From the Desk's Mystery Series.
©2013 The Media Desk
[NOTE: As with other articles in this series, various other authors have told this story in years past, and some have done so far better than this old ex-sportswriter ever could. However, that has never stopped us before, and it shan't stop us now. The below is presented as the Desk presents things, in the Desk's style (whatever that is) and for reasons of its own. All conclusions and remarks are those of the author.
- and yes, I stole that 'note' from another article, oh well.
- thank you]
There are three separate but related questions all wrapped up into this one. The first being the central theme of Alchemy, what is it, who did it, and so on. The second is a side question that looks into the difference between a Classical Alchemist and the members of the Sorcerer's Guild (for this article, we will try not to use the 'W' word due to its being diluted in the public's mind). And finally, who, and / or what, was Hermes to begin with?
As with all things in the Desk's Mystery Series, we'll go off on assorted tangents, pause for a musical interlude that is not from the Dire Straits album, stand along a Mardi Gras parade route, and deal with other arcana as we go along, which is precisely the point of looking at:
Just the word conjures up men with long white beards standing over glowing crucibles as they sprinkle obscure compounds into a bubbling morass while mumbling arcane phrases in Latin trying to make Gold out of corn silk.
Or maybe you think of Old World scientists such as Paracelsus (1493 - 1541) who turned out to be ahead of their time and who ended up contributing significantly to the fields that became 'mainstream sciences' such as Biology and Medicine. He developed the pain killer laudanum, and gave us the idea of how toxic substances work by coining the phrase "The Dose makes the Poison", and proposed the idea of the human unconscious mind, while pursuing that most elusive substance, the Elixir of Life, and specifically prescribed a treatment made with mercury to cure syphilis (it does!).
Or perhaps you even have somebody like Sir Isaac Newton (1642 - 1726) in mind. Newton studied alchemy and wrote extensively about it, but kept his hobby secret until well after his death because he knew that the practice had fallen on disrepute and if word got out that he was following Hermes that his standing at both Cambridge University and the Royal Society might be in jeopardy.
Well, the first thing we should do is define exactly what it is we're talking about.
Which, when you get right down to it, is almost as impossible to do as many of the efforts made by those engaged in The Great Work itself.
As we mentioned, transmuting base substances, metals and non-metals as well, into Gold or other precious substances was at the heart of the work. Some of the notables of the field, such as the Count of Saint Germain (see link below for related Desk article) were said to have been adapts at the process and he was reportedly able to use these techniques to remove flaws from some of the French Crown Jewels. However, some 'Classic Era' Alchemists such as (Saint) Albert Magnus (1206 - 1280) wrote in their own treatise on the subject that 'art alone' cannot work such changes on substances, and yet, as far as can be told from here, they and others kept after it.
Another core idea was the search for the Elixir of Life, the substance that would cure all diseases and perhaps even keep a person alive indefinitely.
And, of course, all of this is wrapped around a mysterious substance called The Philosopher's Stone, which instead of a rock that you'd find along a river bank was a semi-mythical compound which could, well, do all of the above.
Even today, some of the language and symbols of Hermeticism are still with us. Such as the symbol of the medical profession in America and other countries, the 'caduceus'. Yes, the winged staff with two serpents coiled around it comes down from the time when Hermes was the messenger of the Greek gods and carried it as the token of his office. Remember that guy's name, it'll become very important to us shortly. Back on track now.
If you have ever heard a song by a classic band, such as, say...
"When you wish upon a star
Ya dreams will take you very far, yeah
When you wish upon a dream
Life ain't always what it seems, oh yeah"
Shining Star, by White, Dunn, and Bailey, Album, That's the Way of the World Columbia Records, 1974
... you're paying tribute to three of the four Classical Elements of Creation. In this case, "Earth, Wind, and Fire", why the band left out Water is unknown, but they did. So it goes.
Another aspect of it that is still with us is embodied in the person and idea of Darth Vader and his friends. If one uses aspects of 'magic' or other extra-normal powers developed through rituals and 'potions' that would be regarded as evil, one is, you guessed it, on Dark Side which comes in as a factor of Theurgy, the "Steller" side of the oldest of the Hermetic Traditions. Which we will look at in some depth later.
And of course there are the signs that are based on a circle for men (the arrow) and women (the cross), which are the symbols for Mars and Venus, and, in turn, Iron and Copper.
Face it, you can't get away from the legacy of....
When did men first practice the ancient art?
A better question would be, "when didn't they?"
If you look at the basic traditions of, what shall we call them, court magician or wizard, wise man, soothsayer, and their assorted helpers and assistants, you basically have alchemists going all the way back to, well, all the way back.
We know of alchemists who worked in the days of the Roman Empire in the West. And the Eastern version goes back even further, perhaps to Zoroaster of Old, whom we'll look at when we get to him.
There are records of the arts being worked in ancient Egypt, and there is some indications that they just copied their practice from the even older civilization of Sumeria.
Of course, mainstream scientists and historians have worked for years to discount the importance and legacy of The Art, but in doing so, they have done a fairly good job of underlining the central point that most of what we call Science today is the grandchild of Alchemy.
Both in the Orient as well as in the Western World.
Tradition and Origin: East versus West
One of the most important legacies of Alchemical work in the East may well be gunpowder.
You don't have to look too far to see how ingrained the Work was, as the official science and, to some degree, the Dao (religion), of the early civilization of China and the basic concept of opposed forces and elements, the famous Yin and Yang, as the foundation of traditional medicine and even several of the martial arts.
It was most likely a Chinese alchemist who was burning various chemicals and compounds who found out that things get very interesting quickly when you mix saltpeter with a couple of other common elements and then light the result. Documentation exists that puts 'gunpowder' in their hands before 1000 AD and perhaps as early as four or five hundred years before that depending on which translation you read.
It may have also been a Chinese Alchemist who first realized a practical use for some magnetic material that was produced as a byproduct of processing metal. Somebody, somewhere, noticed that if you had a small piece of the right metal that was kinda pointy that it would always line up along a North-South axis when floating in water or balancing on a point or hanging by a string. And it wasn't long before one of those clever chaps realized that it was a lot harder to stay lost out in the hinterland if you knew that if you were facing South when the sun came up that it would shine on your left hand first so that way was East.
Just south of China in another equally ancient land, India, Alchemy was always deeply mystical and deeply ingrained in their deeply religious tradition. Just as with various forms of Yoga purified the individual, the purification of various substances and their transitioning from one state to another was seen as a gateway to the heavenly realms.
Tamil language works of impressive length and remarkable imagery exist depicting various aspects that are simultaneously heavily religious and alchemically symbolic at the same time as it discusses the various 'states' of the purification process of both the soul and minerals.
"He enabled me to perceive
the subtle body,
and gain the darshan
of the Eight States.
He made me know myself.
He showered me with grace.
He pulled out past karma...
by its root.
Without a single word or thought
my mind is one with him."
Vinayagar Agaval by Avaiyar II, 1200
English by Layne Little
http://www.levity.com/alchemy/vinayaga.html (hotlinks below)
Another version with Tamil verse is at: http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Vinayagar_Agaval%28Tamil%29
Ankusha (the elephant headed god) was seen as the deliverer of enlightening wisdom that, if well learned and competently practiced, would free the student from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. What was this wisdom? Well, most of it was poetry celebrating flowers and the Moon and various numeric combinations and all sorts of other things, both mundane and fantastic. Hang onto that idea, it'll come up later.
As for amazing discoveries that can be attributed to them, well, more research is clearly indicated, but we can start with the first known use of writing ink, which was used to record the ideas that influenced the likes of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) who was famous for making his own clothes with equally ancient Indian techniques. And then there is.... Well, actually, those will do nicely.
And now comes the question as to where did the practice we call Alchemy begin? Was it first practiced in China or India, including the Indus Valley (now in Pakistan), or in the Middle East in the area of Arabia and Persia?
To be honest, it really doesn't matter from this far out. But while we're right here, on a hill in today's Iraq looking down into an excavated pit at the Sumerian site of Kish where somebody had been all busy smelting Copper and Tin together to make Bronze along before three thousand BC, we'll look around.
Much before the emergence of what we call the Bronze Age you had small more or less independent and, equally, more or less co-dependent states that ranged from small villages to loose associations under a local 'king'.
OK, let's put this timescale in some sort of perspective that we can get our heads around. Beginning with a common event, we'll go with the Founding of the Roman Empire just because we can.
The entity that most of us are comfortable calling Rome, under a banner that says SPQR, came into being about 500 BC as a republic for, give or take, 500 years until Julius made it the Empire of song and story, and innumerable movies.
OK, 500 years before Christ, Rome. Got it.
Nice easy round number that, so we'll drop back five hundred more years and see what we've got.
Give or take 1000 BC. This is when most academic types place the reigns of the kings of Israel as listed in the Bible: Saul, David, and Solomon. And in a few years at that nice spot down the road, Homer will work on the classics the Iliad and the Odessey. Elsewhere, the Zhou Dynasty is in charge in China and over in the 'New World', the Olmecs are carving their big heads in Mexico.
One Thousand. Moving on, or, back, we'll double that and go back to two thousand BC.
In or around Two Thousand Years before Christ, which is Four Thousand Years Ago to us, Stonehenge was still new and, according to some, writing with letters, such as is done with what you are currently reading instead of hieroglyphs. The Indus Valley civilization that we mentioned earlier is thriving, and the societies that will become the first true Greek Culture are just getting going.
Now, we need to move one thousand years back from there, pick up our brand new first edition of the Chinese I Ching from the just opened First Dynasty of Egypt bookstore and look back down at that early metal workshop in Kish with absolute awe at how far we as a race have come.
Yeah, Three Thousand BC, five thousand years before present, was a long time ago. If we count an average human generation at, say, twenty five years, making four generations per century, that is?
A long time and a lot of people.
And we are not going to pretend that the Alchemists were with us every step of the way from there to here. Not in any organized way. Perhaps where the tradition was passed down from master to student with the acknowledgement that even with the best of efforts gaps developed over all of those trackless years and much of what was known was lost. Yes, if that is given, then, perhaps.
But, it is fairly evident that some of the knowledge and traditions that were learned by those early peoples were transmitted down to us in various ways. Including in ancient poetry and inscriptions in tombs. And some knowledge was lost, and then 'rediscovered' later, and maybe even lost again.
Then as processes and systems became more refined (pun? what pun?) the traditions became better defined and rituals developed, and even more importantly, written down. Then, as the meanings of some of those rituals became lost in time symbolism was developed to explain why certain things were done in certain ways. For instance, we can look at the intricate process involved in the making of a Japanese Sword.
The master swordmakers of Japan are far more than a blacksmith, even though they share many of the same skills and the final product is chemically the same, iron and carbon, that is the only similarity between the hinge to a barn door and a Samurai sword. The sword, one of those places where, in the hands of a master, science and art become one. See the link below to a page that describes this in some detail.
And with the merging of art and science, we are back to the Western Hermetic Tradition.
Was there really a person who parked his car in the spot marked "Thrice Greatest Hermes", and spent his days at the office writing those books?
We'll begin with a couple of short answers. No. and... No.
No, there was never, as far as we can tell now, an actual individual that would answer when somebody said, "hey, Herm, you've got a package at the front desk." And, no, there wasn't a single author of the Corpus Hermetica. (link below to the work)
And now the long answer, for which we head back to Egypt about 200 BC and check in with the beginnings of the Cult of Thoth, the moon god with the ibis head (a flamingo like bird with a long thin beak) who was the god of writing, knowledge, and various forms of magic. According to various sources, Thoth, also called Tehuti among other things, was the husband of the winged goddess of truth called Maat against whose feather your heart was weighed in judgment when you quit using it in this world. Once the weighing was done, Thoth recorded the results in his 'Book of the Dead,' and the pharaoh's passage into the after world either ended right then and there in disaster, or he continued on to become a god. If the deceased was a peasant, they would go on to serve the king, or not.
The followers of Thoth incorporated esoteric knowledge given to them by the god, with mystical practices, and various practical work with minerals and substances, and developed the practice we've come to associate with alchemy. However, in the ancient world, the veil between the other world, where the deceased pharaoh was heading, and our own was thinner. And perhaps that veil had holes in it large enough for a good sized spirit or two to pass through and influence events and material objects, and even people, in our own reality, hopefully with the goal to help and heal. Which is one of the reasons you'd think that the group in New Orleans chose to name their parade organization the Krewe of Thoth.
One of the stated objectives of the Krewe's parade route since it began just after World War II was to include locations in their route which housed the ill or injured who might not otherwise be able to see a traditional Mardi Gras parade. And now, over half a century later, they continue the tradition. Something the Alchemists of Olde, not to mention the beaked one himself, would approve of we're sure. (It is worth the trip to their website just to see the costumes, link below.)
And just perhaps, an adept in the great work could influence those spirits in some other way besides throwing beads and candy to them. But we are getting a couple of thousand years ahead of ourselves here.
Thoth, in his various Egyptian forms was the holder, and giver, of the knowledge of geometry, of the stars, and the medical practices of the day. To us this harkens back to the Apocryphal "Book of Enoch" in which the Biblical Patriarch is taken up into Heaven and instructed in various subjects by an assortment of angels.
In his book, which was undoubtedly not written by the ancestor of Noah but by at least two other authors and attributed to him some time latter, is shown many wonders of heaven and earth by a tour guide named Uriel. One of the first things Enoch describes is essentially a crash course in astronomy. The ins and outs of the laws of the stars and planets. Which was one of Thoth's specialties.
Enoch also journeys through the underworld, 'Sheol', and witnesses various persons and events there. Again, part of Thoth's job description as well.
It is interesting to note that the beginnings of the Cult of Thoth in and around Memphis in Egypt and the oldest sections of Enoch are both from around the same time, give or take, having been written in two to three hundred BC, and both deal with the gods giving men the knowledge of how to make their day to day lives better.
But we can't take that similarity any further without mentioning a certain geologic difference between the two. Enoch's work seems to be more firmly grounded in the real world of the Middle East, and mentions travels to the East and other destinations that could well be actual places in the physical world. But no sooner than he does than he mentions the "tree of life" and other firmly mystical symbolism still used in both Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, and Alchemy as well.
While we're at it, there is no doubt that some of the ancient symbols of various ancient deities have come down to us through various means. We've already mentioned the caduceus of Mercury, or rather, Hermes, who was Thoth in an earlier life, is seen every day on medical devices and logos on the sides of ambulances and such like. There are also the symbols of male and female that we touched on. But there are some that may not seem to be related to the Old Ones, that are. Such as using the image of a pen and pad to mean writing, or by extension, education. The stylus and pad were also the working tools of Thoth in his 'night job'. Just a quick check by this writer found two such icons on his computer desktop for different programs, both having to do with word processing programs.
It was various aspects of being the giver of knowledge from the gods, as their Messenger if you will, from Thoth of Old Egypt that became the Greek god Hermes, who, in turn, picked up his winged staff and moved to Rome when the time was right.
However, whereas the devotees to Thoth were more heavily involved with the magical practices dictated by their god than the later Alchemists were. Those that conducted similar work with less attention to other aspects of it were soon admitted into the Sorcerers and Wizards union and all pretext of being a "Serious Scientist" was abandoned as they pursued the Dark Arts.
What were they if they worked the "light side" of the "dark art"? Well, we'll come back to that.
And so we come of one of the most famous, or perhaps, infamous, Sorcerers in History.
"Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, 'This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.' They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw."
Acts 8 : 9 - 13 (NIV) link below
Thatís' about half of the passage. All together, everything we know about the man called "Simon the Sorcerer" from the Biblical source comes to about three hundred and thirty words. That's it. But that hasn't stopped nearly endless speculation and at times rather poetic dissertations on him and his ways.
Entire books, thick volumes of a hundred thousand words or more, have been written about Simon Magus (Latin for Simon the Magician) and his deeds and misdeeds.
Then you come into the various characters in other books and movies, and video games (believe it or not) built on him. And on top of all of that a rather forgettable movie was released in 1999 based on the man although it is set in Poland during the last century.
"I have seen God, and he is a blind beggar peddling lies! He has sold the world to the Devil and left only the husk for himself! Satan is master here! The sparrow-eater!"
- Simon Magus, written by Cheek and Hopkins, 1999 release, Jones Company Productions
Those of us who have been born since the advent of residential electrical service may find it hard to believe that at one time it was common knowledge and an accepted way of life to think that if you soaked bat testicles in something akin to soy sauce during the waning of the moon and then chanted some badly pronounced Latin words over them while they burned in a red flame that you could convince an ancient demon to go make your neighbor's cow sick. And that is the working definition of Sorcery: the use of 'bad' spirits as hourly labor to get something nasty done.
But that is what it was.
But where was the line between the Magical and the Scientific? Or even better, was there a line?
Roger Bacon (1214 - 1294), much to the derision of the Catholic Church, walked right along the line if there was one, and often referenced various aspects of magic in his writings. Now get this picture, Bacon was a Franciscan Friar and a scientist who studied nature and history. He was a professor at Oxford where he lectured on Greece including classes on Aristotle, then he moved to Paris where he continued his work. Now his work included what we would consider studies in Biology as well as Classical History, Mathematics, and Alchemy. And, while we're at it, no small dose of Magic to keep things in balance. He wrote extensively about older works that have "neither precepts of Nature or Art, having nothing save Magical Fopperies," in his letter dealing with the "Secret Operation of Nature and Art...." (link below) which included a significant section about dealing with spirits and charms and the like.
And yes, he was a member of the Franciscan Order when he wrote:
Of the Manner to make the Philosophers Egge
"Make a diligent purification of the Calx with the waters of the Alkali, and other acute waters, grind it by several contrition with the salts, and burn it with many assations, that the earth may be perfectly separated from other elements, which I hold worthy the longitude of my stature. it if you can. For without doubt there will be a composition of Elements, and so it will be part of that Stone which is no Stone, which is in every man, and in every place of man; and you may find this this in all the seasons of the year in its place. Then take oyl after the form of a Saffron-cheese, and so viscouous first (as not to be smitten asunder by a stroak) divide the whole fiery virtue, and separate it by dissolution, and let it be dissolved in acute water, of a temperate acutenesse, with a slight fire, and let it be boyled till his fatnesse, as the fatnesse of flesh be separated by distillation, that nothing of the unctiousnesse may issue forth...."
- Friar (Roger) Bacon, His Discovery of the Miracles Of Art, Nature, And Magick
Published, London, 1659
http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/bacon/miracle.htm (link below)
Which gave his superiors in the Order as well as at the University a severe case of the Fantods and no mistake.
Which led them to say things like this:
"When he was able to recommence his studies, his superiors imposed other duties on him, and forbade him to publish any work out of the order without special permission from the higher superiors 'under pain of losing the book and of fasting several days with only bread and water.'"
And so he got locked up. But, to his credit, Galileo did as well, and look what that did for his career.
The fact of the matter comes down to this: In Most Cases, Alchemists either dealt with the spirit realm, or they didn't, of their own choice. There is nothing inherent in The Work that said "thou shalt not invoke a daemon" or anything of the sort. However, those that punched in on the time clock and then set about drawing their circles and lighting incense and all that in an attempt to engage the spiritual world outright usually did not consider themselves Alchemists, although they may be reading from the same ancient texts.
Yes, you in the back....
"What's the difference between a Sorcerer and a Wizard and a Magician?"
That's a fair question, we'll see if we can answer it and confuse everybody even more.
As we've seen, part of ancient Alchemy could well be called Sorcery. And that is part of the difference, the other's use of Magic without the benefit of the cooking classes involved in Alchemy. And so it can be seen in popular media, such as the "w-word" books and movies which had perhaps forever changed the popular perception of (and we almost have to say the word here) what is thought of as a "wizard". To many people the kid in the glasses and his friends are now the "w"s of the world and those like Merlin, and even Gandalf, have been relegated to the dustbin of imagination. But, even then, some of what is seen in the "H.P." books (both the 'boy wizard' and HP Lovecraft's works as well for that matter) and movies was taken directly from the realm of the Alchemists and Sorcerers of old.
At one time, the guild of those whose daily activity involved magical incantations and what not included Wizards and Witches, Mediums and Mystics and Seers ("oh, my"), and on and on. The terms were essentially interchangeable. And to some degree, they continue to be, until you get to the world of Popular Entertainment where the 'enchantment' factor depends on pleasing the paying audience, not getting a nature spirit to make rain.
And yes, we've tossed 'witches' into this cauldron as well. There is a valid use of the word 'witch' that deals with practitioners of the Wiccan religion. Some of them will claim that the allusion of the word to the workers of the ancient art that dealt with spirits (good or bad) is no longer accurate. Well, sorry, but the other meaning does apply because Wicca does involve nature spirits, and the goddess who is a cousin of our old friend Thoth. Now if you want to debate whether or not the Wiccan definition includes 'magic', yeah, ok, we'll get some coffee and go for it.
Today, and especially when you talk about something like "Magic" the word that should be used is 'Illusionist' or the word 'Magician' would be better when coupled with a modifier like 'Stage'. This is not Magik, such as what Friar Bacon was talking about in his book linked below. This is a trick, a sham pulled off by those quick and nimble of hand to fool the audience. As for TV magic, well, there's a commercial on TV where they are selling a newfangled 'non stick skillet' and they show the thing cooking on a gas stove with no visible flame. Now that's TV magic indeed!
Which brings us to TV witches. Well, it does, you'll be OK.
A "witch" as usually depicted in the media has absolutely NOTHING to do with the classic definition of the office. "Back in the day" a witch had more in common with what we are calling Sorcery than she did the court magician. Time out for a...
The "male" and "female" of things...
TRADITIONALLY: there was very little difference in the roles of Male and Female Alchemists. Although they were usually thought of as Men, there were Women that practiced the Great Work such as Marie the Jewess in the Fourth Century who developed the closed distillation system we call a 'double boiler', or by its French name bain-marie (Marie's Bath), and who developed the matte black compound used by painters (aka: silver sulfide). OK, we'll be fair here, Maria (or Marie or even Mary) didn't think of herself as an Alchemist, everybody else did, but she didn't. See link in the links section for a link about her and her life and work.
Even in Ancient Greece and elsewhere where women were prohibited from studying medicine and treating patients (beyond midwifery that is), there are numerous cases where a blind eye was turned toward the ones that did. The Wise Old Woman of a village was often the only source of any medical knowledge, and she did what she had to do for her people, often under the very noses of those who disapproved of her doing so. And such is still the case in many areas under Sharia rule where women are absolutely prohibited from practicing medicine.
Now, having said that, we'll say this: When you get to the Magical works, there were Female Sorcerers, 'Sorceresses' they were called by those who knew what they were talking about, but to the rest of the world, 'the girls' were simply labeled 'witches' no matter what they were doing. The kicker being that when you said she was a witch, it implied that the woman did the work of evil unless you specified that she was a 'good witch' such as the character of Mary Poppins from the book series (especially given her penchant for 'stars') and to a lesser degree in the film and stage show. No such adjective was used for Sorcerers, because to say somebody was a "good" Sorcerer would be massively incongruous.
The idea that a male witch was a 'warlock' comes into play rather late in our drama. The first known English use of something resembling that word isn't until about the 1300's, not long before the "Hammer" came down on Witches in general.
So where does that leave us? Well. Here: While Most of the Alchemists of the Golden Era of the practice were men, not all were. And the same goes for the rest of it. There were great women in the various fields, but to a large extent they have simply been ignored by the textbooks. Which is a shame.
Now, where were we? Oh, yes, the classic definition of Witch, as opposed to a Sorcerer who was practicing Theurgy which was using familiar spirits, demons if you will, to do bad things to everybody else. They controlled the demons through the use of spells and enchantments, which were worked using various methods including the stereotypical bubbling cauldron of various substances, the drawing of geometric figures like circles and triangles, and the use of spoken phrases and intonations. That is also the very definition of a Witch a la the Malleus Maleficarum. Which is slightly different than a Wizard. Yes there is some overlap, but in most cases a Wizard mainly used the spoken word, and perhaps a wand or staff, to work magic through the strength of his will, without the assistance of 'others'.
But you have to hand it to the Church, even the infamous Malleus Maleficarum the 1486 "Hammer of the Witches" (link below) makes reference to writers on the subject of Alchemy when discussing the power of witches and their demonic familiars over the material world.
Remember, for many years it was considered heretical to believe in witches, and then it was considered heretical to not believe in them. And so it was with Alchemy in its various flavors. Just how much real power the various Sorcerers had over the rest of the world through the use of spells and the service of other worldly beings is debatable. Whether or not, as we said, doing some recipe with odd parts of various creatures while speaking arcane words can influence spirits and other entities to do your bidding is equally debatable. But there is no debate that the peasants who lived in the area believed that the sorcerer could and did do such things, and it would appear that their patrons in the palace did as well.
And when the Papal Bull came out against witches, those who enforced it weren't real picky as to whether or not you were a witch or an alchemist or anything else when they kicked in your door.
The move by the Church against those who practiced the Art and Science we've been talking about did more than anything else to discredit the practice and shuffle even the Alchemists who weren't working with the spirits off to the fringes of society. But, truth be told, some of them liked that and were just as content to conduct their work in secret and study in silence, until it came time to pay the bills and that teaching position that they had been holding down at Cambridge fell through.
And even today with modern Alchemists, there are those who are practicing Sorcerers of various types, with books and other merchandise for sale as well, and we'll stop back by that shopping center in a moment.
In what the Old World called the New World, the Aztecs and the others up and down the Americas practiced a satisfying mix of Astrology, what we are calling Sorcery, and even some degree of Alchemy as it relates to medicine and basic chemistry. In some cases, the practices were part of the religion of the people, and in some cases they weren't but were instead a separate 'profession'.
The Inca and the Aztecs believed in ritual magic to appease various gods. The Aztec priests are known to have developed horoscopes for babies and honed their diagnostic skills for illnesses. They also put together medicines based on tobacco and other herbs and compounds, including chili peppers, which, in some cases, seem to have worked as well as modern treatments.
Part of the ritual magic of the various peoples included a belief that human sacrifice, as well as using blood, still quivering hearts, and other organs in further ceremonial proceedings would influence the various deities to show favor to the nation.
As far as could be told during the research for this article, there was no transmutation of metals in the New World. But the Aztecs and others did smelt metals, most importantly making tumbaga, an alloy of gold and copper, and assorted other metals, that was easy to work and did not suffer damage as easily as solid gold.
Looking back to the Ancient East, there was never an actual well defined line between the Magical side of Alchemy and the not-magical, or whatever you want to call it. In India and elsewhere, the gods and their various associates were invoked as a matter of course when the work was done. Sometimes it was to imbue the final result with some virtue or other, and sometimes it was to keep that sort of element out of it.
Most of the classic Persian and Arabian Alchemists appeared to take a more pragmatic view of the whole thing, essentially saying that "if the jinn are there, there's nothing we can do about it, so go about your business. Maybe if you leave them alone while you are refining your technique for producing sulfuric acid (which is one of the several acids they discovered), they'll leave you alone."
But, of course, there were Sorcerers, and Seers, and (yes, we have to say it,) Wise Men, throughout the Middle East going all the way back to Zoroaster (+/- 1000 BC) and his version of Astrology and pursuit of intellectual truth, and according to some traditions, Magic and Alchemy. This is supported by some of the ancient iconography of the old religion which includes a crucible with a purifying fire in it, and the winged symbol of the Annunaki that goes all the way back to Babylon and Sumer. However, a lot of what has been called Zoroastrian Magic was attributed to him and his followers later. But the matter of his beliefs being deeply tied to Astrology remains.
Which brings us back to that facet of Alchemy, the various planets and their relationships with the elements that make up our world. Such as the relationship between Mars and Iron.
One of the ways in which the Sorcerers were able to control the various powers of the World was through the manipulation of the various substances which make up the world. By mastering the mundane chemicals such as iron and sulfur, one could command the related entities and invoke them to work the Sorcerer's will. Then by doing the ritual at the proper time on the Astrological side, wonders could be performed.
OK, at this point we have to step back and ask, "really?"
From where we are today. In our technological world with a more pragmatic view of natural events and a somewhat greater understanding of the causal relationships between supposedly otherwise unrelated events, it is far more difficult to accept that bit about boiling some detritus in a soup with rat eyeballs and claiming it influenced a volcano.
In the Twenty First Century since Christ we have a hard time taking seriously the concept that a battle can be decided by whether or not one general or the other consulted with an Astrologer who told them that the Pleiades were rising in his sign.
Most University Nuclear Science programs teach that yes, Ernest Rutherford (1871 - 1937) was the first successful Alchemist when he turned Nitrogen into Oxygen in his famous experiment in 1917. So, by implication, every Alchemist before him was a dismal failure. Or at least that is the gist of the syllabus.
We pride ourselves on our scientific understanding and how much we know about our world and the way it works. And yet, some things just don't make any sense and appear to be the work of Alchemists and Sorcerers and very well may be the domain of demons and spirits.
For instance, we'll trot out the theory of Quantum Entanglement.
(Leon Balents is a professor of physics and a permanent member of Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.)"Don't even pretend that you understood that."
"Quantum entanglement represents the extent to which measurement of one part of a system affects the state of another; for example, measurement of one electron influences the state of another that may be far away, explained Balents in the journal Nature Physics. In recent years, scientists have realized that entanglement of electrons is present in varying degrees in solid materials. Taking this notion to the extreme is the "quantum spin liquid," a state of matter in which every electron spin is entangled with another.
Balents said that quantum spin liquids are being sought in experiments on natural and artificial minerals. A key question posed by physicists is how to calculate theoretically which materials are quantum spin liquids. "In our paper, we provide an answer to this question, showing that a precise quantitative measure of 'long-range' entanglement can be calculated for realistic models of electronic materials..."
http://phys.org/news/2012-12-physicists-quantum-entanglement.html (link below)
No. But this guy, did:
"Thoughts create a new heaven, a new firmament, a new source of energy, from which new arts flow."
To a classic Alchemist such as our old bombastic friend, an idea such as that all matter is interconnected would be common sense and our lack of understanding would be something for them to joke about over drinks at happy hour.
Knowledge has always been the stock in trade of the Classic Alchemists, and to be honest, most other true scientists. And the unending pursuit of perfect knowledge even more so. Then on top of that you had the attainment of perfect secret knowledge as the final goal.
"I want to know all God's thoughts; all the rest are just details."
- Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
However, it must be said here and now that 'Perfect Secret Knowledge' is a moving and totally unobtainable target. Even if such a thing exists at all.
But its pursuit has always yielded some interesting results, and we still benefit from the work of those who did so. Do we have to stop now and talk about the medical and scientific advances by just the people we've mentioned? No, we've done that, moving on.
As we have seen, many of those we have mentioned have come into the field with other interests, some were physicians, others were from various sciences, a few were religious figures, and, a few were, first and last, Alchemists.
But what we have been calling the Traditional field of Alchemy was broad enough to welcome them all and through the various ancient texts and various histories it encouraged their work. To some, it was a life's calling, to others it was a sideline or even a hobby.
And, as it would seem, we are all the better for it.
It is difficult to name a human endeavor that has not in some way been influenced by, for good or ill as it were, by Alchemy at some point in its history. But this writer is not going to stand on a box and proclaim that everything worthwhile in the modern world exists because of the work of an Alchemist. No, that is just as absurd as denying the value of their contributions to Medicine, Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Nuclear Theory, Foodservice, even the perfume industry so we all smell good while we sit around and discuss Quantum Mechanics.
Oh, yes, and we'll end it there.
The reason you have a bottle of 'smell good stuff' to put on in the morning is a direct descendent of one of the classic masters of the Art we've already mentioned. In the 1750's the Count Saint Germain made perfumes by combining various essential oils with a solvent and a stabilizer and ... there you go, "toilet water".
Yes, perfumes have been used since people have had body odor that was deemed unpleasant to those around them. But he managed to do it on in a way that ensured the product didn't go rancid in a short period of time, which kind of defeated the purpose of the perfume. Right?
The example simply proves the point. We of the modern era simply make ourselves look foolish when we roll our eyes and smirk at the...
LINKS as mentioned above and others.
All outside links will open in new window, all were working as of date of original posting of article.
The Alchemists (in no real order) and other individuals mentioned:
"Dreams must be heeded and accepted. For a great many of them come true." - Paracelsus www.britannica.com
Isaac Newton http://galileoandeinstein.physics.virginia.edu
Friar (Roger) Bacon, His Discovery of the Miracles Of Art, Nature, And Magick
Entire text: www.sacred-texts.com
In depth biography: http://plato.stanford.edu
The page cited above: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13111b.htm
Maria The Jewess www.uh.edu
Ernest Rutherford http://www.rutherford.org.nz
Thoth / Heremes / Mercury
- Tehuti the Egyptian egyptartsite.com
- Hermes pantheon.org
The Corpus Hermeticum at www.sacred-texts.com
- Mercury http://gwydir.demon.co.uk
- and of course the: Krewe Of Thoth at http://www.thothkrewe.com/
Simon the Sorcerer in Acts www.biblegateway.com
St. Albertus Magnus also at NewAdvent.org
The official site of the band Earth, Wind & Fire http://www.earthwindandfire.com/
The Caduceus vs the Staff of Asclepius www.drblayney.com
aboveasbelow.com includes a page of instruction on basic Alchemical processes.
Vinayagar Agaval by Avaiyar II, 1200
English by Layne Little (the intro to this article)
Another version with Tamil verse is at: http://www.hindupedia.com
Sumeria (and other stuff) at History-World.org
-and the- The Lament for Ur
The Aztecs are at: www.aztec-history.com
And the Malleus Maleficarum can be found at: www.malleusmaleficarum.org
Modern Sorcery for fun and profit!
Moloch Sorcery has: http://www.molochsorcery.com/Index.html
Also see the academyofsorcery.com for "the highest science and the most splendid art"
Another form of Sorcery- Quantum Physics: http://phys.org
Japanese master sword maker: http://www.samuraisword.com
"The Man That Lives Forever and Knows Everything" Count Saint Germain
And other Non-Fiction and Mystery Series Articles.
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