Rudiments of Alchemy : Sulfur, Salt, Mercury

Seeing as how I have just begun a rather interesting journey into the oft-misunderstood spiritual science of Alchemy, I thought I might make a little post to articulate on my experiences and thoughts thus far.
While, as I said, I am new to alchemy proper, I certainly am not new to the premises of the art and its underlying principles. I am an avid student of psychology, ecology, physics, permaculture, biology, and a bit of chemistry, as well as more occult disciplines like tarot, yoga, and astrology. It is very interesting to see that the art of alchemy has to do with pretty much ALL of these areas of interest, and so even though I am new to the waters I am not new to the ship, if you will.

This post is dedicated to the alchemical archetypes of Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury. Like all such elemental archetypes within occult sciences, these are terms which invoke the essence of a thing, not the thing itself. Meaning we aren’t referencing the physical elements so much as what processes they represent. Those of you familiar with the common 4 element system (which also exists in alchemy) of earth, air, fire, and water understand these are terms used to express fundamental aspects and processes which occur within nature, not simply their referenced material eidolons or physical manifestations. It’s not such a difficult subject to grasp; we all use it. Someone who is “earthy” is one who is solid, cool, composed, practical and fairly uncomplicated, perhaps dense or stubborn. We aren’t calling someone “earthy” because we think they are made of dirt, we are referencing their qualities.  Same goes for “fiery”, “airy”, or “watery”.

Interestingly enough, the four elements of most occult traditions are alive and well in modern science in the four forces of physics, (being strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational) and more directly and more obviously in the four functions of psychology (intuition, feeling, thinking, sensing). Those of you familiar with the MBTI type test or C.G. Jung’s work on function theory will be familiar with these terms.

Similarly, within alchemy, the “3 essentials” of Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury are representative of processes. Salt is the material vessel, the form, the crystallized and solidified vehicle, the body. Mercury is the energetic force of a thing; the constituents, the abilities, the affects, the behaviors. Sulfur is representative of the essence, the soul, the purpose, the design, the meaning.

Keep in mind these are the “essential”, “philosophical” definitions. Each of these 3 essentials also has its “representative” on the material plane which is used when it comes to laboratory works (as you cannot put the actual soul of a thing in a bottle, the soul is immaterial). Ashes of a plant are considered to be composed primarily of the “salts”, the fermentation liquids and alcohols the “spirit/mercury”, and the essential oils the “sulfur”. This is sort of like how in a person, you might consider the brain to be representative of intellect/thought/action/mercury, and the heart representative of purpose/will/sulfur. All these things are actually salts, being material, but they are parts of the body whose qualities mirror or invoke their more essential ideals.

In a holistic sense, if we are looking at, say, a plant: The Alchemical Salt of the plant is its physical form, its structure, its body. It is the “What?” of a thing. The bulk of it, the vessel it uses to achieve solidity and solidarity in the material world. What does it look like? What does it feel, smell, or taste like? The Alchemical Mercury can generally be described as the constituents and processes. It is the “How?” of a thing. If the plant has any medical constituents, or compounds which affect the body, these fall in this category, as well as the life cycle and motivating behaviors of the plant. How does it grow? How does it affect other substances or things? The Alchemical Sulfur is the essence, the purpose, the volatile fire, the spark. The “Why?” of a thing. It is more abstract and intrinsically harder to understand, especially since many people have chosen not to accept that all things are alive and all things have souls. What is the soul of a plant? Why must it exist? Odd questions for most people.

So we shall shift our analogy to that of a human being; let us use someone famous. Perhaps Albert Einstein, yes?

Alchemical Symbol for Salt

Alchemical Symbol for Salt

Albert Einstein’s “salt” is the sum of his physical body and characteristics. Unkempt hair, non-threatening demeanor, absent-if-perceptive eyes. I’ve never met Albert Einstein, so I can’t comment on how he tastes, smells, or feels; but essentially any part of a thing which is perceptible through the 5 senses is part of the salt of a thing.


Alchemical Symbol for Mercury

His “mercury” is the sum of his processes and abilities. His intellect, imagination, faith, good will, altruism, dedication. These are his “abilities” in a sense, the things which he can use to affect the world. His medical constituents which he offered to the organism of man.


Alchemical Symbol for Sulfur

His “sulfur”, then, is the divine spark. Why did Albert Einstein exist? What volatility did he manifest to catalyze? Why was his chemical reaction necessary and what divine/cosmic/spiritual “will” did he communicate?

Thus, the 3 “essentials” of Alchemy form the basis for understanding the underlying movement from the volatility of Sulfur (The need, the purpose, the spark) through the action of Mercury (The process, the abilities, the constituents) to the structure of Salt (The body, the physical structure, the 5 senses). This can also be understood as the movement from spiritual to mental to physical.

As such we see Alchemy as a medium through which a person accepts the divinity in all things, and strives to respect, understand, and elevate the soul from which those things are manifested.

Quite a beautiful goal, yes?

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