Tag Archives: alchemists

The Golden Thread

The Golden Thread: The Ageless Wisdom of the Western Mystery Traditions by Hermetic Library fellow Joscelyn Godwin, with an foreword by Richard Smoley, a 2007 paperback from Quest Books, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Joscelyn Godwin The Golden Thread from Quest Books

“The ancient sages of the Western Mystery Traditions passed on a knowledge beyond reason, allowing us to access transcendent states that reveal our own nature and that of the cosmos. Such sages exist in every age and elevate all of humanity, says Joscelyn Godwin, whether we realize it or not. Among those whose wisdom traces from antiquity to the present include:

  • Hermes Trismegistus
  • Zoroaster
  • Orpheus
  • Pythagoras
  • Plato
  • the Gnostics, the alchemists
  • and the Rosicrucians, Freemasons, and Theosophists

Each stage is always with us, Godwin emphasizes, and so each offers a potential source of inspiration and action for today.” — back cover

 

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The Dark Side of the Enlightenment

The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason by John V Fleming, from W W Norton, is a new release that may be of interest [HT Arts & Letters Daily, also].

John V Fleming's The Dark Side of the Enlightenment from W W Norton

 

“Why spiritual and supernatural yearnings, even investigations into the occult, flourished in the era of rationalist philosophy.

In The Dark Side of the Enlightenment, John V. Fleming shows how the impulses of the European Enlightenment—generally associated with great strides in the liberation of human thought from superstition and traditional religion—were challenged by tenacious religious ideas or channeled into the ‘darker’ pursuits of the esoteric and the occult. His engaging topics include the stubborn survival of the miraculous, the Enlightenment roles of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, and the widespread pursuit of magic and alchemy.

Though we tend not to associate what was once called alchemy with what we now call chemistry, Fleming shows that the difference is merely one of linguistic modernization. Alchemy was once the chemistry, of Arabic derivation, and its practitioners were among the principal scientists and physicians of their ages. No point is more important for understanding the strange and fascinating figures in this book than the prestige of alchemy among the learned men of the age.

Fleming follows some of these complexities and contradictions of the ‘Age of Lights’ into the biographies of two of its extraordinary offspring. The first is the controversial wizard known as Count Cagliostro, the ‘Egyptian’ freemason, unconventional healer, and alchemist known most infamously for his ambiguous association with the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, which history has viewed as among the possible harbingers of the French Revolution and a major contributing factor in the growing unpopularity of Marie Antoinette. Fleming also reviews the career of Julie de Krüdener, the sentimental novelist, Pietist preacher, and political mystic who would later become notorious as a prophet.

Impressively researched and wonderfully erudite, this rich narrative history sheds light on some lesser-known mental extravagances and beliefs of the Enlightenment era and brings to life some of the most extraordinary characters ever encountered either in history or fiction.”

The Arch-Conjuror of England: John Dee, By Glyn Parry

The Arch-Conjuror of England: John Dee, By Glyn Parry” is a book review by Ronald Hutton of a new biography of John Dee, due to release in the states in April, from Yale University Press. (HT @t3dy)

“One of the most colourful and least respectable figures of the European Renaissance was the magus, a scholar, expert in the hidden wisdom of the created world, who sought the power to manipulate it to the advantage of (depending on his degree of probity) himself, his employers or humanity.

The most familiar such character in fiction is of course Dr Faustus, but the best known in real life is John Dee, a Londoner of Welsh blood who haunted the English and other royal courts throughout the late 16th century.

Much has been written about him in modern times, though little has been produced by experts in his period. To most historians he represents a tragic waste of talent; a brilliant scientist who was diverted into a fruitless attempt to converse with angels, thereby ruining his career and reputation and falling prey to the demented or unscrupulous adventurers who posed as his mediums: above all Edward Kelley, who combined both characteristics and, at one point, even persuaded Dee to swap wives with him under angelic instruction. Modern ritual magicians, by contrast, have seen Dee as a hero who discovered an occult system of genuine validity.

But in Glyn Parry, he has at last attracted a biographer with a talent for uncovering fresh archival material, who has conducted thorough research both into his life and the circles in which he moved.

The basic argument of the resulting book is that Dee was not an anomalous figure at the court of Queen Elizabeth, because that monarch and her leading courtiers – like their counterparts on the Continent – were deeply interested in the occult arts and sciences and were prepared to invest large sums in practitioners who promised material gains from them. As a result, they tapped into an underworld of alchemists and ritual magicians who became tangled up in turn with royal policy-making, political rivalry, and conspiracy.” [via]

Aleister Crowley is acknowledged as one of the Earth’s historic alchemists in an article about acting

Aleister Crowley is acknowledged as one of the Earth’s historic alchemists in an article about acting at “Nicolas Cage: alchemist and shaman?” by DJ Pangburn. I suppose it’s novel that Crowley is being called out as an alchemist, in a positive light. (The snide comment I want to make is, “why the prejudice against alchemists from other planets?” But, I won’t stoop … Oops.)

 

“Earth’s history is rich with alchemists—Albertus Magnus, Hermes Trismegistus, Nicolas Flamel, Isaac Newton, Aleister Crowley, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Paracelsus, John Dee, Terrence McKenna and even Carl Jung. Alchemy was a proto-science that paved the way for modern science (chemistry, modern medicine, physics) but also had a spiritual, shamanistic aspect.

This is not to say that alchemists and shamans were and are officially coterminous, only that they both aspire to a better understanding of existence through various means: mysticism, magic, study, and drugs (which we know shamans have done, though whether Alchemists ever did is uncertain. In fact, McKenna attempted to synthesize alchemy with shamanism in various lectures, and described alchemists as pursuing a ‘magical theory of nature’ (like Shamans) in the film ‘The Alchemical Dream.'”

 

“Ghost Rider was an entirely new experience, and he got me thinking about something I read in a book called The Way Of Wyrd by Brian Bates, and he also wrote a book called The Way Of The Actor. He put forth the concept that all actors, whether they know it or not, stem from thousands of years ago — pre-Christian times — when they were the medicine men or shamans of the village. And these shamans, who by today’s standards would be considered psychotic, were actually going into flights of the imagination and locating answers to problems within the village. They would use masks or rocks or some sort of magical object that had power to it.

It occurred to me, because I was doing a character as far out of our reference point as the spirit of vengeance, I could use these techniques. I would paint my face with black and white make up to look like a Afro-Caribbean icon called Baron Samedi, or an Afro-New Orleans icon who is also called Baron Saturday. He is a spirit of death but he loves children; he’s very lustful, so he’s a conflict in forces. And I would put black contact lenses in my eyes so that you could see no white and no pupil, so I would look more like a skull or a white shark on attack.

On my costume, my leather jacket, I would sew in ancient, thousands-of-years-old Egyptian relics, and gather bits of tourmaline and onyx and would stuff them in my pockets to gather these energies together and shock my imagination into believing that I was augmented in some way by them, or in contact with ancient ghosts. I would walk on the set looking like this, loaded with all these magical trinkets, and I wouldn’t say a word to my co-stars or crew or directors. I saw the fear in their eyes, and it was like oxygen to a forest fire. I believed I was the Ghost Rider.”

 

I’m not convinced that “alchemical” is the way to describe the technique Cage uses, but it sure does sound like a magickal aspect of theatre, and related to aspecting and similar techniques from the more ecstatic traditions, modern and historic, but also the idea of assuming a Godform in more ceremonial rituals. Of course, that also brings me to think about one of the quotes from Florence Farr posted last week, actually Iamblichus quoted by Farr, “The Priest who invokes is a man; but when he commands powers it is because through arcane symbols, he, in a certain respect, is invested with the sacred Form of the Gods” [via]