First published in The Occult Digest, October 1930
THE FIRST MATTER A Series of three Articles By C. F. Russell
ALCHEMY is an Arabic term comprising the article “al” and the adjective “khemi” which means “Egyptian.” The chief pursuit of the Alchemist is the same as that of the mystic, the magician, and occultists in general, namely the accomplishment of the GREAT WORK. Practically all of the immense literature of Alchemy is wholly or partially unintelligible. Treatises like the “Asch Metzareph” of the Hebrews and “The Chariot of Antimony” are deliberately enigmatic. Today there is no ecclesiastical persecution hence no need to be obscure. The object, whether we call it the Philosopher’s Stone or something else, is simply to perfect the nature of man in every respect. We begin with the substance which exists everywhere in nature, and subject it to a series of operations, obtaining a product which represents the APOTHEOSIS of the original “First Matter.” The forces which made speaking in riddles a necessity in times past still exist, but I shall disregard them. The “first matter” is matter. Matter and mind are the same thing.
Those who have thought and taught upon the subject have all concluded that a fathomless abyss separates material or physical things from things mental or psychic. But these same people have been obliged to admit the intimate association, or inevitable companionship of the two. While we gaze at a rose certain physical movement excitation or irritation goes on in the optic plexus simultaneously with the visual sensation which is an affair of consciousness. The change in consciousness never occurs without the concomitant change in the nervous system, the change in the nervous system never occurs without a corresponding change in consciousness. But why the two occur together, or what the link is which connects them, has hitherto puzzled everyone who has tackled the problem. All scientists and psychologists agree in asserting that the physical movement is one thing and the sensation in the mind is another thing totally different. It does seem marvelously strange that such a striking coincidence, observed everywhere and admitted by all, should yet leave so many able and great thinkers in such a maze of bewilderment, such blind, staggering impotence of intelligence to account for it. It must be that some tremendous, dominating prejudice has imposed itself between their eyes and the truth, creating in that particular field an everlasting blind spot. It is not difficult to guess the identity of this prejudice. It is one rooted deep in the most fundamental of animal instincts, the impulse of self-preservation. Whatever lives and feels desires to continue living and feeling, and so every idea or tendency threatening to thwart this ambition is attacked, strangled and smothered without rhyme or reason or any pretense of logical fair play. No one, so far as I know, in the whole history of philosophy, has ever deliberately proposed that the two events under consideration are not different, but are one and the same identical phenomenon. To utter such a proposition would be deemed the sheerest materialism consistent with the denial of the existence of the soul, and would involve its author in a war with all the ethical, philosophical and religious doctrine so well established. Yet I announce here openly for the first time that this proposition is true and that it does not lead to atheism but instead implies a conception of the creator of the universe the most sublime possible.
Mutual mystification and conspiracy have concealed the truth that mental phenomena are of the very same kind as physical phenomena. But truth cannot permanently harm anything fit to survive, so I can see no good reason for allowing to be fostered any longer this egregious delusion that mind is something quite different from matter. At the same time and place when and where sensations, thoughts, emotions, volitions, etc. appear in consciousness, movements occur in the nervous system and brain. There is overwhelming evidence to support this fact and nobody has ever successfully denied it. Now why should we not at once assert the truth that the sensations, thoughts, emotions, etc. which arise in consciousness are identical with the movements which take place in nervous substance? They are, indeed, one and the same activity. The sensation we refer to as red is nothing more or less than a specific excitement of the optic nerve. The feeling of pain occasioned by burning a finger is conceivable as motion and as nothing else. Nervous substance and cerebral matter are organized and specialized in many different ways. Do not try to imagine a sound in terms of visible movement, or try to picture a sight as something tangible or audible. When you think of a sound consider it as auditory motion, of a sight as optical motion. There is no common sense, that is, no sense to which all sensations appear alike. We cannot imagine a feeling of warmth as a taste. The impassable gulf does not lie between mind and matter, but between one sense and another sense. This is simply a result of the constitution of the sense organs and not a metaphysical mystery at all. The consciousness obtained through the functioning of the organ of sight is something quite different to that we have through the organ of hearing.
Seeing can inform me of nothing but sights. Consciousness as a whole is like air, a mixture, not like water, a fusion or chemical compound. When realization of this truth is attained, all difference between matter and mind will disappear like mist before the blazing rays of the sun.
Sensations take place in the sense organs, nowhere else. There is no human consciousness of any sort whatever apart from the human brain and nervous system. A sight is identical in time and place with the motion which occurs in the optic nerve. Movement in the nervous apparatus of the ear constitutes sound, which is both physical and psychic. Mechanical and chemical movement in the gustatory apparatus constitutes precisely the sensation of taste, and movements in the nervous mechanism of the nostril, and the peripheral nerves are respectively identical with the sensations of smell and touch. The operations of the faculties such as imagination, memory, judgment, emotion, etc., consist of various kinds of motion within the brain and nervous system. The motion of mind termed thought or consciousness is identical with the motion of the material which exhibits this awareness. This is the only rational hypothesis and yet it does not contradict the sublime facts of religion, nor need anyone fear that the immortality of the soul is endangered one bit by holding fast to the truth.
The true nature of religion, whose comprehension involves understanding of the universe as it is, leads to direct communication with the higher hierarchies and with God. Many great and able thinkers and leaders of humanity have stumbled upon it and have to the best of their ability expressed some part of the glory they have seen. In my next article I will show conclusively how the grossest materialism is both compatible with the wisdom of the sages and also a necessary adjunct of the purest spiritualism.