In 1849, Alexandre Dumas père, he of ‘The Three Musketeers’ renown, came out with one of his lesser known works, ‘A Thousand and One Phantoms,’ at least part of which is now published in English as a slim volume entitled ‘Horror at Fontenay.‘ The original title hints at the nature of the work, in that it is a series of short stories, but unlike the Arabian Nights they are mostly macabre stories, skirting around the supernatural, focussing on Death. One gets the impression that in the same way that H P Lovecraft used his own horror stories to work through his dread – and survivor’s guilt – over World War I, Dumas is here using this collection to work through his own feelings as regards the Reign of Terror, which happened almost sixty years previously (or forty years before the story-collection is set).
Anywho, that is by-the-by. This slim volume had lain untouched on my bookshelf for some time, after I purchased it as part of a job-lot some years ago, when I was drawn, as if by some Occult Hand (i.e. my own) to pick it up. What most interested me was that one of the characters in the book – acting as one Dumas’ participants in the Symposium of Death thus presented – was the real-life occultist Jean Alliette, better known as ‘Etteila’ of Tarot fame. Alliette, the character, prefaces his own macabre tale by remarking to a fellow story-teller:
“My dear Moulle,” he exclaimed, “I have considerable venerations for your opinions and appreciate your story. In fact I accept it at its face value. But you seem to overlook completely the very important point that life is not destroyed by death, which merely disintegrates the human body. The personality remains; and ultimately death destroys only memory, that is all! If memory were not effaced life could become very complicated – for we should all remember every onve of our past lives, right from the beginning of time to the present day. Which probably explains why we feel animosity or love, on sight, for people we don’t know. It’s really a kind of unconscious recognition…
“The Philosopher’s Stone is another name for the secret of this memory – a secret uncovered by Pythagoras, centuries ago, and recently rediscovered by Saint-Germain and Cagliostro – not to mention myself, for I also hold possession of the key. But I am an unusual case; for though my bodies may die, as they have already done several times, each one exists for a much longer period that that of the average individual.”
This being a work of fiction, supposedly, one has to ask oneself how much of this is Dumas putting words into Aliette’s mouth, and how much what Aliette either did or would have spoken in real-life? One should bear in mind that this was written over a decade before Eliphas Levi began to popularise occultism in France: hence Dumas would have had to be very discerning as to his sources – if he were not an initiate himself.
But why, though, should being able to recall one’s past-lives be called the Philosopher’s Stone at all? Not because it turns lead into gold per se, but because of the other main property that it is reputed to have, that of creating the Elixir Vitae. By consciously experiencing Death, repeatedly – and coming to the realisation that the soul survives and continues regardless – one overcomes the fear of Death, and thus one experiences the ontological effect of Immortality – and hence the ‘Elixir of Life’ by metaphor.
Hence it creates Gold in the sense that what it does confer is a treasure more valuable than mundane riches – not just immortality whether pretended or not, but the beneficial character changes that knowing that death is not the end brings in the here and now.