The transmutation of one element into another has for over 350 years been considered impossible. This is due in part to the work of chemist Robert Boyle, who in 1661 defined elements as ‘simple bodies into which compounds are ultimately resolved.’ And while scientists have now successfully demonstrated the process of transmuting one element to another in the laboratory, most people still classify alchemy with superstition and wishful thinking.
The New World Dictionary defines transmutation as “the conversion of atoms of a given element into atoms of different element, as in radioactive disintegration or by nuclear bombardment.” This definition arises primarily from the work of Ernest Rutherford, winner of the Nobel prize for chemistry, who in 1919 discovered that while transmutation was seemingly impossible to produce through merely chemical means (i.e. the exchange of electrons in the peripheral shell of the atom), it could be produced in atoms of nitrogen and oxygen by exposing their nuclei to radioactive particles of a suitable type.1 Thus radioactive substance, which is matter already in the process of transmutation, has become the scientist's Philosopher’s Stone.
By 1937 practically all known elements were found capable of transmutation on a small scale. Even minute quantities of gold were produced from a variety of other elements, though the cost of the procedure far outweighed any profits from the venture.2 In 1959 biologist Louis Kervran successfully demonstrated the natural spontaneous transmutation of certain elements within living organisms.3 This confirmed, to some degree, the earlier findings of scientists Baron von Herzeele4 and Rudolf Steiner.5 And while scientists do not as yet understand the transmutation process in biological terms, the primary fact remains that transmutation does exist and can no longer be denied by scientists. But of course the bias of centuries is difficult to overcome.
The initiates of the Ancient Mysteries viewed science and the religious mystery as one and the same subject. This approach to the mystery of life has been forgotten. Modern scholars, for example, divide the history of alchemy into two distinct categories—physical alchemy and spiritual alchemy. Manly P. Hall, the highly respected esoteric historian, classified them in this way. To him as well as other modern writers on the subject, the methodology of physical alchemy was a blind, an allegorical veil, for instructions in spiritual alchemy. And while this may be true, the reverse is also true: that in the process of soul transformation lies hidden the secrets of physical transmutation.
The ancient authors who understood the divine science of alchemy veiled spiritual truths using chemical terminology and chemical truths using theological references, so that without the master key of correspondence and analogy—‘as above, so below’—it is difficult to know where to begin. There are secrets on both sides of the equation. There is also another hidden ground to this esoteric science. According to the hints given by some of the best of the alchemical authors, such as Paracelsus, Basil Valentine, Thomas Vaughn, Von Welling, Rudolf Steiner, and Alice Bailey, there are three distinct, though indivisibly related, approaches to esoteric science—outer, inner, and secret. Thus the true secrets of alchemy lie hidden behind a triple veil.
For the few alchemists who understood the primary three-fold subject matter or field of the Great Work, the purpose of the alchemical teachings was to hasten the natural evolution of the alchemist, on one level, and the world on another, to a point where the consciousness and the body were together transformed into an immortal body of fire and light.
According to the Adepts of this sacred tradition the theory of alchemy is based upon Law of Synthesis, which holds that all things, animate and inanimate, subtle and dense, have a common origin, basis, and essence. When applied to the physical plane, the alchemists called this essence the prima materia or first matter. The ancient Greeks called it aether or ether. If a body can be reduced to its original condition, its prima materia, the alchemists reasoned, it could then be built upon in such a way as to produce any known element or substance. If we apply the Hermetic law of correspondence we soon realize that this truth can be applied equally well to the metaphysical or non-physical universe.
When applied to the evolution of consciousness, for example, we see that its prima condition pertains to the essence of consciousness itself, which the Buddhists call Primordial Awareness. On this level the alchemical process is being applied to the transformation of the dualistic or divided consciousness back to its original unified condition, ‘the mind in the natural state,’ as the great Buddhist yogi Naropa expressed it. According to the Buddhist scriptures on the subject, the yogi can then create (materialize) from this a new incorruptible ‘rainbow body’ of fire and light. The original, universal field of consciousness (Alayavijnana) is to the individual consciousness what the prima materia or etheric matter is to the physical world. In other words there is a working and somewhat accurate analogy between the two, not in the details but in essence. Therefore, once the essential formulas of alchemy are discovered they can be applied on all levels of the physical and metaphysical universe.
Only by approaching our subject holistically, as the synthesis, can we gain a true understanding of the principles involved. The fundamental truth of unity affirms that there is no boundary line or essential distinction between spirit and matter. Matter is a dense form of spirit and spirit is a subtle state of matter.6 Paracelsus, the great l6th Century alchemist physician, maintained that it was the ultimate unity of the spiritual and the corporeal worlds that made transmutation possible. Albert Einstein expressed this truth in terms of physics. “There is no essential distinction,” he said, “between mass [matter] and energy.”7
The theory of relativity has produced new definitions of matter and energy. Matter is now defined as energy whose vibrational activity is slower than the speed of light, while energy is defined as matter whose vibrational activity is equal to the speed of light.8 The only difference, therefore, between matter and energy is the relative speed of their particles. All is energy, says the ageless wisdom, one all pervading Fire, from the dense slow-moving energy of matter to the subtle, high-vibrational activity of consciousness and spirit. Matter contains the consciousness principle, and consciousness is made up of extremely subtle energy particles. Thus the division of the world into animate and inanimate, mind and form, spiritual and physical, is an illusion, for like energy and matter, there is no essential distinction between the two.
Alchemy, though seemingly dead and buried, may be nearing the dawn of its own rebirth into a radiant jewel of sciences. According to the ancient Hermetic Tradition, the work of the alchemist lies in assisting nature in the great work of evolution. The possibilities are numerous and far-reaching. 1) Electricity, for example, could be produced at very little cost through an alchemical process that the ancients called ‘fixing the volatile,’ which involves the condensation of subtle (etheric) biological energies onto the dense physical plane. 2) The transmutation-regeneration of the diseased and aging cells in the body might also be accomplished. 3) Water could be condensed from elements in the air to nourish the arid waste-lands and deserts of the world. 4) World hunger could be eliminated through the alchemical processes applied to agriculture. The list could be greatly extended.
Recently a well-known scientist concluded his TV program with the statement that science is very close to knowing all there is to know concerning matter and energy. “In a very few years,” he said, “we will have no further need for physicists.” In this statement is expressed the great conceit of our age! May we never forget that no matter how great our understanding of the truth may be, that which is seen is always but a very small part of something infinitely greater.
(posted October 2014)
1 Ernest Rutherford. The Transmutation of Matter. The Royal Institution, 1930.
2 Ernest Rutherford. The Transmutation of Heavy Elements. The Royal Institution, 1937.
3 Louis Kervran. Biological Transmutation. Brooklyn, 1972.
4 Von Herzeele published over 500 experiments between 1876 and 1883 indicating the transmutation of the elements within organic substance. Rudolf Hauschka Hailmittellehre. Frankfort 1965, chapter IX.
5 Rudolf Steiner. Agriculture. London 1974, from lectures given in 1924.
6 "Spirit is matter at the seventh [highest] plane, " says H.P. Blavatsky, "and matter is spirit at the lowest point of its cyclic activity. . . " The Secret Doctrine. Adyar edition, vol. 2, p. 357.
7 Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld. The Evolution of Physics. N.Y. 1951, p. 208.
8 Perhaps it will be discovered that thought is energy vibrating faster than the speed of light.