The philosopher's stone (lapis philosophorum; Greek: chrysopoeia) is a legendary substance, supposedly capable of turning inexpensive metals into gold; it was also sometimes believed to be an elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and possibly for achieving immortality. For a long time, it was the most sought-after goal in Western alchemy. In the view of spiritual alchemy, making the philosopher's stone would bring enlightenment upon the maker and conclude the Great Work.
Alchemists once thought a key component in creation of the stone was a mythical element
named carmot. Alchemy
itself is mostly an original concept and science practiced in the ancient Near East
, and India
. However, the concept of ensuring youthful health originated in China
The 8th-century Arab alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (Latinized as Geber) analyzed each classical element in terms of the four basic qualities of hotness, coldness, dryness, and moistness. Fire was both hot and dry, earth cold and dry, water cold and moist, and air hot and moist. He further theorized that every metal was a combination of these four principles, two of them interior and two exterior. From this premise, it was reasoned that the transmutation of one metal into another could be effected by the rearrangement of its basic qualities. This change would presumably be mediated by a substance, which came to be called al-iksir in Arabic (from which the Western term elixir is derived). It is often considered to exist as a dry red powder (also known as al-Kibrit al-Ahmar الكبريت الأحمر—red sulphur) made from a legendary stone—the philosopher's stone.
In the 11th century, there was a debate among Muslim chemists on whether the transmutation of substances was possible. A leading opponent was Avicenna, ibn Cienna, who discredited the theory of transmutation of substances:
According to legend, the 13th-century scientist and philosopher Albertus Magnus is said to have discovered the philosopher's stone and passed it to his pupil Thomas Aquinas, shortly before his death circa 1280. Magnus does not confirm he discovered the stone in his writings, but he did record that he witnessed the creation of gold by "transmutation".
The 16th-century Swiss alchemist Philippus Paracelsus believed in the existence of alkahest, which he thought to be an undiscovered element from which all other elements (earth, fire, water, air) were simply derivative forms. Paracelsus believed that this element was, in fact, the philosopher's stone.
Jabir's theory was based on the concept that metals like gold and silver could be hidden in alloys and ores, from which they could be recovered by the appropriate chemical treatment. Jabir himself is believed to be the inventor of aqua regia, a mixture of muriatic (hydrochloric) and nitric acids, one of the few substances that can dissolve gold (and which is still often used for gold recovery and purification).
Gold was particularly valued as a metal that would not rust, tarnish, corrode or otherwise grow corrupt. Since the philosopher's stone would turn a corruptible base metal to incorruptible gold, it would similarly transform human beings from mortal (corruptible) to immortal (incorruptible). One of many theories was that gold was a superior form of metal, and that the philosopher's stone was even purer and superior to gold, and if combined with lesser metals, would turn them into superior gold as well.
A mystical text published in the 17th century called the Mutus Liber appears to be a symbolic instruction manual for concocting a philosopher's stone. Called the "wordless book", it was a collection of 15 illustrations.
The Latin American spiritual teacher Samael Aun Weor
stated that the philosopher's stone is synonymous with the symbol of the stone found in many other spiritual and religious traditions, such as the stone Jacob
rests his head upon, the cubic stone of Freemasonry
, and the rock upon which Christ
lays the foundation of the temple.
He states that this "stone of stumbling" and "rock of offence" is the creative-sexual energy, which in Kabbalah is Yesod ("foundation") that must be transmuted through sexual alchemy. It is said to be rejected by the "builders", meaning those who seek spiritual edification, because they reject the transmutation of sexual energy and instead use it to achieve sensual pleasure.
In art and entertainment
The philosopher's stone has been a subject, inspiration, or plot feature of innumerable artistic works: novels
, and even musical
compositions. It is also a popular item in many video games
. The following is a very incomplete list.
- Natural Magic (1558), by Giambattista della Porta
- The Philosopher's Stone (1789), by Christoph Martin Wieland. German fairy tale.
- Hinzelmeier (1857), by Theodor Storm. Romantic style German fairy tale.
- Philosopher's Stone (1859), by Hans Christian Andersen
- The Trumpeter of Krakow (1928), by Eric P. Kelly
- The Red Lion (1946), by Maria Szepes. Story of a man's journey through four centuries of life after acquiring the philosopher's stone.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), by Gabriel García Márquez
- The Philosopher's Stone (1971), by C. H. Wilson
- The Ogre Downstairs (1974), by Diana Wynne Jones
- The Alchemist (1988), by Paulo Coelho
- Foucault's Pendulum (1988), by Umberto Eco, where a character claims that the stone is actually the Holy Grail
- Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix (1994 graphic novel), by Lee Marrs
- Indiana Jones and the Philosopher's Stone (1995), by Max McCoy
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997), by J. K. Rowling (renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the US; note also that when the stone is referred to in Latin in a Potter context, it is called philosophi lapis rather than philosophorum, i.e. "of the philosopher" instead of the original "of the philosophers").
- The Philosopher's Stone: A Quest for the Secrets of Alchemy (2001), by Peter Marshall
- The Baroque Cycle trilogy (2003–2004), by Neal Stephenson, where it is used to explain an unusually heavy gold sample
- The Queen's Fool (novel, 2004), by Philippa Gregory
- The Alchemyst: the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (novel, 2007), by Michael Scott
- The Six Sacred Stones (novel, 2007 AUS or 2008 US and UK), by Matthew Reily
Comics, movies, TV, and animations
- The Fabulous Philosopher's Stone (1955), an Uncle Scrooge story by Carl Barks
- The Flash (1958). A rogue known as Doctor Alchemy used a philosopher's stone as his main weapon in crime.
- The Philosopher's Stone (1958) by Satyajit Ray
- "The Night of the Feathered Fury" (1967), a Wild Wild West episode. Count Manzeppi (guest star Victor Buono) attempts to acquire a wind-up bird that contains a magical secret: the philosopher's stone.
- "Legend of the Holy Rose" (1989), a two-part MacGyver episode centered on finding the philosopher's stone
- The Slayers (1995). The version of the stone that was depicted in this series varied quite substantially from traditional depictions of it. The stone was of a dark color and appeared to have a metamorphic-rock-like consistency. It was said to be part of the "Staff of the Gods" that supported the Slayers' world and increased a magic user's powers exponentially, to the point of being almost god-like.
- The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest (1996), episode where a modern alchemist forces the Quest family to join in his experimentation with the philosopher's stone.
- The Adventures Of Blake and Mortimer, Episode 12, The Alchemist's Will (1997), episode where Professor Mortimer holds a letter that takes him, Blake and a professor's daughter on a race around the world to beat Olrik (the Arch villain) to the discovery of the Philosopher's stone and to return it to its original owner. Failure to do so would see Olrik conquer the world with immortality and all the Gold in the world.
- Rock of Ages, (1997-98) a six-part story-arc in DC Comics' JLA comic series.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001); retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the US.
- ''Fullmetal Alchemist (2001). A legendary stone is said to allow the holder to completely bypass the law of Equivalent Exchange. As with all things, however, creating a philosopher's stone requires the expenditure of raw materials: including human lives on a massive scale.
- Justice League (2002). Jason Blood and his alter-ego Etrigan the Demon seek the assistance of the Justice League in preventing the philosopher's stone from falling into the hands of his ancient enemy, the sorceress Morgaine Le Fey.
- The Philosophers Stone, (2007) a feature length occult film by director Raymond Salvatore Harmon featuring music by sludge metal band Bog.
- The American progressive metal band Tool refer to the philosopher's stone on their 2001 album Lateralus on the opening track "The Grudge".
- The concept album Grand Materia (2005) by the Swedish metal band Morgana Lefay is about Nicolas Flamel and his life and how he made the philosopher's stone.
- Van Morrison recorded a song called "Philosophers Stone" for his 1999 album Back on Top, which was heard in the 2000 film Wonder Boys and on its subsequent soundtrack. He also released an album entitled The Philosophers Stone on June 16, 1998. This double CD is actually a collection of 30 previously unreleased recordings created between 1971 and 1988.
- Shadow of Memories; An alchemist in the past creates a homunculus using the philosopher's stone, although the story turns out later to have multiple twists, involving the homunculus travelling to the future to bring someone back with the stone, so as to have created itself in the first place. Interestingly the person the homunculus brought back turns out to be the alchemist himself, but in an eternally younger form, and with amnesia - both of which were placed upon him by the homunculus after it turned on the alchemist. This is interesting since it shows that the homunculus itself had the power to create eternal youth.
- Darklands (1992); One of the "magic" systems of the game was alchemy, which required the use of a philosopher's stone to create potions and elixers. Here, the stones had a level of purity which was decreased as the stones were used in conversions, requiring the alchemist to acquire new stones of higher purity to maintain his efficacy.
- Zork Nemesis (1996); Charged with the task of unraveling the mystery of "The Nemesis" the player must explore an area known as the "The Forbidden Lands", set within the fictional world of Zork. The story of the game focuses heavily on alchemy, the discovery of the Quintessence, and the philosopher's stone.
- Devil May Cry (2001); During the course of the game, Dante comes across an item called the Philosopher's Egg, which must be warmed for some time (the time elapsed is actually the duration of the following boss fight), which then turns into the Philosopher's Stone and is used to open the gate into the demon world.
- Golden Sun: The Lost Age (2003); The Golden Sun games uses alchemy as a form of psychokinetic magic called 'psynergy', which stems from 4 Elemental Stars. When the stars are used to activate the 4 Elemental Lighthouses, their lights join above Mt. Aleph. This creates a large blast of light called the Golden Sun that signals the formation of the Stone of Sages(also called the Wisdom Stone), which is the true source of all psynergy. It also grants the holder nearly unlimited life, as well as transmuting lead into gold.
- World of Warcraft (2004); The alchemy profession in the game is able to create an item useful to the player called "the Philosopher's Stone", facilitating literal transmutations e.g. transmutation of Thorium and a rare gemstone into "Arcanite", a mineral that is not found to be naturally occuring.
- Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel (2003); The game's characters Edward Elric and Alphonse Elric both have the purpose to find the Philosopher Stone, as is the goal in the whole franchise. The sequel to the game has the same characters and purpose.
- Alone In The Dark (2008); Within the game, the Philosopher's Stone is said to have been created by Lucifer in order to allow his soul to travel through time.