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The Crowning of Nature - Commentary

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by Adam McLean

This commentary is not intended as a complete or final statement on the Crowning of Nature. The work is too multi-dimensional to be completely grasped through one system of ideas. In the heart of the Crowning of Nature series, as in other alchemical works of profound depth, there lies an enigma, a mystery, which can only be touched upon in an inner experience gained by working with these symbols. In undertaking such a meditative work, which of necessity must occupy many years, one will find many different facets and approaches that reveal the spiritual truths hidden in these illustrations. Mere intellectualization will fail to touch the spiritual roots of the work.
In this commentary one envisaging of the spiritual dimension of the Crowning of Nature series is presented, in the hope that it can act as a source of inspiration, a foundation upon which further investigation can rest. I am convinced that a definite system of ideas is revealed as one dimension of the series, and I hope that in what follows I have been able to sketch in adequately the skeleton of the work.
The inspiration that lead to this envisaging of the spiritual content of the series arose over many years of working inwardly with the illustrations, and I have not attempted to relate these perceptions directly to the text. Indeed, the text may not be contemporary with the illustrations (see Introduction), and it is my view that the illustrations can stand upon their own inner revelation.
I discovered that, if the series was arranged in a definite pattern, it was revealed as broken down into a set of ten phases. Internal evidence indicated that this analysis was not an imposition from outside, but indeed was codified in the illustrations, as the ten hierarchies of spiritual beings. With this perspective the system of spiritual perceptions that has been worked into the design of these illustrations, began slowly to reveal itself.
The task of interpreting this series of illustrations, is not, however, merely one of analysis, of breaking down the work into small units, but involves also acts of synthesis, bringing together the different facets, seeing their inter-relationships and how they contribute towards the total picture of the process described in the series.
The series breaks down into two parts: the steps in the preparation of the White Stone, figures 1-40, and the multiplication and transformation of the White into the Red Stone, figures 40 - 67.

The Division of the Series

The series will be analyzed in this commentary as being divided into the following phases.
( 1 - 7) Seven Preparatory Stages
( 8 - 12) The Filling and Sealing of the Retort
(13 - 17) Impregnation
(18 - 27) First Separation-Conjunction Phase
(28 - 30) Ortus, the rising
(31 - 36) Second Separation-Conjunction Phase
(37 - 40) Exaltation
(40 - 48) First Multiplication
(49 - 57) Second Multiplication
(58 - 66)Third Multiplication
(67) The Red Stone and Completion of the Work

The Seven Preparatory Stages

1 Chaos
2 Chemical Subject
3 Distillation
4 Preparation
5 Division
6 Acuation
7 Green Lion

The series opens with the figure named Chaos, which shows the seven planetary archetypal forces, which, together with the four elements depicted in the centre, are the primal substances and forces out of which the work of the alchemical process proceeds. Thus this illustration indicates the foundation of the Great Work.
In the second figure, the Chemical Subject (also called in some manuscript versions ‘Saturn') we have the first of six circular enclosures, which indicate the basic preparatory stages which must be undertaken before the work proper can begin. The preparatory nature of this initial group of figures is indicated by the fact that they take place in the circular enclosures, contrasting with the rest of the series which without exception, are in the form of flasks or retorts.
The second figure, then, shows us the seven-pointed star of the planetary forces above, standing within a circular descending series of the four elements, which comes right down to the earth realm, with its mountains, land, tree, vegetative growth of nature, and the sea in the foreground, within which the Solar star and the Lunar crescent, important facets of the work, first appear.
The first figure thus shows the Cosmic archetypal aspect of the planetary and elementary forces, while the second shows these same forces in the Earth realm, and points this out as the subject of chemistry. Thus, the alchemist must work with the planetary and elemental forces to achieve the Magnum Opus, and this involves both physical work with substance, and the inner work through meditation upon these forces within the human soul.
It is important that the Solar star and the Lunar crescent both contain within themselves a small fragment, an essence, of their opposites. In these initial preparatory stages, the manifesting and bringing into active relationship, of this syzygy of Sun and Moon, is of vital import.
The Distillation stage follows as figure 3, in which we find the cold, silver-grey, Lunar crescent, being purified through distillation with the Solar fire. This arises out of a direct encounter of the Lunar and Solar forces.
The Preparation stage (figure 4) shows the Sun and Moon in a new relationship, tied together, bound up into an integrated whole. Within the seven-fold Solar star appears a small Moon, and within the crescent of the Moon appears a small seven-pointed star. Thus the Solar and Lunar forces have met inwardly,
When we pass on to the next stage, the fifth figure, a Division has taken place. The cold blue background within the circle has been transformed through the fire rising from below and a division occurs. The small inner Moon and Sun separate from the larger symbols.
The Solar, expansive, active, fiery aspect of matter, meets the Lunar, contractive, passive, cold aspect of matter, through the Distillation stage, and in the Preparation stage seem to come into a fixed relationship. They meet at this turning point of synthesis, and having exchanged part of their essence, divide again. Thus Preparation and Division relate together as two sides of the same experience.
The Acuation stage (figure 6) which follows, mirrors the Distillation stage, but here the Lunar crescent does not bear the fire within its being, but the flames arise out of its surface, an exothermic rather than an endothermic stage. The Lunar crescent itself seems to burn from within. Above floats the seven-pointed star. Acuation in the sense here intended, means a sharpening or stimulation of the process.
The final stage in this series of circular enclosures, the seventh figure, is the Green Lion. The Green Lion is here a symbol of the acidic watery vitriol, which dissolves all that stands within it. The Solar and Lunar forces are merged together in the liquid body of the Green Lion. This stage is the correlate of figure 2, in that the various elements, planetary forces, the Solar and Lunar syzygy, which are seen differentiated there, flow together in the Green Lion stage.
              /                                      \
Subject  Distillation   Preparation   Division   Acuation   Green Lion
   \                         \_____ ______/                    /
The physical alchemist, using his or her awareness of the Cosmic archetypal forces (figure 1), has sought for them in the Earth realm, and found the Chemical Subject (figure 2), then working further the alchemist purifies, refines, the prima materia through Distillation, Preparation, by Division and Acuation, and achieves a synthesis of the disparate elements in the Green Lion, a fiery liquid which bears within it all that is necessary for the Great Work to unfold. This provides the basic substance upon which he acts through the many stages in the flasks, which must follow, before the work can reach completion.

The Filling and Sealing of the Retort

8 Coitus
9 The Triune Stone
10 Calcination
11 Sublimation
12 Solution

This section of five stages begins with the pouring of the Green Lion into the flask in which the work of metamorphosis will occur through the following series of 59 stages. At this point (figure 8), the Green Lion, bearing within it the Solar flames and the Lunar crescent, is placed in the flask, as the Coitus, marriage, or joining of the substance of the work with the vessel in which it must be transformed. In physical terms, this vessel is the glass retort or flask. In the terms of soul alchemy, it is the inner meditative space, within which the being of the alchemist, sealed off from the outer world, can work upon itself.
In this short section of five stages, the body of the Green Lion, sealed in the retort, undergoes a kind of initial digestion. But before we enter into this digestion proper, figure 9 reveals that the Green Lion, while it contains the twofold Sun and Moon, the fourfold elements, and the seven planetary forces, also bears within it the Triune Stone of the animal, vegetable and mineral realms. This is indicated in the symbolism of the land as the mineral, the trees as the vegetable, and the human leg as the animal, sealed in the flask. This threefold nature of the stone will appear later as an important aspect of the work, in figures 40 - 66, the Three Multiplications of the Stone.
Stage number 10, reveals the true beginning of the inner operation, the the first Calcination. The liquid of the Green Lion is calcined, burned to ashes, which we see at the bottom of the vessel, and we note that these ashes contain the conjoined Sun and Moon. This is also the first stage in which the bird appears. The bird here represents the soul of the substance of the work. Throughout the following illustrations, the soul is either uniting with the body or substance in the lower part of the flask, or it is separating and entering its own realm. The soul when it rises up as the bird, touches upon the spiritual world, meets with the spiritual forces working in the alchemical process, and returns bearing with it an essence of this impulse from the spirit. Through the many journeys of the bird, rising and falling, the material substance below becomes filled with the spirit. In this Calcination stage, the bird flies downward - the soul dives down and enters into the dead ashes at the bottom of the vessel.
The next stage of Sublimation, figure 11, resembles in form the previous Calcination. except that, most importantly, the bird flies upwards. The soul of the substance rises into the heights of the vessel, touching upon the spiritual.
In the Calcination we have a death process, but in the Sublimation, we find a kind of resurrection, a new life is sought. Thus these Calcination and Sublimation stages must be seen as two sides of the same process. They are inseparable, united in form.
This short section comes to an end with the descent of the bird and the passing into the Solution stage of figure 12. This Solution corresponds to the initial Coitus, or pouring in of the Green Lion, but on a higher level. The forces and elements are again in the liquid form, but having undergone the intermediate Calcination-Sublimation it is more digested, more integrated, than the raw substance of the Green Lion.
                              /          \
Coitus   Triune Stone  Calcination  Sublimation  Solution
Thus, with the passing into Solution, the substances and forces, having been gathered and purified in the initial Preparation Phase, are now brought to a certain ripeness, a readiness for the work of metamorphosis to begin. We might also note that a division has occurred and the Lunar and Solar forces which were previously united, now stand apart in the Solution.

The Impregnation Phase

13 Putrefaction
14 Conception
15 Impregnation
16 Generation
17 Fermentation

This important group of five stages centered around the Impregnation, opens with the passing of the Solution into a Putrefaction (figure 13). The liquid at the bottom of the retort enters into a dark Putrefaction, a complete blackening. It is essential that the elements and forces undergo a complete digestion, a complete breaking down, in order that their essences may emerge from potentiality into actuality. Out of this dark mass the whole process that is Alchemy has its birth. This is known in other texts as the Nigredo stage. The bird here, of course, flies downwards, entering into the darkness of the Putrefaction.
When we move to the next stage, the Conception (figure 14), a profound change has taken place. The dark mass at the bottom of the flask has lightened, and the seven-pointed star of the planetary forces reveals itself again, but this time more alive, and vermilion in color. The bird flying downwards has borne with it an essence, an impulse, from the spiritual realm, and this has been met by this response from below, the appearance of the star of the planetary forces.
At the next stage, the Conception is Impregnated. The star rises to the surface and thus connects both the upper spiritual part of the vessel and the lower substance. The bird flies upwards, the soul of the process also seeks union with the spirit. The Impregnation (figure 15) is the turning point of this phase, and indeed it marks the point in the whole process where we are no longer dealing with mere material substances, but the seed of the spiritualization of substance has here been sown, and from now on we will see, through the many following stages, just how this seed grows, metamorphoses, and develops.
There follows upon this a Generation stage (figure 16), where the bird flying downwards seems to have brought with it a strength or force of nourishment which works in a living way into the water at the bottom of the retort, and here the liquid becomes multicolored, manifesting the various forces that are being woven into its substance.
This group closes with a Fermentation stage (figure 17). The bird here again flies downwards, but now the multicolored iridescence of the Generation seems to have moved more inward. The liquid darkens to gray, and a rain of droplets falls within the lower part of the flask, and at the bottom the figure of the Black Toad slowly forms. This Black Toad symbolizes the essence of the Earth element. (We have previously met the Green Lion of the watery, liquid nature, the Bird of the Air, and later we shall see the Dragon-serpent of the Fire element.)
This group of five stages relate together as follows.
                  /                          \
Putrefaction  Conception  Impregnation  Generation  Fermentation
Fermentation is thus a higher development of the Putrefaction, a return to the darkness of the Putrefaction, but a darkness which bears within it the life, the essence, of the Impregnation stage. In both the birds fly downwards and in both a dark mass forms, but that darkness which in the Putrefaction is total and undifferentiated, is later, in the Fermentation stage, somewhat differentiated into the living form of the Black Toad. Out of this Toad the next stage of the work will unfold.
The Conception and Generation also relate together. In both, the birds fly downwards, and in the Conception the planetary star seems to rise to meet it, while in the Generation stage an essence enters into the liquid mass at the bottom of the flask, stirring it into life.
The Impregnation stage ties these two dyads together, and forms this into an integrated group of five stages.
We find here something which seems to directly relate to the menstrual cycle in women, the Putrefaction being the menstrual flow, the Conception being, in this sense, the release of the egg, the ovulation. Impregnation corresponds to fertilization, or passing of the egg into the womb, Germination being the development of the blastocyst, and Fermentation the embedding into the wall of the womb, or the expulsion of the egg and the beginning of a new cycle. Thus the early alchemists had an intuitive grasp of this process though its spiritual dimension, although the precise details of its material embodiment was not identified until many centuries later, with the development of microscopy.

The First Cycle of Separations and Conjunctions (18-27)

The alchemical process has now reached a crucial stage. Something of the spiritual has been connected to the material in the previous Impregnation phase, and this now lies at the bottom of the flask, symbolized by the Black Toad. Out of the body of the Toad, the four elements, earth, Water, Air and Fire appear (figure 18) and go through a cycle of metamorphosis of Separations and Conjunctions.
In the Separation phase the bird flies upwards and in turn the elements separate and rise upwards in the flask. The Conjunction phase is marked by the return of the bird downwards, and a corresponding re-integration of the elements.
The ten illustrations 18-27 are thus broken down into five cycles of this process of Separation and Conjunction. We wish to look at the total picture of this process, and so, rather than examining the individual illustration in isolation, we shall look at them as part of this integrated process.
We can see this as a kind of spiritual breathing process, the bird flying alternatively upwards and down again. The Separations are a kind of expiration, a breathing out, in which the rigid interconnections of the elements are loosened. The Conjunction phase can be seen as an inspiring or inbreathing; the bird returns downwards, and the elements are tied together into fixed relationships again in the lower part of the vessel. Thus we have in figures 18-27, five cycles of this outbreathing-inbreathing. However, they are not mere repetitions of each other, for profound changes occur in the four elements throughout this cycle. These changes are shown in the retort in two ways - by a metamorphosis of the form of the elements as depicted, and a metamorphosis of their colors.
In order to grasp just what is occurring at this point in the process, we must look at the Separation-Conjunction cycle as a totality. To begin, we must note the first and the last illustration.
Figure 18, the first Separation, shows the four elements being breathed out of the Black Toad, formed during the previous Fermentation, while figure 27, the final Conjunction, shows the four elements being re-absorbed into the Earth nature, in that they are all tinged with the grey of Earth. So we have a cycle which involves an outpouring of the four elements, a metamorphosis of their relationships to one another, and a final re-integration into the Earth.
It is also important to note that this first cycle of transformation of the elements does not involve elementary Earth, but only Fire, Air and Water. The earth remains unchanged at the bottom of the flask in all the illustrations, and this is the essential difference between the first and second cycle of Separations and Conjunctions (figures 31-36) in which the Earth element is itself transformed.
So we have a cycle of transformations of the Fire, Air and water, in which each of these receives, through a series of transformations, the essence of the other elements, and this is indicated by a metamorphosis of forms: the symbols of flames - Fire; clouds - Air; waves - Water; and stipples - Earth; and a metamorphosis of colors: Yellow - Fire; Blue - Air; Green - Water; and Grey - Earth.
At the beginning of these cycles of changes, the elements stand in their normal relationship to one another, that is in the order of their densities - Earth, the densest, at the bottom of the flask, then Water, Air and Fire, the most subtle, at the top. The true work of metamorphosis occurs during the central three groups of Separations and Conjunctions, 20-21, 22-23, 24-25. The two outer cycles involve, in 18-19, the outpouring of the elements and their arrangement into their normal relationship (Conjunction 19), and in 26-27, the re-integration of the elements into the Earth element (Conjunction 27).
So we shall now look at the total picture, focussing upon the central three cycles of transformation. We have the following metamorphosis of form.
18  - 19      20  - 21      22  -  23      24  -  25      26  -  27   
Sep - Con     Sep - Con     Sep -  Con     Sep -  Con     Sep -  Con

Fire  Fire          Water          Air            Fire           Air
           \              \             \
Air   Air   \       Air    \       Fire  \        Water          Water
             \              \             \
Water Water   Fire  Fire    Water  Water   Air    Air            Fire

Earth Earth   Earth Earth   Earth  Earth   Earth  Earth   Earth  Earth
During the Separation phase each element in turn remains at the bottom of the flask with the Earth, this element being the one which stood at the top of the flask during the previous Conjunction phase. The two elements remaining in the upper part of the flask during the Separation phase are free to metamorphose into each other, and during the following Conjunction, this new interrelationship passes into a more rigid and fixed form in the bottom part of the retort, where all four elements come together again.
The four elements initially (figure 19) bear their own special color, but their various transformations into one another as the cycle progresses are indicated by a change of colour. Thus in figure 21, the Water which has been changed into Air, bears the Air color (Blue), and the Air transformed into Water has taken on the Water color (Green). Thus we have a cycle of color metamorphosis paralleling the changes in the forms of the elements.
18  -  19       20  -  21       22  -  23       24  -  25       26  -  27
Sep -  Con      Sep -  Con      Sep -  Con      Sep -  Con      Sep -  Con

Yellow Yellow          Blue            Yellow          Blue            Grey

Blue   Blue            Green           Green           Yellow          Grey

Green  Green    Yellow Yellow   Blue   Blue     Green  Green           Grey

Grey   Grey     Grey   Grey     Grey   Grey     Grey   Grey     Grey   Grey
These can be further analyzed so that one begins to see two cycles of transformation working through this process.
     Fire                 Fire
    /   \                /   \
   /  A  \              /  B  \
  /       \            /       \
Air--<--Water        Air-->---Water

[Clockwise]          [Anti-clockwise]

A being a subtilization, a movement from Water to Air to Fire, while B is the opposite, a fixing or descent into more dense states.
At the end of this process each of the three non-Earth elements, Water, Air and Fire, has undergone a cycle of transformation into the others, and thus now bears within its being the essence of the other three elements. At the conclusion in the Conjunction (figure 27), the elements stand in the following relationship:
Air                                 Blue
Water                               Green
        corresponding to colors
Fire                                Yellow
Earth                               Grey
which we find acts as the starting point for the second cycle of Separations and Conjunctions in figures 31-36.
In this part of the commentary, I have only touched upon a few facets of this cycle, in order not to complicate the picture unduly, however, much more can be extracted from analyzing and synthesizing the transformations through the Separations and Conjunctions. For example, the color and form metamorphoses can be interpreted after the manner of the ‘element of the element' idea. Thus the Blue tinged Water, would be ‘Air of Water', and Green colored Fire, the ‘Water of Fire', etc. The color and form metamorphoses can be followed in greater detail, using this and other interpretative ideas, and the reader should try to work with these in meditative exercises.

The Ortus Phase

28 Ortus
29 Fermentation
30 Purgation

The next phase of the whole process we will name after the first figure, number 28, the Ortus or rising.
The first cycle of Separations and Conjunctions, which involved the transformation of the upper elements Water, Air and Fire, into one another, ended with a final absorption into the Earth element, with then all assuming a grey colour. In the Ortus stage (figure 28) this grey mass containing the inward digestion of the elements, lies at the bottom of the flask, and out of this rises the seven pointed star, which had disappeared during the last phase of the process. Now the sevenfold archetype of the planetary forces in the alchemical process must undergo a kind of Separation and Conjunction. Thus the sevenfold star rises up in the Ortus (‘springing up', ‘rising', ‘dawning') with the ascent of the bird. The star bears within it the Solar and Lunar archetypes.
The next illustration (figure 29) is a Fermentation in which the star of the planetary forces again joins with the elements at the bottom of the flask and begins to unite its essence with that of the elementary forces, which process is shown approaching a completion through the following Purgation (figure 30).
The alchemists saw that at the beginning of a new life, there always stood a death process, and so we have here a nigredo or blackness out of which the new forces would emerge, transformed and re-integrated together. This descent into the blackness of Purgation is essential if the process is to continue and evolve to a higher stage.

The Second Cycle of Separations and Conjunctions (31-36)

Now that the process has run the course of the Ortus, and the sevenfold planetary forces have been integrated with the forces of the four elements, a new cycle of Separations and Conjunctions takes place, which this time involves the transformation of the four elements, including the Earth, one into another.
Once again we shall look at this process of metamorphosis as a totality. In the Separation phases we find two elements left at the bottom of the flask, while the remaining two are found in the circular forms at the top of the retort. The Conjunction phase finds, as before, the four elements fixed at the bottom of the flask. The bird flies upwards during the Separations and downwards during the Conjunctions, as in the previous cycle.
We have here in figures 31-36 three iterations of the expiration-inspiration, during which the elements, and in particular the Earth, receive the essence of the others. We have thus the following metamorphosis of form:
31  -  32        33  -  34        35  -  36
Sep -  Con       Sep -  Con       Sep -  Con

Water  Water     Fire   Fire      Earth  Earth

Fire   Fire      Air    Air       Air    Air

Earth  Earth     Earth  Earth     Water  Water

Air    Air       Water  Water     Fire   Fire
The three higher elements in turn occupy the lowest (or Earth) place, while the Earth element is raised to the highest of the levels in the final Conjunction.
The colors, at all stages, remain in the following relationships,
          Blue        Air
          Green       Water
          Yellow      Fire
          Grey        Earth
which is the particular order found in the forms at the final Conjunction (figure 27) of the first cycle of Separations and Conjunctions).
On the figure illustrating each of the three Separation phases the following descriptions of the transformations are found:
Separation 31       Separation 33        Separation 34

Water ->  Air       Fire  ->  Air        Earth ->  Air

Fire  ->  Water     Air   ->  Water      Air   ->  Water

Earth ->  Fire      Earth ->  Fire       Water ->  Fire

Air   ->  Earth     Water ->  Earth      Fire  ->  Earth

       Fire                Fire                Fire
     /     \             /   |                /    \  
Earth       Water   Earth    Water   Earth      Water
     \     /                 |  /             \    /
       Air                  Air                Air
  [Clockwise cycle]                      [Anti-clockwise cycle]
We note that these cycles through which the elements are transformed relate to one another. The pattern of the first stage is reversed in direction in the last phase, while the central transformation is a hybrid or crossing over of both of these patterns of change. (We are reminded of the cyclic relationships among the elements in the Chinese system).
Through this cycle of metamorphosis, the elements fully participate in each other's essence and the cycle closes with the most subtle element, fire, in the lowest place, and the densest, Earth, in the highest. The spiritual has been brought into incarnation, fixed in the earth realm, and the earthly has been spiritualized.

The Exaltation Phase

37 Exaltation
38 Quinta Essentia
39 Fixation
40 Projection

This phase of the process begins with the Exaltation (figure 37) in which the elements, still formed in the order they assumed at the close of the last cycle, Earth - Air - Water - Fire, form themselves into a circular arrangement which rises in the flask and becomes exalted in the heights of the retort. The elements enter into a more spiritualized state, while below in the substance at the bottom of the flask, wee see that the Bird has taken on the gesture of the Pelican, biting and wounding its own breast, in order to provide the nourishment of its own blood for the process. This symbolizes a kind of sacrificial stage, at which all the work of the bird in its many flights and the long development of the substance into this appearance of seeming completion and beauty, must be sacrificially destroyed in order to proceed further. The alchemist must not hesitate to continue the process, and must resist the temptation to hold back and try to perpetuate the transient beauty of the evolution he has achieved so far.
Thus at the next stage, figure 38, the Quinta Essentia, the circle of the four elements has sunk again in the flask and absorbed the bird into its midst, which appears in the centre of the wheel of the elements in the Phoenix gesture.
The elements have now been quartered and each bears all the colors of the others. This universalizing of the elements is the result of the sacrifice made at the previous stage. From the upper part of the outside of the retort, flames are seen, indicating an exothermic reaction. The formation of this new relationship between the elements has liberated energy, which appears outwardly as fire.
When we move on to the next stage, the Fixation (figure 39), the wheel of the four elements has been entirely transformed into white. This is the beginning of the formation of the White Stone. Through Fixation, the soul nature of substance has been realized in material form as the White Stone, which thus bears the essence of the four elements, plus the fifth essence, the spiritual archetype of materiality which lies beyond matter and yet through alchemy can be brought into outer expression, fixed into earthly form. We note that heat is required from outside to bring this stage to completion.
This White or Lunar Stone is the Tincture of the Moon, or the soul Tincture. In terms of the soul development aspect of alchemy, the White Stone is that inward experience which can act as a sure foundation, that solid centre in the whirlpool of ever flowing soul forces, from which alchemists can work upon their being, and anchor their inward development. In this sense, once the alchemist has the White Stone of the soul, he or she can begin the process of tincting, transforming his or her being from a point of inner security. The White Stone is, however, only half the work of alchemy. The alchemist must carry this process through to completion and create the Red Stone or the Tincture of the Spirit.
The final stage of this first half of the series ends with figure 40, the Projection, in which the flask is broken and the White Stone is ready to be brought out from the inner enclosed realm of the retort into the world, and can begin to be used in the process of transmutation. On one level this is the transmutation of matter, in that it accentuates or catalyses the lunar aspect, when it is brought into contact with a material process. In traditional alchemy this is indicated by its power to transform metals into silver, the Moon metal, but its power is wider than this, and a true understanding of the essence of the White Stone of the Philosophers, can only arise when one recognizes the lunar forces that play through material processes, in the mineral realm, in the pant world, in the animal body, or in the soul of humankind. The White Stone transforms, harmonizes and catalyses the lunar forces in these realms, and this is its true power. The Red Stone which is created at the end of the second part of the process, similarly acts to catalyse the Sun forces in the various realms.
At this centre point of the entire process, we will review diagrammatically its development so far. Diagram one indicates the breakdown of the first 40 figures, into the seven phases which have been described so far. The reader who wishes to grasp this process in depth should copy out the forms of images and set them out in this arrangement. Then they will be able to grasp the process as a totality. (Indeed, while I was working on this series, I constantly had a set of these illustrations arranged in various patterns upon the walls of my study, and thus was able to easily consult, or rearrange the pattern to explore other possibilities.)
  1        2            3             4            5         6           7
Chaos   Subject   Distillation   Preparation   Division   Acuation   Green Lion

          8          9              10            11           12
        Coitus   Lapis Triunis   Calcination   Sublimation   Solution

          13           14            15             16           17
     Putrefaction   Conception   Impregnation   Generation   Fermentation

          18    19    20    21    22    23    24    25    26    27
          Sep   Con   Sep   Con   Sep   Con   Sep   Con   Sep   Con

                    28         29            30
                   Ortus   Fermentation   Purgation

                    31    32    33    34    35    36
                    Sep   Con   Sep   Con   Sep   Con

              37             38             39          40
          Exaltation   Quinta Essentia   Fixation   Projection

The second part of the work is the transformation of the White Stone of the Lunar forces, into the Solar Red Stone. This is accomplished through a threefold Multiplication, each Multiplication being described by nine figures, and the series finishes with the final fixation of the Red Stone.
This can be analyzed as follows:
Figures 40-48  The First Multiplication in which the serpent unites with the White Stone,
Figures 49-57  The Second Multiplication in which the serpent exteriorizes fire into the process,
Figures 58-66  The Third Multiplication in which the fire is inwardly digested and the Stone transformed,
Figure  67     The final Fixation of the Red Stone.
We note that figure 40 is common to both parts of the work, being the conclusion of the first part, and the beginning of the second part. Each of these phases of Multiplication relates in form to the others, the second and third being higher octaves of the first Multiplication.

The First Multiplication

40 Projection
41 Multiplication
42 Imbibition
43 Solution
44 Congelation
45 Conjunction
46 Sublimation
47 Calcination
48 Fixation

This opens with figure 40, the Projection, which closes the first part of the work, in which we see the White Stone like a cracked egg in the bottom of the opened retort, and out of this egg the Red Stone will be born.
In the next stage, figure 41, entitled Multiplication, this egg of the White Stone first meets the serpent-dragon. Of the four creatures we find in this series, the serpent-dragon represents the living power of fire. The animals here represent the living forces behind the elements, the etheric forces that play through matter, that the alchemist must harness and bring into fixed form, if he is to enliven matter. The White Stone acts as the magnet upon which the ethers can work and eventually be fixed into the Red Stone. The serpent enters the flask at this stage, attracted by the White Stone.
There follows a process of Imbibition (figure 42) in which the serpent is slowly absorbed into the White Stone egg at the bottom of the retort.
This continues through to Solution (figure 43) where the serpent dives down, merging completely with the White Stone substance.
A turning point is reached with the next Congelation (figure 44), when the serpent achieves the Ouroboros gesture - it swallows its own tail. This indicates the development of an inner strength of form in the forces of the serpent. The Ouroboros represents the closing in of a process upon itself, forming an integral ring of being. So with this Congelation, a hardening and integration of the serpent forces is achieved. We also see the White Stone beginning to re-emerge from the bottom of the retort.
The following Conjunction (figure 45) shows the egg of the White Stone rising in the flask conjoined with the Ouroboros serpent, whose body fills the lower part of the vessel.
Then we pass into the Sublimation (figure 46) in which the egg and the serpent rise higher in the flask, moving away from the lower regions and touching upon the more spiritual realms within the process.
During the next stage, the Calcination (figure 47), the egg begins to dominate the flask, the serpent becomes more inward, and only its head and tail can be seen, as it is absorbed into the substance of the White Stone egg.
The first Multiplication phase comes to a close with the Fixation (figure 48) and here the egg of the White Stone seems almost to fill the flask.
In this first Multiplication, the Stone has absorbed the first serpent, the first of the three ethers. The process involves a descent of the etheric serpent during the first four stages, the turning point or merging of the serpent with the Stone, and a final four stages of the ascent of the Stone and the total absorption of the forces of the serpent.

The Second Multiplication

49 Multiplication
50 Fermentation
51 Imbibition
52 Solution
53 Congelation
54 Sublimation
55 Calcination
56 Quinta Essentia
57 Fixation

This phase opens with the stage entitled Multiplication (figure 49) in which the next etheric serpent-dragon enters the flask and joins the White Stone.
This leads to Fermentation (figure 50) during which the purplish bodied serpent-dragon exteriorizes its inner etheric fire, and breathes this out upon the egg of the White Stone.
The next stage is the Imbibition (figure 51) and shows the serpent forming itself around the body of the white egg of the Stone, which it seems to draw down into the flames it has breathed forth, and which fill the bottom of the retort.
Following upon this is a Solution (figure 52), in which the natures of the serpent and the Stone have begun to merge into one another. This is an important stage, in that for the first time we see the Stone beginning to absorb the fire etheric nature of the serpent, becoming tinged yellow. We see here the disc of the Stone covered with the flames which the serpent-dragon has breathed forth.
Figure 53, the Congelation, marks the turning point of this phase of Multiplication. The egg has now become completely tinged with yellow, and it rises above the sea of the serpent's flames, which fill the lower half of the vessel. Both of these participants in this process have now fully encountered one another, and a hardening and consolidation of their natures has been achieved. The serpent begins to close in upon itself.
In the following stage, Sublimation (figure 54), the serpent now forms its Ouroboros, and the fire and the egg seem to come into a more balanced relationship of their forces.
Next follows a Calcination (figure 55) showing the withdrawing of the etheric fire forces into the inner part of the egg, while the serpent still appears in the Ouroboros state.
In figure 56, Quinta Essentia, the serpent has now become completely absorbed into the egg-stone, where only his flames now burn inwardly.
When we move on to the final stage of the second Multiplication, the Fixation of figure 57, we once again see the egg almost filling the retort. However, now, in distinction to the close of the first phase, it is tinged yellow, a tingeing that was the gift of the second serpent-dragon. The outside of the retort flames with fire, indicating an exothermic reaction, an outpouring of energy.
Thus the White Stone has now absorbed two etheric streams - the two serpent-dragons, and this occurred through a descent of the second serpent into the Stone through fire in the first four stages, the turning point of the Congelation stage with the tingeing of the Stone, and the final ascent of the Stone through four stages to the Fixation.

The Third Multiplication

58 Multiplication-Fermentation
59 Imbibition
60 Calcination
61 Sublimation
62 Solution
63 Congelation
64 Conjunction
65 Exaltation
66 Quintessence

Figure 58 is the Multiplication-Fermentation stage which opens the third phase. Here we see a winged serpent-dragon entering the flask in which the egg rests, and as it enters, a rain of flaming droplets falls to the bottom of the retort.
Then follows an Imbibition (figure 59), in which the flames rise up and almost cover the egg Stone, which flames at its surface and stands within a sea of flames in the lower part of the vessel.
This further leads on to Calcination (figure 60) during which the disc of the egg almost fills the retort and is covered with three broad bands of fire, which we find reduced to two in the next figure, the Sublimation (figure 61).
Then we arrive at the turning point of this third Multiplication phase, figure 62 Solution. In this we see, for the first time, the fire turning inwards. The flames now move towards the centre of the egg of the Stone. Here the Stone dissolves the fire, rather than being dissolved in fire.
Figure 63, Congelation, corresponds directly in form to figure 61, the Sublimation, except that the two bands of fire now move inward. It is similar with the following Conjunction (figure 64) which parallels figure 60, Calcination, except that again the flames move inwards towards the centre of the egg.
Figure 65 is an Exaltation stage in which the egg, with its two inward flowing bands of fire, rises in the retort, touching upon the spiritual realm of its upper regions.
This third Multiplication reaches its fulfillment in the Quintessence stage (figure 66) where we see standing within the egg and its inward flaming fire, a small winged angel-child. This we should see as representing the early stages in the growth of the Red Stone.
The third Multiplication phase involves a final encounter of the Stone with the third serpent-dragon, which is winged in distinction to the other two. Again, the first part of the process, the first four stages, are a descent of the third serpent, reaching a turning point at the fifth stage where the true work of this phase is done, and the process continues with an ascent of the Stone. The essential work of this phase lies in the inturning of the fire, a process which is necessary for the formation of the final Quintessence, which contains the early germ of the Red Stone.

The Final Fixation of the Red Stone

67 Fixation

The summit of this work, the long chain of alchemical operations, is achieved at the 67th step, the Fixation. Here we find within the flaming flask, a nimbus of light, in which stands a winged angelic being holding up a golden crown. With the preparation and fixation of the Red Stone, the alchemist achieves the Crowning of Nature. The alchemist has brought into material form spiritual forces and being, has produced a perfect substance that bears within it the spiritual archetype; a substance that has woven into it the essence of the four elements, and the three ethers, uniting the Solar and Lunar forces and natures, and harmonizing the seven planetary archetypes.
This substance bears a relationship to the initial Prima Materia of the Chaos of figure 1. Out of the Hyle unfolded all the spiritual, soul and material forces and substances that make up the Cosmos. The Red Stone, however, arises out of working with all these spiritual, soul and material forces and substances, bringing them into incarnation in one substance again, the supreme synthesis. The Red Stone belongs therefore to the end of spiritual evolution, as Hyle belongs to the beginning, and it is created out of the work of humankind with Nature, in the direction of spiritual evolution.
This manuscript does not identify any one particular prima materia for the alchemist to work this process upon, and thus it points to the reality that in alchemy it is the process which is important, rather than the substance. We find this in certain schools of twentieth century alchemical teachers, in particular the Paracelsus Research Society, where students are shown methods of extracting the Salt, Sulphur and Mercury of various plants and minerals.
The process of the Crowning of Nature involves the secret of working with the elements and their corresponding ethers. It unfolds an etheric rather than a material secret, and can be applied to many substances.
Diagram two reveals the relationships between the different stages of the second part of the work, the three Multiplications and the final Fixation. As before, it will be found to be of great help in understanding these interrelationships, if the reader arranges copies of the illustrations in this pattern.
     40            41            42          43          44          45           46            47             48
Projection    Multiplication  Imbibition  Solution  Congelation  Conjunction  Sublimation    Calcination    Fixation

     49            50            51          52          53          54           55            56             57
Multiplication  Fermentation  Imbibition  Solution  Congelation  Sublimation  Calcination  Quinta Essentia  Fixation

     58            59            60          61          62          63           64            65             66
Multiplication  Imbibition   Calcination  Sublimation  Solution  Congelation  Conjunction   Exaltation    Quintessence


The Nine Hierarchies

The division of the process into the series of phases, which I have adopted in this commentary, is not an entirely arbitrary or idiosyncratic one, but is indeed codified in the 67 illustrations by the hierarchies of spiritual beings. It is interesting that another name for this work found on a number of manuscripts is "Opus Angelorum", the work of the angels. Certain of the illustrations are associated in the manuscripts with nine hierarchies of spiritual beings as follows:

6 	Acuation         Gabriel
8	Coitus           Virtutes
16 	Impregnation     Hierarchiae Ephioma
28	Ortus            Potestates
39	Fixation         Principatus
48	Fixation         Dominations
57	Fixation         Hyerarchae Epiphanomia
66	Quintessence     Throni
67	Fixation         Cherubim

We find that each of these phases (excepting the cycles of Separations and Conjunctions) has one and only one of these Hierarchies presiding over a particular figure from the phase. Thus the forces of the spiritual world, personified as the creative hierarchies of spiritual beings, participate in and aid the progress of this process, and here the true threefold nature of the alchemical work is revealed - the encounter with the forces of the spiritual beings, the evolution of the soul of the alchemist, and the transformation of the substance in the retort.