David – Chapter 7

February 22, 2011 § 4 Comments

As a ground for reference the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy continues to prove a wonderful jumping off point to pursue further meditations on the Art.

Chapter 7 details the concept of the 4 elements, which we find integral, not only to the more recent Aristotelian empiricism, the basis for our contemporary science, but also to older streams of thought more closely tied to Traditional paths such as the Alchemical Art.

Empedocles is traditionally taught as the first (known) exponent of the theory of the 4 elements in the Western world. As Peter Kingsley details, Empedocles was also seen as the father of a very potent branch of Sufism which lead to the Illuminationist school of Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, a school which shares many similarities to the Augustinian Christian tradition.  Note that neither Plato, nor Aristotle, are usually shown as teaching the unity of both the spiritual realm and the material, the unity of that which is above and that which is below, yet it is from the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions that we draw our contemporary understanding of Nature and Life. Note also that Augustine makes it very clear that he does not follow the Platonic tradition or Aristotelian tradition, and it is his separation from these traditions that marks the beginning of his life as a follower of Christ.  Similarly al-Din Suhrawardi is specific in citing Empedocles, despite the fact that many Sufi lineages are identified by contemporary scholars as NeoPlatonic in their metaphysical doctrines.

This is a very important distinction to make.  The inter-connection between  physics and metaphysics, which forms the basis of the ancient Tradition followed by Empedocles, passed on to the Illuminationist schools, and central to the Art, has not been the commonly taught in either the scientific or mystical doctrines that we are most familiar with today.  Those that follow the Platonic tradition give more credence to ideal spiritual forms, while those that follow the Aristotelian tradition give more credence to empirical forms. Professor Gordon Campbell points out that in contrast to this “Empedocles draws a close analogy between the cycle of the soul and the cycle of the cosmos itself. This is a hallmark of his work: frequently he uses the same language whether describing the journey of the soul or the cycle of the elements.

It is interesting to see what Empedocles says in his poems regarding his Tradition:

” By my instructions you shall learn medicines that are powerful to cure disease, and re-animate old age; you shall be able to calm the savage winds which lay waste the labours of the husbandman, and, when you will, shall send forth the tempest again; you shall cause the skies to be fair and serene, or once more shall draw down refreshing showers, reanimating the fruits of the earth; nay, you shall recall the strength of the dead man, when he has already become the victim of Pluto.”

This Tradition has carried through to this very day, and by this I mean that these statements represent the ultimate exposition of the Art and should not be taken as metaphor (as our kind Italian friend has pointed out.) In an attempt to understand this, and to understand why this is such an important point, we must come to a deeper realization of the Hermetic maxim:

“That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.

As Hans Nintzel, founder of the Restoration of Alchemical Manuscripts Society, reminds in an interview from 1997, “Patience is the ladder of the Philosophers and Humility is the key to their garden.“  The full quote from Louis Cattauix’s work The Message Rediscovered is worth reading:

Let us accept the good and the bad equally, and let us leave to the meditation of time the care of separating them within us, for the sages have said: Patience is the ladder of the philosophers, and humility is the gate of their secret garden.


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§ 4 Responses to David – Chapter 7

  • David, thank you for this most illuminating post. I hadn’t fully realised that Plato’s work doesn’t include reference to the “as above, so below” philosophy, and yet as an initiate of the Mystery Schools, he must surely have been taught it? I must look further in Empedocles. Thank you!

  • David says:

    I’ve found Peter Kingsley’s investigations very helpful:


    With Plato (and Aristotle) it seems to be a difference in where they put the primacy of meaning, Plato puts it in the Above, in the Ideal, and Aristole puts it in the Below, Empirical reality. At least in terms of how they are most commonly interpreted, not sure if Pierre Grimes (http://www.youtube.com/user/openingmind ) or Pierre Hadot ( http://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/2010/04/pierre-hadot-part-1.html ) provide a different understanding.

    Empedocles doesn’t use this separation, he states that there is Unity, perceived change is based on the movement of Love & Strife, which are what cause the elements to go through their rotation. In his ‘poems’ he says that his fall from the Unity was when he favored Strife by eating the flesh of an animal, but implies a return to Unity through Love.

  • Willi Paul says:

    I now call for a new era of interconnected “open gardens” in the Art. The power of Alchemy, no matter your historic flavor or present day secrets, is desperately needed to support a new consciousness on the Planet.

    Sonic, community, digital, geo alchemies for the people.

    What do you say David B. Metcalfe?!


  • David says:

    Igne Natura Renovatur Integra – In Fire is Nature Renewed Whole

    The Garden is open to all who are given to enter it, but few take up the offer. There is no secret, no history, and no division in that which is Eternal.

    Sadly what we see today is the result of individual choices, choices that we continue to make despite warnings that stretch back to the Beginning, and a price has to be paid for those choices. Nature will endure.

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