Introduction and Preface
Revised: May 2021
The entire manuscript of The Mirror of Alchymy by Friar Roger Bacon is presented here. Supposedly it was originally written circa A.D. 1260 in the Latin, and translated by Dr. Michael Charles into English in 1597. The original manuscript is shown here in Courier New font, while commentary is presented below the various sections in Times New Roman. The copy I possess and worked from showed no paragraph indentations. Each chapter in the reprint was shown as merely one paragraph.
As far as I know and can discover no one has yet analyzed the meaning behind what Friar Bacon had written. There have been critiques on the text as a whole, its authorship, its date written and probable history, questions of its originality, the subsequent translations, etc., the usual superficial inquires. No attempts have been offered to explain what Bacon actually meant by his coded and cryptic style. Some critiques have dismissed Bacon's opus as mere gibberish from his period. One critic opines: "...it is impossible to take anything in this little booklet seriously..." But it is difficult for me to imagine Roger Bacon being facetious.
This alchemical manuscript was written in a highly encrypted and coded style. All the genuine sage philosopher alchemists did so purposely, not to deceive, but to save their own lives and preserve the secret teachings hidden within. We have to keep in mind that throughout those 'alchemical centuries' before and after Roger Bacon the Roman Church and other religious factions carried quite a big stick. Any and all writings which even seemed to threaten the religious dogma of the period, thereby threatening the very existence of one powerful church or another, the authors or group responsible came under severe persecutions in the name of God as dictated by those temporal powers. Even today we can find spots marked in the central plazas and squares of the medieval sections of towns in Europe where these persecutions were commonplace.
The commentaries herein attempt to explain the actual text. Many alchemical terms within the manuscript, however, are explained elsewhere in this site under the Glossary, if you are a beginner with this type of prose. In that case you will have to back reference this reading with jumping back and forth to the Glossary section. Or, jot the term down and check the Glossary later. Bacon's manuscript does not explain fundamentals. His audience had to be those already familiar with classical alchemical literature, or those who were at least advanced aspirants. Through the centuries none of the many versions of this opus included any commentary as to the exact meanings behind any of the alchemical terms. This is the first attempt that I am aware of that proposes to do so.
The simplest, most direct way to approach this work, in my opinion, is to keep in mind that the now archaic language and terms have evolved through the centuries. All languages, with their syntax, grammar, punctuation and vocabularies have matured since the 13th Century, and again through the late 16th Century, after it was translated from the Latin. Today's language formats are even considerably altered from Dr. Charles' period. Then again, new veins of study and knowledge have appeared since in the form of the social sciences that have also attempted to explain some alchemical terms with psychological vocabularies.
I believe it would be generous to say that the psychological sciences we are familiar with currently had their early beginnings around the mid 1800s or so? Terms like 'Argent Vive' and 'Mercury,' as used in these writings, were maintained over centuries. The ‘new-speak’ of the psychological sciences have since replaced some of the ancient vocabulary. ‘Mercury’ is now understood as super-consciousness. 'Sulphur' in this work has since been replaced as self-consciousness, while 'Salt' has since been adapted as sub-consciousness.
Many classical alchemical terms, however, cannot merely be substituted with modern vocabulary. Beyond the three modes just described the common psychological terms and definitions usually proffered by the social sciences to explain alchemical processes and drawings simply do not apply. This was, and remains deliberate because the modern languages take us even further from the original intent and core of early alchemical literature. It has always been and remains a coded communication, reserved only for those with the deeper desire for understanding. Those early alchemical authors wrote in code and drew their pictographs and illustrations not for the purpose of deceiving us. Nor were they being deliberately cryptic. They did so, to the best of their abilities, because what they were/are describing is primarily concerned with 4th dimensional awareness conducive to the 5th Spiritual Kingdom. There are no conventional linguistic vocabularies to exactly explain or describe such otherwise. Many current critics or authorities attempt to explain the early manuscripts with these modern vernaculars, or the new jargon of the professional social sciences. Unfortunately, in many cases, this actually muddies the original intent and meanings disguised behind the terms used.
The alchemists' 'metals,' for example, have led so many impatient for riches to believe gold, silver, tin, etc., to be the actual physical materials for transmutation into unlimited wealth. The metals presented in Bacon's manuscript are actually ethereal centers through which human consciousness perceives the nature of his environment. Each of the metals is an ethereal portal, so to speak, through which three modes of energy flow in varying proportion. They are actually the Seven Interior Stars, or Metals, whereby the One Life of the Universe expresses Itself through human personalities. Roger Bacon and the many other classical alchemists before and after his time named these three modes Argent Vive or Mercury, the super-conscious energy; Sulphur, the self-conscious energy expression; and Salt, the sub-conscious mode. These are addressed with more detail in Chapter Two to follow. Each center, or metal, with its degree of expression in consciousness is addressed in the following.
The Mirror of Alchymy
Friar Roger Bacon
From the London edition of 1597,
being slightly modernized,
by Dr. Michael Charles
In times past the Philosophers spoke after diverse and sundry manners throughout their writings, such that as it were in a riddle or a cloudy voice, they have left to us the ascertainment of their most excellent and noble science, but altogether obscure, and without all hope utterly denied, and that not without good cause. Wherefore I would advise you, that above all other books, you should firmly fix your mind upon the SEVEN CHAPTERS, containing in them the transmutation of metals, and often call to your mind the beginning, middle, and the end of same, wherein you shall find such subtlety, that your mind shall be fully contented with it.
Bacon's preface sets the tone for most alchemical writings. As pointed out in the Introduction, masters freely give out the message, but that the hints are deliberately enigmatic and cryptic. Discernment is up to the reader. We have to do the work by studying Qabalah and Astrology as Paracelsus had admonished. They point to signposts upon which to meditate, for two basic reasons. First, alchemy leads toward fourth dimensional awareness. No direct language can adequately explain fourth dimensional experience and awareness. Readers are encouraged to wrestle with imagery that may lead to apprehension, if not comprehension, of that awareness. Second, by submitting their knowledge in the form of chemical recipes, genuine alchemists purposely move the ardent students out of the rational mind, that is, out of the ordinary way the lower intellect works. There exists a ‘higher intellect’ within human consciousness. The genuine alchemical authors bid aspirants to look into a thing in an extraordinary way, principally metaphorically, leading away from the linear perception that crystallizes ignorant misconceptions of this world. It also opens the subconscious abstract mind which is able to deduce hidden relationships clearly if one can quiet the self-conscious. Intense intellectual activity is often an interference. Bacon wrote this little treatise in seven chapters and it actually does contain explanations for “the transmutation of metals,” but these are not the chapters upon which he asks readers to fix their minds. He is referring to the title of Hermes Trismegistus’ Seven Golden Chapters, which preceded Roger Bacon by centuries, even millennia, and of which he was most familiar, as were true alchemists of Bacon’s period. The Seven Golden Chapters also explains the beginning, middle, and end of the transmutation of metals, albeit even more enigmatically than Bacon's offering. Just a warning, if you are so inclined toward reading that opus.