A certain group of the old alchemists, when discussing this process, tell us that the metallic oil we obtain is 'extracted' from the metal. That is, from the metallic Salts (aka: calx). There is little doubt that when they talk about this process in this way they mean us to understand that the physical metallic oil is extracted from the physical metallic Salt. Certainly when we are familiar with the Plant Work, and how plant oils are obtained by extraction with ethanol (for example), and we look at what happens in the metallic process, we cannot help but assume that the same kind of extraction is happening (if we do not know any better). In other words it seems that when we pour acetic acid on to some metallic oxides, that the acetic is extracting an oil out of the mineral/metallic Salt. All things being considered this would appear to be a reasonable assessment of the situation, and we can understand why the old alchemists, who had no knowledge of modern chemistry or physics, and no high-tech analytic machinery, believed that this is what was happening. Indeed, today, for lack of any other explanation, most alchemists who work with and discuss metallic alchemy still talk about the extraction of metallic Sulphur-oils from their native Salts, as if it was a process similar to that which we see in the Plant Work.
But in reality this is not what happens at all. The physical oil that we obtain in a solution of ethanol, at the end of the process I have described so far in previous essays, is not a metallic extract. That oil is in fact a by-product of a catalytic reaction between the metallic salt, and the organic solvent. In fact, that oil has its origin in the acetic acid, not from the metallic salt. This is one reason why, once the salts are removed in the final stage of the oil preparation, the resulting oil is safe to ingest. Because that oil is not metallic (chemically speaking), it is organic.
I suggest that if you understand the basic theory of the production of metallic oils you re-read the previous paragraph again, and stop and think about what I am suggesting; because herein is presented the central theme of this essay.
If you have understood everything I have explained up to this point, and you have some idea of the importance of metallic Sulphurs in the bigger picture of metallic alchemy, then you will recognise that the claim I have just made will be controversial in some quarters. The idea that much of that which has been claimed to be a metallic extract (in the past), for use in advanced metallic alchemy, is in fact not metallic, but organic. Nevertheless we should not be hasty to make judgement on this idea, because as with most things in alchemy this situation is not what it seems to be at first. So let us now consider the chemistry and physics of the production of this class of metallic Sulphurs, in detail, so that we can consider properly the exact reactions that are involved here, both from a chemical point of view, and an alchemical point of view.
For those students of alchemy that have a shaky understanding of acid-alkali chemistry, I suggest that before reading further, you re-read the essay that explains the subject (33). I suggest this because what I am about to explain revolves around the central concept of knowledge of how acids and alkalis arise. Things are about to get a little chemically technical now, in my explanations.
When we begin the process of producing a metallic Sulphur we start with two things, the powder of a metallic oxide (for example) and the organic solvent (acetic acid, for example), that we will use to decompose that metallic powder.
Let us begin by considering a molecule of acetic acid, as it would appear in the condition called glacial acetic acid (99.999 percent concentrated acetic acid (or 17.4N molar)). We can represent the structure of that molecule as it is seen in the following diagram:
As I have pointed out earlier, we can tell that it is organic because it is based on a carbon chain (the two carbon atoms at its centre), as well as containing oxygen and hydrogen atoms. We can also recognise the piece of the molecule that is going to be responsible for the acid reaction, the oxygen and hydrogen atoms on the right side of the molecule.
According to the way modern chemistry describes the acid reaction, when we add water to glacial acetic acid about four percent of the acetic molecules in our flask will lose a hydrogen proton. (See Diagram 22 in Essay 33.)
The proton of that hydrogen atom breaks off the molecule leaving its only electron behind, attached to the oxygen atom. Because the proton is the positively charged nucleus of the hydrogen atom, that proton is no longer electrically neutral, it is now a positively charged particle (an ion). Likewise, the remaining body of the acetic molecule is also no longer electrically neutral, that extraneous electron has made it slightly negatively charged.
As soon as particles or molecules become charged (that is, they become ‘ions’), they are attracted to other particles or molecules, seeking to become electrically neutral again.
So our flask has a liquid in it which has four percent of its molecules seeking compatible particles. We now add our powdered Lead oxide (lets say litharge - PbO - for argument sake ). As soon as we do this the negative electric attractive charge on four percent of the acetic acid rips Lead atoms off of the granules of Lead powder. In this case each detached Lead atom will end up with two acetic acid molecules attached to it. This new molecule is called Lead di-acetate, and is shown in the following diagram:
To keep things simple we might just call this new substance … Lead acetate. This much is commonly understood basic, simplified, acetate chemistry. From this point we start to move away from information commonly understood by chemists, about acetates, slowly towards the realm of alchemical understanding.
Our acetic acid started life as a clear (transparent) liquid. As soon as we add Lead oxide to this solvent, and the acid decomposes the Lead molecules, and every dissociated Lead atom links with two ionized acetic acid molecules, these acetic acid molecules (attached to the Lead atom) turn either green or red in colour.
After a good deal of reading on the subject and from discussion with a number of qualified chemists, I have never found a mainstream source of information that properly explains this colour change phenomena; a lot of guesswork, but no solid explanation. At the same time I have noticed that most commercial reagent grade Lead acetate, in its solid form, has virtually no colour at all. So, industrial chemists are largely unfamiliar with this colour occurrence. It seems to mostly be a reaction that is related to ‘homemade’ Lead oxides and the homemade Lead acetates that are produced from them. As for my own observations of this reaction, I have noticed that generally the acetate molecule turns red when the Lead used has a lot of impurities (relatively speaking) attached to it. Acetates made from oxidised Galena (Lead sulphide) are typical of this. The green colour seems to more reliably occur when the Lead used is more pure, and has higher oxygen content (eg, PbO2 and Pb3O4). That is, when it has been dissolved in acetic, filtered, concentrated via distillation and washed in distilled water, repeatedly, a number of times (for example).
Next, when we take our so-called metallic oil process to the point where we separate the oil from its Salt (see essay number 30), we notice two things. Ethanol, in this part of the process, acts like a cutting tool and breaks the weak molecular bond that exists between the acetic molecules and the Lead atom. See the following diagram, “Splitting the Lead acetate Molecule”.
That is, ethanol reverses the process. The acetic molecule, now green (or red), is separated from the Lead atom (Salt), which itself is no longer the colour it was when we first introduced it to the solvent. It is now a creamy white colour of a clay-like consistency. The connection that both parts of our equation have made (the acetic molecule and the Lead atom), has altered them. Their change in colour (and other physical characteristics) is outward evidence of that inner change.
The connection they had made was an electro-magnetic one (molecular bonding). In other words, it was an energetic connection. As I have already pointed out the alchemical Principal of Sulphur is the energy aspect of the system it inhabits. This is the point where modern science becomes ancient alchemy. When the metal connected with the acid molecule the Sulphur aspect of both parts of the equation was changed. We should be aware that colour is directly associated with light. Light is a radiation of energy. Energy is heat. Heat and fire, again, are our Sulphur.
In modern physics we are told that when electrons bounce up and down the shells of their atoms, when more energy is added to the atom, or energy is removed, the atoms change colour. The different colours an atom displays when energy is added to or removed from it are indicative of the degree of energy that is added or removed. We witness this, for example, when a piece of iron is heated in a forge. The iron turns red, orange or white depending on how hot it gets … that is, on how much energy it has absorbed from the fire. These colours are light and heat radiation emanating from the electrons in the iron atom’s electron shells.
From this we understand that in the realm of physics, when the colour of a thing changes, so has its energy state changed.
The kind of change we are considering in this acetate reaction is a (pseudo) catalytic reaction. The introduction of the metal to the acid has forced a change in the acid. Four percent of the acid has had its colour changed to green (or red), and at the same time it has taken on an oily or gummy consistency. This change in consistency would suggest that not only has the energy state been altered in the acid, but that the physical structure of that part of the acid has also changed. Physicists will tell us that a change in a molecule’s energy also often coincides with a change in its geometry (its structure and shape). This in turn causes changes in the physical properties of the substance.
I should make it clear that I term this reaction pseudo-catalytic because it does not seem to conform to the strict definition of catalysis: the change in rate of a chemical reaction due to the participation of a substance called a catalyst. A catalyst is not consumed by the reaction itself. It is questionable, at this point, as to whether the change which takes part in the metal (its white clay-like consistency) could be considered as the catalyst being ‘consumed’ or changed by the reaction. Likewise, it is also not clear at this point as to whether the rate of change of the reaction is of the kind defined by catalysis. My knowledge of catalytic chemistry is not sufficiently developed to make this judgment. Nor has enough indepth analysis been carried out on this reaction, as far as I am aware, to satisfactorily categorise the type of reaction which is actually occurring. There is definitely room for much more technical research here.
An alchemist who knows his business would explain this state of affairs in the following way: that when an organic acid is introduced to a metallic oxide, that some of the Sulphur (energy) of the metallic Salt is transferred to the acid. That is, that metallic Sulphur has migrated to and taken up residence in the organic realm. Or alternatively, that the energy (and possibly structure) of the mineral complex has caused a change in the energy (and structure) of the acid.
The so-called metallic oil is not metallic at all (chemically). It had its origin in the vegetable kingdom (acetic acid comes from the oxidation of ethanol). But we need to remember that the oil is the vehicle for the Sulphur Principal, it is not the Sulphur itself. So, that which began life as an organic substance, derived from the vegetable kingdom, is now alchemically considered metallic … or more accurately, to hold the energetic signature (and possibly structural signature) of the metallic realm.
So while the oil is not extracted from the metal, the Sulphur is. In other words, in this process, what the old alchemists had discovered was a way to manipulate metallic Sulphur (energy), for the purposes of their Great Work, via an organic medium. This concept, of the use of organic solvents in mineral operations, is of the utmost importance to advanced alchemy.
Because of this theory it is sometimes insisted by alchemists that mineral acids (non-organic acids) have no real place in alchemy (or at least cannot have alchemical effect), because the ‘trick’ in alchemy involves organic acids (at least to a certain degree), and other organic based solvents. Other alchemists, in their typical confusing manner, called mineral-metallic preparations, which were manipulated with organic solvents ‘vegetable’ preparations. Hence, a Stone, for example, made via the Acetic Path, was termed the vegetable Stone.
Once we understand this much, we are now capable of solving all kinds of other enigmas that exist concerning the real nature of aspects of metallic alchemy. Some old myths can be busted, and some bright new concepts can be realised. At the same time we get, for the first time, possibly, a clear look at the real relationship between alchemy and modern science, and understand that in fact science has all (or almost all) of the pieces of the puzzle, and the language to discuss alchemy, but not the vision to piece them together … yet.
This essay was first published on the Hermetic Alchemy Forum on 22 October 2013, as post #464.
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