Quintessence in ancient and medieval philosophy, the fifth and highest essence after the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, thought to be the substance of the heavenly bodies and latent in all things.

Space, whether inter-planetary, inter-material, or inter-organic, is filled with a subtle fluid or gas, which we call, as did the ancients, Aether. This subtle fluid or gas, changeable in composition, invisible, yet pervades everything and all matter. Metal, mineral, tree, plant, animal, man; each is charged with this Aether, in varying degrees, which can be vitalizing or morbid to humans. All life on the planet is charged in like manner; a world is built up in this fluid, and moves through a sea of it. This Aether, which the metaphysician might term astral light, determines the constitution and even tempermant of bodies. Subtly hardness and softness, solidity and liquidity, and more tactfully texture, taste, smell and sensation; all depend on the relative proportion of ethereal elements and ponderable matter of which they are composed.

This principle that all things proceed from THE ONE is an ancient observation that dates back as far as writing can be discovered. It is demonstrable in the physical; in the principles of Biology, the multicellular organisms, complex as they may be in their structure, nevertheless arise from a single cell, driven by a life force, elan vital. Science postulates that all matter is composed of atoms: the atoms, however, are composed of protons and electrons, and the electrons in their turn are evidently composed of Ether. This Ether is a universal connecting medium filling all Space to the furthest limits, penetrating the interstices of the atoms without a break in its continuity, and so completely does it fill Space that it is sometimes identified with Space, and has, in fact, been spoken of as Absolute Space.

'The Ether of Space,' according to Sir Oliver Lodge, 'is a theme of unknown and apparently infinite magnitude, and of a reality beyond the present conception of man. It is that of which everyday material consists, a link between the worlds, a consummate substance of overpowering grandeur. By a kind of instinct one feels it to be the home of spiritual existence, the realm of the awe-inspiring and supernal. It is co-extensive with the physical universe, and is absent from no part of space. Beyond the furthest star it extends, in the heart of the atom it has its being. It permeates and controls and dominates all. It eludes the human senses and can only be envisaged by the powers of the mind.

'Yet the Ether is a physical thing; it is not a physical entity, it has definite properties. It is not matter any more than hydrogen and oxygen are water, but it is the vehicle of both matter and spirit. . . '

Metaphysicians, theosophists, and others have divided matter, seen and unseen, into seven principles or planes, and of these the fifth principle, or Quintessence, corresponds to the Aether of Space. If we are willing to admit that there is truth in this statement, then we may begin to see on what alchemy is based. All the forces of our scientists have originated in the Vital Principle, that one Collective Life of our Solar System, which life is a part of, or rather one of the aspects of, the One Universal Life. During life there is present in man a finely diffused form of matter, a vapour filling not merely every part of his physical body, but actually stored in some parts; a matter constantly renewed by the solar rays, the vital chemistry, a matter as easily disposed of as the breath, once the breath has served its purpose. Of this subject Paracelsus wrote:

'The Archaeus is an essence that is equally distributed in all parts of the human body. . . . The Spiritus Vitae takes its origin from the Spiritus Mundi. Being an emanation of the latter, it contains the elements of all cosmic influences, and is therefore the cause by which the action of the cosmic forces act upon the body of man.'

This Archaeus is of a magnetic nature and is not only enclosed in the body but also radiates within and around it like a luminous sphere called in theosophy the etheric body .

Alchemy and alchemy alone, within historical period, and in so-called civilised countries, has succeeded in obtaining a real element, or a particle of homogeneous matter, the Mysterium Magnum of Paracelsus. By his age-old science the alchemist may set free this Vital Principle in his laboratory, destroy the body of the metal on which he is working, purify its salt, and bring its principles together in a higher form. This process, which is after all but a miniature reproduction of a superior process in operation around us all the time, undoubtedly proceeds from Master Intelligences who have lived at some time or another on this Earth.


The Alchemy of Food

Science has found that food must contain a certain vital essence, which is identified as the Vitamins. Without this vital quality, food is devoid of nourishment. For example, expeditions on which the men have subsisted entirely on a diet of canned food have invariably show that while consumming the bulk of food necessary for the satisfaction of their hunger, they suffered from slow starvation since that food was devoid of its vital principle--the Quintessence or life force. It is well documented the sufferings of the early explorers who would sail for weeks without sighting land, living the while on dried food like salted meat. By landing on islands which could provide anything in the way of fresh meat and fruit they would replenish their miserable life force, and for a time whilst these fresh provisions lasted, the crew would improve in health and vitality, but with the exhaustion of the supply would come depletion of vitality, suffer scurvy, and other diseases occasioned by a devitalized diet. Citrous fruits, in particular, were found to be extremely effective for combating scurvy, and British sailors at one time in their history were called 'limies' by reason of the citrus fruit included in their food and drink.

This food problem is surely an observation of vast dimensions. From all sides we are today bombarded with demands for a healthier population of people, but the greater part of our Western civilization on a diet of highly refined food, from which most all vitality has been extracted in the process of refinement, there is little hope of any improvement in their physical status, and this lack of vitally charged food is cited as the reason for such diseases as cancer and obesity. As a preventative to many diseases, medical men are now recommending Vitamin D, but actually this question of Vitamins is only touching the edge of a problem which is of very real importance and urgency to each one of us--the necessity for a diet incorporating in its constituents that vital energy or quintessence without which a food is not real food at all. Yes, taking a supplement of vitamin D certainly helps, but will not replace the natural process of being in sunlight, breathing vital air, and absorbing the solar prana.

The Alchemy of Digestion

In the process of digestion we find a much more complex action taking place than physiology has so far been able to demonstrate. The process of ingesting food into the human stomach is really a mild form of poisoning, and in order to utilize to the best advantage the foodstuffs one is taking in, the human being must transmute those foodstuffs, provided for us by the animal and vegetable kingdoms, into a form that the cells of his body can readily take up and assimilate. Without this process of change in digestion, man suffers a slow poisoning! Meat, for example, in the process of digestion is sanitzed by hydrocholoric acid, and is split up into its amino acids, enters the blood and then brought together again as a human albumen capable of absorption and assimilation by the cells of the human body.

Physiologically and chemically, there is no full explanation which would elucidate this process, but that it does take place is a fact. So often we hear the word Qi used in relation to health: life force - Qi, moving Qi with massage and acupuncture, weak Qi and lowered immunity, stuck Qi causing pain. Yet this term is not always easily understood in translation. From Chinese to English, the word is usually defined as "life force" or "energy." However, by taking a close look at the Chinese character for Qi, it is the symbol drawn as a grain of rice inside a boiling pot of water with steam (air) rising. Every aspect of this represents the body's source of Qi in the ancient conception. The rice is the nutritive core. The pot is the vessel or container for this sustenance. The steam and its movement is the digestive energy produced in the triple burner .

In this enactment we have an observation of transmutation, of man taking into his body a lower form of life for its transmutation into something higher, and what is that but an alchemical process? The transmutation of a lower substance into a higher energy when it is blended with the vital breath of air, when it takes place in the body of man, is definitely a function of transmutation of energy. Thus we have an example from the ancients of how man as the medium, through which an alchemical transmutation of a lower form of matter into a higher form of vitality take places.

The Alchemy of Breathing

The ancients pondered and observed the importance of breating, extracting vital energy for the sustainment of the organism. We are taught that the most important function of breathing is the taking of oxygen into the lungs to revive the venous blood which has lost its oxygen in its circulation of the body, and has to be replaced before it can pass on into the arterial circulation once more. This discovery has no doubt saved untold lives. However, there is another function of breath, which physiology has so far not touched, that is the breathing in of the natural electricity or Vital Principle (the Quintessence) in the atmosphere, which the human body uses as digestive and nervous energy. Here again the unseen alchemy is at work, engaged in the absorption of the air around him and its transmutation into something higher for the work in his own body.

The human body is a chemical laboratory and the so-called atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc., must contain within charges of Vital Energy for life to continue. The Yogi, in describing his breathing exercises, speaks of a certain vital principle which he calls 'Prana,' which is another instance of the manifestation of the Quintessence. In this system of belief, breathing calms the mind which is centered on the act of absorbing this Quintessence of the air which is consciously taken in for the revitalization of every part of his body.