Lapis Philosophorum otherwise known as the philosopher’s stone is supposedly an element or alchemical substance that is thought to have the capability of transforming base metals and other elements of lesser value (mercury and coal were the prime candidates for this conversion) into gold or some believed or still believe into silver.
Part from that the legendary philosophers stone was also able to produce the elixir of life offering immortality to those who chanced upon it. Due to these factors Lapis Philosophorum or the ‘stone of the philosophers’ was the most sought after alchemic objective for numerous centuries, it was so revered that it became the central symbol of alchemy which among others symbolised perfection or in other words heavenly bliss.
The initiatives taken by ancient chemists to discover or produce the stone became to be known as the Magnum Opus. Some of the oldest references to the stone can be found in the Cheirokmeta written by Zosimos who live around c. 300 AD and there is even claim that Adam of the Garden of Eden also possessed the knowledge of how to attain the philosopher’s stone straight from God himself and that the knowledge was passed down through the ages via biblical patriarchs who lived for hundreds of years.
The assumptions about the stone vary from culture to culture and religion to religion as the stone was also compared to the Temple of Solomon and as well as the cornerstone that was rejected as described in the bible (Psalm 118). We can imagine the confusion that set itself around this fabled element as even Plato’s creation stories had analogies for its process which according to him requires Prima Materia or the four elements considered as ‘first matter’.
The understanding in the middle ages was that each classical element comprised of four basic qualities attributed to Fire which was in principal hot & dry, Water which was cold & moist then Earth which was cold and dry and lastly air which was considered to be hot and moist.
The principle of the hypothetical construct was that all metals were made from the combination of these four understandings (two interior & two exterior) and from that arrived at the conclusion that transmutation from one metal into another metal is indeed possible if the composition of these basic qualities are rearranged. However, the trick was that that, in order to make this happen, there had to be a mediating substance which was the philosopher’s stone.
The ideology or the belief in transmutation however eventually started showing signs of weakening around the 11th century as some popular chemists and statesmen discredited the theory entirely and made statements that still echo within the walls of top notch universities.
One of the more popular statements was:
“Those of the chemical craft know well that no change can be effected in the different species of substances, though they can produce the appearance of such change”.
Nevertheless, we now know that the only way to change lead to gold is by particle accelerators and even then, the results are too obscure to verify with absolute certainty. Trading in gold bullion, gold coins and gold jewellery has certainly made humans jump through hoops!