I've been making handcrafted jewelry and fantasy artifacts for quite a while now, and I'd like to use this blog to describe some of what goes into the work I do. I'm also hoping that I can teach some of the techniques I've been using to others who might be interested in learning them.

If you like what you see here, please visit my personal webpages. I have several dispay galleries, loads of strange tales to tell, fun stuff, and free art to give away.

Splendid Fish Studio - Objects from the Dream World

They come from the water and they bring strange dreams.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In The Cavern of the Metals

“In the cavern of the metals there is hidden the Stone that is venerable, splendid in color, a mind sublime, and an open sea.”

This quote comes from The Golden Treatise of Hermes. At first glance it seems to be a jumble of words arranged into a sentence-like structure, but empty of real meaning. It does, actually, mean something. It describes the place you need to go to find the stone.

The problem is that one can not understand what it means by reading it linearly - in a straight line where each word adds to the total meaning. This kind of writing can only be understood oceanicly - all at once, like being submerged in the ocean. Typically, a novel is written linearly, while poetry is oceanic.

To understand something which is written linearly you begin at the beginning, proceed through the middle, and end at the end.

To understand something which is written oceanicly you just jump in and flail around until you get a feel for the current. Then you swim. Alchemy will frequently require you to swim… that’s why there are so many references to the sea or ocean. In order to understand the text, you have to have read it, thought about it, felt about it, and tried it out. Only then can you understand what you had just been told.

Crazy. No wonder there are so few of us around these days.

The other trick to understanding this kind of thing is to know that there are TWO things going on at all times - one is the outer work, the other is the inner work. You can see it expressed like this:

“Behold, I have declared that which had been concealed, since the work is both with you and about you…” - Golden Testament of Hermes

“The work is both…” - two things are going on
“…with you…” - indicates that the operator will be working on his/her self
“…and about you…” - Here, the word “about’ means “all around” (as in “look about”), so the operator will be working on things around him/her - i.e.: material objects

This idea can be traced back to a line from the legendary Emerald Tablets which is usually translated as “As it is above, so it is below.” For the Alchemist, “above” means the realm of the non-physical (the heavenly or spirit world), while “below” means here on earth (the physical world).

The work is, then, both spiritual (in the common sense. Spirit means something else to the Alchemist) and physical.

The “physical” part of the initial quote regarding the Cavern of the Metals refers to the now obsolete belief that the metals all begin as a single substance. Deep in the center of the earth this substance is acted on by a mysterious force and goes through a series of transformations, each of which further purifies the metal, advancing it along a line from lead to gold.

This idea made sense at the time. Veins of metal and metallic ores are generally mixed with other metals - for instance, platinum, which is roughly the same color as silver is generally found in silver or gold veins. Platinum, however, is very, very much harder than silver, and does not tarnish. To the Alchemists, this suggested that the silver was on it’s way to turning into a more “advanced” form of silver, some of which was already there in the silver vein. The Alchemists called platinum “true silver” because it was what silver was destined to become.

Was this crazy thinking?

Yes. We now know that this can’t happen in the center of the earth. It actually happens in the center of stars - the only place known in nature that can reach the temperatures and pressures required to turn hydrogen into helium, and then into everything else…

So “the cavern of the metals” is this imaginary place where the transformations take place.

But remember - this is only half of the story. There is also the non-physical part to contend with… This is where you have to have understood other parts of the book before you can understand this (read oceanicly). This cavern of the metals is INSIDE the operator.

In this part of the explanation, the cavern of the metals is the place inside you where a mysterious force (“the Stone”) brings about changes.

The Stone is described as:

Venerable = made sacred because of it’s unbelievable age
Splendid in color = shining, brilliant, startlingly beautiful
A mind sublime = A mind of transcendent excellence. The word “sublime” comes from the term “sublimate” which means “to change from one state to another directly, without going through an intermediary state, generally from solid to gas without first becoming a liquid (you can see this happening if you ever have a chunk of dry ice). For the Alchemists, this would generally mean either dissolving something in acid, or causing something to precipitate out of a solution - either taking something from a physical state (a solid) into a non-physical state (dissolved), or bringing something out of a non-physical state into a physical state (the precipitate). Or, on the non-physical side of the explanation - a mind that can turn thought into experience, or experience into thought.

So what is this thing, this “Stone“?

The Stone (the Stone of the Philosophers, or the Philosopher’s Stone) is that force which drives change, whether physical or non-physical.

What is the force within you which drives you to do what you do, and to be what you are?

Find that and you’ll have the Philosopher’s Stone.

For my next blog I’ll take you on a little tour of my personal Cavern of the Metals - Splendid Fish Studio - where I AM THE STONE.

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