomenon. Many of the nobility practised or patronized alchemy. For example, Prince Ludwig George Karl von Hessen-Darmstadt (1749-1823) employed an alchemist called Peter Christian Tyssen whom he had brought back from Italy. Ferdinand, Duke of Braunschweig (1721-1792) was also interested in the 'Great Work' and had an alchemical laboratory in his castle at Vechelde.

Another alchemist active at this period was the mysterious Comte de Saint Germain, who became so much of a legend that it is difficult to disentangle fact from fiction in the reports of his life. After travelling around Europe under a number of pseudonyms -including the Marquis de Montferrat, Chevalier Schoening, Comte Soltikoff and Graf Tzarogy - he ended up as a permanent guest at the castle of the Landgraf Karl von Hessen-Kassel, where he died in about 1780. He was reputed to have possessed an elixir which had kept him alive for 400 years, and when he was in Dresden his coachman was asked if this were true. The coachman replied that he did not know exactly, but in the 130 years he had been in his master's service the count always looked as he did now.1 Not surprisingly, the Comte has been claimed as a Rosicrucian adept.

In Austria the craze for alchemy became a positive epidemic, and at one time there are said to have been 10,000 alchemists in Vienna who carried out their activities regardless of a policy of persecution against them approved by Maria Theresa. Ironically, the empress's husband Francis (made emperor in 1745) was himself a zealous alchemist and had a laboratory installed in the royal palace.2

Some interesting information about alchemy in Vienna is given in Gustav Brabble's Sub Rosa — Vertrauliche Mitteilungen aus dem maurerischen Leben unserer Grossvater (Vienna, 1879), based on manuscripts in his grandfather's legacy. Writing from a hostile point of view, he states:

During the years 1782 and 1783 there existed an alchemical society in Vienna which gave itself the pompous name of the 'high, wise, noble and excellent Knights of the Shooting Star'. Their assemblies took place two or three times a week, especially on cold, clear nights in late autumn, in the extensive grounds of an estate near Vienna belonging to a count, and were always surrounded by secrecy. The Grand Master of this society is said to have been a much renowned and brave general of his time, who stood in high favour with the Emperor. Armed servants guarded the entrances and exits during the sessions, and allowed no one to pass who could not give the password. Well-mounted brethren often went off separately for entire nights, covering a wide area looking for the fallen shooting star. They would bring their booty back to their impatient companions who would place it in a round vessel and keep it there until it turned to gold. (Quoted by Frick, pp. 353-53).

This 'fallen shooting star' referred to the morning dew which was believed to come from the perspiration of the stars and was thought to contain the 'vital fluid' which was also present in bodily secretions. An interesting account of the use of dew by a modern alchemist is given by Armand Barbault in his Gold of a Thousand Mornings (published in France in 1969 under the title L'Or du Millième Matin and in Britain in 1975).

At the other end of the German-speaking world, in Prussia, alchemy was also extensively practised. One of its practitioners was Carl Adolf von Carlowitz, a distinguished Prussian nobleman who played a leading part in organizing the defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Leipzig. At his castle of Kuckuckstein, at Liebstadt, he had an alchemical laboratory. He was also a member of the Gold- und Rosenkreuz (by this time under masonic aegis) as his personal documents show. I am indebted to von Carlowitz's great-great-grandson, Mr Vidar l'Estrange, for allowing me to inspect certain of his ancestor's papers, among which is a key to the cipher he used in his diaries. Besides many purely masonic terms, this also contains a code for the term 'unbekannte Oberen' (secret chiefs) which is a Rosicrucian concept. Another code refers to 'Goldkochen', the preparation of gold.

The question we must now ask is: what were the alchemists, and in particular the Rosicrucian alchemists, trying to do? To answer this we must first understand what alchemy is.

Of all the ancient sciences, alchemy has perhaps been the most abused and misunderstood. The popular conception of the alchemist is someone preoccupied with vain attempts to turn lead or other base metals into gold. But behind the metallurgical strivings of the alchemist lay a highly complex view of man and the universe which is still valid today, though it stems from a tradition foreign to orthodox science.

The basic premise of alchemy is embodied in the saying: 'As above, so below'. In other words, man and the natural world are reflections of a pattern in the divine world - 'God made man in his own image. ' Man, it is held, belongs to both the material and the divine world since he contains a spark of the universal spirit which at his original fall became imprisoned in matter. He also has an individual soul and a material body. In alchemical terms the body, soul and spirit correspond to salt, sulphur and mercury which also represent three universal forces, the Trinity of Christian terminology and the three 'Gunas' of the Hindus. By freeing his spirit from the bonds of matter man can once again glimpse his lost divine perfection. In this belief the alchemists belonged to an ancient Gnostic tradition, outlined in Chapter One, which was suppressed by the early Christian church but survived in the Hermetic currents which ran underground through European thought and occasionally, as in the Renaissance, flourished more openly.

This ability of man to be redeemed and perfected is shared by the world of nature, and the state of perfection is symbolized by gold. The striving of the alchemist to turn other metals into gold is therefore an attempt not at transformation but essentially at improvement.

God, according to the alchemist, has deliberately placed at man's disposal the spiritual and material means by which perfection can be achieved. These include not only the secret of transmuting metals but also ways of combating disease and mortality - evils which are, after all, only symptoms of man's state of fall. Hence there is an inner alchemy concerned with perfection of the soul and an outer, complementary, alchemy concerned with perfection of matter and the body.

The alchemist realizes that in order to overcome subservience to matter man must understand how matter works and master its processes. The three universal forces, he holds, operate through seven channels represented in the heavens by the seven planets and on earth by the seven basic metals. Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn correspond respectively to gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin and lead. The world of matter itself is divided into four elements: Fire, Earth, Air and Water.

An essential ingredient in the alchemical process was the Philosopher's Stone, the substance without which the turning to gold could not take place. The Stone was also the elixir of life which could cure disease and ensure longevity. The alchemical texts mention this substance in veiled terms. It is said to be a stone and not a stone, to exist everywhere in nature but despised or ignored, to be unknown and yet known to everyone.

The process of transformation entailed reduction to a materia prima, or 'first matter', a basic substance freed of its inessential characteristics. This substance had the capacity to 'grow' into gold or other metals when 'impregnated' by a universal 'vital fluid' corresponding to the Hindu concept of Prana, the breath that animates the universe. This 'vital fluid' was attracted by certain 'salts' in the body and elsewhere. These salts are present in the bodily secretions, and if the secretions are distilled the prana-bearing essence can be extracted. It was this thinking that lay behind the formulae for making the elixir out of blood, sweat, urine and semen.

The use by alchemists of semen and other bodily substances is confirmed by another passage in Gustav Brabbee's book where he describes in horrified terms a group who worked on the principle that the human body is the best retort for producing the elixir. One way in whiclf the group attempted to produce the elixir was by hiring a number of men and women who, in return for a sum of money, were required to c-at and drink their fill of the finest food and wine after which their bodily waste was treated for extraction of the elixir. In the procuring of semen for similar purposes they were aided by one of their members who was an army officer. In exchange for cash this man obtained the desired substance from the men under his command. This went on until the men became so weak that the regimental doctor was called in and the cause was revealed by one of the men. Farcical though these activities may seem, they were a perfectly logical extension of the premises on which the alchemists were operating.

It is clear that the Rosicrucians of the eighteenth century had a deep understanding of both the inner and the outer alchemy, as a scrutiny of their works shows. One of the most interesting of these is Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer (The Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians) published at Altona in 1785. One of the illustrations in this work is a circular medallion on which are three shields chained together and bearing an eagle, a star and a lion; there are also two globes representing the earth and the heavens, an orb, two arms emerging from clouds at the sides of the medallion and symbols of the seven planets, the Sun and Moon pouring two streams of liquid into a cup. An accompanying poem explains that the eagle, the lion and the star represent respectively salt, sulphur and mercury, as well as body, soul and spirit; the orb is a symbol of the highest good, and the two hands represent reason and knowledge. The remaining symbols are self-explanatory. Part of the poem reads:

This is the meaning of the Art: The body gives form and constancy.

The soul colours and tinges, The spirit gives fluidity and penetrates.

Therefore the Art cannot consist Of one of these three things only.

Nor can the greatest secret exist Unless it has body, soul and spirit.

This image and the accompanying explanation express clearly the dual aspect of alchemy. But in addition to the inner and the outer alchemy which I have described there is also a third type of alchemy, which is still practised in the orient. Here the 'vital fluid' upon which the alchemist works is the sexual force itself as distinct from the physical secretions, and the descriptions of heating the furnace, •distillation and so on symbolize ways of manipulatin^he generative current. This type of alchemy is clearly described in Lu K'uan Yii's book Taoist Yoga (Rider, 1970). One quotation, from Chapter Four, will suffice to bring out the striking similarity between Taoist and European alchemy:

The body, heart and thought are called 'three families' ... The three elements (or factors) can be controlled and returned to the one source only in the condition of serene voidness. When the heart is empty of externals spirit and nature unite; and when the body is still, the generative force and passions are extinct. When thought is reduced to the state of serenity, the three factors mingle into one.

When passion and nature unite this is called the union of the elements of metal (chin) and wood (mu). When the generative force and spirit unite this is called the mingling of the elements of water and fire. When thought is stabilised, this is the fulness of the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth).

The three factors referred to here seem to correspond to the salt, sulphur and mercury of Western alchemy, and the 'condition of serene voidness' is surely the reduction to materia prima. The reference to the mingling of water and fire is particularly striking as in European alchemical illustrations this union is sometimes shown in allegorical form.

Given a sexual interpretation, many of the European alchemical texts seem to make sense. For example, in the Secret Symbols occurs the following passage:

When I had left the little garden and had arrived at the place where I should assist the maidens, I noticed that instead of the walls there stood a low wattled fence, and a most beautiful maiden bedecked in white satin, with a most splendid youth, went past the rose-garden, one leading the other by the arm and carrying many fragrant roses in their hands. I spoke to them and asked them: How did they come over the fence? She said: My dearest bridegroom helped me over it, and we are now going out of this lovely garden into our chamber to enjoy our friendship.

This could be interpreted as meaning that the rose of perfection can only be plucked when mastery of the sexual force has been attained.

Mitoi« vuuynAA^Yu^ tytlcuuinif ^-O^mi, CJJK-fiy xi-di.tÜAj .«g^.

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-VUnijtt, ftoiü, rt ^dAdlt.iiufesu*, «fait tU» WvötUIi Ucx, <W4i.

Thesaurus Thesaurorum

1. Prophetic drawings from Simon Studion's manuscript, the Naometria (1604), showing (a) the New Age riding forth on the four-headed beast of Ezekiel, while Pope and Emperor are shipwrecked; and (b) The Mystical Jerusalem {photographs: Württemberg State Library, Stuttgart).

2. Johann Valentin Andreae at the age of sixty-two.
Philosopher Stone Symbol

3. A message of Christmas greetings set out in the shape of a rose and sent by Michael Maier to King James I of England in 1612 (copied from the original by Adam McLean).

Robert Fludd Apology

4. An illustration from the title page of Robert Fludd's Summum Bonum, Part IV (1629), a defence of the Rosicrucian fraternity. The inscription translates: 'The rose gives honey to the bees.'

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