Duchanteau belonged to the Lodge of the United Friends.

In the heart of the most ancient part of Paris, Rue Sourdiere goes beyond Saint-Roch towards a labyrinth of tiny streets where occultists, magi and discoverers of philosophical stones have always been installed.  We are on the eve of the French Revolution and this narrow, dark street, which still exists, also houses the Lodge of the United Friends of Paris, grouped under the name of “Philaletes”.  The man who is the most in view in this brotherhood, which, like many other “clubs” of the same epoch, dreams of change, is uncontestably Duchanteau. A beautiful looking, spiritual, eloquent man, the brother is passionate about occult knowledge and has consecrated himself for years to the study of cabalistic Hebrew.  Convinced that you have to be Jewish to be a good cabalist, he has even embraced the faith of Abraham and, so as not to leave anything to hazard, has been to Amsterdam to have himself circumcised.

Finding after this that Jewish esoterism was taking its time about leading him beyond the limits of simple human knowledge, he launches himself with even greater passion into the study of alchemy.

The Great Art too requires great patience.  And an equal virtue.  For with regard to his own transformation, the transmutation of metals is a secondary thing for a true alchemist…

Duchanteau knows this.  But after having delved for months, from the depths of his garret, into the heavens of hermetic ideas, he would not be unhappy for a shower of gold, however thin, to come to refresh him in front of his athanors…

Alas!  nothing happens and for many more months he continues to mix Scythia Water (mercury) with Virgin’s Water (elixir) in alambics which, as tradition dictates, have the form of animals.  Without ceasing still to read new grimoires over and over again, which all tell him the same thing:  you must unite the inferior things with the superior things and fire, the receptacle and the basic matter must be in the same subject.  From now on, this idea is going to obsess the alchemist.  But he will spend a lot more time on it before, one morning at last, fed up with cooking chemicals and his head heavy with mysterious signs, he suddenly leaps out of bed in prey to an illumination.

“I am myself the fire, the receptacle and the basic matter…  The secret of alchemy is Man himself, in whom is the inferior and the superior!”

He rushes to his friends the Philaletes:

“Any well constituted male man has the power, from the age of twenty up to fifty, of making the philosophical stone without needing anything other than himself!”

His gaping friends want to know more…

Emblem of the work on the philosophical stone performed by alchemists.

Duchanteau calms down a bit:

“Put me naked inside a room.  Lock the door and keep me under surveillance.  Don’t give me the slightest thing to drink or eat and I’ll come out after forty days with the philosophical stone!”

Such a programme suscitates reserves and perplexity among his Free Mason brothers.  But with his habitual eloquence, Duchanteau paints the immense repercussions of his project then asks to undertake its execution immediately.  His recipe is simple, but rather frightening:  locked up in the Lodge of the United Friends, he must absorb his own urine and obtain in this way its refinement over forty days.  To succeed inside himself the Great Work, the manufacture of the “divine powder” which permits the changing of vile lead into a gold “even sweeter than that of the mine” as the alchemists say…

To those who remain sceptical, he says resignedly:

“Don’t you see that you have there the union of the inferior things with the superior things?  The water of the body is the basic matter, the body is the crucible and my heat the fire!…”

The extraordinary thing is that the group of Philaletes accept the experiment in the end.  Duchanteau is put inside another room, completely empty, he is completely undressed to verify that he is not concealing any food, either solid or liquid, after which, his clothes are given back to him.  Then, the brothers of the Lodge take turns watching over him day and night…  Over the first days, he suffers abominably from a thirst that the curious transit of his waters does not of course ease.  Hunger also pinches him and after five days, exhausted, burning with fever, he is very close to renouncing.  But little by little, as his urine thickens and purifies, his sufferings appear to calm.  His intellectual capacities have remained intact and it even seems to him that they are increasing from day to day.  Those who are watching him realize notably that his memory is much greater and that he now speaks with prodigious intelligence.  Each day too he becomes happier, more eloquent and versed in matters in which he did not excel until then.  An even more astonishing thing, with the complete disappearance of his pains, his physical strength has considerably increased.  For those who doubt it, he installs a brother on each of his arms and then holds a long conversation…

But there is one worrying thing, those who approach him in this way realize that he is now burning with fever, so hot that they cannot touch him.  The Council of the Lodge is afraid.  What would people say if Duchanteau died?  Pressures are brought to bear so strongly that they oblige him to renounce.  Therefore, the experiment is stopped at the twenty-sixth day.  But during these twenty-six days, the strange alchemist had not swallowed anything other than the product of his bladder.  Product whose volume had been progressively reduced, taking on a reddish colour and a slimy consistency, exhaling a suave “balsamic” odour, the witnesses of this maceration without precedent would say.  The ultimate distillation that Duchanteau evacuated was conserved in a sealed bottle and classed among the archives of the Lodge.

As for the alambic which had just functioned without failing for weeks, guess what happened to it on the evening of this twenty-sixth day?  More cheerful and facetious than ever, Duchanteau invited all his companions to a dinner during which he rewarded himself for his long abstinence by serving hinself five or six times from each of the serving dishes!  He drank to accompany this and left the table perfectly lucid and without suffering any indigestion at all over the hours and days which followed.  From that moment on, he was in perfect health with all his faculties seeming to have been vivified by his strange fast.

And then, one year later, desperate at having been so close to his goal, he wants to start the experiment again.  But this time, he will only go to the thirteenth day.  On this thirteenth day he suddenly collapses, then expires within a few minutes…

As for the singular alchemy locked away in the archives of the Philaletes, this sample of “divine powder”, of a more than human origin, will be thrown into the gutter during The Revolution.

Which is a pity, for no-one will ever be able to analyze it.  And no-one will ever have the courage and the folly to re-do Duchanteau’s experiment…


To be continued.