The Alchemy web site on
Curious Investigation Concerning the Nature of the Sun and Moon
Michael Scotus
Transcribed by Robert Nelson.

Curious Investigation Concerning the Nature of the Sun and Moon


Michael Scotus

If we ask ourselves as a first question whether the gold of alchemy be true gold or not, it would appear at first sight as if we must answer in the negative; because gold is properly generated in the bowels of the earth, and, therefore, whatever is not so generated would not seem to be gold. Again, the substantial form can be introduced only by its own proper active principle, which is the Sun, but no the kind of sun or fire that alchemists use. Yet it should be remembered that the real question is whether there can be elicited from the Sun and Moon, by an artificial process, any seminal virtue which shall possess the power of hardening Mercury in a moment of time into gold.

Now, in the first place, it is clear that such a seminal virtue can be extracted from gold. Every body, says St. Augustine, contains certain seminal possibilities of a specific character, which will always produce certain given effects, whenever the requisite temporal, causal, and local conditions are fulfilled. God is the only Creator, but whoever provides bodies with certain conditions may produce, through their means, certain well-defined effects. These seminal possibilities are called by some elementary virtues. We call them fermented spirits, because their action is hindered by the impurity of their bodies. But the spirit must be of a mineral kind, and all philosophers agree that the said mineral spirit is not a universal nature, nor yet is it Mercury in its whole substance, but in part it is such. Gold itself is altogether mineral, as is clearly apparent from its weight, and the ease with which it absorbs Mercury. Hence gold contains the radical seminal virtue which we seek; it is developed by digestive heat, and the impulse of an overruling Intelligence.

Opinions on the First Substance of Gold and Silver.

In the second place, some enquirers, who observed the ease with which gold absorbs Mercury, were surprised to find that this mercury, though highly purified, did not perfect the gold into the Tincture. But those who know that there is no generation except where there is nutrition --- the generative virtue being the residue of nutrition --- thought of implanting this virtue by nourishing the gold, and thus stirring up its radical active principle. In order that a grain of wheat may fructify, it must die and, by the action of the sun, its substance, which is no more than that of wheat than of stone, must be corrupted, and become fit to receive the form of the wheat rather than that of stone. In the same way gold must putrefy so as to be reduced to its first matter, that it may become capable of germination. Many have said that this first substance of gold is sulphur and Mercury. But sulphur and Mercury are metals distinct from gold, and are not found where gold is found. We may rather say that an unctuous vapour, embodying the nature of both Mercury and sulphur, is the first matter of gold. Now, as a man is generated by his father through the medium of seed, so gold, which is generated through this vapour, generates gold by means of the same unctuous vapour. Hence the Sages have called gold, when decomposed into its first matter sulphur and mercury.

Of the Reduction of Gold into its First Matter.

In this operation we must be quite sure that our methods are strictly in accordance with Nature; or we destroy the body instead of perfecting it. Now, gold is earthy, and generically cold and dry, though, in comparison with other metals, it may be called hot and humid; therefore, we must look for special difficulties in transmuting it into a humid vapour.

It must be carefully calcined in a reverberatory fire (so as to prevent fusion) and saturated with strong fiery waters. By this operation the surface humidity is corrupted, and there is generated a dryness, so that it is hot and dry. Earthy dryness, however, is inconsistent with the hotness of fire. Therefore, the first dryness is corrupted, and another more unctuous black dryness is generated. When Hermes says that the Stone ascends to heaven from the earth, i.e., is converted out of earth into fire, he means that gold, by means of calcinations, acquires the virtue of fire. Earth has dryness in common with fire; hence the conversion is all the easier, and then it once more descends from fire to earth. This latter effect is due to the operation whereby the calcined dry substance, through the mediation of our aerial water, by saturation has its dry nature corrupted, and an airy humid nature generated instead. Again the heat of fire is inconsistent with this humidity; hence it is corrupted and becomes a temperate moist warmth. Our vapour, then, is a substance intermediate between water and air. Thus gold returns to its root, and becomes a vapour, which is called the first matter of the Sun. Hence Geber, speaking to the artist, says in Med. Tert. Ord., c. 78: You have extracted the precious earth, and so that has come to pass which is meant by Hermes, when he says: It again ascends from heaven, i.e., from fire to earth, i.e., to the first matter --- and thereby acquires the strength both of things above and of things below. He says that we must extract the four elements, i.e., stir up the seminal virtues, or the active and passive qualities. The vapour which results is called by a countless variety of names.

Why it is Called a Stone.

The substance has also been named after all the different varieties of salt, and this custom has given rise to many grevious errors. We prefer to call it a spiritual mineral virtue, as such a designation is less misleading, and implies that the gold has received the power of germination and propagation. But as every spirit is contained in a humid substance, the Sages have endeavored to convert this spiritual potency, by repeated solution and calcinations, into something humid and unctuous. Thus, elementary earth germinates through the frequent irrigation of rain descending from heaven. Thus, also, the heat and dryness of the earth gradually give way to fatness and moisture, as the rain continually ascends and descends. If it be denied that by such means gold can really be converted into vapour, Plato tells us that if it be impossible to convert it into fire, it must then become the next thing to it, which is air. If a figure cannot be made circular, let it be square; in other words, the body must be reduced to its utmost limit of simplicity. That gold receives greater virtue by this process is clear from the fact that one ounce of prepared gold will fix one pound of spirit in one day, or, if the gold has been prepared ten times, it will fix one pound in an hour.

Third Part.

Our third question is how this virtue should be sown. The earth in which it is best placed is a mineral nature, because we are fed and derive our growth from the things by which we are generated. What we need for this purpose is a mercurial virtue, and hence it must be sown in mercurial earth. This earth, however, must first be cleared, i.e., it must be purified and sublimed by means of a powerful fire, though all the time its most essential part must be kept from combustion. The gentle fire which we need for this purpose, is one that conserves humidity, and perfects unison. The seminal virtue must be strong enough to fix the spirits which are enclosed with it in the vessel; for so the virtue is multiplied and grows. But if the fire be too strong, the spirits escape and evaporate, and fixation cannot take place. What is fixed, fixes; what is coagulated, coagulates; our substance impregnates itself and is the most wonderful thing on earth. Sow the gold of the Sages, says Mary, when it has been philosophically prepared, in the earth of leaves, there it will grow, be nourished, and increase, like other plants. When you see that the process of fixation has begun to take place, then rejoice, for you are about to obtain your heartís desire. But as the fire must not be powerful, the operations must be frequently repeated over a gentle fire, in order to produce the same effect. When the Stone is once perfected, it may be indefinitely multiplied in quantity; e.g., one part, after the first sublimation, would perfect ten parts of common metal; if it be twice dissolved and coagulated, it perfects one hundred parts; if three times, it perfects two hundred parts; if twelve times, it tinges indefinitely. The solution, says Plato, takes place in the Moon, the coagulation in Saturn: and thereby our Stone acquires the virtue of all the planets. And again: the solution takes place in the water, the coagulation in the fire: thereby our Stone acquires the strength of the elements above, and of the elements below.

As to the fourth question (that of time), we say that those who wish t bring forth the child before the proper period produce an abortion. In order, then, that we may know when the time of perfection may be considered near, it is necessary to observe the signs of development in our Magistery. When the substance is in the white stage, it is more subtle than air, and more brilliant than snow. Not long afterwards it may be expected to reach the red stage. The addition of the orange colour, which is obtained from Mercury, is the only difference between the red Stone and the white. As a consequence, its air is more spiritual, its quicksilver more limpid, its fire more condensed, and its coldness more effectual. The white stage is brought about by constant sublimation and distillation through a filter; the red stage by the intensity of the calcined waters. In the second place, there must be constant solution by means of strong waters, and increasing assation. Then the substance must be liquefied and slightly coagulated. This must be followed by a subtle purification of the whole material. Next you should light a violent precipitatory fire. The sixth operation includes and that have gone before, and perfects the Stone. If you add a grain of the Stone to a glass of sound wine, it cures leprosy, the itch, and all fevers, and purges all corrupts humours out of the human body; it straightens palsied limbs, and conserves youth. He who uses this medicine will always be merry and in ruddy health. Project one ounce upon forty pounds of melted white or red Mercury, and it will at once be fixed and changed into silver or gold. It has also the virtue of rendering gems, diamonds, and precious stones far more beautiful, and of giving them a more intense colouring. The medicinal efficacy of our Stone has been variously explained by the various Sages. Some regard it merely as an intensification of the power of gold to comfort and strengthen the heart of man. Some have compared it to the action of the magnet upon the steel; only both the magnet and the steel are, of course, mineral, while man and the Elixir belong to two different natural kingdoms. It is more reasonable, perhaps, to attribute the medicinal efficacy of our Stone upon the human constitution to the mystical influence which the heavenly bodies exert over both minerals and animals, and the same are found in our Stone in a specially concentrated form. But, however we may explain the fact, let us thank God that it is a fact, and that it has pleased Him to bestow so great a boon upon men. To Him be praise and glory in all eternity, world without end. Amen.