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Kleines Mystisch-Magisches Bilderbüchlein – Heinrich Tränker (2021)

Sixth, and last, of six volumes of the Pansophia magazine of the German Pansophical Society. These magazines were published in the 1920’ies and have been reprinted by the Austrian publishing house Geheimes Wissen.

It is a “little, mythical-magical image book”. I thought/hoped that it was the society made a collection within their themes of interest. Instead, it is a republication of Daniel Stoltzius von Stoltzenberg’s Chymisches Lustgärtlein from 1624 (1) with an introduction.

In that introduction “Garuda” says that this is the clearest Alchemical text. I think I rather agree with Alexander Roob who says that the book contains beautiful engravings, but Stoltzius’ poems are hardly enlightening.

Indeed, there are images each accompanied by a poem. Some of the images were unfamiliar to me, many I know from Roob’s collection. It is amusing to read through this “Bilderbüchlein”, but it is not quite the: “A. B. C. Students of the Fraternity of the Rose Cross” that is promised.

(1) Can be found online (accessed 23/4/2024)

The First Alchemists – Tobias Churton (2023)

Churton earlier wrote well investigated, easy to read and up-to-date books about early Freemasonry, the Rosicrucians, Elias Ashmole, and “Occult Paris“. I was curious what he would bring to the story of Alchemy.

The First Alchemists is (to me) the least interesting book of Churton.

I hope this book contributes to correcting a vast historical error; namely, that alchemy may be defined as the practice of transmuting base metals into gold.

No, Churton does not stress the ‘spiritual’ side of Alchemy contrary to the ‘practical’ side. Churton mostly goes back to Zosimus who lived around 300 CE in Panopolis in Roman occupied nowadays Egypt. Zosimus wrote extensively to Theosebeia, often portrayed as his female student, but whom Churton shows had a school of her own. She did not follow Zosimus to the letter, so he often feld he had to correct her and her sources.

The most important part of this story: Zosimus and Theosebeia were not after the making of gold, but after the making of dyes. They experimented with the creation of colours to -for example- decorate statues, and gold was but one of the colours they were after. Zosimus does seem to have seen an ‘inner side’ to his art.

So rather than presenting Alchemy as a practice of creating gold, proto-chemistry or a spiritual path with rich imaginary, here you find the lives and efforts of people producing paint.

Mostly set in Roman Egypt, Churton also looks as some Jewish investigators, the Hermetic side of the story, the connection to Gnosticism and all the way towards the end also a bit about Arabic, Medieval and Renaissance Alchemy. During all this Churton frequently gives the contemporary chemist explanation of details.

Churton’s story is perhaps a realistic and fair one, but (especially compared to his other books) a bit of a dull story. What I did find amusing is that two names that I know of my visits to the Bibliotheca Philosophical Hermetica of many years ago. Frank van Lamoen wrote the introduction and Roelof van den Broek’s theory of Hermetic “lodges” which he presents in the translation of the Corpus Hermeticum that he made together with Gilles Quispel is tested.

2023 Inner Traditions, isbn 1644116839

Alchemie – Frater Daniel (2009)

Six years ago I was looking to see if the Saturn Gnosis periodical of the German group Fraternitas Saturni is available somewhere. I found the Austrian publisher Geheimes Wissen (‘secret knowledge’) and bought a book with the first five issues. Now I was looking for material of the Gold- und Rosencreutzer and I again came to this publisher (review forthcoming). Seeing what other titles they have, my eye fell on this little booklet which is also a Fraternitas Saturni publication.

For some reason, Geheimes Wissen does not mention when a text was originally published. Fraternitas Saturni had its heyday in their early days after 1926, but Guido Wolther (“Frater” or “Meister” Daniel) was Grand Master between 1963 and 1966, so this little booklet is most likely from around that time.

The booklet has less than 50 pages and even though I have read a book or two about Alchemy, it is a tough read. The author seems to balance between theoretical and practical Alchemy, more leaning towards the practical side. There are quite a few drawings that do not seem to be (all) based on existing Alchemical diagrams and the descriptions and instructions are not much like anything I read before. Perhaps they fit into the larger teachings of the Fraternitas Saturni.

I cannot say that I learned a lot about Alchemy or the Fraternitas Saturni reading this little book, so I suppose I largely lack the background and/or I do not belong to the intended audience.

2009 Verlag Geheimes Wissen, isbn 9783902705068

Practical Alchemy – Konstantin Serebrov (2006)

By some accident I ran into the name of Serebrov. He was (is?) said to be a Russian esotericist working with Alchemical symbolism. Out of curiosity I looked to see what books he has available and found a Dutch publisher that has a lot of his books. As a matter of fact, it seems that this Dutch publisher also takes care of (the) other languages. At first glance it seems that there are more books in Dutch than there are in English. I happen to have picked one that is available both in Dutch and English. Originally they were written in Russian.

The books are divided over series. Practical Alchemy is the third of a series of three, so perhaps not the best introduction. The book is written as a story around a gathering of spiritual seekers who meet up frequently and the book is a report of one such camp. As teachers we have the I-character (Serebrov?) and “Master G.” who is presented as Serebrov’s teacher. In the book there are a host of students, ‘green’, ‘doubting Thomasses’, more experienced, etc.

Right from the start the reader is presented with all kind of jargon. “Horizontal karma”, letting “the wheel of karma rotate in opposite direction”, “energetic cocoon”, “kundabuffer”, “Schooltemperature” and most of all: “reconsideration” (word in English, but with Dutch conjugations, suggesting that the word is in English in the original texts), “deleting personal history” and “cutting ethereal lines”. Some of these phrases are explained along the way, some are not.

Serebrov appears to have been active in the Russian ‘esoteric underground’ of the 1980’ies, where he was acquainted with the systems of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Castenada and with some Eastern systems. He is a not uncritical follower, but the students in the book do speak about “tensegrity” and “magical passes”. There are all kinds of exercises that are recommended to students, some daily. These exercises are oddly specific. Think of a person, breath in, pull in energy a few inches below your belly button, turn your head from left to right and back five times, breath out half of the air in your lungs, etc. And there are many such exercises, sometimes explained, sometimes only mentioned. (“Do daily Tao exercises.”)

There is quite some attention to all kinds of spiritual paths. Serebrov wrote about Yoga, Tao, Alchemy, etc., but the Orthodox Church is half of the path to God. The book gives a wee bit of an idea of the ‘Russian spiritual underground’, but stresses that real progress can only be made in a school lead by a real master, hence: “Master G.” and his followers, such as Serebrov. Yet it is remarkably hard to find information about the school, when and where they meet, etc. G. seems to be a man named Iurii or Vladimir Stefanov who introduced Guénon in Russia. Interesting.

For a large part, Practical Alchemy is yet again book for spiritual seekers with some exercises and the suggestion that the only true path is presented. This is poured into a story with characters many people can relate to. Amusing are the ‘Russian elements’ such as Wodka which flows abundantly.

What about the reason I bought this book in the first place? Yes, there is ‘spiritual Alchemy’ here. There are 21 beautiful pen drawings, with fairly simple Alchemical symbology, but still recognizable. Several of the major symbols are used to explain the spiritual path, the phases of Alchemy, the king and queen, etc. Serebrov does have an odd explanation of the ouroborous as the lower self, though. The Alchemical element actually is interesting, but the whole ‘packing’ is a bit too fluffy to my liking. On the other hand, much of what I read is dry and academic, so a few notes on the spiritual path are good reminders.

I am not immediately planning on getting other Serebrov books, but I am just going to see what is available and decide then.

2006 Serebrov Boeken, isbn 9077820043

Alchemie: und ihr Einfluss auf Gesellschaft und Freimaurerei – Giovanni Grippo (2014)

What I could read from the Kindle store seems to dry up, so I have also started looking at German titles. This one seemed interesting.

This 120 page book in German is only mildly interesting. The general information about alchemy is -ehm- general. Amusing: there is a translation of the Tabula Smaragdina by Newton in German. By way of John Dee, Grippo goes to Elias Ashmole to make the step to Freemasonry, but not until he also dealt with Paracelsus, the Rosicrucians (where he sees a source of Freemasonry) and the Royal Society.

Grippo has a few blunt statements, such as: “One could exaggerate that modern Freemasonry is a German export product.” After the ‘Scotland versus England’ discussion, a very German addition. Of course there had been Mason companies in Germany for a long time, so I see where he is getting at.

There are also statements that are more ‘eyebrow raising’ such as: “There are obvious symbols in alchemy and in Freemasonry – like the hermaphrodite.” or “Nowadays they [true alchemists] no longer call themselves alchemists but have adopted the name “Freemasons”.” This sounds a lot like wishful thinking. I have yet to encounter a hermaphrodite or alchemist within Freemasonry.

The little book will tell you a few things about alchemy and Freemasonry, but the author seems to be not too well informed about the latter subject.

2014 Giovanni Grippo Verlag, isbn 3942187337

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.

Read More »Freemasonry: Spiritual Alchemy – Christopher Earnshaw (2019)

The Hermetic Journal 1978

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)

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)

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