Isabella and Richard Ingalese
Did they confect the Philosopher's Stone?
A report on 20th Century testimony.
by Tim Scott.
The complete library of credible personal experiences with operative alchemy would fit comfortably in a picnic cooler, with plenty of room for your lunch. If you limit the books to 20th Century accounts, the collection will be just about small enough to carry in your pocket. This is not too surprising, perhaps, considering the enormous discipline and difficulty of the Great Work of alchemy. Further, it's easy to understand why someone who had developed a technique to cure disease, give immortality and change common metals into precious would be somewhat reticent about his accomplishments. Accounts of people who have attempted it and failed are just as scarce. This brings us to an account of a 20th Century American couple who claimed that they had confected the Stone of the Wise, which they even used to resurrect of a woman dead 30 minutes. I have to add immediately that this story is as notable for the questions it leaves unanswered as for the incredible assertions it makes. I am not attempting to draw a veil of mystery: I simply have been unable to find out any more details.
Perhaps someone reading this will be able to provide more information or lead me to a source that will elucidate the mysteries. I was originally led to the story of the Ingaleses by a sidebar in the "Alchemy" article of the (landmark) occult encyclopedia, Man, Myth and Magic, originally published in 1970. I managed to acquire a reprint of Richard Ingalese's notes for a public lecture he gave on alchemy in 1927. (Reprinted in Frater Albertus' "Golden Manuscripts" series, entitled "They Made the Philosopher's Stone.") I also acquired a copy of an article on the Ingaleses, which appeared in the Nov. 1928 issue of the Occult Review.
Isabella and Richard Ingalese (born 1862 and 1854 [ although the Library of Congress gives his birth year as 1863...), respectively) lived originally in New York City before 1910. Mrs Ingalese was occupied full time as a psychic, healer and teacher, and her husband was a lawye. In addition, they were also avid students of what was then called "New Thought" and wrote a number of books, many of which can still be found in used bookstores today. The two or three I've read contain no mention of alchemy at all and indeed are indistinguishable to me from countless other "metaphysical" books which authors seemed to crank out in the early 1900s: vaporous metaphysical theories with no practical application.
In the The Occult Review article, Mrs Ingalese explained to author Barbara McKenzie how she and her husband became interested in alchemy: "The years after middle life began to draw on, when much reading of works on alchemy left her in grave doubt as to whether the writers were dealing with a spiritual or a practical discovery...Mrs Ingalese frankly told me that at this time her primary interest in a possible discovery was to stay advancing age and perhaps add another score of working years to man's so-called allotted span." The couple then moved to Los Angeles --I could not discover why--for the express purpose of attempting to create the physical Philosopher's Stone. A suitable house was acquired and a laboratory outfitted, as they pored over the available books and manuscripts to choose a course of action. Everyone who has studied alchemical literature knows it is fraught with blinds, symbolism, hidden meanings, contradictions and omissions. Mrs Ingalese's psychic gifts proved to be of value as they winnowed the material. Their original goal was to create the Oil of Gold. But, in Richard's pamphlet describing their work, he wrote, "...gold at $240 a pound is an expensive thing to experiment with; and, after a while it dawned on us that the principle would be the same if we used copper at 15c a pound. So the experiments were transferred to the cheaper metal." (Compare to the cost of gold today! But the ratio of its cost to that of copper is approximately 4500:1 whereas the figures quoted above show a ratio of 1600:1.)
After three years of painstaking labor and a steady draining of their financial resources, Mrs Ingalese produced the first success: the red oil of copper. Richard wrote (in "They Made..."): "We thought that victory was close at had, but found it was still some years away. The fifth year gave us the oil of sulphur, but not until we had many fires and explosions and two asphyxiations. The sixth year produced the oil of mercury, the basis of all Alchemy...By this time we had sold all our securities and had two mortgages on our home, but had determined to continue with the work until we met with success, if it took this life and all subsequent ones. But we had all the oils required to make the Stone, and, thus encouraged, we tried to crystallize and fuse them. In 1917 we succeeded in making the White Stone of the Philosophers." The Ingaleses continued the time-honored tradition of using animals to try new drugs. "We dared not try it on ourselves at first. But there was a third member of our family, a beautiful Angora cat of which we were very fond. We took a vote to see which of the three should test out the Stone, and the cat, neglecting to vote, was elected. It survived the first dose, and we repeated it on the following two days, with the cat becoming more frisky than usual...After that we tried it ourselves, each taking a dose at the same moment so we would excarnate together if it should prove fatal. But it proved beneficial and energized our bodies."
The writer for the Occult Review was less hesitant to sample the Stone. When Mrs Ingalese asked her if she would care to see and taste the Red Stone she wrote, "I willingly accepted." She then goes on to describe how Mrs Ingalese "[dipped] a silver knife in the bottle and quickly restoppering it, placed the smear--it was little more--on my tongue, saying it must lie there and not be swallowed. I immediately noticed an intense bitterness, which is said to be the gold, but other metals I could not detect. In two or three seconds it had been absorbed or dispersed, so that not even a flavour remained in my mouth."
Returning to the account in Richard's lecture: "Encouraged by this success, we redoubled our efforts to make the Red Stone of the Philosophers, which is the one most mentioned in Alchemical writings. This effort was continuous from 1917 to 1920, when our quest was rewarded." Apparently, the Ingalese's work was supported in a more than verbal way: After creating and potentizing the Red Stone, Richard writes: "There were several elderly people whom we were under obligations to help in case our search proved successful, and we offered to share the results of our efforts with them; but, being wisely cautious, they preferred to wait until we had tried out the Stone for a year."
I am presuming they obtained investors for their work, in exchange for the promise to share the fruits of it with them should the experiment succeed.
"After that, our renewal club was formed and we all took the magic medicine...Mrs Ingalese and I have not done as well as some of the other members of the group because of the condition we were in when we commenced the treatment. From 1911 to 1920, [the couple was then aged 57-66 and 49-54] though having the knowledge and the means to keep our bodies healthful we did not use mind or any medicine in that behalf because, we could not have known what effect the Alchemical products would have on us. From a physiological viewpoint, those were important years in our lives, since our bodies had reached an age when strict attention and care were necessary to prevent quick deterioration. But, even under those conditions, our bodies now attest the power of the Stone, as all who have known us for the last two decades can testify."
As to the Stone's efficacy, Richard makes some interesting observations: "...we tried the stone on many 'incurables.' The number of cases cured was remarkable, but we found it not infallible...We know that the Stone restores virility in men at any age, and normal desire in both sexes."
"If a woman has recently passed her change of life, it restores all normal functioning of the sex organs. But, if she has long passed that period, then, childbearing is out of the question."
Ms McKenzie adds: "The cure of a case of cancer, given up by all the doctors, was also claimed. After a few doses the disease was said to be arrested, and after some months' treatment was completely cured."
"I did not verify these statements," notes Ms McKenzie, "but record them as given." Richard also mentions: "...incredible as it may appear, I know of one alchemist more than 600 years old, and one whose age is more than 400, and another whose age is 200, and all of these look and function as do men in the prime of life at about 40 years." But even this is not as astonishing as his matter-of-fact description of the resuscitation of a dead woman, the wife of a prominent local physician. "Half an hour had elapsed and her body was growing cold. A dose of the dissolved White Stone was put into the mouth of the corpse without perceptible result. Fifteen minutes later a second dose was administered and the heart commenced to pulsate weakly. Fifteen minutes later a third dose was given and soon the woman opened her eyes. In the course of a few weeks the woman became convalescent, after which she lived seven years."
This is incredibly tantalizing and, prima facie, unbelievable. But what purpose could be served by Ingalese fabricating this story? Surely there must be some corroborating material somewhere. A whole host of other questions suggest themselves: What did the resuscitated woman finally die from, and at what age? What caused her to die in the first place? What other techniques (if any) were used to attempt to revive her? Why wasn't the Stone used again in the second place? Richard ended his pamphlet stating that, even at their advanced ages of 67 and 73, both he and his wife looked and felt young and extremely healthy.
"This is our testimony in behalf of Alchemy and the Alchemists, which each person may accept, or reject, according to his conviction, until such time as our bodies, now 67 and 73 years of age, respectively, by their youth and vigor, will compel acceptance of our statements."
And then...? I'm afraid I haven't the slightest idea. What happened next? How long did Richard and Isabella live? How did they die? Where did they live? Did anyone else write of them? What happened to their laboratory, their notes, and--for that matter--their store of the White and the Red Stones? Is it possible that there is a cupboard in some old house or building in L.A. containing some vials of a panacea or an elixir of immortality? What about the other members of the "Renewal Club"? Would it not be enlightening to learn their later histories? What about the multi-centenarian alchemists Richard claimed to know? Did Richard and Isabella have any students carry on their work? If so, who were they? Did they publish anything? Frater Albertus, in the introduction to his edition of Richard's pamphlet, loftily states, "We are not greatly concerned here with the individuals known as Richard and Isabella Ingalese nor to their whereabouts up to the nineteen thirties and thereafter." Are we not, indeed, dear Frater? It would seem to me that it would be intensely interesting to a practical alchemist to learn more about two of the incredibly few people who ever explicitly claimed have succeeded in the Great Work.
Ingalese also wrote: "We have never made gold, nor gems. That is a branch that is exceedingly interesting; and when we have the leisure, we shall pursue that part of the art..." Did they ever go on to this phase of the work? Both Richard in his pamphlet and Isabella in her interview seem to be the model of rational, sensible people. They do not give the impression of being fanatics, charlatans or self-deluded. Ms McKenzie writes: "These are big claims, and I was not in the least credulous regarding the matter, for time and direct observation of specific cases alone could justify the statements. But I was impressed by the modesty and care of the statements made by Mrs Ingalese." In fact, Richard gives several examples of charlatans, con-men and misguided seekers in the course of his talk, and makes the commonsensical observation: "If a person poses as a teacher, ask for some evidence of his knowledge before you enroll as his student...No honest man could object to such requirements." He is referring to alchemical teachers specifically, but certainly this is generally true. The next question that arises is: precisely how did they work? It is very difficult to find a clear path through the mass of alchemical literature, and teachers were no doubt hard to find in the early 1900s in Southern California.
The Ingaleses patiently read and collected alchemical books and manuscripts for more than a decade, and after a thorough examination of the available alchemical literature, Richard stated, clearly agreeing: "Some one has said, 'You can destroy all other books on alchemy, for their knowledge and more is contained in the alchemical writings of Paracelsus." Mrs Ingalese told the Occult Review's Mrs McKenzie that A. E. Waite's edition of The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus were "the volumes that afforded her the most encouragement and help in her subsequent efforts." But as far as specifics go, neither Richard in his pamphlet nor Isabella in her interview vouchsafed any details. As a woman alchemist, Isabella Ingalese is extremely unusual; in fact none appear in the literature I'm familiar with except as partners or assistants to their husbands. (In fact, a study of these women would be extremely interesting. I mentioned this to my wife, proposing the title "Alchemists and their women." She immediately retorted that a better title would be "Women and their Alchemists.")
A tangential sidelight: It is interesting to note another 20th Century Alchemist who claimed to have achieved the Magistery. This was Archibald Cockren, who wrote a small book published in London in 1940. The first 120 of its 158 pages were devoted to historical and theoretical overviews of Alchemy. Cockren then describes in a few pages, leaving out large and significant details, his laboratory alchemical work. Nowhere does he mention the Ingaleses, nor is there any indication he was aware of their work, even though the Occult Review article was published in London in 1927. However, there are interesting clues in his writing, which led William Leo, in his 1972 book "Alchemy" to attempt to "fill in the blanks."
Cockren's book would, I think, repay a closer analysis and perhaps that could be the subject of a future article.