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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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Dr. Paul Kiritsis reviews thirty books, articles and online sources

Paul Kiritsis - Sunday, January 01, 2012

      

 

Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul (Shaftesbury, UK: Element Books, 1986).

 

In this text Titus Burckhardt proceeds along the path hewn out by Julius Evola in The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art in presenting alchemy as a cosmological and metaphysical system replete with symbols that chart the birth and evolution of “spirit” within the soul of each individual. He insinuates that the becoming of spirit mirrors the macrocosm through correspondence and illuminates a nexus of deeper meanings by forging analogies in metallurgical and chemical processes. Burckhardt gives a short exposition on the art’s Western origins and goes on to anatomically dissect its main anatomical features: the formative forces represented by the planets and metals, elemental rotation, the principles of Sulphur, Mercury and Salt as well as the chemical marriage, all of which govern the philosophical schema. There is also an esoteric interpretation of the Emerald Tablet. Burckhardt’s prose is a delight, and makes comprehensible a sevenfold manifestation of the Divine Spirit whose inherent nature is heeded by the polar opposites of the Sun or gold and the moon or silver. Chapters five and fifteen are especially important, for they bring to light the connection between the physical configuration of the planetary symbols and their meanings, as well how they link in to and affect the three primary stages of the alchemical opus (i.e. nigredo, albedo, rubedo).

 

Julius Evola, The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1995).

 

Julius Evola no doubt takes esoteric alchemy to another level. In this book he implicates Hermeticism and alchemy to be one and the same, a cosmological teaching that transcends time and space and does not lend itself to contemporary scientific or historical scrutiny. In this way he is adhering to a cosmology based on loyalty and faith. The book is a twentieth century attempt to reinvent an age-old esoteric view of the real world as a pre-modern realm of alteration identical in nature, the human personality and the cosmic spirit using motifs and imagery from Gnostic myth, Neo-Platonism mysticism and other philosophical traditions to illustrate these changes.  It is divided into two sections, The Symbols and Teachings and The Hermetic Royal Art. The first is an exposition on the alchemical symbols which, according to Evola, are existential ciphers and form the language of this cosmological system. He illuminates mythological and hermetic context as a pivotal factor as to how these multidimensional symbols should be read and interpreted. The second describes and juxtaposes technical aspects of the alchemical process with the liberation of one’s consciousness from psychic impurities like emotions and drives for the sake of illumination. Given his theosophical bent, many of the processes he described were reminiscent of the disengagement of consciousness from body, otherwise known as astral projection to New Age thinkers. The chapters are quite condensed and require at least two to three readings.

 

 Frater Albertus, The Alchemist’s Handbook (Boston, MA: Weiser Books, 1974).

 

In The Alchemist’s Handbook, Frater Albertus, otherwise known as Dr Richard Riedel, describes in step-by-step and cookbook fashion the Lesser Work, understood here to mean the extraction of the vital life essence from vegetable matter. This was the procedure which spawned a change of heart in the magician Israel Regardie who adhered to a purely psycho-spiritual approach. The book is intensely focused on practical work, but does give requisite background information regarding theoretical framework for the neophyte in chapters two and six. Chapter three details the separation of the Salt and the Essence (combined Mercury and Sulphur) and the synthesis of the herbal elixir, a procedure which can be carried out using a Soxhlet extraction apparatus. The manual provides a very helpful chapter entitled Herbs and Stars identifying plants and herbs with their respective planets and is presented free of unobtrusive terminology.  This book is advertised as offering instructions to produce a modest home laboratory, yet no alternatives are given with respect to Albertus’s preferred extraction method using Soxhlet extraction apparatus. The latter is a piece of laboratory equipment that isn’t ‘inexpensive’ by any means.        

 

 Nick Kollerstrom, The Metal-Planet Relationship: A Study of Celestial Influence (Garberville, CA: Borderland Sciences Research Foundation, 1993).

 

Nick Kollerstrom’s book is pivotal to placing the esoteric doctrine of correspondences back on the scientific map. Chapters one to three recount a group of experiments conducted by Frau Lilly Kolisko, a student of Dr Rudolph Steiner, in which the former used a chromatographical method to plot the reaction rates of two metal salt precipitates on filter papers during oppositions, conjunctions or eclipses of their planetary constituents. Her results showed, without a doubt, that there is a viable connection between the seven planets and their respective metals. Kollerstrom also examines at length the qualitative connection between the aforementioned, their chemical traits and behaviours to alchemical and mythological lore. Of particular interest is the chapter fourteen. Entitled Alchemists and Gold, the section examines the astrological charts of seven successful transmutations by the likes of Nicholas Flamel, Edward Kelly, Alexander Seton and other famous alchemists. Five out of the seven charts were characterized by a conjunction between Mercury and the sun, the two planets whose respective metals were involved in transmutation. Perhaps the qualitative link is more important than what has been previously thought. Kolisko’s methodology will probably require further modification if it is to satisfy the rigid approach of quantitative analysis imposed by the contemporary scientific method. Nevertheless, her studies encompass revolutionary implications should any open-minded scientist choose to take off where she left off and explore these subtle yet tangible cosmic affinities further.

 

 

Lindy Abraham, A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

 

A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery decodes alchemical iconography with particular stress on the Western intellectual and literary movement. It opens with a broad historiographical introduction outlining the use of symbols as cipher codes for psychological, chemical and spiritual processes before presenting the symbols in alphabetical listing. Whilst only some of the listings are accompanied by illustrations, all follow a uniform presentation heeded by a definition and then followed by a written example and/or a literary quotation from an alchemical treatise. In addition, the author renders a technical, a psychological or philosophical and a metaphysical interpretation of the term where possible. She also highlights discrepancies and similarities between the interpretation of a particular term by different alchemists, and whether or not context is a factor in its interpretation. The fact that alchemy uses many different symbols to represent one idea proved to be a bit of an Achilles’ heel for Lyndy Abraham. She could have tried to expound related entries differently instead of regurgitating the same lines over and over. To give an example, some parts of the explanations relating to the entries Luna, white lily, white rose, pearls, silver, swan, white elixir, white foliated earth and white stone were almost identical. Nevertheless this will prove indispensable for the study of alchemical symbology.       

 

C.J.S. Thompson, The Lure and Romance of Alchemy (London, UK: Random House, 1990).

 

 

Despite its age, The Lure and Romance of Alchemy is a work that gives a good historiographical analysis of the field, recounting how it assimilated its philosophical doctrines, its differing aims under the Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Hellenistic, Arabian, and Christian alchemists, as well as a critical examination of the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher’s Stone. The book renders the labyrinthine terrain of alchemy easy to understand and works well as an introductory text, especially for those who have no prior exposure to the multifaceted alchemical cosmology; it acquaints them with its multiple aims and secrets, its cipher alphabets, some of its most notable manuscripts and the laboratory in which both the genuine seeker and charlatan took recourse. Despite the fascination they hold, too much emphasis is placed on the lives and anecdotal legends ascribed to alchemists of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Early Modern Period. Anyhow a complete reading of the work reveals the author’s perspective; he denies any proof or value in metallic transmutation, but instead relates important chemical and therapeutic discoveries made by medieval and Renaissance alchemists that played an overarching role in the emergence of chemistry and homeopathic medicine. The latter makes the work a handy reference book.

 

Florian Ebeling, The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times, trans. by David Lorton (London, UK: Cornell University Press, 2007).

 

In The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus, Florian Ebeling isolates and critically examines two distinct streams of Hermeticism that have evolved independently from one another with scant contact, paying particular emphasis to literary Hellenistic, Arabic and Latin texts attributed to the salvific sage Hermes Trismegistus. The book’s main hypothesis is that Alexandrian Hermeticism forked out into two separate streams, with one based on the texts of the Corpus Hermeticum that diffused from Florence in 1471 and the other entirely dependent on the Tabula Smaragdina and the more practical alchemo-medical texts attributed to the Arabian alchemists. The first proceeded from Italy, the second from Germany north of the Alps. Discounting the fact that their dissimilarities far outweighed their semblance, they were united in their petition to Hermes Trismegistus. There is a discrepancy regarding the amalgamation of the epithet “thrice-greatest” into the persona of a composite Hermes-Thoth. Ebeling suggests that this occurred in the second century (pp. 6) though in Kocku von Stuckrad’s Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge a much earlier date of the third century bce is given (pp.18). I have chosen to adhere to the former on the grounds that a syncretic epithet could not have been philosophised during a time when the Ptolemaic dynasty had just taken control of Egypt and intellectual exchange between the two cultures was both minimal and superficial. The later date is also adhered to by Garth Fowden in The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind (pp. 213).  

 

Garth Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993)

 

The Egyptian Hermes traces the modes of Egyptian and Hellenistic thought that poured into the cross-cultural melting pot of Ptolemaic Alexandria to form the philosophical-theological framework called Hermeticism which functioned as a cultural umbrella for the scholastic writings of so many philosophers in late antiquity. Fowden treats his subject matter sympathetically, attempting to understand both contextual spirituality and the multifarious mindset of late antiquity. The book is divided into three main sections, all of which proceed in a logical fashion. The first, Modes of Cultural Transmission, discusses qualities of the Greek Hermes and the Egyptian Thoth, as well as texts, attributes, legends, myths and sites ascribed to each one. Fowden implicates the Hellenised Egyptian priest Manetho to have been pivotal in acquiring the Greeks to the Egyptian religion and traditions. The second, titled The Way of Hermes discussed the occult worldview of sympatheia that seems to have derived from the Stoics and found its way into the proliferating milieu of philosophical and technical Hermetica. In the third, named The Milieu of Hermeticism, Fowden critically examines the socio-political climate in Graeco-Roman Egypt and comes to the conclusion that despite their widespread appeal, the Hermetic scriptures were exclusively, piously and scrupulously studied by small groups, usually the literati, under the guidance of a teacher. The book suggests that, despite their philological affiliation with the Hellenistic and Neo-Platonic style, the texts did in fact preserve elements of the then-waning Egyptian wisdom literature and tradition.         

 

Alison Davidson, Metal Power: The Soul Life of the Planets (Garberville, CA: Borderland Sciences Research Foundation, 1991).

 

Unlike Nick Kollerstrom’s book which gives a much broader sweep of the esoteric correspondences between the seven planets and metals, Alison Davidson has chosen to focus exclusively on Frau Lily Kollisko’s filterpaper experiments as evidence of the hidden qualitative connections in the cosmos that comprise the cosmic forces of a spiritual world whose re-emergence she clearly anticipates. For Davidson, the esoteric and philosophical speculations are merely the icing on the cake. Most fascinating are Davidson’s perspectives on the changing images the metal salts of silver, tin, gold and iron produced during a celestial event involving their respective planets. She also forges connections between the three outer planets discovered during and after the Enlightenment; Uranus with radioactive element of Uranium, Neptune with lithium, and Pluto with Plutonium. (This book was written before the latter was demoted from the planetary hierarchy.) Whilst no doubt fascinating, these qualitative relationships between the three outer planets and their ascribed metal are based solely on metaphysical sentiments. Davidson has neither suggested nor devised an experimental model upon which these personal assertions might be tested and quantified. I inherently feel this line of inquiry to be a dead end for the time being, seeing that Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are all too far to exhibit any sort of gravitational pull or effect on the other five planets of our Solar System or on the Earth itself. There may or may not be a connection, but even with the most advanced scientific equipment the energies involved would be so infinitesimal that they would most certainly evade detection.    

 

Arthur Versluis, The Philosophy of Magic (London, UK: Penguin Books, 1988).

 

The Philosophy of Magic can be described as an ode to mysticism in which alchemical transmutation and magical incantation are exoteric markers and symbols that delineate transformation of consciousness or the Self. The book encompasses two main sections, one on a practical and spiritual magic based on esoteric correspondences and one on alchemy, the latter enumerating steps to transcendence and union with the divine. Versluis connects the two areas of inquiry by suggesting that their common aim was the eviction of demonic forces, understood here to mean carnal drives, habits and emotional effluxes from the total personality, and the reinvigoration of angelic intelligences in the individual mind. In Verslius’s mind, practical application of these two esoteric denominations for purposes other than spiritual attainment (i.e. to cast a spell or create ‘tulpas or disembodied forces) is nothing more than a gross perversion of the Hermetic Art. His interpretation is heavily underpinned by Eastern mysticism and brings to mind the intellectual and philosophical approach of both Zosimus of Panopolis (c.300) and Olympiodorus (c. 500) who decreed that the intangible realm of spirit involved purification of the soul. This condensed little book is a good reference took for those interested in the mystical interpretation of esotericism’s magical and alchemical currents.   

 

Hermetica: The Greek ‘Corpus Hermeticum’ and the Latin ‘Asclepius’ in a new English translation with notes and introduction, trans. and ed. by Copenhaver, Brian P. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992; repr, 2000).

 

Brian Copenhaver’s translation no doubt ranks as one of the best of the Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius on the grounds that he includes substantial notes (almost twice as long as that of the actual text) that explicate particular parts of the translation, a brief historiographical and hermeneutical analysis of its seventeen tractates in the introduction, as well as noteworthy translation s that precede this one; those of  Walter Scott, Garth Fowden,  André-Jean Festugière and others. In my mind the first of these tractates, entitled Poimandres: The Unity of Knowledge of the World, the Self, and God is one of the philosophical Corpus’s most important frame narratives because it implicates the theological core of the Hermetic cosmology and anthropology. Presented in the form of a dialogue between Hermes and his son Tat, it is revealed to the reader that the cosmos and Man were fabricated from the polarity of spirit and matter by the transcendent God, who didn’t enact the endeavour himself but through the mediation of two projections, nous and an androgynous protohuman. Of course this suggests that “man” is something of a brother or sibling to God and holds an entirely dignified and exalted place in the cosmos. His most important task according to Hermes is to remember this and work towards it. A beautiful myth that mirrors the Gnostic myth of Sophia illustrates the entombment in matter. Alchemy shares these Hermetic and Gnostic perspectives. The book could have been the greatest of the translations had the Greek and Latin versions of the Corpus Hermeticum and Asclepius been included.

 

The Inner West: An Introduction to the Hidden Wisdom of the West, ed. by Jay Kinney (New York: NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2004).  

 

The Inner West is Jay Kinney’s attempt to put together an introductory anthology to the Western esoteric traditions for the untutored dilettante or those whose knowledge in the area is minimal. In his introduction he defines the term ‘Inner West’, gives a short discourse on the book’s main sections and provides references for those wishing to delve deeper into presented topics. The first section of the book looks at the three main tributaries that form the esoteric current, namely Hermeticism and alchemy, Neo-Platonism and Gnosticism; the second examines the three main monotheistic traditions in their esoteric guise; the third discusses the manifestation of esotericism as alchemy, magic, astrology, Tarot, the Divine Feminine as well as neopagan movements; the fourth looks at  the main torchbearers of Western esotericism, namely the Knight’s Templars, the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons; and the last of these, the fifth, explores the lives and teachings of some great mystics and visionaries in Emanuel Swedenborg, Helena Blavatsky, Rudolph Steiner, René Schwaller de Lubicz, George I. Gurdjieff, and René Guénon. All the essays gathered into this anthology are well-researched and written, providing up-to-date, scholarly and multifarious views of the selected topics whilst resisting any temptation to draw definitive conclusions. In the end the final word is rightfully and faithfully placed in the hands of each reader. I would have liked to see an essay on Carl. G. Jung, as he is fundamental to twentieth century esotericism.  

 

Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney, Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions (Wheaton, Ill: Quest Books, 2006).

 

Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney have contributed what might be described as an adequate introductory volume to the rapidly growing field of introductory texts to Western esotericism. In the introduction they implicate the internal salvific, intuitive and transcendental process known as gnosis that typified the Gnostic religion of late antiquity as a primary feature of Western esotericism and give an etymological perspective on the latter. The first chapter is dedicated to the contributions of Carl. G. Jung, and rightfully so, seeing that he’s the most important interpreter of the Western esoteric tradition in the twentieth century. However the book does carry a Jungian bias. Chapter two to twelve busy themselves with the same denominations of inquiry as those in The Inner West, barring two sections on shamanism and the New Age movement.  Smoley and Kinney are objective, insightful and conscientious in their writing, providing a list of references at the end of each chapter for further study and linking the chapters in a format conducive to intellectual and philosophical understanding as well as historical context. The first chapter on the psychiatrist Jung, for instance, is followed by the Gnostics whom might be called the first psychologists. Chapter three then expounds on how Gnostic ideas facilitated an inner approach to Christianity, the latter assimilating aspects of the Kabbalah during the Renaissance. Incidentally the Kabbalah happens to be the subject matter of the following chapter. The Kabbalah is most fittingly followed by magic, a practice underpinned by the theory of the former. There was overemphasis on Aleister Crowley in the chapter on magic; in my mind, there is a definitive question mark over his motives and character.     

 

Jocelyn Godwin, The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2007).

 

The Golden Thread is a short book which examines the Western esoteric traditions from the Renaissance to the present, returning to the ancient past only to examine the foremost minds whom have contributed to its philosophical and metaphysical perspectives i.e. Plato, Pythagoras, the mythical Orpheus and so forth.  A significant addition otherwise absent from other introductory texts is the notion of collective thoughtforms known as egregores, to which an entire chapter is devoted. The book also places vital importance on the facet of active imagination as a tool for metaphysical inquiry, aligning itself with the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.  Jocelyn Godwin is entirely selective and biased in the presentation of his material, giving preference to Hermeticism, alchemy, Neo-Platonism and the Gnostic religion and totally ignoring the contribution of others streams like the Kabbalah and Sufism. Godwin is not an impartial writer, taking refuge for many of his opinions beneath the cover of academic discourse and rhetoric that jettisons affiliation with possessive pronouns. There’s a very memorable one in chapter eight on The Negative Theology in which polytheism is decreed superior to monotheism on the basis of its pluralism and universalism. According to Godwin, Semitic monotheism was a ‘retrograde step in almost every respect’ (pp. 70). A good introductory text when accompanied with Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions.

 

Kocku von Stuckrad, Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge, trans. by Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas (London, UK: Equinox Publishing, 2005).

 

Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge is an indispensable summa of the history of Western esotericism detailing the contributions made by its key figures. The book is unencumbered by technical jargon and thus accessible to both the scholar and the dilettante. It should be bought and read for its introduction alone, a section which sheds light on the development of esotericism as a scholarly field, its primary characteristics, as well as an introduction to key historiographical issues. Kocku von Stuckrad gives a well-balanced, historiographical account of esotericism throughout, beginning from its very roots in the melting pot of Alexandria in late antiquity and exploring the kernel of its ideas in a linear fashion: its Judaic influences; the rebirth and evolution of its perspectives during the Renaissance; it’s often unacknowledged contributions to what would become contemporary science; the brotherhoods that institutionalized esoteric knowledge; the Eastern exotic appeal of Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society; and finally, the reception of ahistorical approaches during the twentieth century and the quixotic notions of the New Age. Stuckrad has included an extensive bibliography for a more systemic investigation of each area of inquiry. This book should be on the shelves of all esoteric libraries.

 

Albert de Jong, ‘Zosimus of Panopolis’, in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. by Wouter, J. Hanegraaf, Antoine Faivre, Roelof van der Broek, and others, 2 vols (Leiden: Brill, 2005), I, pp. 1183-1186.

 

In this rather short article, Albert de Jong reveals that the Zosimus of Panopolis, a Hellenized Egyptian of Panopolis in Upper Egypt, is the first historically verifiable alchemist to have pursued alchemy in its dual guise of mystical and practical art. Given the absence of contemporaneous literature, Zong resorts to an analysis of cultural, religious as well as operative temples and places around during Zosimus’s time for the approximate dating of his lifespan (c.250-350). There is also an allusion to one of Zosimus’s many practical texts, the Letter Omega, to illuminate his emphasis on spiritual receptivity along with his condemnation of theurgical and astrological practice where it relates to the alchemical opus.  Moreover Zosimus’s knowledge of the dual nature of the first man, Thoth-Adam, reveals an acquaintance with Poimandres, the first tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum. The author also reasons against any Jungian interpretation of Zosimus’s alchemical texts (i.e. Visions).

 

Richard Caron, ‘Fulcanelli’, in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. by Wouter, J. Hanegraaf, Antoine Faivre, Roelof van der Broek, and others, 2 vols (Leiden: Brill, 2005), I, pp. 388-391.

 

Richard Caron’s succinct article puts together some very viable possibilities regarding the real identity of quasi-master Parisian alchemist Fulcanelli, the alleged author of two twentieth century alchemical texts that suggest that the secret to successfully creating the Philosopher’s Stone is cleverly encoded into the French cathedrals. The preface to both were written by Fulcanelli’s alleged disciple, Eugène Léon Canseliet, and illustrated by Jean Julien Champagne. The latter is explicitly identified as Fulcanelli himself. According to Caron, an 1987 book that was written by André VandenBrooeck on esotericist René Schwaller de Lubicz revealed that the just mentioned and Champagne met regularly and discussed apocryphal alchemical documents and the Great Work in confidence that it would all remain confidential. When the treatises on the cathedrals were finally published, they contained ideas that had originated with de Lubicz. De Lubicz was convinced that the publications were masterminded and executed by Champagne, an assertion that is supported by written documentation in the form of a letter from Canseliot to de Lubicz. Whilst Caron’s deductions are probably right, it is remiss of him not to mention Frater Albertus, whose own work was influenced by the publication of ‘Fulcanelli’s’ two apocryphal works. 

 

Christine Maillard, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. by Wouter, J. Hanegraaf, Antoine Faivre, Roelof van der Broek, and others, 2 vols (Leiden: Brill, 2005), I, pp. 648-653.

 

Christine Maillard’s article gives a well-balanced, coherent and favourable review of Carl Jung’s life and contributions to Western esotericism. Proceeding in a chronological fashion, Maillard identifies the metaphysical and occult convictions of Jung’s unique interdisciplinary approach and their critical importance in the systemic formation of an analytical psychology comprised of interlacing psychic elements: the collective unconscious; the archetypes; synchronicity; and the lifelong process of self-actualisation or individuation. Maillard illuminates how Jung’s ontological approach to achieving totality of being satisfies criteria conducive to scholastic induction into the esoteric body, whilst concurrently detailing his subsequent attempts to define certain esoteric currents and manuscripts in light of these newly formed psychological concepts. The author’s exposition of Jung’s cultural interpretation is of alchemy and astrology is quite favourable but she fails to bring to the reader’s attention the very fact that Jung’s engagement with the just mentioned occurred when formulation of his theories was complete. Hence Jung was not an objective interpreter of the tradition by any means.

 

Hans Thomas Hakl, ‘Giulio Cesare Evola’, in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. by Wouter, J. Hanegraaf, Antoine Faivre, Roelof van der Broek, and others, 2 vols (Leiden: Brill, 2005), I, pp. 345-350.

 

Hans Thomas Hakl takes a dual approach to examining the figure of Giulio Cesare Evola, dedicating the first half of his article to a biography which sketches out the man’s anti-liberal, anti-democratic and racist sentiments and the second half to his ‘diffusionist’ ideology and a personal philosophy that implicates the attainment of transcendence and final integration into its realms to comprise the final cause of mortal existence. The latter, according to Evola, is attained through ‘magical idealism’, a process whereby the ‘absolute I’ or what I call the unconscious will purges an individual of material and intellectual ‘handicaps’. Evola’s belief in a ‘diamond body’ is interesting; this he defined as a fusion of unconscious psychic energies that can remain conscious during sleep and even after death. I anticipate that this concept was borrowed from Eastern mysticism, given that the Chinese Taoist text named The Secret of the Golden Flower also describes a ‘diamond body’ with an identical function. Jung’s purely psychological interpretation of the ‘diamond body’ as the superior personality and of the alchemical opus as a process of individuation explains Evola’s disapproval of Jung. Alternatively Evola’s approval of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff may be hinged on the latter’s compliance on fusion of inner consciousness into a ‘diamond body’.    

 

Frank Greiner, ‘Nicolas Flamel’, in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. by Wouter, J. Hanegraaf, Antoine Faivre, Roelof van der Broek, and others, 2 vols (Leiden: Brill, 2005), I, pp. 370-371.

 

In this brief article, Frank Greiner gives an account of the life of the legendary alchemist Nicholas Flamel. He begins by explaining why this historical figure was tainted with the alchemical paintbrush, before going on to identify the seventeenth century manuscript Livre des figures hieroglyphiques as the first appearance we have of Flamel as an adept of the royal art. This is followed by an abbreviated summary of the book’s contents. Oddly, Greiner has failed to supply us with details of Flamel’s successful transmutations in which he successfully transmuted both mercury and silver into gold.

 

Lawrence M. Principe, ‘Robert Boyle’, in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. by Wouter, J. Hanegraaf, Antoine Faivre, Roelof van der Broek, and others, 2 vols (Leiden: Brill, 2005), I, pp. 199-201.

 

Lawrence M. Principe’s article illuminates the importance of Robert Boyle’s position in chemistry as the discoverer of ‘Boyle’s law’ whilst at the same time emphasising his fascination with and belief in the Philosopher’s Stone. With respect to the latter the author expounds that Boyle had acquired a mysterious red powder called ‘red earth’, known to the alchemists as Philosophical Mercury, which consumed him for the remainder of his life. Principe gives an overall favourable analysis of Boyle and neglects to mention the man’s hypocritical disposition; together with Isaac Newton, he publically decried the art, writing in his The Sceptical Chemist that ‘their writings, as their furnaces, afford as well smoke as light’.  

 

Jean-Pierre Laurant, ‘Tarot’, in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. by Wouter, J. Hanegraaf, Antoine Faivre, Roelof van der Broek, and others, 2 vols (Leiden: Brill, 2005), I, pp. 1110-1112.

 

Jean-Pierre Laurant’s article on the Tarot is a noteworthy footnote to the card game tradition; his scholastic approach of compartmentalizing its historiographical evolution without succumbing to a full-fledged engagement of its manifold esoteric interpretation is commendable. Through the article, the reader learns that the prototype of what can be called Tarot emerged in the late fifteenth century (c.1460) in Germany and Italy before undergoing substantial evolution under the helm of occultist Eliphas Lévi, who added a metaphysical tier of meaning to the Tarot by linking symbolic correspondences descried by the twenty-two ‘major arcana’ and fifty-six ‘minor arcana’ with the occult idea of final causes for each mortal life as mapped out by the astrological configuration. The symbolic nature of the Tarot has generated a host of multifarious interpretations, the most popular being Aleister Crowley’s holistic approach in which he incorporated it into his magical speculations. The article is a great starting point for further investigation.

 

Adam McLean, ‘The Birds of Alchemy’, Hermetic Journal, V (1979)

<http://www.alchemywebsite.com/alcbirds.html> [Accessed 20 December 2011].

 

In this fascinating article, Adam McLean not only reveals the inherent link between bird symbolism and the stages of the alchemical opus, but exposes connections that are at once physical and spiritual. After connecting the birds to the life experience of the soul, he goes on to make the following associations: the Black Crow is linked to chemical necrosis or nigredo and with a turning inward of perception, the White Swan to an initial contact with a metaphysical reality outside our corporeal space-time vacuum, the Peacock to the alchemical  stage known as Peacock’s Tail or cauda pavonis and conscious knowledge of astral body consciousness, the Pelican to the strengthening of the spiritual self through the conscious application of these purified and ethereal powers of the soul, and the Phoenix to chemical iosis or rubedo and the culmination of spiritual integrations which allows for the existence of etheric being or self without its physical shell. His interpretation is very reminiscent of the ‘diamond body’ discussed at length by the Taoist treatise The Secret of the Golden Flower, as well as the by the spiritualists Julius Evola and George Gurdjieff.

 

 Adam McLean, ‘Notes on the ‘Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine’, Hermetic Journal, V (1987)

<http://www.alchemywebsite.com/twelve_keys.html> [Accessed 2 December 2011].

 

Notes on the ‘Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine’ reveals Adam McLean’s deep understanding of the mechanics of alchemical emblem systems which are usually underpinned by geometric patterns that facilitate coherence and understanding of multilayered concept once they have been properly deciphered. This makes much sense from the perspective of the medieval alchemists, who traced the origin of their art back to a country (ancient Egypt) whose temple priests saw no problem in overlaying bas reliefs with a plethora of symbols irrespective of whether or not the implied meanings were contradictory. All the engravings of the Twelve Keys, according to McLean, follow a threefold schema that emphasises the Paracelsian division of matter into philosophical Mercury, Sulphur and Salt.  

 

Mark Stavish, ‘The History of Alchemy in America – Part 3’, Alchemy Journal, IV, No.2 (2003)

<http://www.alchemylab.com/AJ4-2.htm#Meditation on the Emerald Tablet> [Accessed 15 November 2011].

 

With his tongue-in-cheek approach, Mark Stavish traces the history of practical alchemy in the Unites States, beginning with a Californian couple by the name of Richard and Isabella Ingalese who allegedly succeeded in creation the Philosopher’s Stone before recounting the widespread activities of Frater Albertus (Dr. Albert Richard Riedel) at Salt Lake City, the Rosicrucian Order AMORC in San Jose, and Alden Research, an offshoot of the latter. In relaying these facts, Stavish’s main intention is to reiterate the conviction that practical alchemy is still a living avenue of inquiry in the United States and, though he never says it, may fuel subsequent discoveries in the ever-evolving realm of modern science.

 

Adam McLean, ‘A Commentary on the Rosarium philosophorum’, The Rosary of the Philosophers (1980)

<http://www.alchemywebsite.com/roscom.html> [Accessed 8 November 2011].

 

In this article, Adam McLean’s reveals that the cluster of alchemical images entitled the Rosarium philosophorum expresses the transmutation of the soul within the twofold context that includes mystical development as well as basic chemical operations. While the vitalistic and intrinsic processes of change delineated by alchemy cannot ever be confined to the intellectual framework of a pictorial and symbolic formula, McLean basically agrees with Carl Gustav Jung’s interpretation of the Rosarium.  In a nutshell the sequence is comprised of twenty illustrations. The first three are concerned with the psychic composition of the prima materia, the next seven with the synthesis of the ‘white stone’ or what many understand to mean the spiritualization of human consciousness under the mediation of the archetypal feminine, and the seven after that with the creation of the ‘red stone’ or an illumination and embodiment of the spirit after it has fixated or coagulated its final form. The last three images that complete the series reveal the complete integration of psychic elements in one’s spiritual wellspring. McLean could have been more selective with his terminology for the anatomy of the psyche; many parts were rather confusing.        

 

David Lindholm, ‘A Short Examination of the Book of Hieroglyphical images of Nicolas Flamel’, Hermetic Journal (2011)    

<http://www.alchemywebsite.com/lindholm.htm> [Accessed 23 December 2011].

 

In this exposition David Lindholm shows how the physical description of the Book of Hieroglyphic Images is anachronistic and incompatible with the era to which it is ascribed (the Middle Ages). Based on a systematic examination of anatomical features such as size, material, writing, illustrations and cover Lindholm concludes that the composition must have drawn from Coptic or Ethiopian sources and be no older than four centuries. Lindholm’s argument is sound and historically accurate.    

 

Burt Humburg, ‘On the Colour Changes in the Great Work or the Alchemical Transformation of Matter’, Hermetic Journal (2011)

<http://www.alchemywebsite.com/humburg.html> [Accessed 15 November 2011].

 

In his article, Burt Humburg argues that the triune colour scheme (i.e. black, white, red) delineating the alchemical opus and the generation of the Philosopher’s Stone was developed by the medieval Christian alchemists in their attempts to give metallic transmutation credibility. The colours, according to Humburg, were picked according to their symbolism and psychological effects. I find his suppositions erroneous; the colour scheme has existed in alchemical cosmology from its (pre-Christian) birth in Graeco-Roman Alexandria and the individual colours are not merely descriptors for emotions or feelings qualitatively linked to them or exoteric stand-ins for the transformation of consciousness. 

 

 

Mark Stavish, ‘Alchemy, It’s Not Just for the Middle Ages Anymore’, Atlantis Rising (1997)

<http://www.hermetic.com/stavish/alchemy/alchemy-middle.html> [Accessed 15   October 2011].

 

 

 

Mark Stavish’s article does a great job of illuminating the animistic cosmogony upon which alchemical principles are based and separating them from the commonly held misconception of the esoteric science as little more than an anachronistic and medieval superstition, though all too often he ends up jumping around from one esoteric discipline to another. Moreover, he erroneously alludes to the evolution of alchemy from ‘ancient’ Kabbalah. Stavish also gives a brief explanation of Jung’s reductionist approach to alchemy as a psychological discipline and goes on to mention how it ties in with and influenced alternative medicine, quantum physics and the New Age movement. He concludes by offering a few leads on how to gain practical instruction in both spagyric-based and metallic-based alchemy.

 

David Hambling, ‘Paracelsus: The Mercurial Mage’, Fortean Times Magazine (2002)

<http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/248/paracelsus_the_mercurial_mage.html> [Accessed 23 October 2011].

 

David Hambling gives a brief exposition on the enigmatic figure of Paracelsus, a man who challenged the Galenic medicine of the time by suggesting a more empirical approach to knowledge and wrote influential works on medicine, theology, alchemy and philosophy whilst living the life of a drunken vagabond who was more often than not decried for self-righteous disposition and foul mouth.  Hamburg correctly points out the developments that allowed for the development of modern science and particularly homeopathy but makes some unusual mistakes; the alchemists interchanged copper’ with the word ‘Venus’ (not lead) and contrary to what he says, many viable and convincing interpretations regarding the substances ‘white eagle’ and ‘red lion’ have been put forth.            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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