An archetypal recipe can be thought of as a template or blueprint upon which subsequent recipes are based. The beating heart of alchemy since its inception in early-Alexandria and throughout the Byzantine period, its transmission to the Islamic Empire and migration into Europe has been the Tincture of the Philosophers, Ios, al-Iksir - more commonly known as the Philosophers’ Stone. Archetypal recipes for confecting the Philosophers’ Stone derive from Alexandrian artisans or, as believed by some, as early as the time of Moses and Akhenaten. Although evidence for Moses’ alchemy is circumstantial and speculative, the recipes for Maria Hebrea’s Tincture and the White Stone of Hermes have been well preserved in authentic alchemical texts and fragments by Zosimus and others. By decoding the chemistry in the earliest recipes for the Philosophers’ Stone, it becomes possible to map the evolution of Islamic and European methods for confecting the Stone and the lexicon of abstract cover-terms that secured the Art from the uninitiated. The substances and processes pioneered by Maria Hebrea were preserved as an unbroken continuity until Morienus transmitted the Art directly to Khālid ibn Yazīd around the time of Islamic conquest during the 7th century. Islamic alchemy was founded upon Alexandrian archetypal recipes and both Alexandrian and Islamic alchemy influenced the European tradition that followed.
A unique type of red gold is mentioned in Biblical texts known as Parvaim gold, typically described as being red as the blood of a bull and holding unique value in the Jewish tradition. Moses was said to have possessed the knowledge and skill to reduce gold via metallurgical technique to a fine ingestible powder. The means by which he could have performed this feat so early in history by fire and with materials at hand greatly narrows the options to just a few technological possibilities. During the 16th century, Paracelsus described a method by which gold could be reduced by fire resulting in a form of brittle red gold, although he did not explicitly state that his technique was a plausible candidate for the identity of Moses’ method. Two centuries later, Dr. Sigismund Bacstrom reproduced Paracelsus’ procedure only slightly modified achieving the same result – a brittle blood-red form of gold, reduced using a unique substance well documented in Biblical passages via a specific metallurgical technique. The work of these two European alchemists establish plausibility of the biblical account of Moses’ metallurgical feat with the implications that Moses may have been the first recorded alchemist in the western tradition. If Paracelsus and Bacstrom’s process accurately reflects Moses’ methodology, it may have served as the proto-archetypal recipe foundational to Maria Hebrea’s Judeo-Egyptian alchemy that developed centuries later in Alexandria.
Maria Hebrea is the earliest recorded historical alchemist and for this reason, she is known as the mother of alchemy. Maria is clearly recorded by Zosimus as being a chrysopœian specializing in gold making via the use of her Tincture and copper. The most transparent of Maria’s recipes for creating the Tincture of the Philosophers is found in her dialogue with King Aros. In this fascinating text, she details two recipes for creating her Ios or Tincture, first by metallurgical technique followed by a second recipe that suggests a chemical reaction in a sealed glass vessel. These two processes have come to be known as the Brief Art (Ars Brevis) and the Great Art (Ars Magna) respectively. Her innovation was the use of a unique salt that enabled the Art to evolve from metallurgy to recognizable alchemy in conjunction with specialized techniques and equipment. With Maria, the Art transitioned from metallurgy to one based on a chemical reaction. The recipes preserved in Maria’s dialogue reveal incredibly elegant and efficient processes once her cover-terms have been accurately decoded. Her two recipes represent the two archetypal methods for confecting Ios, also known as Tincture of the Philosophers:
Ars Brevis – brief art, dry path, ancient technique based on metallurgy
Ars Magna – great art, wet path, innovative chemical reaction based upon a unique fluxing salt
The Philosophers’ Stone of Maria’s tradition, regardless of whether it was crafted by the dry or wet path, was described in European alchemy as the Tincture of the Philosophers by Paracelsus, and as the Lesser or Specific Stone by Heinrich Khunrath. When one thinks of the historical Philosophers’ Stone, it is usually a product inspired by Maria’s archetypal methodologies.
According to writings attributed to Cleopatra, Zosimus, Synesius and Stephanos, another variant of the Philosophers’ Stone existed in the mid and late-Alexandrian periods that remained free of gold and silver, yet could be fused with these precious metals or others after-the-fact. Cleopatra’s dialogue with other philosophers indicates that like Maria she was creating a chemical reaction in a glass vessel. Writing’s attributed to Synesius closely parallel those of Cleopatra. Cleopatra referred to her product by the cover-names Serpent, the One and by the symbol for Saturn, sometimes interpreted as Mercury-Hermes and sophic lead. Zosimus indicated that divine-water was converted to a stable White Stone he termed Fixed Mercury-Hermes. Synesius referred to his product as the White Stone, White Mercury, White Magnesia, the Medicine and Foliated Earth. A dialogue attributed to him suggests that the key to his alchemy was knowledge of magnesia and related divine-water also identified as mercury of the philosophers by which his White Stone could be crafted.
Stephanos expressed knowledge of this White Stone a century later, which he held in the highest esteem. He referred to it in its liquid form as Pharmakon (Medicine), along with other cover-terms to indicate the White Stone in its powdered form such as Serpent, Comprehensive Magnesia, One which is the All, Flower of Practical Philosophers, Etesian Stone and others. In his lectures, Stephanos also demonstrates familiarity with the Red Stone yet in context, it is clear that he viewed the White Stone as the primary product for his purposes. Stephanos suggested that the White Stone perfected subsequent products such as Chrysocorallos (Coral of Gold; the Red Stone) or a purple tin-based Stone. Stephanos emphasized the White Stone’s use as an initiation into the mysteries of his universal system of philosophy and as a monument or memorial commemorating gnostic redemption. The White Stone appears to have always been associated with Hermetic concepts of purification, initiation, and mysteries, high and low, above and below, dual-soul, etc. thus paralleling the substances and processes encoded in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes.
The White Stone can be understood as the Greco-Egyptian counterpart to Maria’s Judeo-Egyptian school. The White Stone represents the archetypal recipe for the following:
Living Double Sophic Mercury – divine-water (Sophic Mercury-Hermes) reacted in a glass vessel by Ars Magna technique to a pristine dry white powder (Living Doubled Sophic Mercury-Hermes), which could be further fused with gold, silver or other metals (Universal Stone) by Ars Brevis crucible technique.
In the European alchemical tradition, this product was referred to by Isaac Hollandus as the Stone of Saturn, by Paracelsus as the Stone of the Philosophers and by Heinrich Khunrath as the Great or Universal Stone. When one thinks of a Philosophers’ Stone without gold or silver, yet with the potential to be fermented with gold, silver or other metals as a separate procedure after-the-fact, it is usually the Hermetic White Stone being indicated.
The last known Byzantine alchemist in the Alexandrian tradition was Morienus al-Rumi. His process deserves special consideration because he appears to have combined Maria’s Ars Brevis technique with the divine-water of the Hermetic branch of alchemy, thus uniting the two systems. There is no indication whether this is Morienus’ own innovation or that of his teacher Stephanos. He also added a finishing technique known as fermentation, which later became a standard operating procedure for many European alchemists. His process required first fusing a dry gold-based powdered compound followed by distilling a thick translucent liquid compound, both of which were then reacted together in a sealed glass vessel. This dual-compound would come to be known in Islamic alchemy by the cover-names (sophic or philosophic) sulfur and (sophic or philosophic) mercury. Both the powder and the liquid were created using refined prime material as an essential ingredient. He referred to the sulfur principle (powdered compound), by the cover-terms latten, body or earth and the mercury principle (liquid compound), as eudica, blood or water.
Sophic Sulfur = dry powdered chemical compound known as latten, body or earth, and in European alchemy as lion's blood
Sophic Mercury = viscous liquid chemical compound known as eudica, blood or water, and in European alchemy as eagle's gluten
His unique innovation was a refining process whereby he ground the finished Philosophers’ Stone with refined prime material, added divine-water and repeated the entire process of confecting the Stone through its heat regimen and color changes a second time. He referred to this process as fermentation. Morienus was sought out by Prince Khālid ibn Yazīd, whom Morienus personally tutored in Alchemy. The account of their meeting and subsequent dialogue was recorded by Ghalib, retainer and scribe to the prince during the 7th century. This direct transmission from Morienus to Khālid is preserved in two Arabic manuscripts housed in Istanbul. Islamic alchemy was directly inspired by Morienus’ late-Alexandrian methodology. His work is thought to be among the very first translated into Latin and had a profound influence on the European alchemy reconstruction and revival that developed thereafter. Two fine examples of alchemical processes directly related to Morienus’ methodology are the Secret Book of Artephius and the Cabala Mineralis. Paracelsus’ technique for creating Tincture of the Philosophers follows Morienus’ two-compound process, succinctly described by Paracelsus as a union of lion’s blood (sophic sulfur) and eagle’s gluten (sophic mercury).
When one thinks of the historical Philosophers’ Stone in the context of Islamic or European alchemy, it is often directly related to Morienus’ archetypal two-compound process and fermentation refining technique.