The Philosopher's Stone


I have learned from various sites, a tiny bit, just enough to get the feeling this "stone which is not a stone" is of greatest importance to deciphering the tarot...

I summarize a bit what I've found on the web so far, for fellow non-alchemists who wish to follow...

Alchemy with a bit of overview and history of Alchemy explains of the Philosopher's stone thusly:

... alchemical theory came to focus on the idea that there exists a substance that can bring about the desired transformation instantly, magically, or, as a modern chemist might say, catalytically. He called it "the tincture," and had several. It was also sometimes called "the powder" (xerion), which was to pass through Arabic into Latin as elixir and finally (signifying its inorganic nature) as the "philosopher's stone," "a stone which is not a stone," as the alchemists were wont to say. It was sometimes called a medicine for the rectification of "base" or "sick" metals, and from this it was a short step to view it as a drug for the rectification of human maladies. ...

Another site: Alchemy and the Philosopher's Stone says
The goal of the Great Work of alchemy, called also the Art, is the "Philosopher's Stone". The Stone was viewed as a magical touchstone that could immediately perfect any substance or situation. The Philosopher's Stone has been associated with the Salt of the World, the Astral Body, the Elixir, and even Jesus Christ. The Elixir of the alchemists has essentially the same ability to perfect any substance. When applied to the human body, the Elixir cures diseases and restores youth.

I might add the philosopher's stone seems also to have been associated with the Holy Grail.

The same website quotes several different historical translations of the famous Emerald Tablet, and shows how the first seven lines of the tablet, were made to correspond with the various stages of the preparation of the tincture.

Although the alchemists went to great pains to conceal the true order of the steps of the formula for making the Stone, the correct order according to the Emerald Tablet is:


Most interesting to me, was to see in the various translations of the emerald tablet, point one is not always understood "as above so below" but also, quite differently, "what is above comes from below" and vice versa. In this list of seven steps, it is pointed out, that "the first four steps take place Below, in the realm of matter. The last three steps take place Above, in the realm of mind and creative imagination"

Different websites list different steps.

In my MP thread : Father of Feathers : transforming the Green Lion's Rage, I quote the break-down of the preparation of the tincture into various colour stages each with their corresponding animal found on these interesting websites: Verdigris, Green Lion and Vitriol: The Basis of the Philosopher's Stone and Animal Symbolism in Alchemy

So what is the philosopher's stone? Is it about the transmutation of matter into spirit? What does it have to do with the tarot? Is the mystico-scientific quest encoded into the tarot encoded in the various colours and animals in the tarot de Marseilles as references to the various colours and animals of the preparation of the philosopher's stone? Are we missing something, we, non-alchemists who know nothing of all this symbolism?

Oh great sages, speak!


As the great sages seem to remain silent (as they oft are wont to), I'll just add some brief notes of reflection... and earlier considerations.

In a wonderful earlier thread titled Alchemical Symbols and Colour started by Ophiel, the alchemical steps and processes were also mentioned, as were colour considerations.

I also mention, in Qaballah and Tarot, that the stages of transmutation are at times described as threefold, at other times as sevenfold, and yet again at other times as twelvefold... the final stage, the reddening (or by any other name), becoming philosophical Mercury - which is at times equated to the Philosopher's Stone, a tiny portion of which has the means to 'ferment' other materials into philosophical Gold - as a tiny piece of holographic plate has the means to generate a whole image (or holon), save that in this instance, the tiny piece would have the ability to transform that which it vivifies into a whole holographic plate, without the touched item losing its essence. If anything, its essence would be purified.

As such, it has the power to quicken, to spiritualise, to purify and render the dross into radiant splendor - a little as would be described the power of Christ upon the life of individuals, hence his association by some with the true philosopher's Stone - or the Sun which lies beyond the sun.

As I mention in the thread Tarot and Alchemy?, however, I personally do not think that Tarot imagery arises out of Alchemical considerations. The images found within Alchemy are distinct enough for there to have been, possibly, some of its permeating considerations and thoughts to have penetrated the worldview from which Tarot arose, but sufficiently different for the search for the philosopher's stone, and the path of perfection depicted in Tarot, to have been distinct.

At the summit, of course, Philosophical Mercury, Christ in Ascention, and XXI the World each become one and the same.

It would also be interesting to reflect how 'the stone which is not a stone', 'the stone which the builders rejected which has become the cornerstone', and the exoteric seat of the Stone (Peter), as opposed to its inner vivifying esoteric Life (John), would have been considered and analogically thought of in times earlier than ours...

Perhaps, in some way, the Tarot itself is, for some of us, that Stone, that solid foundation which tranforms and transmutes, with Midas touch, its beholders...

But now I meander from your wonderful post!


firemaiden: I am not a sage, great or small.... And I know next to nothing about Alchemy. (In another life, perhaps :) ).

But I just wanted to say that, like jmd, I don't think that the Tarot and Alchemy are blood-brothers. However, as Alchemy and Tarot grew side by side, the philosophy behind Alchemy must have surely influenced it somehow.

I have always felt strongly that in the Tarot is a key .... how to turn our own lead into gold. Is the Bateleur not the Base Material... leading to the Golden Sun (Son)? But Tarot is not alchemy.

However, all roads lead to Rome. Veni, vedi, vici.


firemaiden said:
What does it have to do with the tarot? Is the mystico-scientific quest encoded into the tarot encoded in the various colours and animals in the tarot de Marseilles as references to the various colours and animals of the preparation of the philosopher's stone? Are we missing something, we, non-alchemists who know nothing of all this symbolism?

Not a sage, and like Diana I know very little about alchemy, except for what I have picked up whilst discussing related subjects with friends.

What I would say to the above question you posed however, is that I do not think alchemy influenced Tarot, nor the other way round, nor do I think alchemical symbols are shown in the Tarot deck.

However, I do think that alchemy and Tarot have the same goals (as Diana said: all roads lead to Rome) and so their symbols, teachings, and sometimes images too, are bound to be very similar indeed. Both seem to work from the same basic philosophy, so both will necessarily include the same 'archetypes' (for want of a better word.)

We can certainly apply alchemical ideas and teachings to the Tarot for our own personal developing understanding of the cards, but I do not think we can make what I would call a 'historical' link between the two.

If we look at the Lovers and Temperence for instance, we see two parts of the same alchemical process: solve et coagulum. Even Crowley noticed this. (And he stated that these two cards are the most important in the pack... maybe that is why?) In the Lovers we have the alchemical marriage of opposites that so often creates something new. In the Temperence card we have something very similar, but the 'ingredients' that are 'married' are being stirred and incubated in the cauldron.

I seem to dimly remember coming across alchemical sketches in some book somewhere (wish I could remember, it was a few years ago now... :() that showed the alchemical marriage. And by God it looked so much like the Lovers card I thought that it was the Lovers card!

Anyway, that's my rambling. Hope it made sense.



There is another sense in which, I would add, each and every card may be seen in alchemical ways...

For example, there are depictions of Alchemists at their table replete with instruments which call to mind the Bateleur; Maria the Jewess calls to mind in many ways Temperance; the World card is reminiscent of representations of Mercury; the Tower and some representations of (especially Rosicrucian influenced) Athanors have similarities; and of course, by analogical thinking, each of the other cards may be seen with alchemical eyes (the Green or Red Lion and Strength, the Sun and Gemini, putrefaction and the resurrection in Judgement, and all the others).

But the question which seems the main one in firemaiden's post is what does the Philosopher's Stone have, if anything, to do with Tarot.

There are two principal ways in which this may be addressed. On the one hand, by looking for historical links - which we each have done do some extent - and on the other, to form an understanding as to what is the purpose, usage or metaphor of the Stone, and thereforth look anew at the Tarot with that understanding.

...So what is the Stone, and what is its equivalence - or direct correlation - in Tarot ?...

And why would we begin to address such questions (I personally do think it extremely worthy of discussion, by the way)?

John Meador

-not sages??!

"O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity."

-W.B. Yeats-Sailing to Byzantium, 1927

nowhere the Stone is not & yet attainment exhausts the greatest effort- Grace alone bestows

or so I hear


Thank you for all your fascinating insights, oh wise and humble not-admitting-to-being sages.

Do you think there was any overlap between alchemists and kabbalists?


firemaiden said:
Do you think there was any overlap between alchemists and kabbalists?

Now here's an interesting question if ever there was one! I don't know the answer, but I'd be most interested to find out... I wouldn't be suprised if those who practised alchemy were also familiar in some way with Kabbalah... However, I don't know when Kabbalah became popular: if it was around amongst the society in which alchemy was studied, and at the same time, it would in fact surprise me if the two didn't overlap!

BTW: did you know Sir Isaac Newton was an alchemist?

Anyway, anybody got any dates for when Kabbalah was popular in the West, and when alchemy was popular?



Kiama said:
BTW: did you know Sir Isaac Newton was an alchemist?
Yeah... good thinking! I think it's one of the more fascinating things I (only recently) learned about him. I think mainstream science might have kept that a bit quiet? ISTR there was a program on UK TV that tried to reproduce some of his experiments? I think they concluded his (sometimes unexpected) observations were accurate - even when not obviously predicted? He probably spent more time as an alchemist than a scientist. He seemed to suffer some emotional "crisis"... or maybe he was always a little... "strange"? But who would quibble with a little eccentricity in retirement - even in one's mid twenties? I'm looking for a good excuse! :laugh:

I think he was even credited with inventing the cat flap? })

Hmmm... Isaac Newton 1643 - 1727? Jewish mysticism... relatively unknown to Christian scholars until Knorr von Rosenroth published the Kabbala Denudata in 1677... remained principle source until the end of the Eighteenth century. I think the operative word might be relatively? Some folk seemed to have "tame Rabbis" as tutors? Of 17th England it mentions names: Thomas Vaughan, Robert Fludd and Henry More... So there ya go? :p

(Random dates/facts from Henrietta Bernstein's "Cabalah Primer")


P.S. And if anyone DOES know of a good book on historical Alchemy?


Dragon's Blood - another name for the red tincture?