Space, whether inter-planetary, inter-material, or inter-organic, is filled with a subtle fluid or gas, which we call, as did the ancients, Aith-in-Solintaire Aether. This fluid or gas, unchangeable in composition, indestructible, invisible, pervades everything and all matter. Metal, mineral, tree, plant, animal, man; each is charged with the Ether in varying degrees. All life on the planet is charged in like manner; a world is built up in this fluid, and moves through a sea of it.
Ether, which the occultist terms astral light, determines the constitution of bodies. Hardness and softness, solidity and liquidity, all depend on the relative proportion of ethereal and ponderable matter of which they are composed.
The arbitrary division and classification of physical science, the whole range of physical phenomena, proceeds from the Primary Aether, for Science has reduced matter as we know it to Ether, which, although not solid matter, is still matter. When most of us speak of matter, of course, we usually visualize solid substance, but it has been proved by Science that matter is not actually solid, but merely a stress, a strain in the Ether. The atoms, and finer still, the electrons and protons of which it is composed, all move
in a sea of Ether, so that in accordance with this theory, the very air we breathe, the very bodies we inhabit, all must likewise be moving in this sea of Ether, the parent element from which all manifestation has come.
This principle that all things proceed from one is demonstrable in the physical; in the principles of Biology, the multicellular organisms, complex as they may be in their structure, nevertheless arise from a single cell. Science postulates that all matter is composed of atoms: the atoms, however, are composed of protons and electrons, and the electrons in their turn are evidently composed of Ether. This Ether is a universal connecting medium filling all Space to the furthest limits, penetrating the interstices of the atoms without a break in its continuity, and so completely does it fill Space that it is sometimes identified with Space, and has, in fact, been spoken of as Absolute Space.
'The Ether of Space,' according to Sir Oliver Lodge, 'is a theme of unknown and apparently infinite magnitude, and of a reality beyond the present conception of man. It is that of which everyday material consists, a link between the worlds, a consummate substance of overpowering grandeur. By a kind of instinct one feels it to be the home of spiritual existence, the realm of the awe-inspiring and supernal. It is co-extensive with the physical universe, and is absent from no part of space. Beyond the furthest star it extends, in the heart of the atom it has its being. It permeates and controls and dominates all. It eludes the human senses and can only be envisaged by the powers of the mind.
'Yet the Ether is a physical thing; it is not a physical entity, it has definite properties. It is not matter any more than hydrogen and oxygen are water, but it is the vehicle of both matter and spirit. . . '
Now the occultist has divided matter, seen and unseen, into seven principles or planes, and of these the fifth principle, or Quintessence, corresponds to Science's Ether of Space. If we are willing to admit that there is truth in this statement, then we may begin to see that alchemy is based on absolute Law. All the forces of our scientists have originated in the Vital Principle, that one Collective Life of our Solar System, which life is a part of, or rather one of the aspects of, the One Universal Life.
During life there is present in man a finely diffused form of matter, a vapour filling not merely every part of his physical body, but actually stored in some parts; a matter constantly renewed by the vital chemistry, a matter as easily disposed of as the breath, once the breath has served its purpose. Of this matter Paracelsus wrote
'The Archaeus is an essence that is equally distributed in all parts of the human body. . . . The Spiritus Vitae takes its origin from the Spiritus Mundi. Being an emanation of the latter, it contains the elements of all cosmic influences, and is therefore the cause by which the action of the cosmic forces act upon the body of man.'
This Archaeus is of a magnetic nature and is not enclosed in a body but radiates within and around it like a luminous sphere. Alchemy and alchemy alone,
within historical period, and in so-called civilised countries, has succeeded in obtaining a real element, or a particle of homogeneous matter, the Mysterium Magnum of Paracelsus. By his age-old science the alchemist may set free this Vital Principle in his laboratory, destroy the body of the metal on which he is working, purify its salt, and bring its principles together in a higher form. This process, which is after all but a miniature reproduction of a superior process in operation around us all the time, undoubtedly proceeds from Master Intelligences who have lived at some time or another on this Earth.
It is a pity that Science must always reject old ideas and cast them away as useless before rediscovering them as something new to be incorporated in its current theories. To discard the alchemist's theories is as intelligent as to dismiss as rubbish Einstein's Theory of Relativity merely because one does not happen to understand his language. Some of our scientific men have realized this, for F. Hoefer in 'Histoire de la Chimie' (Paris 1866) remarks: 'The systems which confront the intelligence remain basically unchanged through the ages, although they assume different forms. Thus, through mistaking form for basis, one conceives an unfavourable opinion of the sequence. We must remember that there is nothing so disastrous in Science as the arrogant dogmatism which despises the past and admires nothing but the present.'
If Science would but try to understand the conception of the Universe as taught by occultism throughout the ages, taking as its starting-point the teaching
of the One Life in Manifestation, its seven planes of consciousness, its infinite forces, and as the basis of its philosophy the Hermetic axiom 'as above, so below,' it would found a system based on eternal Truth instead of on a quicksand of theories. Science will never really understand the truth about life until it reaches this realization, which cannot be attained through its instruments and appliances, but only through the inner powers of the mind.