Preface to the Glossary
“Real philosophy seeks rather to solve than to deny. While we hear, every day, the small pretenders to science talk of the absurdities of alchemy and the dream of the Philosopher's Stone, a more erudite knowledge is aware that by alchemists the greatest discoveries in science have been made, and much that which still seems abstruse, had we the key to the mystic phraseology they were compelled to adopt, might open the way to yet more noble acquisitions.” – Sir Edward Bullwer Lytton, Zanoni, Chapter 2.VI.
As the various alchemies of old eventually evolved into today’s sciences and technologies, the True Alchemy, as recorded by genuine sages, was not and is not mere belief. It is full self-conscious knowledge and a Way of Life. The philosophers’ original manuscripts pointed a Way of Liberation from all that we could sense in this world that enslaves eternal Spirit, and offered the truly discerning a certain secret and silent confection to ensure that Road of Return. To avoid persecution at the hands of various religious zealots through changing times and customs, they coded all their writings under the guise of physical and chemical phenomena. So the cryptic writing style was of necessity, "compelled," as the quotation above suggested. The result being that, at best, all that classical alchemical literature is frustratingly difficult and confusing reading by anyone’s measure. It is my hope that the definitions offered here serve as "the key to the mystic phraeology."
There was yet another reason behind the archaic terms and phrases. Languages changed with our expanding consciousness and awareness. Today’s psychological and sociological expressions were unknown back then. I think it generous to say that these modern social sciences had their origins a mere 250 +/- years ago? The super-, sub-, and self-conscious modes were certainly known by the old sages, but they had not these modern terms to define them. I believe that if they had they most likely would have used them. Instead, they recognized these fluid states of consciousness to behave like water, and coined various words and phrases alluding to that metaphor and others similar. Besides, the True Alchemy was not and is not singularly psychological.
So, with this in mind, to approach and understand intelligently the enigmas of classic Alchemy initially is a matter of vocabulary, as with any foreign language or new subject matter. However, the actual intent behind their deliberate diversionary terms and phrases secretly defined processes of inner consciousness that was far removed from any idea of actual compounds used by lay chemists and physicists of any period. The alchemical sages’ words also proposed levels of interpretation. The authors had specific intent behind their choices of expressions. Their selections were neither facetious nor arbitrary, and while their words and phrases were anything but literal, they never actually lied to us.
My first and only book thus far, The Secrets of John Dee (publishing details in the Bibliography under Dr. John Dee) was one of limited commentary with an Introduction. I feel it fell woefully short with any satisfactory explanations of alchemical processes. The terms and phrases addressed there relied upon simple gematria solely. The space allowed me at the time prohibited the protracted explanations that I felt were necessary for deeper understanding. Regardless, I felt that effort did help to point a way for some discerning readers.
The purpose of this section of the site is to show ardent miners, with explanations detailed as possible, how to investigate and analyze the most enigmatic terms used by classical authors in the Alchemical Art. The examples explored here will open a door to all the obscure terms planted deliberately by sages and philosophers from the period of the alleged Hermes Trismegistus through the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. They all wrote of the same One-Thing. Despite the hundred or more names given the First Matter by as many philosophers, genuine sages and authors from differing times or countries never misunderstood each others inner intent.
The majority of terms here are alchemical, but I offer a few Qabalistic and even some Vedic terms where they serve to clarify further some alchemical point. Paracelsus warned us in his Tincture of the Philosophers:
“If you do not understand the use of the Cabalists and the old astronomers, you are not born by God for the Spagyric art, or chosen by Nature for the work of Vulcan, or created to open your mouth concerning Alchemical Arts.”
The use of the Cabalists is gematria principally, but they also utilized its many other sub-forms. The use of the old astronomers is Astrology. Therefore, some definitions are cross referenced with other esoteric traditions wherever possible. Anima Mundi is One Life. She bestows Hagia Sophia continuously to all sufficiently receptive (the very meaning of Qabalah) through the Still Small Voice, geography notwithstanding.
There are no reproductions of any traditional or classic alchemical pictures, woodcut-prints or drawings on this site. This is deliberate. So many drawings are referenced that it would be impossible to copy and paste them all on a site that is already rather large in scope. Besides, all the drawings and diagrams referenced here have already been printed and reprinted in various books and on other Internet sites. A word of caution, I might add. Some pictures and drawings called out in these definitions are from specific texts. In the reprint of some of these texts some drawings have not been faithfully recopied. Splendor Solis by Solomon Trismosin is a good example. By the way, the recent addition of this Article is the only one to include pictorial illustrations. The version in the Bibliography section on this site is a version with color plates. Splendor Solis has been reprinted since, but the color scheme has been radically distorted. Color was/is extremely important in genuine alchemical manuscripts. To change any color arrangement is to completely distort the implied hints and information. If you research the pictures and prints called out on this site, please check the Bibliography section for the exact publication. There are other published texts with similar problems.
Another purpose for not including any pictures or prints here is a deliberate attempt to make a miner work for ‘His Grace.’ All the referenced drawings are described in detail to support what I surmise to be their original intent. The illustrations are duly accredited and referenced to books listed in the Bibliography. The zealous aspirant of Alchemy already will have a number of these texts. It is my hope that other readers without a library will imagine and ponder the illustrations described, and then invest the time and energy to research the actual pictures referenced. This will excite the subconscious in the language of Universal Pictorial Symbolism. In the interim, after the reading and before the actual diagram is found, new and additional insights will surface de balneo, rendering the diagrams even more evocative when found eventually. This is perhaps the best service I could perform for the reader. The effect is long-lasting. Take time for the Magnum Opus. Meditate often. Success is measured in direct proportion with our desire to know. One Adept recorded in the Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians his knowing of and about the First Matter for seventeen years prior to The Almighty giving him the actual inner visual experience. But ‘Kisses from His Mouth’ are inevitable to the ardent, patient and devout. May His Light and Grace extend upon all who earnestly aspire.
The Bibliography on this site certainly is not total reference material on this subject. These are texts that have been with me for years and which I have read repeatedly. I would invite beginning students of the High Art to procure some of the titles listed and to read them always. If one consults this site while studying those listed titles and similar classical alchemical works, the combination will certainly serve as a key to unlocking Universal Magnesia. It is not the number of books we read, but their quality from sincere, genuinely knowledgeable masters. Jean d’Espagnet advised in his Hermetic Arcanum: “Let a Lover of truth make use of few Authors, but of the best note and experienced truth.” One author unlocks another while the subconscious ferments and churns with the difficult passages. Referring to this site suggests how to look at certain passages. Then read the works again. Assuredly will their inner import dawn from within. These definitions could also be considered a study in the Literal Qabalah for the purpose of gathering deeper imagery which excites the subconscious toward the True and Hidden Qabalah.
Authors and Qabalists like Eliphas Levi, A.E. Waite, MacGregor Mathers, Aleister Crowly, Paul F. Case, Manly P. Hall and many others agree the Book of Tarot to be a necessity. They teach to spell out some Hebrew words from letters with the corresponding images from the Major Arcana. There are three packs especially, I believe, that have the peculiar value as books of genuine archetypal, pictorial symbolism from Universal Subconscious Akasha: the Waite/Smith or Waite/Albano deck, the B.O.T.A. version, and Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth. There are other valuable packs if one can detect some of the deliberate blinds in the older versions. A couple packs out there belong to groups that claim to teach the symbolism if one joins their lodge or order. The myriad New Age packs that have flooded the market will not serve adequately for the investigation this Alchemical Art, regardless their visual beauty. Please bear in mind that the greatest Sages and Teachers we seek out to study now most likely could never have imagined the paraphernalia we see in New Age bookstores today. They all had achieved their exalted states simply by going within -- no subliminal tapes, no alpha waves, rain-sticks, or lucky gem charms. Spiritual Alchemy does not seek the ‘Wild Person’ or the ‘Inner Child.’ Nor is Alchemy merely Jungian psychology, though psychological health and physical health are necessary prerequisites for this Art. And quite contrary to Dr. Jung’s opinion, the genuine philosopher alchemists did know what they were writing about. Current times are experiencing a spiritual malaise, however, because we do not want to cooperate consciously with the universal super-conscious evolutionary forces toward unity. We still seem to seek any new thing with a shorter, quicker way, while we attend fanatically to the prime concerns from biological urges in our predatory nature. We all want to find success, lead fulfilling lives, discover our spiritual purpose and position in the cosmos, but if we continue to seek it ‘out there,’ in our deadly, habitual social order, elusive it will remain.
When probing alchemical literature so long ago, researching the obscure terms were begun for personal reasons. Noting that several ancient authors frequently used similar terms from different periods and places in history I would jot down one, then reread what other authors had to say about it, or how they used it in context. Some hints would pop out of their texts, some correlations would surface. But most terms, I confess, remained baffling. Some knowledge of Latin is invaluable obviously. And a working knowledge of intermediate Qabalah is another necessity, while gematria remains indispensable. Always look up the strange English term in both Hebrew and Latin. Obtain its numerical equivalent from those languages. A table of numerical values for the three basic classical languages used in the western tradition is listed in Dr. Paul Foster Case’s The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order. And, of course, the tables are everywhere on the Net. The table is the most necessary tool for working the gematria in these tongues. Take concerted time to do this. List various words and phrases in all three languages under the same number by using file cards or a notebook. The master philologist of all three languages certainly has great advantage, but one need not be able to read, to write or to speak these languages fluently to glean correlations offered by gematria. The secret, inner Magical Language is Universal Pictorial Symbolism. It uses elements of Hebrew, Greek and Latin to facilitate the gathering of imagery. The process is not only fun to the studious type personality, but it may actually bring on a ‘lightning flash’ from deep within the Self. In any event the exercise will expand consciousness and perception, and therefore a deeper awareness on into the fifth, Spiritual Kingdom.
I should think it very good advice to learn by heart the Qabalistic Tree of Life, its Paths and Spheres, and the relationship of each with every other part. The color and number associations are crucial.
As my personal alchemical number-dictionary expanded, I realized how helpful such a site as this would have been to me as a beginner in these investigations. Dictionaries and glossaries there are, and have been in the past, but the explanations remained enigmatic as the terms themselves. They seemed to offer no new insight unless one were initiated into some sort of ‘secret knowing,’ or the terms were reduced to describing some useless laboratory experiments. I offer Mr. A. E. Waite’s A Short Lexicon of Alchemy as one example dictionary of these enigmas. But look at the definition here of Subjectum Artis in Johannes Helmond’s Alchemy Unveiled, circa 1710:
"First and crude subject of our Art is the materia remota vel secunda; the remote or second material. This is the Mons Philosophorum, the Vineyard of the Sages, the Metallic Mountain, the very best concentrated mineral, the Metallic Water, the Sea of the Chaos of the Sages, the Tree with the Three Branches, the Three-Headed Dragon, the Cerberus infernalis triceps, the highest double Saturnus, the Goldrich Crossapple, our Antimon, our Crucifer, Arbor vitae cognitionis bone et mal, the little irrational world, our Microcosm."
So many years ago I did not know which way to turn upon my first reading of it. An edition of Jacob Boehme’s Aurora was merely a book of strange conundrums to me in 1971. However, I promise that whoever reads all the terms explored in this site, and can grasp the Spirit behind them, will discover that the definition above, and many more processes in the Alchemical Art will jump into conscious comprehension accompanied by true joy, a true "AHA!"
"By this it appears how necessary it is for any man that aspires to true knowledge, to examine the definitions of former authors; and either to correct them, where they are negligently set down, or to make them himself. For the errors of definitions multiply themselves according as the reckoning proceeds, and lead men into absurdities, which at last they see, but cannot avoid, without reckoning anew from the beginning."– Hobbes, Leviathan
So I offer this site to those now embarked upon this path. It is my sincere hope that those so inclined will find these definitions a more direct tool in ‘mining the Ore.’ These are certainly not all the alchemical terms that could be offered, nor what is offered here all that could be known concerning each term so defined. They are simply a number of terms I understood from the gathering. Yet one term or phrase unlocks another, never ending. This site is offered to show one how to look for oneself. This is the key. We will not discover Prima Materia merely by reading about it. The joy of perception is an intensely personal experience. These definitions will serve to unlock myriad profound mysteries for the sincere aspirant with a discerning mind for these matters. Praise God if you are one such.
I feel I must address physical laboratory alchemy. There are many writers out there who would insist that alchemy be performed in an outer laboratory somewhere with chemical equipment of all descriptions boiling and steaming concoctions toward eternal youth, health, and wealth. Also, those who claim that physical laboratory workings must be performed simultaneously with some inner work are not ones who attain any genuine or practical awareness in the fourth dimension. A simple, uneducated person who has died briefly and returned (an NDE) is vastly more aware of the fourth dimension and True Alchemy than any fifty laboratory alchemists. If one finds oneself so adamantly inclined to the laboratory work, this site will be of little to no value.
Consider this, if you would, please. Sir Isaac Newton, if not the most brilliant certainly was one of the most brilliant minds in the history of genus homo sapiens. He put away all his mathematical explorations around 1687 and began zealous pursuits in alchemy even more avidly than with his mathematics. By 1693 he suffered a major breakdown with his health. In his own notes from the period it is suggested his failed health was due to those alchemical laboratory practices. About 300 years later neutron activation tests were performed on a lock of Newton’s hair which was saved by the Royal Society Museum from that period. Newton had damaged his brain by ingesting the heavy elements, like mercury, through the course of his alchemical experiments. Now, if such a tenacious and genius mind in the likes of Newton could not come up with anything successful and useful from his physical alchemical laboratory, I feel it totally presumptuous to believe that you or I could.
Ancient Masters in this Art caution us repeatedly that Alchemy is not chemistry; that physical chemistry is a dead science relative to Alchemy. Yet Alchemy is a chemistry of sorts; the chemistry of consciousness in metaphor. I may receive, as I have in the past, some sharp criticism concerning this, but please don’t shoot another messenger here. None of the genuine alchemical authors in this Bibliography promoted physical laboratories; in fact, every one of them wrote plainly that they were not describing literal laboratory processes. I am merely repeating from my own experiences what they already knew. There is physical work, yes, most assuredly. The laboratory is our physical body. Preparing intelligent foodstuffs in your kitchen is the entire laboratory you will ever need. Alchemy is a psycho-physiological transmutation. Get healthy. Physical health alone, however, is not the be-all and end-all of the Alchemical Process. It is the foundation. Naturopathy, Homeopathy, and Herbology, the modern legacies of Paracelsian spagyrics, may assist to balance the inner healing processes, but laboratory experiments with ‘elixirs’ extracted from or mixed with mercury, arsenic, sulphur and whatever will not help us, and we cannot make actual physical gold worth our while. When one eventually evolves to the level of divine consciousness with the inherent power to alter actual physical substance, such manipulations are the least that will come to mind. The spiritual landscapes subsequently accessible to one who achieves and holds fourth dimensional awareness are enough to occupy the attention throughout this life into eternity. A real Alchemist then invokes that awareness into this world, the Bride, the Kingdom. One could hardly be interested in making caches of gold unless there would be a specific, Divine Intent for demonstrative purposes, as in the case recorded of the Comte de St. Germain.
Alchemy is not for everyone. As the Chemistry of Consciousness it is at once a Holy Art and Science, a Way of Life, and one Way of Return to the Inner Heights whence we came. Alchemy will always remain a Secret Art to those of us yet unripe for its instruction. Actually, there are no ‘genuine’ written texts that can be plainer than they already are. The Bible and other world sacred texts, in their original tongues, are as clear as they can possibly be. Unfortunately the exacting, literal, word-for-word translations of the Bible into modern languages muddied things up considerably by dismissing the ‘use of the cabalists.’ Those literal translations in all the exoteric religions do serve the purpose as a moral compass of sorts, I suppose, but there is another more profound message for the ardent hearts seeking a Way of Return. Sadly, in our present era with religion leaning so political, and politics hawking religion to such an extreme, that nothing of any lasting value can be gotten from either. Deeper investigations are required. Pictorial symbolism will take us further, but the Voice from within, Intuition, is our first and only True Source. Aspiration is the key. Alchemically speaking, washing, purifying, and sublimating the base mineral matter in this Yolk within the Philosophical Egg is the proper methodology. Enlightenment is an organic process. Again, get healthy. Inner and outer health will magnetically attract Light.
We need be just honestly mindful of our psychological and physical health, to meditate often, to pray, and to study the genuine masters in this Art. Our individual paths will unfold most clearly as we progress. And thank our Living God.