We have learned in the previous essay that the first process in the Acetate work is actually CALCINATION. Calcination of the metal into its oxide state.
The second process (in the traditional old method) is DISTILLATION. That is, distillation of vinegar to produce a more concentrated acetic acid. Today we have a choice between producing our first solvent from the distillation of natural vinegar, or simply to dilute commercially produced acetic acid. Some individuals, though, insist that this work can only succeed if natural vinegar is used and concentrated either by distillation or freezing. The theory this 'natural-is-best' belief is based on is that natural vinegar has in it 'vegetable life', and that this vegetable life needs to be transferred to the matter from which the Stone is made.
There are two problems with the vegetable life theory. The first is that nobody has ever proved that this mysterious thing exists, can be captured and transferred to the material from which the Stone is made. The second is that there is no substantial tradition … no obvious and pervasive teaching, in acetate alchemy literature that supports this theory.
Jean Dubuis was a big supporter of the vegetable life theory, and it might be said that he was the guy who made it popular through the PoN lab lectures. He claimed (first) that if the acetate Stone was real that it required this vegetable life through the use of 'living' vinegar. But later, when he succeeded in making the white Stone, and performed transmutations with it, but could never push his Stone to the red stage, he changed his theory and insisted (contrary to tradition) the acetate Stone couldn't in fact reach the red stage because of the vegetable life that was part of its matrix. (This in fact is not the case, because I have seen the red stage of the acetate Stone).
So the idea that vegetable life exists as a transferable condition, that the acetate Stone requires it, and that it needs to be added to the process through the use of natural vinegar, is simply a modern theory, based on the whole 'life substance' superstition (which I refer to as the magic bullet theory).
We know from reliable traditional sources that … “our materia has in it all that is required for the work” … [my paraphrase] … and so the whole idea that some magic substance or condition needs to be added from outside is simply contrary to long time Hermetic Philosophy.
We also know that this idea that synthetic acetic is of no use is a modern theory (and on that basis alone it is automatically suspect), because there simply is no way that anyone working the Acetate Path before the invention of synthetic acetic acid (1845) was going to say … “synthetic acetic has no value in our work” … simply because that substance didn't exist. In fact glacial acetic was produced as early as the 1500's by distilling copper acetate, and it was an acceptable product to be used in alchemy.
The acetic acid we choose to use (whether from a natural or a synthetic source), then needs to be used at a dilution, not at pure strength (glacial condition). So commercial glacial needs to have enough water added to it to produce at least a 40/60 acid/water solution, while the natural vinegar is either distilled or freeze-separated to at least the same dilution. Some acetate alchemists insist that a 60/40 acid/water dilution is best.
Now that the metal is prepared as either litharge (Lead monoxide PbO) from Lead sulphide (galena), or as minium (Lead tetroxide Pb3O4), from metallic Lead, it can be added to our prepared acetic acid for the next stage - DIGESTION. Ripley's instruction is to dissolve 1 pound of oxide in 1 gallon of twice distilled vinegar. (Roughly 500gms to 4 litres).
This mixture should then either be circulated (boiled in a closed circulatory), or warmed and stirred regularly, in order to force and speed up the chemical reaction, which produces Lead acetate.
This solution then needs to be filtered to remove all solids (primarily undissolved Lead), and we thus obtain a green or red tinctured liquid which is a compound of water (H2O), acetic acid, and Lead acetate.
Now we want to separate the excess water and acetic acid from the acetate, and we do that by a combination of distillation and evaporation. We can distill the bulk of the water and acetic off the acetate by normal means (I usually use a sand bath), until about 1/3rd of the volume remains, or until a crusty ring of salts forms around the inside of the flask at the level of the surface of the liquid. Then the remaining excess liquid should be distilled in balneo, so as to minimise the risk of decomposing the acetate molecules through over heating. Then when the remaining thick liquid is still wet enough to be poured out of the flask, I stop the distillation, allow it to cool, then pour the residue into an evaporating dish and dry it in a sand bath at 30oC, outdoors.
The result is a crude part-sticky part-crusty Lead acetate that still has some residual water and acetic mixed with it. That residual acetic must be removed, and we do that by re-adding distilled water to the coagulated acetate, enough to simply redissolve the entire mass into a manageable liquid. Then I re-digest this liquid in a sealed jar at 30oC for a couple of days, re-filter it to remove the impurities that precipitate, and then re-evaporate this liquid until it is sticky-dry again.
This dissolving - digesting - filtering - evaporating - can be repeated until the liquid state is neutral pH, and no impurities precipitate during digestion. That can take as many as a dozen repeatitions of this cycle. The product we now have is the same product we are looking for when we make a metallic oil of the first order via the acetic method. If we now take this substance and macerate it in pure ethanol, that ethanol will separate the tinctured acetate from the clay-like Lead. But we aren't going to go in that direction here. That is, we are not going to separate the acetate from its salt. In the next stage we want to distill the acetate off the salt, and this will allow is to produce a number of completely new substances that don't exist right now in our Lead acetate.
At the end of this dissolving, digesting, filtering, re-crystallization process you will have a very pure Lead acetate of neutral pH that is amorphous (doesn't shoot spiky crystals during evaporation). It will be wax-like to the touch (but you shouldn't handle this without gloves, because it contains Lead).
At this point the old acetate alchemists called this substance by many names, among which were: the gum of sericon (a gum made from Lead oxide), our saturnian herb (a green vegetable based material made from Lead), the green lion, our unripe gold, our chaos, our prima materia.
This Lead acetate was referred to as the prima materia because it is the true 'beginning substance' from which the Great Work is started. Everything we need now to make the Philosopher's Stone is inside this Lead Acetate. Nothing needs to be added, only what is superfluous is removed (impurities).
It was called the green lion because the lion, being the king of the animal kingdom, was the symbol often used to represent the Stone itself, the king of the mineral kingdom. Green, because like green fruit it is as yet unripe … and by the heat of the athanor it will be brought to ripeness (redness, or the red lion).
Technically, and ideally, if you now took this pure Lead acetate and sealed it in a circulatum, and heated it enough to keep it in a moulten state, (280oC), for several years, you would eventually have your Stone. But we don't want to wait several years. So the old alchemists learned ways of manipulating their gum of sericon in order to drastically speed up that ripening process. These tweaks are what we refer to as … The Great Work.
Up to this point we have now used various chemical operations. Calcination, distillation, digestion (or maceration), coagulation, solution, filtration and crystalisation.
Now we have or prima materia … our first earth, which we are are going to make … without form, and void … (water-like) … upon which we will see a spirit move … in the next stage.
Disclaimer: I strongly advise that you do not attempt to put the techniques I describe here in to practice unless you have a well developed experience with chemistry, or you have access to the careful instruction of someone who is intimately knowledgeable in the processes I describe herein. Many of these techniques I describe in these essays have potential risks involved, and I do not always point out those risks in my descriptions. I do not take responsibility for any injuries or damages which may occur from the practical experiment with instructions contained in this email.
This essay was first published on the Hermetic Alchemy Forum on 29 October 2013, as post #484.
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