But What Does it all Mean?

In an age when the practice of Alchemy was akin to blasphemy, Newton was an established alchemist (an 'adept'). In fact, he would write more than a million words on the subject, based largely on his own laboratory experiments – far more than he ever wrote on physics or mathematics. Like most alchemists, Newton would bury his findings under deliberately cryptic language. While this served as a guard against charges of blasphemy, it also protected the 'uninitiated' – who, it was feared, would not be able to cope with the revelation of nature’s deepest mysteries.
The following is an attempt to reveal the aspects of Newton’s otherwise concealed world that each song portrays while explaining the alchemical terms that have been used. Quotes from the album’s lyrics are written in italics.

1. The First Matter
Alchemists believed that everything is made of a single, almost imperceptable substance called ‘first matter’ or prima materia. Newton’s own take on
this was a little like an atomic theory that applied to the mental and spiritual as well as the physical, and that only involved one type of atom. Alchemists believed that they might change one material into another by accessing first matter and rearranging it – the principle goal of this transmutation was a more pure arrangement of first matter. Alchemists believed that achieving such a goal might also purify their own mental and physical being.

‘Climb up the ladder, seven steps to the stone’ refers to the ladder of the known solar system – Uranus and Neptune were as yet undiscovered at this time. This was an image alchemists used to represent the steps involved in the transmutation of lead (Saturn) into gold (the Sun).
‘Ouroboros the dragon eating its tail’. Ouroboros is an image of a serpent or dragon eating its own tail that is used by alchemists to represent something that can renew itself.

2. Miracles of Only One Thing (Emerald Tablet 1)
The Emerald Tablet is an enigmatic document believed by alchemists to have ancient origins and to hold the key to understanding first matter and transmutation. Tracks 2, 4 and 6 of ‘Newton’s Alchemy’ are settings of Newton’s own translation of the Emerald Tablet.

3. The Work Begins
Now in Newton’s laboratory...
Most of Newton’s investigations centred on making a crystalline form of the metal antimony, known to alchemists as ‘star regulus’. This was a key component in the process of formation of ‘animated mercury’ – an agent that was thought to cause swelling and putrefaction in gold.

‘The whore of Babylon commits her sin as she lays in the crucible with Mars entwined’ refers to the reduction of antimony from antimony sulphate (the Whore of Babylon) by heating with iron (Mars) and saltpetre.

‘A black crow flies a’top o’ the chamber. The scoria is to be retained.’ A black slag rises above the fused metal. This waste product is kept for a later phase
of the work because it was believed to hold the ‘life force’ of the iron.

4. The Father of all Perfection (Emerald Tablet 2)
A setting of the second part of Newton’s translation of the Emerald Tablet.

5. Star Regulus
Newton thought of the pattern formed by the crystals of the star regulus as rays that move into a central point. He saw a profound three-way connection between this perceived movement – the motion of the planets being caused by gravitational attraction – and the movement of worshippers towards the central fire in the temple of Solomon.

‘Could it be that I, this Lincolnshire stray, now Jehovah Sanctus Unus...’ Jehovah Sanctus Unus was a name Newton called himself. It is an anagram of the Latinised version of his name, Jsaacus Neutonus. It means ‘Jehovah or the Great One’. Most alchemists worked anonymously to avoid being accused
of blasphemy.

6. Force Above All Force
A setting of the third part of Newton’s translation of The Emerald Tablet.

'Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.'
Heremes Trismegistus is a mythical figure who seems to be a combination of Thoth and Hermes, the Egyptian and Greek gods of magic and writing. 'Trismegistus' means 'thrice great'. It refers to the knowledge of the three parts of wisdom in Hermeticism – alchemy, astrology and theurgy (the knowledge of rituals).

7. Animated Mercury
Back in Newton's Laboratory...

'The star is bathed in fusion with the metal of the moon.'
The star regulus is now fused with a small quantity of silver. It is then repeatedly ground and washed to leave a shinning alloy.
‘Through seven flights, the eagle soaring, through seven flights the regulus is spent.
To charge with life a double mercury which can dissolve any metal hence.'
A series of distillations called ‘eagles’ then results in a ‘double mercury’ also called ‘sophic mercury’ – a solvent believed to dissolve all metals.

‘Seeded with scoria from the first fusion, the sophic mercury incubates.
Fantastical colours shown in sequence, a peacock’s tail that illustrates,
A final fixation of spiritual forces – the child of the union’s soon to be born’
As the phoenix is risen from out of the ashes, Rebis the hermaphrodite is perfection in form.’
The waste product from the initial stages of making the regulus is then added. This leads to a process called ‘putrefaction’ which made the mixture turn a series of colours called ‘the peacock’s tail’. This was thought to indicate the emergence of life. In the final phase the appearance of red indicated that the work was nearing its completion – a perfect conjunction of spirit and matter was thought to be occurring. This was represented by Rebis, a figure with male and female heads on a single body.

8. A Great Secret
A setting of a diary entry where Newton marvels at the results of his alchemical work. He describes gold as having been imbued with organic properties that caused it to grow and putrefy. It was only with the advent of modern chemistry that a clear division was made between the organic and inorganic.

9. Turning of the Wheel
The title refers to a process called ‘the revolutions of the wheel’ whereby the power of the philosopher’s stone was multiplied by repeatedly heating the red stone with the animated mercury.