The Alchemist’s Ether: Quintessence of the Elements

The Alchemist’s Ether

by Charles Higgins

In the previous section, the 3-dimensional model was defined as the quantum state. This model is one quantum of complementation consisting of eight fields or octants. It is an independent operational system. Within this model and from the interactions of its inner elements, the alchemists believed that all things could be explained. They called this structure Ether. It contained the three basic dimensions of existence, length, breadth and depth. This one structure is called an Ether Space-Datum. It occupies one position in 3-dimensional space.

Recall the alchemist’s hierarchy; the Supreme Architect caused a division within itself into two principles, and from these two principles resulted the Four Elements; Fire, Earth, Air and Water. The four elements with the addition of Ether, formed the Quintessence of Matter. They combined the four elements by way of the Sulfur, Salt and Spirit (Mercury) and sought to effect the transmutation of metals. The key phrase in this hierarchy is the definition of the Quintessence of matter; the four elements with the addition of Ether. The meaning of this phrase is the intermingling of the four elements within the Ether structure, i.e., the interactions of the four elements within an ethereal space-datum produced the Sulfur, Salt and Spirit.

To see how the four elements interact within the Ether and how the alchemists define the Sulfur, Salt and Spirit we need to know the internal structure of an Ethereal space-datum. The four elements are found only in 2-dimensional systems, so we need to separate the 3-dimensional system into combinations of 2-dimensional systems. Upon inspection of the 3-dimensional system we find there are three (3) 2-dimensional systems in operation within one 3-dimensional Ether space-datum, the (p x q), (p x m), and (q x m).

The three 2-dimensional systems can be derived mathematically by taking the first derivative of the 3-dimensional system.

Taking the first derivative of the 3-dimensional Ether system separates it into its primary component parts, three 2-dimensional systems. The alchemists called these three 2-dimensional systems interacting within the Ether the Sulfur, Salt, and Spirit (Mercury). From Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma, the ritual of the Degree of Elder Master [Le Vrai Macon] defines these three.

The secret knowledge of the Grand Master relates to the combination and transmutation of different substances: whereof that you may obtain a clear idea and proper understanding, you are to know that all matter and all material substances are composed of combinations of three several substances, extracted from the Four Elements, which three substances in combination are Salt, Sulfur, and Spirit. The first of these produces Solidity, the second Softness, and the third the Spiritual, vaporous particles. These three compound substances work potently together; and therein consists the true process for the transmutation of metals.

The four elements are present in each of the three 2-dimensional systems, which means there are three sets of four elements in operation, the Sulfur set, Salt set, and Spirit set. The alchemist’s meaning of the Quintessence of Matter is the three sets of four elements operating independently and in conjunction with each other within the Ether structure.

Consider the following analogy. A simple automobile engine produces work. It is a stand-alone system. If it were possible to take the first derivative of this engine, it would reveal three major operating systems within it that are needed to produce the work. First, it would need to have a physical assembly (motor) capable of producing work (the Salt quality or body); second, it would need to have fuel to power the physical assembly (the Sulfur quality or soul); and last it would need to have spark to ignite the fuel that powers the assembly (the Mercury quality or spirit). These three systems work independently of each other but only when they work in conjunction with each other, with each contributing its own special quality toward the whole does the engine produce work.

This analogy is an example of the philosophical meaning of the Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury. It also shows the philosophical operations of the three internal 2-dimensional systems of the Ether.

Within this Ethereal system, the internal components of the Sulfur, Salt, and Mercury consist of three sets of four elements in which there are three different types of Fire elements, three types of Earth elements, three types of Air elements and three types of Water elements. The alchemists associated these twelve elements with the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The Fire elements are Aires which is of the Sulfur quality, Leo of the Salt quality and Sagittarius of the Mercury or Spirit quality. The Earth elements are Capricorn of the Sulfur quality,Taurus of the Salt quality and Virgo of the Mercury quality. The Air elements are Libra of the Sulfur quality, Aquarius of the Salt quality and Gemini of the Mercury quality. The Water elements are Cancer with the Sulfur quality, Scorpio of the Salt quality and Pisces with the Mercury quality.

The Symbolic Diagram of the Ether

The Exclusive OR condition that applied to the 1-dimensional and 2-dimensional symbolic diagrams applies also to the Ether’s symbolic diagram. This diagram consists of three separate positions, each of which can hold one of the twelve elements. Each position does not have to contain different elements though, one specific element may occupy all three positions.

From the three separate elemental positions one above the other there are six total positions that can hold either a bold line or a thin line. This six position structure is called a Hexagram.

If we take the general equation for the 3-dimensional Ether structure and do successive derivatives on it until we reach the 1-dimensional state, the result will equal the number of oppositional binaries in the symbolic diagram.

Successive derivatives of the 3-dimensional Ether system reveals six (6) oppositional binaries in the symbolic diagram, corresponding to the diagram shown above.

As another example, in a 4-dimensional system, taking successive derivatives of its’ equation would result in:

The 4-dimensional symbolic diagram would have twenty-four different positions that could contain a bold line or thin line in its symbolic diagram. This diagram is equivalent to four (4) 3-dimensional systems in operation. The 5-dimensional system is a complemented structure of twenty (20) three dimensional systems.

Once the hexagram is formed the interpretation changes. The following section taken from Pike’s Morals and Dogma explains the division of the Ether’s symbolic diagram.

From the mixture of the four elements and of their four qualities, result the Three Principles, Mercury, Sulfur, and Salt. These are the Philosophical, not the Vulgar.

The philosophical Mercury is a Water and a Spirit, which dissolves and sublimates the Sun; the philosophical Sulfur, a Fire and a Soul, which mollifies and colors it; the philosophical Salt, an Earth and a Body, which coagulates and fixes it; and the whole is done in the bosom of Air. From these three principles result the Four Elements duplicated, or the Grand Elements.

The hexagram, instead of being interpreted by the three positions of the Sulfur, Salt and Mercury in the symbolic diagram, is now interpreted by properties called Grand Elements. The Grand Elements are similar in respect to the Four Elements except that where the Four Elements contain a p and q position one above the other, the Grand elements contain two trigrams, one above the other, the top position being the Grand P and the bottom position being the Grand Q.

Separating the hexagram into two trigrams creates upper and lower Grand Positions. The Grand P and Grand Q are similar to the p and q of the Four Elements but on a more general scale.

The trigrams that occupy the grand positions are designated as Grand Active and Grand Inactive trigrams These are not additive inverse oppositional trigrams but are portrayed as heaven-earth (male-female) complementary grand functions.

The following hexagrams are examples of the alchemical duplicated elements; the Grand Fire, Grand Air, Grand Earth and Grand Water elements.


The first part of an I Ching hierarchy can be found in paragraph 70-71 of Section I in James Legge’s interpretation, The I Ching: Book of Changes.

In the system of the Yi there is the Grand Terminus, which produced the two I (Elementary Forms). These two Forms produced the four Hsiang (Emblematic Symbols); which again produced the eight Kwa (Trigrams). The eight Kwa served to determine the good and evil (issues of events), and from this determination there ensued the (prosecution of the) great business of life.

The two I or elemental forms, yin and yang, correspond to the active and inactive elements of a binary line, and the four Hsiang (emblematic symbols), to the four elements of the alchemists.

The second part of the hierarchy is shown in Appendix III, Section II, paragraph 63, which states:

The Yi is a book of wide comprehension and great scope, embracing everything. There are in it the way of heaven, the way of man, and the way of the earth. It then takes (the lines representing) those three Powers, and doubles them until they amount to six. What these six lines show is simply this – the way of the three Powers.

Paragraph 63 speaks of “… the way of the three Powers.” The I Ching’s Three Powers are Heaven, Earth and Man. These three powers correspond to the alchemist’s Sulfur, Salt and Mercury. Heaven corresponds to the Sulfur property, Earth to the Mercury property and Man to the Salt property.

The positions assigned to Heaven, Earth and Man can be found in Legge’s commentary.

In the trigram, the first line represents earth; the second, man; and the third, heaven; in the hexagram, the first and second lines are assigned to earth; the third and fourth, to man; and the fifth and sixth, to heaven. These are the three Powers, and each Power has a ‘Grand Extreme,’ where its nature and operation are seen in their highest ideal.

Looking at the arrangement of the lines according to Heaven, Earth and Man, lines one and two are assigned to Earth, three and four to Man and five and six to Heaven. The positional arrangement of the lines also parallel the position of the lines of the alchemical arrangement.

Copyright © 1997 Charlie Higgins. All rights reserved.