Glossary entry for
philosopher's stone

Webster's Dictionary has the following entry:
philosopher's stone - noun - (14th century): an imaginary stone, substance, or chemical preparation believed to have the power of transmuting base metals into gold and sought by alchemists.

Van list member Robert Glenn Plotner contributes the following:
The Philosopher's Stone was a substance (not a rock) that the alchemists sought. It was thought that an underlying spirit linked all things and gave rise to the dualistic forms universe. Therefore, by combining different chemicals and substances a secret balance of dualisms might be discovered, The Philosopher's Stone, that would contain the essence of the (nondual) divine. That substance would have transformative power and so the notion that ordinary minerals would be transformed into gold, the most perfect metal.

"Surely all your dirt will turn into gold." VM, "The Mystery"

However, the popular image of the alchemists as nuts simply trying to make gold for personal attainment is far off the mark. The true impetus was metaphysical (this was a time when science and spirit were not separate) and sought to transform the soul toward oneness and perfection.

Zosimos, a Gnostic alchemist of the third century: "And all things are woven together and all things are undone again; all things are mingled together and all things combine; and all things unite and all things separate; all things are moistened and all things are dried; and all things flourish and all things fade in the bowl of the altar. For each thing comes to pass with method and in fixed measure and by exact weighing of the four elements. The weaving together of all things and the undoing of all things and the whole fabric of things cannot come to pass without method. The method is a natural one, preserving due order in its inhaling and its exhaling; it brings increase and it brings decrease. And to sum up: through the harmonies of separating and combining, and if nothing of the method is neglected, all things bring forth nature. For nature applied to nature transforms nature. Such is the order of natural law throughout the whole cosmos, and thus all things hang together."

In a vision, Zosimos approaches an altar by "descending the fifteen steps into darkness, and of ascending the steps into light." There he meets Ion, the priest of the inner sanctuaries, and watches as he changes "into the opposite of himself...and sank into himself." "Is this not the composition of the waters?" Zosimos asks himself. The second occasion of approach to the altar (within which numberless people are set to boil), he asks an anthroparion about the sight. "The sight that you see is the entrance, and the exit, and the transformation. ...Those who seek to obtain the art enter here, and become spirits by escaping from the body." As Carl Jung says, "Since alchemy is concerned with a mystery both physical and spiritual, it need come as no surprise that the...divine water was the alpha and omega of the process, desperately sought for by the alchemists as the goal of their desire."

A later account (this is taken from Jung's Alchemical Studies) says: "And as man is composed of the four elements, so also is the stone, and so it is [dug] out of man, and you are its ore, namely by working; and from you it is extracted, namely by division; and in you it remains inseparably, namely through science." Also, "The whole of nature converges in man as in a centre, and one participates in the other, and man has not unjustly concluded that the material of the philosophical stone may be found everywhere."

A fully realized artistic intent realizes that creation itself emerges from these waters, and that the artist by standing as the conduit has become the Stone. Painter Paul Klee: "It is the artist's mission to penetrate as far as may be toward that secret ground where primal law feeds growth. Which artist would not wish to dwell at the central organ of all motion in space-time (be it the brain or the heart of creation) from which all functions derive their life? In the womb of nature, in the primal ground of creation, where the secret key to all things lies hidden? ...Our beating heart drives us downward, far down to the primal ground."

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