A Commentary on the Mutus Liber

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Commentary on the Mutus Liber by Adam McLean.

In keeping with its title, the Mutus Liber consists of fifteen (or thirteen, depending on the edition) mostly wordless plates, without any body text. All of these are reproduced in this Adam McLean volume, with a four-page introduction on the history of the images, the original 1676 French copyright filing, McLean’s detailed descriptions facing the plates, and his thirty-page commentary following them.

The commentary purports to be exploratory rather than authoritative. It emphasizes the irreducible polysemy of alchemical instruction, and points to parallel procedures with physical substances, components of the soul, and spiritual realities. McLean devotes a lot of attention to “etheric energies” corresponding to the Aristotelian elements, but it appears that these are still at the “physical” (or para-physical) level. For physical procedures, McLean often references the work of Armand Barbault in The Gold of a Thousand Mornings (1969, English translation 1975), who seems to have attempted the full process depicted in the Mutus Liber.

The original plates seem to be entirely free of Christian symbolism. The title plate includes three encrypted bible references to Genesis and Deuteronomy, along with an image of Jacob’s ladder, but all the remaining religio-literary symbolism seems to be classical, with key appearances by Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn, Mercury, and Hercules. The operators depicted are a male alchemist and his soror mystica, who is a full collaborator in the work, acting as much or more than her partner. Only in Plate XIV do we see another figure in the laboratory who seems to be their child: a startling development that receives surprisingly little attention from McLean. There is plenty of grist here for the mill of contemplation, and–one presumes–operation as well. [via]