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From operative to speculative alchemy

You may have ran into the discussion when and how Freemasonry went from being “operative” (workmen doing their job) to “speculative” (thinking about the symbolism of the job and its tools). A similar distinction is sometimes made for Alchemy. Some alchemists actually tried to make gold from base metals, while others called such people “puffers” and were of the opinion that the transformation should take place within the alchemist himself. In a 1894 article in six parts What Is Alchemy? the British author Arthur Waite (1857-1942) suggests that alchemy had a similar transition from ‘operative’ and ‘speculative’, or at least, that these two approaches existed. Waite uses the descriptions: “physical and transcendental alchemy” and wonders where both originate. Waite has various places of ‘origin’ of Alchemy: Egypt/Greece, Byzantium, Arabia and Syria. Later, following a lead of Helena Blavatsky, he adds China to the list. Alchemy in these countries and regions… Read More »From operative to speculative alchemy


Tarot is a subject that has only interested me mildly. I enjoy the symbolism of the cards, but that is about it. At some point I bought myself a ‘Crowley tarot’, mostly because the cards that are drawn by Frieda Harris (1877-1962). See the card on the right above. Some time ago I was reading something and the author kept referring to symbols on the Rider/Waite tarot (second from the right above) but without images. The images for this deck are drawn by Pamele Colman Smith (1878-1951) and designed by the (in)famous Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942). Rider was the company that first published the deck. I do not have the deck myself, so I grabbed my Crowley tarot and I remembered just how great these cards look. They were not all that helpful for the text that I was reading though. So I figured I should read up a bit… Read More »Tarot

The nine worlds in nordic mythology

I remember yet the giants of yore Who gave me bread; in the days gone by Nine worlds I knew, the nine in the Tree With mighty roots beneath the mold. (Völuspa 2, translated by Ari Óðinssen) This is the second verse from the Poetic Edda. “Nine worlds I knew, nine in the Tree”. The nine worlds come back in Northern mythology more often, such as in Alvíssmál 9 in which the dwarf Alvis says: “All the nine worlds I have travelled over” and also Vafthrudnir has travelled to nine worlds (VafÞrúðnismál 43). Because the concept is rather vague, it has been open to speculation what exactly these nine worlds are. Óðinssen writes in a note to the quoted verse: “Nine worlds are Asgarth, home of the Aesir, Ljossalfheimr, home of the ljossalfar, or ‘light’ elves, Mithgarth, ‘middle-ground’ home of mankind, Vanaheimr, home of the Vanir, in this manuscript referred… Read More »The nine worlds in nordic mythology

The Balder play

The beginning of this tale is, that Balder dreamed dreams great and dangerous to his life. When he told these dreams to the asas they took counsel together, and it was decided that they should seek peace for Balder against all kinds of harm. So Frigg exacted an oath from fire, water, iron and all kinds of metal, stones, earth, trees, sicknesses, beasts and birds and creeping things, that they should not hurt Balder. When this was done and made known, it became the pastime of Balder and the asas that he should stand up at their meetings while some of them should shoot at him, others should hew at him, while others should throw stones at him; but no matter what they did, no harm came to him, and this seemed to all a great honor. Gylfaginning 49, Rasmus Anderson translation I am sure most of you know the… Read More »The Balder play

Cubic stones from the sky

Johannes Bureus (1568-1652) (about him and his system more in other articles) said that his “15 adalrunor [“noble runes”] [were] inscribed on a cubical stone which fell from the heavens as a sign of the powerfull divinity on the mediator between God and Man.” (Flowers 1998, p. 12). For Bureus, runes formed the most ancient, original and divine language and the many runestones that can be found in Bureus’ country (Sweden) were mediators between the world of men and the upper world. The fact that Bureus ‘chose’ a cubic stone that fell from the sky is interesting. Bureus was fairly well informed about the ancient mythology of Scandinavia. His information was mostly ‘second hand’, such as the writings of Roman historians. His understanding of the native mythology was therefor indirect, linking Roman (or southern European) gods with the gods of the ancient North. With all the present-day information about Teutonic… Read More »Cubic stones from the sky

(Runic) magical formulae

I had never really looked at the subject of runic inscriptions, let alone magical runic inscriptions. Once I read a nice article on the Dutch website about the magical words “Alu” and Laukaz” in runic inscriptions, my interest was caught by the inscription on a bone-amulet found in Lindholm, Sweden (see image above this article): ek erilaz sa wilagaz hateka : aaaaaaaazzznn(n?)bmuttt : alu : Similar inscriptions were found, such as “kk. kiiii. kkk” on the Ellestad stone, “ltlsssiiikutramsstltttll” (Nore stave church, Norway), “laþu aaduaaaliia alu” (Funen bracteate), or “þmkiiissstttiiilll” which can be read on both the Ledberg and the Gorlev stone. It is funny to read what interpretations can be given to these lines of runes. Arild-Hauge, for example, gives an inscription that goes “r.a.þ.k.m.u:iiiiii:ssssss:tttttt:iiiiii:llllll” (“This inscription is attached to the Galder song Buslubæn, i.e. Bula’s curse, which is written in Bóse’s saga.”) and says: “The inscription is… Read More »(Runic) magical formulae

The philosophical Renaissance in Italy

What we usually hear about the Renaissance is that it was a period in history that came after the Middle Ages with a growing economy, early investigations of the universe and an upliving (“rebirth”) of the classical antiquitiy in art and literature. The invention of bookprinting also resulted in a much faster spreading of new ideas to a wider audience. About these ideas many people don’t know much though. In academic circles there have been available writings of or about for example Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) or Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), but it was mainly Frances Amelia Yates (1890-1981) who also wrote for a larger audience. Subjects of Yates include the early Christian Cabala, the Hermetic tradition, the named thinkers or “the occult philosophy in the Elizabethan age”. Later also writers such as Michael Baigent (1948-) and Richard Leigh (1943-2007) picked up such subjects, but they had a much more populistic approach.… Read More »The philosophical Renaissance in Italy

The occult Renaissance

a word of advice: you may want to read my article about “the philosophical renaissance in italy” first to put things in a wider perspective and for background information. In my article “The Philosophical Renaissance In Italy” I have written about the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy focussing on the philosophical side. In this article I will leave Italy and since especially in other countries there came a more esoteric side, I will speak some more about that. In the mentioned article I told about the humanist tradition as starting-point for Renaissance-thinking. Ironically enough, humanism outside Italy has brought forth two very opposital movements. One is the more occult movement, the other led to the reformation and the coming up of Protestantism. Initially the two weren’t too hostile towards each other, but later there came friction and when the Catholics started to win back territory (the so-called counter-reformation) occultism… Read More »The occult Renaissance

Steganographia vs Theurgia/Goetia

In my article about Angel Magic I very shortly compared the Steganographia of Trithemius with the second book of the Lemegeton: Theurgia/Goetia (T/G). In this article I will make a slightly closer investigation of the differences and the similarities of the two writings. For this purpose I used the Latin Steganographia and the English T/G from and the translation of the T/G by S.L. MacGregor Mathers that can be found online on several pages. Later I also checked the English translation of the Steganographia by Adam McLean (it is still available, but very expensive, so I went to the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica to see it). Comparing the two writings it becomes very clear that Trithemius used the older writing as basis for his own work. Not only the names of the angels, dukes, etc. are almost always roughly the same, but even the order corresponds mostly. Both books speak… Read More »Steganographia vs Theurgia/Goetia

The Monas Hieroglyphica of John Dee (1527-1608)

However the best-known work of Dee, his Monas Hieroglypica is by far his most mysterious and difficult one. Other writings are accounts of his conversations with angels, the Monas was written through direct inspiration by God in a trance-like state. In a preface and 24 ‘theorems’ Dee wants to “revolutionize astronomy, alchemy, mathematics, linguistics, mechanics, music, optics, magic, and adeptship” to quote Joe Peterson in the short intro of his online version of the text. Dee starts to explain that the circle and the line are the first forms in creation and therefor come back in the hieroglyph. The point in the circle is the earth and the circle the sun (a circle with a point is also the Egyptian symbol for the sun), the crescent is of course the moon and adds to the idea of the sun. Together they are day and night, the first day of creation… Read More »The Monas Hieroglyphica of John Dee (1527-1608)