During the Middle Ages, alchemy was not only a philosophy and a science but also a religion. Those who rebelled against the religious limitations of their day concealed their philosophic teachings under the allegory of gold-making. In this way they preserved their personal liberty and were ridiculed rather than persecuted.
Alchemy is a threefold art, its mystery well symbolized by a triangle. Its symbol is 3 times 3 – three elements or processes in three worlds or spheres. The 3 times 3 is part of the mystery of the 33rd degree of Freemasonry, for 33 is 3 times 3, which s 9, the number of esoteric man and the number of emanations from the root of the Divine Tree.
It is the number of worlds nourished by the four rivers that pour out of the Divine Mouth as the verbum fiat. Beneath the so-called symbolism of alchemy is concealed a magnificent concept, for this ridiculed and despised craft still preserves intact the triple key to the gates of eternal life.
Twelve steps are linked with the signs of the zodiac in a manner worthy of consideration:
1. Aries, calcination
2. Taurus, congelation
3. Gemini, fixation
4. Cancer, dissolution
These 12 steps leading up to the attainment of the Magnum Opus are a reminder of the 12 degrees of the ancient Rosicrucian Mysteries. To a certain degree, Rosicrucianism was chemistry theologized and alchemy philosophized.
The 12 processes by means of which the secret essence may be discovered remind the student of the 12 Fellow Craftsmen who are sent forth in search of the murdered Builder of the Universe, the Universal Mercury.
-Manly Hall, Secret Teachings of All Ages