At the end of the destructive distillation, if we have not deliberately changed receivers in order to catch each product (each fraction of the distillation) separately, then in our first receiving flask we now have a mixture of Four substances. Water (H2O), a yellowish oil (sometimes floating, sometimes dissolved), acetone (a clear flammable spirit), and in the boiling flask a black dry residue. Additionally, we probably, but not necessarily, also have sublimated salt of Lead (Pb).
Often when we read descriptions by the old alchemists of this part of the process, we note that they most often do not swap receivers. They collect everything in one receiver. This was probably more to do with practicality than with intention. In previous centuries boiling flasks had to be luted to receivers, so breaking that seal in the middle of a destructive distillation, to swap receivers, would have been messy and probably a little foolhardy. Today it is possible to swap receivers simply because our glassware technology makes it possible to do so.
When considering the next stage of this work, the separation of the so-called Elements, one from the other, for simplicity sake it is probably easiest to continue on the premise that all the distillate products have been collected together.
In consideration of our intention, now, to separate each of the products of the destructive distillation from each other … our first product has already been isolated at the end of the destructive distillation … that is, the black sooty residual mineral mass that remained behind in the boiling flask at the end of the destructive distillation. To look at this substance is completely and uniformly soot-black. Chemically it is composed primarily of the Lead atoms that are left behind after the ionized organic particles of the acetate are distilled away. The Lead atoms are largely too heavy to be distilled up into the condenser. So they stay laying on the bottom of the boiling flask. I say … largely … but not completely. Because we know from experience that some of the Lead atoms rolling around in the liquid chaos hitch a ride on the back of some of the volatile organic particles, and thus 'sublimate' and end up stick to the inside surface of the upper region of the boiling flask, looking (often) like a pink hard wax. Ripley refers to this as a ryme.
The black residue is black not from the Lead itself, but because during the destructive distillation the chemical element carbon is also more-or-less too heavy to lift away from the chaos. Obviously some of it does, because most of the distillate product itself is organic (is composed of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon atoms). But a good deal of the carbon stays stuck to the Lead, coating it in a black soot. Ripley calls this product “Our Black Dragon”.
It is helpful to understand that in Frater Albertus' schema of the alchemical process, this black residue would be referred to as the Principal 'Salt', in its crude form. As I progress with my description of this work you will see that the old Masters of this work had other ideas about how the Elements and Principals were attributed to the products of the destructive distillation … and these differences make a serious difference in how we understand the entire work.
The distillate is now placed in a new boiling flask (my personal preference is a retort). A conventional distillation system is set up and the receiver is packed in ice. Applying heat to the boiling flask will first bring over that which alchemists call a volatile spirit. A transparent, volatile, flammable organic fluid. To chemistry this substance is known as acetone. The liquid mass that this acetone was distilled away from (the original product of our destructive distillation)) also contains a complex of organic oil-like substances, some of which are volatile and will distill with this acetone, effectively uniting with it.
The receiver is now unhooked and quickly the acetone distillate is decanted into its own jar and sealed air tight. Ripley calls this substance … “Our Ardent Water” … from the Latin ardent - a stem of ardens, present participle of ardere “to burn”. He also calls it … “Our Water Attractive”, but the reason for this definition he does not make so obvious.
A new receiver is hooked up to our distillation train and the distillation is continued, in balneo. The next substance to come over the still head is water (H2O). Again, a little of the oil-like substance adheres to and comes over with this water. Ripley calls this water … 'The Flood' … an obvious biblical reference. Again, the receiver is removed and this water is decanted in to and stored in its own sealed flask.
Once The Flood is removed Ripley tells us … “there remain[s] in the bottom of the Still, a thick Oily substance like unto liquid Pitch”. This is a very important statement, because it appears elsewhere, in other key texts, by other authors, that are related to the Acetate Path. But usually when this 'pitch-like' substance is discussed by acetate alchemists they mention it in very cryptic terms. This tells us something important.
This oil-like substance is composed of a complex of different organic molecules. Often there are roughly nine substances that can be identified by gas chromotography and mass spectrometry as ingredients of the 'oil' fraction of the destructive distillation of Lead acetate. Among these substances are, for example, phenols and some esters. While this information might be of interest to chemists, it makes absolutely no difference to an alchemist's understanding. What an alchemist wants to understand about this oil-like substance is how it contributes to the production of the Stone … and we will start to look at the secrets hidden there in the next couple of essays.
Now we have the Four products of the destructive distillation separated the one from the other.
The Ardent Water (acetone)
The Flood (common H2O)
The Pitch-like Oil, (phenols and esters, etc), and
The Black Dragon (Lead and carbon)
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 12 November 2013, as post #490.
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