The Philosopher’s Stone

by Marisa Menna

The Philosopher's Stone“Fatti non foste per viver come bruti,
ma per seguir Virtude e Conoscenza.”
Dante Alighieri
Inferno, XXVI, 119-120

“You won’t find the philosopher’s stone until you’re perfect.”
Grillot de Givry

All of us in our lives are in search, consciously or unconsciously, of something indefinite but fundamental.
Whether it is something physical or the realization of an idea, the substance does not change: it is the greatest treasure, it is the Holy Grail, The Book of Thot, the Quintessence, the elixir of long life and the projection stone of the alchemists; it is the message imprinted in the stone of temples and cathedrals, in the silent monuments of our cities, in the yellowed pages of books, in the actions of our fathers and over time; it is Knowledge, Enlightenment and Understanding. It is an ancient secret, jealously guarded over the centuries, which is revealed only to those who know how to open their eyes, their mind, their heart: it is the Philosopher’s Stone.

The Philosopher’s Stone, in Latin lapis philosophorum, is the Holy Grail of the alchemists who throughout history have carried out incessant research. The search for Truth was and still is the purpose of the Man who wants to understand and know.
This stone is described as something capable of turning metals into gold, healing diseases, and prolonging life. Throughout history, it has been sought almost exclusively for this latter purpose, preferring more the venal and material aspect rather than the spiritual aspect. However, man often ignores that the greatest treasure is not gold, but Knowledge.
A mostly secret Knowledge, because it is kept such by those who knew and by those who know that “Knowledge is power”. An initiatory knowledge, therefore, that would allow the achievement of human perfection and immortality, through enlightenment. Consequently, another aspect of the Philosopher’s Stone would be the ability to give eternal life, because the stone is lasting, unlike the flesh. Suffice it to see the millennial monuments of the ancient peoples, which still survive, despite the weather, like the pyramids.
Gold was already considered a perennial treasure in the past, so turning vile metal into gold meant turning deadly matter into an immortal spirit. Precisely because of this latter characteristic, the Philosopher’s Stone has often been associated with the Holy Grail. Indeed, there are interesting analogies between these two legendary objects. Wolfram von Eschenbach is the first writer to designate the Grail as a sacred stone in his work, the Parzival. But even the esoteric tradition would have seen the Grail as a stone, in particular, like the diadem that adorned Lucifer’s forehead and that was lost when the rebel angel was thrown into hell by the hand of God.

The Philosopher’s Stone and the Grail are symbols that both represent the ancient Knowledge, the one that most of us have now forgotten. The removal of Adam from the earthly Paradise, therefore from the Tree of Knowledge, could mean the return to a wild state of humanity, which happened more than once in the past.
The symbol is an immediately recognizable representation, capable of simply transmitting great truths. Symbols have accompanied human evolution since its inception on Earth. The first forms of writing were ideograms, intuitive symbolic representations, capable of transmitting even complex meanings. Every day thousands of symbols pass before our eyes, the recognition of some of them is immediate but other times they are invisible and we end up ignoring them. This plays against us, because to fully understand life, we need to know as much as possible around us. In this sense, the search for the Holy Grail is the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, for this lost Knowledge, and that our ancestors of the ancient world have possessed.
The Stone, therefore, would not only be a “substance”, but also a process of interaction between multiple entities (physical, spiritual and energy) and the crystalline dust would be nothing more than the energetic and informative memory of this process, a kind of inorganic enzyme such as Basilio Valentino clarifies. What matters is what it represents and symbolizes.

Fulcanelli, an alchemist of the twentieth century, wrote about the Philosopher’s Stone:
“[It is] the Tree of Life, the Elixir [of long life], the masterpiece of nature aided by human capacity, pure and rich alchemical jewel. Absolute metallic synthesis, [this treasure] ensures the lucky owner the triple appanage of knowledge, wealth, and health. It is the horn of abundance, the unquenchable source of the material happiness of our earthly world.”

Some great initiates, such as Nicolas Flamel and the Count of Saint-Germain, probably came very close to the truth. To transform the simple metal into gold, however, it was necessary to have an absolute knowledge of natural laws. This level could be reached by discovering the Philosopher’s Stone, because only this was (and is) capable of giving omniscience, at least according to alchemists and philosophers of the past.

From Daniel Stolcius von Stolcenberg, Viridarium Chymicum, Francoforte 1624).

The acronym V.I.T.R.I.O.L. it is emblematic in the purposes of the alchemist:
“Visit Interiora Terrae, Rectificando, Invenies Occultum Lapidem.” The invitation, addressed to each one’s inner earth, is the following: “Visit the interior of the Earth and, by rectifying, you will find the hidden stone”.
Visiting involves a presence, not a simple thinking or mental intervention, but the participation of the whole person. A physical presence with an intense motivation in research that must be oriented within Man. (Image: one of the symbols of V.I.T.R.I.O.L.

Visiting the interior of the earth presents a great danger, because we orient ourselves towards an unknown world, in which by immersing ourselves we can get lost in our totality or have the immense reward. It is no coincidence that the “visit” must be carried out through the “rectification”, that is, along the straight path of virtue.
The purpose of the research is indicated as the discovery of the hidden stone, that is hidden.
It is a stone of extreme preciousness, which possesses immense powers and which allows that transmutation of being which justifies the complete dedication to its research.
It is qualified as “philosophical” because it is known to “philosophers”, and after appropriate processing or “adjustments”, it becomes “philosophical” with the power to transmute base metals into gold and capable of giving immortality.

Depiction of Ouroboros from the alchemical treatise Aurora consurgens (15th century), Zentralbibliothek Zürich, Switzerland.

Analogies of the path for the search for the Philosopher’s Stone can be found in the initiatory process: the neophyte does not know himself, does not appreciate himself, is different, is incomplete, but he desires to rise. The ritual leads him to die symbolically, to go down to the center of the Earth, in the basement of his “I”, to discover himself internally. He then returns to the light, symbolically resurrected with a new awareness. In the past, these ceremonies took place, in underground and suggestive places. We often find traces of this ritual still today. Just think of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which for the author (and for the reader) is a journey to discover his “I” passing from the Underworld, as had already happened in Aeneas, in Mitra, in Jesus Christ.

The descent into hell is a symbol of introspection: in the darkness of our conscience we are killed by awareness to be reborn to new life. The cave is the place of learning and Dante during his initiatory journey into the Underworld learns many truths.
When we learn a great truth, we say goodbye to who we were to become another person. This is part of our initiatory journey. The initiatory death, therefore, symbolizes the alchemical transformation, the transition from lead (mortal) to gold (immortal), because “Knowledge makes us free”.

Éliphas Lévi, in his book History of Magic, writes:
“The great trials of Memphis and Eleusis were intended to train kings and priests, entrusting science to brave and strong men (…). Then we would go down into dark basements were from time to time we had to cross burning stumps, rapid and deep streams, movable bridges thrown over the abyss, all without letting go of a lamp or letting it slip. Those who trembled or were afraid would never see the light again; those who bravely passed through all obstacles were received among the initiated and initiated into the little mysteries. But his loyalty and silence remained to be proved and only after a few years did it become adept, a title that corresponded to that of adept.”

The transmutation process is called “Great Work” and essentially consists in separating the three principles that make up the Raw Material, purifying them individually and reuniting them again obtaining the Philosopher’s Stone.
This procedure takes place in three fundamental phases called respectively First, Second, and Third Works:
In these three phases the male element, Sulfur (fixed and active and which corresponds to Fire and Earth) is united with the female one, Mercury (volatile and passive and which corresponds to Air and Water). Union occurs only with an indispensable third “element”, called Salt (Quintessence that lies beyond and above and that corresponds to Ether) and is the Secret Fire, the universal Agent that “celebrates” the indissoluble marriage of these two elements (Rebis). This conjunction of Sulfur and Mercury symbolizes the marriage of the King and Queen, the Sun and the Moon, the Union of Opposites.

The Philosopher's StoneAmong the various alchemical symbols we find in the transmutation process also a bird with the body of a crow and the head of a white dove: the crow represents the blackened “raw material” on the way of the philosopher’s stone, the white head is a sign of the enlightenment in the course of transformation. They dominate the element of air, the link between earthly reality and the kingdom of heaven. By observing their flight, the alchemists believed they recognized a link between the flight and the soul of man, whose vocation is to strive for spirituality.
The process follows and works with the 4 elements:
Earth is the most vulgar element since it is lower, it falls deeply into water and air;
Water falls into the air but is above the earth;
• The Air is above the earth and rises from the water upwards;
Fire is above all elements, rises in the air.

In the Great Work, the Philosopher’s Stone is the man himself, being he at the beginning and end of the Great Work. The stone is the universal spirit, present in everything that has been created and therefore also in the alchemist himself.
Only absolute knowledge allows the transmutation of the vile metal into gold, only the mortal being who comes into possession of his own Philosopher’s Stone transforms his matter into spirit. What we can do is try to get closer to it, step by step, degree after degree, not so much for the venal intent of transforming lead or mercury into gold, rather because “we were not made to live like brutes, but to follow Virtue and Knowledge “, as Dante Alighieri wrote in the XXVI canto of Hell. Man is born to know, driven by a natural curiosity that is entirely human.
One of the fundamental laws of the alchemist, and which we also find written in the Emerald Tablet, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, is to believe that everything below is a mirror of what is above.
Who knows himself, knows the rules that move the universe. “Know yourself and you will discover the mysteries of the Universe” in fact said great initiates of the past such as Lao-Tzu and Socrates.
In our eyes there is the universe and only when we manage to grasp the magic that is in us, will we be able to begin our initiatory journey, to approach the supreme Truth.
Jung also treated the myth of the philosopher’s stone making it the emblem of psychotherapy.
Lapis, the raw material that men have tried in vain for centuries, must be found in the human being himself:

“It has never been understood what the ancient philosophers meant by the philosopher’s stone. We cannot answer this question until we understand that alchemists put their attention on something unconscious. Only the psychology of the unconscious can explain the secret. The unconscious theory teaches us that as long as this projection is directed towards that something, it will remain inaccessible. So the work of the ancient alchemists reveals very little of the secret of alchemy.”

Carl Gustav Jung


The journey of the Human being is only one: it is the initiatory journey of our “I” towards an ever more refined and complete Knowledge. It is a journey whose usefulness is also that of not forgetting, because the sands of time blow undisturbed around us, concealing the past, softening the colors, thinning the memory. Following these initiatory itineraries means not wanting to forget but, on the contrary, wanting to go further, more and more, towards enlightenment, towards Truth.

As there is oil in the sesame seed and a spark in the flint
so your Beloved is in your body.
Wake him up if you can. As the pupil is in the eye, so the creator is in the body.
The fool does not know this secret and runs outside looking for it in vain.
What you are looking for is in the four corners of the earth.
It’s Inside, you don’t see it, because it lives behind the veils of illusion.
Kabir Sahib

Il Dogma dell’Alta Magia, Elifas Levi
La Grande Opera, Grillot De Givry
La Tradizione Ermetica, Julius Evola
La via Solare della Coscienza, Umberto Di Grazia
Le dimore filosofali e il simbolismo ermetico nei suoi rapporti con l’arte sacra e l’esoterismo della Grande Opera, Fulcanelli
Psicologia e Alchimia, Carl Gustav Jung
Simboli, Garzanti Editore
Simboli della Scienza sacra, René Guenon, Gli Adelphi
Storia della magia, Éliphas Lévi


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