Ferrum Philosophorum, the Iron of the Philosophers, is the metal attributed to the fiery planet Mars and therefore to the Mars or Svadishthana Chakra. This is a point within the spinal column, and the light-blur on the surface of the Glass Vessel, at the approximate level of the prostatic ganglion. The numeration of Ferrum is 73 by Latin Cabala Simplex and opens quite a few doors to the occult meaning behind Iron. The Hebrew word גמל, gimel, 'camel,' totals 73. Gimel is assigned to the Tarot Key High Priestess, to water, and by that association, to subconsciousness, both the personal and Universal. This is another obscure reference to 'fiery water,' the First Matter of the Alchemists. This fiery essence, symbolized by liquid and Iron, does indeed behave in the manner we all equate with the physical liquid substance, both universally and within our physical bodies. Although it is silent and invisible, it moves in currents, pools in areas, ebbs and flows like tides. It is a vast, formless, iridescent black-light Sea of Awareness that can be harnessed and directed into physical formations by the Alchemist’s imagination through Art. The Hebrew verb חסה, cheseh, means 'to trust, to seek protection, to take refuge,' and totals 73. It hints the 'moist fire' as the only resource all the sages and saints needed for their total sustenance on any level. Each, חכמה, chokmah, 'Wisdom,' and another title for that sphere from Isaiah 51:2, אביכם, abikim, meaning 'Thy Father,' equal 73.
Chokmah is the Life-Force, the animating principle in creation and in the First Matter. As the second emanation on the Tree it is attributed also to Alchemical Sulphur, one of the three modes. 'Thy Father,' the animating principle, impregnates AMA, the dark formless Mother, the third sphere, Binah. She becomes AIMA, the 'living' substance pregnant with all possibilities. Within Chokmah is כהמה, kachmah, the 'power of formation,' totaling 73 with Ferrum. The formative power coupled with the cohesive, finitizing power in Binah, makes the 'living mind-matter' Prima Materia. On the Tree both spheres receive influence from the first principle, Universal Mercury (Kether), the mode of Universal Omniscience. Alchemical Iron, then, contains all three modes of the First Matter; Alchemical Mercury of Kether, Alchemical Sulphur of Chokmah, and Alchemical Salt of Binah. All the other metals or chakras in the physical and spiritual bodies of humans hold these three. But each metal contains different proportions of the modes. Basil Valentine wrote:
"Iron is found to have the least portion of Mercury but more of Sulphur and Salt...Copper is generated of much Sulphur but its Mercury and Salt are in equality...Saturn (Lead) is generated of little Sulphur, little Salt and much gross, unripe Mercury while Gold hath digested and refined the Mercury to a perfect ripeness."1
If students are familiar with the Eastern writings on the three principles of nature, called Gunas by the Yogis, therein lay information a would-be alchemist can use. Qabalistically, Mars and Iron are assigned to the fifth sphere, Geburah, seat of the Will-Sex-Urge on the Tree. Venus and Copper are attributed to the seventh sphere, Netzach, seat of the Desire Nature. The gross metals Iron and Copper are the two energies that generate most of humankind's greatest woes. These are the great beasts the True Alchemist would conquer for any progress on the path of attainment; the Lion of the separative will-sex urge and the Serpent of the lower, separative desire nature. These two symbols are most common in alchemical picto-graphs and woodcuts illustrating the death and later sublimation of these energies within ourselves. If the Sulphur (self-conscious) principle in these two metals is directed downward toward Salt (Tamas Guna, and the subconscious tendencies), the resulting energies are directed to the habitual pursuit of acquiring things, money, mindless luxuries, sex, power and position over others for purely selfish purposes. All these 'pump' the false, separative ego into greater greed and lust for various sensations which tail spin us further into Maya. Master Alchemists instruct us “to make Mercury of all our Metals,” to become the Sattvic Human referred to in the Bhagavad-Gita. This is the way toward making the Philosophers' Stone, as Jean d'Espagnet wrote:
"The Philosophers extract their stone out of seven stones."2
Elsewhere in The Hermetic Arcanum the same author tells us:
"Metals, we must confess, cannot be multiplied by the instinct and labour of Nature only; yet we may affirm that the multiplying virtue is hid in their depths, and manifested itself by the help of Art: In this Work, Nature standeth in need of the Aid of Art; and both do make a perfect whole."3
Nature unaided always fails in Spiritual Alchemy. Nature stands in need of aid from 'Our Mercury.' the conscious mind. Metal Iron, if left to “the instinct and labour of Nature” will gravitate downward (subconscious habit patterns). In the lower kingdoms it is used naturally for procreation of the species, where sheer numbers instill the will-to-live in a line. In the human kingdom it tends toward the same, but it also gives strength to the base vices listed above when allowed to run rampant and unchecked. Chakras, stones or metals, however, contain “the multiplying virtue in their depths.” That virtue is the Seed of Virgin Sulphur. When we turn our Sulphur toward Mercury (super-conscious expression), the lower, separative vices tend to fall away with time. If Mercury is made of the metal Iron we will have learned the secret of reproduction. No doctrine has created more confusion in past centuries than this one of reproduction. All manners of crazed sex cults, religions of phallic worship, guilt and abusive sex relations between the genders and against oneself are rooted in this ignorant misconception. Indeed the strong combination of Sulphur and Salt in Iron, alchemically speaking, will result in the reproduction of physical bodies through sex, and generate rash action and vices in the more subtle planes. But this fiery action from Chokmah, through Geburah and the Svadishthana Chakra, is also a disintegrating vibration in raw, primitive form that breaks down cell structure in the physical body.
The Life-Force burns tissue cells in physical bodies as a flaming wick dissolves its candle wax. Both the body and the candle are sure to burn its due course, making the transition of physical death a certainty. Tempering the course of this Life-Force toward Mercury “through Art” sustains the physical vehicle to its natural span of between 120 to 144 years, on average. The “multiplying virtue” hinted by d'Espagnet with regard to Iron is the ability of that center to expend creative energies toward the reproduction of body tissue cells from the building materials of sensible foodstuffs. The energy force that procreates the species when used downward/outward is the same force that sustains the physical body by reproduction of a healthy cell structure, used and burned up by The Life. Alchemically, it is said of the reproductive energy: “A force set up for the ruination of many, and the Liberation of a few.” This was reason for celibate practices in early monasteries around the world. Yet this state of celibacy cannot be forced. To do so in an unprepared psyche invites tensions too great to contain, as sex crimes and sex cults through history have demonstrated repeatedly. How many priests and nuns, sworn to a life of celibacy in all the world’s religions, have succumb to these energies too great to contain, all because they were most probably too young, too immature, to take such an oath in the beginning? Ardent study, prayer for understanding, and meditations on the reproductive function will eventually “make Mercury” of the metal Iron. The lower, subconscious tendencies through that center will lose their fascination and grip on the maturing consciousness, not by false will-power but by simple default as awareness draws nearer to union with The One. Default is a subconscious response to nutritional and sensible diet; the reading and studying of the Masters and other enlightening works; meditations on all the centers; prayers for Grace in the Art; living as moral and helpful a life as one is able; learning to love others and the opposite gender and oneself unconditionally; and applying all the other principles in the Art of Spiritual Alchemy as we understand them. The One-Life, deep within us, will do all the rest from the other side through the action of the Red Work, Alchemical Sun. Transmutations start from within and work outward. Physical laboratories cannot generate anything that could help.
1 Regardie, Dr. Israel, The Complete Golden Dawn System Of Magic. Phoenix: Falcon Press, 1984, Vol. 2, pg. 56.
2 d'Espagnet, Jean, The Hermetic Arcanum. Edmonds, WA: Alchemical Press, 1983, pg. 17.
3 Ibid., pg. 7.