The Great Philosopher’s Stone Myth
By James Donahue
People who grew up reading and watching films based on J. K. Rowling’s creative Harry Potter
stories are familiar with Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s
In the story, Potter goes through a magical quest for his identity via the mythological Philosopher’s
Stone and in the end he feels the mythological stone drop in his pocket. Of course he is battling against evil forces that
want the stone for their own use because it is supposed to be the elixir of life. Harry only sees the stone in the mirror.
He gets this gift because he merely sought to find it but not use it.
Rowling offers a captivating story based on a very ancient myth that emerges from the depths of
the strange world of spiritual alchemy that speaks of a legendary substance known as ormus or the Philosopher’s Stone.
According to myth, this substance is capable of bringing personal enlightenment, healing all illness, giving the owner immortality,
and even turning lead into gold.
The mythology behind the Philosopher’s Stone can be traced back to the Yoga Vasistha, an ancient text from the heart of India written between the 10th and 14th
Century AD. The idea that such a magical substance might exist has haunted alchemists throughout the world ever since. Such
famous thinkers as Sir Isaac Newton, Nicolas Flamel, Frater Albertus and Alistair Crowley meditated on the possibility that
a way could be found to assist humans in reaching enlightenment and heavenly bliss. For these men the search for the Stone
was known as the Great Work.
It was an Eighth Century Islamic alchemist known as Geber who theorized the existence of a substance
capable of transforming one metal into another by rearranging the basic qualities of a substance. Geber theorized that such
change could be brought about by a substance, which was called al-iksir in Arabic. It is from this word that the modern term
“elixir” originates. This substance was imagined as a dry powder made from a mythical “philosopher’s
It was Crowley who invented the word Azoth to refer to the potent that could be used as the universal
medicine sought in alchemy. Crowley’s word represented unity in including the first and last letters of the alphabet,
A for Alpha and Z, the final character in Latin, and including “O” for Omega and “Th,” the final character
in Hebrew. The word, at least to Crowley, represented a supreme wholeness and thus a universal synthesis of opposites and
Other alchemists of the time referred to the magic elixir of health as the panacea, named after
the Greek goddess of healing. Of course they were all searching for the mythical white powder from the philosopher’s
stone and all of the magical properties it was said to offer.
There is a very ancient writing known as The Emerald Tablet, also known as Tabula Smaragdina or
The Secret of Hermes, which many believe includes a formula for producing the philosopher’s stone. Translating the formula
into English only produces a maze of unexplained riddles, however.
For the contemporary metaphysicians who wish to try, we offer the formula as follows:
1. Solutio or liquefaction,
the “dissolution” or “liquidation” of the material prima.
2. Putrefacto, also nigredo,
a “blackening” or a descent into the nether sphere in which the material becomes black or putrid. This stage is
symbolized by the raven and by the burial of a dead body in the earth.
3. Albedo or “lightening”
the putrid or blackened substance is made white or pure once again, symbolized by the transition of the raven into a white
4. Citrinitatio or “yellowing.”
The material must be re-enriched by “philosophical milk” or lacta philosophica, the completion of which is indicated
by the assumption of a yellow color, symbolized as cauda pavonis or peacock’s tail.
5. Destillatio, also rubedo
or “reddening,” symbolized by a red dragon.
6. Coagulatio or fixation,
a coagulation or solidification of the material.
7. Tinctura, the completion
of the lapis.