Alchemical Phoenix


“The Alchemical Phoenix”
painted in the ashes of cremated flowers on recycled paper marbleized with fustic plant dye, sublimed sulphur, ground cinnabar, and liquefaction of 24-karat gold; within the design are the golden triangle, phi spiral, and the ancient alchemical symbols for salt, mercury, sulphur, cinnabar, borax, eggshells, clay, vinegar, sugar, and silver – all traditional alchemical substances still in use today.

The Five Birds of Alchemy
– Mary Jo Magar –
Every existence, coarse Crow commences,
Whether process of body, mind, heart, soul . . .
Crow roots a problem and inspires a goal.
Then, out of Crow’s black, light to the senses,
A white Swan floats on truth with pretenses;
Soon, a change, without warning or control;
Peacock’s true colors reveal, self-extol,
And eyes see within, beyond defenses.
When the Passion comes, not passion but pain;
Pelican’s profound bill must now be paid,
But when blood drains away, there Crow again,
Only this time, different, solved, self-made,
Black from its ashes though pure white of brain:
The Phoenix – firey, regal, unafraid.

Depictions of birds were commonly used by ancient alchemists to represent various stages and phenomena in alchemical processes and in life experience. 

According to Adam McLean, the foremost authority on alchemical tradition, birds in general in alchemy symbolize the human spirit rising above the limitations of earthbound life and soaring into the luminous free realm of Heaven.

Among the birds most often referenced and depicted in alchemical texts and illustrations are the crow, white swan, peacock, pelican, and phoenix, listed in the specific order that corresponds with stages of alchemical transformation, which include, on the mundane level, stages in problem solving and in healing.

The name “alchemical phoenixrefers to the union of salt, mercury, and sulphur, known as the tria prima or “three principles” in alchemy. Alchemical phoenix derives from a text of antiquity titled Treasure of the Alchemists authored by Paracelsus, the renowned sixteenth-century physician, botanist, and alchemist who founded the spagyric system of medicine, which applies the tria prima analogically and literally, in the formulation of various medicines.

According to Paracelsus, the alchemical phoenix is synonymous with the word “iliaster,” which Paracelsus invented to describe prima materia (prime matter), the formless essence that defines all matter, or what in physics is known as energy, random energy, dark energy, or creative chaos. However, by mundane definition, iliaster can also refer to a crisis preceding an awakening, spiritual or otherwise.

Besides being representative of the three kingdoms in nature as well as the three levels of being in all life forms (body, spirit, soul), the “three principles” have extensive, profound symbolism and practical applications. As a point of interest, following is an assortment of passages related to the concept of the “phoenix,” the mythological firebird, which illustrate the very nature of alchemy itself and the nature of the alchemical phoenix, as defined by Paracelsus (quoted from several books of antiquity):

A phoenix is a mythical bird that has a 500 to 1,000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds a nest of myrrh twigs to ignite; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. In some stories, the new phoenix embalms the ashes of its old self in an egg made of frankincense and myrrh and deposits the egg in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis.”

” . . . the will forces in man are (like flames) constantly striving upwards . . . Salt represents the thought process in man. . . . Thinking takes place in the head, and it is therefore no accident that the alchemists wrote of Salt as being contained in human tears, which stream down towards the fire within the lower part of the body. . . . a symbol . . . two triangles interlinked – the one with its apex pointing upwards represents Fire (Sulphur), and that with its apex pointing downwards represents Salt (Water). . . . Fire rises and Water sinks. If the two were always meeting, then the human would be in a constant state of agitation, as they exploded together in steam. For this reason the alchemists insisted that there was a miraculous barrier between them, something that was capable of uniting with both Sulphur and Salt, yet at the same time maintaining its own nature. This miraculous substance was Mercury; within the context of the human being, Mercury is symbolic of the human emotional system centered within the heart. . . . the Greek name for Mercury is Hermes . . .  a clue as to why the phoenix is often called the Hermes bird . . . adopted by chemists as a symbol of their trade, . . . the Hermes bird, the phoenix, is itself involved with healing, and chemists were originally those people who provided all the mineral and vegetative specifics designed to help heal the sick. . . . We must recall that the phoenix burns itself periodically to be reborn. Is this merely a reference to the healing process in man or does it have some other significance? In his writings, Paracelsus leaves us no doubt that the alchemical phoenix or iliaster is nothing more than a symbol of the completely healed, or perfected, human being, . . . the aim of the secret practices of the alchemists.”

The Tria Prima

The tria prima (three principles) refers to the alchemical combination of salt, sulphur, and mercury. These three elements are physically and analogically involved in all processes and exchanges of energy and matter in the universe. 

The tria prima is a universal fundamental, recognizable throughout all nature, all life, and all arts and sciences, which are the human expressions and studies of nature and life and which all contain the seeds of alchemy.

For example, the tria prima analogizes with cosmic principles and polarities:

energy = sulphur
matter = salt
entropy = mercury 

positive = sulphur
negative = salt
neutral = mercury

destruction = sulphur
creation = salt
harmony = mercury

The “three principles” are the “law of three” in quantum physics:

force = sulphur
form = salt
function = mercury

The “three principles” analogize with the three patterns of universal energy: 

combustion model (fire / sulphur)
conversion model (ether / air / mercury)
photosynthesis model (earth and water / carbon / salt)

The “three principles” also define the six bio-geochemical cycles:

the carbon cycle
the nitrogen cycle
the oxygen cycle
the water cycle
the sulphur cycle
the phosphorous cycle

The tria prima also equates with the three aesthetic ideals:

love = sulphur
truth = mercury
beauty = salt

Of course, the human body itself is an alchemical laboratory, and water, salt, and sulphur are the three major components of the human body, which along with oxygen (the mercury principle), are the most needed elements in human and animal nutrition.

Alchemy, Spagyria, Homeopathy

Alchemy is a world view aimed at understanding the world around us and the world within us, and the correspondences {analogies} between these two worlds. . . . the baker is an alchemist up to the point of baking bread; the tender of wines … is an alchemist; so also the weaver up to the point of making cloth. Therefore concerning that which is produced by Nature becoming useful to mankind, whosoever brings it into that condition which was ordained by Nature is an alchemist, . . . There is no art without alchemy.”  
– Paracelsus –

Though alchemy is a philosophy of science, different from modernly-defined science, it is nonetheless a field that remains worthy of its enduring status throughout the ages as a source of truth, from which all applied sciences, all philosophy, and all religion have substantially borrowed.

The reputation of alchemy as a form of mysticism has always been intriguing but also unfortunate, though necessary as a means of protection against misunderstanding, misuse, and condemnation. In truth, or to use its own terms – in reductio – alchemy is nowhere near as mystical as it is simply practical, offering both abstract and material applications; that is to say, the general premise of alchemy – to transform dross into value, crudeness into refinement, baseness into betterment, diversity into unity, chaos into order, problems into solutions, imbalance into harmony / health / wholeness, etc. – is a perceivable dynamic in just about every natural function and human endeavor, even when not seemingly apparent. Perhaps the only factor defining the true practice of alchemy and separating it from “natural inclination” is consciousness, which in its highest expression belongs to the human realm; hence, all mysticism and intricacies aside, the spirit of alchemy may be as simple as living consciously and by doing so transforming our humanness from an unconscious habit into a deliberate miracle, which is what humanness has always been and what alchemy has always asserted – that ordinariness is both an aspect and guise of greatness.


” . . . Therefore, alchemist, learn to separate the false from the right, which is also known as Spagyric.”

Always worth remembering is that in ancient cultures, vitamins, minerals, and medicines, as we know them, were unheard of; no such words as “vitamin B,” “antioxidants,” “phytochemicals,” “meds,” etc., existed, yet our forbearers were able to live, sustain, and heal themselves simply through a cooperative relationship with indigenous nature, which provided all necessary nutrient factors that so fascinate (and distract) modern science.

Alchemy incorporates a system of medicine known as spagyria, which is the lesser-known Western counterpart to classical Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine of India. In many ways, spagyria exceeds other traditional healing methods by reason of its disciplined, systematic reverence for not just plant and animal life but for the total cosmos, which according to alchemy, holds and nurtures ALL life – EVERYTHING – within its space like an infinite womb or egg.

Authentic spagyric medicines are produced from plants, precious metals, and minerals that are obtained and processed in strict accordance with cycles of nature, including solar, lunar, and planetary cycles. The living parts of a plant or defining parts of a substance are first separated, then purified (distilled), and finally recombined; this is the three-stage alchemical process known as the “golden rule.” It is a method outstanding from other forms of medicinal preparation, including homeopathy, in that it utilizes the entire “being” of a substance, meaning all its physical parts as well as its “essence” obtained through the mineral deposits of its ashes. 

Recognizable in spagyric method is human cremation, which reduces a body to its “salts” (“ashes to ashes”). Also recognizable is the Old-World culinary habit of using all parts of animals, vegetables, and herbs, if not in specific dishes, then as ingredients in long-simmered stocks that extract the nutrient “essence” from ingredients through breakdown by heat. 

Fermentation is also used in spagyric method, and nearly all cultures have traditionally used fermentation of various foods and beverages for the purpose of transforming (alchemizing) bacteria into a beneficial living source of nutrition and prophylactic effect.  

Of all systems of medicine, past and present, spagyria has proven to be among the most efficacious systems of healing on all levels – body, mind, and soul – for the simple reason that spagyria acknowledges these three levels of being as existing in all realms and all parts of the universe, not just in people. Just as a person has a physical body, an intelligence, and a spiritual essence, so too do animals, plants, minerals, gems, planets, etc., and it is the creative interaction within and among these elements that forms our world.

In alchemy, body, spirit, and soul are known as the active “tria prima” represented, respectively, by salt, mercury, and sulphur, and in combination known as the alchemical phoenix. These three levels of being function physically and philosophically in all Nature, all life, and all experience.


Homeopathy cures a larger percentage of cases than any other method of treatment and is beyond doubt safer and more economical and is the most complete medical science.”
– Mahatama Gandhi –

Though spagyria and homeopathy are often confused and even referred to interchangeably, they are in fact two separate and distinct forms of medicine; spagyria predates classical homeopathy by more than 200 years. However, despite distinctions, there are also distinct similarities between spagyria and homeopathy, the most defining being the principle of similia similibus curantor, meaning “like treats like,” a motto largely attributed to Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, but in actuality attributable to Paracelsus, the founder of spagyria, which became the basis for homeopathy. 

The second most outstanding similarity between spagyria and homeopathy is the vital presence of the “essence” or subtle energy of whatever particular matter (substance) is used to produce a homeopathic or spagyric remedy; in the case of spagyria, both matter and energy define a remedy whereas in the case of homeopathy, only the energy, known as the “imprint” or “signature,” constitutes a remedy, which is prepared in various titrations.

A further similarity between spagyria and homeopathy is the Paracelsian theory of three primordial diseases and the homeopathic theory of three chronic miasms.

Alchemy in general and alchemical medicine are based on three universal principles: salt, mercury, and sulphur, which on mundane, physiological level can be reflective of three universal causes of disease as well as cure. 

Sulphur diseases of people and animals are metabolic in origin, referring to combustion (fire) processes in the body, such as digestion; salt diseases pertain to balance of water and solids in the body, what would modernly be termed electrolyte balance; mercury diseases pertain to diseases of putrefaction, which include mental and nervous disorders. Furthermore, each principle is reflected in a corresponding waste material of the body: salt waste is known as tartarus or mineral precipitates, mercury waste is phlegm, and sulphur waste is resina, e.g., feces.

As simplistic as these principles may seem, they remain the foundational concepts of modern chemistry / biochemistry, physiology, medicine, and pharmacy.

Homeopathy has an equivalent set of “three principles,” the most significant being the “psoric” miasm, which is typically remedied with mineral sulphur as well as itself (“like treats like”) in the form of a nosode, which is a homeopathic remedy prepared directly from a pathogenic specimen. 

According to Samuel Hahnemann, a misam is an “infectious principle,” a fundamental cause of disease passed among people and animals by invisible “animals” (pathogens) and leading to chronic and congenital diseases of multiple expressions but with common origins. Such diseases follow from a slow progression of imbalances, which usually are initially mistreated with suppressive medicines (such as topical sulphur and zinc); then, as lack of resolution combines with suppression, imbalances grow and complicate and convert into lingering, lasting, and even hereditary diseases that penetrate even more deeply into the human physiology and psyche.

Hahnemann spent years of his practice researching and proving his theory of miasms, the result of which was his book titled The Chronic Disease, published in 1828. Hahnemann concluded that chronic miasms were essentially and symptomatically the most difficult diseases to diagnose and treat because of their long progressions throughout the animal kingdom and the human race and because of their wide array of expressions despite common factors. 

Hahnemann designated the psoric miasm, “psora,” as the primal miasm, dating back to the origins of creation, in fact to the concept of the first man and woman having fallen from “grace,” which both Hahnemann and his predecessor Paracelsus interpreted as the first “illness,” indicative of imbalance within the trinity of God, Nature and Human – Sulphur, Salt, and Mercury. Hahnemann believed that the majority of all chronic illnesses in people and animals could be traced to psora, which derives from the Hebrew word tsorat, meaning leprosy or more generally, skin disease. Psora was commonly known and treated in Hahnemann’s time as “the itch,” which manifested as a variety of eruptive diseases of skin and mucous membranes. 

Many homeopathic practitioners, past and present, believed and do believe that the psoric miasm is responsible for just about every human / animal ailment in existence. Indeed, well proven by orthodox medicine is that arachnids and insects – no doubt the invisible “animals,” hypothesized by Hahnemann – can be rapid, efficient carriers of a multitude of parasites, fungi, bacteria, and viruses, including the common cold.