THEOSOPHY, Vol. 44, No. 11, September, 1956
(Pages 502-510; Size: 25K)


If any one thing is universally acknowledged, it is that the real secrets of not a single surviving ancient brotherhood are in possession of the profane. 

SAYS a Persian proverb: "The darker the sky is, the brighter the stars will shine." Among the great mass of peoples plunged in the superstitious ignorance of the medieval ages, there were but a few students of the Hermetic philosophy of old, who, profiting by what it had taught them, were enabled to forecast discoveries which are the boast of our present age; while at the same time the ancestors of the later high priests of the temple of the Holy Molecule were yet discovering the hoof-tracks of Satan in the simplest natural phenomena. Thus, on the dark firmament of the medieval ages began appearing the mysterious Brothers of the Rosie Cross. They formed no associations, they built no colleges, for, hunted up and down like so many wild beasts, when caught by the Christian Church, they were unceremoniously roasted.

The Rosicrucians are best known under the apt designation of the Fire Philosophers. They, and the earlier Zoroastrians, affirmed that the world was created of Fire, the divine spirit of which was an omnipotent and omniscient GOD. Science has condescended to corroborate their claims as to the physical question. Fire, in the ancient philosophy of all times and countries, including our own, has been regarded as a triple principle. As water comprises a visible fluid with invisible gases lurking within, and behind all the spiritual principles of nature, which gives them their dynamic energy -- so, in fire they recognized: (1) visible flame; (2) invisible, or astral fire -- invisible when inert, but when active producing light, heat, chemical force, and electricity, the molecular powers; (3) spirit. They applied the same rule to each of the elements; and everything evolved from their combinations and correlations, man included, was held by them to be triune. Fire, in the opinion of the Rosicrucians, who were but the successors of the theurgists, was the source, not only of the material atoms, but also of the forces which energized them. When a visible flame is extinguished it has disappeared, not only from the sight but also from the conception of the materialist, forever. But the Hermetic philosopher follows it through the "partition-world of the knowable, and out on the other side into the unknowable," as he traces the disembodied human spirit, "vital spark of heavenly flame," into the Æthereum, beyond the grave.

The Rosicrucians of the middle ages, such as Robert Fludd, Paracelsus, Thomas Vaughn, Van Helmont, and others, were all alchemists, who sought for the hidden spirit in every organic matter. Alchemy is, as the name suggests, the chemistry of nature; dealing with the finer forces of nature and the various conditions in which they are found to operate. Some people -- nay, the great majority -- have accused alchemists of charlatanry and false pretending. Surely such men as Roger Bacon, Agrippa, Henry Kunrath, and the Arabian Geber -- the latter being the first to introduce into Europe some of the secrets of chemistry -- can hardly be treated as impostors, least of all, fools. Though alchemy first penetrated into Europe through the Arabian sage and philosopher in the eighth century, it was known and practiced long ages ago in China and Egypt, numerous papyri on alchemy and other proofs of its being the favorite study of kings and priests having been exhumed and preserved under the generic name of treatises of Hermes.

Alchemy is studied under three distinct aspects, which admit of many different interpretations: viz., the Cosmic, Human, and Terrestrial. These three methods were typified under the three alchemical properties -- sulphur, mercury, and salt. Different writers have stated that there are three, seven, ten, and twelve processes respectively. But all writers agreed that there is but one object in alchemy, which is to transmute gross metals into pure gold. What that gold, however, really is, very few people understand correctly. No doubt that there is such a thing in nature as transmutation of the baser metals into the nobler, or gold. But this is only one aspect of alchemy, the terrestrial and purely material, for we sense logically the same process taking place in the bowels of the earth. Yet, beyond and besides this interpretation, there is in alchemy a symbolical meaning, purely psychic and spiritual. While the Kabalist-Alchemist seeks the realization of the former, the Occultist-Alchemist, spurning the gold of the mines, gives all his attention and directs his efforts only toward the transmutation of the baser quaternary into the divine upper trinity of man, which when finally blended are one. The spiritual, mental, and psychic and physical planes of human existence are in alchemy compared to the four elements fire, air, water and earth, and are each capable of a threefold constitution, i.e., fixed, mutable, and volatile.

Seeking under the veil of language, more or less artificial, to convey to the uninitiated so much of the mysterium magnum as is safe in the hands of a selfish world, the alchemist postulates as his first principle the existence of a certain Universal Solvent by which all composite bodies are resolved into the homogeneous substance from which they are evolved, which substance he calls pure gold, or summa materia. This solvent, also called menstruum universale, possesses the power of removing all the seeds of disease from the human body, of renewing youth and prolonging life. Such is the lapis philosophorum (philosopher's "stone").

There are revelations of the spiritual senses of man which may be trusted far more than all the sophistries of materialism. What was a demonstration and a success in the eyes of Plato and other sages during the past is now considered by materialism the overflow of a spurious philosophy and a failure. The scientific methods are reversed. The testimony of men of old, who were nearer the truth, for they were nearer to the hidden spirit of nature -- the only aspect under which the Deity will allow itself to be viewed and understood -- and their demonstrations, are rejected. Their speculations, if we must believe the modern thinkers, are but the expressions of a redundance of the unsystematic opinions of men unacquainted with the scientific methods of the present nineteenth century. They foolishly based the little they knew of physiology on well-demonstrated psychology, while the scholar of our day bases psychology -- of which he confesses himself utterly ignorant -- on physiology, which to him is as yet a closed book, and, as Fournie tells us, has not even a method of his own. Says Hippocrates centuries ago: "All knowledge, all arts are to be found in nature. If we question her properly she will reveal to us the truths that pertain to each of these and to ourselves. What is nature in operation but the very Divinity itself manifesting its presence? How are we to interrogate her; and how is she to answer us? We must proceed on faith, with the firm assurance of discovering at last the whole of the truth; and nature will let us know her answer, through our inner sense, which with the help of our knowledge of a certain art of science, reveals to us the truth so clearly that further doubt becomes impossible."

Before any of our modern teachers thought of evolution, the ancients taught us, through Hermes, that nothing can be abrupt in nature; that she never proceeds by jumps and starts, that everything in her works is slow harmony, and that there is nothing sudden -- not even violent death. The slow development from pre-existing forms was a doctrine with the Rosicrucian Illuminati. The Tres Matres ("Three Mothers") showed Hermes that mysterious progress of their work, before they condescended to reveal themselves to the medieval alchemists. Now, in the Hermetic dialect, these three mothers are the symbol of light, heat, and electricity, or magnetism, the two latter being as convertible as the whole of the forces or agents which have a place assigned them in the modern "Force-correlation." Many of these mystics, by following what they were taught by some treatises, secretly preserved from one generation to another, achieved discoveries which would not be despised even by today's exact sciences. A force whose secret powers were thoroughly familiar to the ancient theurgists, is denied by modern sceptics. The antediluvian children -- who perhaps played with it, using it as the boys in Bulwer-Lytton's Coming Race use the tremendous "vril" -- called it the "Water of Phtha"; their descendants named it the Anima Mundi, the soul of the universe; and still later the medieval hermetist terms it "sidereal light," or the "Milk of the Celestial Virgin," the "Magnes," and many other names. But our modern learned men will neither accept nor recognize it under such appellations; for it pertains to magic, and magic is, in their conception, a disgraceful superstition.

It might be shown that if an Eastern Brotherhood can lift the mask of European societies -- the Company of Jesus included -- its members are nevertheless successful in wearing their own visors: for, if any one thing is universally acknowledged, it is that the real secrets of not a single surviving ancient brotherhood are in possession of the profane. No one could ever lay hands on the Rosicrucians, and notwithstanding the alleged discoveries of the "secret chambers," vellums called "T", and of fossil knights with ever-burning lamps, this ancient association and its true aims are to this day a mystery. Pretended Templars and sham Rose-Croix, with a few genuine kabalists, were occasionally burned, and some unlucky Theosophists and alchemists sought and put to the torture; delusive confessions even were wrung from them by the most ferocious means, but yet, the true Society remains today as it has ever been, unknown to all, especially to its cruelest enemy -- the Church. The Temple (Masonic) was the last European secret organization, which, as a body, had in its possession some of the mysteries of the East. True, there were in the past century (and perhaps still are) isolated "Brothers" faithfully and secretly working under the direction of certain Eastern Brotherhoods. But these, when they did belong to European societies, invariably joined them for objects unknown to the Fraternity, though at the same time for the benefit of the latter. It is through them that modern Masons have all they know of importance; and the similarity now found between the Speculative Rites of antiquity, the Mysteries of the Essenes, Gnostics, and the Hindus, and the highest and oldest of the Masonic degrees well prove the fact.

If these mysterious brothers became possessed of the secrets of the societies, they could never reciprocate the confidence, though in their hands these secrets were safer, perhaps, than in the keeping of European Masons. When certain of the latter were found worthy of becoming affiliates of the Orient, they were secretly instructed and initiated, but the others were none the wiser for that. As to the modern Knights Templar and those Masonic Lodges which now claim descent from the ancient Templars, their persecution by the Church was a farce from the beginning. They have not, nor have they ever had any secrets dangerous to the Church. Quite the contrary; for we find F. G. Findel saying that the Scottish degrees, or the Templar system, only dates from 1735-1740, and "following its Catholic tendency, took up its chief residence in the Jesuit College of Clermont, in Paris, and hence was called the Clermont system."

The science of the "Master Masons" of the West is in the East called in some places "the seven-storied," in others "the nine-storied" Temple; every story answering allegorically to a degree of the knowledge acquired. Throughout the countries of the Orient, wherever magic and the wisdom-religion are studied, its practitioners and students are known among their craft as Builders -- for they build the temple of knowledge, of secret science. Those of the adepts who are active, are styled practical or operative Builders, while the students, or neophytes, are classed as speculative or theoretical. The former exemplify in their works control over the forces of inanimate as well as animate nature; the latter are but perfecting themselves in the rudiments of the sacred science. These terms were evidently borrowed at the beginning by the unknown founders of the first Masonic guilds. In Egypt, in former times, the initiated hierophant was given a square head-dress, which he had to wear always, and a square, without which he could never go abroad. ... The square hats are worn unto this day by the Armenian priests. Jesus, an initiate, was certainly a Master-builder or Master-Mason as it is now called; else how explain that on the most ancient cathedrals we find his figure with Mason's marks about his person? In the Cathedral of Santa Croce, Florence, over the main portal can be seen the figure of Christ holding a perfect square in his hand!

The Kabalist too is a student of secret science, one who follows unwritten or oral tradition and interprets the hidden meaning of the Scriptures with the help of the symbolical Kabala, and explains the real one by this means. Among the Jews the real kabalists were the Tanaim, initiates. They appeared at Jerusalem about the beginning of the third century before the Christian era. The books of Ezekiel, Daniel, Henoch, and the Revelation of St. John are purely kabalistical. This secret doctrine is identical with that of the Chaldeans, and includes at the same time much of the Persian wisdom, or "magic." History catches glimpses of famous kabalists ever since the eleventh century. The medieval ages, and even our own times have had an enormous number of the most learned and intellectual men who were students of the Kabala. The most famous among the former were Paracelsus, Henry Kunrath, Jacob Boehme, Robert Fludd, the two Van Helmonts, the Abbot John Trithemius, Cornelius Agrippa, Cardinal Nicolao Cusano, Jerome Carden, Pope Sixtus IV, and such Christian scholars as Raymond Lully, Giovanni Pico de la Mirandola, Guillaume Postel, the great John Reuchlin, Dr. Henry More, Eugenius Philalethes, the erudite Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, Christian Knorr (Baron) von Rosenroth; then Sir Isaac Newton, Leibniz, Lord Bacon, Spinoza, etc., etc., the list being almost inexhaustible. As remarked by Mr. Isaac Meyer, in his Quballah, the ideas of the kabalists have largely influenced European literature. Kabalism ran through the medieval poem, the "Romance of the Rose," and permeates the writings of Dante. The system is certainly very old, but like all the rest of systems whether religious or philosophical the Kabala is derived directly from the primeval Secret Doctrine of the East; through the Vedas, the Upanishads, Orpheus and Thales, Pythagoras and the Egyptians.

As a modern historian remarks, the works of those societies which in the West during the middle ages perpetuated the ancient wisdom-religion, "may be taken as a sort of exemplification of the class of exhibitions which were probably the result of a superior knowledge of natural sciences." No one ever doubted that it was the result of precisely such a knowledge, and the hermetists, magicians, astrologers, and alchemists never claimed anything else. It certainly was not their fault that the ignorant masses, under the influence of an unscrupulous and fanatical clergy, should have attributed all such works to the agency of the devil. In view of the atrocious tortures provided by the Inquisition for all suspected of either black or white magic, it is not strange that these philosophers neither boasted nor even acknowledged the fact of such an intercourse. On the contrary, their own writings prove that they held that magic is "no more than the application of natural active causes to passive things or subjects; by means whereof, many tremendously surprising yet natural effects are produced."

Little or nothing is known by the world concerning the origin of this archaic branch of philosophy called Alchemy or the Hermetic science; but it is certain that it antedates the construction of any known Zodiac, and, as dealing with the personified forces of nature, probably also any of the mythologies of the world. Nor is there any doubt that the true secret of transmutation (on the physical plane) was known in days of old, and lost before the dawn of the so-called historical period. Modern chemistry owes its best fundamental discoveries to alchemy, but regardless of the undeniable truism of the latter that there is but one element in the universe, chemistry has placed metals in the class of elements and is only now beginning to find out its gross mistake. The Hermetists and the later Rosicrucians held that all things visible and invisible were produced by the contention of light with darkness, and that every particle of matter contains within itself a spark of the divine essence -- of light, spirit -- which, through its tendency to free itself from its entanglement and return to the central source, produced motion in the particles, and from motion forms were born. Says Hargrave Jennings, quoting Robert Fludd: "Thus all minerals in this spark of life have the rudimentary possibility of plants and growing organisms; thus all plants have rudimentary sensations which might (in the ages) enable them to perfect and transmute into locomotive new creatures; lesser or higher in their grade, or nobler or meaner in their functions. Thus all plants and all vegetation might pass off (by side roads) into more distinguished highways as it were, of independent, completer advance, allowing their original spark of light to expand and thrill with higher and more vivid forces, and to urge forward with more abounding, informed purpose, all wrought by planetary influences directed by the unseen spirits (or workers) of the great original architect."

The Rosicrucians, the Kabalists, the Alchemists have never claimed, with regard to their "Philosopher's Stone" that either an endless physical life or unending motion is possible. Continual and perpetual does not mean endless. The Hermetic axiom maintains that only the First Cause and its direct emanations, our spirits (scintillas from the eternal central sun which will be reabsorbed by it at the end of time) are incorruptible and eternal. But, in possession of a knowledge of occult natural forces, yet undiscovered by the materialists, they asserted that both physical life and mechanical motion could be prolonged indefinitely. The philosopher's stone had more than one meaning attached to its mysterious origin. Our greatest wonder is, that the very men who view the human body simply as a "digesting machine," should object to the idea that if some equivalent for metalline could be applied between its molecules, it should run without friction. Man's body is taken from the earth, or dust, according to Genesis; which allegory bars the claim of modern analysts to original discovery of the nature of the inorganic constituents of the human body. If the author of Genesis knew this, and Aristotle taught the identity between the life-principle of plants, animals, and men, our affiliation with mother earth seems to have been settled long ago.

Elie de Beaumont asserted the old doctrine of Hermes that there is a terrestrial circulation comparable to that of the blood of man. Now, since it is a doctrine as old as time, that nature is continually renewing her wasted energies by absorption from the source of energy, why should the child differ from the parent? Why may not man, by discovering the source and nature of this recuperative energy, extract from the earth herself the juice or quintessence with which to replenish his own forces? This may have been the great secret of the alchemists. Stop the circulation of the terrestrial fluids and we have stagnation, putrefaction, death. Stop the circulation of the fluids in man, and stagnation, absorption, calcification from old age, and death ensue. If the alchemists had simply discovered some chemical compound capable of keeping the channels of our circulation unclogged, would not all the rest easily follow?

And why, we ask, if the surface waters of certain mineral springs have such virtue in the cure of disease and the restoration of physical vigor, is it illogical to say that if we could get the first runnings from the alembic of nature in the bowels of the earth, we might, perhaps, find that the fountain of youth was no myth after all. Jennings asserts that the elixir was produced out of the secret chemical laboratories of nature by some adepts; and Robert Boyle, the chemist, mentions a medicated wine or cordial which Dr. Lefebre tried with wonderful effect upon an old woman. Alchemy is as old as tradition itself. Fabulous history has recorded Solomon, Pythagoras, and Hermes as among its most distinguished votaries. "The secret of transmutation," say the alchemists, "is an amalgamation of the salt, sulphur, and mercury combined three times in Azoth, by a triple sublimation and a triple fixation"! However absurd in the eyes of the modern chemist, the disciples of the great Hermes understand the above as well as a graduate of Harvard University comprehends the meaning of his Professor of Chemistry when the latter says. "With one hydroxyl group we can only produce monatomic compounds; use two hydroxyl groups, and we can form around the same skeleton a number of diatomic compounds. Attach to the nucleus three hydroxyl groups, and there results triatomic compounds, among which is a very familiar substance -- Glycerine."

"Attach thyself," says the alchemist, "to the four letters of the tetragram disposed in the following manner: The letters of the ineffable name are there, although thou mayest not discern them at first. The incommunicable axiom is kabalistically contained therein, and this is what is called the magic arcanum by the masters." The arcanum -- the fourth emanation of the Akasha, (is) the principle of LIFE, which is represented in its third transmutation by the fiery sun, the eye of the world, or of Osiris, as the Egyptians termed it. An eye tenderly watching its youngest daughter, wife, and sister -- Isis, our mother earth. It is for the Hermetic student to watch its motions, to catch its subtile currents, to guide and direct them with the help of the athanor, the Archimedean lever of the alchemist ... "which the physicist sees and examines daily."

Next article:

Back to the complete list of the

Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".


(1) NOTE.--Collated from Theosophical works.
Back to text.

Main Page | Introductory Brochure | Volume 1--> Setting the Stage
Karma and Reincarnation | Science | Education | Economics | Race Relations
The WISDOM WORLD | World Problems & Solutions | The People*s Voice | Misc.