NEW CD: In Search of the Philosopher's Stone
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The "Philosopher's Stone", reputed to be hard as stone and malleable as wax, is a legendary alchemical tool, capable of turning base metals into gold—which we've seen can be a metaphor for 'enlightenment'. It was also sometimes believed to be an elixer of life, useful for rejuvenation and possibly for achieving immortality—all of which fit in nicely with alchemy processes in general being metaphors for 'enlightenment'.
"The stone, also referred to as the "tincture," or the "powder" (Greek xerion, which passed through Latin into Arabic as elixir), was allied to an elixir of life, believed by alchemists to be a liquid derived from it. Inasmuch as alchemy was concerned not only with the search for a method of upgrading less valuable metals but also of perfecting the human soul, the philosopher's stone was thought to cure illnesses, prolong life, and bring about spiritual revitalization. The philosopher's stone, described variously, was sometimes said to be a common substance, found everywhere but unrecognized and unappreciated." ((Encyc. Brit., 15th ed., 1976))
What a wish list! Wealth. Spiritual renewal. Longevity. Health. Even an elixir of life! In essence, the philosopher's stone offers all human values. The Philosopher's Stone is like gold, but even better. Gold is a means to all material wealth, but the philosopher's stone is a means to all ends, a universal means. And it's lying around for the taking. It's everywhere! If you have the wit merely to recognize it and learn how to use it, then all ends are within your reach. We needn't wonder why those who believed in the philosopher's stone devoted their lives to finding it. What higher ideal could they seek? What better end could a man set himself than a universal means?
The search for the Philosopher's Stone occupied some of the finest minds of the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Isaac Newton (1643–1727: yes, the famous physicist!) was deeply interested in alchemy and particularly interested in finding the Philosopher's Stone. ((NOVA: Newton's Dark Secrets (2005) USA: PBS)) And, according to legend, the 13th-century scientist and philosopher Albertus Magnus (1193/1206–1280) is said to have discovered the philosopher's stone and passed it to his pupil Thomas Aquinas (c.1225–1274: yes, the famous Catholic theologian!) shortly before Magnus' death.
And just pure speculation: in the 'Sword in the Stone', might the stone from which young Arthur pulled Excalibur and proved his right to the English throne be related to the Philosopher's Stone?
More generally, isn't the never ending search for the Philosopher's Stone, in all of its guises, one of our quintessentially human qualities: never satisfied with the status quo—always picking away at the chains that bind us all—longer life, better health, more comfort, more knowledge, more Art, more spirituality, more more more! That quality has been both our Great Glory and our Great Curse.
In Search of the Philosopher's Stone is scored for glass armonica and symphony orchestra.