The Rosicrucians

Alchemy/Sacred Mysteries

The word alchemy is believed to stem from an old Arabic word meaning ‘the Egyptian science’. Whether the science of alchemy comes from there or not, however, is subject to debate.

Contrary to popular belief, understanding the exact meaning of alchemy can, like the Holy Grail, perhaps be subject to a certain degree of interpretation. Essential though alchemy was in the emerging sciences, not least the timeless pursuit of turning base metals into gold, there was also an evident spirituality about the process, not altogether dissimilar to that practised by Dee and Kelley. Indeed, in Hermetic philosophy, the perfection of the human mind, body and soul was believed to develop from working with so-called ‘primary matter’ to obtain perfection.

As above, so below.

Since ancient times gold has always been regarded as an essential or ‘noble’ metal. Being resistant to corrosion and oxidation, the noble metals have long been revered for their durability, with gold topping that list for its beautiful appearance.

Before the Age of Reason, not least the establishment of the Royal Society in the 1660s, alchemy was invariably the chief pursuit of the scientific minds of the day and would slowly die out with the evolution of chemistry and physics. That it was completely eradicated, however, is misleading. Unpublished papers by Sir Isaac Newton confirm the English genius’s academically awkward interest in the subject, whereas as late as 1781, the English chemist James Price claimed to have produced a powder that could transmute mercury into gold or silver.

One of the key recurring themes throughout The Rosicrucian Prophecy was mercury. Historically, the importance of mercury in the gold-making process is easily found. As early as the third century, Asian texts talk of the ability of transmuting mercury into gold; incidentally, the Sanskrit word for alchemy is ‘the way of mercury’. Confusing though the various references to mercury can be, the element was named after the Roman god, and one of the astrological symbols for the planet – itself named after the god – is shared with the element. As far as I’m aware, there is no mercury on the planet Mercury, though back in Dee’s time both were thought to possess ‘mercurial’ tendencies.

In the eyes of alchemists like Ashmole, Mercury was viewed as the most powerful planet. Intriguingly, the Aurelius family, possible kin of Augustus Aurelius, are known to have worshipped the Roman god Mercury before they converted to Christianity. It has been reputed, although not proven, that Sir Francis Bacon led a ceremony to Mercury in the wedding of Frederick to Elizabeth, something for which in certain quarters he was criticised.