The Elixir of Life

We consider the nature of the enigmatic substance known as the 'Elixir of Life' as it is described in Bulwer-Lytton's occult novel Zanoni


There are few subjects as misunderstood and misrepresented in occultism as the famous 'Elixir of Life'. In this new article we shall endeavour to discover what this mysterious substance is, using as our primary source, Bulwer-Lytton's 19th century occult novel Zanoni. The book has been described as "a truth for those who can comprehend it, and an extravagance for those who cannot." This may explain why it was never very popular, even among occultists.


Critics did not know what to make of the book when it was first published in 1842. It came hot on the heels of Night and Morning (1841)—a savage critique of the values of Victorian society and was quickly followed by The Last of the Barons (1843)—a historical novel set in the 15th century. Neither book had anything in common with Zanoni which was the first of only three occult novels Bulwer-Lytton wrote during his lifetime. The other two were A Strange Story, published 7 years later in 1850 and The Coming Race published just two years before the author's death in 1871. Critics still don't know what to make of the book today. Their perplexity is easily understood if we accept that the book has many layers of hidden meaning. How much of this was deliberately contrived and how much the result of conscious or unconscious inspiration on the part of the author we would not like to say, nor does it matter very much. What is not in doubt in our mind is that this 'wily old bird'—as Bulwer-Lytton has been called by more than one modern occultist—concealed as much as he revealed.

Here we must jump ahead to the Note at the end of the book in which the author tries to deny the presence of allegory in the book. In doing so, he uses much the same equivocal language as J. R. R. Tolkien did in making the same denial in relation to The Lord of the Rings, which we discussed in a series of three articles in 2018. Tolkien wrote: "I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author." Bulwer-Lytton says much the same: "Zanoni is not, as some have supposed, an allegory; but beneath the narrative it relates, TYPICAL meanings are concealed." He then spends the next several sentences attempting to explain—unsuccessfully in our view—why 'typical meanings' are not the same things as allegories when it is clear the only difference between them is one of semantics. Later on, he adds: "An allegory is a personation of distinct and definite things,—virtues or qualities,—and the key can be given easily; but a writer who conveys typical meanings, may express them in myriads." It seems to have escaped Bulwer-Lytton, or he chose to ignore it, that an allegory can and has been expressed in 'myriads' as anyone who takes the trouble to thoroughly study the parables in the New Testament may discover for themselves.

edward bulwer-lytton

Critics and reviewers alike interpret the incredible longevity of the two occult adepts in the book—Zanoni and Mejnour (both are said to be over 3,000 years old)—as evidence of their physical immortality. Unsurprisingly, Wikipedia parrots this view when it states: "This is all depicted in Zanoni himself who at the time of Babylon abandoned all human passions to become immortal but during the French Revolution, to become human again, he falls in love and dies in the guillotine." Whilst a literal reading of the text supports this conclusion, we believe the author used it to avoid introducing the (then) almost unknown doctrine of reincarnation to account for the longevity of his two occult adepts. Paracelsus and all the other great Alchemists assure us that although there are chemical preparations that will prolong life beyond the normal span, there are none that will extend it indefinitely. This prompts the question that if Bulwer-Lytton's elixir does not confer physical immortality, what does it do? This is the question we aim to answer in this investigation. But before we do so, let us see what popular opinion thinks the mysterious elixir is, for it behoves those of us in search of Truth to leave no stone unturned in our quest, even though we encounter only mud and worms underneath!

Potions of popularity

Wikipedia has a surprisingly long article on the fabulous elixir given that it begins with the unpromising information that: "The elixir of life. . .is a potion that supposedly grants the drinker eternal life and/or eternal youth." What is not at all surprising is that this commonplace comment is followed by the claim that the concept originated in ancient India or China. But is this true? If we seek for evidence to substantiate this sweeping statement we find a little note that says "citation needed, December 2018." At the time we checked, no citation had been forthcoming. Let us spare the anonymous 'editors' of Wikipedia their blushes and see if India fares any better as a candidate for the origin of the concept. The article tells us that: "Amrita, the elixir of life has been described in the Hindu scriptures. . ." So it has, but this does not mean that it originated there as the 'free encyclopedia' claims.

Amrita simply means 'immortality'—literally 'without death'—from the Sanskrit root a meaning 'without' and mrta, meaning 'death'. In the Vedas, Amrita is discovered through the act of "the Churning of the Ocean", an allegory of the evolution of the Kosmos out of Chaos. Hence we find the god Vishnu—representing the occult law that periodically brings the Kosmos into manifestation—churning out of the primitive Ocean (boundless Chaos) the Amrita of Eternity, which magical fluid is reserved only for the gods and devas. We find the whole of this highly mystical allegory repeated in every ancient philosophical system. In Greece, Ambrosia took the place of Amrita and served the same occult purposes, being also reserved for divine beings. Among the primitive Jews, it was the Biblical 'Manna'; among the Persians, Soma, the sacred drink of the gods, later finding its way into the Greek Mysteries. In ancient Egypt, the fabled fluid was simply Life itself, symbolised in the well-known emblem of the Ankh. Wherever we look in the world, and however far back in time we travel, we find the mysterious Elixir of Life mentioned under different names and sharing the same qualities, namely life, health and strength. These qualities, incidentally, were the three blessings inscribed after the name of every ancient Egyptian pharaoh in the papyri and on the monuments.

So much for the concept, what of the substance itself? In alchemy—as we discuss in our occult studies course—the Elixir of Life was said to be prepared from the Philosopher's Stone by making a solution of the stone in spirits of wine. This, we would add, has a double meaning which can be interpreted in many different ways, the better to conceal the secret of the production of the stone and the elixir from the unworthy. The Persian philosopher and alchemist, Ibn Sina, better known as Avicenna in the West, called the elixir "the Soul of the World," which at once brings us back to the Indian concept of the Amrita. In Paracelsus' alchemical work The Tincture of the Philosophers, he tells us the elixir is "the spirit of truth, which the world cannot comprehend without the interposition of the Holy Ghost, or without the instruction of those who know it." In this he echoes the words of Ibn Sina, adding: "as the Soul moves all the limbs of the Body, so also is this Spirit in all elementary created things. It is beheld from afar, and found near; for it exists in every thing, in every place, and at all times. It has the powers of all creatures; its action is found in all elements, and the qualities of all things therein, even in the highest perfection. It heals all dead and living bodies without other medicine, converts all metallic bodies into gold, and there is nothing like unto it under Heaven."

The spirit of Truth

Bulwer-Lytton begins his discussion of the mysterious elixir which Paracelsus significantly called the 'spirit of truth' in chapter three of Book IV with a quotation from the 15th century philosopher and alchemist Trithemius of Spanheim: "It is fit that we who endeavour to rise to an elevation so sublime, should study first to leave behind carnal affections, the frailty of the senses, the passions that belong to matter; secondly, to learn by what means we may ascend to the climax of pure intellect, united with the powers above, without which never can we gain the lore of secret things, nor the magic that effects true wonders." The candidate for 'elevation' in the book is Clarence Glyndon, an impressionable and unstable young artist whom the adept Mejnour takes on as his pupil. The Sage begins his instruction with the bald statement: "Man is arrogant in proportion to his ignorance." Every one of us may profit by this wise advice and save themselves an ocean of disappointment, frustration and sorrow. We may profit just as much by turning this statement on its head and saying: "Man is humble in proportion to his knowledge." Mejnour continues his teaching as follows:

"Man's natural tendency is to egotism. Man, in his infancy of knowledge, thinks that all creation was formed for him. For several ages he saw in the countless worlds that sparkle through space like the bubbles of a shoreless ocean only the petty candles, the household torches, that Providence had been pleased to light for no other purpose but to make the night more agreeable to man. Astronomy has corrected this delusion of human vanity; and man now reluctantly confesses that the stars are worlds larger and more glorious than his own,—that the earth on which he crawls is a scarce visible speck on the vast chart of creation. But in the small as in the vast, God is equally profuse of life. The traveller looks upon the tree, and fancies its boughs were formed for his shelter in the summer sun, or his fuel in the winter frosts. But in each leaf of these boughs the Creator has made a world; it swarms with innumerable races. Each drop of the water in yon moat is an orb more populous than a kingdom is of men. Everywhere, then, in this immense design, science brings new life to light. Life is the one pervading principle, and even the thing that seems to die and putrefy but engenders new life, and changes to fresh forms of matter. Reasoning, then, by evident analogy: if not a leaf, if not a drop of water, but is, no less than yonder star, a habitable and breathing world,—nay, if even man himself is a world to other lives, and millions and myriads dwell in the rivers of his blood, and inhabit man's frame as man inhabits earth, commonsense (if your schoolmen had it) would suffice to teach that the circumfluent infinite which you call space—the countless Impalpable which divides earth from the moon and stars—is filled also with its correspondent and appropriate life."

It is only in the last fifty or so years that science has recognized and acknowledged the facts Mejnour enumerates, though it is no closer to solving the great mystery of Life itself, as we have discussed in several of our articles, most notably, Health and the occult student. Despite the huge advances in astronomy, physics and biology since Bulwer-Lytton wrote his novel nearly 200 years ago, many scientists still cling to the outdated notion that interstellar Space is essentially dead. Recently astronomers have detected water, methanol, carbon dioxide and many other building blocks of living organisms inside the clouds of interstellar dust which drift within our galaxy. Yet listen to what Bulwer-Lytton puts into the mouth of Mejnour, long before radio telescopes and scanning electron microscopes were invented.

"Is it not a visible absurdity to suppose that being is crowded upon every leaf, and yet absent from the immensities of space? The law of the Great System forbids the waste even of an atom; it knows no spot where something of life does not breathe. In the very charnel-house is the nursery of production and animation. Is that true? Well, then, can you conceive that space, which is the Infinite itself, is alone a waste, is alone lifeless, is less useful to the one design of universal being than the dead carcass of a dog, than the peopled leaf, than the swarming globule? The microscope shows you the creatures on the leaf; no mechanical tube is yet invented to discover the nobler and more gifted things that hover in the illimitable air." This remains true today. Science is probing ever deeper into Outer Space, but Inner Space—that vast region beyond the range of our physical senses or the reach of any scientific instrument in which dwell uncountable hosts of beings no less real than we are—remains unknown and unexplored by all but a few occultists and mystics, and their testimony counts for nothing with scientists. Mejnour now explains to Glyndon how the barrier between this world and the countless worlds of Inner Space—the Astral World as it is also called—may be breached and these finer dimensions explored.

"But first, to penetrate this barrier, the soul with which you listen must be sharpened by intense enthusiasm, purified from all earthlier desires. Not without reason have the so-styled magicians, in all lands and times, insisted on chastity and abstemious reverie as the communicants of inspiration. When thus prepared, science can be brought to aid it; the sight itself may be rendered more subtle, the nerves more acute, the spirit more alive and outward, and the element itself—the air, the space—may be made, by certain secrets of the higher chemistry, more palpable and clear. And this, too, is not magic, as the credulous call it; as I have so often said before, magic (or science that violates Nature) exists not: it is but the science by which Nature can be controlled." In this, Mejnour affirms what we have said in many of our articles, but cannot be restated often enough. Magic, as so many imagine in their dire ignorance, is not a violation of any of the Laws of Nature, but the scientific manipulation of them to produce supernormal, not supernatural results.

When we read that the 'air' can be made clearer we are tolerably sure Bulwer-Lytton is not referring to our sluggish atmosphere, but to the occult aether we discuss in our article of that name. 'Higher chemistry'—an obvious synonym for 'alchemy'—then reveals itself as a euphemism for those occult exercises consisting of meditation, concentration and imaging which develop the dormant abilities of clairvoyance we all possess. This is what we meant when, in our Introduction, we said that Bulwer-Lytton had been called a 'wily old bird'. Regardless of the precise nature and extent of his occult training, he would nonetheless be constrained by the solemn promises every genuine occultist has to make, not to reveal the secrets of the true Magical Arcanum to outsiders. In other words, the preservation of strict secrecy in regard to certain occult practises and processes. Nowadays this wise rule is all too often misunderstood, ignored or derided as 'elitism' by those who call themselves 'occultists' but are utterly ignorant of the science they purport to know. Things were very different in 1842 when real magicians—black and white—practised their arts for good and ill throughout Europe. We are now getting closer to the real nature of the mysterious elixir. But before we reach that point it is necessary to say something about the formidable obstacle that stands in the way of its discovery and assimilation. That barrier is none other than the appalling 'guardian' known to occultists the world over—though first named by Bulwer-Lytton—as the 'Dweller of the Threshold.'

The Dweller unmasked

We first encounter this enigmatical entity in Book IV, chapter seven when Glyndon is left alone for a time to pursue his studies in private. In Mejnour's absence he discovers two flasks in the adept's chamber which he has been forbidden to open. Like the inquisitive Pandora in the Greek fable, the impetuous Neophyte cannot resist the temptation to disobey his Master. At once the room is filled with a volatile vapour which intoxicates him. This quickly gives way to shrinking horror when the Dweller of the Threshold materialises before his startled gaze. "Its form was veiled as the face, but the outline was that of a female; yet it moved not as move even the ghosts that simulate the living. It seemed rather to crawl as some vast misshapen reptile; and pausing, at length it cowered beside the table which held the mystic volume, and again fixed its eyes through the filmy veil on the rash invoker. All else so dark,—shrouded, veiled and larva-like. But that burning glare so intense, so livid, yet so living, had in it something that was almost HUMAN in its passion of hate and mockery. . ."

The allegory is clear. The two flasks symbolise the two minds or selves. They also symbolise the Higher Self and the Divine Soul, or Understanding and Wisdom. Indeed, this allegory is capable of myriads of possible interpretations or 'typical meanings', to use Bulwer-Lytton's own term which we discussed in our analysis of his Note earlier. At first the candidate to Initiation is filled with joy; intoxicated by the glorious vistas he beholds with his newly awakened inner sight. Hitherto undreamed of possibilities of personal power and advancement now open before him. But before they can be realized the Dweller of the Threshold has to be confronted and overcome. The identity of this dread monster has given rise to a host of speculations, more or less fantastic, none of which are true. H. P. Blavatsky, with her customary discretion, described it in one of her books as the discarded astral double of an individual left over from a previous life, which returns to haunt and obsess him. Whilst this is not untrue, it is not the whole truth, and therefore not much help to the average seeker who knows little or nothing about the Astral World or doubles—unless they come in a whisky glass! The Theosophist, T Subba Row came close to the correct solution when he wrote that "Philosophically it is the great battle in which the human Spirit (Higher Self in our terminology) has to fight against the lower passions in the physical body."

Bulwer-Lytton is no less circumspect than Blavatsky. He never tells us in so many words who or what the Dweller actually is, though hints and clues are scattered throughout the narrative if one knows how and where to look. Whether he knew what it really was or only guessed at the truth, is open to question. The capitalization of the word 'Human' in the passage just quoted suggests he probably did know—a major hint. Coupled with the words 'hate and mockery' this provides an important clue to the creature's identity. We find very similar words in Book eight, verse 7 of the Divine Pymander of Hermes Trismegistus reviewed on our website. "But first thou must tear to pieces, and break through the garment thou wearest, the web of Ignorance; the foundation of all Mischief; the bond of Corruption; the dark Coverture; the living Death; the sensible Carcass; the Sepulchre, carried about with us; the domestical Thief, which in what he loves us, hates us, envies us." The emphasis is ours. A further clue is the female form of the creature Bulwer-Lytton describes. The Hermetic Law of Polarity tells us that a Higher state or principle is always positive in relation to a lower one and vice versa. As the Higher Self is the positive, male pole of mind, the lower self must be negative, or female. The biggest clues of all are concealed in the words the creature addresses to Glyndon as he cowers in abject terror before it. "Thou hast entered the immeasurable region. I am the Dweller of the Threshold. What wouldst thou with me? Silent? Dost thou fear me? Am I not thy beloved? Is it not for me that thou hast rendered up the delights of thy race? Wouldst thou be wise? Mine is the wisdom of the countless ages. Kiss me, my mortal lover." Remember—Hermes says the creature both loves, hates and envies us. All this is too much for Glyndon who faints away in sheer terror.

If we now turn to chapter two of The Quest of Ruru, also reviewed on our website, we encounter the evil 'Black Dwarf', a monster no less threatening than Bulwer-Lytton's 'Dweller', who tells the eponymous seeker after Wisdom: "You will not get rid of me so easily, my friend, for I am but thyself. The real you, made of flesh and blood. . .The two opposed each other in dire antagonism; like Earth and Air, or Fire and Water. All that was good in Ruru rose up in arms against the evil which confronted him; yet he had to listen to that demon voice, disgusted as he felt." In The Book of Sa-Heti, reproduced here under the title The True Gospel of Chrishna-Jeseus Dr Michaud reveals the identity of the 'Dweller' Bulwer-Lytton only hints at. In Chapter 25, verse 41, Chrishna tells his Disciples: ". . .but the lower self, the watchman, grim, is he who bars the threshold and prevents with all his might the Higher Self from entering." later on, in verses 49-50, we read further: "Be worthy of that God, and rule the lower self with wisdom and full understanding, and the watchman at the Gate will bow before thee, handing over the Key which opens up the Door unto thy Light and Life and Love, leaving darkness far behind; thus freeing from the bondage of that Watcher at the Threshold of desire, the Terror who prevents thy Liberation."

Could anything be clearer than this? The mysterious 'Dweller' is the LOWER SELF described in so many of our articles, especially in Inner Peace through applied Wisdom. You are, of course, at liberty to reject this conclusion. However, we hope you will not do so for the simple reason that the alternatives are considerably less tenable than the explanation we have just given you. One would have to suppose—to cite just one example—that there exists an all-powerful demon whose sole task it is to prevent any man or woman from crossing the 'Threshold', which is to say, gaining any glimpse of the invisible realms beyond our physical plane. Experience teaches us this is untrue. No genuine seer, such as the 20th century clairvoyant Geoffrey Hodson, has ever so much as hinted at the existence of a horrific 'guardian' who bars the way to the non-physical dimensions in the way that Ruru's 'Black Dwarf' and Bulwer-Lytton's 'Dweller' both do. The only 'demon' that ever threatened man or woman, as H. P. Blavatsky repeatedly told her disciples, is the one that dwells within us—the devil of our own lower self and the 'dweller of OUR Threshold'!

Having unveiled the true identity of the Dweller we feel compelled to add that we do not expect our explanation to be widely accepted, even by occultists. Better to believe in demons outside ourselves who seduce, threaten, deprave and terrify than one within, for this lets us off the hook and places the responsibility for our misdeeds and vices fairly on the shoulders of some spook or other rather than our own lower selves. If you do accept our explanation of the identity and nature of the 'Dweller' it only remains for us to discover what the mysterious elixir truly is—that is, if you are still in the dark about it. We must return briefly to chapter V to do so. You will recall that Mejnour is talking to his pupil about Life and the various forms life inhabits, both visible and invisible to our senses. He continues: "Now, in space there are millions of beings not literally spiritual, for they have all, like the animalculae unseen by the naked eye, certain forms of matter, though matter so delicate, air-drawn, and subtle, that it is, as it were, but a film, a gossamer that clothes the spirit. Yet, in truth, these races and tribes differ more widely, each from each, than the Calmuc from the Greek,—differ in attributes and powers. In the drop of water you see how the animalculae vary, how vast and terrible are some of those monster mites as compared with others. Equally so with the inhabitants of the atmosphere: some of surpassing wisdom, some of horrible malignity; some hostile as fiends to men, others gentle as messengers between earth and heaven."

What Mejnour tells Glyndon next provides further clues as to the identity of the mysterious elixir. "He who would establish intercourse with these varying beings resembles the traveller who would penetrate into unknown lands. He is exposed to strange dangers and unconjectured terrors. . . .the very elixir that pours a more glorious life into the frame, so sharpens the senses that those larvae of the air become audible and apparent; so that, unless trained by degrees to endure the phantoms and subdue their malice, a life thus gifted would be the most awful doom man could bring upon himself. Hence it is, that though the elixir be compounded of the simplest herbs, his frame only is prepared to receive it who has gone through the subtlest trials. . . .To the unprepared the elixir is thus but the deadliest poison." This, as we shall see in the next and final part of this investigation, is only too true.

elixir of life

Anon — detail from The Well of Memory — gouache on artboard, 1983

The elixir revealed

It is in the sixth chapter of Book IV that Bulwer-Lytton describes Glyndon's first encounter with the mysterious elixir: "He ranged the mystic lamps (nine in number) round the centre of the room, and lighted them one by one." What are these 'mystic lamps'? Was Bulwer-Lytton referring in a concealed manner to the Sun (the 'centre' of the 'room' of our Kosmos) surrounded by the nine planets which orbit it? Very probably, for the proper study of esoteric astronomy and astrology form an important part of the occult sciences. Now you know why we were at such pains to refute the novelist's denial of the presence of allegory in his novel in our Introduction. We don't blame him for his disavowal, any more than we blame Tolkien for his. Had Bulwer-Lytton not written his Note he would probably have been inundated with enquiries from readers demanding he gratify their curiosity as to the meaning of this, that or the other mystic utterance. But let us return to Glyndon and see what happens next. A little later on in chapter six we read: ". . .on a table in the centre of the room lay open a large volume. . . .he imagined that he interpreted the meaning of the first sentences, and that they ran thus:—

"To quaff the inner life, is to see the outer life: to live in defiance of time, is to live in the whole." Anyone who has ever succeeded in entering into complete stillness during meditation will know that Bulwer-Lytton here utters a great truth. A truth we find repeated, albeit in different words, in the Book of Fo, reviewed on our website: "Verily thy five windows are the five senses of thy Soul. He who closes them and admits not the light of this world shall see the Light of his Spirit. But he who opens them to all the world, shall sit in darkness, not letting his Spirit put forth any of her own glorious internal Light." But see what Glyndon reads next: "He who discovers the elixir discovers what lies in space; for the spirit that vivifies the frame strengthens the senses." This has several meanings. Outer space is the nursery from which are born the suns, planets and moons, the secrets of which, as we said earlier, form an important part of occult study. It may also refer to the exploration of our own, inner spiritual 'space'. In either case it is (the) spirit that 'strengthens the senses', meaning mental exercises which develop true spiritual vision or seership.

The final sentence of this series is the most occult of all: "There is attraction in the elementary principle of light. In the lamps of Rosicrucius the fire is the pure elementary principle." This time, we are not going to provide an explanation, for, as we may read in The Quest of Ruru: "If we make the Path too easy by straight away explaining every point to the Neophyte, he does not acquire any merit, and, moreover, he would not be able to understand; no matter how many times his Teachers should patiently unravel the Laws by means of words. He who does not know error cannot appreciate Truth." However, we may and will hint at the profound truths concealed in this sentence. Fire, as H. P. Blavatsky tells us in The Secret Doctrine, is: "the most perfect and unadulterated reflection, in Heaven as on Earth, of the One Flame. It is Life and Death, the origin and the end of every material and spiritual thing. It is divine 'Substance." Legend has it that 'Rosicrucius' was the founder of the Rosicrucian esoteric tradition. It is said that when his sepulchre was opened it was illuminated by a sudden blaze of light from a lamp held in the right hand of a statue of the dead philosopher. This is the age-old allegory of the Sage or Messenger shedding his light upon the world, only to be extinguished once he has left the earth and his message is lost or forgotten.

The next words Glyndon reads in the book his Master has left open are pregnant with further clues: "Kindle the lamps while thou openst the vessel that contains the elixir, and the light attracts towards thee those beings whose life is that light. Beware of Fear. Fear is the deadliest enemy to Knowledge." The 'lamps' are the higher senses of the aspirant, though we might also connect them with the chakras, each of which is such a lamp. The 'vessel that contains the elixir' is, of course, his Higher Self. Glyndon is next warned to beware of fear. This, too, is an important truth; Ruru's 'Black Dwarf' and Bulwer-Lytton's 'Dweller' both keep the Higher Self in subjection through fear as well as by trickery and cunning. Fear is not only the enemy to occult knowledge, but to faith too, without which success in any endeavour is impossible. It is because of fear that superstition first arose in the minds of men. Selfishness owes much to fear; do we not cling to things and persons for fear of losing them? Anger and hatred, too, are the products of fear. What we hate and what angers us, is often the reflection of our own weaknesses and shortcomings seen in others. The opposite of fear is the power of faith, and it is the lack of this saving grace which leads to Glyndon's failure. Our final clue to the true nature of the elixir is found in chapter seven: "When, then, the pupil is thus initiated and prepared, let him open the casement, light the lamps, and bathe his temples with the elixir. He must beware how he presume yet to quaff the volatile and fiery spirit. To taste till repeated inhalations have accustomed the frame gradually to the ecstatic liquid, is to know not life, but death."

This reminds us of the words of Theon of Smyrna, an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries who flourished in the first century A.D., who divided the Mysteries into five parts in his book Mathematica: "The first of which is the previous purification; for neither are the Mysteries communicated to all who are willing to receive them; but there are certain persons who are prevented by the voice of the crier. . . since it is necessary that such as are not expelled from the Mysteries should first be refined by certain purifications: but after purification the reception of the sacred rite succeeds." The 'sacred rite', if you haven't yet realized it, is of course the mysterious Elixir of Life we have been discussing. For the true elixir consists of the occult scientific teachings about man and the universe—otherwise known as the SACRED MYSTERIES we discuss in our afterword. It is these which, if 'quaffed' after the previous preparation and purification, confer spiritual, not physical immortality. But if imbibed too soon, too hastily, or, as Glyndon reads ". . .till repeated inhalations have accustomed the frame gradually to the ecstatic liquid, is to know not life, but death." Such a 'death' may be literal or figurative, such as the death of all hope of spiritual advancement or enlightenment in that or several lifetimes.


We have now returned to the point in the narrative in which Glyndon first beholds the Dweller of the Threshold and faints away in sheer terror. This signals the end of his rash and premature attempt to wrest the secrets of the invisible from the elixir. It is in the first chapter of the following Book (V) that the reasons for his failure are spelled out in chilling detail by Mejnour in the letter we published in a previous article. "But, alas for thee, disobedient and profane!" writes the Sage, "thou hast inhaled the elixir; thou hast attracted to thy presence a ghastly and remorseless foe." That 'foe' is of course, the Dweller of the Threshold, which we have learned is none other than Glyndon's own lower self. Previously a subconscious influence on his thoughts and deeds it has now been roused to furious, fully conscious unrelenting opposition to his spiritual aspirations. This is the foe each one of us who essays to climb the Holy Mountain must face and conquer, or be conquered by. But those who fight the good fight and fail are not entirely lost, for the compassionate Mejnour tells his erstwhile pupil: "This, for thy comfort, will I tell thee: he who has drawn into his frame even so little of the volatile and vital energy of the aerial juices as thyself, has awakened faculties that cannot sleep,—faculties that may yet, with patient humility, with sound faith, and the courage that is not of the body like thine, but of the resolute and virtuous mind, attain, if not to the knowledge that reigns above, to high achievement in the career of men."

Here we must conclude our investigation of the mysterious Elixir of Life as it is described by Bulwer-Lytton in Zanoni. One final word. Whilst we are in no doubt that the Sacred Mysteries constitute the true 'elixir of life' this does not mean we disbelieve in a material and physical 'elixir'. There are many alchemical potions which can cure disease, improve well-being and prolong the span of human life. But there are none—as we said in our introduction—which can confer physical immortality. Though quite why anyone in their right mind would wish to live forever on earth we leave you to answer!

© Copyright Article published 15 March 2020.

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