Category Archives: The Nature of Alchemy

Art and Alchemy at Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf through Aug 10th, 2014

Art and Alchemy: The Mystery of Transformation is an exhibit at Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf through Aug 10th, 2014 that may be of interest [British Library]. The exhibit includes four ‘Ripley Scrolls’ from the British Library, which four are also available as Digitised Manuscripts and which you can read about on the British Library blog, if you can’t make it to see them in person.

British Library Ripley Scroll Add MS 5025 detail
Detail of a hermetic illustrating stages in the alchemical process and the revelation of alchemical wisdom, Add MS 5025, f. 4r.

“For the first time in Germany, an exhibition spanning all epochs and genres will be introducing the exciting link between art and alchemy in past and present times. 250 works from antiquity to the present, encompassing Baroque art, Surrealism, through to contemporary art from collections and museums in the USA, Great Britain, France, Mexico and Israel reveal the fascination which alchemy exerted for many visual artists. Artists featured in the exhibition, such as Joseph Beuys, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Max Ernst, Hendrick Goltzius, Rebecca Horn, Anish Kapoor, Yves Klein, Sigmar Polke, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens and David Teniers the Younger invite visitors to explore the mystery of transformation.

Alchemy was invariably practised in secret, but was by no means a rare occurrence until well into the 18th century: Eminent personalities, including Paracelsus, Isaac Newton and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, were alchemists, too. It was not until the Age of the Enlightenment that alchemy was ousted and became intermingled with occultism, sorcery and superstition. In connection with 19th and early 20th-century psychoanalysis alchemy was brought to new life.

The exhibition was conceived by Museum Kunstpalast in cooperation with the research group ‘Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe’ at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, as well as a group of experts at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, which also provided many pieces on loan. A Wunderkammer of curious and exotic treasures from flora and fauna is offered for visitors to explore. In an extensive accompanying programme the subject of art and alchemy will be expanded upon by means of lectures, talks and guided tours. For the exhibition, a studio for children was set up, where the theme of ‘The Alchemy of Colour’ is explored by taking a close look at colours, along with their archetypical elements and production.”

The Forge and the Crucible

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structure of Alchemy by Mircea Eliade, from University of Chicago Press.

Mircea Eliade The Forge and the Crucible from University of Chicago Press

Readers should heed the word origins in the subtitle of Eliade’s monograph on alchemy. In fact, the first two-thirds of the book is given over to discussions of the religious and mythic dimensions of metallurgy in ancient and “primitive” cultures. The next few chapters perform a cross-cultural survey of alchemical traditions, moving west from China, through India and the Near East, to Europe. Eliade makes a reasonably persuasive case for the existence of similar conceptual mechanisms in the alchemy of various different societies, and he uses a presentation of Indian alchemy as a basis for explaining European alchemy.

Eranos-participant Eliade references Jung as the authority on the psychological interpretation of alchemy, and he attributes validity to Jung’s approach, but he doesn’t claim to share it–being interested in the history of religions rather than individual psychology. He also cites Julius Evola as an expositor of alchemy as a “traditional science.”

This book suffers as much as any of Eliade’s work (with the stand-out exception of The Myth of the Eternal Return, which must be hands-down the worst) from a nostalgic conception of the primitive. He insists, “Modern man is incapable of experiencing the sacred in his dealings with matter; at most he can achieve an aesthetic experience.” (143) At every turn, he identifies the objects of his greatest scholarly care and concern with an earlier, more sacralized period of human awareness. And yet he attempts to disavow it: “These considerations are no more a criticism of the modern world than they are a eulogy of other, primitive or exotic societies.” (177)

Aside from its comparativism, The Forge and the Crucible has the most to offer those who are interested in ideas of great dispensations of human consciousness, whether they are construed as magical aeons or Foulcauldian discursive epistemes. Eliade proposes that alchemical culture was a precondition for modern science and industrialization, which is poised to transform human society as dramatically as did the first introduction of agriculture. [via]

Hyleal, Pri-material, Catholic, or Universal Natural Chaos

Hyleal, Pri-material, Catholic, or Universal Natural Chaos: Excerpts from the Companion Volume to Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom by Henricus Khunrath, selected and translated by Russell Yoder, from Salamander and Sons, scheduled to be published already, but coming soon, will be available via Weiser Antiquarian Books.

Henricus Khunrath Russell Yoder Hyleal, Pri-material, Catholic, or Universal Natural Chaos from Salamander and Sons

Hyleal, Pri-material, Catholic, or Universal Natural Chaos consists of excerpts from the companion volume to Henricus Khunrath’s alchemical classic, Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (or, Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom).

Englished for the first time by Russell Yoder, Hyleal, Pri-material, Catholic, or Universal Natural Chaos is initially concerned with Magnesia (the “Magnet of the Lord” and “universal raw Stone of the Wise that is to be found in Nature”), the Green Lion of Nature (the “fiery spark or ray of the World’s Soul, or Light of Nature” that is “the naturally, conceivably catholic All”) and Our Chaos or Hyle (“the World’s First Water … [the] Fountain [from which] all material things have their first origin” which is the “Fundament or Foundation, the Basis of the World that God Himself put in place … [which] the edifice of the entire earth is set upon …”).

Embodying a kind of Christianised natural magic influenced as much by kabbalah, natural philosophy and the works of Paracelsus as by Lutheran pietism and devotion, the Divinely inspired and particular revelations of Hyleal, Pri-material, Catholic, or Universal Natural Chaos extend to include heavenly influences and the timing of the work, Azoth or Living Mercury (“not quicksilver, nor something taken out of or from him, but Mercurius – that which the Philosophers speak of!”), Salt of Magnesia (“often called Sal Petra or Sal Peter, Sal Alkali, Sal Gemma or the Noble Rock-salt … from the radical Humidity of the whole World”), and the artful and natural elevation of plants, animals and minerals “to the highest Natural Perfection” towards “true Regeneration and more than perfect Multiplication of Metals [and] an exceedingly powerful Universal Medicine …”

Includes a brief but highly insightful tract in verse ‘from F.R.C.’ on the subject of Our Chaos – Hyle – published as part of The Golden Rose (1704), almost 100 years after the publication of Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum, and exactly 90 years after the appearance of the Rosicrucian manifesto Fama Fraternitatis R.C. (1614).”

Three Treatises of Art

Three Treatises of Art: Alchemy for the Behmenist Adept, The Little Alchemical Farmer, and The Lead of the Wise and Its Dual Species by Two Anonymous Authors and Adam Michael Birkholz, translated by Russell Yoder, from Salamander and Sons, scheduled to be published already, but coming soon, will be available via Weiser Antiquarian Books.

Anonymous Adam Michael Birkholz Russell Yoder Three Treatises of Art from Salamander and Sons

“These Three Treatises of Art – namely Alchemy for the Behmenist Adept, The Little Alchemical Farmer and The Lead of the Wise and Its Dual Species – have been translated by Russell Yoder. Two of the three are presented in English for the first time, while the third is presented anew for the first time since the 18th century.

Alchemy for the Behmenist Adept
Alchemy for the Behmenist Adept (or, Idea Chemiæ Bohmianæ Adeptæ): The Preparation of the Philosopher’s Stone According to Jacob Bohm (Amsterdam, 1690) is a rare and significant attempt to systematise Jacob Boehme’s Hermetic corpus. Drawing upon the High Dutch Philosopher’s works – including Aurora: Die Morgenröte im Aufgang, The Threefold Life of Man, De Signatura Rerum (or, Signature of All Things), Mysterium Pansophicum (or, Earthly and Heavenly Mystery and the Image of the Soul), Mysterium Magnum, Clavis, and Sixty-two Theosophic EpistlesAlchemy for the Behmenist Adept is concerned with “the preparation of the great Wonder-Stone of the Wise, the signs and colour which appear in the Work, their force and effect, and what commonly and especially to take heed of while at work …”

The Little Alchemical Farmer
A sublimely humourous pastorale, The Little Alchemical Farmer (or, Der Kleine Bauer) succinctly illustrates the familiar adage that “when the novice or apprentice is ready the Master appears.” Encountered on the path “between two Mountains,” this “fine old Farmer” is a keeper of high Mystery who generously expounds upon the crude ‘Second Matter’ and the conjunction of the red and white Star-flowers (the ‘red man’ and ‘white woman’) to become “the Prima Materia ‘of all metals’.” Before vanishing into the Mountain itself, this elderly ‘country gentleman’ describes the origin and root of all metals, the ignorance of the senses and the importance of prayer, “the white Mercurial Lily-sap” (‘Azot’ or ‘Gluten Aquilae’), and “[t]he sulphuric, incombustible, fixed, red lily juice” (‘Laton’ or ‘Leo Rubeus’), and emphasises that although “from the nature of these [white and red] flowers, precious stones and pearls grow forth,” the “highest object [of concern] is to further knowledge of God, and long life, and recovery from all diseases.”

The Lead of the Wise and Its Dual Species
A Treatise entitled ‘The Lead of the Wise and Its Dual Species’, with Selected Notes, from Compass of the Wise (Compendium of the Golden and Rosie Cross) by Adam Michael Birkholz (Berlin, 1782) elaborates upon Saturn – that “fiend, foe, and death of all metals” who is also “their resurrection and life” – and the spirit of this “child-eater, father, brother, sister, destroyer of all planets, friend and enemy …” In addition to describing this “right philosophical water of separation, which by its sharpness cuts all metals and minerals,” The Lead of the Wise and Its Dual Species discusses the properties of “our raw philosophical matter,” the principal Key to the work (“our magical fire”), the female Gold or Suns, the prophet Ezekiel, “the Boneless Fish [‘Euhmais’] which swims around in the philosophical seas,” the preparation of the philosophical ferment of leaven, the amalgamation of “the true philosophical gold … with a Mercury of Saturn,” and significantly more.”

Graeco-Egyptian Alchemy and The Occult Sciences in Byzantium

Graeco-Egyptian Alchemy in Byzantium” is a paper by Michèle Mertens which may be of interest [HT David Pecotic]. You can gander at this short paper via the University of Liége’s Open Access portal. But this is an excerpt from The Occult Sciences in Byzantium edited by Paul Magdalino and Maria Mavroud, which full volume may be of further interest. Joel T Walker reviews the entire volume in Aestimatio 5 if you want a survey of the papers within the book, and there is a limited preview via Google Books as well.

“The main concern of this paper will be with the problems raised by the reception of ancient alchemy in Byzantium. After a brief introduction, I will start from the study of a pre-Byzantine author, Zosimos of Panopolis, and deal with the following questions: How, from a purely material viewpoint, were Zosimos’ writings handed down during the Byzantine period? Did Byzantine alchemists have access to his works and did they resort to them? Was Zosimos known outside the alchemical Corpus; in other words, did Graeco-Egyptian alchemists exert any kind of influence outside strictly alchemical circles? When and how was the alchemical Corpus put together? In a more general way, what evidence do we have, whether in the Corpus itself or in non-alchemical literature, that alchemy was practised in Byzantium? Answers (or at least partial answers) to these questions should help us to understand and define to some extent the place held by the ‘sacred art’ in Byzantium.

It is now universally accepted that alchemy came into being in Graeco-Roman Egypt around the beginning of our era and that it originated from the combination of several factors, the most remarkable of which are (1) the practices of Egyptian goldsmiths and workers in metals who experimented with alloys and knew how to dye metals in order to simulate gold; (2) the theory about the fundamental unity of matter, according to which all substances are composed of a primitive matter and owe their specific differences to the presence of different qualities imposed upon this matter; (3) the idea that the aim of any technique must be the mimesis of nature; (4) the doctrine of universal sympathy, which held that all elements of the cosmos are connected by occult links of sympathy and antipathy which explain all the combinations and separations of the bodies. The encounter of these different trends of thought brought about the idea that transmutation ought to be possible, all the more so with the addition of mystical daydreams influenced by gnostic and hermetic currents and favoured by the decline of Greek rationalism.” (205-206)

“Before 500 A.D., alchemy appears to be a rather marginal activity, as suggested by the absence of evidence outside the alchemical Corpus. In the sixth century, references to alchemy become increasingly numerous in Byzantine literature, but some suspicion can be perceived with regard to the sacred art, a suspicion reinforced by the schemes of swindlers. From the seventh century onwards, alchemy seems to have been perfectly well integrated into the official learning, judging by the vogue it apparently enjoyed under Heraclius. The evidence of the Marcianus (10th or 11th c.), the sumptuous decoration of which suggests that it must have been made for a high-ranking person, points in the same direction.” (228)

The Hermetic Art

Hermetic Art: Collectanea Hermetica Volume 3 [also], part of the series edited by W Wynn Westcott, one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, has recently been released this month in a newly typset and corrected edition by the Golden Dawn Research Trust, newly edited by Darcy Küntz, with an introduction by Tommy Westlund.

W Wynn Westcott Darcy Kuntz The Hermetic Art from Golden Dawn Research Trust

“This book was part of the curriculum studied by members of the original Order of the Golden Dawn. The Hermetic Art by a Lover of Philalethes is an essay regarding the Art of bringing all imperfect metals into perfection. The volumes of Westcott’s Collectanea Hermetica appeared over there three years from 1893 to 1896 when the Golden Dawn was at its peak. In every volume the intellectual integrity of the authors is evident, as is an eagerness to bring academic respectability to subjects derided by their contemporaries.

This is the first corrected edition since Westcott’s edition which was originally published in 1894. This edition has been Corrected against the original editions: Part 1 (1714); Parts 2 & 3 (1715); Westcott’s edition (1894). Parts 2 & 3 were never reprinted by Westcott and this is the first edition to contain all three Parts together. ‘The three parts transform the complete treatise into a coherent document” from Tommy Westlund’s Introduction. It also contains two reviews from 1894 and a rare illustration of an Athanor which Geber invented (1542).’

This edition was Edited Darcy Kuntz. A Note by W. Wynn Westcott; Preface to the ‘Hermetic Art’, by Sapere Aude; Preface to the ‘Hermetic Art,’ Parts II & III by A Lover of Philaletha; Introduction to the ‘Hermetic Art’ by Tommy Westlund; An Introduction to ‘Alchemy’ by S.S.D.D.; The Hermetic Art, Parts I, II, & III; Notes, Reviews and Bibliography. Hardbound. 6×9. xxxvi, 96 pp.”

Inside the Mind of an Alchemist

Inside the Mind of an Alchemist” is a video featuring featuring Larry Principe from Bytesize Science.

 

“The world of alchemy is shrouded in mystery. Alchemists tirelessly sought the recipe for the Philosophers’ Stone — a substance that could turn any base metal into pure gold. The Philosophers’ Stone would give its user untold wealth and power, so alchemists were known to operate under total secrecy. They worked in codes and symbols — to reserve their great knowledge for only those who were deemed deserving. Instead of the chemical formulas used today, alchemists created elaborate, fantastic illustrations of dragons, warriors, and monsters to represent the chemical experiments they carried out.

Centuries passed, and many historical alchemical texts and images remain undeciphered. Luckily for the history of science, we have brilliant minds like Larry Principe of Johns Hopkins University.

In our latest video, we take a look at Larry’s work: digging deep into ancient manuscripts and texts, trying to find clues and cues as to what it was that alchemists really were up to. In addition to an enormous book collection in his office, Larry has a lab where he performs ancient alchemical experiments, helping to set the record straight on the history and development of alchemy. Is he a historian of alchemy or a get-rich-quick schemer in search of the legendary Philosophers’ stone? You decide.

Video by Kirk Zamieroski
Produced by the American Chemical Society”

The True and Perfect Preparation of the Philosopher’s Stone, by the Brotherhood of the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross

The True and Perfect Preparation of the Philosopher’s Stone, by the Brotherhood of the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross Wherein the Materia for this Mystery is named by its name, also the Preparation is shown from the Beginning to the End, with all Manipulations by Sigmund Richter (Sincerus Renatus) is a new release published by Teitan Press available from Weiser Antiquarian Books.

The True and Perfect Preparation of the Philosopher's Stone from Teitan Press

“The first English language publication of The True and Perfect Preparation of the Philosopher’s Stone, by the Brotherhood of the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross, an Alchemical / Rosicrucian work by Sigmund Richter that was originally published in Breslau in 1710. In appearance the work is very much that of an alchemical textbook, describing (in the symbolic / chemical terminology of the spagyrical adept) a series of operations which culminate in the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone and “all that is necessary to the Work Ordinis Minoris and Majoris.” As described by the editor, Dr. R. A. Gilbert, “The book has two distinct but related concerns. First, it sets out the stages by which the Brothers of the [Roscicrucian] Order can succeed in preparing, making and applying the Philosopher’s Stone, but at the same time it presents a sub-text that guides the brethren into a realisation that there is a more subtle purpose to the text. It is also a guide to a parallel, spiritual change that takes place within the practitioner as he progresses with his task: material transmutation is accompanied by spiritual regeneration.” The translation was probably made between 1950 and 1960 for J.W. Hamilton-Jones (1887-1965), one of a small circle of Rosicrucian enthusiasts who had founded a very private “Order of Rose +”, and editor of two alchemical works – “The Epistles of Ali Puli” (1951) and Bacstrom’s “Alchemical Anthology” (1960) and publisher of a translation of Dr. Dee’s “Hieroglyphic Monad” (1947). Includes an appendix “Laws of the Brotherhood” as published by Sincerus Renatus, and a seven page historical Introduction by Dr. R.A. Gilbert. ” [via]