In his Traité de la Chimie Christophle Glaser talks about five principles instead of the alchemical three. Active and Passive.
In the seventeenth-century apothecaries used to give operative Alchemy hints about the first cooking or labors of Hercules without shrouding them too much in symbolism, as contemporary hermetic authors did. But in Glaser’s, this comes with a piece of knowledge unknown to many and his words should not be just looked over and taken for granted.
“Traité de la Chymie enseignant par une brieve et facile methode toutes ses plus necessaires preparations” Par Christophle Glaser Apothiquaire ordinaire du Roy. 8° A Paris, chez l’Autheur au faubourg St Germain pres le petit marche 1668. Treatise on Chemistry and quick and easy instructions on the most necessary preparations. By Christophle Glaser apothecary of the King. In Paris, by the author in faubourg St Germain next to the little market.1663
“Chap. three page five.
On the subject of Chemistry and its purposes.
Chemistry extent is huge, encompassing animal, vegetal and mineral families which are all to be reduced by fire into different substances that philosophers call principles. There are five of them, which we divide into active and passive ones. Active ones are the number three and they are the spirit we call Mercurius, the oil called sulfur, and salt (only Mercurius in capital letters). Passive ones are water or phlegm and earth: these are considered passive because of their resemblance with Mercurius, sulfur, common salt, elemental water, and earth.
Sulfur is differentiated by odor and flavor from the odorless and flavorless phlegm which sometimes raises along. Sulfur also seems to us as a penetrating and inflammable oil.
Salt and earth reside together until they can be separated by elixation (lixiviation, leaching). While these different principles are dwelling in the mixture given to them by nature, active ones are confounded with passive ones. Where their peculiarities can keep out of sight. But they are to be separated and purified and then brought together by chemistry, which makes them purer and more active bodies and more excellent than they were before.
Chap. four-page seven.
On three active principles, Mercurius, Sulfur, and Salt.
We start with the Spirit or Mercurius, as the more noble and excellent and the first to come up to our senses during the working. We can say it is a light, subtle and penetrating substance giving life and nourishment to bodies as well as growing them up. And that is because it is always restless and active. However, it would not long dwell in a body if it were not held fixed by more steady and stabilizing principles. Life is not long-lasting in a body wherein Mercurius flees from or predominates unbalanced.”
Molecular purity was quite unknown in the Glaser age. The answer to what a medical principle was, is easily done: fire reduces a substance into a principle. Of course, it is a matter of what kind of fire Glaser means here, being in an apothecary kingdom causes it to be common fire. Note that the great achievement in a medical environment, still in the seventeenth century, was the alchemical Mercurius, the same Mercurius of Philalethes and Basilius. Indeed, in Glaser’s treatise, Mercurius is the only term with a capital letter.
It is very uncommon for a hermetic jargon used person to read five principles instead of three. And that they are divided into active and passive ones. The three ones we have already known, Mercurius-Sulphur-Salt, are considered active by Glaser. For they move the passive ones which in turn, of course, are to be moved by active ones. Alchemy and chemistry here shade into each other. Glaser tells us about oily sulfur and subtle alcohol like mercurius. Don’t let you divert by such a statement. Glaser is working at vessels and maneuvering cookers. Remember, that back at that age, apothecaries used their senses to recognize substances. Often in alchemical jargon, we hear of “ vehicles” when mentioning our hermetic principles. I repeat, if you get to think of “ material” Mercurius and Sulphur, you are lost. Conversely, if you thought of them as a kind of “energy” you would be lost as well. If Secret Fire can be considered the Pivot, Mercurius and Sulphur are the pivots of secret language code symbols. Alchemical Alpha is here, in these very words: never think of principles as material substances, neither as vehicles nor as energies. Yet they are substances, no doubt. Just think of movements. Glaser states that Mercurius appears in solved bodies. It appears it is not carried by. At this point, we are allowed to understand that Mercurius can be a substance, but not a molecule. Mercurius is the first to come up to our senses during workings. Mind: Mercurius, can appear before its whiteness. For there are Primitive Mercurius also.
As a matter of a fact, Glaser tells us about the earth, water, and phlegm as being passive ones. To be moved by active principles. Now pay attention, the following sentence is of huge importance. If you will understand it, you can decipher alchemical principles symbolism:” Passive ones are water or phlegm and earth: these are considered passive because of their resemblance with Mercurius, sulfur, common salt, elemental water, and earth.
When operating in Alchemy one must be very open-minded. For catching the whole of proceeding you might be reading Agricola’s spagirical recipes. In the seventeenth-century Chemistry and spagyric were at one. Two different names for similar proceedings. What you have to understand is that even in chemistry and in spagyrics Alchemy can appear. Nevertheless, never think of Alchemy as being just chemistry and spagyrics.
To be continued at “Glaser, Active three Principles“