Category Archives: alchemy

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. read more

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

Alchemy And The First Degree Of Craft Freemasonry * Paul Hardacre (2013)

Now this is unfortunate and also a little awkward. I discovered this publishing house because they published a book by Angel Millar. I ordered a few titles, but one item was out of stock. For a while I was inquiring about the last item and when I thought I could just buy a title that I wanted to get anyway and inquire again, this might help. It did! Good. Then I -quite by accident- run into a ‘blog’ saying that the publishing house will seize to exist because of financial problems…

Yep, Salamander and Sons will publish no more books. In fact, they will sell their leftover stock until 31 March 2016 and the remaining items will be destroyed. This is too bad, because Salamander and Sons published some interesting items on alchemy and a few similar subjects. The books look great and are not too expensive.

The present title is a lecture of the publisher that he held before his own Masonic lodge in Thailand. It is only just over 30 pages and Hardacre speaks about (not surprisingly) alchemy and Freemasonry. Only on a few occasions these two subjects seem to come together, but the little book makes a nice read to tell you a little about both subjects from the title.

Get it, before it is gone…

2013 Salamander and Sons

Three Treatises of Art * Russell Yoder (2014)

Another small booklet of Salamander and Sons and, coincidentally or not, also translated and edited by Russell Yoder.

This time Yoder translated three texts, this time from the 18th century. The first, and nicest, text is Alchemy for the Behmenist Adept. Apparently in the 18th century USA there lived alchemists who were followers of Jacob Boehme (1575-1624). Boehme is more famous for his Christian, mystical writings, but he also wrote of alchemy. The compiler of the anthology even makes it seem as if Boehme writes of ‘physical alchemy’ and some remarks even suggests that he did practice this, or at least, saw it being practiced. The compiler made a nice text, mostly consisting of quotes from various works of the Teutonic philosopher.

Then follows an esoteric tale about an alchemist who found a “little farmer” who proves to be far superiour in knowledge to the traveller. So much even that the farmer does not give away his secrets.

The last translation is a number of texts from the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer (founded around 1760) who form one of the sources of German highgrade Freemasonry. The texts are also alchemical in nature.

68 Pages in, again, a relatively expensive title, but a nice read nonetheless, especially the first text.

2014 Salamander and Sons, isbn 978098720654

Hyleal, Pri-material, Catholic, or Universal Natural Chaos * Henricus Khunrath (2014)

A long time ago I ran into the publisher FBN Press. This must have been before June 2007 when I went from an html website to WordPress. FBN Press has a whole range (some 300) republications of texts of which the copyright has expired. Many of these texts are alchemical. I bought and ‘reviewed’ quite a few of these A5 photocopied and thin booklets. I have no idea if FBN Press is still running, but they do still have some sort of website.

A while ago I was looking to get the books of Angel Millar. One of these books is published on the Thai publisher Salamander and Sons. This publisher proved to publish a whole range of alchemical books too, of recent alchemists (Lapidus), but also of more famous, Renaissance alchemists, such as Heinrich Kunrath (1560-1605). The current title is a selection of the famous Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae (Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom). A very small selection too! The little book is only 38 pages, while the Kessinger reprint of the Latin version has 288 pages according to Amazon. The FBN Press booklets have similar sizes, but Salamander and Sons’ publications look a lot better. That shows in the price. It is $ 15,- (plus shipping) when you get it from the publisher, $ 20,- when you get it from Amazon. Quite a price for a 38 page book.

The anthology and translation is made by Russell Yoder who published similar works. He added another translation of his of the 1704 text From F.R.C., an alchemical, Rosicrucian poem.

Khunrath’s text is certainly what you can call a “Hermetic text” in the contemporary meaning of the word. It full of heap of symbolism, references, Latin phrases (usually not translated), with beautiful images in which he also uses different languages. In his text Khunrath continuously cross-refers to practical and philosophical alchemy. He describes how everything comes from “Hyleal, Pri-material, Catholic, or Universal Natural Chaos” and works towards perfection. The text is an amusing, but not easy, read; nicely published, but -like I said- in a fairly expensive little book.

2014 Salamander and Sons, isbn 0987520644

Alchemy * Titus Burckhardt (1960/2006)

This book was originally published in German in 1960 and already in 1967 there was an English translation. In 1997 Fons Vitae republished this English translation which was reprinted only in 2006. The Fons Vitae version is beautiful to see. The book is a bit more yellow than in the picture, has a wonderfull, minimalistic design and a matt cover.

Anyway, Burckhardt (1908-1984) wanted to show that alchemy was actually a “science of the cosmos, science of the soul” (as the subtitle goes) and not the proto-science (or worse: ‘primitive science’) that is so often made of it. In little over 200 pages Burckhardt speaks about alchemical symbolism and the aims and goals of alchemy. His Traditionalistic approach makes the book a wonderfull read in which you will not only learn a lot about alchemy, but you will also be able to see it as a spiritual path. Contrary to some Traditionalistic writers, Burckhardt offers a nice read in a stimulating tone. Lastly, the author reproduces several images that I never saw, mostly from manuscripts that he found in the Basle University library.

A wonderfull book indeed.

1960 Alchemie; 2006 Fons Vitae, isbn 1887752110