January 30, 2011 § 6 Comments
Chapter 4 of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy has yet again provided rich ground for the intrepid seeker to dig into, and a host of companions to guide us in the Art. Having traveled from Alexandria, through the Islamic world, we find ourselves in the Middle Ages at the full flowering of European culture. The stone has been set in the great cathedrals, and the European alchemists pursue the Art with diligence.
“In every spot where the flowers of legend grow, underneath there is the solid earth of truth.”
– from the Alchemy Lab’s page on Nicholas Flamel
As I did with Apollonius in a prior chapter, in Chapter 4 I became enamoured with the story of Nicholas Flamel whose very name speaks to the victory for the people deeply engaged in the Art. His presence gave wealth to the surrounding community.
From his small shop at the base of the Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie I joined him on his journey to Sant’Iago de Compostela. Raising my self in imagination” in the Church-yard of the Innocents, in the fourth Arch, entering by the great gate of St. Dennis Street, and taking the way on the right hand,” as I read his Explication of the Hieroglyphic Figures, the fruit of his labors.
Today all that is left of the Church of St. James is the tower in which Flamel’s remains are housed. Pilgrims still travel West on their way to Sant’Iago de Compostela, adorning their hats with sun like shells to mark their journey. The vine of tradition still allows those who seek access to an entrance into the way.
It is for those who would seek to separate the matter from it’s root that the truth withers. As Flamel says in his Summary of Philosophy: “Now if any one plucks this unripe fruit from the tree, then its first forming would be frustrate, nor would it grow larger nor ripe; for man knows not how to give substance, nourishment, or maturity, so well as internal nature, while the fruit yet hangs on the tree, which feeds it with substance and nourishment, till the determined maturity is accomplished.”
For me this was a most illuminating chapter.
Ora, lege, lege, relege, labora et invenies
(Pray, read, read, re-read, work and discover)
January 30, 2011 § 4 Comments
Whoa. I’m an entire week late with this post. My sincere apologies, everyone. In the past 5 days, I was responsible for not one, but two residential moves… immediately followed by a 7-day cruise… which I am presently on… without my laptop… and subject to internet fees of .75/minute. Earlier this evening, I recorded a video reflection on my iPhone, but couldn’t get it uploaded to YouTube. It probably would have cost me a kidney and several pints of blood had I persisted, so following are my typed pixels instead.
Falling down the rabbit hole of rabid world history.
Last week, the burning of books. This week, the burning of bodies. The Church’s persecution and execution of those closest to Nature and Nature’s Way is obscene. Unpardonable. Diabolical. Those luminaries who resisted the stupefying homogenization of their minds are, to me, heros. The essence/etymology of the word “heresy” is “to choose.” A heretic is one who chooses. Had you and I lived during the Middle Ages, we’d all have been burned alive. So I don’t take lightly my right to publicly criticize The Church without being subjected to merciless torture and death. Still, the barbaric, ironic and most ungodly acts it decreed makes my stomach turn and my heart ache. Human history has so many savage parts… so often initiated and powered by religion. Such a twisted and perverse use of institutional power. I choose. I see. Blessed heresy.
Interestingly, Nature insists on balance and will always course-correct humanity’s idiocy. As was the case with the superstitious burning of all those precious cats. What else, but karmic justice, would have Europe lose half of its population to disease-carrying rats. Cleansing consequences for a maladaptive and corrupt species. How do you think we’re doing with learning from our historical mistakes?
Sophia. Divine feminine. Feminine divinity. Both muted by bullying patriarchy. Before the Christian Church, two-leggeds were one with the Earth as Mother/Nourishing Womb. After the Christian Church, man was expelled from the Garden of Eden, and the creation story credits Adam’s rib as the birthplace of humanity. Did you catch that? The complete dismissal of earthy goodness and vaginal/uterine goodness, wiped away in one dogmatic blow. So, in the era of extreme darkness and stupor, I thank:
Aquinas, for laying it all down at Sophia’s feet, and for writing an alchemical interpretation (Aurora Consurgens) of my favorite Biblical book — the very sensuous “Song of Songs”;
Newton, for revering the divine pattern;
Bruno, for being unbreakable and courageously refusing to recant;
Flamel, for being charitable, self-restrained and intellectually curious; and
Bacon, for being a brilliant multidisciplinarian with a boundless mind.
Visionaries see beyond the horizon, and because we live by our own rhythm we are often out-of-step with our peers and contemporaries. It is often a solitary path that chooses us. I am grateful for your company on it.
January 22, 2011 § 2 Comments
I’m quite late this week with my reflections on Chapter 3, although I hope my response posts and comments show I’ve not been completely negligent. It’s also given me the opportunity to explore the ideas in this chapter beyond what I had originally thought to discuss.
As Erika pointed out in her Chapter 3 reflections, there have been some scholars who gloss over the Egyptian origins of Alchemy. This was actually central to a discussion on Ishtar’s Gate where a commentor on Ishtar’s Chapter 1 reflections sought to disprove the Egyptian heritage of alchemy through evidence provided by linguistic studies.
While researching a response to that post I came across a very thorough examination of the Egyptian roots of alchemy by Prof. Hamed Abdel-reheem Ead, Professor of Chemistry at Faculty of Science-University of Cairo Giza-Egypt and director of Science Heritage Center, on Adam McLean’s site that provides an interesting addition and expansion of the information that Dennis provides in Chapter 3.
I was glad to hear Erika bring this up. When I was originally considering the issue in light of the discussion on Ishtar’s Gate, I had taken it as simply a misunderstanding between specialties; a linguist, unaware of research outside of their specialty, attempting to tackle and issue with only the tools that their specialization provides. When I considered what Erika said, however, I realized that this kind of omission is unfortunately very frequent in academic dialogue.
Indigenous groups, ancient societies, and people outside of a strict European descent are often assumed to have no viable culture, no capabilities and no history outside of their ‘redemption’ after being assimilated into European culture. This even goes so far as to include the tribal groups that existed in Europe prior to the expansion of the Catholic empire. The depths of this delusion are most fundamentally exposed in the fact that Judeo-Christian tradition itself is rooted in Egypt, through Joshua and Moses, something which you will be hard pressed to find addressed outside of scholarly circles.
In lieu of this, Chapter 3 provides us with a completely different picture of events, in which the contemporary Western world owes it’s finest achievements to Africa and the Middle East. The expansion of cathedral building in Europe after the 9th century shows just how deep this debt really is.
When I started to research some of the Arabic texts mentioned in this chapter, I found that the vast majority of them were not even mentioned on the internet, at least searching from the U.S. Having read translations of some of the works that later came out of this tradition, such as William Chittick’s translation of Mulla Sadra’s Elixir of the Gnostics, I know just how enlightening these works can be and it’s a sad statement on our culture that they are not easily available.
Starting this post I was going to answer a question that Willi posed to me on Twitter as to whether I thought the internet was the Philosopher’s Stone. Upon my first reflection I was going to say that the internet would be more like the Library of Alexandria, a collection of the worlds knowledge where people from all cultures come together to discuss and deliberate. However, when I considered what Erika brought up, and then found myself unable to find even a mention of works so central to culture I realized that there is a vital gap in our communication.
The Wikipedia entry for Aristotle contains only a few brief mentions of his influence on Islamic science, and the section on the loss and recovery of his works doesn’t mention Arabic culture at all beyond a very brief nod to the Islamic philosopher Averroes.
Let us never forget the source from which we draw our wisdom.
The Black Rays Race
See how the black rays of the black race
Have touched the immeasurable wisdom
And therefore the unknown quantity
See how they are not understood
Because as they are is not understood
And as what they know is what they are
See the unlimited freedom of the black rays.
– Sun Ra
Two Prayers for Alchemists
by Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803)
1. Light Supreme, who art the Divine in Nature and dwellest in its innermost parts as in Heaven, hallowed be thy qualities and laws!
2. Wherever thou art, all is brought to perfection; may the realm of thy Knowledge become subject unto thee.
3. May our will in all our work be only thee, self-moving Power of Light! And as in the whole of Nature thou accomplishest all things, so accomplish all things in our work also.
4. Give us of the Dew of Heaven, and the Fat of the Earth, the Fruits of Sun and Moon from the Tree of Life.
5. And forgive us all errors which we have committed in our work without knowledge of thee, as we seek to turn from their errors those who have offended our precepts. And leave us not to our own darkness and our own science, but deliver us from all evil through the perfection of thy Work, Amen.
Hail, pure self-moving Source, O Form, pure for receiving the Light! The Light of all things unites itself with thee alone.
Most blessed art thou among all receptive forms, and blessed is the Fruit that thou conceivest, the Essence of Light united with warm substance.
Pure Form, Mother of the most perfect Being, lift thyself up to the Light for us, now as we toil and in the hour when we complete the Work!
January 21, 2011 § 2 Comments
January 19, 2011 § 5 Comments
Willi’s latest post brought to mind the long tradition of alchemy and music. From the very beginning alchemy and sound have been tied together, through Pythagorean concepts of the harmony of the spheres, through Plato’s continued exploration of these ideas, and into the Renaissance when opera was developed as an art form capable of fully expressing the alchemical and Hermetic drama through sound, vision and storytelling.
The metallurgical drama is just one of the many facets of the alchemical Work. As Dennis points out, the Work takes place on all levels of existence. In the ancient system each metal corresponds to a planet, which in turn corresponds to a specific harmonic frequency. All of which, of course, correspond to the earthly and human microcosms.
Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens is one of the most explicit examples of this. As Adam McLean details on his alchemy website, “Michael Maier’s alchemical emblem book Atalanta fugiens was first published in Latin in 1617. It was a most amazing book as it incorporated 50 emblems with epigrams and a discourse, but extended the concept of an emblem book by incorporating 50 pieces of music the ‘fugues’ or canons. In this sense it was an early example of multimedia.”
“The thing that hath been, is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9