Acid-Base (alkali) Chemistry
Ok, so I have been asked to explain the chemistry of how metallic oils of the first order are produced. He specifically was asking about the oils produced from metallic citrates, but as I have not actually sat down and worked out the details for that path, and I already have a detailed description of the acetate method, and it is safe to assume the basic method for both paths is similar, I am going to explain the acetate method and leave the individual to figure out the rest on his or her own.
Since this explanation is a little lengthy I am going to split it into two essays, which are addendums to Essay 32. Because I know some of you are not very familiar with chemistry I am going to write the first essay on acidalkali chemistry, because in order to understand the chemistry of metallic oils we first need to understand how acids and alkalis work. So I will be describing that here in Essay 33. Then in Essay 34 I will explain the chemistry of metallic oils specifically.
Acid Alkali Chemistry …
Key to an understanding of the evolution of nature’s alchemical mechanism is the role of the acid and the alkali. Generally, there is a lack of understanding (a modicum of ignorance), among many students of alchemy, concerning the importance of the subject of acids and bases, how they work and what their role in alchemy is. A good grasp of the topic is necessary if we are, in any way at all, to have a deeper insight into the nature of alchemy.
Some of the most important core concepts of alchemy involve knowledge of how common acids and bases react with different substances, and how they are the beginning of everything chemical in living systems. Likewise, it is important to know how to recognise these common acid and alkali reactions in comparison to those of uncommon (philosophic) solvents and their effect on substances. To be as sure as I can that the greatest number of you are in a position to understand the chemical descriptions I am about to present in this set of essays, it is probably a good idea if we begin by covering some basics of chemistry, first, for those who need their memory jogged, or knowledge added to.
To begin, the novice should know that while the word 'acid' has not changed in a very long time, the word used to describe alkalis has. The word alkali is Arabic in origin. In relatively recent times some enterprising chemist decided to change the Arabic alkali for the modern term base. I personally find that the word ‘base’ can be confusing, and much prefer the older term alkali.
As any high school chemistry student should be aware, modern science has used a symbolic model of the atom to represent its structure. That model is sometimes called the solar-system model, or the Bohr model, (after the physicist Niels Bohr, who discovered electron shells in 1913). We now know that the atom does not look like this, but it still serves us, at the most basic level of chemical education, as a good model for discussing something which is hard to imagine in its reality. Certainly, for the purpose of this discussion of how chemistry relates to the production of metallic Sulphurs, the simple Bohr model suits us well.
Atoms, as chemistry and physics tell us, are composed of three main parts: protons (which have a positive electric charge), neutrons (which have no charge) and electrons (which have a negative electric charge). Some alchemists who have chemical knowledge suggest that these three sub-atomic particles are the basic vehicles of the alchemical Principals at the atomic level of physical reality.
The protons and neutrons clump together at the centre of the atom, and make up the atomic nucleus. The electrons orbit the nucleus, and stack themselves in to what is known as electron shells. We can imagine these shells as being something like the layers of an onion. In the first shell (the one closest to the nucleus) we can have up to two electrons resident. Once that shell is full the next one accepts electrons, and it can accommodate up to eight. Once the second shell is full the third accepts electrons, any number up to eighteen, and so-on. Under normal conditions any particular atom has the same total number of electrons in its shells as it has protons in its nucleus. In this way the positive and negative charges of the atom are balanced, and the atom is electrically neutral as a unit. This simple format, of a nucleus of protons surrounded by electron shells, is shown in the atomic model below.
<html> <center></html> Diagram 16 <html> </center></html>
The number of electrons (and therefore protons) in any atom is known as its 'atomic number'. Chemists and physicists tell us that each specific chemical element is defined by how many electrons and protons it possesses. So, for example, the chemical element of hydrogen has the atomic number of one. This means that it possesses one electron in its first electron shell, and one proton in its nucleus. See the diagram to the right.
<html> <center></html> Diagram 17 <html> </center></html>
Oxygen (in contrast) has an atomic number of eight. It therefore has two electrons in its first shell (which is then full) and six electrons in its second shell, and eight protons in its nucleus. Even though this atom is electrically neutral, its second shell is not full, it can still accommodate two more electrons. It is a good idea to keep in mind that it is firstly the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom that defines what element that atom will be. Those nucleic protons (secondly) define how many electrons need to be in its outer shells. The nucleus is a relatively fixed unit, and its proton count can not easily be changed, because the forces which hold it together are very rigid. Alternatively the electron numbers in the outer shells can be manipulated by relatively common chemical operations and natural processes because the forces which hold electrons in their orbits are relatively weak.
<html> <center></html> Diagram 18 <html> </center></html>
The outer-most shell of an atom has a special name, it is referred to as the atom’s valence shell. When it comes to considering how various atoms interact with each other, and some of the changes individual atoms can go through, the state of the valence shell is very important. It is the nature of atoms to want to fill their valence shells up to their maximum limit of electrons. They do this by attracting other atoms to themselves (through an electro-magnetic connection), in order to share valence electrons. Chemists call this co-valent bonding. When two or more atoms join together in this way the new unit they form is known as a molecule. An example of how this can happen can be seen in how hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom can join together to form a water molecule.
<html> <center></html> Diagram 19 <html> </center></html>
Again, the hydrogen atom has one electron in its valence shell and it wants one more electron to fill that shell. Oxygen wants to attract two electrons to fill its valence shell. So, then, it is possible for two hydrogen atoms to share their single outer electrons with the oxygen atom. We see in Diagram 19 that, for the hydrogen atom on the left, its single electron has linked in to the oxygen atom’s valence shell, and it now shares one of oxygen’s valence electrons. By this sharing action, oxygen now has eight electrons in its valence shell, and hydrogen now has two. In this way we obtain H2O – two hydrogen atoms (H2) joining with one oxygen (O) atom, to form one molecule of water.
In nature, because atoms have various different numbers of electrons in their valence shells, many different combinations of atoms, in-to molecules, are possible. In this way all of the substances we experience in our physical reality are composed of collections of a single type of atom, or combinations of various types of atom, and then various molecules.
All of these substances, and therefore all of the various combinations of atoms and molecules, are divided in to two basic classes by modern science: organic and inorganic matter. Because of this the modern study of university level chemistry is (at its earliest stages) divided into two subject areas: physical chemistry which concerns itself with the (fundamental) chemistry and physics of inorganic matter (and is usually taught first), and then organic chemistry which deals with the special complex field of organic molecules. Organic matter is defined by the fact that at their core all organic molecules are composed of chains of carbon (C) atoms along with different combinations of oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H) atoms attached to them. Chemistry insists that these three atoms, in combination, are the basic building blocks of living (organic) matter.
It has been postulated by some alchemists who have knowledge of chemistry, that oxygen, hydrogen and carbon are the first atomic-molecular vehicles of the alchemical Principals, Sulphur (oxygen), Mercury (hydrogen) and Salt (carbon). If there is any validity to this theory it could only be accepted as a general rule, because organic molecules can also contain atoms of other chemical elements (which are, strictly speaking, non-organic). Also, we know (as alchemists) that all substances, including non-organic ones, are themselves composed of the three alchemical Principals, and that inorganic matter (in the chain of evolution) precedes organic matter.
It is at this point that I should repeat a statement I have made previously: that the three alchemical Principals do not possess specific chemical vehicles through which they always manifest. The Principals (which are firstly non-physical) may migrate from one chemical vehicle to another, under the right conditions, as onevehicle becomes unfit, and/or new ones become available.
Understanding how modern science views the structure of the water molecule is half of the complete picture we need in order to understand how acid-alkali chemistry operates. So let us use a simple organic acid as an example of how the acid side of acid-alkali chemistry works. Because this acid is a solvent that I will often talk about in the Acetate Path essays, we should begin by considering the nature of acetic acid. Acetic acid is the acid that we find in common cooking vinegar. Vinegar is generally (and naturally) produced when the alcohol in wine (or beer) becomes oxidized. This most often occurs when a bacterium called acetobacter eats alcohol and converts it in to acetic acid, which it then excretes. It should also be understood that modern science, after coming to understand this much, has invented industrial methods of synthetically producing acetic acid through a number of different methods.
Because acetic acid is a complex substance the chemical formula for acetic acid can be written in various ways, in chemistry. Most commonly (and in its simplest form) it looks like this:
<html> <center></html> C2H4O2 <html> </center></html>
The first thing we should notice is that this molecule is composed of carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) – which shows us it is an organic molecule. In order to get some idea of what this molecule looks like, chemists have a couple of ways they can draw stylised diagrams of it. See the following Diagram 20, which is one of the more simple ways of depicting the acetic acid molecule.
<html> <center></html> Diagram 20 <html> </center></html>
We can see here our C2 carbon chain (two carbon atoms at the core of the molecule), H4 (four hydrogen atoms) and our O2 (two oxygen atoms), and the lines which represent the electron (valence) bonds between them. (Note that one of the oxygen atoms has a double-bond with one of the carbon atoms.) Carbon has four empty slots in its valence shell, oxygen has two and hydrogen has one. With a little presence of mind we can see how that Lego concept works in the diagram.
There is a particular part of this molecule that makes it an acid, and that is the O-H portion on the right hand side. As a general rule, this O-H (oxygen and hydrogen) portion is found on all acid molecules (as defined by chemistry). So for example we see it in “Sulphuric Acid” (H2SO4) in the following diagram.
<html> <center></html> Diagram 21 <html> </center></html>
The first thing we can notice about sulphuric acid is that it has hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur (S) atoms, but no carbon. Therefore this acid is not organic. It is inorganic, or what we might call a mineral acid. Another peculiarity of this acid is that it has two O-H sites (one to the left and one to the right), which makes it a very strong acid.
Chemists have a couple of ways they describe the definition of an acid. The Bronsted-Lowry definition (for example) says … an acid is a compound which donates a hydrogen ion (H+) to another compound, which is a base (alkali)). In describing what this means, I am going to simplify the explanation in order to avoid creating confusion because of some aspects of the chemical view that are questionable, and complicated.
Chemists tell us that in order to activate a 100-percent-concentrated acid, we need to add it to water. So if we use our acetic acid as an example, let us imagine we are adding glacial acetic acid (99.999% pure acetic acid) to distilled water. Chemists tell us that as soon as we do this the ‘H’ (hydrogen atom) on the end of the O-H portion of the acid, breaks off from the acid molecule. See the following Diagram 22.
<html> <center></html> Diagram 22 <html> </center></html>
When it breaks free it leaves its single electron (which it was sharing with the oxygen atom) behind. If we think about this for a moment, and consider that hydrogen only has one electron and one proton, this means that the bit that broke free is really only a proton now. (Ideally this is not possible according to the laws of physics, but it is a convenient way for chemists to explain how they believe acids work). This free hydrogen proton is now called a hydronium ion by chemists. An ion is any particle that has an electric charge to it (it is no longer electrically neutral). Remember I had pointed out that atoms normally have an equal number of protons and electrons, and this gives the atom an overall balanced charge. But now that our hydrogen atom has split, its negative charge (electron) has created a charge imbalance in the oxygen atom it was attached to. Because of this extra negative charge the entire remaining acetic acid molecule is slightly negative now. On the other hand, the hydronium ion (the hydrogen proton) is also out of balance. It is electrically positive in charge now.
If we now look back at our Bronsted-Lowry definition of an acid, we can see what it means. Our acetic acid ‘donated’ an H+ to its environment (the water it is dissolved in). Even though it is not properly understood how this donated proton can happen (or even if this is really what is happening at all), what chemists do know is that the acid solution (acetic + water) now measures as if it has an increased hydrogen ion concentration in the water. The way they represent this in chemical formula is to say that some of the water is now H3O+ (which is, again, chemically impossible, because oxygen atoms do not have three free slots for additional electrons in their valence shell).
The water side of the equation is not really what we are interested in though. What we (as alchemists) are interested in is the remaining condition of the acetic acid molecule, which now has a negative charge (i.e. it is a molecular ion). It is this electro-magnetic imbalance in this molecule that allows it to rip apart (dissolve) some substanceshis molecule that allows it to rip apart (dissolve) some substances put into its solution.
Acetic acid is known to be a weak acid. What this means in chemical terms is that only a small portion (about 4 percent) of acetic molecules, when added to water, have hydronium ions which dissociate. At some point the water-acid solution knows when roughly 4 percent of hydronium ions have been created, and the acid-dissociation process stops. Different acids have different dissociation levels; strong acids (like hydrochloric acid) have extremely high hydronium dissociation levels.
Base (alkali) reactions work in exactly the same manner, but the opposite way around. The Bronsted-Lowry definition of a base is any compound that accepts a proton (hydronium ion). (I am not going to explain that process in detail here, as anyone interested in it can research references on their own. Our concern here, at this point, is the acid reaction).
With this basic understanding of the structure and mechanics of the atom, and the acid-alkali function, we are now in a position to understand how some classes of alchemical, metallic-mineral, Sulphurs are made, which I will describe in essay 30b.
This essay was first published on the Hermetic Alchemy Forum on 22 October 2013, as post #463.
©️ rubaphilos salfluĕre 2022
This document is provided for general cost-free circulation, under the condition it is not sold or edited in any way at all, and that any and all quotes made from this document are accurately and adequately referenced.