Searching for The Philosopher’s Stone

Rob Harle

Artwork and Poems by
Robert Maddox_Harle (aka Rob Harle)

Robert Maddox-Harle

I find alchemy a continual source of inspiration, it touches on so many aspects of our lives and has an extensive, complex and rich history. Alchemy was the forerunner of modern chemistry, medicine and science with both material and spiritual characteristics underpinning its philosophy.
“The Philosopher’s Stone does have curative powers, but the main emphasis is on its transmutative force; the whole work, it is emphasised repeatedly, takes place in one vessel, and only one metal is necessary to begin it.” (Introduction: Alchemical Poetry 1575 –1700 ed. R.M. Schuler)  A common misconception is that alchemy is solely concerned with turning lead into gold, far more important to serious alchemists is turning gross human ignorance into spiritual wisdom through the Great Work. Further, making medicine from botanical specimens and plants, and also minerals is an important concern of alchemy. All things in the universe are interconnected according to alchemy, “as above so below”, therefore the correct timing and planetary alignments play a significant part in all alchemical work.
The following artworks are a selection of my original pieces which help to convey the beauty and mystery of alchemy.
 Image 1 Alchemist and Astrology Chart
Image 1 shows a stylised golden head observing the positions of the planets before starting alchemical operations.

The Lost Chord
I went in search of the “lost chord”
that harmonious perfection of being
hidden from the public gaze
embalmed in a niche of sulphur
many centuries ago,
the chord to sing a song of universal harmony.
Some say, when played
the “secret chord”
will evoke the music of the spheres.

Still travelling down the line of time
the philosopher’s mystery remains illusive
hidden in the allegories and incantations,
written in the code of life
by those alchemists in their hours of toil.
Sulphur, salt and mercury
transmuted in the golden crucible by fire,
when next the Green Lion roars
then eats the blazing Sun
the chord will sound again.

Image 2 below  is a pencil drawing exploring different forms which the alchemist would contemplate and explore, again before starting the laboratory work.

Image 2 Evolution of Ideas

Image 3 Preparation for the Great Work

Image 3 is a mixed media work which shows some aspects of the final preparation by the alchemist before starting. Consulting the manual of symbols, many of which
are of an allegorical nature, contemplating the planetary aspects and studying the arcane imagery are all part of pre-laboratory preparation.

Finding the Password
The massa confusa,
the black chaotic cloud of all being
inhales and exhales imperceptibly,
access remains illusive
like trying to hold the breeze in one’s hand.

Keys to unlock the hidden doors
plentiful and free
remain illusive,
forever hidden to those whose creed
is greed, and war, and dominance.

The prima materia is all knowing
obvious though hidden
coloured by a haunting otherness
flying to the heart of all being
requiring suspension of accountant’s reasoning.

Like a conjuror’s stage set
the background sea of light is illusive,
each photon mirrored by a mirror photon,
and - like the conjuror’s set of mirror trickery
deceives the unwary from perceiving the obvious.

Allegories of alchemy show the way
spiritual traditions point the way
great philosophies hint at the way,
The Tao is the way -
but still access remains illusive.

The password is clear - but is heart sensitive.

NB: massa confusa, black chaotic cloud and prima materia are alchemical
notions of the ontology of the universe, background sea of light is the
modern quantum concept of the same thing.

Image 4 below shows my interpretation through a pencil and pastel drawing of the Mysterium Conjuctionis, a vitally important and central part of alchemical knowledge, the Conjuctionis, discussed and analysed in great detail by psychologist Carl Jung represents the esoteric marriage of the Sun and Moon (masculine and feminine) through the laborious process of distilling Salt, Sulphur and Mercury (not the common materials).

Image 4 Mysterium Conjuctionis

Alchemist’s Triumph #1 (Image 5) shows the Alchemist finally succeeding. He or she has been toiling away for so long that the body has disintegrated leaving only the skeleton, the lab coat is ragged, but in the hand’s grasp is the Cosmic Seed which contains the Philosopher’s Stone. The Cosmic Seed is an actual sandstone sculpture I created prior to making the pencil drawing, both in the late 80s. In versions 2, 3 and 4 below the drawing has itself transmuted into the digital images, this is intimately appropriate as it reinforces the central tenant of alchemy, transmutation from one manifestation to another. In this pencil drawing the axiom “as above so below” is alluded to with the Sun (gold) and Saturn (lead) in the background. The astrological glyphs of the Sun and Saturn are indelibly part of the Alchemist’s psyche. The Alchemist’s mission was of course not only to transmute the base metal lead, into the purest metal gold, but to transmute base ignorance into enlightenment. The Philosopher’s Stone is the perfect sphere within the opening seed pod.

Image 5 Alchemist’s Triumph #1

Image 6 Alchemist’s Triumph #2

Alchemist’s Triumph #2 (Image 6) shows the alchemist as part of the universal matrix, which is characterised by a Galaxy Fractal. This image was part of a major academic paper I wrote which was published in 2010. The image also featured on the journal cover.
“Chaos, Archetypes, and The All-integrating Field”. Non-linear dynamics, Psychology and the Life Sciences, Journal for The Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & The Life Sciences vol.14. no. 1

Mystic Fire

In the crucible of the turning world
the alchemist’s furnace smoulders,
salt, sulphur and mercury fume
pluming like clouds across an endless sky.

A voice booms:
“View the foundations well that here are layd:
This is the seat that the eternall mind
For universall monarchy designd.”

The gold of fools is ever tempting
though this is not the gold the furnace yields,
the ‘stone’ alone transforms vile greed and hate,
the gold of fools feeds this rapacious gluttony
enslaving all who seek the glitter.

The serpent eats its body whole
clearing ash and dross away
as the Phoenix rises from the mystic fire,
soaring higher, ever higher.

The cycle of eternal mind
spiral-spinning, turning, pulsing
forever rising and descending
draws us inward
to find our place within the flame.

(a) From Hermetick Raptures by Torrescissa (Alchemical Poetry 1575 – 1700 ed. R.M. Schuler. pp. 584)

Image 7 Alchemist’s Triumph #3

Image 7, Alchemist’s Triumph #3 above, in this version, a pastel and pencil drawing transmutate to digital media, then further transmute back to a giclée print on art paper showing the Alchemist triumphing over the massa confusa with all its elemental forces and false leads.

Image 8 Alchemist’s Triumph # 4

Image 8 above shows the alchemist triumphing over the prima materia, and not only is she or he in possession of the Philosopher’s Stone but have themselves turned into gold, the ultimate perfection. THE WORK IS FINISHED!

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