Philosophers tell us that the study of alchemy is a Science of Fire. Therefore they instruct: "Above all seek first the Fire." Wisdom, Sulphur and Fire are interchangeable in that they are all attributed to the second Sephirah, Chokmah. This sphere is the second mode of three qualities which emanate from AIN SUPh AUR, the Magical Alchemical Earth, Prima Materia. So we should not be too surprised when sages caution all who would become proficient in this Art of Alchemy, to first “discover the First Matter.” On the surface this may appear contradictory, and would so remain, save for those who understand the First Matter and Alchemical Fire to be one.
Yet the Philosopher, Senior, says in Turba Philosophorum: “Our Fire is a Water.” The Fire, the Water and the Earth are all one, and “the wind (Air) carries it in its belly,” to quote the Emerald Tablet. The three sub-elements of Alchemical Earth are all different aspects of One Matter. Mercury, or Air, is the mode of Intelligence, Omniscience. Salt, the Water element, represents the mode of Embodiment, Omnipresence. Sulphur then, attributed to Fire, is Omnipotence, the Life mode. Fire, the Life, animates. What impels any action within Life is Desire. It was the Virgin Desire within the One Universal Mind that created a field of expression for its own Being. This Virgin Sulphur, the original Fire without beginning or end, is inherent within Itself. It creates and sustains perpetual existence. We, created in Its own Image take part in the Eternal Ring of Flame, self-fed. An ancient Hebrew/Chaldee word for 'fire, light', is נור, nour, one of four expressions for Fire in the Qabalah. Most poignant is its gematria at 256, which equals Argentum Vivum Album Fixum – The Fixed, White, Living Silver. Living Silver (Argent Vive) is one very common name for the Universal Mercury given by alchemists from all periods. The phrase above, at 256, shares the same value with Centrum In Trigono Centri – The Center in the Central Sphere, an expression used by an Adept in The Secret Symbols referring to the fourth dimension, the central, inner point. Nour is also the root of את הנור, eth ha-nour, the alchemists' ATHANOR (see same). Its literal translation, 'with the Light' or 'Essence of Fire,' is an alchemical reference to the human body as the SUBJECTUM (see same) of the Art. Since entire creation is nothing more than coagulation of the universally diffused Fiery Essence, the human vehicle could hardly be considered less than that same fluid light. From the same root נור, comes נורא, norah, 'awe-inspiring', with the addition of letter Aleph, the Life-Breath.
A second form for Fire in Hebrew is אש, aesch, spelled with letters Shin and Aleph. It combines the elements Fire and Air, as does norah. This is the Fiery Ethers; Aethers in Latin, Pneuma in Greek, and Quintessence of European alchemy (see ETHER and QUINTESSENCE). Fire and Air are virtually inseparable, like Earth and Water. We can only break them down into seemingly separate elements when we speak of their differing modes of operation within the One-Life.
A third, very interesting Hebrew word-form for Fire is שרפה, sheo-ray-phah, 'burning,' spelled out with the three fiery letters, Shin, Resh and Peh. When we transpose these letters into their astrological components, we may envision the Fiery Essence of the Mother Letter Shin split into solar and martial energies expressed as Sun (Resh) and Mars (Peh). These are brought again into physical expression through the action of letter Heh, the last letter in Sh R Ph H and itself a fiery letter attributed to Aries, but also the letter-symbol for the third sphere, Binah, the Great Sea of Substance. By Hebrew gematria, 'burning' sums to 585. Eighteen is the first Theosophical Reduction of 585. This may evoke some arcane thought for those willing to invest time to work out the intimate Qabalistic details. For 18 lies within חי, kee, 'living, alive, active'. It is also the numeration of a curious word form, חטא, ChTA. With differing vowel points it has shades of pronunciations and meanings. One is chatah, the verb 'to incur guilt, to sin'; and the noun 'sinner.' Another is cheteh, 'to miss mark.' Different vowel points again, however, turn the word into chitay, the verb 'to purify.' What these Qabalistic subtleties suggest is that The Life and fiery One-Essence, burns the physical substance of the body-vehicle as a flaming wick burns the candle body. To squander reproductive energy is to live the life of a 'sinner.' one who 'misses the mark' of Being. This same Fire, however, when turned by Sulphurous, Desirous Quest, tends 'to purify' with healing warmth. It rejuvenates the physical body by sublimating the reproductive Mars center energies, creating strong, healthy cells throughout the body and pouring forth Loving Light from the Sun center behind the heart. We literally walk in the Living, Loving Light of Christ when we receive that flash of enlightenment from within as a result of the inner vision of the First Matter.
The fourth, final Hebrew word concerning this investigation of Alchemical Fire is רגש, regesh, meaning 'excited, agitated.' Once again two of the fiery letters, Shin and Resh, now flank letter Gimel at center, the letter symbolic of our seemingly 'personal' subconscious. The mental image of the word suggests the watery element heated by the fiery action of the other two. In this regard, consider a quotation from Coelum Terrae by Thomas Vaughan:
"For a close, I must tell thee the philosophers called this fire their balneum (see BALNEUM), "a natural bath," not an artificial one, for it is not any kind of water, but a certain subtle temperate moisture which compasseth the glasse, and feeds their Sun, or Fire. In a word, without this bath nothing in the world is generated...Be sure then to know this Fire in the first place, and accordingly be sure to make use of it. But for thy better security, I will describe it to thee once more. It is a dry, vaporous humid fire; it goes round about the glass, and is both equal and continual. It is restless, and some have called it the white philosophical coal. It is in itself natural, but the preparation of it is artificial: it is a heat of the dead, wherefore some call it the unnatural, necromantic fire. It is no part of the matter, neither is it taken out of it, but it is an external fire, and serves only to stir up, and strengthen the inward oppressed fire of the chaos."1
The GLASS VESSEL (see same) is the human aura wherein the entire work takes place. The heat of the Sun, letter Resh, excites or agitates the Spiritual Fire, Shin, within the vessel of consciousness, Gimel. This heats the space inside the Vessel which many philosophers have called their White Liquor or their Albumin within the HEN'S EGG (see same). It becomes a natural process only when the Artificer “excites it artificially,” that is, through meditation. The Art of Alchemy, this Science of Fire, is a process that rewards those attaining its secrets with ability to bring this fire out of ourselves and out from all that surrounds us. The souls trapped in the illusion of this world's appearances are those whom alchemists call 'the dead.' Yet dead souls hold the “necromantic fire” and the seed potential of everlasting life. They have but to look within by means of the study of the Science of Fire, the study of consciousness.
Finally, the second sphere, Chokmah, the seat of Virgin Sulphur, influences the Ego Consciousness in Tiphareth through the fiery path of letter HEH (Aries, cardinal fire). The One-Ego performs the Red Work of the Sun through the fiery path of letter SAMECH (Sagittarius, mutable fire). The Fire of the Father combined with the Fire of His Son eventually reaches us in the Vital Soul of subconsciousness, the ninth sphere, Yesod, and the Bath of our physical body. We may sum up in agreement with the Adept who wrote of the ‘Fire of the Philosophers’ in The Secret Symbols, Part I:
"Desire the Fire, Seek the Fire: And you will know the Fire, Kindle a Fire, Add Fire to Fire, Boil the Fire in the Fire, Throw Body, Soul and Spirit into the Fire: And dead or alive you will possess the Fire, This Fire becomes a black, yellow, white and red Fire, Give birth to your children while you are in the Fire, Feed, water and nourish them in the Fire: They will then live and die in the Fire, They will be Fire and remain in the Fire, Their Silver and Gold turns to Fire. Heaven and Earth will perish in Fire and at last there will be a four-fold Philosophical Fire, i.e., the Celestial Fire."2
1 Vaughan, Thomas, Coelum Terrae. Edmonds, WA: Sure Fire Press, 1988, pg. 23.
2 Hartmann, Dr. Franz, The Secret Symbols of The Rosicrucians. Trans. by Hartmann. Mokelumne Hill, CA: Health Research, 1969, pg. 2.