29. The science of alchemy.954
This is a science that studies the substance through which the generation of gold and silver may be artificially accomplished, and comments on the operation leading to it. The (alchemists) acquire knowledge of the tempers and powers of all created things and investigate them critically. They hope that they may thus come upon the substance that is prepared to (produce gold and silver). They even investigate the waste matter of animals, such as bones, feathers, hair,955 eggs, and excrements, not to mention minerals.956
Alchemy, then, comments on the operations through which such a substance may be transformed from potentiality into actuality, as, for instance, by the dissolution of bodies (substances) into their natural components through sublimation and distillation, 957 by the solidification of meltable (substances) through calcification, by the pulverization of solid materials with the help of pestles and mullers and similar things. The (alchemists) assume that all these techniques lead to the production of a natural substance which they call "the elixir." 958 When some mineral substance, such as lead, tin, or copper, which is prepared, in a manner (and degree) that closely approaches (preparedness) in actuality, for receiving the form of gold or silver, is heated in the fire and some (quantity) of the elixir is added 959 to it, that substance turns into pure gold. In the technical terminology that the (alchemists) use for purposes of mystification, they give the cover name of "spirit" to the elixir and that of "body" to the substance to which the elixir is added.
The science that comments on this technical terminology and on the form of the technical operation by which predisposed substances are turned into the form of gold and silver, is the science of alchemy. In both ancient and modern times, people have written works on alchemy. Discussions of alchemy are occasionally ascribed to people who were not alchemists.
The chief systematic writer on alchemy, according to the alchemists, is Jabir b. Hayyan. Alchemists even consider alchemy Jabir's special preserve and call it "the science of Jabir." He wrote seventy treatises on alchemy.960 All of them read like puzzles. It is thought 961 that only those who know all that is in (Jabir's treatises) can unlock the secrets of alChemy.962
At-Tughra'i,963 a recent Eastern philosopher, wrote systematic works on alchemy and disputations with alchemists and other philosophers.
Maslamah al-Majriti, a Spanish philosopher, wrote on alchemy the Rutbat al-hakim. He wrote the Rutbah as a counterpart to his work on sorcery and talismans entitled Ghayat al-hakim. He thought that the two arts (alchemy and sorcery) were both results and fruits of philosophy and science, and that those who were not acquainted with them would miss the fruit of scholarship and philosophy altogether.964
Maslamah's discussion in the Rutbah and the discussions of all the (alchemists) in their respective works employ puzzling means of expression which are difficult for those who-have not familiarized themselves with the technical terminology of (alchemists), to understand. We shall mention the reason why the alchemists had recourse to these cover names and puzzling means of expression.965
Ibn al-Mughayribi,966 a leading alchemist, has (written alchemical) maxims in verses the rhyme letter of which is each letter of the alphabet, taken up in turn. The verses belong among the most original poetry there is. All of them employ a puzzling manner of expression, (and they are) like elusive riddles. They can hardly be understood.
Works on alchemy are attributed to al-Ghazzali, 967 but this attribution is not correct, because al-Ghazzali's lofty perceptions would not have permitted him to study, or, eventually, to adopt the errors of alchemical theories.
Some alchemical theories and opinions are occasionally attributed to Khalid b. Yazid b. Mu'awiyah,968 a stepson of Marwan b. al-Hakam. However, it is very well known that Khalid was an Arab by race and close to the Bedouin attitude. Thus, he was not familiar with the sciences and crafts in general. How, then, could he have known an unusual craft based upon knowledge of the natures and tempers of composite things, when the physical and medical works of scholars who did research on those subjects had not yet appeared and had not yet been translated? The only possibility is that there existed another Khalid b. Yazid among persons versed in the various crafts, and that the mix-up was caused by identical names.
I shall pass on here an epistle on alchemy written by Abu Bakr b. Bishrun 969 to Ibn as-Samh. Both were pupils of Maslamah. If considered as carefully as it deserves to be, the discussion of (Ibn Bishr(n) will show my 970 attitude toward alchemy. After some introductory (remarks) in the epistle, which have nothing to do with the subject, Ibn Bishrun said: "The premises of this noble craft were mentioned by the ancients. All of them were reported by the philosophers. Such premises are knowledge of the generation of minerals, of the creation of rocks and precious stones, and of the different natures of regions and localities. As they are well known, we shall not mention them. But I shall explain to you what one needs to know of this craft. Thus, let us start with that knowledge.
"It has been said: The students of this science must first know three things: (1) whether it exists, (2) what brings it into being, and (3) how it comes into being. If the student of alchemy knows these three things well, he achieves his object and knows as much as can be known about this science.
"As to the problem of the existence of alchemy and the proofs for the (forces) that bring alchemy into existence, the elixir that we have sent to you is a satisfying answer.
"The question of what brings alchemy into being implies, according to alchemists, search for the stone that makes the (alchemical) operation possible. Potentially, the operation may be performed with any (conceivable) thing, because the (potentiality to perform the operation) comes from the four natures (elements). It originated from their composition at the beginning and will revert to them at the end. However, there are things that might be used for the operation (only) potentially, not actually. This comes about as follows. There are some things that can be decomposed. There are others that cannot be decomposed. Those that can be decomposed can be processed and treated. They are the things that can be transformed from potentiality into actuality. On the other hand, the things that cannot be decomposed cannot be processed and treated, because they have nothing but potentiality in them. They cannot be decomposed, in order to give some of the elements they contain an advantage over the others and to have the power of the bigger (elements) predominate over the lesser ones.
"You - may God give you success - must therefore know the most suitable of the decomposable stones that can be used for the operation. You must know its genus, power, action, and which kind of dissolution or solidification, purification, calcification, absorption, or transformation it may be able to effect. People who do not know these basic principles of alchemy will never be successful or achieve any good results. You must know whether (the stone) can be aided by something else or is sufficient by itself, and whether it is one (thing by itself) at the beginning or is associated with something else and becomes one (thing by itself) during the treatment, and is therefore called 'stone.' You must also know how it works; how much its components must weigh and what times (are suitable) for it; how the spirit is inserted and the soul made to enter into it; whether fire can separate (the soul) from (the stone) after it has been inserted (in it); if not, why (not), and what makes it necessary that it be that way. This is what one wants (to know).
"It should be understood and realized that all philosophers have praised the soul and thought that it is the soul that governs, sustains, and defends the body and is active in it. For, when the soul leaves the body, the body dies and gets cold. It cannot move or defend itself, because there is no life in it and no light. I have mentioned the body and the soul only because this craft (alchemy) is similar to the body of man, which is built up by regular meals 971 and which persists and is perfected by the living, luminous soul, which enables the body to do the great and mutually contradictory things that only the living power of the soul can do. Man suffers from the disharmony of his component elements. If his elements were in complete harmony and (thus) not affected by accidents and (inner) contradictions, the soul would not be able to leave his body. Man would then live eternally. Praised be He who governs all things, He is exalted.
"It should be known that the natures (elements) producing the (alchemical) operation constitute a quality that pushes (forward) at the beginning, and a process of emanation requiring an end. When they have reached this limit, they cannot be transformed (back) into the (state) that (formed the starting point of) their composition, as we stated at the outset with regard to man 972 The natures of the substance had been separate, but now they adhere to each other and have become one thing, similar to the soul in power and activity, and similar to the body in having composition and pulse.973 There is a strange thing about the actions of the elements. It is the weak (element) that is powerful, since it has power over the decomposition, composition, and completion of things. It is in this sense that I use (the words) 'powerful' and 'weak.' Change and nonbeing in the first composition occur only as the result of disharmony (among the component elements). They do not occur in the second composition, because there then is harmony (among the component elements).
"An early (philosopher-alchemist) has said: 'Decomposition and division mean life and duration, as far as the alchemical operation is concerned, while composition means death and nonbeing.' This statement has 'a subtle meaning. The philosopher meant by 'life and duration' its 974 transformation from nonexistence into existence. As long as it remains in (the state of) its first composition, it is, no doubt, nonbeing. But when the second composition takes place, nonbeing no longer exists. Now, the second composition comes about only after decomposition and division. Thus, decomposition and division are peculiar to the (alchemical) operation. If it 975 is applied to the soluble body (substance), it spreads in it, because it has no form, since it has come to take in the body the place of the soul which has no form. This is because it has no weight as far as (the substance) is concerned. You will see this, if God - He is exalted - wills.
"You must realize that mixing a fine thing with another fine thing is easier than mixing a coarse thing with another coarse thing. I have in mind here the similarity in form among spirits (on the one hand) and bodies (substances, on the other), for it is the form of things that causes their union. I mention this to you, so that you may know that the (alchemical) operation is more agreeable and simpler if it is undertaken with fine spiritual elements than if it is undertaken with coarse corporeal (substances).
"It is logical that stones are stronger in their resistance to fire than spirits. Likewise, gold, iron, and copper are observed to offer more resistance to fire than sulphur, mercury, and other spirits. Therefore, I say: The substances were spirits at the beginning. When the heat of the natural process (kiyan) affects them, they are transformed by it into coarse, coherent substances. Fire is not able to consume them, because they are exceedingly coarse and coherent. When an exceedingly great amount of fire is applied to them, it turns them again into spirits, as they had been when they were first created. If fire (then again) affects the fine spirits, they flee and are not able to endure it. Thus, you must know what brought the substances to their particular condition and (what) brought the spirits to theirs. That is the most important knowledge you can have.
"I say: The spirits flee and are burned, because of their combustibility and fineness. They became combustible because of their great share of humidity. When fire notices humidity, it attaches itself to it, because (humidity) is airy 975a and (thus) similar to fire. (The fire) does not stop eating it, until (the humidity) is consumed. The same applies to substances when, (noticing) the approach of fire, they flee,976 because they have little coherence and are coarse. (But) they are not combustible, because they are composed of earth and water which offers resistance to fire, in that the fine (components of water) unite with its coarse (components) through a long (process of) cooking which softens and mixes things. For, anything that is annihilated through fire 977 is annihilated only because its fine (components) separate (under the influence of fire) from its coarse (components), and its parts merge with each other without dissolution and adaptation, Thus, the resulting combination and interpenetration is (mere) aggregation, not (real) mixture. Therefore, (the fine and the coarse elements) are as easily separated (under the influence of fire) as water and oil (are), or similar things. I describe this merely so that you may learn from it (the facts) about composition and opposition with regard to the elements. If you have a sufficient knowledge of this, you know as much about the (elements) as can be known by you.
"You must (further) know that the mixtures, which are the elements of alchemy, agree with one another. They are derived from one substance. One order and one treatment unite them all. Nothing strange enters into either a (single) part or into the whole of it.978 In this sense, the philosopher has said: 'If you have a good knowledge of the treatment and composition of the elements, and if you do not permit anything strange to enter into them, you 979 have a good knowledge of what you want to know well and definitely, since the (alchemical) element is one (element) and contains nothing that is strange to it. He who brings something strange into it falsifies it and commits an error.'
"It should be known that if a cognate substance is properly dissolved for this (alchemical) element, so that it becomes similar to it in respect of fineness and subtleness, the (alchemical) element expands in it and follows it wherever it goes. As long as substances remain coarse and rough, they cannot expand or be paired, and they can dissolve only with the help of spirits.
"You - may God guide you - should understand this statement in that sense. You - may God guide you - should know that such dissolution in the animal substance is the truth, which neither perishes nor decreases. It is the thing that transforms the elements, holds them, and produces for them marvelous colors and blossoms. Not every substance dissolves in this way, 980 which is (the way of) complete dissolution, because it is contrary to life. It dissolves only in so far as (the process of dissolution) is agreeable to it and serves to defend it against the burning action of fire, until it is no longer coarse and the elements are transformed to the degree of fineness or coarseness possible for them. When the substances have reached their limit of dissolution and refinement, they then obtain a power that holds, immerses, 981 transforms, and pervades. An (alchemical) operation, the test of whose truthfulness does not appear at the beginning, is no good.
"It should be known that the cold nature dries things out and ties down their humidity, while heat causes the humidity of things to appear and ties down their dryness. I have singled out heat and cold because they are active, and humidity and dryness (because they) are passive. The passivity of (the two opposites) toward each other creates and generates the substances. Heat, however, does so more actively than cold, because the cold cannot transport and move things, while heat is the cause of motion. When the heat that causes generation is weak, it never achieves anything. Correspondingly, if the heat affecting a thing is excessive, and there is no cold there, it burns the thing and destroys it. For this reason, some cold is needed in (alchemical) operations, so that the power of opposites may be balanced and there may be protection against the heat of fire.
"There is nothing the philosophers have warned against more insistently than burning fires. They have commanded (alchemists) to cleanse the elements and the breaths, to remove their dirt and humidity, and to keep away their harmful (actions) and uncleanliness from (fires). That is the sound basis of their doctrine and treatment. The (alchemical) operation begins with fire and ends with fire. Therefore, the philosophers have said, 'Beware of burning fires.' By that they meant that one should keep away the harmful (actions) that go with (fire). (Otherwise,) two kinds of harmful (actions) would combine against the substance and speed its destruction. Also, anything may suffer annihilation and corruption through itself, 982 because its elements are opposed to each other and there is disharmony in it. It thus stands in the middle between two things 983 and does not find anything to strengthen and aid it, but the harmful (actions) overpower and destroy it.
"It should be known that the sages have mentioned that spirits return repeatedly to bodies (substances), so that they may have greater coherence with them and greater strength to fight the fire, since they (the spirits) come into contact with (the fire) at the moment of union - I mean here elemental fire. This should be realized.
"We are now going to speak about the stone that makes the (alchemical) operation possible, as mentioned by the philosophers. They have held different opinions about it. Some have thought that it is (to be found) in animals; some have thought, in plants; some have thought, in minerals; and, according to some, in everything. We do not have to examine these claims and enter into a dispute concerning them with the people who make them, because that would be a very long discussion. I have already stated 984 that the (alchemical) operation might potentially, be performed with anything, because the elements exist in every thing. This is so.
"We want to know what produces the (alchemical) operation (both) potentially and actually. Therefore, we turn to the statement of al-Harrani 985 that all dyeing 986 consists of two kinds. One may use a substance such as saffron, which is used to dye a white garment. The (saffron) eventually changes in it, vanishing and being decomposed. The second kind of dyeing is transformation of the substance of one thing into the substance and color of something else. Thus trees, for instance, transform the soil into themselves, and animals the plants, so that eventually the soil becomes plants, and the plants animals. This can come about only with the help of the living spirit and the active nature (kiyan) which has the ability to generate substances and change essences.
"If this be so, I say that the (alchemical) operation must be either in animals or in plants. Proof of this is that both animals and plants need food by their very nature, in order to subsist and to materialize.
"Plants do not have the same fineness and power that animals have. Therefore, the sages rarely turned to them. Animals are the last and final stage of the three permutations. Minerals turn into plants, and plants into animals, but animals cannot turn into anything finer than themselves. They may, however, revert back to (greater) coarseness. Furthermore, animals are the only things in the world to which the living spirit attaches itself. Now, the spirit is the finest thing there is in the world. It attaches itself to animals only because it is similar to them. The spirit existing in plants is insignificant. It is coarse and thick. In addition, it is submerged and hidden in plants, because it is coarse itself and because the substance of plants is coarse. (Plants,) thus, cannot move, because they themselves are coarse and because their spirit is coarse. The mobile spirit is much finer than the hidden one.
The former accepts food. It can be moved, and it can breathe. The latter can only accept food. As compared with the living spirit, it occupies no better position than that of earth as compared to water. This is how plants compare with animals. Therefore, it is much more advanced and much simpler to use animals for the (alchemical) operation. The intelligent person who knows this must try the (method) that is easy. He must not do what he fears might be difficult.
"It should be known that the sages have divided living beings into 'mothers'-the elements - and 'young ones' - the generated beings. That is well known and easy to understand. The sages thus divided the elements and the generated beings into living ones and dead ones. They assumed that anything that moves is active and living and that anything that is stationary is passive and dead. They made this division for all things, for the melt able substances and the mineral drugs. Anything that is melt able in fire and volatile and combustible, they called 'living.' Anything of the opposite qualities, they called 'dead.' The animals and plants that can be decomposed into the four elements, they called living. Those that cannot, they called dead.
"Then, they searched all the living groups. Among the things that can be decomposed into four components obvious to the eye, they did not find anything suitable for alchemy. The only (suitable) thing they found was 'the stone' which is in animals. They studied its genus. Eventually, they came to know it. They took it and treated it. As a result, they obtained the desired qualities from it.
"Similar qualities may be obtained in minerals and plants, after (various mineral or vegetable) drugs are combined, mixed, and then separated again. There are plants, such as saltwort, 987 that can be decomposed into certain of the (four) components. Minerals contain substances, spirits, and breaths which, when they are mixed and treated, produce something that may exercise an influence. We have tried all that out.
"Animals are much more advanced. Their treatment is much simpler. Thus, one must know what is the stone that exists in animals, and how it can be found.
"We have made it clear that animals are the highest of generated things. In the same sense, whatever is composed from them (animals) is finer than (plants),988 just as plants are finer than earth. Plants are finer than earth, because they are created from its 989 pure essence and fine substance. Therefore, they are necessarily fine and subtle. The animal stone is in the same position (among animals) as plants are in the soil. In general, there is nothing in living beings that can be decomposed into four elements except (that stone). This statement must be understood. It can hardly remain concealed from anyone except an obviously stupid person who has no intelligence.
"I have thus informed you about the quiddity and genus of the stone. Now I am going to explain to you the different kinds of treatment. Thus, we shall give you your fair share (of information), as we have taken it upon ourselves to do, if God - praised be He - wills.
"With God's blessing, here is the treatment: Take the noble stone. Deposit it in the cucurbit and alembic. Separate its four elements, which are water, air, earth, and fire. They are substance, spirit, soul, 990 and dyeing. When you have separated the water from the earth and the air from the fire, keep each one apart in its own vessel. Take the dregs - the sediment - at the bottom of the vessel. Wash it with hot fire, until the fire has removed its blackness, and its coarseness and toughness have disappeared. Blanch it carefully and evaporate the superfluities of the humidities concealed 991 in it. It will thus become white water, which contains no darkness, dirt, or disharmony. Then, turn to those primary elements that are distilled from it. Cleanse them, too, of blackness and disharmony. Wash them repeatedly and sublimate them, until they become fine, subtle, and pure. When you have done this, God has given you success.
"Then, start with the composition around which the operation centers. This is as follows. Composition comes about only through pairing (marriage) and putrefaction. Pairing (marriage) is the mixture of the fine with the coarse. Putrefaction is purgation 992 and pulverization undertaken so that the various parts may mix, as water does, with each other and form one thing containing no confusion 993 or deficiency in itself. In this condition, the coarse (components) have the strength to hold the fine ones back; the spirit has the strength to oppose the fire and can tolerate it; and the soul has the strength to immerse itself and slip into the substances.
"This (situation) exists only after composition. When the soluble substance is paired with the spirit, it mingles with it in all its parts, and the parts interpenetrate, because they are similar to each, other. Thus, (the resulting mixture) becomes one thing. The fact that (the spirit) is mixed (with the body) makes it necessary for the spirit to be affected by well-being, corruption, duration [?],994 and persistence, like the body. Likewise, when the soul mixes with (substance and spirit) and penetrates them through the services of the (alchemical) treatment, all the parts of the (soul) 995 mingle with all the parts of the two other (things), that is, spirit and substance. Thus, the (soul) and the two become one thing that contains no disagreement and is in the position of the universal particular whose elements are intact and whose parts are in harmony with each other.
"When this compound meets the soluble substance, and fire is constantly applied to it, and the humidity in it is brought to the surface, it melts in the soluble substance. Humidity implies combustion and an attachment of the fire to itself. But when the fire wants to attach itself to it, its admixture of water prevents it from union with the soul, for fire does not unite with oil, until it is pure. Likewise, water implies aversion to fire. Thus, when fire is constantly applied to it and wants to evaporate it, the dry substance which is mixed with (the water) keeps it back inside and prevents it from evaporation. Thus, the substance is the cause of holding the water; the water is the cause of the duration of the oil; the oil is the cause of the persistence of the dyeing; and the dyeing is the cause of the appearance of color and the indication of oiliness in dark things that have no light and no life. This is the right substance. The (alchemical) operation comes about in this way.
"The 'egg 996 about which you have inquired (is the thing) the sages call 'egg.' It is what they have in mind (when they speak about the 'egg'), and not the egg of the chicken. It should be known that the sages did not choose an inappropriate name by calling it 'egg.' They called it 'egg,' because it can be compared to an egg. I asked Maslamah about it one day when I was alone with him. I said to him, 'O excellent sage, tell me, why did the sages call the animal compound "egg"? Was that something arbitrary on their part, or was there some reason that caused them to do so?' He replied, 'Indeed, there is deep meaning in it.' I said, 'O sage, what advantage (did they see) and what indication of a connection with alchemy did they find in comparing it with an egg and calling it "egg"? ' He said, 'Because the egg is similar to and related to the compound. Think it over, and the meaning of it will appear to you.' I remained with him, thinking it over, but I could not get at the meaning of it. When he saw that I was deep in thought and my soul immersed in it, he grasped my arm, nudged me slightly, and said to me, 'O Abu Bakr, it is because of the relationship that exists between the two with regard to the quantity of colors at the time of the mixture and composition of the elements.' When he said that, the darkness (that had enveloped my mind) left me. A light lit up my heart and gave my intellect the power to understand it. I stood up and went home, thanking God - He is exalted - for it. I constructed a geometrical figure to illustrate it. It proves the correctness of Maslamah's statement. I am writing it down for you in this book (epistle).
"For instance: when the compound is complete and perfect, the element of air in it is, to the element of air in the egg, in the same proportion as the element of fire in the former is to the element of fire in the latter. The same applies to the two other elements, earth and water. Now, I say: two things that in this manner are proportionate to each other are similar to each other. For example, assume that the plane of the egg is HZWH. 997 If we want that, we take the smallest element 998 of the compound, that of dryness, and add to it the same (amount) of the element of humidity. We treat the two, until the element of dryness absorbs the element of humidity and takes over its power. This discussion contains a certain secret hint which, however, will not remain concealed from you. Then we add to the two the same (amount as theirs) of the spirit, that is, water. Thus, the whole consists of six equal (parts). Then we treat the whole and add to it the same (amount) of the element of air, which is the soul. That is three parts. Thus, the whole consists of nine parts equal in power to dryness. Under each of two sides of this compound whose nature (element) encloses the plane of the compound, we then put two elements. The first two sides that enclose the plane of the compound are assumed to be those of the elements of water and air. They are the two sides AJD. 999 The plane is ABJD. Correspondingly, the two sides that enclose the plane of the 'egg'( and) which represent water and air are two sides of the (plane) HZWH. Now, I say: the plane ABJD is similar to the plane HZWH <...> the element of air which is called 'soul.' 1000 The same applies to (the side) BJ of the plane of the compound. The sages never called anything by the name of something (else), except when the first thing could be compared to the other.
"Words for an explanation of which you have asked (me) are 'holy land' 1001 it means the combination of the higher and the lower elements; 'copper,' which is the (substance) the blackness of which has been removed and which was cut in pieces until it became an atom, and was then colored red with copperas, until it came to be copper.1002 'Maghnisiya' 1003 is the stone of the (alchemists) in which the spirits are frozen and which is brought forth by the higher nature in which the spirits are emprisoned, in order to fight the fire (and protect) them against it. 'Furfurah' (purple) is a perishable red color that is produced by nature (kiyan). 'Lead' is a stone that has three powers of different individualities which, however, are similar to each other in form and genus. One of them is spiritual, luminous, and clear. It is the active power. The second is psychic. It moves and has sensual perception. However, it is coarser than the first power. Its center is below that of the first (power). The third power is an earthy power. It is solid and astringent. It turns back toward the center of the earth because of its gravity. It is the power that holds the spiritual and psychic powers together and encloses them.
"All the remaining (words) are innovations created in order to confuse the ignorant. He who knows the (basic) premises can dispense with everything else.
"That is all you have asked me about. I have explained it to you in this epistle. We hope with God's help that you will achieve your wish. Farewell."
Here ends the discussion by Ibn Bishrun, one of the great pupils of Maslamah al-Majriti, the Spanish authority on alchemy, letter magic, and sorcery, for the third [ninth] century and later (times).
One can see how all the expressions used by (alchemists) tend to be secret hints and puzzles,1004 scarcely to be explained or understood. This is proof of the fact that alchemy is not a natural craft.
The truth with regard to alchemy, which is to be believed and which is supported by actual fact, is that alchemy is one of the ways in which the spiritual souls exercise an influence and are active in the world of nature. (It may) belong among the (miraculous) acts of divine grace, if the souls are good. Or it may be a kind of sorcery, if the souls are bad and wicked.1005 It is obvious that (alchemy may materialize) as a (miraculous) act of divine grace. It may be sorcery, because the sorcerer, as has been established in the proper place, may change the identity of matter by means of his magic power.1006 (People) think that a (sorcerer) must use some substance (in order) for his magical activity to take place. Thus, certain animals may be created from the substance of earth, of hair, or of plants, or, in general, from substances other than their own. That, for instance, happened to the sorcerers of Pharaoh with their ropes and sticks.1007 It also is reported, for instance, of the Negro and Indian sorcerers in the far south and of the Turks in the far north, that by sorcery they force the air to produce rain, and other things.1008
Now, since alchemy is the creation of gold in a substance other than that of (gold), it is a kind of sorcery. The famous sages who discussed the subject, men such as Jabir, Maslamah, and their non-Muslim predecessors, followed this line.
Therefore, they used puzzling expressions. They wanted to protect alchemy from the disapproval that religious laws express for the various kinds of sorcery. It was not because they were reluctant to communicate it (to others), as was thought by people who did not investigate the matter thoroughly.
One may compare the fact that Maslamah called his book on alchemy Rutbat al-hakim, while he called his book on sorcery and talismans Ghayat al-hakim. He wanted to intimate that the subject of the Ghayah is a general one, whereas the subject of the Rutbah is a restricted one, for ghayah "final goal" is a higher (stage in research) than rutbah "degree, rank." The problems of the Rutbah are in a way part of the problems of the Ghayah, or deal with the same subjects. (Maslamah's) discussion of the two disciplines clarifies what we have said.
Later on, we shall explain that those who assume that the achievements of alchemy are the result of a natural craft are wrong.1009
God is "wise and knowing." 1010