Wed Sep 2, 2009 4:57 am (PDT)
> And yes, an example would be WONDERFUL if it isn't too much trouble. :-)
Ok, lets see how this grabs you. An example of the use, and meaning of, the term 'philosophical' .
The first idea to grasp is that alchemists believe all things are composed of three conditions. Traditionally these conditions are called Mercury, Sulphur and Salt. In modern terminology we might call them Intelligence (information) , Energy and Form, respectively. Alchemists call these three conditions the 'Principals' of existence. Conventional modern science only recognises the latter two aspects (waves and particles). Quantum physics recognises that matter also contains information (intelligence) .
The second idea to grasp is that alchemists insist that a living thing is a thing where the three 'Principals' are integrated in such a way that the system they compose is evolving (i.e. living). Death, to an alchemist, is defined as the point in the life of a living system where the three Principals de-compose (separate), and the once living system can no longer evolve (live).
In nature when (for example) an apple falls from a tree and hits the ground, it is separated from the system (the apple tree) that supported its life. It is now beginning to die. That is, its three Principals are de-composing. The Mercury and volatile Sulphur evaporate in to the atmosphere. The Salt (minerals) and fixt Sulphur fall to the earth, and all are scattered to the four winds. This is what alchemists call 'natural death'.
Then alchemists decided to take such an apple and place it inside a closed system, a circulatory (pelican), and allow it to decompose inside that closed system for the express purpose of containing the Principals. In this way eveything that made up the life of the living system can be contained and not lost to the elements. The Energy (Sulphur), Intelligence (mercury-consciousn ess) and Salt (formative Principal) are contained, but de-composed. Death has occured, but the Principals of life have not been lost. This 'tweak' on the natural death process making it possible, now, for the alchemist to manipulate all the Pincipals from a once living system, is a kind of artifical death ... a *Philosophic* death.
This Philosophic death is always the first step in alchemy. The separation of the three Principals, but contained in such a way that the Energy, Intelligence and Formative condition are not lost.
This 'contained' death is Philosophic because it allows us to do things that are not possible in nature, or with natural substances that have already died naturally, and their Principals been irreparibly separated.
An added note here ... the success or failure of the alchemical process relies 90% on the alchemist's ability to carry out all the techniques following this 'death' without loosing the critical quantity of Principals required to re-animate the final product of the work. That is, the final product must contain the original Energy carrier, the original Intelligence carrier and the original Formative Principal carrier intact but 'clean' and undamaged.
That, I believe, is the clearest and most blatantly accurate description of the work you will have ever heard ;)
> Also, let me hit you with another question. Could the difference between
> philosophical materials and unphilosophical materials be that
> philosophical materials are "alive" and unphilosophical materials are
> "dead"? Would "preserving the life" make a technique acceptable? And if
> this is the case, couldn't just about anything be "enlivened" for
> alchemical use? Am I overlooking an obvious flaw with this theory?
This is another important question. And its not important because its accurate thinking. Its important because it is a very common cliche' that has been inserted into modern alchemical theory by pop-alchemists who do not understand Hermetic Philosophy.
I call this idea of 'living' and 'dead' substance the 'magic bullet' theory. Because along with the idea that matter can be alive or dead often follows the idea that the alchemical 'matter' needs to be animated during the work with some special something (a magic bullet) that once again gives it life, or gives it the ability to 'be magical'. This entire concept is a load of rot.
Firstly, there is no magic bullet. The crude matter of the work (e.g. a herb) has everything already in it that is required to make its final product alchemical. Jabir told us as much 1500 years ago when he said something to the tune of ... "our matter is one, to which we add nothing, from which we take away nothing, except that which is superfluous. "
(That single statement explains more about alchemical theory than any other statement I have ever read).
So what makes a living system 'alive'? It is simple. The three Principals of that system must be integrated together by nature in such a way that they function together as an evolving (living) unit. When that system dies, that death is not simply a 'body' that looses a living 'thing'. Death, as I said earlier, is when the three Principals separate (de-compose) . The body (Salt) looses its Energy (Sulphur) and Intelligence (Mercury).
So back to your question. Is a substance Philosophical because it is 'alive'? In a manner, yes. Because 'alive' means that the three Principals are present, linked together and in enough quantity for the essential three properties of life to still be there.
To put it another way, if you take a substance where too much of one of the Principals is gone, then that matter is dead, and is of no use to us because we need a full quantity of all three Principals. A common example of this is when too much heat is applied to a substance. That heat causes the Principals to separate (the van der waals forces weaken at the physical level), and the Mercury and volatile Sulphur starts to fly. The important factor is not so much that the thing is now dead, its that we have lost 1 or 2 of our essential ingredients. If the original substance is contained in a closed system then that decomposition is Philosophic, because we have contained the de-composed 'bits'. But if the heating is carried out in the open air the decomposition is a natural death.
> Chemically speaking I can't see how any of the salt could be carried
> over in the distillation ...
The way it 'may' happen is that some of the salt (sodium chloride) may become volatile. Oils (Sulphur) have the property that they soften Salts, and ease them towards volatility. This is the 'trick' to volatising Salts for the final stage of the work. (Remembering that oils = Sulphur = energy).
Hopefully I'll have time to answer Rosemary's questions tomorrow afternoon.