From Magic to Science: The Intriguing Ritual and Powerful Work of Alchemy
Throughout time, history has recorded numerous rituals and magic practices, some more bizarre than others. While alchemists were preoccupied with finding the Philosopher's Stone and the elixir of immortality, some magicians experimented with methods of revealing hidden treasures. It is said that at the great library of Alexandria many experiments, studies, and rituals were conducted, some of which were believed to have resulted in the creation of fantastic creatures like the Sphinx.
A Multitude of Magic Rituals
Magic rituals are not a mere myth. They really existed, and unlike ceremonial rituals that were practiced simply for their symbolic value, magic rituals had a double role: a symbolic one, but also one aimed at inducing a certain result, an intended and desirable change.
Historical evidence of the existence and practice of magic rituals is spread all over the world, from compendiums that gather between their covers numerous magic rituals, practices, and techniques, up to historical texts that describe such practices in context, including inscriptions, temples, sanctuaries and special tools meant to be used for such purposes. Thus, throughout time, a separate branch of archeology has been developed which deals with the discovery, the research and the interpretation of such items.
From Celts to African tribes, from the legendary inhabitants of Atlantis to the ancient Egyptians, from the witches of Europe to the Yin-Yang masters of China and Japan, from alchemists preoccupied with transforming common metal into pure gold to Voodoo priests, from necromancers to the Mayan and Aztec high priests; They all used magic rituals in their desire to obtain certain benefits in order to facilitate daily life.
Person holding an ancient grimoire—a textbook of magic. ( Source)
The Great Work and Immortality
The Magnum Opus or the Great Work was the alchemical process meant to create the Philosopher's Stone, the primordial substance represented symbolically in the form of an egg in which resided the answers to all questions, and by which it was believed common metal could be transformed into gold.
By submitting the Stone to certain special procedures, one could obtain the elixir of long life that supposedly made the drinker immortal. Many European, Arab and Chinese alchemists claimed to have discovered it and in Asia, particularly in China, numerous emperors requested that the elixir be brought to them so that they could reign over their kingdoms forever. However, when the elixir was brought to them and they drank it, they dropped dead immediately, the dream of eternal life bringing them nothing but death.
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In the Hermetic tradition, the Great Work also referred to the symbolic transmutation through which an individual could evolve spiritually. Still, alchemists regarded the Great Work as a physical and a chemical process resulting from a balanced combination of magic and science.
Page from alchemic treatise, 16 th century. ( Public Domain )
Initially, the process was linked to four colors that represented the specific transformations resulting during each phase. Nigredo, a blackening, characterized the first phase. The second phase involved albedo, a whitening. The third phase was represented by citrinitas, a yellowing while the last phase involved rubedo, a reddening.
Alchemy and the Great Work were not reserved solely for men. The gnostic writer Zosimos of Panopolis mentions in his works the first historically attested alchemist, a woman known as Mary the Jewess (or Miriam the Propetess). It is said that she was well aware of the four transformations characterized by the fundamental alchemical colors.
How to Live Forever in Four Colors and 12 Stages
The four colors were obtained as a result of certain processes that needed to be implemented. Numerous texts, such as the " Tabula Smaragdina " or the "Mutus Liber", describe these processes the number of which varies between seven and 14, and they offer encoded recipes that can lead to obtaining the Philosopher's Stone.
According to English alchemist Sir George Ripley, the 12 key stages of the Great Work are as follows: calcination, dissolution, separation, conjunction, putrefaction, congelation, cibation, sublimation, fermentation, exaltation, multiplication and projection. Still, the method of obtaining the Philosopher's Stone is not a standard one, as it varied from alchemist to alchemist.
Philosopher's stone as pictured in Atalanta Fugiens Emblem 21. ( Public Domain )
Throughout history, there have been many alchemists who claimed to have found the Philosopher's Stone, the most important of them being Nicolas Flammel and the Count of Saint-Germain. Flammel had bought at a very cheap price a book written by an Arab alchemist. With the help of an initiate, he managed to decipher the secret of the illustrations from the book and used them for inspiration in the completion the Great Work. It is said that the alchemist is still alive and that he continues his experiments in a secret laboratory. Regardless of whether they discovered the Philosopher's Stone or not, many of the physical, chemical and medical discoveries which are still highly useful today have been made by alchemists.