3.

 

The actors are at hand; and by their show,
You shall know all, that you are like to know.

 A Midsummer Night's Dream[1]

You are probably wondering what the little symbol at the beginning of this sentence means. I will tell you. The book, as you will no doubt recall from the first section of this Prologue, is written in four and three. Four spirits, Fire, Earth, Air and Water narrate the chapters, which could get confusing were it not for the presence of these symbols intended to identify which spirit is speaking at any particular point. When the water spirit speaks, for example, the text will begin with the alchemical symbol for water: The astute reader will instantly surmise that since this paragraph began with the water symbol it is, in fact, narrated by the spirit, Water. In other words, I am that part of Doctor Dunn's mental inventory having to do with watery things, those things having come to him from parents and teachers, and their parents and teachers in a long and steady stream back through history and into pre-history where we find the very first watery thought. Moving forward, this first watery thought passed from the first person who had it to the second person, where it accumulated new watery bits like a watery snowball until at last it dribbled, bit by bit, into the Doctor's mind. And yours, I might add. It is my job to provide a first-hand account of some of the major events in the watery quadrant of the history of chemical technology.

Well, that was clear as mud. I'm afraid that Water tends to run at the faucet sometimes, so if you want a firm foundation for understanding this book, you're better off listening to Earth. This book is about digging stuff out of the ground and making it into other, more valuable stuff. There are twenty-eight chapters and at least seven of them will teach you something useful. Each chapter starts with a section explaining how that particular chapter's stuff got invented. Then there's a section telling you what you need to know about why the stuff is the way it is. Each chapter wraps up with a section showing you how to make the stuff that the chapter's about. If you're not interested in making stuff, it'd be a waste of time for you to read this book because you're not going to get anything out of it if you're not willing to get your hands earthy.

If Water and Earth haven't convinced you that the Author is off his nut, I'm afraid there's not much I can do to help. I'm supposed to represent the element, air, in case you haven't figured it out. I know it's confusing, but there we are. The Author wanted to write an unusual book, an interesting book, a book that would entertain as well as instruct, but I'm sorry to say that unusual is as far as he got. It takes most readers until Chapter 5 even to figure out that the book has characters, like actors in a play. To keep potential readers from chucking his masterpiece in with their empty pop bottles and pizza boxes, the Author has written this Prologue as a "device to make all well," but for that to work they would have to actually get through the Prologue without drifting off into a midsummer's daydream.

Let them slumber; this book is not for the lazy or the timid. It is a book of secrets to be carefully tended like an eternal flame, not casually browsed like a four-year-old fishing magazine in a dentist's office. Everyone who lays hands on it and often tries it out will think that a kind of key is contained in it. For just as access to the contents of locked houses is impossible without a key, so also, without this commentary all that appears in the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistos will give the reader a feeling of exclusion and darkness. The text is composed in four and three; Fire, Earth, Air, and Water; Mercury, Sulfur, and Salt. In this way was the book created. From this there will be amazing applications, for this is the pattern.

 

Truly, without deceit. Certainly and absolutely. That which is Above corresponds to that which is Below and that which is Below corresponds to that which is Above in the accomplishment of the miracle of One Thing.

And just as all things come from One, so all things follow from this One Thing, in the same way.

Its father is the Sun; its mother is the Moon. The wind has carried it in its belly. Its nourishment is the Earth.

It is the father of every completed thing in the Whole World. Its strength is intact if it is turned towards the Earth. Separate the Earth by Fire, the fine from the gross, gently and with great skill.

It rises from the Earth to Heaven and descends again to the Earth, and receives power from Above and from Below. Thus thou wilt have the glory of the Whole World. All obscurity shall be clear to thee.

This is the strong power of all powers for it overcomes everything fine and penetrates everything solid. In this way was the World created. From this there will be amazing applications, for this is the pattern.

Therefore am I called Hermes Trismegistos, having the three parts of wisdom of the Whole World.

Herein have I completely explained the Operation of the Sun.

 The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistos

Right. I'm afraid you'll have to put up with a bit of pseudo-alchemical techno-babble in the course of this book. The Author might simply have described the nature of the elements, but for the more flamboyant elements of his nature. Fire is the main culprit, but Earth and Water have their moments, as well. "The text is composed in four and three." The Author might have simply said that the book has four characters and each chapter has three sections. If you ask me, this book should have rested on the periodic table, not on the Emerald Tablet.

The periodic table is fine, as far as it goes, but it says nothing of the Operation of the Sun.

Transmutation, that is. Black gold, Texas tea. The Emerald Tablet's not so much about literally changing lead into gold, of course, but more about changing useless stuff into useful stuff.

I believe it is more of an allegory about life and death, mortality and immortality, about coming into being and kicking the bucket. This book will follow that pattern, tracing the advance of chemical technology from a stone-age trickle to the babbling brooks of the Bronze Age to the stately rivers of the Iron Age to the confluence of tributaries in the Middle Ages to the polluted canals of the Industrial Revolution. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Indeed you are. The first chapter belongs to me.

Notes

[1]

Reference [24], Act V, Scene 1.