Secrets of the Alchemists

Is Modern Science Simply Rediscovering Lost Ancient Knowledge?

Without a doubt the best known claim of the alchemists was the transmutation of lead into gold. Modern physicists up until the end of the nineteenth century dismissed such notions as ridiculous, for it violated all known laws of the stability and constancy of the elements. But then came Madame Joliot-Curie, radium, and the discovery of radioactive substances which can be transformed by isotope decay from higher atomic number elements to lower number ele­ments.

So far, physicists have been able to synthesize up to element 113 for only a few micro-seconds, before the highly unstable materials deteriorate. However, Russian scientists now theorize that elements of even higher atomic num­bers may exist which do not so easily break down, and may exhibit a degree of stability.

One possibility is the element that would have an atomic number of 135 and an atomic weight of 310. It is called eka-lead because it would belong to the lead family, and would display many of the same properties as lead. In fact, there are definite indications that eka-lead may exist in natural forms, and in minute quantities along with normal lead.

What is very significant is that, if eka-lead were induced to decay, the material would break down into several ele­ments of lower atomic number, and the major end-product left would be gold.

Thus there may be truth in the old claim after all—the alchemists knew of some way of precipitating eka-lead from normal lead, and then induced decay in order to obtain the much sought-after yellow element.

Much of alchemical experimentation dealt with water, and changing its properties in both chemical and biological functions. They spoke, for example, of producing from water at room temperature a solid, plastic-like substance that had unusual properties.

In 1967, Russian chemists N. Fedakin and Boris Deryagin of the Moscow Academy of Sciences successfully pro­duced what they called polywater—a polymerized form of water with a mass density of 40, a boiling point of 650 de­grees Centigrade, and a freezing point of minus 40 degrees Centigrade. It has the appearance of clear plastic.

It is now believed that polywater occurs naturally, in certain types of clay, in plants, and it is now thought that it has a function in the cohesion of living cells.

It would be interesting to know just how much the alchemists knew about polywater, for they appear to have drawn upon a former knowledge based on experimentation over many centuries, while modern chemists have known about it for barely half a century.

The ancient alchemists had not only an understanding of electricity, but how it could be used to separate water into its two component parts. In the Princes’ Library at Ujjain in India, there is preserved a document called the Agas­tya Samhita, which dates to the first millennium B.C.E. In it is this description:

“Place a well-cleaned plate of copper in an earthenware vessel. Cover it with copper sulfate and then with moist sawdust. The contact of all these elements in this manner will produce an energy called Mitra-Varuna. By it water can be split into Pranavayu and Udanavayu. A chain of one hundred jars will give a very active and effective force.”

We have here not only instructions for making a battery, but a description of the electrolysis of water into oxygen and hydrogen. It appears, too, that the Hindus were equally knowledgeable of the reverse process, of creating water out of the elements in the air. Both the Rig Veda and the Brihat Devatas mention that when “MitraVaruna” is placed in a water-jar and exposed to the heavens, the “god” born is named Khumba-Sambhava, the Indian equivalent to Aquarius, the Zodiacal god who carries on his shoulder a water jug that never empties.

Alchemists from ancient China once employed unknown techniques for manufacturing a metal that did not find its full potentials until our modern age. In 1956, twenty metal belt fasteners with open-work ornamentation were dis­covered in the burial site of the notable Chinese general of the Tsin era, Chou Chu, who died in A.D. 297.

The fastener was examined by the Institute of Applied Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Dunbai Polytechnic. Their analysis showed that the metal of the fasteners was an alloy of 5% manganese, 10% copper-and 85% aluminum.

Now aluminum was supposedly not discovered until 1807, and produced successfully in industrial form until 1857. Today the process of extracting aluminum from bauxite mineral is very complicated and involves the use of a Reverbier oven, refraction chamber and regenerator, and utilizes temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees Centigrade. What is more, electrolysis plays a key role.

The question is, where did the Chinese acquire these elements of present-era technology in the third century? Or is it possible that they may have possessed methods of producing aluminum unknown today, employing a simpler long-lost forgotten technique not yet rediscovered by modern science?

Joseph Needham, the leading historian of Chinese science, has voiced his opinion that the anomalous aluminum was the product of an unknown alchemist, someone who had access to a lost science. What else could the ancient al­chemists have produced using the same methods? Many age-old sources identified the element mercury as having mysterious powers that have been lost to us today.

Chapter 31 in the classic Sanskrit work, the Samarangana Sutradhara, contains 230 stanzas that describe the work­ings of a mysterious mercury engine used for powering flying craft called vimanas: Here are the relevant texts: “In the flying craft four strong containers of mercury must be built into the interior. When these are heated by controlled fire from the iron containers, the craft possesses thunder-power through the mercury. The iron engines must have properly welded joints to be filled with mercury and when fire is conducted to the upper part it develops power with the roar of a lion.

“By means of the energy latent in mercury, the driving whirlwind is set in motion and the traveler sitting inside the vehicle may travel in the air to such a distance as to look like a pearl in the sky.”

Very curiously, British nuclear physicist Edward Neville da Costa Andrade, in a speech delivered at Cambridge in July, 1946, noted that the famed discoverer of the laws of gravitation, Sir Isaac Newton, knew something about the secret of mercury. Quoting Lord Atterbury, a contemporary of Newton, Andrade remarked:

“Modesty teaches us to speak of the ancients with respect, especially when we are not very familiar with their works. Newton, who knew them practically by heart, had the greatest respect for them, and considered them to be men of genius and superior intelligence who had carried their discoveries in every field much further than we today suspect, judging from what remains of their writings. More ancient writings have been lost than have been preserved, and perhaps our new discoveries are of less value than those that we have lost.”

Andrade continued, quoting Newton:

“Because of the way by which mercury may be impregnated, it has been thought fit to be concealed by others that have known it, and therefore may possibly be an inlet to something more noble, not to be communicated without im­mense danger to the world.” What it is about mercury that could be of “immense danger’ we do not know. Yet it seems apparent that the an­cient alchemists were well aware of the practical application of mercury.

In the 1970s Soviet explorers excavating a cave near Tashkent in the Uzbek S. S. R. discovered a number of coni­cal ceramic pots, each carefully sealed and each containing a single drop of mercury. A description and illustrations were published in several Russian scientific periodicals. There is no clue to what these mercury containers were used for, but they must have been highly treasured and used for something that is beyond our present understanding and technology. It was a secret that was found, used and preserved by a select few—only to be lost again to this day.

Ancient legends from the early days of the Silk Road speak of unknown alchemists from Central Asia who devel­oped a thread of material which when sown into a garment made its wearer invincible from arrows and spears, as well as impervious to fire. It is said that Emperor Yu of China paid a small fortune in royal gold and jade in order to obtain just one such garment, a vest that was light-weight yet could not be penetrated by any known weapon or consumed by any flame.

In 2006 Yu’s distant descendants from the University of Beijing announced their success in creating threads of fullerene-carbon chemically designated as C-60 in the form of microscopic nanotubes which when “sown” together formed material that will one day prove much better than present bullet-proof vests and fire-resistant clothing. We today know that fullerene-carbon exists in very minute quantities in nature along with regular carbon-12 and carbon­14 molecules. Did the ancient alchemists once understand a method of how to “distill” natural C-60 and collect it, then develop it into a thread in the same manner as silk was created in our modern age?

Another Chinese legend spoke of alchemists producing a second suit of armor that provided its wearer with per­fect camouflage. It did not cause invisibility, but rather made a body “obscure” and difficult to see because it was “blacker than black.” Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Rice University have recently created the darkest material known, that reflects back less than one tenth of one percent of light falling on it. The material is composed of carbon nanotubes grown on iron nanodots on top of a silicon wafer and meshed together, forming an ir­regular surface that minimizes reflection and maximizes light absorption.

What little light is reflected is scattered and diffused to such an extent that, when observed against most partially illuminated backgrounds, the outline of the material is hard to see. Against a dark background, it blends in and re­mains unseen. Like its ancient Chinese counterpart, the “extreme black” material makes a good “stealth” covering in order to minimize detection.

Another modern form of carbon that may have been anticipated by alchemists is called graphene, and consists of a single layer of graphite, a material found in common everyday soot. What today’s industrialists are discovering is that graphene, and its byproduct graphene oxide, might be utilized as an ideal reinforcement in composite materials, combinations of two substances that possess the desirable properties of both. A host of alchemical references were made to the “magical” fusion of otherwise incompatible materials bonded together through a “secret” process using “black powder.”

Graphene is also the only known substance at room temperature through which electrons flow at the same rela­tivistic speed as neutrinos, giving a molecule-thick sheet of its very unique and unusual electromagnetic properties. Arranged in specific chemically-induced patterns, graphene could serve as ultra-high speed transistor circuitry and be used to store a tremendous amount of information in a very small space. Were some alchemical manuscripts, in fact, made from graphene oxide “pages” which contained knowledge not only written on their surfaces, but also preserved within the sheets themselves?

Arabic alchemical manuscripts make several references to “a blendable glass that is stronger than Damascus steel”

and was also non-magnetic. In 2007, physicists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced after two years of re­search the creation of a metallic glass that can be bent at right angles without breaking. Liquid metal is first super­cooled which makes it three times stronger than its natural crystalline state. During this process minute quantities of zirconium, copper, nickel and aluminum are interjected, much in the same manner that alchemists of old added tinc­tures to their metallurgical solutions.

The result is an amorphous glassy steel that holds no electrical charge. The overall final composition contains hard areas of high density surrounded by soft regions of low density. With small manipulations made to its new mo­lecular structure, the end product develops plasticity and helps prevent internal cracks from forming and spreading.

While as yet we cannot say with certainty that this was the same methods used by ancient alchemists to produce their own version of “bendable glass,” the fact that it has now been accomplished by modern processes and the char­acteristics are identical to the old alchemists’ descriptions point for point, gives credibility to our forebears having been able to do the same, perhaps in ways simpler and less complicated than what we possess today.

Going a step further, our modern research into the secrets of biochemistry only dates to the last century, but for other civilizations now lost in our past, the research may have extended over millennia. Many alchemical treatises are filled with formulas for perfumes, incenses and aroma therapeutic mixtures that were meant to enhance memory and intelligence. Recently, researchers at the University of Lubeck in Germany performed a number of computerized memory tests using some subjects under normal or control conditions, while others were tested in a room filled with the smell of roses. In addition, a group of the control subjects were also kept in a room with rose scent during sleep.

Not only did the added rose odor significantly enhance initial test performance, but those who slept with the rose stimulus also dramatically improved their scores when the same memory test was given the following day. Brain scans taken during sleep showed that while slow-wave activity was occurring, the scent cue heightened output of the hippocampus, pointing to a direct correlation between olfactory stimulation and brain performance. We can only wonder, what else did the alchemists of old know about the use of specific aromas and their effects on the mind?

For thousands of years a resin extracted from the bowellia tree, which grows in southern Arabia, was burned as in­cense in major temples and sanctuaries throughout the ancient world. It was said to have the unusual effects of bringing peace of mind, relaxation and a heightened sense of spiritual experience. We today know this resin as frank­incense, and was a highly prized ingredient that appeared in several alchemical treatises linked with other curative substances and methods of rejuvenation. In early 2008, Arieh Moussayeff, a pharmacologist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, led a team of Ameri­can and Israeli scientists in successfully isolating from bowellia tree resin a compound they named incensole acetate.

By injecting mice with this substance, they discovered the subjects had significantly reduced levels of stress and anx­iety. The new chemical helps to regulate the flow of ions in and out of neurons in a similar way that modern antide­pressant drugs work today. The experimenters concluded that their findings will one day aid not only in developing a new class of chemicals that will shed light on the molecular workings of the brain, but will also facilitate in creating a general calming effect that promotes a healing mental state.

The question is, what other hidden properties of frankincense did the ancient alchemists explore that present-day researchers have yet to even suspect?

Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, French authorities on the history and development of alchemy, reported in their landmark book, Morning of the Magicians, that studies have been made of powders, perfumes and scents pre­served in prescription form in ancient and medieval literature, and some of the results of tests run on these were very unexpected. Many of the powders were so complex that modern scientists are still unable to completely break down their molecular structure. Some perfumes like certain musk concoctions, on the other hand, have formulas almost identical to DNA, the basic genetic building blocks of life.

What had these perfumes been used for? Were they information carriers that generated illusions and hallucina­tions for gaining power over crowds? Or were they some form of “instant knowledge,” whereby students inhaled the appropriate scent to learn secrets imparted to them on the cellular level? Here is an aspect of ancient wisdom we can only guess at, but which certainly needs further investigation. As Pauwels noted:

“Such an investigation would prove that the magicians of antiquity knew more about the psychological effect of perfumes than the best specialists of our own times.”

There is a growing realization that, just as portions of the alchemical treatises left from unknown ages contain knowledge we are only now rediscovering, so it makes us pause to wonder about the rest of the words they contain that have not yet been discovered or deciphered.

Into this category must be placed the lost wisdom of the most mysterious substance of all, the Philosopher’s Stone, that alchemical elixir of life so often spoken of in medieval circles, yet the secret of which still lies hidden away in crumbling manuscripts. Perhaps someday modern chemists will provide the answer—if some enterprising scholar of long-lost books does not find it first.

Physicist Frederick Soddy made this significant statement in 1920:

“The philosopher’s stone was accredited the power not only of transmuting metals, but of acting as the elixir of life. Now, whatever the origins of this apparently meaningless jumble of ideas may have been, it is really a perfect but very slightly allegorical expression of the actual present views of physics we hold today. Can we not read in these leg­ends some justification for the belief that some former forgotten race of men attained not only to the knowledge we have so recently won, but also to the power that is not yet ours?”

What was the real source of the alchemists’ wisdom? To have held the knowledge they had, they must surely have been the heirs to a body of lore that was the final product of many ages of forgotten experimentation and observation. Yet from where did such a science reach our era today?

Pauwels and Bergier considered every possibility of where the medieval “magicians” acquired their learning, and came to this conclusion:

“Only one source would answer the question: lost cultures that had attained a higher level of technological ad­vance than we have, and of which a few traces have been preserved in the rites and alchemical recipes.”

This conclusion was echoed by the eminent German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, who remarked:

“Do you believe that the modern sciences would ever have arisen and been great if there had not beforehand been in a previous age magicians, alchemists and wizards who thirsted and hungered after forbidden powers?”

© 2008. Joseph Robert Jochmans. All Rights Reserved. Excerpt from a Time-Capsule Report, part of a special se­ries of research writings presently available from the author. A full listing of all Reports can be requested by mail from: Forgotten Ages Research, P.O. Box 94891, Lincoln, NE 68509 U.S.A. Reports may also be purchased on-line at:

By Joseph Robert Jochmans, Lit.D.

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