Magic Chemistry of Nature
It is a form of creative chemistry one meets in Nature. It is more than just chemical formulas, circuits and exchange of matters.
The alchemists say that Nature has soul, and that it owes its life to “God’s spirit that floats over the waters.” Spirit is the spark that ignites Nature’s enigmatic machinery. It is also the catalyst and the fuel, and we cannot match its results, even though we try through genetic manipulation and DNA research.
For example where do we find the biologist who can create something as simple as a carrot seed? The carrot can, but in reality no one knows how it does so.
The genetic engineers think they have come closer to solving the riddle of life. But a link is missing—and returning to the carrot—it is its latent ability to recreate itself in its own image. This ability, or will, comes into expression when it makes seeds that produce an identical form when it sprouts next spring.
This ability to recreate itself in its own image is the basic idea behind alchemy. Here the purpose is to create the mystical elixir of life, also called the Philosopher’s Stone that can transmute vulgar metals into gold. For this product is gold that has recreated itself, and it is done by the alchemist’s manipulation with the matter.
Alchemy is based on a natural process. The practising alchemists of the past observed Nature and noted certain laws of a rhythmical nature.
They realized that “time” was of decisive importance. Also important are processes of heat and cold that follow each other, not to forget the light that comes from the moon, stars, and sun.
In order to arrive at the mythical and life giving Philosopher’s Stone that could be either a liquid or a powder, one should work in unison with natural laws, and not against them. Nature uses various tricks, and they can be imitated through cunning and by going along less traveled roads. Therefore alchemy is also the wizard’s and the juggler’s domain. Using these paths will lead one to a dawning insight into the occult sides of Nature’s chemistry, and it is extremely colorful.
Nature’s laws slightly resemble those of chemistry, but chemistry lacks something, especially the time dimension. This was a conclusion that I arrived at after countless failed experiments where I thought that I could imitate the linear methods of conventional chemistry. But it didn’t work; something was lacking. Among other things, it just went too fast. The separate links in the chain lacked “time,” that is, their own built in time.
The Russian born researcher and philosopher, P. D. Ouspensky, from the beginning of the 20th century, says something about time that is highly relevant in alchemy. In his book, A New Model of the Universe, which has been translated from Russian, he says: “There is more ‘time’ in a liquid than a solid, and more ‘time’ in gasses than a liquid.” He also says the more finely divided a substance is, the more energy it contains and the less space it occupies.
What Ouspensky says about time, energy and space, is something that alchemists have known about for a long time, and also have expressed in their writings, especially the oldest ones. The alchemists’ aim was to raise the energy in the matter, while at the same time occupying less and less space. Therefore the single particles in the matter should finally become so fine, and have so high an energy, that they could penetrate into courser bodies and transmute them into gold. Therefore it is self evident that they worked with the atoms of gold. This has never been said loud and clear by any modern alchemist or author of books about the subject.
In Alchemical manuscripts one encounters again and again allusions to a Universal Solvent to be found in Nature. It was something that was in everything and to be found everywhere. It cost nothing, and any child could acquire it.
Without this matter one would get nowhere in alchemy, for it was the basis for the Work.
But what mysterious substance was it, and how should one obtain it?
The following images reveal a part of the riddle.
They are from a collection of pictures without any text, which has the title, “Mutus Liber,” that is, “Mute Book,” for there were no explanations to what took place in the images.
They are of French origin, and the originals are kept at the National Library in Paris. But it is not known who originated these unusual images that all pertain to the Alchemical Process. The Artist, and perhaps the Alchemist himself, used the pseudonym Altus.
In one image some round bowls are seen on a meadow outside a village. The bowls are the centerpiece of the image; a bull and a lamb are on their way towards them. These bowls seem to contain water, for the moon is reflected on the surface of the content. It’s very early morning. The moon hasn’t settled yet, but the sun is about to rise behind the dark night clouds.
At closer thought the sun and moon naturally cannot be in the sky beside each other, since the sun rises in the east, and the full moon settles in the west.
But the supernatural glow around the sun probably indicates that the time of the day is in focus, and that the full moon is the central issue.
It has been a night with a full moon, and one still senses the silent fairy tale like atmosphere over the meadow behind the small town with its church spire and medieval buildings.
Some strange rays emanate from the sky over the town. There seem to be two kinds, and they spread like a fan over the ground. It is these rays that are important in relation to alchemy, for they tell us that something comes from heaven itself.
The six flat bowls on the meadows grass form a connection between the rays from heaven and the two animals that seem very interested in the moonlit bowls.
Those who have dogs or cats know how attractive water puddles or birdbaths are to the animals, especially if the sun has shined on the water after a down pouring. Then they drink the water with great relish. Something must have happened to it, and the animals know this. It tastes different than water that has stood in a bowl indoors. But what about the water in the bowls on the meadow? A part of the explanation is to be found in the smaller images below the main motive.
The woman in the picture at the lower left, pours water from one of the bowls on the meadow through a funnel and down into a bottle that is held by a man. In the picture on the lower right side, we see her hand the bottle to a mythological figure that seems to be a combination of Neptune with his trident and Mercury with wings on his head and feet. This figure is a central symbol in alchemy. He is the Lord of Waters and messenger of the Gods in one and the same person.
At the same time he is the symbol of the liquid in the bottle, and the picture shows he has a “hand” in the process. The liquid is a part of the alchemical work.
The symbolic figure is only present as a messenger, for on the following images in the book one sees the man and woman pour the contents of the bottle into a flask that is sealed and put into an oven to be heated.
But what has really happened to the water that was on the meadow in the moonlight? Of this Mutus Liber, the silent book, reveals nought.
By coincidence I came into possession of an older Danish book that solved the riddle, but it had nothing to do with alchemy. The book consists of a collection of magazines from 1862 about experiments and observations concerning physics and chemistry (Tidsskrift for Physik og Kemi, København 1862)
Among them was a paper about the atmosphere’s action on water when left out in the open and what happens to the water in a chemical sense.
A researcher by the name Schønbein had noted that water that was left to evaporate out in the open air formed saltpetersour ammonia from the air’s nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen.
Schønbein had moistened some linen cloths with distilled water and afterwards exposed them to air, so that the water could evaporate slowly. When the cloths had dried, he took them, and soaked them in distilled water. Some substance was now drawn out of the cloths and dissolved in the water. It showed itself to be saltpetersour ammonia, as he called it, with the chemical formula NH4NO2.
The researcher now explains, that what happened was, a so-called “nitrification”. Two nitrogen atoms from the air had joined with four hydrogen atoms in the following way: 2N+4H=N.NH4. This again becomes a saltpetersour ammonium salt: NH4NO2, in that two oxygen atoms attach themselves to the compound.
In this way, saltpetersour salts are formed in the ground, says Schønbein. The same takes place in plants, from whose surface a continual evaporation takes place. In this way the plants form the nitrates needed for further growth.
At the end of the article about water evaporation Schønbein adds, that it shouldn’t be necessary to add artificial fertilizer to the ground, for Nature is able to handle that issue all by herself. Indeed!
In continuation of these thoughts we can add that we here have a further reason for he preservation of the world’s forests, among these the rain forests, for in these a strong evaporation takes place, and during this the necessary nitrogen compounds are formed.
Schønbein’s experiments with linen cloths that were exposed to the air are a parallel to what happens in the other image from Mutus Liber. Here, linen cloths are attached to sticks in the grass to collect the dew from the night sky.
The scenery is the same as on the previous image. The moon is setting, and the sun is about to rise up behind the dark night clouds. There is the same mysterious bundle of rays from heaven, and on the colored image, one sees how there are two different rays, a red and a yellow one.
But the place seems to be a different one. It is not the same meadow, and the village is also another one. In the foreground two people stand who are wringing the liquid from the cloths into a large vessel.
The two images tell us that one can collect dew from the night sky in two fashions, either by putting bowls out on the meadow, or collecting the dew on linen cloths. The old alchemists also knew that something happens with the water in Nature. At the same time they knew that a night with full moon gave the best result and therefore they collected the dew at that time.
I have done the experiment myself several times and discovered that it is so. A salt really forms in the water left outside during a full moon night. One must remember to use distilled water, and it has to be reduced very slowly. In the bowl a fine white salt remains that is water soluble.
The chemist, Schønbein, did not know that the moon’s light gives the best result. Such an idea would probably have seemed to be both absurd and ridiculous to him, for he was a traditional chemist. The old alchemists had their own explanation for what happened to water and dew that had been exposed to the rays of the moon. The water becomes active they said, and thereby able to dissolve matters. It should be reduced to a fine salt, and this they called “Water that does not wet the hands.” Thereby they meant a dry, water soluble salt.
The alchemical expression “water that does not wet the hands,” has been mentioned again and again in modern literature on the subject, but none of the writers have proposed what this matter might be.
So, purely chemically speaking, it is a nitrite, more precisely ammonium nitrite. We use it today for the production of pure nitrogen. This is done by the heating of concentrated ammonium nitrite. Nitrogen contains an enormous amount of energy, more than oxygen and hydrogen. This energy can be utilized by plants in Nature and they do so according to the alchemists—especially during the night and particularly by moonlight.
Did the alchemists know something about the character of moonlight that we don’t know about today?
According to old “superstition,” or perhaps knowledge, one should get rid of warts during full moon, for then they wouldn’t come again. It was also an ancient belief that one shouldn’t let one’s laundry hang out during the night, for the devil would do tricks with it. Behind this belief was undoubtedly the fact that the clothes would get some saltpetersour ammonia, which could weaken the fabric and make it fragile.
In the countryside it was said, that if one wanted to get rid of weeds, it was also best to do so during the full moon. Maybe the knowledge of the alchemists wasn’t an acquired one, but a transmitted memory from a remote past where humans might have had a more thorough knowledge of the forces of Nature.
During the medieval age, there existed a method for producing gold, that was quite strange. It consisted in using the moonlit dew from Nature.
The method was simple and efficient and was perhaps used by common folks in those days. And nature did most of the work, for one just had to collect the dew from the meadow, just before sunrise.
The procedure is described in a modern work by Jean Maverick: L’Art Metallique Des Anciens (The Metallick Art of the Ancients, Phoenix, Genova)
In this work is collected a number of ancient recipes for the production of gold and silver, and they can produce small amounts of these noble metals as a result.
But the processes are quite difficult, and they require an old fashioned open fire place. I have tried some of them, but not the following. For it utilizes mercury and I do not like that metal.
Neither did other alchemists, for they knew the dangers of this matter. Here follows the recipe for producing gold from dew and mercury.
In may, during full moon, one spreads out linen cloths over the dew wet grass. Early the next morning one wrings the dew out of the cloths into a vessel. Then one needs two pounds of mercury (yes, it really says two pounds, so apparently it was both cheap and easily available in those days. An old French pound is 489 grams)
One then pours a little of the dew water over the mercury and lets it cook over a low heat until the dew has evaporated. Then a new portion of dew is added and further cooked, until it also has evaporated. One continues doing this until one has used all the dew.
Finally the mercury is poured through a sieve of fine gauze or linen. When the cloth has dried some of the mercury has been transmuted into gold and caught in the fabric.
One can then continue working with the remaining mercury when one has collected a new portion of dew. This can be done for a few days while the full moon is still present.
It’s as simple as that states the recipe. This is a true transmutation of mercury into gold, and the method has undoubtedly been used in medieval Europe. But we don’t know what happened to those people who worked with mercury in this manner. There was a great risk of them getting brain damage while collecting gold.
That mercury can be turned into gold is perhaps not so unlikely. In the periodic system gold comes just before mercury. The two metals have the atomic numbers 79 and 80, which means they have respectively 79 and 80 protons or positive charges in their nucleus. So mercury only has to give off one proton to become gold, or in other words, loose one positive charge. But how can this be accomplished with something as simple as dew?
If the described method using dew and mercury is true, then the explanation must lie in ammonium salt that has been formed in the dew during the night. The ammonium ion itself is a strange jest of Nature’s making, for it does not exist in free form. In reality it doesn’t exist. If one tries to isolate it, it will decompose into ammonia and hydrogen.
One of the great alchemists from the past, Le Trevisan, has said that gold was originally formed from mercury that had undergone a long process of natural maturation in the bowels of the earth. Then it worked its way to the surface, for it sought the light. If this is indeed the case, then we might have an explanation for a very strange phenomena that takes place now and then in our day and age.
For it happens that dentists have observed, that one of their clients formed a golden surface on a tooth that originally was equipped with a common old fashioned silver/mercury amalgam filling.
As is commonly known, such a filling contains some mercury, that with the passage of time can be dissolved and disappear. But one might speculate that some of the mercury was heated and “matured” for so long in the oral cavity, that the mercury turned into gold and precipitated on the surface of the tooth.
This is of course a very rare incident, for the process must be dependent on the acid concentration in the mouth, and the matters that otherwise are present.
It is probably also a necessary condition that the pH value in the mouth has to be the same as in the dew water that one collects in Nature during the full moon. The salt that is formed is slightly acidic.
In the mountains one also finds gold in the uppermost mineral layers. From here it can be carried away by bursts of rain and waterfalls. One will usually find gold in the surface layers and the less noble metals in the deeper layers. The alchemists say it is because it seeks the sun. For they are related.
If we again study the two images from Mutus Liber, then it is worth noting that the cattle approaching the bowls or the linen cloths, are horned cattle. This is an occult allusion to something both astrological and chemical.
In astrology it is said that everything begins with the sign of Aries, for it is the first spring sign and symbolic of initiative and activity.
Concerning alchemy, it is also in a spring sign that the work begins, but that is not to be taken literally, which has also been stated by some alchemists.
The horned cattle in the two images from Mutus Liber allude to something that is present in the horns of the animals, and which was important when one was to start the alchemical work. For here “spring” started due to a matter extracted from animal horns, especially from deer antlers, but also the goat’s and the bull’s horns could be used. The very best would be the horns of unicorns—if one should be able to get hold of such a thing—or so we are told in the old tales.
From the horns of animals one extracted “hartshorn,” “hjortetakssalt,” “deer antler salt,” It was used in alchemy, but also found use in baking. It is still used for baking, for it makes the cakes rise and be crispy.
Chemically speaking, “deer antler salt” is ammonium bicarbonate, so this salt contains the same mysterious ammonium as the dew from the meadow.
But this ammonium disappears during baking; instead ammonia and carbon dioxide are formed.
There is a further occult significance inherent in the two animals, the ram and the bull, for they symbolize two important minerals, from which could be produced the strong acids, sulphuric acid and “sulphursour” acid.
Astrologers are familiar with the fact that the metal iron and the planet Mars are associated with the sign of Aries, while copper and the planet Venus rule the sign of Taurus.
The ram’s mineral is the light green iron sulphate, also called iron vitriol.
The bull’s mineral is the blue copper sulphate, or copper-vitriol.
From these two minerals the alchemists produced—as did the chemists—mixtures of strong acids by distilling the minerals with ammonium containing salts, f. x. ammonium chloride or ammonium nitrate. Thereby they obtained solvents for both gold and silver. For these metals where to be brought into liquid form, before one could continue with the process.
The alchemists made all the acids they needed, themselves, for example nitric acid, hydrochloric acid, and “aqua Regis.” The method is described in several ancient manuscripts. It was based on clay, common clay of the type that nowadays is used for making Christmas decorations. I will later describe how these acids were made, and it is quite interesting, for what actually happens is a natural process.
There are a lot of symbols relating to the cattle on the meadow, the bowls with dew and the linen cloths, not to mention the strange rays emanating from the night sky like a fan spread over all living. Perhaps there are even more symbols, but it’s hard to tell, for Mutus Liber is after all the mute book of alchemy. One first truly discovers the meaning of the shown images when oneself proceeds with working practically with the matters, but it is a long process.
We who live on the threshold of the 21st century can hardly imagine how people thought and reasoned centuries ago. Their logic seems to have been a completely different one than ours, and their chemical symbols, or rather images, seem to us both naïve and unfathomable. If we are to disclose what their symbols meant, then we have to rely on our own knowledge and then think backwards and compare their processes with what we know today.
We can find out what matters they used in those days, for they usually mention how they behaved and how a process would proceed.
But we cannot rely on their terms, for these are almost always misleading. If a modern chemist tries to duplicate the old alchemical recipes and takes the terms for what they are, then nothing will succeed.
The greatest pitfall is in the term “mercury”—argentum vivum, as it was called in Latin. In French we still have the words argent viv and mercure, in English mercury.
But mercury is only mercury, when spelled with a small “m”. If it spelled with a capital “M” it designates the vapour given off from a solvent.
Symbolically this vapor is shown as the messenger of the gods, Mercury or Hermes, and sometimes as a bird or a frog. The latter often appears in old fairy tales as an allegorical animal, it can be an enchanted prince or a messenger, that is to deliver an important message. For example that is the case in the tale of Sleeping Beauty, where a frog shows itself to the queen to bring her tidings.
There is a good deal of pitt falls in the old alchemy books. In French books one often comes upon the terms “sel alcali fixe vegetal” And “sel de tartre”. They refer to the same salt, namely potash, or potassium carbonate, as it is also called.
Concerning “sel de tartre” one might think it represents a salt of wine-acid, acidum tartaricum, whose salts are called “tartrates,” but that isn’t the case.
As a curiosity it can be mentioned that “tartar” in English today means “plaque” or “toothstone,” but chemically speaking it is something quite different. The word can also mean a salt of wineacid, so also in our days there is a strange confusion in the terminology. As a final example we can mention the terms: Azoth, Nitre, Salt Peter, Nitrum, and Sal Nitre.
One can almost guess that all the terms have something to do with nitrate and nitrogen compounds. For we still have a reminiscence of the terms in present day chemistry. For example “azo” compounds are nitrogen containing matters, and the term “azote” is sometimes used in English to mean nitrogen.
But during the medieval age nitrogen compounds were many things. There could be different nitrates, for example potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate, or ammonium nitrate, and one didn’t always discern between them.
Or it could be about dew from the air, which in French manuscripts sometimes would be called “salpetre,” sometimes “nitre.” But the terms where quite striking, for the dew contained a saltpetersour salt, namely ammonium nitrite.
This matter has a high content of nitrogen, and one can speculate how they arrived at such a conclusion centuries ago—without knowledge of technical and chemical analytic methods. One cannot avoid thinking whether they knew something about Nature that we don’t know today. Perhaps their knowledge was based on a wisdom that we have lost.