Sabine Stuart Chevalier often speaks out from the pack. Here she goes deeply inside the four elements and three principles sustained by her personal researches.
All we know about her are the scarce news revealed by her husband, french physician Claude de Chevalier, which are not exceeding the fact she may have belonged to the scottish royal family.
If most alchemical treatises very often tend to replicate the same concepts, so it is not for Sabine Stuart de Chevalier, indeed featuring a courageous independence of thought. Thus be prepared, in her Discours Philosophique sur les Trois Principes, Animal, Vegetal and Mineral ou La Clef du Sanctuaire Philosophique or the key of philosophical sanctuary, Paris 1781, to find some discrepancies between her and other more orthodox authors. For this reason her book should be taken as a whole, without extracting excerpts, then very difficult to place among other authors. In this post she presents her beliefs on metals origin, along with interesting and clear considerations on alchemical principles and elements. A reading I would recommend. Here my translation of “ Discours” outstanding parts from original french:
Discours Philosophique, page 1: “Fire began to act inside Air, whereby it produced Sulphur. Air began to act inside Water, whereby it produced Mercurius, Water then began to act inside Earth, whereby it produced Salt”.
Try to replace the element Fire with our most subtle kind of Secret Fire, something we alchemists believe coming out from electronic clouds and stars. Then replace Air with a more coagulated Secret Fire and so on, till Salt which is nothing less nothing more than Mercurius Philosophorum, or more fixed Mercurius, and we have a real genesis for principles and elements. Sulphur and Mercurius just being sub principles. Salt their sum. Or simply a Mercurius turned into Sulphur.
Page 2: …”the three Principles ( Mercurius, Sulphur and Salt) are constituted by the four alchemical Elements. Then they are reduced to the two, or Man and Woman. There it is a quadrangular inside a Pentagon, where you can find Quintessence”.
I would here recommend not to try to follow Stuart Chevalier geometrical symbolism, since it seems rather strained. A modern alchemist should ignore the four elements theory for the reason that it was a chemical arrangement transposed to Alchemy. Take for granted that chemical fire, air, water and earth were about changes of state of molecular matter, the same four in Alchemy are about changes of state, or densities, of Secret Fire/Mercurius. Mind that very often alchemists indifferently mix up disciplines, and consequently you can lost yourself, but don’t worry: that’s just what they want. Nasty rule of three (by which every symbol stands for at least three different concept) affects quadrangular term too. If you remember my post on Father/Sun and Mother/Moon where a Quadrangular means the first volatile fixation or the achieving of our Mercurius Philosophorum or Salt, in Stuart Chevalier it designates the same thing, although the concept is slightly different: the four elements are reunified, so they become a Pentagon, or the four plus the grand total which is Salt. Quintessence or Quinta Essentia or Fifth Essence is the essence of the fifth one or Salt (1). Our Mercurius Philosophorum out of the box, literally.
Page 3: ….”the artist is compelled to separate this Quintessence purifying it by a great number of “Contraries” in order to have in three essences, inside every composition, namely a Body, a Spirit and a Soul. And after having operate in such a way, one must reunify them, in so doing imitating Nature”.
Contraries are Solve et Coagula repetitions, or dissolving-fixing series to extract the Universal Dissolvent out of raw Matter. Here Stuart Chevalier is using a symbolism quite different from the orthodox one: in fact she’s putting body, spirit and soul at the end of our preparatory work to achieve our Mercurius Philosophorum. But that seems to me quite spagyric. I prefer putting alchemical Body, Spirit and Soul in the Main Work (2). The final sentence is a real compendium of the whole alchemical work. In fact once we have achieved Mercurius Philosophorum or Universal Dissolvent, all we have to do is keeping to divide and reunify the very Universal Dissolvent (3) or Mercurius.
“…..metals are all made from mercury and sulfur, which are more subtle than a coagulated steam. sulfur is the grease of Earth which is cooked in the mine by means a tempered heat, while Mercurius is a heavy water contains a very fine white clay. The success of the whole operation depends on natural mercury, but it must be mixed with sulfur. That’s why all the mines exhale a sulfur smell…..and it is for this reason that alchemist should know about Salt which is the Key, since is sulfur that retains salt where it is…”
It is clear enough that Stuart Chevalier is meaning here Sulphur and Mercurius, our alchemical aforementioned principles and not the chemical elements. Very interesting her defining a texture for our two principles: grease like for Sulphur and white emulsion like for Mercurius. But do not take for granted that all Sulphur and Mercurius must be looking like that. Just for some ways, of course.
…”The shape and tincture of gold are within Mercurius Philosophorum, like heart in animals. But one has to add an external Sulphur, which by its virtue and active power, keeps moving the Mercurius, strengthens it separating all Sulphur from the vulgar one and converts it into perfect metal depending on the nature of the same sulphur”.
In this paragraph we can summarize the whole Alchemy: the metallic gold thrown into the Mercurius and the real essence which is indeed the same metallic gold become Mercurius/Secret Fire in its turn. And then this golden Mercurius which enhances a Mercurius extracted out of other materials than gold (4). Pat close attention to the parallel between Mercurius and Heart, since this is a very learned Alchemy key which we are bound to encounter again and again(5).
Page 11:….”in fact this is a Mercurius other than vulgar, since this one can dissolve gold and silver and then get indissolubly joined with them”.. …”the crude sulphur never produces a perfect metal, as the subtle one which instead always converts the mercury in a perfect metal, because it contains a perfect dye”.
In this case mercury is the chemical element whereby our perfect Sulphur, or projection powder, can transmute it in gold, because our perfect Sulphur contains a huge quantity of Secret Fire or dye (6).
The alchemists of the time, and I mean those who did not belong in secret circles, quite often had as a starting point and final purpose a transmutation into gold. All their science and genesis of metals were thought to explain this. Stuart Chevalier when saying that metals are formed by a great amount of Mercurius making the body and little of Sulphur making the seed and the life-giving agent in fact derives her knowledge from an archaic concept, in total ignorance of the reproductive animal cells, by which the female specimen provides the matter or Mercurius, the body, while the male, or subtle sulphur, the strange life-giving agent. Since projection powder is being made out of gold extremely dissolved in Mercurius. But this is just one of all the possible definitions we can applied to Sulphur.
.…Sulphur goes subtilized along with vapors temperated through natural sublimations in mines. When the utmost purity is reached, a sulphur converts in gold all parts of mercury”. Sometimes Stuart Chevalier means metallic mercury, as in this case, sometimes Mercurius Philosophorum.
“The proof of what I’m saying is that in iron, tin, copper mines there is always a bit of gold and silver mixed. We constantly observe in the mines some imperfect minerals which are transmuted into gold. Thus a certain amount of Mercurius is certainly contained into imperfect metals……. Nature has provided us with many ways to destroy the imperfect metals and open and free them from the wastes by means of the powerful spirits existing in the animal kingdom”.