Philosopher’s Stone is in Alchemy, the mysterious substances that enables the transmutation of base metals into GOLD or SILVER. The Philosopher’s Stone is said to speed a natural process of evolution in which minerals and base metals evolved to higher and purer states.
The stone was first mentioned by Zosimos (c. 250– 300), who described it as “a stone that is not a stone.” It has never been described directly and has had hundreds of names (see below) and various descriptions, such as the elixir, the tincture, crystals, powder, lapis, and so forth. It is both the beginning, the Prima Materia, and the end of the Great Work.
Numerous recipes and formulae have been presented in alchemical literature for preparing the stone, some of them couched in heavy symbolism. One of the most famous recipes is attributed to Maria Prophetess, said to be one of the earliest alchemical Adepts in Hellenistic Egypt. Her instructions are:
Invert nature and you will find that which you seek. There exist two combinations: one pertains to the action of whitening, the other to that of yellowing; one is done by trituration [reduction to powder by grinding], the other by calcination [reduction to a friable state]. One pulverizes in a saintly fashion, with simplicity, only in the holy house; there takes place the dissolution and the deposition. Combine together . . . the male and the female, and you will find that which you seek. Do not be anxious to 250 perfumes know whether the work is on fire. The two combinations have many names, such as brine water, incorruptible divine water, vinegar water, water of the acid of sea salt, of castor oil, of horse radish, and of balsam. One also calls it water of the milk of a woman who gave birth to a male child, water of the milk of a black cow, water of the urine of a young cow or of a ewe, or of a male ass, water of quicklime, of marble, of tartar, of sandarac [realgar, arsenic sulphide], of schitose alum, of niter, of the milk of a sheass, of a goat, of the ashes of lime, water of ashes, of honey and oxymel [honey and vinegar mixed together], of the flowers of the arctium, of sapphire, etc. The vessels or instruments destined for these combinations must be made of glass. One must be aware of stirring the mixture with the hands, for the mercury is deadly, just as the gold which is found there is corrupted.
The Philosopher’s Stone is ascribed great powers beyond the transmutation of metals; it is said to be the “universal medicine” that can improve health and lengthen life, even allowing some Adepts to achieve immortality.
The stone is often depicted in alchemical art as the HERMAPHRODITE, the product of the marriage of opposites, represented by the king and the queen. A florid description of the stone is given by HEINRICH KHUNRATH in Amphiteahreum sapientias aeternae (“The Amphitheater of Eternal Wisdom”), published in 1602:
Thou shalt see the Stone of the Philosophers (our King) go forth of the bed-chamber, of his Glassy Sepulcher, in his glorified body, like a Lord of Lords, from his throne into the Theater of the World. That is to say, regimented and more perfect, a shining carbuncle, most temperate splendor, whose most subtile and depurated parts are inseparably united into one, with a concordial mixture, exceeding equal; transparent like crystal, compact and most ponderous, easily fusible in fire, like resin or wax before the flight of quicksilver yet flowing without smoke; entering into solid bodies and penetrating them like oil through paper, dissoluble in every liquor and commiscible with it; friable like glass in a powder of saffron, but in the whole mass shining red like a Ruby (which redness is a sign of a perfect fixation and fixed perfection); permanently colorating and tingeing, fixed in all trials, yea in the examination of the burning sulphur itself and the devouring waters and in the most vehement persecution of the fire, always incombustible and permanent as the Salamander.
From the 13th century onward, the stone possessed a spiritual significance; only an alchemist who observed a strict lifestyle of devotion and purification could attain it. BASIL VALENTINE, who called the stone the All in All, observed in The Great Stone of the Philosophers:
Let me tell you, then, that although many are engaged in the search after this Stone, it is nevertheless found but by very few. For God never intended that it should become generally known. It is rather to be regarded as a gift which He reserves for those favoured few, who love the truth, and hate falsehood, who study our Art earnestly by day and by night, and whose hearts are set upon God with unfeigned affection.
To acquire the Philosopher’s Stone is to acquire full knowledge of God, a mystical union. The transmutation of base metals into gold int the alchemical furnace is likened to the purification and burning away of one’s sins and imperfections by the burning fire of the love of God.
By the Renaissance, the Philosopher’s Stone signified the force behind the evolution of life and the universal binding power of oneness. It also represented the purity and sanctity of the highest realm of pure thought and altruistic existence.
The redemptive power of the stone led to its associations with Christ. CARL G. JUNG emphasized this association in his own alchemical works. Christ as the stone is mentioned as early as the works of Zosimus and is featured in the works of JAKOB BOEHME, RAYMOND LULLY, Khunrath, and others.
Names of the Philosopher’s Stone
Common names for the stone are Lapis, Elixir, Elixir of Life, and Tincture. The following are some of the names of the Philosophers Stone, collected by William Gratacolle and published in 1652 in London:
Gold, Sol, Sun, Brasse of Philosophers, the body of Magnesia, a pure body, clean, ferment of Elixir, Masculine, Argent vive fixt, Sulphur incombustible, Sulphur red, fixed, the rubibe stone, kybrik, a man, greene vitrioll, burnt brasse, red earth: the water that is distilled from these things, is named of the Philosophers, the taile of the Dragon, a pure wind, ayre, life, lightning, the house, the afternoone light, virgin’s milke, sal armoniack, sal niter, the wind of the belly, white fume, red water of sulphur, tartar, saffron, water, the white compound, stinking water, the filthiness of the dead bloud, Argent vive, a Cucurbite with his Alimbeck, the vessell of the Philosophers, a high man with a Sallet, the belly of a man in the midst, but in the end it is called the fot, or the feet, or on the which feet, or earth is calcined, rosted, congealed, distilled, or made still and quiet: the shaddow of the Sun, a dead body, a crowne overcoming a cloud, the bark of the Sea, Magnesia, black, a Dragon which eateth his tayle, the dregs of the belly, earth found on the dunghill putrefied, or in horse dung, or in soft fire, Sulphur, Mercury, secondly in number, and one in essence, name, in name, a stone, body, spirit and soule; it is called earth, fire, aire, all things, because he contains in him foure Elements; it is called a man or beast, that hath soul, life, body, and spirit, and yet some Philosophers do not thinke the matter to have a soule. But as it is a stone, it is called the water of Sulphur, the Water of the world, the spittle of Lune, the shadow of the Sun, a denne, Sol, Elephas, white Jayre, eyes of fishes, Beyia, Sulphur, vine sharpe, water, milke, vineger of life, tears, joyning water, Urine, the light of lights, a marvelous Father, Father of Minerals, a fruitfull tree, a living spirit, a fugitive servant, certore of the earth, venome, most strong vineger, white gumme, everlasting water, a woman, a feminine, a thing of vile price, Azot, menstruous, Brazill, in nature Azot, water, the first matter, the beginning of the world; and mark this, that Argent vive, Mercury, Azot, the fulle moone, Hypostasis, white lead, or red, do all of them signifie but one thing, our stone, our brasse, our water, Iron, Silver, Lime, whiteness, Jupiter, Vermilion white, after divers times and degrees of operation. And note, that the Philosophers washing is to bring again the whole soule into his body, wherefore you may not understand thereby, the common white washing is convenient to be done with vineger, and salt, and such like. Also note, that when blackness doth appeare, then it is called dispensation of the man and woman between them, and that the body hath gotten a spirit, which is the tears of the vertues of the soule upon the body, and the body doth revive the action of the soule and spirit, and is made an Eagle and the meane of natures. And note, that white earth, white Sulphur, white fume, Auripigmentum Magnesia, and Ethell, do signifie all one thing. Also the Stone is called Chaos, a Dragon, a Serpent, a Toad, the green Lion, the quintessence, our stone Lunare, Camelion, most vild black, blacker than black, Virgins milke, radicall humidity, unctuous moysture, liquor, seminall, Salarmoniack, our Sulphur, Naptha, a soule, a Basilisk, Adder, Secundine, Bloud, Sperme, Metteline, haire, urine, poyson, water of wise men, minerall water, Antimony, stinking menstrues, Lead of Philosophers, Sal, Mercury, our Gold, Lune, a bird, our ghost, dun Salt, Alome of Spaine, attrement, dew of heavenly grace, the stinking spirit, Borax, Mercury corporall, wine, dry water, water metelline, an Egge, old water, perminent, Hermes bird, the lesse world, Campher, water of life, Auripigment, a body cynaper, and almost with other infinite names of pleasure.
- “Names of the Philosopher’s Stone.” Available online. URL: https://www.levity.com/alchemy/gratacol.html. Downloaded January 1, 2005.
- Patai, Raphael. The Jewish Alchemists. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. The Hermetic Museum. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1991.