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Thread: The 10 principles of Alchemy

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2020

    The 10 principles of Alchemy

    The ten principles are a concept in the Islamic tradition which aims to give students an overview of a discipline before they decide to pursue it:

    Those who end up pursuing the discipline are assumed to already know the ten principles as they are considered the proper introduction to any art. This is my personal attempt at explaining the ten principles for Alchemy.

    1. Definition
    Alchemy is an experimental science which is based on the manipulation of the three principles in a laboratory setting in order to make the universal medicine for both metals and animals that is known as the Philosopher's Stone. The success of this manipulation depends on knowledge of the chemical operations that the alchemists have explained in their books - such as calcination, putrefaction, distillation and so on - as well as possessing the correct starting matter of the art.

    2. Subject
    The subject of this art is the prime matter known to the alchemists, and in particular the three principles that are drawn out of it in the skilful manner known only to the alchemists. They proceed to separate them, purify them and then recombine them in a hermetically sealed flask in order to develop them through heating into the Stone. This is a process that is usually said to take around 8 months as the Stone gradually evolves and changes colour on its way towards becoming the Stone. Given the resemblance of this process to plant growth, some have called it the tree of the philosophers and the colours that appear - especially the white and the red ones at the end - fruits of this tree.

    3. Fruit
    The fruit of this art is two-fold: theoretical and practical. The theoretical fruit is a complete understanding of the process of plant growth and other forms of natural growth (such as embryology) through the medium of the three principles (and hence the four elements which they are based on) and their interactions together in this process. The practical fruit is the Stone mentioned above, which is obtained by applying this natural science to the mineral realm and the aforementioned specific matter of the alchemists.

    4. Virtues
    The virtues of this art are innumerable. Some of them are:
    a. One obtains a universal medicine capable of curing all ailments of both metals and animals, without any side effects provided it is administered in correct dosage. Hence, one obtains perfect health through regular ingestion of this medicine and is able to treat ill persons to restore their health.
    b. One acquires a deep, true, experimental knowledge of how nature produces things on earth, which can among other things be applied to advance modern science.
    c. One becomes skilled at producing essential oils and tinctures, which is a basic requirement for being able to carry out the manipulations of the art.
    d. One is able to produce as much gold and silver as he pleases by transmuting base metals using the Stone.

    5. Relation to other sciences
    The relation of Alchemy to other sciences is that it was traditionally viewed as being one of the Hermetic sciences which formed the technical Hermetica - the theoretical counterpart to the philosophical Hermetica contained in Hermes's more philosophical writings. Together, the technical and philosophical Hermetica formed the corpus Hermticum, which was seen as furnishing a "hands on" or magical spiritual path by which the student could acquire an understanding of God Almighty through his works. This was like a practical counterpart to the Neoplatonic spiritual path, which was more abstract and initiated disciples through mathematics rather than Alchemy. Of course, all of this is only my personal understanding on the matter. The other sciences of the technical Hermetica are Astrology and Magic. Alchemy was seen as being the first step (the initiation phase) in the path.

    Alchemy is also related naturally to the natural sciences. It was seen as being the only experimental branch of Aristotelian natural philosophy, meaning - according to the alchemists - the only true branch. This is why the alchemists railed against Aristotle's philosophy which they saw as opinionated and filled with baseless claims and theories about nature. However, this did not stop them from using Aristotelian terms and classifications - including in natural philosophy - showing that they did not outright reject his philosophy but were only speaking from the perspective of the greater degree of certainty provided by Alchemy. Given this state of affairs, it is perhaps more reasonable to include Alchemy among modern sciences, which are indeed completely experimental and objective, rather than Aristotelian philosophy.

    6. Founder
    Its founder is Hermes Trismegistus, who also founded the other Hermetic sciences:

    7. Name
    There is a lot of difference of opinion surrounding its name and so I will refrain from writing further on this, except to mention that some have said the "al" stands for the definite article in Arabic and "kimiya" is from the Arabic root "kem" or measurement, meaning science of measures. Together these lead to "The science of measures", probably because it was the only science based on an exact, experimental and quantitative knowledge of measurements, unlike the other natural sciences of the day (including medicine) which could be very opinionated. This lends further support to the idea that Alchemy should rather be classified as one of the modern sciences rather than ancient philosophy (and it is my belief that when this art is discovered and encoded mathematically it will form a branch of physics).

    8. Sources
    Its sources are explained by Count Maier - a famous European alchemist - in discourse 42 of his Atalanta Fugiens. They are reason, nature, experiment and the books of the alchemists, of which a great many can be found in English translation on as well as the RAMS collection.

    9. The Islamic legal ruling on the art
    This is a category specific to Islam but I might as well include it here for completeness. The ruling on this art is that it is neither fard 'ayn (individually obligatory, like how to pray for example) or fard kifaya (communally obligatory, such as medicine) but rather an extension of natural science. Given that natural science should be known in the Islamic community as part of defending the religion against attacks from atheists and others in the realm of Kalam - meaning that natural science is a communal obligation - this renders Alchemy, which is a deepening of natural science, a recommended art, since deepening what is obligatory serves as a kind of protection and guarantee of the successful continuation of the obligatory aspect.

    Some in the past (such as Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddimah) have labelled the art as magic and thus as a prohibited science to practice, but this was due to their ignorance of the art and what it entailed and so we completely reject such classifications of this noble science.

    10. Propositions
    The nature of the propositions dealt with in this art can perhaps be best understood by a cursory glance through an old Chymistry text, such as Glaser. This should explain to the reader the nature of this knowledge as allowing its practitioner to separate and isolate the three principles of different things, as well as purifying them, recombining them in different combinations, and so on. However, as mentioned above, Alchemy deals in particular with applying these operations to the specific prime matter of Alchemy.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2020
    Can't edit the above anymore but I've just realized that the translation in the academia link is bad. Here is a better one at the top of this page:

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