Jabir, The Extraordinary Alchemist Who Imitated God
Beyond the folklore of the golem, alchemy sought practitioners in tribute to God and to God’s secrets.
One of the most brilliant minds of all time was that of Jabir ibn Hayyan (721-815 C.E.). Such were his wit and talent for science that modern scholars believe him to have been a collective rather than a single author.
Thousands of manuscripts are signed in his name, and their impact extended from the Middle East to Europe, where he was called Geber, and to Tibet, where he is known as Dza-bir.
A certain coherence and unity are lent to the works thus attributed through the systematic use of alchemical principles, and the reference made to Greek sources. Four elements then already described by Aristotle —earth, air, fire, and water— correspond to four qualities: hot, cold, wet and dry.
In his teaching, Jabir expressed the dogma that every living being, like every plant and mineral, has external qualities (zahir) and hidden and inner qualities (batin). This might be translated to the Western idea of a body and a soul: a physical part is in contact with the world, and a hidden part is made up of meanings.
But in alchemy, the connection between these two fields is not so much a border as it is a continuity. All living beings and every mineral express not only their manifest natures, but also their opposites (batin). Transforming one type of matter into another (like the proverbial conversion of lead into gold) is explained as a revelation of the hidden batin of those whose manifest qualities are just the opposite.
In Jabir’s writings, chemistry, biology, religion, and even grammar all go hand in hand. In each, the author speaks of an “agent of transformation.” It’s an elixir, which reminds us of the stories of the philosopher’s stone. This is not a type of stone, nor even a mineral, but something which allows you to change the hidden manifest nature, and vice versa, and given such a case, the agent could be anything: a hair, an egg, or even human blood.
According to researcher Amelia Soth:
Alchemy is both practical and metaphysical. It has a manifest meaning and an occult meaning, a zahir and a batin. Its apparent goal is the creation of riches, but its deeper goal is much more audacious. The alchemist seeks to strip bare the world’s secrets, to break it down to its building blocks and rearrange them.
In his Book of Stones, Jabir describes how he was able to restore health to people who were about to die. The precise instructions for shaping and applying the elixir and many of the magical rituals involved are already heavily guarded in the intelligence of readers. Jabir often gives false clues, makes mistakes obvious to the initiate, but which are intended to mislead those who want merely to personally benefit from his knowledge.
This is because the creation of life, according to Jabir, is a divine attribute that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. Soth explains that such procedures aren’t “blasphemous” in the modern sense but form the highest expression of an alchemist’s devotion to divinity. The alchemist, (like the poet, according to Vicente Huidobro,), is a small God, because his science consists of understanding and imitating the ways in which God himself created. It was not unlike the task of Albert Einstein when he said: “I want to know how God created this world. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details.”
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