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Philipp Aureolus Theophrast Paracelsus (fbn press)

The Coelum Philosophorum or book of Vexatations
The Treasure of Treasures for Alchemists.
The Book concerning the tincture of the philosophers

Three alchemical writings by noone less than Paracelcus. This booklet is very interesting. The first article deals with the theory of alchemy, the second with the philosophy of alchemy and the third with the practise of alchemy.

Die Zauberflote. an Alchemical Allegory * Tjeu van den Berk (isbn 9004130993)

Quite some books have been written about Mozarts famous opera “The Magic Flute”. The story is so symbolic and full of mysteries, that many have broken their heads to explain it. It is known that Mozart was a freemason, so the opera is often depicted as a masonic story, while others see an initiation-story and more others just a loose romantising with symbols to please the public of the late 18th century.

The Dutch scholar Van den Berk (1938) was first intrigued by the music and later by the story and he spend years to investigate the characters, story, history of Vienna in Mozarts time, etc. This resulted in a magnificent work that was first published in Dutch in 2002. Two years later the fifth pressing saw the light of day and every pressing has had corrections, expansions and general editing. Readers brought things under the writers attention, for example freemasons noticed something that he overlooked, or opera-experts knew of something in the score (the written music) so now we have a four-times-made-better massive investigation of “Die Zauberflöte”. There is also an (expensive) English version).

Van den Berk did not really find a Masonic symbolism in the opera, also not really Rosicrucian, but an alchemical; the whole opera is the course of ‘the great work’. To found his theories, Van den Berk extensively investigated Hermetism, alchemy, Freemasonry in Vienna in Mozarts time, Rosicrucianism, mythology and towards the end of the book the writers of the libretto Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812) and Karl Gieseke (1761-1831) and the “homo esotericus” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) himself.

Of Hermetism you get a quick overview and how a ‘renaissance’ appeared with the coming of Rosicrucianity and Freemasonry and especially Hermetism and the art of alchemy. The history of Freemasonry in Austria is interesting. You learn how fast it grew and how fast the decline was when someone else got power over the country. Mythology was still important in Mozarts time and most of the characters have elements of mythological figures. Of course alchemy is treated most extensively. Van den Berk did his utmost to explain how alchemical symbolism can be found in the characters of the opera, in the general story and even in the music itself. This investigation is sometimes tiringly detailed, but fascinating for treating with both practical and spiritual alchemy and giving a very nice picture of alchemy in practise in the 18th century. Van den Berk used a massive amoun of illustrations too. However of course Van den Berk writes about the opera, this book is also interesting for anyone interested in alchemy, Freemasonry and Rosicrucianity, also (or maybe especially) people who are new to this area.

A very interesting book, even when the music of the opera itself does not appeal much to me. Maybe I should not only hear it on cd, but see it on stage (or DVD) some time.

Alchemie, de kunst van transformatie * Jay Ramsay (isbn 9062719341)

The flood of books about alchemy has become so strong that now you also get easy-to-read books for a larger audience. This one appears to me as an easier and more popular version of The Tower Of Alchemy by David Goddard, but Goddard isn’t in the bibliography. Ramway closely follows the alchemical process to give you a system of spiritual exercises. In the beginning I found it all way too new-age, but this does get a little better. Afterall I am not totally sure what I think about this book. It is a book with simple meditation exercises based on alchemical symbolism and obviously for a large new-age audience. Not too bad, but not for me.

Strange, by the way, I can’t find the original version. This book is said to be a translation of Alchemy by Ramsay, 1997 Thorsons.

Licht op Alchemie * Frank Greiner (isbn 9063255640)

However this appears to be a Dutch translation of the French book “50 Mots d’Alchimie” of Desclée de Brouwer (1991) I haven’t found an English translation. The Dutch title means “Light On Alchemy” and the French title “50 Alchemical Words”. The French title says exactly how this book is built up. There are 50 words dealing with the subject alchemy with an explanation. The words are in alphabetical order so this isn’t really a ‘reading book’, but strickly for referential purposes. Fortunately the book is written with the ‘modern’ idea that alchemy isn’t just ancient chemistry, but more a spiritual process in which the material side is just one part of the story. The book is well-written, nice and short with a good index and a short bibiography.
A good cheap choice if you want to have something about alchemy on your bookshelf.

The Philosopher’s Stone * Peter Marshall (isbn 033376367X)

In the last decade serious books about alchemy started to appear, not depicting it just as early chemistry, but as an ancient tradition with a material and a spiritual side. Peter Marshall is a writer with a long bibliography with books on upbringing, politics, psychology, etc. and he definately does not seem to be an expert on the esoteric. For this book Marshall has travelled around the world for about two years searching for the philosopher’s stone in China, India, Egypt, the Middle-East and Europe resulting in the biggest book on alchemy that I have encountered (about 450 pages). Inspite of the quantity of pages, the writer’s “discoveries” and descriptions of his “investigations”, this book doesn’t give more information than a descent 100-pager. Also it seems as if Marshall ‘found out’ a lot, but I didn’t find much new information here.

Marshall tries to write in a Baigent/Leigh travel-account-with-information style, but his writing style is fairly chaotic and at times irritating (saying “I discovered”, “when I was meditating”, “I was surprised to find out”, etc. all the time) and my Dutch translation is also done in a pretty sloppy manner (or did they want to copy Marshall’s sloppy writing-style with wrong words, sentences that don’t run well, either or not translate titles of books or sayings from other languages, etc.?). Fortunately this becomes better after a few chapters, but comes back again at the end. Marshall writes about his own experiences and thoughts too much when he should have better sticked to the information.

Also in the beginning when he describes his journeys through the east, it is very obvious that Eastern religions aren’t his speciality Also fortunately he seems more in his element in Egypt and Europe and the chapters about these are much better.

A rather irritating thing is that Marshall seems to use the word “alchemy” for anything “spiritual” calling Taoism “alchemy” and talking about alchemy in the Vedas, etc. But it is quite nice to read about the early traditions of China and especially Taoism from which Chinese alchemy came forth. Marshall interviewed experts, visits places and investigates writings himself.
After China he goes to India where another tradition of alchemy started around the same time as in China (about 2000 BC) and also here Marshall talks with scholars, modern alchemists and goes to sightings and libraries.
Then Egypt is the next step in his investigation. Marshall gets permissions to visits tombs and temples closed for the normal human eye and has his usual talks, investigations and visits.
Moving more towards Europe the subject often strays off to other traditions such as Gnosticism and Hermeticism and Marshall read/studied a lot of original works in Europe’s libraries and museums, visits ancient places and cities and towards the end of the book, tries to find nowadays alchemists. Being probably the most recent book on alchemy written, it comes closest to recent times. Sadly enough even here Marshall didn’t manage to give new information, besides a few nice remarks about the WWII times.

So, you may ask, better skip this book for another one if I want to learn about alchemy? Well, maybe not. Marshall’s book has a good index, the structure is good, there is a wonderfull glossary of symbols of terms and a massive bibliography. Yep, Marshall did his homework well, but he could have saved himself a lot of work if he had started reading some recent works.

Conclusion: this book is definately a good buy if you want a reference-book on alchemy, but when you want something enjoyable to read and to learn, you better buy a thinner one that focuses more on the information.

Closer off: I depicted both the original English cover and the cover of the Dutch translation. Not only you will see how differently the covers were chosen, but also the title differs. Also striking are the different translations of the Latin term “Lapis Philosophicus”, in English by “the philosopher’s stone”, in Dutch by “the stone of the wise”.