The Theoretical Basis of the Hermetic Art, According to Mary Anne Atwood

“That it is necessary there should be a certain Subject of bodies which is different from them, is sufficiently evinced by the continual mutation of corporeal quantities; for nothing that is changed is entirely destroyed; since if such were the case there would be a certain essence dissolved into nonentity; and this persisting, there would be no remaining ground of generation. But change arises, from the departure of one quality and the essence of another; the subject-matter however — that which receives the forms and reflects them — always remains the same, proceeding and receding continually.

The elements are neither form nor matter, but composite and corruptible; and since everything sensible is corruptible, and yet a certain subsistence remains, it is necessary there should be a Nature primarily vital which is also formless, as being the principle of other things. Form indeed subsists according to quality and body in manifestation; but matter according to the subject which is indefinite, because it is not form. Thus it is said to be formless, variable, incorporeal, infinite; neither mere power, or perfect action, but a weak superstantial prolific nature.

The Passive Nature ought indeed to be a thing of this kind, pure and indeterminate; that it may reflect without refraction, the Formal Light throughout. On just such a foundation do the Alchemists establish their Free masonry; claiming like extreme attributes and miraculous origin for their first matter, as do the Greeks, for that ethereal hypostasis we were before discussing. This Material, whilst yet immanifest, they worked, and worked with by itself alone:

‘A nature to search out which is invisible, 
Material of our Magistry a substance insensible.’

But it was forbidden by the mandate of the Mysteries that their revelation should be communicated to the profane; and the modern Alchemists are, with few exceptions, silent respecting the metaphysics of their Art. To those who can understand the language of the philosophers, they will understand it; Search into the enigmas, peruse the fables, and consider the parables and maxims of the wise Adepts. They all tend to one discovery, and declare the same, and even their inconsistencies will be instructive to him who has the Key.

All who have arrived at an experimental conception of its reality unanimously assert that it is simple, and not so much therefore an object of reason as of contact and intuition. Though occult in nature, it can even be made apparent to the senses and exhibited in divine and practical effects.”


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