Notes on Hermeticism

R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz

Translated by Aaron Cheak, PhD

René "Aor" Schwaller de Lubicz, 1936

This post-humously published text was written in 1941 during René Schwaller's fifteen year sojourn in Egypt. It appears to be a private letter to an unknown recipient, possibly Alexandre Varille, and was not intended for publication. In 2006 it appeared in volume two of La Table d’Émeraude's collection from Schwaller's personal notebooks, Notes et propos inédits (2005-6). The translation provided here was completed in 2010 and formed part of the appendices to my PhD dissertation, "Light Broken Through the Prism of Life: René Schwaller de Lubicz and the Hermetic Problem of Salt" (University of Queensland, 2011). Editorial notes have been provided to furnish context where relevant, but otherwise commentary has been kept to a minimum. 


I T   M A Y   B E   O F   I N T E R E S T  to have a look at the meaning and purpose of what is today commonly called hermeticism or alchemy. Without going into its Arabic and before that surely Egyptian etymological origins, the word ‘alchemy’ (in the commonly adopted sense) signifies the means of transmuting base metals into silver or gold. To this is attached a still more important meaning: that of ‘universal panacaea’, i.e. the means of simultaneously combating all evil and rejuvenating humankind (or at least conserving its health). To these marvels one may add those affirmed by the mystical alchemists—in addition to health, alchemy promises the means of acquiring illumination or wisdom: the key to all knowledge. 

Considering the astonishing faculties attributed to alchemy, it can be regarded as an expression of a poor, suffering humanity’s hope in a paradise in compensation for the innumerable miseries of life. From this point of view, there is nothing more miserable than a humanity desolated by its current existence, the meaning of which escapes them; a humanity that cannot believe in a purpose of life, cannot believe that this life is only explicable, only able to be supported, if there is something beyond the bounds of their ignorance. Life has no sense; physical life with its suffering is an injustice; moral life an absurdity—if there is nothing beyond what is offered in the course of our day-to-day existence. This conviction demands the search for paradise: the utopia of a Philosopher’s Stone (as one has agreed to call the product of alchemy).

Vladimir Kush, Sunrise by the Ocean

Now this hot and dry ferment can be a pure, solid or liquid fire—it doesn’t matter—for it will coagulate the metallic mercury into gold, and this will be the specified [form of the] Philosopher’s Stone and must respond to the following conditions: it must be a ferment able to dry the humidity (or to coagulate it) and it must be of the specific nature of gold, just as an acorn will only give rise to an oak and not a pine.

I see no excuse for ridicule in this poignant deprivation of consciousness. It is deeply sorrowing to observe that a pretended “evolution” of intelligence apparently satisfies present humanity, desperately materialist in the worst sense; a humanity that contents itself with purely illusory physical and cerebral pleasures; a humanity that no longer knows how to dream of a “utopia.”All that this demonstrates is that one is merely a physical brute, a human animal, content to eat and enjoy its corporeal needs like a beast.

The perfect illusion of cerebral, literary or scientific pleasure is merely hypnosis, and all sincere people will one day come to admit this. It is no more relevant than a game of patience; in the final analysis, all that it amounts to is the passing of time. But what time—that which separates us from death? Have no doubt about it, it is exactly this. Numerous vanities dwell amidst these games of self-hypnosis: false-admiration for power, for wealth, or for being the "best in the world.” There is a desire to shine, but for whom and for what? Necessarily, for those inferior to oneself. One's pride no longer desires peers and equals.

It is necessary to restore devotion: to teach, to care, for indeed, when one removes the measure of vanity, which is often hidden, there remains one true, profound satisfaction and one true purpose: to give in order to give—“art for art’s sake”. This is the best definition of “mysticism,” which also reveals true devotion without concern for appearance or desire for recompense. Curiously, it is the most exalted epoch in this “mystic” sense, the thirteenth century, whose grandiosity of faith and sacrifice enabled it to pass to our day the affirmation that was then baptised by alchemy as the “Philosophers’ Stone,” a doctrine drawn from the Islamic Moors of Spain and, by them, from Alexandria, final vestige of pharaonic Egypt. 

It is certain today that the alchemical science, known among the Greeks as chrysogony or chrysopoiea (gold-making), has its sources at the origin of our historical humanity. But humanity has become enamoured with a skeptical science—a century of materialist negation—only to take up alchemical thought once again (albeit in an excusable, modest, and scientific form). Berthelot, Thomson, Maxwell, Bohr, de Broglie, and other modern researchers do no other thing than seek the secret of transmutation. They do this (secretly and without admitting it—good heavens!) through the study of the “constitution of matter,” and they base this on the actual or supposed unity of matter. From time to time, one apprehends that a cathodic bombardment has let some traces of gold enter into mercury (hydrargyrum) and all the newspapers will proclaim it. [1] But what hype it is to report that the emanation resulting from the radiation of radioactive salts produces Lithium. It must be admitted: humanity has never ceased to seek the secret of alchemy, and our most modern, classical (and arrogant) scholars are in effect disguised, ashamed alchemists, never daring to admit their true purpose, which they cover under abstruse mathematical formulas. 

Fortunately, humanity has never ceased to be conscious of the absurdity of ordinary existence and always seeks a higher and more genuine purpose. They still feel shame in asserting this hope, however, for they have scarcely departed from an epoch that affirms “nothing is created and nothing is lost,” with all its “materialistic” conclusions. But this timid period of puberty will pass and a more powerful era will be revived in which we will dare once again to look utopia in the face; for it is far more dignified to be utopian than to live and die like a beast.

Incidentally, whether regarded from the a religious point of view or from a scientific perspective, there is nothing absurd about alchemy all. For whether one conceives it as an energetic proton or as divinity, it is a matter of a unique point of departure and therefore, in the ultimate analysis, everything is constituted by the same original energetic substance. As a consequence, and by completely ordinary means, every single thing can be transmuted into any other thing since, logically, only the form varies and not the constituent substance. Just as every geometric form is decomposable into triangles (the first geometric form of surface), so too every form, decomposed into its constituting triangles, allows the reconstruction of another form. In essence, all alchemical theory is the same. It is unquestionably logical, and this principle presides over the fact that alchemy is a science that concerns itself with transmutation.

If, for example, a modern scholar says that mercury is formed from a grouping of a proton and thirty ions, and that gold is formed from nineteen ions, the regrouping of these ions, drawn from the mercury, will permit (theoretically speaking) the formation of a body of gold. One can make some complex calculations to determine the necessary tension required to break this arrangement in order to reconstitute it as another. But is it advised or is it absurd to seek this phenomenon by this method? Perhaps an alchemist of the past, having achieved his “Work,” would laugh at our modern scholars. But common sense allows us to express this supposition freely until it is proven that such a fortunate alchemist even existed at all. In the meantime, nothing should dissuade us from investigating, philosophically, the meaning and purpose of the alchemical doctrine, nor from attempting to see to what extent these seekers were absurd. 

The composition of all things reduces itself, in the final analysis, to three energetic aspects, which, roughly speaking, one can call negative (or passive), positive (or active), and neutral. [...] The alchemists say more correctly that everything is originally formed of three principles: one active (sulphur) the other passive (mercury) and the third neutral (salt).

It is always with a degree of pity that the conventional science of our day speaks of the ancient alchemical doctrines, posing their ignorance of the true nature of the “elements” as defined by modern chemistry as the source of their error. In effect the Alchemists say that that everything is made of four elements and specifies itself by the diverse compositions of the qualities of these elements. In other words, the elements of the alchemists have no relation to the elements of modern chemistry, which gives this name to those bodies that mechanical, chemical or energetic action can no longer break down or sunder into specific composing bodies. 

Recent atomic theories have nevertheless come to cloud this conception since they conclude that the composition of all things reduces itself, in the final analysis, to three energetic aspects, which, roughly speaking, one can call negative (or passive), positive (or active), and neutral. Without doubt the specified form of these chemical bodies exists but instead of calling them elements it would be better to designate them as “simple molecular bodies of chemistry.” In effect, they are not really elementary since they are energetically composed. 

The alchemists say more correctly that everything is originally formed of three principles: one active (sulphur) the other passive (mercury) and the third neutral (salt). Although one does not have to have read or studied in order to say it, it is curious to note that their doctrine occurred long before the recent scientific conclusions. And yet it affirms them, for these three principles are not tangible in and of themselves; they are the principles which are virtual in all things and which everything must necessarily contain in order to exist.

These principles define the four sole qualities which are able to form any thing, and these are summarised in the qualities hot and dry which take after the active state (sulphur), cold and humid which take after the passive state (mercury), while the intermediary qualities hot-humid and cold-dry are mélanges of the partial qualities of the extremes, and in a certain fashion take after the neutral state (salt). Now, the combination of these four qualities gives rise to the various aspects of comprehensible or tangible things, having their reflection but not their true image in the four states of matter which we call solid, liquid, gaseous and radiant, but which the alchemists call earth, water, air and fire.

Their affirmation that hot, cold and moist fires exist demonstrates well enough that the element earth, for example, does not signify a momentary solid state at all. Rather, their elements distinguish absolute states and, practically, their earth can just as well appear liquid all the while remaining earth by its predominant quality of coldness and dryness. They go so far as to say, for example, that a ferment which curdles milk, because the ferment is hot and dry, desiccates the moisture or humidity of the liquid by coagulating it into that which will then be cold and dry, and it is the nature of the ferment that has the power to do this. Now this hot and dry ferment can be a pure, solid or liquid fire—it doesn’t matter—for it will coagulate the metallic mercury into gold, and this will be the specified [form of the] Philosopher’s Stone and must respond to the following conditions: it must be a ferment able to dry the humidity (or to coagulate it) and it must be of the specific nature of gold, just as an acorn will only give rise to an oak and not a pine.

To put this in terms of our modern conceptions, if in the metallic mercury one could introduce a proton (i.e. ferment) that is able to group the number of specific ions of gold, one could coagulate the mercury into gold. This reasoning is correct and proves that the alchemical argument is unassailable in theory since all nature demonstrates that there is no generation or growth without this ferment which “coagulates into its specified nature” a given nutritive element. And one calls this ferment a seed.

Strengthening their reasoning, they conclude as follows: this ferment, which will include all the elementary qualities—hot and dry, cold and humid—will be the Universal Ferment or pure Philosopher’s Stone, therefore a pure salt, specifiable as a ferment, into all that one could want, therefore a Universal Medicine. 

To put this in terms of our modern conceptions, if in the metallic mercury one could introduce a proton (i.e. ferment) that is able to group the number of specific ions of gold, one could coagulate the mercury into gold.

This here is a synthetic or integral conception, radically opposed to the modern scientific mentality which is analytic and only analytic. This is the point where alchemy distinguishes and separates itself from the current rational science, for, when all is said and done, the more one advances, the more one recognizes that these arguments are correct. Alchemy is a philosophical science that leads from philosophy to experiment and experience, and in this respect is in opposition to our experimental science, which leads from experiment to hypotheses, which it then seeks to generalize. We are in truth empirical, whereas the alchemists, as they themselves profess, are philosophers.

Is this pretension of alchemical philosophy to realise such a universal ferment a utopia? All one can say is that it is not an absurdity, for the reasoning holds. From here to the practice, however, there is a world. But let us follow these philosophers on their path. 

As long as everything is composed of three principles and four elements, these qualities can be modified and equally interchanged, therefore one thing can in the end be transmuted into another and, to begin with, can be evolved from an imperfect quality into a more perfect one. 

But let us look more closely at what is meant by perfection and imperfection: following the philosophers of all times, including Pythagoras and Plato, perfection is equilibrium and perfect harmony between all the composing elements. In the metallic kingdom (which is the most primitive of all, and therefore, by necessity, the seat of the others) the alchemists say that gold is the most perfect of bodies because nothing is able to destroy it and time cannot change it. This is quite true. The ultimate test of cupellation only lets gold or silver survive, which is why the two are called noble, but only gold is perfect in time and after the action of the ordinary elements.

Evolution from imperfection to perfection consists, then, in placing all of the qualities in equilibrium such that no one predominates over the other. This pertains to corporeal perfection, i.e. arrested under a specified form. The perfection which pertains to the universal state, i.e. which is not specified in an arrested form, will be the Philosopher’s Stone, and this same perfection in the human state will, for Christians or Rosicrucians, be Christ. As in the planetary system, it resides in the sun.

Schwaller's laboratory in the South of France contained all the accoutrements of a practicing alchemist. Still from footage taken by Christian Dumolard.

This is why the goal of the Philosophers, as with the mystical or moral alchemists, is perfection. The lust for gold attributed to these seekers is patently false, as any reading of their texts will clearly demonstrate. Gold for them is but a symbol; it is a demonstration of their doctrine, not a goal. It is essential to clarify this point because this erroneous opinion is the principle cause for their philosophy being misunderstood. If one eliminates this prejudice, the reasoning of the alchemists concerning the constitution of matter and the possibility of modifying it (which in the end is the aim of atomic theory and science) are singularly just and correct.

In order to pass from theory to practice, one comes up against a language which is more enigmatic and more “shocking” to the scientific spirit. To begin with, the alchemists say that the power to create is not given to man, that he must seek and provide himself with a fundamental given of nature, as universal as possible, and that it is from here that he must begin. This primitive datum is thus, formally, also the most imperfect. It would of course be in vain to undertake work on that which is already perfect. Therefore he must eliminate gold; they are very clear in this explication. 

What they understand by “create” is this: from nothing, to be able to create the three principles and four elements. They claim that there is something in nature which has these given [requirements] and yet which is absolutely unspecified. This again must be true, for what else would nature nourish herself upon? At a given moment, if only for the mineral, it is absolutely necessary for something to be the primitive substance in which the first or premiere form specifies itself. 

In our day, when our science says that origin is energy and yet cannot say what this is, they are no longer as explicit as the philosophers were. We therefore have no right to accuse them pejoratively of mysticism, or of being mere amateurs of the mysteries. They are equally more clear than us since they say that from this primitive substance one can make a humid or cold water (also called “radically humid”) which is a universal solvent (dissolvant universel) in the sense that it can reduce all metals to their open state, that is to say, the “mine”, releasing by this solution (solution) their component mercury, sulphur and salt.

But of course, to realize this there must be a matter that bears or carries this abstract substance, serving as a vessel, so to speak, a womb or stomach in which it can take primitive form. Once realised or formed, the materia prima (also called second) that served as an intermediary, can be dispensed with. [2] Now isolated, this new, primitively formed matter, having in it all the elementary qualities of the first state, becomes the prima materia. Thus do they play on words. And this passage from abstraction to the prima materia is what they designate the “labours of Hercules,” making allusion thereby to the different phases of this work described allegorically in the myth of Hercules. [3]
This realisation therefore recapitulates the entirety of genesis in the sense that, by an artifice, one can pass from the universal abstract substance or energy (the Gospel says: logos) [4] to its first concrete formation, giving a sort of paradisiacal earth in which, in its most primitive state, the original living thing realises itself. Now we begin to touch on the cosmic laws which, necessarily in this case, must manifest themselves experimentally (if it is given to man to follow this becoming like a chemist does in his flask). It is for this reason that the alchemists call their work the grandest Œuvre, specifying this by a precise locution—the “greatest Work,” by which they mean: the Universe.

The lust for gold attributed to these seekers is patently false, as any reading of their texts will clearly demonstrate. Gold for them is but a symbol; it is a demonstration of their doctrine, not a goal.

This is where the alchemists attach themselves to the ancient and universal doctrine of numbers, such as, for example, Pythagoras had brought back from Egypt. Genesis was the Work of the becoming of form from “formlessness”; it is an invariable and constant function. The phases are exactly known and follow a rhythm which is the revelation of the law of harmony, just as the musical scale constructs itself, in the end, following the harmonics evoked by any note. This would suggest that, as soon as the original, unique source enters into activity, the phases, times and movements construct themselves following an invariable law.

In basing themselves on this reasoning, which, the philosophers maintain, is above all an affirmation resulting from genuine knowledge, the question then imposes itself of knowing why everything does not realise perfection; why, to tell the truth, is such an immense variety of imperfection left to subsist in the world. The metals which are not gold or silver are imperfect and the perfection of gold and silver only improves the weak part among metals. The response to this question is simple, perhaps a little too simple: it is the cessations and accidental impurities that constitute the imperfect varieties. 

Are the cessations in becoming and the existence of impurities possible from origin? To this one responds: the impurities and the cause of cessations are immanent in the first manifestation of abstract substance; the metaphysical or “virtual” explanation is as follows: the unique or creative cause which we cannot name and which we designate by the number one—inseverable therefore incomprehensible—does not have any logical reason to cease its absolute state, which is why it must be regarded as the universal will: all powerful on the one hand, and infinitely merciful on the other. We ourselves are issued from this source. Without its will, we would not be. Therefore we could not know our creator, that which is nevertheless the supreme reward of all effort (consciousness).

Under this ethical and mystical form is expressed the creative function itself; this bases itself on the consciousness that the inseverable, indivisible unity is irrational and therefore it includes in its nature the Necessity [5]  to split or sunder itself in order to know itself, a process which gives birth to the number two—not the symbol of this number, but the notion of dualism. The religions of all times have never been anything other than theogonic philosophies, the revelation of the laws of genesis, along with and their mystical application, showing to human consciousness the way to follow in order to rediscover the lost unity.

Thus, while the alchemical philosophers were unique in their principles and goals, their religious expressions have been varied, some basing themselves on unity, as in Egypt, others having duality as a foundation, as for example among the Sumerians. The reasoning and the morality resulting from this fact are variable and adapted to the premise, but the general way is not modified because of this. Christianity, for its part, is based upon the trinity, leaving it up to esotericism to speak of the passage from unity to trinity. It therefore sidesteps the critical moment of duality, which is of a purely sexual nature; I would say that the sexuality throughout nature is the manifestation of duality, imposed from the origin of all things. 
Perfect but abstract unity manifests itself by duality; the Other (as Plato would say) is necessarily and above all of the same nature and of [equally opposed tendencies]. If unity is good, the second principle of duality is evil, but of the nature of unity. The Emerald Tablet puts it thus:

That which is above is like that which is below and
That which is below is of the nature of that which is above,
in order to create the miracle of one thing. [6]

To me, this explication is grandiose; so simple and yet so complete. The miracles cited here are the world with its infinite variety and the perfection expected and hoped for since origin. The Christian would say that Christ has been within his Father for all time, i.e. has preexisted as Christ in the virtual state before incarnating himself. He is the hope of Christ manifested.

Opposed to the original Unity, yet issued from it, is that which will create light (that which is manifested), and this is will be “Lucifer,” [7] but he will only create this light through his combat against unity, and under this form he will be known among the Egyptians as the terrible Seth, who became “Sathan” [sic] among the Hebrews; the alchemists call this corporeal sulphur, the enemy which opposes and at the same time will create perfection. Is it for this reason that popular thought believes that Satan smells like sulphur?

A good many truths carry themselves by locutions transmitted among the people. It is perhaps Goethe who, in his Faust, best transcribed this notion of reversal by making Mephistophiles say: “I am that force which always wants evil, yet always does good.” [8] 

Thus, from origin, the cause of imperfection, therefore of possible arrests or cessations [in the process of becoming] is given, and all the preparatory “Work” of the alchemist consists in eliminating this “evil,” this impurity which opposes itself to the final and conscious reunion of separated elements. Religion seeks nothing less. In the ethical domain, Sathan, his pomp and his works, is the enemy to be vanquished. In Egyptian terms, this corresponds to the struggle of Horus against his brother, Seth.

Throughout all of nature, this duality has a sexual character, i.e., gender, separating in order to reunite for procreation and the continuation of the species. This continuity by means of procreation is, in the mystical sense, evil, and yet to lovers and to bourgeois society it is not displeasing at all. But there is a deeper lesson here that is more difficult to comprehend, and for the alchemists it is among the most mysterious of all. 

Borrowing the myth of Adam from the Mosaic Genesis, they maintain that Adam did not need to fall. That is, he did not need to oppose himself with his wife, Eve. He could have remained in his divine state. Words placed in the very mouth of “God” say: “chase them away so that they do not eat of the tree in the middle and thereby become one of us.” [9] But evidently there would not have been any procreation and therefore no specification would have been possible. However the mystical ideal is the attainment of a state wherein sexuality ceases, where the “divided souls” effectively reunite and are no longer engaged in coitus, which is merely a simulacrum of Union.

Moreover, the alchemists say that the ultimate goal of their Work is to attain the ability to “multiply” (or procreate) their universal ferment beyond ordinary multiplication (which is merely “regeneration” and not an infinite multiplication). The alchemical multiplication no longer knows death; it is able to assimilate the spiritual nourishment directly.

Therefore, the original separation instantiates itself by a conflict that separates the high from the low, manifesting as extension (genesis), thus specifying an active and a passive. That which takes an active or combative character is the sulphur or seed, and is male. The other part is the passive, feminine matrix, she who rises as the other descends and he who descends carries within him, as they say, the nature immanent to duality, the opposition; therefore, he alone still carries the double nature: the light which has been carried away [10] (parented with unity) and the corporeality of its manifestation. This fallen light “imprisoned” in Lucifer is the third principle, visible but intangible, like the Spirit which permeates the Father and the Christic Son. The body which imprisons this light is the salt of the alchemists; this light is their true, pure sulphur, while the high and passive element is their mercury, but only by their art have they succeeded in separating the light from the body, that which cannot manifest itself, in view of its abstract nature, other than by their mercury, which becomes the carrier (fecundated virgin).

This fallen light “imprisoned” in Lucifer is the third principle, visible but intangible, like the Spirit which permeates the Father and the Christic Son. The body which imprisons this light is the salt of the alchemists; this light is their true, pure sulphur, while the high and passive element is their mercury, but only by their art have they succeeded in separating the light from the body, that which cannot manifest itself, in view of its abstract nature, other than by their mercury, which becomes the carrier (fecundated virgin).

All their work consists in preparing this mercury in order that it may have the power to effect this separation, because Seth, or Lucifer, guards firmly imprisoned his divine memory, without which he is but a body without power, save for the ability to give corporeality to things. This is the story of the hide of Seth and the hide of the Lion in the legend of Hercules. 

This trinity having been realised, all the elements necessary for a new, pure creature are then formed. At the same time this is evidence for the existence of a triple nature in the creative unity that is virtually, in potentia, triune. Certain theologies speak of this fact by the affirmation of the one unique cause having three natures and calling them God or creator, and this is correct because no effective creation is possible without these three principles, as we have affirmed, and this renders comprehensible this cause which, without its unity, escapes us completely, a state which certain religions designate either as “Sat”, “That which Is,” or better, the “Ineffable.”

Jean-Julien Champagne, Le Vaisseau du Grande Œuvre  (Vessel of the Great Work), 1910. Champagne was Schwaller's closest alchemical collaborator and a disciple of the mysterious Fulcanelli.

There is therefore no creation without separation, and separation is the function which presides over all. In the same manner, the alchemical art is the art of provoking this separation, or more precisely, of knowing how to separate the “pure from the impure,” which is why the German alchemists refer to alchemy as a Scheide Kunst, i.e. the “art of separating.” [11] This is the mystical œuvre, for it is the natural work of the life in all things, including man, to separate the pure from the impure, to make [them] ascend and descend to the point where all antagonisms cease and the profound consciousness of the soul emerges, i.e. the union of complements and opposites. But this cannot be achieved without death, i.e. the destruction of opposed things, the cessation of their form; for form is born from opposition and, by virtue of having form, creates opposition. And so the alchemists say: never mix things together in their corporeal form, for only their dissolved seeds—the watery state—can be mixed together as thoroughly as water with water. Whence the following aphorism: everything in its origin is water, a primordial water, the primal ocean of the world. And from this they conclude that the abstract, universal substance is a water without form, and the proof of this lies in the “Work” by which the abstract water becomes, in the first place, a concrete water, which is nothing but a condensation of the primordial water. Elsewhere, the Mosaic Genesis speaks of origin in terms of the separation of the waters. Our philosophers conclude, furthermore, that since it is water it is passive; it is a cosmic, virginal femininity that nevertheless carries within itself its proper spiritual seed, for everything comes from it. There is thus an identity between the notion of a cosmic fecundated virgin (parthenogenesis), the logos of the Gospel of John, and also—curiously—with the notion which our scientists have of pure energy. 

Regarded thus, alchemy presents itself as a synthesis of science and religion: at once practical, experimental and philosophical; a metaphysics which formally realises its speculation. I still maintain here that the alchemists are not solely philosophers and that their claim to know how to put their philosophy into practice is proven. This is evidently a hypothesis, but it is nevertheless just as acceptable as Einstein’s famous affirmation of a relative universe. In regards to this, one could object that if ever a man had practically possessed this scientific knowledge, thanks to his power (on the economy, they say) he would have changed the world. I would respond: would we even know whether the world had undergone modifications brought about by men who have no concern at all to make themselves known?

One of the most disconcerting stories is that of Christopher Columbus who discovered—not America, no, but one of the small islands of the “West Indies,” with ships loaded with gold—so one says or would have believe, and this is a turning point in the history of our occident. There are many obscure dates in history that would become clear if one would admit the hypothetical reality of the alchemical science. For ancient Egypt, this would render comprehensible the profusion of gold, positively treated as a material without rarity. But none of this matters; what interests us here is the doctrine. This has a completely different sense if one considers the possible practice, or better, if one satisfies oneself with the speculative affirmation. 

By the effect in which One becomes two and three (in the sense indicated), this is admissible and, moreover, imposes itself upon our understanding. But this One will be a reality proven by a controlled experimental series; thus you see what gives to the doctrine of numbers an inestimable value. Further still, this would confirm the religious affirmation, which, instead of being a superstitious expression as the socialists say, will, on the contrary, form such a basis for science and ethics that, this time, it would dramatically transform the world. Current socialist theories have no value if they eliminate the knowledge element and replace it with a materialistic science. If this is proven false, then everything is lost, including in the first case the entire mechanism of political economy. What follows is the problem of the raison d’être of man who is no longer only an individual citizen of a collective, but an entity who has a proper life, independent of collective laws, in the realisation of his personal purpose. This would replace in the first case the mystical problem of the social individual and the spiritual hierarchy that would necessarily influence the levelling social order at the present time because the collective good annuls the interest carried by personal good. 

Alchemy affirms a hierarchy by qualitative selection and addresses itself to an elite that must concern itself with the well being of the masses. With its claim to the “Great Work” it places everything that can humanly tempt man on earth in the realm of vanities to be avoided and, instead of proposing to the philosopher-adept a pleasing material life, they incite him to look higher and to neglect the lower satisfactions. These admonitions are not there for the moral council of beneficent pastors; they are consequences which logically impose themselves by the same psychology: man is only tempted because he does not possess what the philosopher-adept, following alchemy, already has: absolutely everything that he could possibly desire—health, wealth, and light.

The eternal lament—to have both experience and youth—is nonsense, since youth (and the memories connected to it) is only youth because it lives the illusions which experience reduces to inconsistent mirages. Experience is able to see man from beyond this world, where the joys of youth seem puerile, as for instance, when a beautiful woman passes; experience will say: full of ruses!

But let us return to our principal point, in which the philosophers admonish: from One make two, from two, three, from three, two, and again (anew), from two, One. As to this final One, how does it distinguish itself from the primordial One? Our answer: by consciousness. The final One is, in its nature, identical to the original abstract One, but it has tangible form. Only then does this form tend to fade into the primordial One, which it has not ceased to be, carrying with it the acquired knowledge of manifestation, the consciousness of itself, and therefore complete power.

This is the problem that Christic revelation deals with, and which Saint Paul placed in parallel to the constant sacrifice of Melchizedek. [12] It is the constant Work in the world, for Christ is the ultimate philosophical Stone, having complete power, but not remaining on earth (in form). Thus Christ is the principle of the Philosopher’s Stone, the principle of which the material form reduces to the specified transmutational power, which alone remains on earth, and this constitutes the Stone on which the church is constructed according to the Evangelium. [13] It is through genuine knowledge of this esoteric, mystical problem that the alchemists call their Work, or matter, man—Ecce homo. [14] 

The “red” and “white” are the components—the bread and the wine—at the end they are the “crowns of complete glory and perfection” on earth. The entire mystery of genesis, the entirety of the Work, thus gravitates around the sacrifice of the two aspects of the eternal and unique One.

After the work of preparation, which may be likened to hors-d’oeuvres, [15] the philosophers pass to the generation of the Stone itself, i.e. to the coagulation of their primordial solution, which contains all, into a fixed and indestructible substance: male seed and female milieu, united in one thing which can no longer be separated, in which everything is equilibrated, becoming thereby the principle of justice, and known as the permanent water which will pass through all the natural phases of genesis in order to attain the indestructible fixity, white at first, but in the end, red. These colours are at once real and symbolic. The lunar-white becomes the substance that takes form, and the solar-red is the fire that gives form (without itself having form). 

In the beginning, before the work (hors d’oeuvre)—the “red” and “white” are the components: the bread and the wine; at the end they are the “crowns of complete glory and perfection” on earth. The entire mystery of genesis, the entirety of the Work, thus gravitates around the sacrifice of the two aspects of the eternal and unique One. It is to be considered a sacrifice because nothing obliges the unique cause to descend towards form, as has already been said, for if the power is revealed to man to find, seize and reunite the two faces of the unique, as Siegfried reforges the broken sword of the Nibelungs, then this forms the highest initiation which is able to be attained by an incarnated being. [16] As such, the labour of the Work becomes the sacerdotal act par excellence.

The alchemists tell us that genesis, or effectively the ‘Great Work’, distinguishes itself in three great phases, while others divide them into four, thereby placing it in relation to the seasons. There are the Black phases of wintery destruction, the White phases of spring-like resurrection, the distinct Yellow phases of summery flourishing, and the Red phases of full autumnal maturity. One is tempted to believe that this fourfold division is ideally conformed to a natural philosophy, since all natural cycles divide themselves into four quarters (as for example the lunar cycle), and this finds its symbolism in the cross. 

The alchemical philosophers affirm that all nature, in its genesis, undergoes phases like the grain that germinates (its black phase), the germ that pushes (its white phase), the flower which matures the seed (its yellow phase), and the fruit or accomplished seed (its red phase). 

The development of this philosophy is complex because it tends to express the time of the phases, the principle of time, and their duration, under a synthetic form (which, they maintain, is conformed to practice). More generally it is the genesis of man, himself the microcosmic synthesis and image of the macrocosm, which serves as a basis for these definitions. We discover these numbers elsewhere throughout all the initiatic texts. 

The death or destruction in the forty days of the deluge are the same forty days of the Black of the Work and the forty days of the conjunction of seeds in the human matrix, beyond which, according to Roman Catholic theology, abortion is criminal. It is equally at four months that the fœtus has its first movement, life proper—four times four weeks, or sixteen days, or two phases of the lunar cycle—accomplishing in the Work the White phase that corresponds, following the language of the texts, to the full moon which already begins to wane. After this, for three months—the summer or Yellow of the Work—the flower is born; the plant is finished in and of itself, but is still incapable of reproducing itself. These are the seven months after which the fœtus is viable but not accomplished; they are also the twenty-eight days (or sixteen, plus three times four) of a lunar cycle. Two months are still required for the fœtus to be perfect (absolute coagulation) so that, by analogy, the plant carries the seed of its species. And if winter begins at Christmas, the mature fruit is perfect by the end of September, the nine months of the genesis of man. And then the preparatory cycle in nature recommences. The Egyptians situated the beginning of their season of Winter (pert) towards this period, and the Roman Church places their “Advent” or beginning of their ecclesiastic year, between this time and Christmas. 

This is a succinct expose, and although quite rough, it results from the study of alchemical texts; it is only traced here in order to present an ensemble of the doctrine. But these times and cycles are much more precise than a short study can reveal. There is a truly disconcerting concordance for those who want to study these questions impartially. 

One could say that the nine months mentioned here no longer correspond to the four lunar phases and the four seasons, since there is a disproportion between the time of duration and the regularity of the lunar and seasonal phases. This is correct, but this does not bother the alchemists, who respond that although there is an analogy between the phases and an analogy between the times, there is not an identity of durations.

Thus the preparation of philosophical mercury or, to be consistent with their language, the mercury of the philosophers (one being of art and the other of nature)—the mercury that I have spoken of above as the solvent (dissolvent) of the Philosophers—requires seven and nine repetitions in its preparation. It is said that, beginning with the third and the fourth, it can dissolve and “open” the metals copper, lead and tin; from the fifth to the seventh it can open silver; and from the seventh to the ninth, it opens gold. 

The Egyptians say that the number of Thoth or Mercury, in the sense of the alchemists (and not the Greeks), is eight, that is to say: “eight” is accomplished in its perfection, but among these [numbers], nine is the number of revelation. The number seven, furthermore, is for the alchemists the number that situates all transformations. Here, therefore, every single cycle incorporates the number seven such that each lunar phase, for example, comprises in and of itself seven days in round figures. Only an adept, that is to say an alchemist having “done the Work,” could tell us what the true relationships between these numbers and times really are.

The phases, as we have already seen, in their functions, are the invariable aspects of all genesis, departing from the creation of the seed (its species, according to the Mosaic genesis), but also the Universal Seed, according to the philosophers.

There is, first of all, the destruction of the form of the seeds (death and digestion); next, re-coagulation and whitening (germ; separation into chyle); after this, ripening (flourishing; fermentation of the white globules); and finally, maturity (fruit; reddening of the white globules). I place these parallels here because they are real and allow us to follow the thought of the alchemists more easily.

The Brahmins, likewise, divide the grand cycle of time into four Kalpas; Pythagoras gives us his Tetractys, formed of four numbers, of which nine surround a mysterious one. But the number four also evokes the four elements; the alchemists say further that the Work is the realization of the four elements, Black being Water; White, Earth; Yellow, Air; and Red, Fire, because the phases effectuate in an exact sense the absolute quality of the elements. 

We now cast our gaze upon the general idea of the Work. This here, however, is only one of its phases, for in realising this labour (travail), the alchemists say that one has only obtained the Red and White seeds but has not yet truly attained “the Stone.” He must now begin everything again in order to augment the power of the seeds. Only then will they be perfect and susceptible to regeneration, each in its own way: the White for Silver, the Red for Gold. Then comes the third labour of which I have already sufficiently spoken in regard to the mystical aspect of the problem. 

The whole Work therefore comprises three times four phases, or three times the four elements; in that case, “It” is three times grand, or Trismegistes. But the four phases are the terminal aspects and provide the general classification. The philosophers say that these here are the principal colours and that there are others—variations or gradations—between them. From black to white there is the “tail of the peacock,” and grey; from white to red there is green and then orange-yellow. This is the passage of the “planets” which gravitate around the secret Sun or Stone of the Work.

Mercury is the original water, black is lead, grey is tin, true white is silver, green is copper, orange is iron and red is gold; these are synonyms of Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, Moon, Venus, Mars and Sun, respectively. They therefore class the planets or metals into two groups: the lunar (lead and tin), and the solar (copper and iron), mercury being of a double nature. This has given place to the medieval symbolism: Sol, Venus, Mars, and Luna, Saturnus, Jupiter, along with the double Mercurius that our astronomy has preserved for its notations. [17] These seven “colours” present the seven factors of the Work through the four (or three times four) phases or elements. Thus, like the zodiac, the labour is composed of four elements distributed in twelve signs, and the ruling houses of the seven planets (following the language of astrology).

For the other “seasons” of the Work, there is said to be a philosophical year that will be its true duration. Others say that they achieve the Work in seven days or a week, making allusion to the passage of the seven globes of the planetary system. One sees by this that their language is “philosophical,” that is to say it constitutes a “kabbalah”; one must know how to hear and understand it, not just take it by the letter.

Transposing these considerations into the physical domain, the philosophers say that the mine of silver is never mixed or confounded with the mine of gold. One cannot find them together in the same mine; they are two diverse lineages (although silver can be evolved into Gold, being a fixed and very pure Mercury).

The metals, properly understood, are considered to be composed of the three principles: sulphur, mercury and salt, and, by means of their mercurial solvent, the alchemists claim to be able to “open” them with ease, thus proving the reality of this affirmation. Upon this basis, they propose the “specific works” or simply the “particulars,” seeking in the “common” metals the principles of the Great Work.

The Arab alchemists more specifically have left some tracts demonstrating the “composition” of the metals, according to which Venus or copper is seen to be very rich in red tincture—Mars or iron—rich in fixed salt, and, for example, Jupiter or tin comprises a pure enough mercury. In “anatomizing” the metals in such a fashion, one can extract, make the most of or benefit from the principles already corporified, and with them achieve a “Stone” or ferment that is able to transmute the metals. What strikes the reader of these texts is the accent that is always placed on the “common” character of the metals; they continually reiterate that the alchemical metal of their Work is not “common” but “quick” or “living.”

All metal from the mine has been melted and by this fact is “dead.” It is usually, therefore, absolutely impossible to transmute. Here an important nuance of their doctrine is stated. It is said: every metal, being composed of the Three Principles is, by its origin, destined to be silver or gold. Due to fortuitous or accidental reasons, the evolution of the metal has been arrested in the mine. In order, therefore, to be able to evolve it to the state of silver or gold, it must be returned to the living state of the mine; that is to say its component or composing mercury must be liberated anew; then the ferment can coagulate it, “curdle” it into the state of gold, a state to which the metal has been destined from the very beginning.

This implies for the ferment the faculty of being able, in a short period, to effectuate the complete evolution for which nature usually takes too long. It is a fact: we see the ferments act in very little time; a chemical reaction can be instantaneous. This phase of the alchemical doctrine therefore poses an identity between the action of a ferment and regeneration. Here I distinguish genesis (generation: from nothing to form) from re-generation (evolution departing from a seed). The gestation of a plant or of an animal is not a genesis but a regeneration.

The alchemist facilitates the growth of the metallic seed towards its two fruits or perfections—silver and gold. Emblem twelve from Michael Maier's Symbola Aureae Mensae, Frankfurt, 1617.

The gestation or evolution of a seed towards its fruit or product is therefore identical to the action of a ferment in its specific milieu. Nothing prevents us from considering things in this manner: the grain in the earth, the sperm in the ovule—both produce their fruit by the fermentation or coagulation of the specific (mercurially appropriate) milieu, i.e. a milieu appropriate to its nature. 

In this case, the time or duration only has a symbolic or “numeric” sense, and this can be eliminated in practical considerations, such as actual evolutions. The phases, by contrast, can exist; they are a matter of quality and not of duration. We note further that these are the “qualities” that the alchemists call colours, and not merely those of the apparent aspects. 

In effect, the alchemists say that by art they achieve in a short amount of time what nature takes centuries to effect. And yet: so what? Nature can only attain perfection of form; art achieves more than what is perfect because the ferment is more than the thing that produced it; like the Universal Ferment, it is the perfection of all things. 

These considerations throw a light on the nature of the labour (travail) such as the alchemists intend and understand it: the seed has within it two natures: masculine and feminine; otherwise it could not nourish itself by acting within or upon a nature similar to itself, by which is meant: the feminine. Therefore, before anything exists, it acts with what is provided in the abstract, natural state to create a “seed” that is the “first work” and the entirety of the great labour. This seed can then be regenerated to act, very suddenly, as a “specified” ferment.

“Specification” imposes itself because the “Stone,” since it is universal, adapts itself to the milieu. When it is taken by man, for instance, it is not taken to transmute him into gold; it is taken to act upon his animal economy according to its organic, animal nature, being specified into man. For the metals they must therefore be specified or “oriented” towards metal. Then, acting upon the metal in the molten state, it suddenly coagulates the mercury of this metal by eliminating all the impure mercuries and sulphurs in the state of scoria (slag) because, they affirm, the ferment can only act upon the mercury and not upon the sulphur. The reason for this is as follows: the Universal Ferment is a very pure sulphur, free from impure corporeality; it cannot therefore act upon sulphur (except that of gold), since it is more pure and perfect than them and because it alone suffices to produce the sought after effect.

Because of the pure nature of the sulphur of their ferment, certain philosophers also call it the perfect and fixed mercury, saying that gold is only a very pure and fixed mercury from which all impure and corporeal sulphur has been removed or excluded. 

Iron is a fixed salt with a very impure sulphur; mercury flees it, refuses to form an alliance with it; gold too refuses to ally itself with this symbol of war. Because of these hindering qualities, iron is considered in alchemy with extraordinary attention and regarded as a body rejected by the evolutive economy of the universe. It is thus to be regarded as the final thing that remains when all is destroyed or evolved, which will explain the phenomenon of meteorites of iron—or of metal “alchemically” of the same nature as iron, such as nickel, cobalt, chrome and so forth. Among these one could, in the same sense, class platinum, for example, or vanadium, and equally iridium, which are composed above all of pure or impure salt; durable and hard, to be sure, but in excess, therefore giving rise to “imperfect” and inharmonious bodies. [18]
There will be a relation between these considerations and the curious appellation given to iron by the ancient Egyptians,who designate it the “soul of heaven.” One can easily admit that meteorites suffice to explain this unusual name. [19] However their profound knowledge of metals allows us to wonder, and to attempt to refine the question: witness their bronze, which allows tools that attack granite and porphyry; witness also the dagger of “Tut-ankh-amun,” made of non-oxidizing iron, which furthermore resembles the symbol hanging from the same dagger in pure red gold, found with the mummy, a real weapon. Although the question remains unclarified, I must content myself to note the importance accorded by the alchemical philosophers to this metal, so cruelly destructive in the hands of man, as if, fleeing the “mercurial” smoothness, it carries within it the fire of hate and combat—the malefic magic of the famous “Seth.” This could form the subject, on another occasion, of a curious study concerning the correspondence of the metals with their ancient allegories, with particular reference to deities and planets. [20]

Alchemy presents itself as a synthesis of every aspect of the world, life and existence. If it were not considered in this sense, its study would be difficult. It presents a sort of mysterious transmission through time, and the same phrases that often find themselves among the medieval alchemists also emerge in texts recently discovered in Egypt. One sometimes has the impression of an uninterrupted thread reconnecting the most distant past to our own day by a written or oral tradition, and by folk custom.

Perhaps it is only one restless soul that always reincarnates itself anew amidst humanity and which will only find its true solace in a revelation that demonstrates to this soul the true meaning of the inanity of its animal life and the hidden purpose that underpins its imperfection: gold aspires toward its premiere destiny, which a new promise—a ferment of sudden transmutation—will reveal by rejecting the scoria of a thousand atavistic errors and rigid fetters. 

Luxor, Christmas, 1941


Translator's notes 


1.    In 1924, Adolphe Meithe’s claim to have accidentally changed mercury into gold while using a mercury vapor lamp was publicised woldwide. It was later recognised that the gold was already present in the mercury as an impurity.

2.    The Cosmopolite (Alexandre Sethon) remarks: “What is sought is not so much the first matter but the second which is, of course, that from which [the first] has been conceived, and which cannot be changed into another form.” Novum Lumen chymicum (Coloniæ, M.DC.X) 16: “Non prima, sed secunda tantum quæratur materia, talis nimirum, quæ simul ac concepta est, in altam mutari forman non potest”; Canseliet, L’alchimie expliquée sur ses textes classiques (Société nouvelle des editions Pauvert, 1972), 137: “Que soit autant recherché, non pas la première matière, mais la seconde qui est telle, assurément, dès qu’elle a été conçue et ne peut être changée en une autre forme.” 

3.    The labours of Heracles are twelve in number and in their original forms must be reconstructed from a wealth of diverse classical sources; (Pseudo-)Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 2.5.1-2.5.12, gives the traditional order as follows: (i) slay the Nemean Lion; (ii) slay the Lernaean Hydra; (iii) capture the golden hind of Artemis; (iv) capture the Erymanthian Boar; (v) clean the Augean stables in a single day; (vi) slay the Stymphalian Birds; (vii) capture the Cretan Bull; (viii) steal the Mares of Diomedes; (ix) obtain the Girdle of the Amazon Queen; (x) obtain the Cattle of the Monster Geryon; (xi) steal the Apples of the Hesperides; (xii) capture Cerberus. Traditionally the tasks required to achieve apotheosis, the labours were given specific hermetic significance in the Western alchemical canon. Blaise de Vigenère in his Philostrate remarks: “If we want to apply this fantasy or poetic fiction to natural philosophy, we have already said in the preceding portrayal that Hercules is none other than the Sun, which by its heat and its rays, acting as arrows, exterminates the Hydra with all of its reborn heads, that is, the cold, the quality proper to water, of which this serpent is born and whose name it bears” (Poeme philosophic de la vérité de la physique minérale, Matton, ed., v. 1600, 99); an alchemical description of all the labours is given in Nuysement, reproduced in “Hercules in Alchemy” (Yves Bonnefoy and Wendy Doniger, eds., Roman and European Mythologies, 221-3); Pierre Jean Fabre’s Hercules piochymichus was summarised in Pernety’s influential dictionary; the labours are mentioned repeatedly in Cyliani’s Hermès Devoilée, a text which Schwaller mentions in specific connection to the stained glass œuvre that he undertook with Jean Julien Champagne over a twenty year period; “Fulcanelli” himself mentions the labours briefly in the Cathédrales text as “notre preparation” (131-2). 

4.    French Verbe is the standard translation of Greek logos (John 1). Schwaller refers to this highly significant theological passage in a number of contexts. The equation of the Word or logos with Christ, said to pre-exist creation (genesis), has direct alchemical ramifications and in fact the intellectual history of the tria prima itself is almost invariably bound up with the Christian trinitarian conception. Certainly this was the case with Paracelsus and Dorn, and all others followed suit. 

5.    La Nécessité, capitalised and italicised in the original text; cf. the work of the same name reproduced in Isha Schwaller de Lubicz, Aor, sa vie, son oeuvre.

6.    Tabula Smaragdina: “Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius, et quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius, ad perpetranda miracula rei unius.” Chiefly known in the West via a Latin translation of an Arabic original (Kitab Sirr al-Asrar = Secretum Secretorum, c. 1140), in which it is attributed to Apollonius of Tyana. In 1923, E. J. Holmyard discovered an abridged form of the Tabula in the Jabirian corpus, and shortly afterwards, another was found by Julius Ruska (Kitab Ustuqus al-Uss al-Thani; Kitab Sirr al-Khaliqa wa San’at al-Tabi’a); Holmyard, “The Emerald Table,” Nature, no. 2814, vol. 112 (October 6, 1923): 525-6; Alchemy (Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1957), 99; Holmyard states that the oldest known form of the Emerald Tablet was probably translated from Syriac as early as the fourth century, and may be based on a now-lost Greek original. 

7.    Lucifer: literally ‘bearer of light’ (from lux ‘light’ + fer, ‘to carry’).

8.    Goethe, Faust, erster Teil: “Ein Teil von jener Kraft,/ Die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft.” (A part of that power that always desires evil, yet always shapes/creates the good).

9.    Genesis 3:22-3. Here Schwaller recapitulates a theme that he broached some fifteen years earlier in one of his most rare yet controversial works, Adam l’homme rouge (Adam, the Red Man, 1926).

10.    Lumière emportée can mean both light that is ‘carried or taken away’ or light that is ‘agitated, violent’.

11.    Scheiden, ‘to separate, divide’; also: ‘to dissolve, divorce; to decide, discriminate; to depart’; in Chemistry: ‘to separate, extract’. The noun Scheide means ‘sheath, scabbard’, and in vulgar usage, ‘vagina’. There is perhaps a sense here in which, beyond the overt meanings, the alchemical Diva Matrix is covertly indicated.

12.    The Epistle to the Hebrews, in which Christ’s sacrifice is compared to Melchizedek’s (5:1-10:18), is sometimes attributed to Paul; Melchizedek is already a mysterious figure in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4); he is said to be a priest but is distinct from the lineage of Aaron; he is notable for offering the sacrifice of bread and wine (as opposed to a blood sacrifice), and thereby prefigures and is later linked to the sacrifice of Christ; Christ is thus considered a priest ‘of the order of Melchizedek’ because he offers, like Melchizedek, a bloodless sacrament (assimilated to the flesh and blood of Christ through the mystery of transubstantiation).

13.    Ephesians 2:20: ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone’. 

14.    John 19:5 (Vulgate): ‘behold the man!’ 

15.    Hors d’oeuvre, literally: ‘outside of the work’; in a meal, the ‘starters’ that precede the main course; by analogy, the initial phases leading to the Work proper. 

16.    Schwaller was particularly taken with the transpositions between Germanic and Hermetic symbolique. In the sword of Siegfried he sees no less than the essence of the alchemical opus: the uniting of the dualities which form, in the first instance, the two aspects present at the inauguration of the Work, and in the final instance, the same two aspects raised to their apogee in the culmination of the Work. The perennial nature of these symboliques would still inspire him in his last years, as VandenBroeck recounts: “After a few months of our sojourn, he invited us to a performance of Wagner’s Ring by the Bayreuth Company to be given at the Nice opera house over three evenings. This rare social occasion was memorable, not least for the scenario Aor had devised, which translated Wagner’s libretto into Pharaonic terms, and which we discussed on days preceding the performance. The vision also remains of his tall, straight figure, in full evening regalia, standing, or rather looming, over the fashionable crowd” (Al-Kemi, 46). Compare the following lines from Wagner’s libretto: ‘Notung! Notung! Neidliches Schwert!/ Jetzt haftest du wieder im Heft./ Warst du entzwei, ich zwang dich zu ganz;/ Kein Schlag soll nun dich mehr zerschlagen./ Dem sterbenden Vater zersprang der Stahl,/ Der lebende Sohn schuf ihn neu:/ nun lacht ihm sein heller Schein,/ seine Schärfe schneidet ihm hart.// Notung! Notung! Neidliches Schwert!/ Zum Leben weckt’ ich dich wieder./ Tot lagst du in Trümmern dort,/ Jetzt leuchtest du trotzig und hehr./ Zeige den Schächern nun deinen Schein!/ Schlage den Falschen, fälle den Schelm!/ Schau, Mime, du Schmied:/ So schneidet Siegfrieds Schwert!’ [Notung! Notung! Craven sword!/ Fixed again, firm in haft./ Split in two, I drew you whole;/ No strike shall ever shatter you again./ For the dying father your steel was broken,/ By living son, fashioned fresh:/ For him your brilliance shines abright, Your sharpness slices, keenly pressed.// Notung! Notung! Craven sword! Woken up to life anew./ Once you’d lain there, dead in pieces,/ Now you flash sublime, defying./ Let the offenders feel your fire!/ Smite the false, fell the wicked! See, o smith, o Mime:/ Thus strikes Siegfried’s blade!]

17.    In Notes et Propos II, 224, the text has the symbols for Sun, Venus and Mars, then the crescent of the Moon. It then has two crescent signs with small crosses attached (which, I suspect, may just be a misreading of the similarly formed signs for Saturn and Jupiter). Finally, the sign for Mercury is reproduced with a point in the middle. I make mention of these points here, and suggest recourse to the original hand-written notes for clarification. For purposes of the present translation, however, I have simply followed the logic of the text and reproduced the planetary signs as listed in the preceding clause; this order, moreover, appears to make the best sense of the symbols and the text taken together as a whole. Taken as such, Schwaller’s associations here reveal a simple but profound insight: that the solar signs are those in which the circle (sun) predominates while the lunar signs are those in which the crescent (moon) predominates. Mercury, being the only sign composed of circle and crescent, partakes of both natures. With the exception of mercury, this classification is further supported by the distinction between the metals that possess a warm lustre (gold, copper, red iron) and those possessing a cool lustre (silver, tin and lead). 

18.    Compare the parallel remarks in Fulcanelli, Dwellings, 94: ‘The fixed salt provides the warrior Mars a hard, strong, solid and robust body, wherefrom he gets his magnanimity and great courage’. 

19.    To the Egyptian perception, iron was specifically associated with the metaphysical force of the constellation Ursur Major, known to the Egyptians as the “bull’s thigh” (khepesh), a symbol of powerful strength. This constellation was also known as the thigh of Seth (khepesh en setesh), a god whose associations with iron run very deep. As a war god and storm god, Seth was said to have bones of iron; the metal itself was believed to be the substance of thunderbolts. As such, iron was not mined: it fell from heaven. It was therefore seen to have a celestial origin, specifically in the form of meteors that fell to earth and were therefore seen as thunderbolts. In the New Kingdom the word khepesh came to designate a scimitar. The most prominent role of the khepesh is in the ‘ceremony of the opening of the mouth and eyes’, a ritual of revivification in which the khepesh (as well as its symbolic extensions: instruments made of iron) was used to animate statues, to bring the dead back to life, and to create gods. In short, the strength of the stars was seen to animate. 

20.    Schwaller himself later wrote just such a study: ‘Harmonie, Analogies, Fonctions et Facteurs’, which appeared posthumously in Le Miracle Egyptien (Paris: Flammarion, 1963), 129-57. This is the text where he lays down the keys to his alchemical Farbenlehre (colour theory), as discussed by VandenBroeck in Al-Kemi (passim). He also draws forth the connections between the Egyptian divinities, the planetary metals (as both cosmic and mineral phenomena), and their counterparts in Graeco-Roman mythology: the war-like Seth, for instance, is intimately bound to iron (as discussed in a preceding footnote), to the planet Mars, and to the gods Ares and Mars.