Category Archives: alchemy

Freemasonry: Quest For Immortality – Christopher Earnshaw (2019)

Here we have the second publication in the “Spiritual Freemasonry” series. Here the author speaks about four books. I just ordered ‘volume 3’ Freemasonry: Initiation By Light and I suppose that Freemasonry: Royal Arch which is announced for September 2020 is the fourth title.

The previously reviewed title has an interesting history of esoteric currents and how people involved in “the Revival” of Freemasonry of 1717 fit into these currents. This time there is again a lot of history, but this time dull and I do not always see its use. 70% Of the book is filled with a history of the United Kingdom. Of course some of that says something about the ‘whys’, ‘whens’ and ‘whos’ of early Freemasonry, but of much of it I fail to see the connection.

There is a short chapter about Freemasonry and Kabbala, but unfortunately Earnshaw does not say when and through whom Kabbala found its way into Masonic symbolism, while exactly that was the interesting part concerning Alchemy in the previous book.

I was curious about the parts of this book about the Medieval mystery plays, in which Earnshaw sees the origin of the third degree, but that short part is not too strong.

Towards the end there is some note of the “signposts” (see previous review) and again the Alchemical origins of Masonic symbolism. That is the better part of the book.

With the first Constitutions, the history of Freemasonry was rewritten and expanded to include a glorious legend. The first Grand Masters, George Payne, John Desagulier, together with Anthony Sayer and possibly James Andersson, rewrote the three degrees with the objective of emphasizing the immortality of the soul, at a time when that concept was under attack. (p. 198)

Maybe some stress lays on the third degree in this book, but it is not like it is a book about the third degree, just as the previous was not entirely about the second. The previous book is the more interesting also with regards to the bigger picture that Earnshaw tries to sketch.

2019 Lewis Masonic, isbn 1673308120

Freemasonry: Spiritual Alchemy – Christopher Earnshaw (2019)

The author was writing a book about spiritual Freemasonry and when the book pushed 550 pages the publisher asked to split it into three books because readers would be overwhelmed by a 500 page book. I personally would not have a problem and taken that this book is targeted at Freemasons (the publisher being Lewis Masonic) who, I guess, are used to reading too, I wonder if that was really the reason.

In any case, Spiritual Alchemy was published in August 2019. Then we have Freemasonry: The Quest For Immortality which was published in December 2019 and the upcoming Freemasonry: Initiation By Light (due April 2020). My guess was that Spiritual Alchemy was the first to read. Amazon has it listed as “spiritual Freemasonry series book 2” and towards the end I understand that the present title is mostly about the Fellow Craft degree (the second) and The Quest For Immortality about the third degree. Strange order of publishing! So when you want to read them by grade, perhaps you should wait until the Entered Apprentice book Initiation By Light.

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The Hermetic Journal 1978

Amazon.com

As I said in my earlier review of a course by Adam McLean, the author has been active with the subject for a long time. He has published a journal since 1978!

These journals are apparently scanned and made available as printing-on-demand books. The journal has run from 1978 to 1992 and are avaible for Kindle via Amazon, but also in print from Adam’s own website.

The first issues (the first two are printed in this little book) contain quite some occultism and esotericism and of course alchemy. Explanations of alchemical “mandalas”, ceremonial magick, Satanism even, can be found within these pages. Also lists of “other occult journals”, references to all kinds of groups that are active (or were, probably). Also published are translations of texts that in the time were hard to get.

All in all a varried journal with (to me) content of varying interest. It is a great idea to make such old material available again. The books are not too cheap, $ 20,- to $ 30,- per book, depending on your choice for softcover or hardcover. An advice. Go to the Amazon kindle versions of the journals were you can see the tables of content, so you can better choose which issues you are going to purchase.

How To Read Alchemical Texts – Adam McLean (2011)

Alchemywebsite.com

During my early days on the internet I had an interest in all kinds of things esoteric. I soon found Adam McLean’s Alchemy website which he started in 1995. McLean was mostly known for coloring alchemical drawings that most knew only in black and white. This was but on small part of the alchemical investigations that McLean has undertaken since the 1970’ies (!).

The website still looks pretty much like it used to. An html website with images for navigation. Now I see that the author gives urls on his website in his many books, I get an idea why that never changed.

For many years I forgot about McLean and his website even though I do buy an occasional book about Alchemy. Recently I thought to see what books are available and I noticed that there are several study courses. Some somewhat expensive, but this particular one is well-priced.

It is a 219 page book with 23 lessons that McLean suggests you take about a year to work through. Each lesson is introduced and most contain excercises. During the lessons you are introduced to different kinds of alchemical texts, practical, philosopical, Paracelsian, spiritual, cosmological, allegorical and poetic. Also McLean explains different styles and approaches. You will learn to recognise the different types of texts and will see that often one text contains different types.

The reason for the above is, and McLean keeps stressing this, to make you able to read the text as it was supposed to be. He renderings, rewritings and explanations stay as close to the original texts as possible. McLean sees no use in throwing in wild esoteric explanations to a practical text and no modern systems in allegorical. Do not read a meaning into the texts is the basis for the whole course.

The book contains no images, no tables with symbols and their explanation, even hardly a glossary. These are not the texts that the author presents. It is all about reading Alchemical texts.

As you saw, you will get a wide variety of Alchemical texts, old, less old and from practical to cosmological (but never esoteric!). Personally I did not enjoy all these different texts, but it is nice to be able to read such a variety of sources, particularly because there are also texts that are not all available in English.

2011 Alchemy Website

Al-Kimia – John Eberly (2004)

Amazon.com

The title and description of the book give an idea that the book does not live up to. The subtitle is: “The Mystical Islamic Essence of the Sacred Art of Alchemy” and the description suggests that the book presents a Traditionalistic approach to shed light on the Islamic history of alchemy. As I said, that is not exactly what the book delivers.

The book is only 136 and already on page 65 the appendices start. Up until then you mostly get biographies of Sufis. All of them undoubtedly had something with alchemy, but Eberly’s book reads more like a book about Sufism (or rather: Sufis) than a book on alchemy. The biographies are mostly just that, they give an idea of the lives of the men, but not too much about their thoughts. This may be interesting in a way, but not what I hoped for.

One appendix is an alchemical recipe, then follows the Emerald Tablet and after that a lengthy glossary of Islamic mystical and alchemical terms. This is actually a nice extra, but I would have preferred it had the book stayed closer to the subject.

2004 Sophia Perennis, isbn 9780900588488

Die Alchemie, Ihre Bedeutung Für Die Freimaurerei – Hans Fischer (2018)

Strangely enough, this book is not listed on the website of the publisher, nor are the other titles of the same author. The book is available from the Masonic Art website that is related to the publishing house (click on the cover).

“Alchemy, it’s meaning for Freemasonry” was just released. The author is a German Freemason who took up an interest in alchemy. The selling information says: “This is not a book about Alchemy, but a book about its meaning for Freemasonry”. In my opinion the author only lives up to this partially.

The square book is printed on glossy paper with many images, quite like the popular big edition works for the general audience. It is only a little over a 100 pages too. The author sketches some general information about alchemy usually in short chapters of only two pages. When you know the subject a little, nothing much will be new. There are also sidesteps to Kabbala, current day chemistry and other linked subjects. Here and there is a reference to Freemasonry, usually in cadres at the end of a chapter. Nothing much in depth here either. Both alchemy and Freemasonry has practitioners who only see the material or superficial side, while others see the spiritualism of the systems. Certain symbols can be seen on images from both systems, such as the sun and the moon, columns, stars, etc. Both systems have different stages. Of course such similarities can be mentioned, but since the author does not really go any further than naming them, a gap remains between what the book suggests it presents and what it actually does.

The little book is not a bad read though. Here and there the author has an original explanation, cross-reference or thought. To me, I ‘categorise’ the book under ‘light reading’ with mostly known information, short chapters that can be little more than introductions to subjects and many images (the original photos are moody by the way). The book seems unfinished, as if the author had an idea, was rushed into publishing it without having had the time to properly work things out.

Of course you also have to be able to read German to read the book and, as I write this, the book only seems to be available from the Masonic Art Webshop.

Fischer also wrote instruction booklets for the three “blue grades” with the mention-worthy titles Schau In Dich (‘look inside yourself’) for Entered Apprentices, Schau Um Dich (‘look around you’) for Fellowcrafts and Schau Über Dich (‘look over yourself’) for Master Masons. The size and format seems to be the same as of the current title.

2018 Leipziger Fraumaurer Verlag, isbn 9783942947138M

Arthurian Myths And Alchemy – Jonathan Hughes (2002)

I fell for the title, wondering how a writer would bring these subjects together. When I received the book I saw the rest of the title: “The Kingship of Edward IV” suggesting that this is a historical book. Indeed it is.

Actually the book is very interesting, but my mind has the habit of filtering out historical details and in a book such as this, it is already filtering while I read! Indeed, I am not good with reading detailed historical accounts and that is exactly what Hughes presents in this book.

As the title suggests, the book is about Edward IV (1442-1483). In the lengthy introduction the author sketches what came before (and a little after) him. Edward IV came to the throne at an early age. He was a very tall and handsome man and very social too. He could make anybody like him. That and some early heroics made him a relatively popular king. That is, until he realised that his youth started to escape him and he fell into a less kingly way of living.

Edward IV was not the first king who had alchemists at his court. These alchemists were not trying to make gold for the king, but they looked after his well-being, both physical and mental. What Edward also understood well, was that having an impressive lineage would heighten his esteem. For that reason there were also authors in his court building his mythological past and tracing it back to Troy, Greek heroes, but also King Arthur. In this way the court of Edward IV included famous men like Georges Ripley (1415-1490) (of the famous alchemical Ripley Scrolls) and Thomas Malory (1415-1471) (of Le Morte d’Arthur). That is not something I heard before!

What may be even more interesting is that these subjects indeed do come together. Where the Ripley Scrolls (there are different versions) are mostly alchemical, there are similar scrolls with (mythological) genealogies that also contain alchemical symbolism. What is also new to me, is the author’s way of explaining such alchemical drawings which he gives political meanings.

And so Hughes sketches a (to me) new approach to alchemy which is not just the changing of metals or a spiritual practice, but a method that was used in a wider manner in these days. Very interesting indeed, but the overwhelming amount of historical details gave me problems with attentively reading the book… If you have less problems with history lessens, you might be interested in this one.

2002 Sutton Publishing, isbn 0750919949

The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy For Personal Transformation – Dennis William Hauck (1999)

A while ago I wanted to read a book that treats alchemy as a spiritual path rather than giving the next history of “proto science”.

Unfortunately my opinion about this book is similar to Ambelain’s Spiritual Alchemy. There are interesting parts, but also large parts that are more like a “spiritual guidebook”.

Contrary to Ambelain, Hauck’s book does not have the best part in the beginning. The book starts a bit as a Dan Brown like book with a story about Hermes Trismegistus and which historical characters (mind the “s”) have been Hermes. A story about a young man who finds the Emerald Tablet, figures out the meaning, reaches enlightenment and becomes the third Hermes. Not quite the type of book I was looking for…

The author sees the Emerald Tablet as the original and major text of esotericism and when its secrets are unraveled, both spiritual and material alchemy belong to your abilities. And so Hauck traces the Emerald Tablet through the ages and regions of the world. Along with that journey Hauck tells about alchemists, Hermetists, old and contemporary. Also he has information about more general spiritual development and comes with meditation practices and the like. He also uses the phases of alchemy to explain phases in spiritual growth and each phase gets an autobiographical story. More interesting (to me) is that he also explains a few alchemical drawings (mostly from Atalanta Fugiens) at length, pointing at details that I never noticed.

Overal I found The Emerald Tablet not a boring book, but there are large parts that I read through quite rapidly and only a few parts that are actually interesting.

1999 Penguin Books, isbn 0140195718

Spiritual Alchemy – Robert Ambelain (2005)

When I heard of this book, an interest in the more interesting side of alchemy was stirred. There are plenty book about the history of alchemy, but I was very interested to run into a book that portrays Alchemy as a spiritual path. I found an English translation freely available online. The translation is from the hand of no one less than Pierce Vaughan who apparently translated the French works of the French Martinist Robert Ambelain (1907 – 1997) in the year 2005 and put them online as PDFs at the website AlchemyStudy.com.

The book starts promising. Ambelain starts to explain Alchemy as a coherent structure of symbolism and opens with a dictionary. After a while the book more leans towards being a spiritual guidebook with practices and prayers.

Ambelain proves to have been inspired by interesting fellows such as Jean Baptiste Willermoz (1730-1824) and Martinés de Pasqually (1727-1774).

Like I said, the book starts interestingly, but gets less so along the way. But since the book is free and now available for non-French-reading audiences, it does not hurt to give it a go. There is more too!

Translated and published digitally in 2005 by Piers Vaughan

The Forge And The Crucible – Mircea Eliade (1956/78)

I enjoy reading about alchemy and I love the books of Mircea Eliade. So how does it come that I did not read Eliade’s book about alchemy? Time to fix that!

The Forge and the Crucible is a relatively small book which is based on a paper that Eliade wrote as a student. In the second edition Eliade did not rewrite his book, but he did add a (not too interesting) essay on the latest developments in the research in the field.

Eliade’s book on “The Origins and Structure of Alchemy” (the subtitle) is not your usual book about alchemy. It has not many fancy images and does not try to explain alchemical symbolical drawings. Rather, Eliade approached the subject as a “historian of religions”. So he starts with religious views on meteorites and metals, continues with smiths and and metal-working in the iron age and only slowly works towards the period which most books about alchemy are about. Eliade collected information of a vast number of “primitive” societies and their metal-workings, offerings to the furnace and trance-induced visions. Smiths, warriors and eventually initiation.

A few short chapters are dedicated to Chinese and Indian alchemy and of course you will read about Western alchemy as well.

The Forge and the Crucible is very much an ‘Eliade book’ and will make an interesting read to people who enjoy the author, but also to those who like another take on the subject.

1956 (first edition), 1978 (second edition) The University Of Chicago Press, isbn 0226203905