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The Sinister World of Alchemy and the Men and Women in Black: Mysterious Transmutation

It’s a little-known fact that the late Brad Steiger – a friend of mine for about nine years – had a particular fascination for alchemy. He said: “Helvetius, the grandfather of the celebrated philosopher of the same name, was an alchemist who labored ceaselessly to fathom the mystery of the ‘philosopher’s stone,’ the legendary catalyst that would transmute base metals into gold. One day in 1666 when he was working in his laboratory at the Hague, a stranger attired all in black, as befitted a respectable burgher of North Holland, appeared and informed him that he would remove all the alchemist’s doubts about the existence of the philosopher’s stone, for he himself possessed such an object.” In 1852, Charles Mackay wrote of this affair that the Man in Black “…asked Helvetius if he thought he should know that rare gem if he saw it. To which Helvetius replied, that he certainly should not. The burgher immediately drew from his pocket a small ivory box, containing three pieces of metal, of the color of brimstone, and extremely heavy; and assured Helvetius, that of them he could make as much as twenty tons of gold. Helvetius informs us, that he examined them very attentively; and seeing that they were very brittle, he took the opportunity to scrape off a small portion with his thumb-nail. He then returned to the stranger, with an entreaty that he would perform the process of transmutation before him. The stranger replied, that he was not allowed to do so, and went away.”

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