by Walter Lang (1976)
TWO UNIVERSES: the universe of science and the universe of alchemy.
To the scientist, alchemy is a farrago of medieval nonsense which enlightened materialist method has rightly consigned to the discard.
To the alchemist, the scientific universe is no more than an abstraction from a much greater whole.
Behind science, says the alchemist, there is Science. All unsuspected, except by a negligible few in every age, there exists a technology of noumena as superior to the technology of phenomena as a supernova is to a candle flame.
To the alchemist, all the phenomena of the universe are combinations of a single prime energy inaccessible to ordinary senses. Only a minute cross section of the total cosmic spectrum is 'bent' by the senses and so rendered tangible. Science has defined this minute abstraction as its total concern and is therefore condemned to turn endlessly inside a nutshell of its own making, learning ever more and more about less and less.
Since alchemists are popularly regarded as at best deluded and at worst deranged, a claim that alchemy is not only science but Science, not only a religion but Religion, is apt to be dismissed out-of-hand as derisory.
The scientific standpoint begins by being consistent. Man has certain senses and he has developed extensions of his senses which he calls instruments. So equipped, he investigates the universe around him—and occasionally—the universe inside himself.
As there is no sensory evidence for any other kind of universe, why drag one in? Dragging in hypotheses which are unnecessary to explain encountered facts is an affront to the principle of Occam's Razor and therefore to scientific good sense.
In so far as any discipline is entitled to define its own concerns, this is entirely legitimate. What is not so tenable is to imply that because science has selected one possible universe, the universe of fact, and has been superbly successful in charting it, no other universe can possibly exist. Science, to be fair, does not exactly say this but it is very happy to see the implication accepted.
The situation is really the Plato's cave allegory one stage up. In Plato's cave, the shadow men live in a seemingly logical world. To them, a more solid world, and one inhabited by men with real eyesight, is a hypothesis unnecessary to explain the shadow world they five in. The shadow men say in effect: 'We know nothing of this superior world you talk about and we don't want to know. We have our own terms of reference and we find them satisfactory. Please go away.'
This is precisely the attitude of modern materialist science to alchemy: 'In terms of the universe we measure and know, your supposed universe is nonsense. Therefore we have no hesitation in asserting with complete confidence that your ideas are delusional.' In effect: 'No case, abuse the plaintiff's counsel.'
But is there no case? For some thousands of years, some of the best intellects of all cultures have been occupied with the ideas of alchemy. Weighed solely on statistical probability, does it seem likely that an entirely imaginary philosophy should attract ceaseless generations of men?
The impasse is worse than it need be because of an almost accidental factor. Alchemy, so far as science has heard, is concerned with making gold and such an activity is so associated with human credulity, cupidity and unscience generally that ordinary philosophy begs to be excused from involvement in anything so obviously puerile.
Is alchemy concerned with making gold? Only in a specific case within a total situation. Alchemists are concerned with gold in much the same way that Mesmer was concerned with hypnotism. The twentieth century took a single aspect of 'Mesmerism', truncated even that, and used the fragment for its own egoistic ends. It declared that it had investigated Mesmerism, exposed its ridiculous pretentions and rendered what was left 'scientific'.
Goethe has a word for this process:
Wer will was Lebendiges beschreiben und erkennen, Sucht erst den Geist hinaus zu treiben. Dann hat er, zwar, die Teile in der Hand, Fehlt leider nur das geistige Band.
Truly science drives out the spirit from the whole and proudly displays the separate bits. Dead, all dead.
If alchemy isn't gold making, what is it? Wilmshurst has deemed it as 'the exact science of the regeneration of the human soul from its present sense-immersed state into the perfection and nobility of that divine condition in which it was originally created'.
However, he immediately goes on to offer a second definition which clearly implies that, as with gold making, soul-making is again only a specific case. By inference, a general theory of alchemy might be ventured. Alchemy is a total science of energy transformation.
The action of an Absolute in differentiating a prime-source substance into a phenomenal universe is an operation in alchemy. The creation of galactic matter from energy and the creating of energy from matter is alchemy. God is an alchemist.
The decay of radium into lead with the release of radioactivity is alchemy. Nature is an alchemist.
The explosion of a nuclear bomb is alchemy. The scientist is now an alchemist.
All such energy transformations are fraught with great danger and the secrecy which has always surrounded Hermeticism is concerned with this aspect among others.
Nuclear energy was undoubtedly foreseen thousands of years ago. Chinese alchemists are said to have told their pupils that not even a fly on the wall should be allowed to witness an operation. 'Woe unto the world,' they said, 'if the military ever learn the Great Secret.'
The Military have learned the great secret—or at any rate one specific aspect of it—and woe indeed to the world, for in the arrogant alchemy of nuclear science there is no place for Goethe's geistiges Band.
But if it has taken Western technology so long to uncover a single aspect of the subject, how is it that Bronze Age Egypt and Pythagorean Greece reputedly knew the whole science? Here even the most guarded speculation must seem outrageous.
Materialist science is content—or was until very recently—to suppose that life began as an accident and that once the accident happened, all subsequent steps in evolution would, or at any rate could, follow as the mechanical consequence of the factors initially and subsequently present. Perhaps the process was improbable but it was possible.
Recent consideration however, appears to show that by its intrinsic nature, chance expressly excludes such a possibility.
For evolution to take place, there is required at every step a shift away from less-organization towards more-organization. The mechanistic view asserts that this enhancement of organization, this negative entropy, could be progressively established from the mechanical consolidation of favourable' variations. Recent work in applying mathematical theory to biology suggests that there is a very big hole indeed in this particular bucket.
Even if an increase in order arises fortuitously, this accidental shift must survive if it is to be built upon by the next similar accident. But its survival is by no means assured. Indeed it appears to be vulnerable to collapse in proportion to its achievement.
Even in the case of primitive life forms and certainly in higher life forms, the number of possible combinations present at every stage is enormous—so enormous as to require that entropy must always increase at the expense of chance arisings in the contrary direction.*
Statistically, evolution could not happen. As it demonstrably did happen, it must have done so not merely against probability but actually against the possibilities present in a closed system. The conclusion seems unavoidable: the evolutionary process was not a closed system.
By extension, evolution and its present end-product, man, must have been contrived by forces outside the system (the biosphere) in which it occurred. Such an operation, involving the conscious manipulation of energy levels, may be taken as an operation in alchemy.
Whether the 'artist' who accomplished this great work was a single Intelligence or a consortium of Intelligences seems immaterial: but the myths and classical traditions of demigods is in the highest degree suggestive.
If it is an acceptable proposition that man was the result of a carefully contrived alchemical operation by Higher Powers is it not at least possible that he was given, in addition to consciousness, an insight into the transformation technique that produced him? On this assumption, modern man might have, in his own subconscious, fragmentary data which exceptional individuals could recover and assemble into a technology of alchemy. Inevitably such men would be aware of other men who had made the same immense leap and such groups would combine to create schools of alchemy.
There are other theories. One of the most arcane of human traditions suggests that the humanity of our Adam was not the earth's first human race. Some very advanced alchemists have hinted at a range of previous humanities in excess of thirty. If this is the true but wholly unsuspected history of our planet, much knowledge may have been selectively accumulated span of existence which imagination is inadequate even to visualize.
At each successive apocalypse, an ark would go out, encapsuling not only the germ plasm necessary to found the next humanity but with it also, some vehicle, some psychological micro-dot, containing the totality of accumulated knowledge.
On this assumption the technique of alchemy would have reached us as a transmission from ancestors whose existence we do not even suspect.
A third possibility is that the Master Alchemists who made man in a solar laboratory have an interest in yet another transformation: the alchemization of man into planetary spirit. Their work may not yet be done. On this assumption, isolated scraps of suitable material would from time to time be selected for further processing in a solar alembic.
The base metal in this case would consist of exceptional human beings and since they would be at the level of incipient conscious energy, they would co-operate in their own transformation.
Whether any, or a combination of all these possibilities is the explanation of the presence of alchemy throughout human history, it is clear that alchemy existed at the dawn of the human story we know.
* The difficulties inherent in any theory of 'fortuitous' evolution have been indicated by a number of distinguished specialists, among them Professor H. E. Blum (Form and Structure in Science, 1964 and in Nature Vol. 206, 1965) and by Maurice Vernet (The Great Illusion of Teilhard de Chardin). The mathematical and philosophical arguments against the arising of man by the accumulation of accidental increases in order—that is, by mechanical evolution—are developed with great power by J. G. Bennett in The Dramatic Universe (London 1966). These arguments contribute to his unified theory in which man is seen as the work of high (but limited) Intelligences.
-- from the Introduction to Fulcanelli's Le Mystere des Cathedrales