The work of the Acetate Path to the Stone properly begins with an understanding of the production of the so-called metallic oils via the acetic method. If we are to 'understand' the nature of the matter from which the Stone of Saturn is confected, we need to understand what these oils of metallic acetates are. That process of understanding necessarily begins with making these oils.
I teach that there are three 'orders' of so-called metallic oils. The first order are oils extracted with organic acids or alkali directly from the sulphides, oxides or carbonates of metals. An example of a metallic oil of the first order is the oil produced from metals by digesting their oxides in acetic acid, then collected by separating the 'acetate' from the metallic salt. A similar oil can be made by digesting a metallic ore in a solution of citric acid.
A metallic oil of the second order is one produced by the pyrolytic distillation of metallic oils of the first order.
Metallic oils of the third order are made by digesting metals in philosophic solvents. The most noted and highest ranking among these is philosophic Mercury which is produced from the products of the pyrolytic distillation of first order oils and which causes a metal to be 'radically' dissolved into an oil, which cannot again be reduced to a metallic salt.
The story of Acetate Path alchemy therefore begins with a knowledge of first order metallic oils.
The process of making a first order metallic oil via the acetic method is as follows: We begin most often by taking the oxide of a metal. If we don't have access to a naturally formed oxide we can often turn a metal in to an oxide by reducing it to a powder and by heating it in the open air. So let's say for argument's sake that we are going to use metallic Lead (Pb). We can either take natural Lead Sulphide (called Galena) and pound the ore into fine crumbs and then grind it with a mortar and pestle until it is a powder, then carefully roast that powder at a low temperature in the open air. This will cause the Sulphide to convert into Lead oxide (usually litharge - PbO).
The other option is to take processed Lead metal, such as we find in old plumbing pipes or roof flashing, and melt it in a big pot. Once the Lead is melted its surface oxidizes because of its contact with the air, and the oxidized Lead can be skimmed off and collected. This sub-oxide can then be calcined until it turns a pink-red colour and becomes Lead-tetroxide (commonly called red Lead or minium - Pb3O4).
If we now take this oxidized Lead and macerate it in dilute acetic acid (roughly 60 percent acetic to 40 percent water), the acetic will decompose the Lead molecules and atoms of Lead will bind with molecules of acetic acid to form a compound called Lead acetate.
When this happens the acid changes colour from a clear liquid to either a red colour (like red wine), or a green colour (from grass green to emerald green). When this colour change occurs it looks to the eye as if the acid has 'extracted' a tincture from the Lead oxide salts, in the same way that happens if you macerate an herb in alcohol that the alcohol changes colour as plant oils are extracted from the plant pulp. In fact, this is what many of the old alchemists instructed us was happening … that the acetic (vinegar) was extracting a tincture from the metal oxide. This is also what many students of alchemy believe and teach today … even though modern chemistry insists this cannot be the case, students of alchemy often insist that the chemists are fools and that alchemists through this process know something that chemists do not. This concept of metallic tincture extraction is a wide spread belief among alchemists, and it is also what my teacher taught me.
The truth is that it isn't the chemists who are the fools. It is the alchemists who don't understand what is really happening here.
If we now take this tinctured acetic acid and remove the residual Lead oxide by filtration, and then remove the excess acetic by distillation, as the acetic is distilled away the tincture concentrates and we find we are left with a red or green oil-like substance. This substance is a mixture of Lead atoms and what the old alchemists (and modern students of acetate alchemy), call … the oil of Lead (via the acetic method). This situation is understandably deceiving, and I am going to explain why.
When Lead oxide is macerated in dilute acetic acid it can form any of a number of complex molecules, all of which come under the genre of Lead acetate. In the following Diagram 13 we can see one of the more common compounds which are formed, which chemists call Lead di-acetate. The 'di-' part of the nomin tells us that 'two' acetic acid molecules have attached themselves to one Lead atom. The moment these acetic acid molecules latch on to the Lead atom the entire molecule changes colour. For argument's sake lets say it turns green, which is the most common reaction.
If we now reduce the maceration by distilling off the excess acetic (which is still transparent in colour), we end up with an oily green material in our boiling flask that alchemists call oil of Lead. If we wash this concentrate with water and evaporate that water, the water will help remove any residual acetic acid until our 'oil' can attain a neutral pH. If we now wash this oil in pure ethanol a curious thing happens. The ethanol breaks down the Lead acetate molecules by separating the 'acetic' part from the Lead atoms:
So now we have on one hand a pile of Lead atoms (which looks like sticky white clay), and on the other hand we have a nice clean green tinctured ethanol. We can now distill this tinctured ethanol and concentrate the tincture again, to obtain a pure green oil. Because we have separated the metallic salt from this green oil, this oil is now safe to ingest, because it contains no poisonous metallic salts. (The actual method for obtaining this ingestible oil is more complicated than I explain here, although my explanation is essentially accurate. So don't try this, because if any residual salt remains in your oil and you ingest it, you will have heavy metal poisoning).
So, again, most of the old alchemists who knew of this process, described this oil as an 'extract' of the metal, and often prescribed this oil as a remedy for a number of kinds of diseases. (See Valentine's 'Triumphal Chariot'). But in fact this substance is NOT an extract of the metallic oxide.
What actually happens here is that when the two acetic acid molecules attach themselves to the Lead atom, the acetic itself undergoes a change, which we can see as a colour change (to red or green in the case of Lead). In this way we can say that the Lead salt acts as a catalyst, and alters the nature of the acetic acid, changing the acetic from a clear water-like liquid to a coloured oil-like substance. So this so-called 'metallic oil' we have obtained is actually acetic acid altered by the metallic salt. We then use ethanol as a tool to separate the catalyzed acetic acid from the metallic salt, in order to obtain not an oil which comes from a metal, but an organic compound which originated from the acetic acid itself. When we ingest this substance we are NOT ingesting a metallic extract, we are ingesting an oil which is simply an altered form of acetic acid.
In the realm of ancient and modern acetate alchemy this idea I have presented here is quite revolutionary, and I doubt anyone here will have seen this described anywhere else. I know of only two, possibly three other students of alchemy who are aware of the true nature of this 'metallic oil of the first order'. Virtually everyone else (who is a student of alchemy) who has experimented with this kind of product, and has discussed it anywhere, believe this substance is a metallic EXTRACT.
So it is important to understand that this so-called metallic oil is actually the substance from which the Acetate Path Philosopher's Stone is made. That is, four fifths of the substances which Acetate Path alchemists take in hand to produce their Stone from, come from this catalyzed acetic acid. The remaining one fifth is the clay-like Lead Salt that is separated from the 'oil', in the ingestible oil making process.
Previously I have mentioned the fact that one of the original names for this Acetate Philosopher's Stone was 'The Vegetable Stone' … and now we can understand why … because a small number of the old alchemists somehow knew exactly what was really going on in this process. They knew that their Stone was not in fact produced from a metallic extract, but actually from 'vinegar' (dilute acetic acid), that had been altered by a metallic salt. They also knew that vinegar (acetic acid) had its origin in the plant kingdom, and so, they recognised that their Stone was primarily a 'vegetable' Stone.
From an alchemical point of view, though, there is more to this concept. If we macerate different metals in dilute acetic the colours and consistency of the 'oils' vary. What this means is that some difference in each metal alters the acetic in different ways. Something of the metal is (in a manner) transferred to the acid. We might even say, in esoteric lingo, that the signature of the metal is passed on to the acid, leaving its distinct mark on the acid. More than likely what happens here is that the energy (aka: Sulphur) of the metal affects the acid molecule in such a way that its geometry is changed, which in turn changes its physical properties.
Again, this understanding is immensely important, because if the Acetate Stone is in fact a transmutation agent, then from what we now know about the substances from which this Stone is made, we can safely say that a number of previously unquestioned traditional rules about what kinds of substances that are required to make a metallic transmutation agent are now busted. Our knowledge of a number of long held rules of the game now have to change. For example, it is an almost universal axiom that in order to create a transmutation agent that will transmute base metals, the agent itself must be made from a metal.
So, in order to understand where and how we begin the Great Work of producing a Philosophic Stone via the Acetate Path, we first need to understand what I have described here … that the process begins by macerating a metallic oxide (or carbonate) in acetic acid, to produce a metallic acetate. Then the acetate compound can be decomposed in such a way as to separate the acetate part of the molecule from the metallic atom (salt). This knowledge and technique is where the Acetate Path begins … in a manner.
There are a number of ways of producing compounds which are similar to this acetic method. For example, through the maceration of metal salts in citric acid solutions. If you have followed my descriptions, above, and understand what I have explained … if you think about this information carefully … when we are considering what kind of substance is required to begin the Great work, to a larger extent the chemistry of that substance is not important. That is, we are not searching for some specific substance in nature to take in hand, as so many foolish students of alchemy believe. (Generally speaking) as long as the prima materia is an organic compound (via this Path), that is all that matters. There are various ways we can obtain this kind of compound, and there are a number of metallic and mineral salts which can effectively be used as catalysts. So it is the 'condition' of the prima materia that is the key … not its chemical-element state that is the issue. This is one of the things that trips-up so many aspirants … they are obsessed with finding a specific substance, rather than a particular condition of matter.
This is one of the tricks the old alchemists used to throw people off the track. They started the story that no one had ever revealed the true name of the crude matter which needs to be taken from nature to begin the work with. So on that basis most aspirants 'assumed' they were looking for some specific metal or mineral, and thereby believed that only one metal or mineral was the correct thing to begin the work with.
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 14 October 2013, as post #436.
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