Réfer. : AL2401R
Auteur : Michael Maier.
Titre : A Subtle Allegory concerning the secret of Alchemy.
S/titre : very useful to possess and pleasant to read.
Editeur : J. Elliot and Co., London.
Date éd. : 1893 .
S U B T L E A L L E G O R Y
S E C R E T S O F A L C H E M Y
VERY USEFUL TO POSSESS
PLEASANT TO READ.
M I C H A E L M A I E R.
T H E S E C R E T S O F A L C H E M Y.
A FTER spending the best part of my life in the study of
the liberal arts and sciences, and in the company of
wise men and judicious scholars, I was compelled, as
the result of my observation of mankind, to arrive at
the melancholy conclusion that the hearts of most persons are
set either on ambitious and vainglorious projects, on sensual
pleasures, or on the accumulation of wealth by all and any
means; and that few care either for God or for virtue. At
first I did not quite know whether to become a disciple of the
laughing or of the weeping philosopher, or whether to join in the
exclamation of the wise Prince of Israel: "All things are vanity."
But at length the Bible and experience taught me to take refuge
in the study of the hidden secrets of Nature, whether pursued at
home, by means of books, or abroad, in the Great Volume of the
World. Now, the more I drank of the mighty fount of knowledge,
the more painfully my thirst, like that of Tantalus, seemed
to increase. I had heard that there was a bird called Phoenix,
the only one of its kind in the whole world, whose feathers and
flesh constitute the great and glorious medicine for all passion,
pain. and sorrow; which also Helena, after her return from Troy,
had presented in the form of a draught to Telemachus, who
thereupon had forgotten all his sorrows and troubles. This bird
I could not indeed hope to obtain entire, but I was seized with
an irresistible longing to become possessed of at least one of its
smallest feathers, and for this unspeakable privilege I was prepared
to spend all my substance, to travel far and wide, and to
endure every hardship. There was, of course, much to discourage
me. Some people denied the very existence of this bird; others
laughed at my faith. in its wonder-working properties. I was
thus brought for a time to regard all that Tacitus, Pliny, and all
202 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
other writers have said as fabulous, and to doubt whether, after
all, the different narcotics and opiates were not a better remedy
for anger and sorrow than the supposed virtues of the Phoenix.
Moreover, I had heard of the simple method of curing these
mental ailments suggested by a certain wise man to Augustus,
whom he bade run through the twenty-four letters before
saying anything whenever he was angry; and this suggestion
appeared to supersede all other remedies. I had also read
the books of those moral philosophers who undertake to prescribe
an effective remedy for every disease of the mind. But
after giving all these boasted specifics a fair trial, I found, to my
dismay, that they were of little practical use. In many cases,
the causes of mental maladies appeared to be material, and to
consist in an excess or defect of the bile, or of some other bodily
substance; in all these cases a medical treatment seemed to be
indicated; whence Galen, that prince among physicians, was led
to believe that character depends on temperaments of the body.
As a soldier may lose all his bravery and strength by being
starved and confined in a close prison, so even a good person
may yield to anger, simply through some vicious habit of
body. This opinion is most reasonable in itself, and is borne
out, amongst other things, by the testimony which is given by
Arnold of Villanova, in that book of his where he sets forth the
virtues of all medicines by means of tables of the four qualities:
" The medicines that conduce to intellectual excellence are those
which strengthen the digestion, and nourish the brain and the
principal vitals, purging out all superfluities, purifying the blood.
and preventing the ascent of vapours to the brain; hence you
will find that many medical writers speak of their medicines as
productive of a direct effect upon the mind, when it is only
through the medium of the stomach, the brain, the blood, the
liver, etc., that they tend to brighten the intellectual faculties, by
improving the general health of the brain, and quickening all
processes of the body, that you may say they are productive of
joy, because they tend to strengthen the chief limbs, purify the
blood, and produce good animal spirits. Other medicines " lead
to Paradise," as they dispose the heart to charity and to every
good work. by their action upon the blood. Some medicinal
herbs have the power of exciting love, by increasing and clarifying
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 203
the blood, and thus quickening the sexual instinct; while
others make men chaste and religious, by inducing poverty and
frigidity of blood, and taking away the edge of all sensual
appetite. In the same way, it is possible, by means of certain
drugs, to make men stupid and insane, as men are rendered
dull and stolid by drinking too much wine. You may also
notice, sometimes, that after eating a certain kind of food, men
become light-hearted, joyous, and inclined to dance and sing --
though they are ordinarily staid and grave persons -- while other
kinds of food have a contrary effect upon them. Thus, a
physician has power to make a miser liberal, a chaste person
lascivious, a timid person bold, simply by changing the complexion
of his vital juices. Such are the wonderful secrets of the
medical Art, though, of course, they are hidden from the foolish
and the ignorant. There are a great many infatuated persons
who will not believe that medicine can do anything but cure
a headache; but such people know little of the resources of this
science. Hippocrates forbad the physicians whom he taught
to reveal these secrets; and it was a wise prohibition." A little
further on the same writer says: " What medicine can produce
greater heat than anger? or chill the body more than fear? or
invigorate the nerves more thoroughly than joy ? or nourish and
comfort more gently than hope ? And what more certain cause
of death is there than despair?" These are the words of the
philosopher, and they shew that medicine may, through the
body, cure the mind, and thus supply a remedy for anger as well
as other mental disturbances. It is true that if there is a remedy
for anger, it would, in the present state of the world, hardly be
very highly esteemed. Still it would calm the passions of individuals,
although other persons might not recognise its value.
But that which men do not care to have just now, may one day
be in great demand. Such is the vicissitude of all things human.
Galen once said that the savages of England and Germany were
as hostile to the science of Medicine as they were ignorant of it.
But now the descendants of Galen's countrymen are sunk in
barbarism, while the English and Germans are the most skilful
physicians in the world. Thus it seems very likely that this
Remedy may be one day in great request, especially when
we consider its vast utility, and the innumerable evils which
anger brings upon men.
204 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
What has been said about anger applies with equal force to
grief; for while the symptoms of anger are more or less mental,
those of grief produce a more perceptible and lasting effect on
the body. This great Remedy for anger and grief, then, it
would be most desirable to have, if we could only find the
Phoenix which affords it. Where shall I look for it? Where
shall I enquire after it ? Whom shall I ask ? I determined to
go abroad, and to search for it till I should have found it. Fortune
assists the brave: to the indolent and idle knowledge never
comes. I would leave my native country -- dearly as I love it,
and sadly as I should miss my friends - and wander from land to
land until I should be able to return with the eagerly coveted
Medicine. All beginnings are difficult: he who has never been
sad, cannot rejoice; he who has never erred, cannot be brought
back to the right way; and as the Chemists say: " There is in
Alchemy a certain noble body, which is moved from master to
master, whose beginning is misery and sourness, whose end is
sweetness and joy." So I expected to endure hardships, and go
through bitter experiences, but I also expected them to be crowned
with the delights of success. Of the existence of the Phoenix I
had no doubt, or I could not have looked for it. It is enough
for me to see the Sun and its rays, even though I cannot touch it;
and perhaps it is as well tor us that we cannot get so very close to
the Sun. But as to this Medicine which I seek; how can I have
a perfect knowledge of it before I see and touch it ? How can I
become a Master before I have been a scholar ? The products
of all countries are not the same; and perhaps I may learn in
one part of the world what I cannot get to know in another.
Moreover, I asked myself the question: Can a pilgrim's life hurt
any one ? Are we not all pilgrims here below to that land whither
our Saviour Christ has gone before ? And is not the example of
peregrination, set us by the swallow, the herald of spring; by the
crane, the stork, and other birds of passage ? Does not the whole
world lie open before man as the air is everywhere accessible to
birds ? Great Phoebus himself, the god of the Sun, journeys
day by day over the wide expanse of the sky. The heart of
man beats and pulsates in his bosom from the first to the
last hour of his life; and being surrounded by all these models
and examples, it is natural for man to lead the life of a pilgrim,
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 205
particularly if that pilgrimage be directed towards a certain
goal. The merchant travels over land and sea to buy the produce
of distant climes; but a nobler merchandise by far are
science and knowledge, which are the wares of the mind. He
who stays at home will there bury his talents, and get to know
little about the secrets of the universe Moreover, it is both
pleasant to travel and honourable to be always several hours'
journey in advance of the Sun. That which is most spiritual is
most swift in its movements, while the lifeless earth alone is
immovable. The other three elements are in perpetual motion:
the air sweeps over the earth in the shape of winds, hurricanes,
and gales; fire devours everything before it as it rushes onward in
the conflagration of a great city; water runs along in rivers and
mighty streams, and hastes to reach the sea. Let us also look
up and behold the heavens as they move in their glory. The
stars, the sun, and the moon know the times and seasons of
their rising and setting. A cannon ball, if projected from one
of our most powerful guns, would be more than eight days in
making the compass of the world (which is more than 25,000
miles); but the Sun, notwithstanding its vast size, accomplishes
the same distance in 24 hours. It would make our thoughts
reel if we strove to realise the velocity with which Saturn moves
round the Sun, and with which the heavens revolve round their
own axis. But greater still, and far more wonderful, is the
speed of human thought, which, in a moment of time, travels
from one end of the heavens to the other. We may believe that
the angels, as spiritual beings, move with the quickness of that
which is spiritual in man, viz., thought. God alone does not
move; for He is everywhere. For all these reasons, I conceived
that it would be both interesting, pleasant, honourable, and
eminently profitable for me to follow the example of the whole
world, and to undertake a pilgrimage for the purpose of discovering
this wonderful bird Phoenix. I therefore braced myself
for a long journey, determining to travel first, through all the
countries of Europe, then, if necessary, to America, thence to
Asia, and at last to pass on to Africa. If, after carefully
searching for the Phoenix in all these parts of the world, I did
not succeed in finding it or hearing of it, I might reasonably
give up all hopes of ever setting eyes thereon. The plan of my
206 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
journey was determined by the relative quality of the elements
which the different parts of the world represent, i.e
stands for earth, America for water, Asia for air, and Africa for
fire; and earth cannot become air except through the medium
of water; nor can water become fire except through the
medium of air. I determined, then, to go first to Europe,
which represents the grossest, and last to Africa, which represents
the most subtle element. But my reasons will be set forth
more clearly as I come to speak of the different parts of the
I left my native town on the day of the vernal equinox,
when the Moon and Sun were both in the sign of Aries, with
the intention of first travelling through Europe, and to enquire
everywhere after the Phoenix. I took Europe to represent the
element Earth, because earth forms the foundation of all the
other elements, and stands out above the water, so Europe is the
mother of the whole world, and though smaller than other continents,
is vastly superior to them through the courage, energy,
and mental strength of its inhabitants. Some say that one handful
of earth gives ten handfuls of water, a hundred handfuls of
air, and a thousand handfuls of fire; and this is the relative importance
of the different continents, if Europe answers to earth.
Europe has produced the bravest warriors, and the most distinguished
conquerors; and though she has subdued other continents,
she has herself never been subjugated by them. Of the four
great world empires, only one was founded by an Asiatic prince;
the Macedonian, the Roman, and the Teutonic Empires, have all
had their centres in Europe. Alexander the Great and Julius
Caesar were among her sons. If we look at a map of Europe
we may easily perceive that in shape this part of the world
resembles a virgin; but her heart is that of a lion. For these
reasons, I determined to travel first through this Virgin Lion,
because it clearly corresponds to the fundamental element:
Europe is a Virgin because of her beauty and spotless purity;
a Lion because she has conquered others, but has never herself
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 207
been conquered. Among the heavenly bodies the Sun answers
to Europe, and among the metals, gold. For though she produces
little gold, and the sun shines upon her with less fierceness
than on Africa, yet she is worthy of being compared to the Sun
and gold because of the excellence of her people, though a few
years ago even some real lions were born in Germany, yet we call
her a Lioness only on account of her stoutness of heart. Europe
is the Mother of the World, and Germany is her heart.
Nor is Europe without her marvels. In Pannonia, it is
reported, men live in compact stone houses under water. The hot
springs of Carlsbad, it is said, are hardened into stones. On the
coasts of Prussia, a transparent and pellucid stone (amber), formed
out of subterraneous vegetable juices, is cast ashore in large quantities.
I do not mention the coral of the Sicilian sea, which, originally
a plant, hardens outside water into a white or red tree of
stone; or the scaled earth of Germany and Silesia. . . . Europe
then, is the Lion Earth
. This expression is for those who hear
not with their ears only, but also with their brains; it is earth
which resists the fire, like gold, and is not resolved into air.
Like the boundary pillar of the gods of old, it " yields to none."
Hence Europe (the gold of the universe) seemed the very place
in which I should be most likely to hear of the Phoenix and its
Medicine. But most of those whom I met laughed at my quest,
and said that, like Narcissus, I had fallen in love with the shadow
of my own mind, the echo of my vain and ambitious thoughts,
which had no substantial existence apart from my own folly.
" The words of the Alchemists," said they, " are like clouds: they
may mean and represent anything, according to the fancy of him
who hears them. And even if there were such a medicine,
human life is too brief for the search; all that makes life worth
living will have to be neglected and thrust aside while you are
engaged in hunting after it. If we can pick up a knowledge of
this secret casually, and whilst devoting ourselves to other
pursuits, well; but if not, we can very ill spare the time for
a closer search." These objections (at least the latter half of
them) I met as follows: " The quest of this Medicine demands
the whole powers of a man's body and mind. He who engages
in it only casually, cannot hope to penetrate even the outward
rind of knowledge. The object of our search is a profound
208 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
secret, and a man who is not prepared to give himself wholly to
this enquiry had much better abstain from it altogether. I
readily acknowledge that the powers of my mind are not such as
to justify me in anticipating success. But the spirit within me
impels me to undertake this search; and I am confident that
God will at the last reward my patience, and my humble waiting
upon Him. As every King loves his Queen, as every bridegroom
is devoted to his bride, so I regard this science as more
beautiful and lovely than anything else in the world besides.
Now, beautiful things are hard to win, and hard toil is the way to
all that is great and glorious." This was the gist of my answer.
Now I had already travelled through a great part of Europe, when
it occurred to me that Italy and Spain are constantly mentioned
by the Ancients as the great seats of secret knowledge, and I
therefore directed my steps thitherward. In Spain I heard
that some Arabs (Geber, Avicenna, and others) had lived there a
long time ago, and these had possessed the wonderful Medicine
I was also told a great deal about Hercules and his achievement
in securing the golden apples of the Hesperides, and also the
golden cup, wherein he received the medicine for anger and
sorrow. Now all prudent men have decided that it contained a
small portion of the feathers of the Phoenix. I saw that Geryon
with the three bodies was the theme of the philosopher's writings,
that Hercules was a laborious artist, seeker of the Medicine.
But nobody was able to give me any definite information. I did
not, however, wish to leave Europe without visiting the Canary
Islands, which are seven in number and are named: Lancerotta,
Bonaventura, Great Canaria, Teneriffe, Gomera, Ferro, and Palma.
Three of them, Lancerotta, Gomera, and Ferro, are governed each
by its own King. Ferro is naturally destitute of good drinking
water, but the inhabitants get a supply of it out of certain broadleaved
trees, which distil sweet water in such quantities as to
suffice for the whole island. Strangers and pirates who land in
the island, being ignorant of this fact, are prevented by want of
water from staying in Ferro very long. Now, it happened about
this time that the King of Gomera had died without leaving a
male heir, and his subjects refused to acknowledge the authority
of his beautiful daughter Blanche, unless she accepted the hand
of some royal wooer, because they said that it was unworthy of
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 209
men to be ruled by a woman, and calculated to injure the
manliness of the national character -- as was shewn by the experience
of those peoples over whom women have borne sway for
any length of time. For there women had assumed the place of
men, while men were degraded to the position of women; and,
as a consequence, there followed the wildest excesses of profligacy
and lewdness. So the royal maiden was prevailed upon to
think of bestowing her hand in marriage. Now, there was in the
island a royal youth, named Brumazar (with beautiful dark locks
and a splendid golden robe),who was passionately enamoured of
the royal maiden Blanche, and was loved by her in return. He
wooed and won her, and the wedding was celebrated on condition
that she should bring to him as her dower a diamond of great
value and magnitude, while he should present to her a splendid
ruby of incalculable worth (i.e
., worth a million ducats); he, as her
King and Lord, should protect her from all dangers and from
the robbers with whom that country swarms, while she, on the
other hand, promised humbly to obey him without either subterfuge
or tergiversation. After these preliminaries, they were
linked together in close and indissoluble marriage, in which they
lived long and happily; and it was predicted that a son should
be born to them, who would be a mighty conqueror, and would
carry his victorious arms as far as the Pillars of Dionysus in
India.. . . So you see that I was unable to get any
information whatsoever about the Phoenix in the course of my
wanderings through Europe; I therefore determined to set sail
for America, in the hope that I might be more fortunate among
the savages of that Continent. For I remembered the words of
" Accident is a mighty helper; let your hook always be
baited; in the least likely river you may catch your fish."
In these days, when commerce has opened up, as it were, a
highroad across the seas to America (or India in the West), there
is no very great difficulty in reaching that continent; but far
different were the circumstances under which it was first
210 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
discovered. After leaving the " Islands of the Blessed," I became
a passenger on board of a ship which had an eagle for its figurehead;
and, after weathering many severe gales and hurricanes,
we at length landed in Brazil, a great province of America,
entirely covered with forests. The surface of the country is only
dotted here and there with the homestead of a settler; there are
few towns, and the inhabitants are sunk in ignorance, and unskilled
in the arts of civilisation. How, then, could I hope to
hear anything about the Phoenix among people who could hardly
read or write ? Yet there are in this country many rare and
beautiful birds which are not found elsewhere, though, of course,
the Phoenix, being a miraculous bird, must not be sought among
common fowls. The trees of the land are of a rich colour and
sweet fragrance; and one day when I was enjoying the wild
beauty of the forest, and listening to the natural music of the
birds, I happened to find an apple of unusual and exquisite
beauty, which on a closer view exhibited the following
" Within is that which, if you deliver it to its "
" grandmother, there will thence arise a son who "
" may cling to his mother in loving embrace. "
" From this union will arise in a short time a"
" noble tree which will render to the husbandman "
" a golden harvest."
After much thinking, it occurred to me that the seed which
was in the fruit must be placed in the earth (its grand mother, since
the parent tree was its mother). So I took it as a gift of God,
sowed the seed, and when there had sprung up a little tree, I
grafted it into the parent tree (first having sawn off that tree
close to the ground) and when the two had grown together, they
became a much more glorious tree than either of them had been
before; and the fruit was that of the scion which had been
inserted into the parent tree.... It is said that before the
Spaniards reached Brazil, there were no horses in that country,
so that the natives regarded a horse soldier as a monster half
man and half beast; but when both horses and asses had been
introduced by the strangers, it was thought most desirable to
obtain also some mules which are the common offspring of these
two animals. Now, there was a certain chief who possessed a
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 211
large number both of asses and horses, and he took particular
interest in this matter. He knew very well how to breed horses
from horses, and asses from asses, but he was not acquainted
with the proper method of breeding mules from both; while he
was aware that all experiments which are made in the dark, i.e
without the light of previous experience, are both dangerous and
uncertain. The consequence was that all his efforts to produce
a mule out of a stallion and a she ass were doomed to failure, no
doubt because their seeds were not mixed in the right proportion.
At last a Sage who was passing that way, and whose insight into
the secret working of Nature was infinitely keener and more
complete than that of those ignorant people, gave our chief the
" If you would obtain a mule resembling the"
" paternal ass in length of ear and slowness of"
" gait, you should feed each of the parents with "
" just as large a quantity of food as their nature"
" requires. Would you know what this proportion "
" is ? Give to the male twice as much as to the "
" female, then a mare will conceive a mule from "
" an ass."
This advice was taken by the chief, and, after several
failures, his perseverance was crowned with complete success.
Nor does it appear contrary to Nature's general plan that two
different parents should produce offspring which differs from
them both. Look at the leopard, which is said to be the
offspring of the pard and the lioness; in the same way the wolf
and bitch beget the lynx; a scion inserted into a good tree
produces fruit different from those of the parent stock; new
varieties of flowers are obtained by a judicious mingling of the
pollen; and the red powder called " our Tincture," being mixed
with quicksilver over the fire, produces gold which is utterly
unlike either the one or the other. Now, these Americans are
able to perform a most singular experiment with metals, and
particularly with gold. They have a kind of water in which
gold becomes soft like wax, and capable of being moulded with
the hand into any shape they please. This water is not a
corrosive, since it does not burn the fingers of those who take up
the gold. But we need not doubt that it is some chemical
212 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
discovery, and that it is obtained by a distilling process .
As I could gain no further information in America, I began to
think of taking the first opportunity of crossing to Asia: I took
with me a very heavy and valuable piece of a certain kind of
wood, the most precious I saw here in Brazil, and which is
remarkable for its brilliant ebony colour, for this black colour
seems proper to America by reason of the blackish poplars and
the soil dyed with various hues. The colour of this wood seems
to arise from the heat of the sun, and the wonderful peculiarity
of the American soil, of which Monandez, that learned physician
of Seville, writes as follows: " The variety of colour exhibited
by the soil of Peru is most remarkable. If you look at it from
a distance, it has the appearance of a patchwork quilt spread
out to air in the sun: one part of it is green, another blue,
others again are yellow, white, black, and red. Now all these are
different kinds of mineral earth: the black earth, if mixed with
water or wine, makes an excellent ink; the red soil is said to be
the ore of quicksilver, and the Indians paint themselves with it."--
Well, I took my wood, went aboard a ship, with a white unicorn
for its figure head, and setting sail for Asia, soon arrived in the
Asia is the third continent of the world, the continent which
answers to the element of Air, and its climate is more temperate
than that of the other continents, as it is equally remote from
the intense cold of Europe, and the intense heat of Africa.
Being both warm and moist, it most admirably corresponds to
the element of air, its heat is almost everywhere tempered by
the vapours which ascend from the sea. Moist, warm air has
fire for its father, and water for its mother, and retains the most
active qualities of both its parents. Thus air is a mediator
between the two hostile elements, and in its own composition
reconciles their strife. In the same way Asia binds Europe
(earth) and Africa (fire) together, the grossest and the most
subtle of the elements; but without Asia (air) there would be no
union between them. Hy means of air, fire clings gladly to
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 213
earth, and fosters it; but without air, the fire soon goes out. It
is the prerogative and distinctive mark of Asia to be the centre
of the world, and to bring forth such fruits as require a warm,
soft air, as, for instance, dates, balsam, spices of all kinds, and
gold itself. Asia is the cradle of our race, the scat of the first
Monarchy, the birthplace of our Redeemer. From the Persian
gulf I travelled straight through the continent, till I reached
those parts of Asia Minor where Jason is said to have obtained
the golden fleece. So, being greatly interested in these old
world occurrences, I walked out one day to a place said to be the
field of Mars, and the site of the Palace of Aëtes, the descendant
of the Sun; there I met an old man of venerable aspect and
authoritative port, who saluted me graciously, and to whom, after
returning his salutation, I addressed the following words:
" Master, if I am not troubling you too much, kindly enlighten
my ignorance, as I can doubt neither your ability nor your
willingness to help a stranger." He having signified his
willingness to do for me all that lay in his power, I asked
him whether those things which were related in history
and poetry concerning Jason and his golden fleece, were real
facts or mere poetical fictions. He smiled, and made the
following reply to my question: " I myself am Jason, and
better able than any one else to give you information
concerning those things which have happened to myself. You
need not be afraid, for during my lifetime I was no man's enemy,
but succoured all, like a good physician; and now that I no
longer belong to this world, I am still as kindly disposed towards
my mortal brethren. On this spot stood the royal seat of my
father-in-law, Aëtes, whose father was the Sun -- not, indeed, that
heavenly luminary (which would be incredible), but one likest to
him in name, and face, and dignity. The golden fleece of the
ram, which Mercury had transmuted, and which Aëtes had hung
in the grove of Mars, I obtained in the following manner:
Medea was my chief adviser and she enabled me by her wise
counsel to contend successfully against the fierce and venomous
monsters. The watchful Dragon I stupefied with a narcotic,
which I cast into his maw, and while he was in that helpless
state, I hastened to extract his teeth. These had to be buried
in earth first prepared and ploughed up by means of bulls vomiting
214 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
fire, which fire was extinguished by water poured into their
mouths. Then Medea gave me the images of the Sun and
Moon, without which, she said, nothing could be done." I asked
where I should find all these things. His answer was that he
obtained them Medea, but he could not tell me where she was to
be found. " When she left me in her madness," he said, "she
was wedded to old Aegeus, to whom she bore Medus; Medus
afterwards went to Asia, and became the founder of the Median
race." I wished to ask Jason many more questions, but he excused
himself from answering them, and vanished before my
eyes. Then I saw that he had been speaking of the Medicine of
which I was in search, which also he had shadowed out under
the figure of the golden fleece. For the crest of the Phoenix and
its feathers are described by the learned as exhibiting a golden
splendour. I did not indeed meet with many learned men in
Asia; but I was well satisfied to have explored that blessed
" aerial earth," especially as Syria and the Holy Land (with their
rivers of Adonis and Jordan, in which the leper Naaman was
cleansed) form part of it. In Syria, it is related that Adonis
was killed by a boar, hounded on by Mars, and that from his
wounds there flowed forth that balm by means of which human
bodies are preserved from decomposition. On this continent
stood the Holy of Holies, into which our Most High Priest
entered when He had made atonement for the sins of the whole
race on the Cross of Calvary; to Him let us now utter forth the
most ardent desires of our hearts in the following prayer:
O great and merciful Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ,
who being God from all eternity, next madest man in time, in
order that, as our Mediator, Thou mightest unite God and man,
by satisfying the eternal and infinite power of God which human
sin had provoked to wrath, that is to say, Thyself, the Father,
and the Holy Spirit. For this purpose Thou wast born into this
world and didst go about doing good among men, and didst
sanctify this earth by Thy miracles, Passion, Resurrection, and
Ascension. To Thee I pray from the very bottom of my heart
that as Thou hast given this Medicine for the use of men by
ordinary means, and meanwhile hast Thyself cured incurable
discases by Thy Divine power, Who art the Great Physician:
so Thou wouldst bestow the gift of this most precious Medicine
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 215
upon me, the very humblest of thy servants, u ho for the sake c
this most blessed knowledge have taken upon myself so weary
a pilgrimage, and so many toils and hardships, as Thou well
knowest -- in order that I may use it to the glory of Thy Name,
and for the relief of my suffering brethren. Thou who art a
searcher of hearts, knowest that I despise all worldly pomp, and
desire to consecrate my life to Thee, if Thou wilt but work in me
both the will and the power of performance: Grant to me the
power of exercising boundless charity, of relieving all sufferings,
both bodily and mental: Bless me with the gracious gift of Thy
Medicine, which comes next in value after the peace of mind and
eternal happiness which Thou hast gained for us, in order that
its virtue may be effectual in the cure of human sorrow, disease,
and pain; to the everlasting praise of the ever blessed Trinity,
world without end, Amen.
When I had poured forth this prayer to the Giver of all
good things, I remembered that besides the land which once
flowed with milk and honey, but now, under Turkish rule, has
become utterly barren and sterile, there was also in Asia,
Paradise, which was created for man while he was still perfect.
Knowing that this blessed garden was situated near Babylon,
I journeyed to the spot! but found nothing except a confluence
of certain rivers. Thence I travelled to the maritime parts of
India, and found a city, called Ormuz, of which there ran a
proverb, that if the world was a ring, Ormuz would be its gem.
In this city there was a great concourse of eager visitors from
the whole neighbourhood; and when I asked one of them
whither he was hastening" he said: " To the terrestrial paradise."
"What," said I, " was I unable to find the ancient garden of
Eden, and do these people speak of a new Paradise! " But the
man left me standing there, and pursued his journey as fast as
he could. While I was considering whether I should follow him,
it occurred to me that I should do well to adopt the plan of
Columbus, the discoverer of America. So I went to the different
gates of the city, and determined to leave it by that one where
the sweetest and most fragrant odours were borne towards me
on the air. This I did, and I soon found myself on a road where
the air was such as might well come from an earthly Paradise,
yet was frequented by very few travellers. Ormuz being
216 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
situated on an island, we soon had to cross a sea, where I saw
men fishing up pearls of the purest whiteness. Having obtained
some of these for love and money, I had no doubt that I had
come into possession of one of the most important substances
of the Medicine, for the whiteness of these pearls was such as to
defy exaggeration. After pursuing my journey on the mainland,
along a very narrow by-path, for some time, I reached a point
where two roads met, and there was a statue of Mercury, of
which the body was silver while the head was overlaid with
gold. The right hand of this statue pointed towards the Earthly
Paradise; and when I had followed for some time the road
which it indicated, I came to a very broad and deep river, which
it was impossible to cross without a boat, though far and wide
there was no boat to be seen; but the beauty of the other shore
convinced me that it must be the Earthly Paradise. The trees
which grew there were covered with golden, orange, citron-
coloured, purple, and intensely red flowers. There were evergreen
laurels, junipers, box-trees, and great store of blossoms of all
colours and of the sweetest fragrance: sunflowers, amaranths,
lilies, roses, hyacinths, &c. The ear was charmed with the songs
and cries of nightingales, cuckoos, parrots, larks, thrushes, and
hundreds of other known and unknown birds; nor was there
wanting the sweet music of instruments and sweet-toned organs;
the taste was gratified, as it seemed, with all manner of delicious
fruits, and the fragrance which streamed out on the breeze was
such as charmed while it rendered insensible the olfactory nerves
of all the people who lived round about, just as the noise of the
Nile cataracts becomes inaudible to those who are used to it.
But what did the sight of all these glories profit me, who, for
want of one little boat, was unable to get at them ? So I turned
away, with the firm resolution of coming back, as soon as I could
do so with a better chance of success; in the meantime, I should
be most likely to find the Phoenix that I was in search of, if I
crossed over to Africa without further delay. So I directed my
course towards the Red Sea, and there landed in Africa.
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 217
When I reached Africa, more than a year had elapsed from
my first setting out, the Sun had once more entered the sign of
the Lion, the Moon was at her height in the house of Cancer.
All these were circumstances which inspired me with hope.
The intense heat of the African climate renders the whole
continent torrid, sterile, and dry. It has few rivers, but many
wild beasts, which meet together at the riverside, and bring forth
among themselves many new and strange shapes, for which
Africa is so well known. Satyrs, cynocephali, and semi-human
beings are said to live there. There are the Mountains of the
Moon, and Atlas that bears up the heavens on its shoulders: all
these abound in minerals and in serpents. There also is
collected the blood of the Dragon which the Dragon has sucked
from the Elephant; but when the Elephant falls dead, the
Dragon is crushed, and the blood which it has drunk; is pressed
out of it. Again, in the neighbourhood of the Red Sea, an
animal named Ortus
has been observed, the colour of whose
head is red, with gold lines up to the neck, while its eyes are deep
black and its feet white, to wit, the fore feet, but the hind feet
are black, the face up to the eyes white -- a description which tallies
exactly with that which Avicenna gives of our Medicine.
Now I heard that not far from the Red Sea there lived a
prophetess, named the Erythraean Sibyl, in a rocky cave; and
I thought well first of all to enquire of her concerning this
Phoenix. It is she that prophesied and predicted the coming of
the Son of God in the flesh This assertion has indeed been
questioned by many writers, but it is borne out by Eusebius, the
great historian of the Early Church, and by Cicero, the great
orator, who, as is well known, translated this prophecy into the
Latin tongue. Abundant evidence to the same effect may also
be collected from the works of Virgil, the prince of Roman poets.
The passage of Cicero which is referred to by Eusebius, will be
found in the second book of his treatise, De Divinatione
Divination). . . . When I came to her, I found her sitting
in her cave, which was beautifully overgrown with the spreading
boughs of a green tree, and covered with green sod. I saluted
her with the lowliest and most deferential humility. At first she
218 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
seemed somewhat startled at my sudden appearance, and hastily
retreated to the interior of the cave. But she was soon won
over by my earnest entreaties, and prevailed upon to shew herself
at the entrance of her habitation. " Who art thou, stranger?"
she enquired, " and what wouldest thou of me? Dost thou
not know that a man may not approach a virgin that
dwells in solitude ?" " It is not forward boldness that has
brought me hither," I replied; " but I have come after mature
deliberation, because I feel that it is you, and you alone, that can
resolve certain doubts which lie heavy on my mind. If you will
shew me this great kindness, I, on my part. promise to do you
suit and service, and to fulfil all your commands, as far as lies in
my power " When she heard these words, her countenance
cleared, and she asked me in a more kindly tone what my
business was. " I cannot," she continued, " deny anything to
men like you who are anxious to learn." " There are two things,"
I returned, " concerning which I would crave plain and straightforward
instruction from you. namely, whether there was and is in
these countries of Arabia and Egypt a wonderful bird named
Phoenix; whether its flesh and feathers are really an effectual
medicine for anger and grief; and, if so, where the bird is to be
found ? " The object of your search," she rejoined," is a great and
glorious one; doubt is the first stage of knowledge, and you have
also come to the right place and the right person. For the
country in which you now find yourself is Araby the Blest, and
nowhere else has the Phoenix ever been found; moreover, I am
the only person who could possibly give you any definite information
about it. I will teach you, and this land will exhibit to you,
the glad sight of which I speak. Therefore, listen to my words
Araby the Blest and Egypt have from of old rejoiced in the sole
possession of the Phoenix, whose neck is of a golden hue, while
the rest of its body is purple, and its head is crowned with a
beautiful crest. It is sacred to the Sun, lives 660 years, and
w hen the last hour of its life approaches, it builds a nest of cassia
and frankincense, fills it with fragrant spices, kindles it by
flapping its wings towards the Sun, and is burnt to ashes with it.
From these ashes there is generated a worm, and out of the worm a
young bird which takes the nest, with the remains of its parent,
and carries it to Heliopolis (or Thebes), the sacred city of the
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 219
Sun, in Egypt. Now, this whole tale which you find in the
books of the Ancients is addressed to the mind rather than to
the ear; it is a mystical narrative, and like the hieroglyphics of
the Egyptians, should be mystically (not historically) understood.
An ancient Egyptian writer tells us that the Phoenix rejoices in
the Sun, and that this predilection is its chief reason for coming
to Egypt. He also relates that his countrymen were in the habit
of embalming the Phoenix if it died before its time. If you
therefore regard this tale as an allegory, you will not be far
wrong; and you know that the flesh and feathers of this bird
were of old used in Heliopolis as a remedy for anger and grief."
When I heard her say this, I was full of joy, and asked her
whether she could tell me how to become possessed of this Blessed
Bird and Medicine. She promised not to forsake me, and to do
all in her power to help me nut of my difficulty. " Nevertheless,"
she continued " the most important part of the enterprise must
be performed by the toil of your own hands. I cannot describe
to you in exact and unmistakable terms the place where the
Phoenix lives, yet I will endeavour to make it as plain tn you as
I may. Egypt, you know, owes all her fertility to the Nile,
whose sources are unknown and undiscoverable; but the mouths
by which it is discharged into the sea, are sufficiently patent to
all. The fourth Son of the Nile is Mercury, and to him his father
has given authority to shew you this bird, and its Medicine.
This Mercury you may expect to find somewhere near the seven
mouths of the Nile; for he has no fixed habitation, but is to be
found now in one of these mouths, and now in another." I
thanked the Virgin Prophetess most cordially for her gracious
information, and at once set my face towards the mouths of
the Nile, which are seven: -- the Canopic, the Bolbitic, the
Sebennitic, the Pelusian, the Tenitic, the Phoenetic, and the
Mendesic. The way to the Canopic mouth led me through an
ancient Christian burial ground, where a most miraculous occurrence
is witnessed every year on a certain day in May. From
dawn to noon on that day the dead bodies gradually rise from
their graves until they are completely visible to the passers by;
and from noon to sunset they gradually sink back again into their
tombs. If this be true, as eye-witnesses testify, it is a most certain
proof of the resurrection of the human body, and exhibits a
220 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
close analogy to the resuscitation of the dead Phoenix.
When I reached the island of Canopus, I enquired where Mercury
was to be found. But the people were only hopelessly
puzzled by my questions. Some said that, according to Hermes,
Egypt exhibits an image of the heavens, and the seven mouths
of the Nile (of which the Canopic is the most considerable) correspond
to the seven planets; the Canopic mouth they called
the habitation of Saturn, the grandfather of Mercury; Mercury
was to be found domiciled in some other mouth of the river. At
the Bolbitic mouth none of those persons of whom I enquired
knew anything about Mercury. Near the third or Sebennitic
mouth stood the city of Sebennis, of which the inhabitants were
so savage and cruel towards strangers, and so utterly destitute
of all the arts and graces of civilisation, that I could not conceive
of Mercury, the god of culture and science, living in their midst.
Moreover, a certain peasant whom I asked whether Mercury's
house was there, told me that he had a house in the town but
that he never lived there. So I at once went on to the fourth or
Pelusian mouth of the Nile. The famous city of Pelusium is
said to have been founded by Peleus, the father of Achilles. It
separates Asia and Arabia from Egypt, and was at one time a
most wealthy town. When I heard of its greatness in commerce
and industry, and of the large quantities of Arabian gold which
are imported in this city, one of the wealthiest marts of Egypt, I
felt assured that I should find the dwelling of Mercury here; but
I was told by the inhabitants that he did not come there very
often, though he was received as a most welcome guest whenever
he did visit it. This answer filled me with dismay, which was in
proportion to the hopes which I had conceived, but I determined
not to abandon my search till I should have visited the three
remaining mouths of the river.
At the Tenitic mouth of the Nile, I learned quite as much
as I had learned everywhere else, namely -- nothing. When the
people who lived there told me that Mercury never came to them
at all, I began to bewail my hapless fate, and the many fruitless
journeys I had undertaken; and I now saw that perhaps it
would have been wiser to have begun at the other end. There,
however, I was, only two mouths of the river were left; and in
one of these Mercury would be found, if indeed the Prophetess
had spoken true.
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 221
At the Phoenetic mouth another disappointment awaited me.
Mercury had once lived there, but had long since migrated
somewhere else. At the seventh, or Mendesian mouth, nothing
whatever was known about him.
It may easily be imagined that, after this long series of
disappointments, I began to suspect the Sibyl very strongly of
having sent me on a fool's errand; for I had now visited every
one of the mouths of the Nile, and yet had not found even a
trace of Mercury in any of them. Or if the words of the
prophetess had been true, it seemed as if the various people of
whom I had enquired must have deceived me with false information.
But after more mature consideration of the answers
which had been returned to my questions in the different places,
I arrived at the conclusion that I had merely misapprehended
their meaning. So I retraced my stops, and at length succeeded
in finding Mercury in one of the mouths, where the people had
at first appeared to know nothing about him. He shewed me at
great length, where I must look for the Phoenix and where I
could obtain possession of it. When I reached the place to
which he directed me, I found that the Phoenix had temporarily
deserted it, having chanced to be chosen umpire between the owl
and other birds which pursue it, of which battle we have treated
otherwise. It was expected back in a few weeks; but, as I
could not afford to wait so long just then, I thought I might be
content with the information I had gained, and determined to
consummate my search at some future time. So, having returned
to my native land, I composed the following epigrams in honour
of the Sibyl, Mercury, the Phoenix, and the Medicine.
In Honour of the Erythraean Sibyl, named Herophyle.
" I thank thee, great prophetess, whose inspiration is not of the "
" fiend, but of the Spirit of God, that thou didst direct me on "
" my way to the Son of Nilus, who should shew unto me the "
" bird Phoenix. Full of sacred knowledge, thou didst utter "
" forth thy oracles when thou didst sing of God who "
" should come in the fashion of a man. Thou dost love "
222 THE HERMETIC MUSEUM.
" Him who, bearing the sentences of highest justice, will be the "
" omnipotent judge of the whole world, though thou wert called "
" a Gentile Maiden, and though men said that thou couldst "
" know nothing of Him. The cave near the Red Sea cannot "
" hold thy greatness, when Christ shall claim thee for His own "
" in Heaven. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "
Dedicated to Mercury of the Sages.
"The Latins call thee Mercury, the Messenger of the Gods; "
" among the Greeks thy name is that of great Hermes. Thou "
" art called Tenthius on the soil of Egypt; thy father is Nilus,"
" who enriches that soil, and has bequeathed unto thee untold "
" wealth. Thou hast duly conveyed to the peoples of Egypt "
" the la\vs which Vulcan, being in the secret with thee, has given."
" All nations of the world behold thee with delight, yet thou "
" desirest to be known to very few. Of how many secrets of "
" Nature have the keys been entrusted to thy keeping! Thy "
" face is red, thy neck is yellow, thy bosom is whiter than "
" purest snow. Thy feet are shod with black sandals, a wand "
" with a double snake in no wise hurts thy hand. This is thine "
" apparel whereby thou art known to all, O Hermes ! Thy com- "
" plexion is fittingly of four hues. Thou didst show to me the "
" glorious bird Phoenix by the mouth of an interpreter, and I "
" thank thee for thy love with all my heart; though the words "
" be light, they are weighty with gratitude. "
In Praise of the Phoenix
" O Marvel of the World, prodigy without a blot, unique "
" Phoenix who givest thyself to the great Sages ! Thy feathers "
" are red, and golden the hues of thy neck; thy nest is built of "
" cassia and Sabaean frankincense. When thy life is drawing "
" to a close, thou knowest the secret way of Nature by "
" which thou art restored to a new existence. Hence thou "
" gladly placest thyself on the altar of Thebes, in order that "
" Vulcan may give thee a new body The golden glory of thy "
THE SECRETS OF ALCHEMY. 223
" feathers is called the Medicine of health, and the cure of "
" human woe. Thou has power to cast out disease and to "
" make the old young again. Thee. Blessed Bird, I would "
" rather have than all the wealth of the world, and the know- "
" ledge of thee was a delight which I sought for many years."
" Thou art hidden in the retreat of thine own nest, and if Pliny "
" writes that he saw thee in Rome, he does greatly err. Thou "
" art safe in thy home, unless some foolish boy disturb thee: if "
" thou dost give thy feathers to anyone, I pray thee let him be "
" a Sage. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "
On the Hermetic Medicine of the Phoenix.
" If all the mountains were of silver and gold, what would they "
" profit a man who lives in constant fear of death ? Hence there "
" cannot be in the whole world anything better than our Medi- "
" cine, which has power to heal all the discases of the flesh. "
" Wealth, and riches, and gold, all yield the prize to this glori- "
" ous possession: and whoever does not think so, is not a man, "
" but a beast. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "
" If anyone will not acknowledge the force of reason, he must
needs have recourse to authority