Due to some zealous persecution and a little jealous secrecy over the ages, alchemists hid their esoteric work under various obscure terms and expressions. The resulting confusion from the various cloaking, red herrings and dead ends, leaves the student puzzled as to the true meaning of most of the alchemical terms.
Deciphering these terms, thinking about them and seeking out those who can help is all part of the alchemical process. This frustrating and sometimes infuriating process sorts the wheat from the chaff.
Fortunately we have Gurdjieff and Mouravieff who clear up some of the confusion. The parallels between alchemy, the Fourth Way and Sufism are no accident.
Let's start with the basics: Salt, Mercury & Sulfur.
- Mercury: The Thinking or Intellectual Centre.
- Salt: The Motor Centre.
- Sulfur: The Emotional Centre.
Working on these "elements", begins the "The Great Work" which hopefully results in the formation of the Philosopher's Stone. The Philosopher's Stone is another way of describing the Magnetic Center and the formation of a permanent "Real I." Accomplishing the "Great Work" probably refers to the totality of development possible to the human form, eventually leading to "graduation" to a higher density.
Knowing the above elementary definitions makes reading alchemical text a little easier.
There are various animals used as similes, describing effects and divisions; mainly of the emotional and intellectual centers. These include the crow, the swan, the eagle, the red lion, the green lion, the salamander, the bull, the ram, the peacock, the cock, the phoenix, the pelican and the fox.
There are also plant terms used such as the oak, the rose, the lily. These are more than likely a substitution for the salt/sulfur/mercury trio.
Other important terms include: The Prime Matter (prima materia), The Black Cloud, The Virgin's Milk, The Secret Stream, The Philosopher's Dew, the sun, the moon, the stars, Universal Spirit, iron, gold, silver, lead.