The process of creation of herbal tinctures, as well as homeopathic ones, is identical with the creation of spagyrical or alchemical tinctures in its first phase of Solve, or separation. This is the so-called maceration process where the plant matter is placed in a vessel filled with alcohol. Well, almost identical, the big difference being that in alchemy one only uses alcohol that comes from wine grapes (having more noble virtues), the so-called “spirit of wine”. Herbal tinctures are often created from (more vulgar) grain alcohols, i.e. vodka.
But here the relative likeness ends, as the material residue is discarded with in the creation of the herbal extract – after the separation through filtering. Contrary to this, in spagery and alchemy this only marks the end of the first or beginning phase. In spagery and alchemy alike the material residue is not discarded with but instead purified through an arduous process of calcinations and leachings, after which it is re-united with the extract in the last phase or Coagula.
According to alchemical theory the extract, which is a compound made of alcohol and essential oils of the plant, constitutes the Mercury and Sulphur respectively. From the material base, which in herbalism and homeopathy is discarded with, is finally extracted the Salt, completing the family of the so-called “three alchemical principles”. Thus the maceration or Solve concerns the separation of the three alchemical principles of Mercury, Sulphur and Salt, or rather the former two from the last principle when it concerns creation of tinctures.
Now, to be honest, I cannot really follow the reasoning behind the critique against alchemy in favour of herbalism, at least not thus far. If the Salt is to be discarded with in the herbal tincture but calcinated, leached and rejoined with the essence in the spagyric, I cannot see how the “sulphur” is destroyed by the heat being used.
The Sulphur (essential oil) and Mercury (alcohol) is exactly the same in both herbal tinctures and in spagery. The only difference being that the Salt is calcinated and leached/evaporated, and finally rejoined with the essence (Mercury & Sulphur). But this process doesn’t affect the essence as it is contained in another flask while the Salt is getting purified by leaching and evaporation to crate salt crystals. These white crystals are later put back into the solution in the digestion phase of Coagula.
Thus nothing is taken away from the spagyrical operation in the way of sulphurous properties; instead something is added. The only thing being subjected to any real heat that could destroy anything from a plant is the Salt, not the Sulphur. But the body needs to be killed for it to be able to resurrect.
Granted, in the second part of Coagula the liquid actually is subjugated to “heat”. But the thing is that in spagyrical tinctures you only use moderate heat, not more than that of normal human body temperature. Thus modern alchemists still base their practices on the old masters, such as Paracelsus, who gave us the old tradition to use moderate heat in the coagula phase, i.e. body heat, or the proper temperature used to hatch chicken eggs, or even to place the flask in a heap of putrefying dung, etc.
Also you may use the rays of the sun to heat the compound during the latter digestion, but for other reasons than the mere heat created. Nevertheless, this moderate heat creates a species of gentle circulation of the matter in the sealed flask; it looks as if the liquid matter is “sweating”. Thus heat is extremely important in the digestion phase, the Coagula, after the three alchemical principles has been rejoined. The gentle heat used here “opens up” the matter and helps re-joining the principles into a new whole. The continuous gentle circulation inside the hermetically sealed flask also sublimates the matter, according to alchemical theory, even to a point where it may create a “stone”.
But what basically boils down to in this critique is the theory that heat supposedly destroys the active healing properties or ingredients in vegetable sulphur, or the essential oils, even at very low temperatures, if it is continued prolonged over a longer time period.
I won’t argue against that straightforward chemical analysis of the process. But in alchemy (and spagery as it uses alchemical theory) we are not talking about strict chemistry, even if there of course is the material aspect to consider as well. There are also etheric and astral components to alchemy. That is why there is such great emphasis laid on synchronicity with the astral currents and with astrology. And furthermore, the process of Solve et Coagula itself, I believe, has this manipulating effect of several levels parallel to the purely material.
Alchemy is basically about building the subtle bodies, at least in Internal Alchemy. I believe this also applies to all bodies, i.e. plants as well as minerals. Thus alchemy, as well as spagery, cannot be compared to herbalism, even if it may be some value in comparing these two disciplines, and a possible learning experience for both.
Cooking is sometimes used as a metaphor. We all know that overcooked food taste bad and that valuable nutrition are effectively killed with too much use of heat. Thus a chemist may know in theory how to apply optimal heat to create food of the finest quality. However, I prefer the food of a chef any time before the food coming from the kitchen of a chemist. Now, what am I saying with this? But isn’t it obvious?
Alchemy, as well as cooking, is an art besides being a science. Likewise the alchemist is an artist as well as an scientist; alchemy belongs to the realms of both Hod (Mercury) and Netzach (Venus). Thus it’s not about having the exact ingredients or following cookbooks to the letter. You will never be a proficient alchemist if you don’t develop fingertip sensitivity. It’s more about feeling and timing. It’s about becoming one with the subject matter. Thus in my opinion, alchemy more properly belongs to hermeneutical science rather than natural science, the latter being based upon distance and the dispassionate attitude towards the subject matter.
Alchemy is about what subjective effect is has on a particular individual (which will vary according to his spiritual stature or status), not whatever effect it will have on a population being given a universal panacea, objectively measuring the level of health or alleviation of sickness. Thus you cannot use the same measuring stick on alchemical tinctures and elixirs as you would with herbal tinctures, or classical medicine for that matter.
Furthermore this critique against the use of heat goes contrary to old alchemical philosophy backed up by millennia of teachings and operative laboratory practice. This long standing tradition states that heat actually is the actual agent behind the transmutation process.
This is aptly resumed in the alchemical interpretation of the letters I.N.R.I., or the Key-Word as it is called in the Golden Dawn tradition. According to the alchemical masters it is rendered as Ignis Natura Renovatur Integra, which translates into “Through fire nature is reborn whole” or “All of nature is renewed by fire”. All of nature, human, animal and mineral, as well as vegetable. Thus alchemy is the Path of Fire.
Alchemy in all forms, both dry and humid, both internal and external, lay great emphasis on Fire or Heat. So to properly transmute the matter it must be subjugated to heat. In spagery or plant alchemy this heat is relatively moderate, as has already been stated, compared to the mineral work as an example; the fire in the former is used sparingly. But it must nevertheless by necessity be applied also to the vegetable realm. As above, so below. Thus from an alchemical perspective Fire or Heat is crucial to the process.
The most common method in creating alchemical and spagyrical tinctures and elixirs is to use moderate heat, normally not exceeding 40° Celsius. When creating a “magistry” the heat is increased as the matter is subjugated to a distillation. But on the other hand, the process of distillation subliminates the matter even further. But even in these cases the temperature is kept relatively moderate, normally not up to a violent heat and intense boiling; the traditional way is to create steam without to much boiling of the liquid.
Only in calcinations of the Salt is “violent” heat to be applied, but even here it doesn’t take as high levels as in the dry way of Antimony, for example. In calcinations of the Salt fire is never taken to the fullest potential – but on the other hand it is prolonged for many hours, even days. It is also here that the herbal critique against alchemy may have some actual merit.
Furthermore, in herbalism the matter is discarded with as it is seen as useless as a healing ingredient after it being leached dry from its essence. Granted, it’s true when only considering just after separation and filtering. In this raw state it contains the Caput Mortum or “dead head”; the parts which is not soluble. Hence the Salt is subjugated to heat and calcinated to ash, and in this process taken through the three (or four) stages; nigredo, albedo, citrinas and rubedo. After which it is purified further with water and leaching, which is then evaporated.
In this last process again moderate heat is used, usually the flask being put upon a radiator, mantle piece, or something similar. Now it must become crystallized and optimally should transform into a white salt crystal. So there is no ash being used in the liquid but actually real Salt being produced. In this the Caput Mortum is separated, or the fine from the gross.
This latter process of purification of the Salt with leaching in water and evaporation to create Salt crystals has been a guarded secret of the Alchemists for very long. I was taught it orally from one of my earliest alchemical teachers. Even Frater Albertus refrained from revealing it in his modern classic Alchemist’s Handbook, even if he is very open with the rest of the process. Thus the purification of the Salt is perhaps the most crucial aspect of the work. But after Frater Albertus publication it has been openly laid out by later authors such as Manfred M. Junius in his Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy. Later also Jean Dubuis revealed this method in his Spagery correspondence course; even if it was limited for members of the Philosophers of Nature that course is now widely spread all over the internet.
Thus I decided a while ago to reveal it also on my blog in the essay Spagyrics – The Alchemy of Plants, as it is no longer a secret. Besides, I believe that the Salt is crucial to the alchemical property of the tincture or elixir. This directly translates to the body as being the primary subject of the Great Work. Salt is the material base which grounds the subtle forces in play. But to be able to do this the Salt or body must first be transmuted – the subtle must be separated from the gross (Caput Mortum).
Compared to herbal tinctures spagyrical and alchemically prepared tinctures attracts the subtle forces better. They become as “magnets”, so to speak. This is because of the universal principle of Solve et Coagula and of Fire. Thus alchemically prepared products affects the etherical and astral as well as the physical. This is contrary to herbal products. Although foods or nutrition internalised affects the subtle in a greater or lesser degree, this is supposed to be perfected in alchemically prepared products.
I hold that alchemy primarily works upon the subtle bodies through a material base, much like talismans do in thaumaturgy. Thus alchemy is primarily a spiritual science and art, more properly akin to thaumaturgy than to chemistry. Moreover, alchemical or spagyrical tinctures and elixirs are supposed to be taken primarily for initiatory purposes, not to simply heal an ailment of the physical body. The goal is to transmute the energetic or etheric body, and even more exalted bodies beyond that.
But my guess is that spagyrical and alchemical vegetable tinctures mostly reach the etherical in their effect and that the effect on the higher or subtler bodies is more limited as compared to mineral elixirs. The so-called “Plant Stone” certainly is limited in its effect compared to the Mineral Philosopher’s Stone. But it does clearly affect the etheric body, or energy body, or aura as well as the physical.
On the other hand I speculate that the etherical properties of ordinary herbal tinctures are much more limited because of the fact that the process of separation and reintegration (solve et coagula) and the use of heat is absent, as well as astrological considerations disregarded. The alchemical process on the other hand opens up the plant to these higher levels of existence because of this difference of perspective and the particular modus operandi. This is the actual essence of transmutation. Thus only a truly transmuted matter may affect a subtle body.
Now some state that alchemical and spagyrical products have no effect, other than placebo. But what some call placebo others call energetic manipulation. It is sad to see that such materialistic notions has crept in into the hermetic teachings, or rather a few modern hermetic teachers.
If we would only limit ourselves to the criteria of strict evidence, as it is normally defined in natural science, then we also can discard ordinary herbal tinctures as there is no conclusive evidence in today’s scientific research that it has any remedial effects at all other than that of placebo. This may also be said regarding homeopathics. But personally I don’t believe the word of this “scientifical” research.
Now, I’m not actually that driven to upholding conspiracy theories. But on the other hand I’m also not native. It is a well-known fact that the actual forces pulling the strings in all kinds of modern medicinal research are non other than the pharma companies. They hate herbalism and all other kinds of alternative healing methods, such as homeopathy, as it makes their steady income threatened. It’s that simple. So get rid of that notion once and for all that science is neutral or unbiased.
Thus you may prove anything with “research” if you have the money to fund the work of the scientists. But to be just, the question must be raised of how much comparative study that actually has been done in a controlled environment, between herbal tinctures on one hand and spagyrical or alchemical on the other? People simple base their judgement from what normally occurs in physical matter with essential oils if subjugated to heat, not at all considering what alchemical processes actually may do to the whole person.
I wonder what opinions these occult teachers criticising spagery and plant alchemy have regarding homeopathy? It is a well-known fact that many homeopathic medicines has been potencified to the level of taking away the last molecule of the original plant’s extract. Thus there is only water left and using strict natural scientific criteria, there shouldn’t be any remedial effects beyond that of placebo. Still, homeopathy is much more popular compared to herbalism, at least in Europe. People really feel helped by it where no other help can be found in classical medicine.
I wonder if the potencification of homeopathic extracts actually may gain etheric effects not previously known to alchemists? I know that some of them potencify their tinctures and elixirs using homeopathic principles, especially when using toxic matters. But using the same line of thinking as that against spagery there shouldn’t be any other effect other than that of placebo.
Again, it is sad to se how materialistic instead of holistic ideologies has crept in through the back door of occultism. Instead of looking at matter from the spiritual perspective, suddenly even occultists that I truly respect start to view spirit from the perspective of matter. This is the reversed pentagram formula and the principles behind the 15th Key of Tarot, the Devil.
Contrary to this attitude or onlook on life the occultist and aspiring alchemist should nurture the philosophy which is behind the principle of that Tarot Key which precedes the previous one, the Temperance Card. If one watches these two symbols together it will become obvious that they are closely related but at the same time express diametrically different ideologies.
In the 14th Key the angelic figure is also the alchemist performing an alchemical operation. He holds in his hands Water and Fire, representing the principles of the Lion (Sulphur) and Eagle (Mercury) respectively, which he unites together (Water is poured upon the Sulphurous Lion and Fire upon the Mercurial Eagle). This is symbolical of the principle of Solve et Coagula, the separation and unification of the contrary elements. In the background we see the true agent behind this uniting principle in the form of an erupting volcano, i.e. the Fire of the Athanor. However here the symbolism has been veiled and taken the form of a radiant Crown; in the esoteric version it should be depicted as a volcano.
Now these two versions of the Tarot Keys comes from the deck created by Paul Foster Case, once a Adept of the Golden Dawn, and I recommend reading any works by that author regarding these two cards. In the original version of the Golden Dawn, on which these two pictures are based, the symbolism goes even further in its alchemical contents. On the Temperence Card is depicted a cauldron under which burns a fire, representing sublimation or distillation and circulation. This is also the occult principle behind this card and the Hebrew Letter to which it is assigned; Samekh and the 25th Path attributed to Sagittarius the Archer.
On the Temple Floor of a Golden Dawn Temple, which occultly depicts the diagram of the Tree of Life, this is the point of the rendering of the Veil of Paroketh, the transiting principle which sublimates the Soul from the Outer world of the Elements to the Inner Realm of the Planets, or the Astral. This also represents the transition from the Outer Order into the Inner Order, or from being but an Initiate into being a Adept. In this work the interior Fire is essential and here we have to remember that Saggittarius is a Fiery Sign.
In the version as created by Aleister Crowley, another former Golden Dawn Adept, this symbology is even more true to the original Golden Dawn Card. Understanding the alchemical significance of this Key Crowley also renamed it as “Art”, as in the Royal Art, an original term used for alchemy. Thus in the central crowned figure of the Card we see a Royal Artist.
Looking at the card we see behind the Artist the famous alchemical axiom of Basilius Valentinus, “Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem”, which translates into “Visit the Interior Parts of the Earth; by Rectification Thou Shalt Find the Hidden Stone.” From this is made the word V.I.T.R.I.O.L. With “Rectification” is meant a repeated distillation, again alluding to fire and heat. In Crowley’s version the alchemist , in the form of a Hermaphrodite, unites the two Principles together over the cauldron to emphasise the last phase of the Work, the Coagula.
As can be seen, the evidence for the use of the modus operandi of separation and reunification – Solve et Coagula – and that of the transmuting agent of Fire is abundant in the symbolism of occultism and alchemy. The end result of both the Lesser Circulation, or Lesser Work of the plant kingdom, and that of the Greater Circulation (the Great Work) is the creation of the Universal Androgyne or Hermaphrodite. This symbol represents the sucessfull unification of the previously separated principles of the Sun and the Moon, or Sulphur and Mercury respectively, and its subsequent incarnation into the ressurected body or Salt.
Now, I have personal experience of taking alchemically elixirs for at least one decade. Both me and my wife (and Soror Mystica) have taken an alchemical elixir partly using vegetable matter. I know for a fact that the effect goes beyond that of placebo, as it has had a direct detrimental effect when taken in to much dosage (even if it was quite minuscule). After learning to use the proper dosage through experimentation I was instead relieved from sickness for a long period of time, not typical of me.
This is how alchemical and spagyrical tinctures and elixirs primarily should be used; by the alchemist him- or herself. Only seldom is it to be given to others, especially non-initiates. Traditionally in Rosicrucian circles the initiate were forbidden to administrate any alchemical remedies without the expressed permission of the Chiefs. As an typical example, in Sigismund Bacstrom’s Society of the Rosy Cross one swore not to:
encourage wickedness and debauchery, thereby offending God, administer the Medicine for the human body, nor the Aurum Potabile to a patient or patients infected with the venereal disease. [And also] …never [to] give the fermented metallic medicine for transmutation, to any Person living, no not a single grain, unless the person is an initiated and received Member and Brother of the Society of the Rosy Cross.This may be compared to the Obligation of the Adeptus Minor who promises not to “make any symbol or Talisman in the Flashing Colours for any uninitiated person without a special permission from the Chiefs of the Order”.
Thus elixirs and tinctures are primarily to be used for self-healing and initiation, as stated above, to facilitate the purification, strengthening and development of the subtle bodies, using a outwardly material substance which is highly charged through a process of transmutations, using the principles of Solve et Coagula and that of Fire, to create virtues and healing properties on the levels of the ethereal and beyond.