Tending the hearth fire – Practical steps towards the Art of Contemplation

November 6, 2013 § 4 Comments


“An example of – living import of esoteric symbols – versus abstract intellectual considerations is relationship to the symbol of the god Pan amongst those who actually live with uncastrated horned male goats and those who look at pictures of Pan in books. If you live with some horned bucks for awhile you will never think of Pan the same way again – and your re-thinking will help put the anemia trends of modern culture, and shallow humanism, in perspective. This goes for other uses of horned goat symbolism as well – without the living experience one misses the visceral, tangible, musk of meaning.”

Traktung Yeshe Dorje., who is a goat farmer amongst other things

One of the oft repeated phrases from the Zen tradition is the simple statement: “Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.”  However, I wonder how many people access the depth of this beyond the basic concept of the paradox between awareness of the whole while maintaining a presence in partiality. When I’ve seen this phrase used, it is in the context of justifying the supposed enlightenment of executives via contemporary spiritual practices, or as a comforting phrase issued to folks who still feel like crap after years of meditation and supposed practice.  Most often, it seems to me, to be nothing more than an excuse for lax practice in light of the assumption that greater understanding gives greater freedom in using and interacting with the material world.

Traktung Yeshe Dorje’s statement regarding Pan seems very apt in this instance. Intellectualizing leads to excuses based on logic, and proper footing on the path is never established by excusing a misstep.  The centrality of fire, and properly working with fire, to the Great Work makes it pertinent that contemporary practitioners, who rarely encounter fire in an uncontrolled setting, have an actual understanding of working with fire itself, rather than simply an intellectual understanding of what phrases like the aforementioned Zen koan might mean.

Gathering the Tinder

To chop wood, one must have wood to chop.  A freshly cut tree is not suitable for a fire, the wood is green and contains too much moisture to light properly. On the flip side, wood that has been left too long has already lost much of its density, and will burn up too fast to keep a decent fire.  If it has rained, or if the wood has been exposed to the natural moisture that collects throughout the night, it will be difficult to use and has to be dried, or carefully put on top of the fire once its going, before it is useful.  Damp wood can be used after the initial fire is lit to build up the hot coals which will carry the fire through, since the wetter wood will turn to coals before it properly lights, but too much of that will put out your fire as the wetter wood takes more energy to burn than the dry wood.

In the same way, wood that is too thick doesn’t light fast enough to start a fire, and wood that is too thin will provide a good start, but won’t keep the flames going very long.  Gathering the wood for the fire requires one to think this all through, picking out the right pieces for the beginning and end of the work.

Chopping Wood

It seems easy enough to go out and start chopping away, but in actual practice this is one of the most difficult tasks in the whole process. While you’re chopping you’re either cold, since you’ve yet to get enough wood to start a fire, or you are seeking the proper rhythm to have enough wood chopped to keep the fire going hot enough to light the new wood you are preparing.

Whether you are using a saw, hatchet or an axe (I’d recommend avoiding motor driven tools if you really want to use this as a contemplative act, although if you’re truly in need of a fire you’ll howl blessings to the wind for the invention of motorized saws) you have to be careful to keep the blade sharp in order for it to remain effective. This isn’t just a matter of getting the whet stone or grinding wheel ready, you want to keep your tools in order while you are using them. Frequent sharpening will eventually wear down the blade, and it’s best to learn how to use the blade properly while you are chopping so that you don’t knick or dull it.

To use the blade properly requires that you understand the grain of the wood you are chopping, use a minimum of cuts, and avoid the initial impulse to jump in and start hacking at the wood with straight cuts.  In practice this creates a rhythmic and circular motion which provides an amazing ground for working on much deeper levels wherein the individual becomes one with the work itself.

Lighting the Fire

Once you have your wood, you still have to light the initial fire. My most recent experiences in fire tending have been in the woods of North Georgia, where pine is easily available. Because pine cones require heat to seed properly, pine trees have developed in a way that encourages forest fires.  When a pine tree dies the sap and resin slowly accumulates at the base of the tree. This resin is incredibly flammable, and with a lightning strike will ignite instantly. In terms of fire tending this makes these resinous pine wood pieces perfect for starting a fire.

If the smaller pieces of wood you start out with are dry enough, a few chunks of resinous pine will be enough to get things going. However, if you are working with damper wood, you need some extra tender. Again the pine tree provides this in the form of dried pine needles, which can be mixed with dry leaves and other flammable forest debris, to form a nice start to get a good flame going.

Tending the Fire

You often hear people praising the virtues of a “roaring fire,” but in practice a roaring fire means you’ve just wasted a lot of time on getting something going that’s going to burn out faster than you need it to.  It’s good to get the fire going hot at first, so that the initial coals forming beneath it can ignite new wood, but once you’ve got those coals hot you need to keep the fire going steady rather than encouraging a tower of visually impressive flames.

The large, dense wood that provides the best material for a long burning fire doesn’t necessarily carry a flame very well, and without tending will turn to hot embers more often than it will provide a steady, visible fire. To keep the larger pieces going requires the fire to be fed occasionally with smaller pieces that burn more quickly and will maintain the flames while the larger wood heats up.

As mentioned earlier, once the fire is going, wood that still has some moisture in it can act as a good control for the burn. While it is drying, the wetter wood uses more energy from the fire than the dry wood, and can be used to maintain the proper heat and slow down the tendency towards a towering inferno.  In addition to using moisture to maintain the right burn, one has to be careful with air flow to make sure that the fire is fed with enough oxygen and not smothered with too much wood. This means learning how to properly place the wood to maintain the passage of air, as well as occasionally blowing on the coals or fanning them to control the heat.

Repeat the Process

Now that the fire is lit, hopefully burning at a steady pace, you repeat the whole process that started with gathering wood, and if you are living in a traditional setting where fire is the basis of your heat, cooking, and protection, this repetition is continuous.

Ora Lege Lege Lege Relege labora et Invenies

Pray, Read, Read, Read Again, Labor and Discover…

Hopefully in reading this, you realize that there are greater mysteries expressed and available here than just fire tending, although, at the same time, fire tending itself is mystery enough.  Even understanding this process on a basic, practical level, you are working in a very deep way with all four traditional elements, and in contemplating the process you are given access to working at a very deep level through the simple act of tending the hearth fire and cutting wood. The right cut, the right heat, gentle attention. dissolving into the living tree, the dead tree, the hatchet, the cut, the fire, the ash,  the ground, and then again the tree. If you are using a wood burning stove, or other container for the fire, you immediately have access to understanding the work of ‘fire’ within the ‘body of Nature,’ although a simple fire pit gives more direct access to a broader application of this.

If all of this sounds rather simplistic and mundane, and not the kind of thing you’d expect from the ‘Royal Art,‘ I would encourage you to read Jacob Boehme’s work The Clavis, or Key, which uses the esoteric symbology of a candle, a more basic object than a full fledged hearth fire,  to access very profound levels of contemplation. When you get out in the woods and start working with the actual elements, contemporary psychological justifications of a seemingly obvious Zen koan (or the rare Art of Alchemy) become rather humorous. That is, in the brief moments when you aren’t absorbed in focusing on chopping wood and carrying water.

David Metcalfe is a researcher, writer and multimedia artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, The Revealer, the online journal of NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, and The Daily Grail. He writes regularly for Evolutionary Landscapes, Alarm Magazine, Modern Mythology, Disinfo.com, The Teeming Brain and his own blog The Eyeless Owl. His writing has been featured in The Immanence of Myth (Weaponized 2011), Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color & Music (Alarm Press, 2011) and Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness (North Atlantic/Evolver Editions 2012). Metcalfe is an Associate with Phoenix Rising Digital Academy, and is currently co-hosting The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

The Rosicrucian Alchemy Museum in San Jose

August 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

Some very exciting news from the International Alchemy Guild, the AMORC, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California and world renowned esoteric scholar, and practicing alchemist, Dennis W. Hauck. They are currently working on developing an alchemy museum that is planned to open in 2015!!!

From the International Alchemy Guild website:

The Alchemy Museum and Lab will be the first museum of its kind in the United States and the largest in the world. The museum will include a working Alchemy Laboratory with work stations for up to twelve students at a time. Classes on plant and mineral alchemy will be presented by visiting alchemists and herbalists.

The Museum and Laboratory will be dedicated on the Summer Solstice 2015, and classes will begin the following month. In anticipation of the opening of the Alchemy Museum and Lab, highlights of the collection will be featured in an Alchemy Exhibit in the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum beginning on the Summer Solstice 2014. (Alchemy Guild members receive free admission to the Egyptian Museum.)

Dennis William Hauck has been appointed Project Curator and Designer. More information can be found at the Rosicrucian Alchemy Museum page.

The Museum is looking for old or new lab equipment and glassware, drawings, paintings, old books, utensils, etc. Any donations will be publicly acknowledged and are tax deductible for the value of the item(s). We will help you arrange shipping or pickup.To donate exhibit material, please fill describe the item(s) in the form at: DONATE EXHIBITS and LABWARE

Please donate financially to help this dream become a reality. You can use a credit card to donate at:  ALCHEMY MUSEUM DONATIONS

Select “Alchemy Museum and Lab” in the “Contribute To” drop down menu. All donations are tax deductible.

To volunteer to help promote the museum or assist in the assembly of exhibits in San Jose, please contact Dennis William Hauck through the Guild Contact Form. To apply for job and volunteer opportunities in the Rosicrucian organization, go to Rosicrucian Opportunities.

Join our Facebook Alchemy Museum Group to provide feedback and suggestions for this exciting project! Be sure to like our Facebook Alchemy Museum Fan Page!

On the True Face of Hermes, by Tim Pendry

March 18, 2012 § 3 Comments

HermesTrying to pin down the archetype of Hermes is, by its very nature, absurd. Hermes in his many manifestations is Heraclitean flux turned into psychological form. Loki and Legba are analogues from other cultures. Quicksilver is the metallic analogue, a metal that behaves like a liquid and appears to be neither fully.

The Archetype

What is this archetype? – one of gaps and silences, shape-shifting, the hidden, movement, the flow of music, thought and being, exchange and acquisition, chance and the fleeting moment of decision or indecision, the momentary, the instinctual and so persuasion, illusion and trickery.

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Rose Nobles

January 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Edward III Noble

“The only coinage of nobles which has been attributed to alchemy was that made by Edward III in 1344.  The gold used in this coinage is supposed to have been manufactured in the Tower, the adept in question was not Raymond Lully, but the English Ripley.”

– From Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers,  by Arthur Edward Waite (1888)

We know that a good story, told with assurance and a sanguine nod, is an entryway to a complex house. Generations can pass inside, each new teller in turn captivated by the intricacies of  it’s construction.  Whispers of hidden halls draw some deeper, seeking temple foundations beneath a common wood floor.

And then someone passes by and mentions the entire house, history and all, is built with ephemeral and misleading words, oh you thought that was a hallway? You must have misread, or misheard, you’re still standing awkward, awaiting entrance on the porch outside.

There is a story that recounts Raymond Lull’s time minting coins for King Edward in the Tower of London. This story is a perfect example of the houses we are discussing, its construction paid for with 14th century gold coins, minted in the 15th century. Shall we investigate?

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The Black Madonna

August 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

The Black Madonna phenomenon is a continuing enigma in the study of Medieval Christianity.  They appear in churches from Eastern Europe to Spain, no different than other statues of the Madonna and Child except that they are inexplicably made of black or dark brown material.  In alchemical lore they play a part in the fact that Nicolas Flamel’s definitive pilgrimage found him traveling to a site in Spain where one of the icons of the Black Madonna is venerated.

Theories about the origins of these icons abound, from the mundane idea that these are merely standard depictions of the Madonna having lost their original patina, or that were simply carved from materials that were black and left as is, to a whole host of esoteric explanations regarding secret cults and heterodox visions of the Divine.

I hope that it is apparent to any student of the Mysteries that such explanations are never clear cut, and more than finding some empirical fact that will explain these phenomenon, it is important to meditate on them, and discover how they provide intimate keys to understanding the beauty and complexity of our shared existence.

Jaq White, on her site Stairs of Gold, provides an intriguing mediation on the significance of these figures.  The following is an excerpt from her article, The Cosmic Cycle & the Black Madonna, the whole of which is highly recommended:

“Some believe that these statues of the Black Madonna are not Christian in origin; rather, they are representations of Isis and Horus that when discovered, were wrongly identified as the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus – if so, this would certainly create the need for explanations as to why the statues were originally hidden. However, there is another possibility; the Black Madonna might never have depicted Isis but might well be an esoteric – possibly medieval – Christian symbol…

This Cosmic Cycle is incorporated in the Christian Holy Trinity; albeit in completely masculine terms, with God as heavenly father, heavenly Holy Spirit and the divine son made of earthly matter. This was enabled through the coupling of the male Holy Spirit and the “living” Virgin Mary. In Egyptian mythology, the living Isis only conceives her son Horus after the death of Osiris. He procreates from the spiritual world, when he becomes God of the Underworld.

This can be explained in alchemical terms, with the masculine Osiris, the black virginal prima materia and fixed male, uniting with the black, volatile, female, spirit of Isis his wife, conceiving and producing the Divine child Horus,  the Earthly representative of his father Osiris. The serpents have devoured one another, the Ouroboros is realised and so the Cycle continues.

The serpent has long been perceived as an enemy of Christians, and the use of serpent symbolism in Christian iconography is generally to portray sinfulness, temptation, and the fall of mankind. The serpent as a symbol of the Divine state of man would not have been acceptable, and is still not acceptable to many Christians. However, in the “Black Madonna” we have the same trinity expressed.

The Black Virgin is, like Osiris, the father and the divine, male essence. The Black Mother is, like Isis, the mother and the divine, female essence, and the product of their union is the Ouroboros, Horus – the Christ.

The Black Madonna could be another representation of the All, the trinity – and an esoteric Christian symbol of the Cosmic Cycle. “

For the entire article click here.

David – Chapters 14-17 (Practical Alchemy)

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s been quite awhile since the last reflection. As promised The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy has been much more a journey than a simple reading. My life has been moving in a number of directions this year, so it seems best to reflect as reflection comes rather than forcing anything. Suffice to say that underneath the swell of circumstance, the wisdom gained through Dennis Hauck’s introduction to the alchemical art, and the off roads it points to, has been invaluable.

In chapters 14-17 of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy we are presented with the practical nature of the art. Prior chapters, for as many full and profound revelations they hold, serve merely to massage our world view, preparing us for the reality that, yes, alchemy does involve material preparations, but, no, it is not proto-chemistry.  For within the Art, everything is alive with spirit, from a sliver of silver to a fully realized human being, everything participates in universal Life.

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The Arcanum Experiment

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Early alchemists divided their chemicals into major and minor arcana. The major arcana consisted of the four compounds: Vitriol, Natron, Liquor Hepatis, and Pulvis Solaris. Three out of the four consisted of dual ingredients that were easily separable. Vitriol could be broken down into sulfuric acid and iron. Natron appeared as sodium carbonate and sodium nitrate. Pulvis Solaris was made up of the red and black varieties.

Thus, the seven chemicals comprising the minor arcana were: Sulfuric Acid, Iron, Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Nitrate, Liquor Hepatis, Red Pulvis Solaris, and Black Pulvis Solaris. The alchemists believed that these secret chemicals could be combined in the Arcanum Experiment, the single laboratory experiment that would demonstrate the archetypal forces and evolution of the universe.

Ideally, such an experiment should succeed on many levels, not only corroborating the deepest philosophical and psychological principles, but also providing concrete evidence of their veracity. The Arcanum Experiment exposed the hidden principles connecting heaven and earth, offering a framework in which to explain both microcosmic and macrocosmic events.”

– from Sorcerer’s Stone: A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy, by Dennis William Hauck

“”The fifth rubric brings all the reactions together as the single arcanum, the united chemicals of the arcana. You have “obtained the Glory of the whole universe” by understanding the operation of the four elements on all levels: in the experiment, in our own souls, in nature, in the universe. “All Obscurity will be clear to you” points beyond the four elements to knowledge of the arcanum, your perfected soul, and the Quintessence that becomes your Stone.”

– The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal Transformation,
 By Dennis William Hauck


The ancient Egyptian Arcanum Experiment will be performed publicly
for the first time in modern history at the International Alchemy
Conference on September 16, 2011. The highly symbolic chemical
experiment demonstrates all the basic principles of alchemy and
imparts a metaphysical understanding of its operations to those
who witness it. The experiment was part of the Alexandrian
initiation process, and its secrets were encoded into alchemical
engravings, the Emerald Tablet, the Tarot, and other Hermetic

In ancient Alexandria, alchemists performed chemical
demonstrations to develop early alchemistic philosophy and
discover the underlying principles in the creation of the universe,
which they believed had to be the basic pattern for all
transformations. Many ingenious experiments were performed to
determine the nature of the First Matter and the proper order of
the appearance of the Elements, but the most important and
impressive experiment was the Arcanum Experiment.

The Arcanum Experiment used seven secret ingredients called the
Arcana: Vitriol (sulfuric acid and iron), Natron (sodium carbonate
and sodium nitrate), Red Pulvis Solaris (a sulfur-mercury compound),
Black Pulvis Solaris (a sulfur-antimony compound), and Liquor
Hepatis (a sulfur-ammonia solution). The dramatic unfolding of the
Arcanum Experiment – from the initial heavy purple cloud to a
flash of light and the final manifestation of a precipitate –
replayed the creation of the universe in a glass retort and was
instrumental in developing alchemical theory. Because of the toxic
fumes generated in the live demonstration, a video recording of
the complete experiment will be featured. Samples of the actual
ingredients will be available to participants.

During this intensive 3-hour workshop, the chemical mythology of
the ancients will be reviewed, and ancient initiatory techniques
will reveal a powerful spiritual technology that is as relevant
today as it was thousands of years ago. By connecting at the
archetypal level with the Arcana through guided visualizations and
meditations on the experimental evidence as well as relevant
alchemical drawings, participants will be given the opportunity to
experience these universal truths firsthand.

All participants receive a sample jar of purified sulfur, the
basic ingredient in the experiment. Also included is a free
70-minute DVD on the operations of alchemy revealed in the Arcanum
Experiment and how they were encoded in the Tarot, the Kabbalah,
Taoist alchemy, and other Hermetic disciplines. A Certificate of
Completion will be issued (2 credits in the Alchemy Study Program

The workshop will be conducted by author and practicing alchemist
Dennis William Hauck. The experiment was performed at his
laboratory in Sacramento, California. Hauck was initiated into
alchemy while in graduate school in Vienna and has since translated
a number of important manuscripts and published seven books on the
subject. His bestselling The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy
(Penguin Alpha 2008) is considered the best introduction to alchemy
available today, and his The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal
Transformation (Penguin 1999) presents his original research about
the mysterious artifact that inspired alchemists for centuries.
His other books include Sorcerer’s Stone: A Beginner’s Guide to
Alchemy, Alchemical Guide to Food and Herbs, Secret of the Emerald
 Tablet: The Arcanum Experiment. His website is www.DWHauck.com.

The Arcanum Experiment Workshop is Friday, September 16, 2011,
2:30-6:00 PM at the Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA.
Space is limited, so register early. $55.  You can reserve a spot at

International Alchemy Guild, P.O. Box 22309 , Sacramento, CA 95822, United State