The philosophers’ stone
You’re familiar of course with the story of Ogier the Dane, so we will not repeat it here, but ask you if you recall that ‘Ogier the Dane gained the land of India eastwards to the world’s end, to the tree that is called the Sun Tree,’ as Christen Pedersen puts it – are you familiar with Christen Pedersen? no matter if you are not. Ogier the Dane then gave Prester John power and dominion over the land of India. Are you familiar with Prester John? Well, no matter if you are not, for he is not any part of this story; you are to hear of the Sun Tree in ‘the land of India eastwards to the world’s end’, as people then thought, those who had not studied geography as we have – and that is no matter either!
The Sun Tree was a magnificent tree, one which we have never seen, and you will also never come to see; its crown was many miles in circumference, it was actually a whole forest, each of its smallest branches was in turn a whole tree – there were palms, beeches, pines, planes, all kinds of trees that are to be found around the world grew here as small branches on the larger branches, and these themselves with their hollows and bulges formed what were like valleys and hills, and they were clad in velvety-smooth greenery that teemed with blossom; every branch was like a wide expanse of flowering meadow or the loveliest garden; the sun shone down on it with wonderful radiance – after all it was the Sun Tree, and birds from all the corners of the globes gathered here, birds from the primeval forests of distant America, from the rose-gardens of Damascus, from the wooded wildernesses of Africa where the elephant and lion fondly believe they alone rule; arctic birds came and the stork and swallow naturally also came; but the birds were not the only living creatures to come here, the deer, squirrel, antelope and a hundred other animals of swiftness and beauty had their home here – the crown was a large, scented garden and inside it, where the very largest branches rose up like green hills, lay a palace of crystal with a view out across all the countries of the world; every tower lifted itself like a lily, one could walk up inside its stem for there was a staircase inside, so you can well understand that it was possible to go out onto the leaves, there were balconies, at the very top of the flower itself there was the loveliest, radiant round room that had no other roof that the blue sky with the sun or stars; it was just as marvellous, though in a different way, down in the great halls of the palace, here the whole world round about was mirrored; one could see everything that took place, so one had no need to read newspapers, nor were there any here. Everything could be seen in live images if one was able to take it all in, or wanted to do so, for too much is too much, even for the wisest man, and here the wisest man lived. His name is so hard to pronounce, you cannot pronounce it, and that is no matter either. He knew everything that a human being can know and will ever come to know on this earth; every invention that has been made or will ever be made, but no more than that, for there is a limit to everything. Wise King Solomon was only half as clever, and he was admittedly extremely clever; he ruled over natural forces, over powerful spirits, indeed, even death had every morning to report with a list of those who were to die that day, but King Solomon himself also had to die, and it was that thought which often strangely preoccupied the mind of the investigator, the mighty lord of the palace in the Sun Tree. He also knew, no matter how greatly he exceeded all other humans in wisdom, that one day he would have to die, as would his children – like the leaves of the forest they would crumble into dust. He saw generations wither as leaves of the tree and new ones replace them, but the leaves that fell never grew once more, they turned into dust, into other parts of plants. What happened to humans when the angel of death came? What did dying mean? The body decayed, but what of the soul – what was it? Where did it go to? ‘To eternal life,’ was the consolation religion gave, but how about the transition? Where did one live and what was it like? ‘In heaven above!’ the devout said, ‘that is where we are bound!’ ‘Up there!’ the wise man said and looked up towards the sun and stars. ‘Up there!’ and he could see from the round globe of the Earth that up and down were one and the same thing, since he was standing on the floating orb; and were he to climb to the top of the highest mountain here, then the air which down here we call clear and transparent became, ‘pure sky’, a jet-black darkness, like a tight-fitting coat, and the sun would be seen to glow without rays, and our Earth would lie swathed in an orange mist. The physical eye had only a restricted view and it was also closed to the soul – how slight our knowledge was, even the wisest man knew little of what is more important to us.
In the innermost sanctuary of the palace lay the earth’s greatest treasure: ‘The Book of Truth’. He studied it page by page. It was a book every human is capable of reading, but only in small portions, to most eyes the text quivers so much that people are unable to spell the words; on certain pages the writing is often so pale, so close to disappearing, that all that can be seen is an empty page; the wiser one is, the more one is able to read, and the wisest man of all reads the most of all; he was also able to gather the stars’ light, the sun’s light, the light of hidden forces and that of the spirit, and with the aid of this enhanced gleam on the pages even more of the writing emerged, but at the section in the book where the title is ‘Life after Death’ not one iota could be seen. This made him very sad; – surely he could in some way find a source of light on this earth that would make what stood here in The Book of Truth become visible.
Like wise King Solomon, he understood the language of animals, he heard their song and speech, but that did not make him any wiser; he found out the forces in plants and metals, forces that could remove illnesses, remove death, but not annihilate them. In all that was created and that he could reach, he attempted to find the light that was capable of illuminating the assurance of an eternal life, but he did not do so – to him The Book of Truth was also as if an unwritten book.
He had five children, four sons, brought up as only the wisest father can bring up his children, and one daughter, beautiful, gentle and wise, but blind, although she did not seem to feel this was a lack of any sort; her father and brothers were her eyes, and her fervour enabled her to see things for herself.
The sons had never been further away from the halls of the palace than the extent of the tree’s branches, their sister even less – they were happy children in the home of childhood, the land of childhood, in the delightful, fragrant Sun Tree. Like all children they were very fond of hearing stories, and their father told them many stories that other children would not have understood, but these children happened to be just as clever as most old people are. He explained to them what it was they saw in living images from the palace walls, the doings of humanity and the course of events in all the countries of the world, and the sons often wished that they were out there taking part in all the great deeds, and then their father would tell them how heavy and bitter it was out in the world, it was not as whole as it appeared to be from their wonderful world of childhood. He told them of the Beautiful, the True and the Good, and said that these three things held the world together, and that under the pressure these three were exposed to, they had turned into a precious stone, clearer than the water of a diamond; its gleam was of value to God, it outshone everything and was actually what people call ‘The Philosophers’ Stone’. He told them that just as one came to a certainty about God through what is created, one came through human beings themselves to a certainty that such a stone existed; he was unable to tell them anything more than that, for he knew nothing more. Such a tale would have been difficult for other children to understand, but his own understood it, and others possibly did later on.
They asked their father about the Beautiful, the True and the Good, and he explained their nature to them, explained so much, also said that God created Man out of clay, gave his creation five kisses – fiery kisses, heartfelt kisses, fervent kisses of the Lord God – and these are what we now call the five senses. By means of these, the Beautiful, the True and the Good are seen, sensed and understood and by these senses they are valued, protected and promoted; five sensory abilities are given inwardly and outwardly, root and top, body and soul.
The children thought a great deal about this, it was in their thoughts both night and day; then the eldest of the brother had a wonderful dream, and strangely enough the second brother also dreamt it, as did the third and the fourth – each of them dreamt exactly the same. The eldest dreamt that he set out into the world and found the Philosophers’ Stone. It shone on his forehead like a brilliant flame when, at the break of dawn he was returning on his arrow-swift horse over the velvety-green meadow through the garden to his fathers’ palace. And the precious stone cast such a divine light and sheen over the pages of the book that what stood there concerning life beyond the grave became visible. The sister did not dream about setting out into the great wide world, the thought could not occur to her, her world was her father’s house.
‘I will ride out into the great wide world!’ the eldest said, ‘I must needs test its nature and mix with people; I seek only what is good and true, with whose aid I will cherish what is beautiful. A great deal will become different when I am involved too!’ yes, his thoughts were spirited and great, such as all of us have back home in the cosy nook beside the tiled stove, before we venture out into the world and experience its wind and rain, its trials and tribulations.
He possesses the five inward and outeardssensesto a very high degree, as did the other brothers, but each of them had one sense that exceeded all the others as regards strength and development; with the eldest son it was sight in particular that was to prove an asset. He had eyes for all times, he said, eyes for all peoples, eyes that could look straight down into the earth where the treasures lay, and straight into the human heart, as if there were a glass pane in front of it. In other words, he saw more that we can from a cheek that blushes or turns pale, an eye that weeps or laughs. Deer and antelope followed him to the western boundary, and there the wild swans came that flew to the northwest. Those he followed and so he came far out into the great wide world, far from the land of his fathers, which stretched ‘eastwards to the world’s end’.
Oh, how he opened his eyes wide! There was so much to see, and it was always something quite different to see the place and things themselves than look at pictures of them, no matter how good – and they were exceptionally good, those back home at his father’s palace. At first glance, he could hardly believe his eyes from astonishment at all the rubbish, all the dressing up that was presented as the Beautiful, but he did believe them, since they were needed for a different purpose.
By acting thoroughly and honestly he hoped to gain an awareness of the Beautiful, the True and the Good, but what was their actual situation? He saw that often the Ugly was given the fine bouquet where the Beautiful ought to have it, that the Good often passed unnoticed, and that Mediocrity was clapped rather than slapped. People were more interested in name than gain, looked at the packaging rather than the man inside, the occupation rather than the vocation. That seemed to be unalterable.
‘Well, it looks as if I must really get down to it!’ he thought, and he did so; but while he was searching for the good, along came the Devil, who is the father of lies and falsehood itself. He immediately wanted to dash out both of the seer’s eyes, but that would have been too coarse; the Devil is more subtle than that, he let him look for the True and look at it, the Good likewise, but as he looked the Devil blew a mote into his eye, into both his eyes, the one mote after the other, and that was not good for one’s vision, even the best; the Devil blew on each mote until it became a beam, and then the eyes were no good any more, there the seer stood like a blind man in the midst of the great wide world, and that world he did not trust; he abandoned his good thoughts about it and about himself, and when one abandons both the world and oneself, well, it’s all over with one.
‘All over!’ the wild swans sang that flew over the sea, eastwards; ‘all over!’ the swans sang that flew eastwards to the Sun Tree, and that was bad new to come with to those back home.
‘Things have gone badly for the seer!’ the second brother said, ‘but perhaps they will go better for the “hearer”!’ The sense of hearing was the sharpest he possessed, he was able to hear the grass grow, he had refined it that much.
He took a cordial farewell, rode off with good abilities and good intentions. The swallows followed him and he followed the swans, and soon he was far from home, out in the great wide world.
He soon realised that it is quite possible to have too much of a good thing, his hearing was too keen, he could indeed hear the grass grow but he could also hear every human heart beat in joy and in pain, it seemed to him that the whole world was one great clockmaker’s workshop where all the clocks went ‘tick, tock!’ all the tower clocks struck ‘ding, dong!’ – no, it was intolerable! but he kept his ears pricked as long as he could; finally, though, it became too excessive for one person, all that noise and that clamour; there were street urchins who were sixty years old, it is not age that decides such a thing, they bawled away, it was quite laughable, but then the gossiper came and whistled through all the houses, alleys and streets, right out onto the highway; falsehood was vociferous and acted as if it was high society, the fool’s bell tinkled and said it was a church bell, it was too much to bear for the hearer, he stuck a finger in each of his ears, – but even then he could hear jangling noise, gossip and blather, insistent claims that were not worth a penny tripped off people’s tongues with a crack, snap! unceasingly. There was clamour and clangour, rumbling and tumbling, outwards and inwards, merciful heavens! it was intolerable, it was insane! he stuck his fingers deeper into his ears, deeper and deeper, and then his eardrums burst, so now he couldn’t hear a thing, not even the Beautiful, the True and the Good, for hearing was to be a bridge to his thoughts, and he grew sullen and suspicious, believed nobody, finally did not believe himself, and that is most unfortunate; he would not find and bring back the mighty precious stone, and he abandoned this and himself as well, and that was the worst thing of all. The birds flying eastwards brought the message all the way to his father’s palace in the Sun Tree, there were no letters, for there was no postal service either.
‘Now it’s my turn!’ the third brother said, ‘I’ve got a good nose!’ and that wasn’t elegantly put, but that was the way he said things, and we must take him as he was, he was always in good spirits and he was a poet, a true poet, he could sing out loud what he was unable to say, many things came to his mind long before it did to other people’s. ‘I smell a rat!’ he said, and it was also his sense of smell that was highly developed in him, and he gave it pride of place in the realm of the Beautiful: ‘some like the scent of apples, and others the smell of the stable!’ he said, ‘every odorous region in the realm of the Beautiful has its clientele. Some people feel at home in the fuggy pub close to the smoking snuff of the tallow candle, where the stink of snaps mixes with smoke from bad tobacco; others would apparently rather sit in the sickly scent of jasmine or rub strong oil of cloves into their skin. Some seek the bracing sea breeze, the fierce storm, or climb to the summit of a high mountain and gaze down on the teeming tiny creatures below!’ yes, that is what he said; it was as if he had been out in the world before, lived with people and knew them, but he had that shrewdness by nature, it was the poet in him, that which the Lord God had given him as a gift when he lay in his cradle.
He now said goodbye to his paternal home in the Sun Tree, passed through the loveliness of his home, but once outside he mounted an ostrich, which runs faster than a horse, and when he later saw the wild swans, he swung himself up onto the back of the strongest one; he was very fond of change, and then he flew across the sea to foreign lands, with great forests, deep lakes, mighty mountains and proud cities, and wherever he came, it was as if sunshine passed over that region, every flower and bush had a more intense fragrance since they sensed that close to them was a friend, a protector who appreciated them and understood them, indeed, the downtrodden rosebush lifted up its branches, unfolded its petals and bore the loveliest rose, everyone could see it, even the black, slimy slug noticed its beauty.
‘I will give the flower my mark!’ the slug said, ‘now I have spat on it, that is all that I can do!’
‘That is how things go with the Beautiful in this world!’ the poet said, and he sang a song about it, sang it in his own way, but no one listened to it; so he gave the drummer two shillings and a peacock feather, and he then arranged the song for drum and beat it about town, in all the streets and alleyways; then people heard it and said that they understood it, it was so profound! and now the poet could sing more songs, and he sang of the Beautiful, the True and the Good, and they heard about them in the pub, where the tallow candle reeked, they heard about in the fresh clover meadow, in the woods and out on the open sea; it seemed as if this brother was having more luck that the other two had enjoyed; but the Devil didn’t like that, so he immediately came with royal incense and church incense and all the incense of glory that can possibly exist and that the Devil knows how to distil; the most pungent incense that can smother all the others and could even make an angel all of a tizzy, and certainly a poor poet; for the Devil knows how to ensnare such people! he ensnared the poet with incense so that he was completely confused, forgot his mission, his paternal home – everything, even himself; his sense went up in incense.
When the small birds heard of this, they mourned and didn’t sing for three days. The black slug turned even blacker, not out of grief but envy. ‘I was the one,’ he said, ‘who ought to have been smoked, for I was the one who gave him the idea for his most famous song, the one for drum, about the ways of the world! I was the one who spat on the rose, I can produce witnesses to prove it!’
But back home in the land of India, there was no report of all this; all the small birds grieved and kept silent for three days, and when the period of mourning was over, well, their grief had been so strong that they had forgotten who it was they were grieving for. That’s how it goes!
‘Now it’s my turn to go out into the world! and leave home like the others!’ the fourth brother said. He had spirits that matched those of the previous brother, but he was not a poet, and precisely he had good reason to be in good spirits – the two of them had brought good cheer to the palace – now the last cheerfulness departed. Sight and hearing have always been considered by humans to be the two most important senses, those which one particularly wants to be strong and keen; the three other senses were regarded as less important, but this son did not share that view, he had especially developed the sense of taste in every sense of the word, and it has great power and dominion. It rules over both was passes through the mouth and through the spirit, so he tasted everything that was in pan and pot, in bottle and vessel – that was the everyday part of his job, he said, to him every individual was a pan in which things were cooked, every country a huge kitchen, in terms of the spirit – that was the finer part of his job, and that was what he now wanted to explore.
‘Perhaps fortune will smile more on me that it did for my brothers!’ he said. ‘I’m off! but what means of transport shall I take? Have air balloons been invented?’ he asked his father, who knew about all the inventions ever made or to be made in the future. But air balloons had not been invented, nor steamships and railways. ‘Well, I’ll take an air balloon!’ he said, ‘my father knows how they are to be made and piloted, so I shall learn how to! Nobody knew of the invention, so they will think it is a mirage; when I have used the balloon, I will set fire to it, so you must give me something from another future invention – some matches!’
All this he got and then he flew off, and the birds followed him further than they had done with the other brothers, they wanted to see how things went with that flight, and more and more joined them for they were curious – they thought it was a new bird that was flying. Oh yes, he had plenty of company! The sky was black with birds, they came like a great cloud, like a swarm of locusts over the land of Egypt, and then he was out in the great wide world.
‘I have a good friend and helped in the East Wind,’ he said. ‘The East Wind and the South Wind, you mean!’ the winds said, ‘we have two that alternate, otherwise you would never have come to the north-west!’
But he didn’t hear what the winds said, and that is also no matter. The birds also no longer followed him; when their numbers were greatest, a couple of them got bored with the travelling. To much had been made of it all, they said. He fancied ‘there’s no point in following it, it’s nothing at all! it’s embarrassing!’ and so they fell back, and all of the others followed suit – the whole thing was nothing.
And the balloon descended over one of the largest cities, and the skipper landed on the highest point – that of the church spire. The balloon went up again, that wasn’t the idea; what became of it is hard to tell, but it is no matter, for it hadn’t been invented yet.
So there he sat, on the very top of the church spire, the birds did not fly over to him, they were bored with him, and he was bored with them. All the chimneys of the city smoked and smelled.
They are altars that have been erected in your honour!’ the wind said – it wanted to say something nice to him. He sat there quite jauntily and gazed down at people in the streets, there was one who was proud of his purse, another proud of his key at the back of his belt, despite the fact he had nothing to open, another was proud of his coat, which was moth-eaten, and another of his body, which was worm-eaten.
‘Vanity! – Well, I must get down there, stir the pot a bit and have a taste!’ he said, ‘but I’ll sit here a little longer, the wind tickles my back so delightfully, it is most pleasant. I’ll stay sitting her as long as the wind blows. I want to rest a bit; it’s nice to lie in late in the morning when one has a great deal to do, the lazy man says, but sloth is the root of all evil, and there is no evil in our family, that is what I say, and what every son in the street says! I’ll stay sitting here as long as the wind blows, that is to my taste!’
And he remained sitting there, but he was sitting on the spire’s weathercock, which turned and turned, so he came to believe the same wind was still blowing; he stayed sitting there and could do so for a long time, tasting it.
But in the land of India, in the palace in the Sun Tree, everything was empty and quiet, since the brothers, one by one, had left.
‘Things can’t be going well with them!’ their father said. ‘They will never return with the gleaming precious stone, it does not exist for me, they are gone, dead -!’ and he bent forward over the Book of Truth, stared at the page where he wanted to read about life after death, but there was nothing there that could be seen or known.
His blind daughter was his consolation and his joy; she was so lovingly devoted to him; for his joy and happiness she wanted the precious jewel to be found and brought home. In sorrow and longing she thought of her brothers – where were they? Where were they living? She so fervently wished she could dream about them, but strangely enough, even in her dreams, she could not be together with them. Finally one night she dreamt that she could hear their voices, they were calling out, shouting from the great wide world, and she had to get out there, far, far away, and yet she still seemed to be in her father’s house, she did not meet her brothers, but in her hand, burning like a fire, she nevertheless felt she was holding the gleaming precious stone, which she took to her father. When she woke up, she thought for a moment that she was still holding it – but her hand was clasping her spinning wheel. During the long nights she had been constantly spinning; on the spindle there was a thread even finer that the spider’s gossamer; human eyes were unable to detect the individual thread; she had moistened it with her tears, and it was as strong as an anchor rope. She got up, her decision had been taken, her dream had to be realised. It was night, her father was asleep, she kissed his hand, then took the spindle and bound the end of the thread to her father’s house, for otherwise she would never be able to find the way home again; she had to keep hold of the thread, she trusted it, not herself or others. She plucked four leaves from the Sun Tree, those she intended to give to wind and weather to bring to her brothers as a letter and a greeting if she should not manage to find them out there in the great wide world. How would things go for her, the poor blind child; but she had the invisible thread to hold on to; more than all the others she possessed one ability: fervour, and this quality meant that she almost had eyes in her fingertips and ears right into her heart.
And then she set out into the tumbling, rumbling, curious world, and wherever she came the sky grew clear and sunny, she could feel its warm rays, the rainbow arched from the black cloud and through the blue air; she heard the song of the birds, she could sense the scent of the orange orchards and apple orchards so keenly, and she believed she could taste it. Soft notes and beautiful songs reached her, but also howls and screams; strangely at odds with each other, thoughts and judgments rang out. Into the nooks and crannies of the heart rang out the sound of heart and thought from humanity – it swelled into a mighty chorus:
‘Our earthly life’s but wear and tear,
A night that’s full of sadness!’
But this song was also heard:
‘Our earthly life’s a rosebush fair
With sunshine and with gladness.’
And then came a bitter remark:
‘But of himself does each man think,
That truth there’s no denying.’
And then came the reply:
Love’s stream from which we all may drink
Through life flows on undying.’
Then she heard the words:
‘What’s whole is tiny in this world,
All forms of joy are brittle!’
But she also made out:
‘Much great and good shall be unfurled
Of which the world knows little!’
And if this chorus swelled from all around:
‘Make fun of things, from first to last,
Deride each bold endeavour!’
Within the blind girl’s heart this sounded:
‘Stay firm and true, to God hold fast,
His kingdom lasts for ever!’
And wherever she appeared in the circle of men and women, among old and young, their souls lit up with the awareness of the True, Good and Beautiful; everywhere she came, in the artist’s workshop, in the rich and festive salon and in the factory among the spinning wheels, it was as if a ray of sunshine came, as if each string vibrated, each flower gave off fragrance, and the refreshing dewdrop fell on the languishing leaf.
But the Devil refused to put up with this; he happens to have more intelligence than that of ten thousand men, and so he found a way of trying to turn things to his own advantage. He went to the swamp, took bubbles out of the foul, stagnant water, let a sevenfold echo of lying words ring out over them, for that made them more powerful; bought verses of glory he crushed into powder, and mendacious funeral sermons, as many as could be found, he boiled in tears which envy had cried, covered them with make-up scraped from a sallow spinster’s cheek. Out of all this he created a young girl the form and movements of which were like those of the blind, blessed girl, ‘the gentle angel of fervour’ as people called her, and now the Devil was in full swing. The world could not tell which of the two was the right one, and how should the world be able to know that!
‘Stay firm and true, to God hold fast,
His kingdom lasts for ever!’
the blind girl sang in complete trust. The four green leaves from the Sun Tree she gave to wind and weather to carry as letters and greetings to her brothers, and she was convinced that this would be fulfilled, yes, and also that the jewel existed, the one that outshone all earthly magnificence – from the forehead of humanity it would shine to her father’s house.
‘To my father’s house!’ she repeated, yes, the bed of the jewel is on this earth, and I bring more than an assurance about it; I can feel its glow, it is growing larger and larger here in my clenched hand! Every small grain of Truth, no matter how tiny, that the keen wind has brought and borne here I caught and kept; I let it be permeated by the scent from all that is Beautiful, for there is so much of it in the world, even for someone who is blind; I took the sound of the human heart in what is Good and placed it in it; specks of dust are all that I bring, but it is the dust of the sought precious stone in great abundance, I have a complete handful of it!’ and she stretched it out towards – her father. She was back home; by a flight of thought she had reached it, since she did not let go of the invisible thread to her father’s house.
The evil powers rushed with the thunder of a hurricane over the Sun Tree, forced their way with a great gust of wind through the open door into the inner sanctuary.
‘It will blow away!’ her father called out and clutched the hand that she had opened.
‘No!’ she cried out in utter conviction, ‘ it cannot blow away! I feel its ray warm the very depths of my soul.!’
And her father saw a gleaming flame as the glittering dust went from her hand over the white page of the book that told of the assurance of an eternal life; in dazzling brilliance some writing became visible, but there was only the single word written there:
And with them once more were the four brothers, a longing for home had seized them and led them, when the green leaf fell on their breast; they had come, followed by the migratory birds and deer, the antelope and all the beasts of the forest; they too wanted to take part in the great joy – and why should they not when they were able?
And just as we have often seen, when the rays of the sun shine in through a hole in the door into a room full of dust, a gleaming column of rotating dust forms, likewise – though not as coarse and poor as that, even the rainbow is heavy and not strong enough in colours when compared to the sight that revealed itself here – likewise there rose from the page of the book, from the gleaming word Faith, every grain of Truth with the sheen of the Beautiful, with the sound of the Good, with greater brilliance than the column of fire, at night, when Moses and the people of Israel set out for the land of Canaan, from the word Faith the Bridge of Hope stretched to Perfect Love in Eternity.