by Ashley Cowie
THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE IS TO SOME, A MYSTERIOUS SUBSTANCE CAPABLE OF TRANSFORMING BASE METALS INTO GOLD WHILE TO OTHERS IT’S A METAPHOR FOR SPIRITUAL GOLD – ENLIGHTENMENT. THIS ARTICLE EXAMINES HOW BOTH CONCEPTS BECAME SIR ISAAC NEWTON’S OBSESSION AND SUGGESTS HIS QUEST MIGHT HAVE INFLUENCED SOME OF HIS GREATEST SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERIES.
The first article in this series highlighted Newton’s quest to establish a date for Armageddon within the measurements and proportions of Solomon’s Temple. The second article featured his translation of the mystical Egyptian text The Emerald Tablet. This third article features Newton’s lifelong project seeking the secrets of The Philosophers Stone. Alchemists referred this mysterious substance with a variety of different terms; the Animal or Angelical Stone, the Prospective Stone, Magical Stone of Moses, and the Vegetable or the Growing Stone (a substance believed to turn base metals into gold).
Nicolas flame featured in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone.
Modern academics generally shun Newton’s work in alchemy, regarding it as a non-scientific endeavour with fanciful, discredited processes. In reality, alchemists were thoughtful lab technicians who spent endless hours labouring over equipment and they only used mystical symbols to encode their recipes to protect their hard-learned knowledge. Alchemy is only mysterious to those on the outside!
Newton wrote more than one million unpublished words about alchemy which surfaced at auction in 1936, revealing the pinnacle of logic and reason actively searched for ancient esoteric knowledge about the nature of matter and the universe.
AT THAT TIME, IN ENGLAND, MANY ALCHEMICAL PRACTICES WERE MADE ILLEGAL BECAUSE UNSCRUPULOUS PRACTITIONERS OFTEN SCAMMED WEALTHY PATRONS, PROMISING THEM GOLD, AND DELIVERING “DAMN LABORATORY PROBLEMS, WE SHOULD HAVE THEM FIXED BY NEXT WEEK!”
With the promise of mass producing gold the alchemists alarmed The English Crown as they directly threatened to devalue gold, and the punishment for unsanctioned alchemy was public hanging. Thus, alchemists maintained their coded language of symbols and conducted their research in hidden laboratories.
Much of Newton’s alchemical collection which surfaced in 1936 was dedicated to his search for the Philosophers Stone; Artephius his secret Book and The Epistle of Iohn Pontanus which are a collection of excerpts from another work entitled Nicholas Flammel, His Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall Figures which he caused to be painted upon an Arch in St Innocents Church-yard in Paris. He also had a copy of The Epitome of the treasure of health written by Edwardus Generosus Anglicus innominatus who lived Anno Domini 1562 – a twenty-eight page treatise on the Philosophers Stone.
ISAAC NEWTON AND NICHOLAS FLAMEL
Nicolas Flamel was a mysterious, charitable figure often associated with the original discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone, early systems of tarot and occultism.
Nicolas Flamel, circa 1400.
He led a life dedicated to alchemical learning and spiritual development, and acted in the service of others less-fortunate than himself. Born somewhere in France in 1330, as an adult, Flamel began his career as a bookseller from a small stall located near the Cathedral of Saint-Jacques la Boucherie in Paris and he later bought a house wherein his copyists and illustrators worked. Flamel is believed to have learned the basic levels of alchemy in his 20’s and had long dreamed of discovering the elusive Philosopher’s Stone.
Unlike most alchemists Flamel wasn’t after the secret of making physical gold, rather, like Newton after him, he sought the fundamental secrets of nature – perfect wisdom – spiritual gold. Legends claim Flamel had a vivid dream in which an angel presented him with a book saying:
“Look well at this book, Nicholas. At first you will understand nothing in it – neither you nor any other man. But one day you will see in it that which no other man will be able to see.“
A few weeks later Flamel was approached by a stranger in desperate need of money, with a book to sell, which Flamel immediately recognised it as the same book in his dream, so he bought it.
THE BOOK WAS HIGHLY UNUSUAL HAVING BEEN CRAFTED FROM COPPER AND ENGRAVED WITH STRANGE SYMBOLS AND FIGURES.
Its pages were made not from paper, but from the bark of young trees and they were divided into three groups of seven, separated by a diagram which was “unintelligible to Flamel.” On the first page the author is named as Abraham the Jew, Prince, Priest, Levite, Astrologer and Philosopher.
Unable to interpret the ancient Hebrew writing, but convinced it contained lost secrets of nature, life and death, Flamel displayed some of the pages in his shop hoping someone who understood Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, would be able to decode the symbols. Having recently been driven out of France by persecution, most of the high ranking Parisian mystical Jews were in Spain and there was nobody that could help him.
FLAMEL’S ALCHEMICAL PILGRIMAGE
Disguised as a pilgrim, to ensure his safety in Christian countries, with only his faithful wife Perenelle aware of his real plans he ventured to Spain where he sought council from scholarly Jews. But they were suspicious of this Christian mystic and refused to help him translate the book.
On his journey home, while staying in Lyon, Flamel met Maestro Canches, an old learned Jew who revealed to him that Abraham the Jew was a great master of the Kabbalah and that his book had disappeared centuries ago. Canches accompanied Flamel on his journey back to Paris but died seven days later leaving Flamel to journey home alone.
Canches had translated a few pages of the book with which Flamel was able to translate the remaining pages to achieve its core secret, as outlined by Abraham the Jew. Flamel claimed to have achieved transmutation by having transformed half a pound of mercury into silver, and then into pure gold using The Philosopher’s Stone, which he described as a reddish ”projection powder”.
Supporting his claims of success, at this time Flamel and his wife became immensley rich and began building free hospitals and safe houses for the poor, and made substantial donations to Parisian churches. Because Flamel didn’t use his wealth selfishly, he is alleged to have achieved the transmutation of his own soul (spirit over matter).
RUMOURS OF FLAMELS MYSTERIOUS RICHES SOON REACHED THE KING OF FRANCE, CHARLES VI, WHO ORDERED AN INVESTIGATION WHICH ULTIMATELY FOUND NOTHING SUSPICIOUS.
One of the many French works on the life of Nochols Flamel.
Flamel allegedly died aged 88, a very old age in the 15th century, and left his alchemical manuscripts and books to a nephew named Perrier, who some believe learned the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone and spent his life in the obscurity. Flamel designed his own tombstone (opposite) with mysterious alchemical symbols and after his death rumours of his discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone began to spread and his house was repeatedly ransacked by greedy opportunists seeking the source of his riches, but nothing was ever found.
In the 17th century Flamel’s legacy resurfaced during the reign of Louis XIII when a descendant of Flamel, named Dubois, claiming to use Flamel’s ‘projection powder’ transformed lead balls into gold before the king himself. The powerful Cardinal de Richelieu demanded that Dubois revealed how the powder worked, but unable to understand the workings of Abraham’s book he was imprisoned and later condemned to death.
Some believe Cardinal de Richelieu took possession of the book but because its secrets required both an understanding Hebrew and an alchemical, its mysteries were not accessible to a politician like Richelieu and after his death all traces of the book were lost apart from a few illustrations.
Nicholas Flamel’s gravestone is engraved with arcane alchemical symbolism, which will be featured in a dedicated article.
LATER IN THE 17TH CENTURY KING LOUIS XIV SENT AN ARCHAEOLOGIST PAUL LUCAS ON A SCIENTIFIC MISSION TO BROUSSA IN TURKEY. HE ALLEGEDLY MET AN OLD PHILOSOPHER “WHO SPOKE ALMOST EVERY KNOWN LANGUAGE” AND WHO LUCAS DESCRIBED AS “AGELESS”.
The man claimed to belong to a group of seven philosophers who traveled the world in search of ancient knowledge and wisdom and, according to him, “a man could live for a thousand years if he had knowledge of the Philosopher’s Stone”.
Furthermore, the man also claimed there were sages alive in the world who possessed this universal knowledge, and that Nicholas Flamel was one of these sages. He claimed that Abraham the Jew had been a member of this select group before being murdered by an evil rabbi for his magical book, who in turn sold to Flamel just before the persecution of Jews in France. The man also told Lucas that both Flamel and his wife had faked their deaths and had moved to India, where they still lived – agelessly.
SIR ISAAC NEWTON’S HUNT FOR THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE.
“Combine one part Fiery Dragon, some Doves of Diana, and at least seven Eagles of mercury”
This is an encrypted alchemical step, or process, which was found written on one of Newtons’s many unpublished papers on alchemy, which are now owned in part by the Chemical Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organisation based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This group is currently uploading digital images and transcriptions to an online database so the public can access and study Newton’s alchemical texts.
Within Newton’s documents a written recipe for the Philosopher’s Stone was discovered. This encrypted text details how to make ‘sophick mercury’, a main ingredient/catalyst in the production of the Philosopher’s Stone. Historian William Newman of Indiana University recently stated:
“while no evidence suggests that Newton actually made sophick mercury, the manuscript will help scholars understand how he interpreted alchemy’s deeply encoded recipes.”
Sir Isaac Newton’s recipe for the Philosopher’s Stone surfaced at auction in 1936.
WHERE ON EARTH DID NEWTON GET HIS RECIPIE FOR THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE?
Recent research by the Chemical Heritage Foundation have established that Newton copied his recipe from the works of American-born George Starkey, a 17th-century alchemist better known by his nickname Eireanus Philalethes ‘the peaceful lover of truth’. Starkey detailed a recipe for making a substance known as sophick mercury which involved distilling mercury repeadedly then heating it with gold to produce an alloy with fine, branch-like growths. This tree-like structure suggested to him that sophick mercury was animated with life, and that it was a very powerful and important material.
Although Newton wrote down Starkey’s recipe for making sophick mercury no evidence has been found to suggest that he ever decoded it or himself grew an alchemical tree. However, on the back of this document Newton scribbled a procedure for subliming lead ore, an alchemical process that Historian William Newman claims:
“occupied many of his laboratory efforts to make the Philosopher’s stone.”
Throughout my series of articles I have provided both subjective and objective evidence to suggest Newton’s greatest discoveries, for example his Three Laws of Motion and his Law of Universal Gravitation, were directly inspired by his alchemical research. This is further evident in the fact that his search for the Philosopher’s Stone, and especially in his work on the alchemical tree, began a decade before Starkey published his recipe, a fact historian William Newman presents as evidence of Newtons alchemical network:
“the recipe, which Newton obtained years before Starkey officially published it, may offer more evidence of Newton’s collaborations with other alchemists—which likely influenced his work on optics, the physics of light.”
Lapis Philosophorous. Newton’s sketch effectively visualises the concept of the Philosopher’s Stone.
Newton’s groundbreaking work Opticks occurred after he worked out that white light is composed of various colours. Newman tells us:
“ALCHEMISTS WERE THE FIRST TO REALIZE THAT COMPOUNDS COULD BE BROKEN DOWN INTO THEIR CONSTITUENT PARTS AND THEN RECOMBINED. NEWTON THEN APPLIED THAT TO WHITE LIGHT, WHICH HE DECONSTRUCTED INTO CONSTITUENT COLORS AND THEN RECOMBINED, AND THAT’S SOMETHING NEWTON GOT FROM ALCHEMY.”
And it is in Optics, that Newton’s work on the Philosophers stone is seen to manifest. But the secrets of optics will be featured in a forthcoming article entitled SIR ISAAC NEWTON SAW THE LIGHT.
Copyright 2016 by Ashley Cowie
Presented with author’s permission
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Philosophers Stone (1024×768 GIF, 82KB)
This image was inspired by a manuscript by Sir Isaac Newton.
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