In part four of this series of articles, we've started to peek into the laboratory of the practical alchemist. We found edible calxes of metals that have lost their characteristics of a metal, and we found elixirs made with a secret solvent called 'spiritus mundi' or 'Spirit of the World.' We've concluded our last lab tour with my promise that this time around, I will discuss the highest form of laboratory alchemy, the Great Work, or the manufacture of the Philosopher's Stone and its liquid cousins, the Oils of Metals.
J. K. Rowling has brought the Philosopher’s Stone, or – as it is called on the book title in the US: Sorcerer’s Stone – back on center stage in the mystical universe of Harry Potter. Bringing it to the attention of millions of readers it is sitting there, right in the first episode of the boy hero, and even Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel, the glorious alchemist-couple of medieval Paris find their place in the story.
As with most other themes of the Harry Potter series, the issue of the Philosopher’s Stone has apparently been researched well by J. K. Rowling. But she does not reveal much about what it really is, why it is so precious, and certainly not how it is made. Just as an excellent author of fiction is expected to do, she leaves the mystery intact.
I will betake it upon myself to dismantle some of the mystery, possibly only to replace it with something that may look even more bizarre to the unsuspecting reader; but then, reality often is more bizarre than fiction!
Let us first of all make an attempt at a definition of the Philosopher’s Stone, as our starting point: We are looking at a group of artificial, laboratory-made liquid or solid substances with the property of transmuting base metals into precious ones and/or humans into immortals. In the West, the key representative of these substances is usually called the Philosopher’s Stone, while in India this is the Mercury of the 18 th Degree, and in China, the Pills of Immortality.
The modern skeptic may ask: you are kidding, right? Well, I am not. There is plenty of proof of the reality of physical transformation induced by the elixir of life, the liquid or crystallized, edible form of the Philosopher’s Stone. As for the reality of transmuting base metals into noble ones, I have performed this myself; the incalescent mercury that Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton were seeking and that modern-day alchemists have duplicated does just that. I’ve mentioned this substance in the first of this series of articles, and even though it does not qualify as a Philosopher’s Stone in the true sense, we can learn a lot from its manufacturing technique. But more about this a little later.
Right now we should have a look at one of the many independent third-party witnessed reports of a miraculous transformation, the full report of this one and a collection of others can be found in Jaques Sadoul’s book: Alchemists and Gold, New York, 1972, Putnam. On page 37, we can take a look at family papers of the Saint-Clair Turgot family in France as found and reported by Bernard Husson, concerning one of his sixteenth-century ancestors, a Councillor of State. The Councillor had a liaison with a lady who visited him daily. By way of safeguarding her reputation, she was always accompanied by an elderly equerry, Maitre Arnaud, who used to wait for her in the shop of a nearby apothecary with whom he struck up a friendship.
The pharmacist had been experimenting in alchemy for over 20 years, and one day he rushed to meet Arnaud, exclaiming: "I’ve got it! I’ve got it!" The astonished Arnaud asked what he had got, and the pharmacist replied: "Why…the Stone. Arnaud, the Elixir! This morning I transmuted a dozen old tin spoons to gold. And here’s the elixir of life. (He brandished a vial containing a colorless liquid). Let’s drink some of it at once, old friend; at our age one can’t have enough of this sort of thing!" He poured out a spoonful and took it, inviting Arnaud to do the same. But Arnaud felt some hesitation and took only a few drops on the tip of his tongue. On the way home, Arnaud broke out in a cold sweat, followed by a sensation of burning fever. The lady, anxious for the life of her faithful servitor, sent for the apothecary, only to find out that he had died suddenly.
Arnaud subsequently lost his hair, his nails and even his teeth, which later all grew back. The personal physician of the Saint-Clair Turgot family later wrote down the full details of the story and made particular mention that, at the time of his writing, the equerry was in excellent shape, despite being one-hundred and twenty-three years old.
This particular elixir of the apothecary was apparently too strong for the poor alchemist himself, and as the crowning of his life he died of it. This is not uncommon in the literature of alchemy. Dosage is everything! As far as Arnaud is concerned, we can recognize typical side-effects of mercury and radiation poisoning. The elixir was apparently not very refined; it did, however, perform the complete rejuvenation of Arnaud once he recovered from his poisoning, plus the sudden introduction of massive surplus energy into his system, which showed immediately in the typical yo-yo effect of his body temperature.