The Alchemy web site on

Flamel's Summary of Philosophy

Transcribed by Antonio Balestra.

The Summary of Philosophy

If you would know how metals are transmuted, you must understand from what matter they are generated, and how they are formed in the mines; and that you may not err, you must see and observe, how those transmutations are performed in the bowels or veins of the earth.

Minerals taken out of the earth, may be changed, if beforehand they be spiritualized, and reduced into their sulphureous and argent vive nature, which are the two sperms, composed of the elements, the one masculine, the other feminine. - The male sulphur, is nothing but fire and air; and the true sulphur is as a fire, but not the vulgar, which contains no metallic substance. The feminine sperm is argent vive, which is nothing but earth and water; these two sperms the ancient sages called two dragons or serpents, of which, the one is winged, the other not. Sulphur not flying the fire, is without wings; the winged serpent is argent vive, borne up by the wind, therefore in her certain hour she flies from the fire, not having fixity enough to endure it. Now if these two sperms, separated from themselves, be united again, by powerful nature, in the potentiality of mercury, which is the metallic fire: being thus united, it is called by the philosophers the flying dragon; - because the dragon kindled by its fire, while he flies by little and little, fills the air with his fire, and poisonous vapours. - The same thing doth mercury; for being placed upon an exterior fire, and in its place in a vessel; it sets on fire its inside, which is hidden in its profundity; by which may be seen, how the external fire does burn and inflame the natural mercury. - And then you may see how the poisonous vapour breaks out into the air, with a most stinking and pernicious poison; which is nothing else but the head of the dragon, which hastily goes out of Babylon. But other philosophers have compared this mercury, with a flying lion, because a lion is a devourer of other creatures, and delights himself in his voracity of every thing, except that which is able to resist his violence and fury. So also does mercury, which has in itself such a power, force, and operation, to spoil and devastate a metal of its form, and to devour it. Mercury being too much influenced, devours and hides metals in its belly; but which of them so ever it be, it is certain, that, it consumes it not, for in their nature they are perfect, and much more indurate. But mercury has in itself a substance of perfecting sol and luna; and all the imperfect bodies or metals, proceed from argent vive; therefore the ancients called it the mother of metals; whence it follows, that in its own principle and centre, being formed, it has a double metallic substance. And first, the substance of the interior; then the substance of sol, which is not like the other metals; of these two substances, argent vive is formed, which in its body is spiritually nourished. As soon then as nature has formed argent vive, of the two after-named spirits, then it endeavors to make them perfect and corporeal; but when the spirits are of strength, and the two sperms awakened out of their central principle, then they desire to assume their own bodies. Which being done, argent vive the mother must die, and being thus naturally mortified, cannot (as dead things cannot) quicken itself as before. But there are some proud philosophers, who in obscure words affirm, that we ought to transmute both perfect and imperfect bodies into running argent vive; this is the serpent's subtlety, and you may be in danger of being bit by it. It is true, that argent vive may transmute an imperfect body, as lead or tin; and may without much labour, multiply in a quantity; but thereby it diminishes or loses its own perfection, and may no more for this reason be called argent vive. But if by art it may be mortified, that it can no more vivify itself, then it will be changed into another thing, as in cinnabar, or sublimate is done. For when it is by the art coagulated, whether sooner or later, yet then its two bodies assume not a fixed body, nor can they conserve it, as we may see in the bowels of the earth.

Lest anyone should therefore err, there are in the veins of lead some fixed grains or particles of fine sol and luna mixed in its substance of nourishment.

The first coagulation of argent vive is in the mine of saturn; and most fit and proper it is to bring him unto perfection and fixation; for the mine of saturn is not without fixed particles of gold, which particles were imparted to it by nature. So in itself it may be multiplied and brought to perfection, and a vast power or strength, as I have tried, and therefore affirm it.- So long as it is not separated from its mine, viz. its argent vive, but well kept, (for every metal which is in its mine, the same is an argent vive) then may it multiply itself, for that it has substance from its mercury, or argent vive, but it will be like some green immature fruit on a tree, which the blossom being past, becomes an unripe fruit, and then a larger apple. Now if any one plucks this unripe fruit from the tree, then its first forming would be frustrate, nor would it grow larger nor ripe; for man knows not how to give substance, nourishment, or maturity, so well as internal nature, while the fruit yet hangs on the tree, which feeds it with substance and nourishment, till the determined maturity is accomplished.

And so long also does the fruit draw sap or moisture for its augmentation and nourishment, till it comes to its perfect maturity. So is it with sol; for if by nature, a grain, or grains are made, and it is reduced to its argent vive, then also by the same it is daily, without ceasing, sustained and supplied, and reduced into its place, viz. argent vive, as he is in himself; and then must you wait till he shall obtain some substance from his mercury as it happens in the fruit of trees. For as the argent vive, both of perfect and imperfect bodies is a tree, so they can have no more nourishment, otherwise than from their own mercury.

If therefore you would gather fruits from argent vive, viz. pure sol and luna, if they be disjoined from their mercury; think not that you, like as nature did in the beginning, may again conjoin and multiply, and without change, augment them. For if metals be separated from their mine, then they, like the fruit of trees too soon gathered, never come to their perfection, as nature and experience makes it appear. For if an apple or pear be once plucked off from the tree, it would then be a great vanity to attempt to fasten it to the tree again, expecting it to encrease and grow ripe; and experience testifies, that the more it is handled, the more it withereth. And so it is also with metals: for if you should take the vulgar sol and luna, endeavoring to reduce them into argent vive, you would wholly play the fool, for there is no artifice yet found, whereby it can be performed. - Though you should use many waters, and cements, or other things infinitely of that kind, yet would you continually err, and that would befal you, which would him that should tie unripe fruit to their trees.

Yet some philosophers have said truly, that if sol and luna, by a right mercury, or argent vive be rightly conjoined, they will make all imperfect metals perfect; but in this thing most men have erred, who having these three vegetables, animals, and minerals, which in one thing are conjoined; for that they considered not, that the philosophers speak not of vulgar sol, luna, and mercury, which are all dead, and receive no more substance or increase from nature, but remain the same in their own essence, without the possibility of bringing others to perfection.

They are fruits plucked off from their trees before their time, and are therefore of no value or estimation. Therefore see the fruit in the tree, that leads them straight to it, whose fruit is daily made greater with increase, so long as the tree bears it. This work is seen with joy and satisfaction; and by this means one may transplant the tree without gathering the fruit, fixing it into a moister, better, and more fruitful place, which in one day will give more nourishment to the fruit, than it received otherwise in an hundred years.

In this therefore, it is understood, that mercury, the much commended tree must be taken, which has in its power indissolvably sol and luna; and then transplanted into another soil nearer the sun, that thence it may gain its profitable increase, for which thing, dew does abundantly suffice; for where it was placed before, it was so weakened by cold and wind, that little fruit could be expected from it, and where it long stood and brought forth no fruit at all.

And indeed the philosophers have a garden, where the sun as well morning as evening remains with a moist sweet dew, without ceasing, with which it is sprinkled and moistened; - whose earth brings forth trees and fruits, which are transplanted thither, which also receive descent and nourishment from the pleasant meadows. And this is done daily, and there they are both corroborated and quickened, without ever fading; and this more in one year, than in a thousand, where the cold affects them. - Take them therefore, and night and day cherish them in a distillatory fire; but not with a fire of wood or coals, but in a clear transparent fire, not unlike the sun, which is never hotter than is requisite, but is always alike; for a vapour is the dew, and seed of metals, which ought not to be altered.

Fruits, if they be too hot, and without dew or moisture, they abide on the boughs, but without coming to perfection, only withering or dwindling away. But if they be fed with heat and due moisture on their trees, then they prove elegant and fruitful; for heat and moisture are the elements of all earthly things, animal, vegetable, and mineral. Therefore fires of wood and coal produce or help not metals; those are violent fires, which nourish not as the heat of the sun does, that conserves all corporeal things; for that it is natural which they follow. But a philosopher acts not what nature does; for nature where she rules, forms all vegetables, animals, and minerals, in their own degrees. Men, do not after the same sort, by their arts make natural things. When nature has finished her work about them; then by our art they are made more perfect. - In this manner the ancient sages and philosophers, for our information, wrought on luna and mercury her true mother, of which they made the mercury of the philosophers, which in its operation is much stronger than the natural mercury. For this is serviceable only to the simple, perfect, imperfect, hot and cold metals; but our mercury, the philosophers stone, is useful to the more than perfect, imperfect bodies, or metals. Also that the sun may perfect and nourish them without diminution, addition, or immutation, as they were created or formed by nature, and so leave them, not neglecting any thing.

I will not now say, that the philosophers conjoin the tree, for the better perfecting their mercury, as some unskilful in the nature of things, and unlearned chemists affirm, who take common sol, luna, and mercury, and so unnaturally handle them, till they vanish in smoak. These men endeavor to make the philosophers mercury, but they never attain it, which is the first matter of the stone, and the first minera thereof. If you would come hither and find good, and to the mountain of the seaven, where there is no plain, you would betake yourself; from the highest, you must look downward to the sixth, which you will see afar off. In the height of this mountain, you will find a royal herb triumphing, which some have called mineral, some vegetable, some saturnine. But let its bones or ribs be left, and let a pure clean broth be taken from it, so will the better part of your work be done. This is the right and subtle mercury of the philosophers, which you are to take, which will make first the white work, and then the red. If you have well understood me, both of them are nothing else, as they term them, but the practice, which is so easy and simple, that a woman sitting by her distaff may perfect it. As if in winter she would put her eggs under a hen, and not wash them, because eggs are put under a hen without washing them, and no more labour is required about them, than that they should be every day turned, that the chickens may be the better and sooner hatched, concerning the which enough is said.

But that I may follow the example, first, wash not the mercury, but take it, and with its like, which is fire, place it in the ashes, which is straw, and in one glass which is the nest, without any other things in a convenient alembic, which is the house, from whence it will come forth a chicken, which with its blood will free thee from all diseases, and with its flesh will nourish thee, and with its feathers will clothe thee, and keep thee warm from the injuries of the cold and ambient air. For this cause I have written this present treatise, that you may search with the greater desire, and walk in the right way. And I have written this small book, this summary, that you might better comprehend the sayings and writings of the philosophers, which I believe you will much better understand for time to come.

If you have problems understanding these alchemical texts, Adam McLean now provides a study course entitled How to read alchemical texts : a guide for the perplexed.
Alchemical texts

16th Century
Practical alchemy
Philosophical alchemy

17th Century
Practical alchemy
Philosophical alchemy

18th Century
Practical alchemy
Philosophical alchemy

Alchemical poetry

Alchemical allegories

Works of Nicolas Flamel
Works of George Ripley
Works of Sendivogius
Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum
Emerald tablet of Hermes
Rosicrucian texts
Literary works
Texts from Musaeum Hermeticum

Spanish alchemical texts
German alchemical texts
French alchemical texts
Russian alchemical texts
Italian alchemical texts