Confecting the Philosophers Stone takes place in two fundamental stages – preparation and confection. Once all materials have been sourced, they must be prepared for use as reagents. Archetypal Alexandrian methods begin with a single all-important material fundamental to glass-making and bronze-craft, which dates back to bronze-age antiquity. It was known to Alexandrian alchemists yet its identity remained encrypted by cover-names such as serpent, bull, sword, the One, the black stone, our lead, our mercury, body of magnesia, single root, sperm or seed, body or earth. Each tradition added cover-names for this substance but all traditions understood it to be the Prime Material required to confect the Stone. This mystery was the first riddle that an aspiring adept needed to solve.
When confecting the Great Universal Stone of the Hermetic tradition, gold, silver or any other metal is an afterthought and not part of the main process. The case is much different with regard to the Tincture of the Philosophers of Maria Hebrea’s tradition, in which gold or silver serves as a primary ingredient from the outset. For most of Egypt’s long history gold mining, refining and reduction was monopolized by the ruling elite and priestly class who carefully controlled gold technology. During the Roman period in which Maria lived, highly refined gold and gold powders were widely available. The need for gold or silver refining in alchemy comes to the forefront in Islamic and European traditions yet appears to be a non-issue in Alexandrian alchemy. The earliest forms of gold purification and reduction employed metallurgical techniques involving stibnite and much later in history quicksilver, lead or cementation techniques such as those recorded by Pliny the Elder.
Early-Alexandrian alchemical processes are simple and elegant examples of metallurgy and chemistry involving open calcination, fusion alloying in a crucible and in some cases distillation in order to prepare the required reagents. Three steps are involved in the process. The goal is to use three reagents to create two chemical compounds that will be joined to confect the Philosophers’ Stone. During the early-Alexandrian period, Maria referred to these by pairs of cover-terms white gum ↔ red gum, kibric ↔ zibeth or two fumes that contain two lights (sun and moon) in general and additionally by specific cover-names for each of the two compounds. These two compounds found fullest expression in the 7th century writings of Morienus and commentary by Sir Isaac Newton where they are known by the cover-terms latten ↔ eudica, body ↔ blood or earth ↔ water. When alchemy was transmitted to the Islamic Empire, these two compounds became known as sophic sulfur ↔ sophic mercury. Centuries later in the European tradition, Paracelsus referred to this pair of compounds by the cover-terms lion’s blood ↔ eagle’s gluten.
Prior to creating the two compounds, the prime material must first be calcined to a fine white powder by a process known as whitening the stone. This unique white powder was then divided into two portions due to it being an ingredient in each of the compounds. Following the calcination procedure, a glass was created that incorporated the powder and the precious metal being used. This glass was then cooled, ground to a fine powder, re-melted, cooled and ground a second time before being fit for use. This compound was known by the cover-names red-gum, latten, body or earth by Alexandrian alchemists. The second portion of white powder was then reacted or distilled with a very special salt crucial to Alexandrian alchemy, which resulted in the white gum, eudica, blood or water – known principally as divine or sulfur water throughout the history of Alexandrian alchemy. In the European tradition, it became generally known by the cover-terms sophic mercury or philosophers’ mercury in its viscous liquid form.
This incredible divine water was viewed as the all-important key to the art, remaining a carefully guarded alchemical secret for several hundred years. In the Hermetic tradition of alchemy, this unique water was further reacted a second time by a special technique to convert it to a sublime white powder that later became known as philosopher’s living doubled mercury. One of divine-water’s unique characteristics is that it could liquefy any of the metals common to alchemy, then mysteriously solidify or crystallize ultimately to a fine powder. Achieving this unique pair of compounds meant preparatory work was complete and confection of the Philosophers’ Stone could begin.