A greedily curious man with intriguing statements, though not an alchemist, Elias Ashmole presents a Philosophers Stone aspect we are not used to reading.
As we know almost all of Ashmole’s alchemical career (probably not an operative alchemist but a great reader and voracious collector of alchemical writings) we could consider him not reliable, still, his words in Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum Prolegomena (1652) tune-up with certain expressions usually avoided in chemical Alchemy treatises but rather common in ancient Orphic “Mysteries”, where Idaean Dactyls, alleged Orpheus Masters, prescribe the purification with the “Lightning Stone”, a real stone fallen from the sky, by us moderns barely identified with a meteorite.
To an alchemist, a “lightning stone” fallen from the sky is necessarily the Philosophers Stone, made out of matter falling from the sky, even if found in the deep of the earth. This matter is our Secret Fire/Mercurius lately turned into Red Sulphur. Or Red Stone.
Jean François Xavier Fabre du Bosquet, in his manuscript Concordance Mytho Physico Cabalo Hermétique (1789?), says: ” Intellects and Spirit of virtuous beings never communicate with mortals without a special grace of Divinity, i.e. to have the Philosophers Stone”.
Let’s get back to Elias Ashmole now. For a period of his life, he devoted a great deal of energy to the study of Alchemy. Between 1650-52 he curated two anthologies: “Fasciculus Chemicus of Arthur Dee”, translating from latin the alchemical works of John Dee’s son (who by the way complained about Ashmole translation’s quality), and Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, by which he preserved many works that might otherwise have been lost. Ashmole eventually donated his library of antiquarian books and manuscripts to the University of Oxford to create the Ashmolean Museum. Now two-thirds of his library resides in the Bodleian.
In Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum Elias Ashmole writes a Prolegomena, or a discursive introduction, describing the wonders of Philosophers Stone, or Vegetative Stone, as he called it:
“… For, (upon the opening his Golden Box wherein it was enclosed) it dilated its Beams all over the Room, and that with so great Splendor, that it overcame the Light that was kindled therein; Besides she Hermes refused to project it upon metal ( as being unworthy of it) but made his Experiment upon Veronica and Rue.
By the Magical and Prospective Stone it is possible to discover any Person in what part of the World forever, although never so secretly concealed or hidden; in Chambers, Closets, or Caverns of the Earth: For there it makes a strict Inquisition. In a Word, it fairly presents to your view even the whole World, wherein to behold, hear, or see your Desire. More it enables man to understand the language of Creatures, such as the Chirping of Birds, Lowing of Beasts, etc. To Convey a Spirit into an image, which by observing the Influence of heavenly Bodies, shall become a true Oracle; And yet this as E.A. assures you, is not any way Necromantical, or Devilish; but easy, ponderous easy, Natural and Honest.
Lastly, as touching the Angelical Stone, it is so subtle, said the aforesaid author, that it can neither be seen, felt, or weighed; but tasted only. The voice of a man ( which hears some proportion to these subtle properties) comes forth in comparison; the Air itself is not so penetrable, and yet (Oh mysterious Wonder!) a Stone, that will lodge in the Fire to Eternity without being prejudiced. It has a Divine Power, Celestial and Invisible, above the rest; and endows the possessor with Divine Gifts. It affords the Apparition of Angel, and gives a power of conversing with them, by Dreams and Revelations; nor dare any Evil Spirit approach the Place where it lodges. because it is a Quintessence wherein there is no corruptible Thing; and where the Elements are not corrupted, no Devil can stay or abide.
St. Dunstan calls it the Food of Angels, and by others, it is labeled the Heavenly Viaticum; the Tree of Life; and is undoubtedly (next under GOD) the true Alchochodon, or giver of Years; for by it Man’s Body is preserved from Corruption, being thereby enabled to live a long time without food; nor this made a question whether any Man can Die that uses it. Which I do not so much admire, as to think why the Possessors of it should desire to live, that have those Manifestations of Glory and Eternity, presented unto their Fleshly Eye; but rather desire to be Dissolved, and enjoy the full Fruition, then live where they must be content with the bare Speculations.
After Hermes had once obtained the Knowledge of this Stone, he gave over the use of all other Stones, and therein only delighted; Moses and Solomon together with Hermes were the only three that excelled in the Knowledge thereof and of therewith wrought Wonders.
That there is a Gift of Prophecy hid in the Red Stone, Racis will tell you: for thereby ( he said) philosophers have foretold things to come; And Petrus Bonus avers, that they did Prophecy, not only generally but Specially; having a Fore-knowledge of the Resurrection, Incarnation of Christ, day of judgment, and that the World should be consumed with Fire: and this not otherwise, then from the Insight of their Operations.
In brief, by the true and various use of the Philosophers Prima Materia ( for there are diversities of Gifts, but the same Spirit) the perfection of Liberal Sciences are made known, the whole Wisdom of Nature may be grasped; And (Notwithstanding what has been said, I must further add) there are yet hid greater things than these, for we have seen but few of his Works.
There are but a few Stocks that are fitted to Inoculate the Grafts of this Science; They are Mysteries Incommunicable to any but the Adepts, and those that have been Devoted even from their Cradles to serve and wait at this Altar; And how rarely such have been heard of, may appear by Norton:
For few (said he) or scarcely One
In fifteen kingdoms had our Red Stone.
P.S: when Ashmole mentions St. Dunstan he probably refers to the manuscripts in Arthur Dee’s possession and on which Dee drew for Fasciculus Chemicus, that’s to say: Dastini Speculum Philosophiae ( now British Library, Sloane MS 2476) and Tractatus Maximi Domini Dunstani Episcopi Cantuariensis, veri philosophi, de Lapide Philosophorum. The latter is handwritten by Dee and bound with his own tract “Arca Arcanorum” British Library Sloane MS. 1876. These works are just ascribed to St. Dunstan (1). John Kelly told Dee’s father to have discovered in 1583 a manuscript by St. Dunstan together with a treasure map and an alchemical powder.
- Lindy Abraham, Arthur Dee Fasciculus Chemicus translated by Elias Ashmole 1997;