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The Flame and the Crucible

Our journey through the hidden history of American occultism has focused so far entirely on traditions brought here from elsewhere—the German Rosicrucian and Pietist traditions studied by Johannes Kelpius, the classic tradition of English astrology practiced by Joseph Stafford, and the varying traditions of folk magic that crossed the Atlantic with captive Africans from the Congo basin on the one hand and English laborers and farmers on the other. That part of our exploration isn’t finished yet, for the early history of occultism in America, like the history of American colonization as a whole, was almost entirely a story of people and ideas arriving from distant places and adapting, or failing to adapt, to conditions here. The four traditions we’ve discussed so far were among those that succeeded in adapting. In this post, by contrast, we’re going to talk about one that failed to take root here:  the living tradition of European alchemy.

Making sense of any kind of occultism from within the modern industrial worldview is a tough project, but alchemy is tougher than most. There are by and large two ways of thinking about alchemy that are acceptable in modern times, and both of them might best be described as brilliantly effective ways to misunderstand the subject.  The first, far and away the most common, portrays alchemy as a failed science so heavily burdened with wrong ideas about the nature of matter that it wasted a thousand years in futile attempts to turn lead into gold by inadequate means. At most, according to this view, the alchemists contributed to the future triumphs of chemistry by figuring out how to make some useful bits of lab glassware and making a few remarkable discoveries on which the real scientists of later centuries could build.

In contrast to that view is the interpretation of alchemy associated with the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, and promulgated since his time by a bevy of industrious writers who drew on his insights, and often watered them down into harmlessness in the process.  According to this view, alchemy is actually a process of transformation of the personality which the poor benighted alchemists, out of sheer psychological naiveté, mistakenly projected onto the contents of their crucibles. To gauge by some of the fluffier works in this literature, all the money the old alchemists spent on glassware and minerals was a tragic misdirection of funds—they could have spent it more wisely hiring Jungian therapists to listen to their dreams for a dollar a minute, if only Jung had gotten around to being born a few centuries earlier!

These misunderstandings aren’t accidental. They have two causes, one of which is the yawning chasm that separates the worldview of the alchemists from the worldview of modern industrial society.  The alchemists of colonial America were the last heirs of the Renaissance worldview, inheritors of a cosmos in which every material substance was full of life and consciousness, in which metals branched and flowered in the veins of the rocks and planets sang to one another as they circled through the heavens. The proponents and propagandists of the scientific revolution that came after them discarded all this with furious zeal, proclaiming in its place a dead cosmos chained to unforgiving natural law, in which minds—if they exist at all—can only be oddities of behavior of certain lumps of meat called human brains.

That’s where we get the iron dogma that insists that matter and energy can only be influenced by matter and energy—never by minds.  You disprove that odd claim, dear reader, every time you lift a finger, but the dogma remains welded into place, and the paired modern misunderstandings of alchemy are among the results. The scientific materialist dismissal of alchemy starts from the fact that matter and energy left to themselves do not produce the results described in alchemical literature, and hurries past the calm acknowledgment of that fact in alchemical texts—Nature unaided fails, the alchemists whispered—to insist that alchemy can only have been a delusion or a fraud. The Jungian not-quite-dismissal of alchemy starts from the same fact, notices that some alchemical processes seem to have a mental dimension, and leaps from there to the claim that alchemy had to have been entirely mental in nature. It’s as though people talking about the Brooklyn Bridge discovered that it wasn’t entirely on one side of the East River, nor entirely on the other, and ended up deciding that it couldn’t exist!

From within the alchemical worldview—which as already noted is also the worldview of the Renaissance, with its flowering metals and singing worlds—these confusions fall away in an eyeblink.  To put an old insight into new words, alchemy is participatory science:  a way of knowing and working with substances, not all of them material, in which the observer and the observed both join in a shared process that transforms them both.  That participation is something we all know how to do, to one extent or another. Every good cook is an alchemist, which is why identical ingredients and identical recipes are no guarantee of identical results in the kitchen; every child who devotes time to imaginative play brushes against the borders of alchemy. Our art is women’s work and child’s play:  the alchemists whispered that, too.

Note also: participatory science, not a participatory science.  Alchemy is not a single field of study like chemistry or physics.  It’s a universal method, like modern science. There is in fact an alchemical method, just as there is a scientific method; you can apply the alchemical method to different aspects of the universe of human experience and get different alchemies, just as you can apply the scientific method to different aspects of the universe of human experience and get different sciences. The old alchemists did exactly this, producing a dizzying array of different alchemies, and in many cases you have to know your way around alchemical literature to be able to figure out which of these alchemies a given text is discussing.

Take certain alchemical texts literally, for example, and they appear to be talking about a chemical or, let’s say, parachemical process in three stages, which yields a fine, heavy, deep red powder. Melt a nonprecious metal and add a small quantity of the powder, and the powder acts in much the same way as a catalyst, setting off a physical (rather than chemical) reaction that turns the metal into gold. Certain details are always left out of the recipe, but most of the process of making the Red Powder is described in quite some detail.  The great uncertainty for modern alchemists is whether the gold referenced here is the metal by that name, or one of the products of a different kind of alchemy altogether. Our gold is not the common gold, the alchemists liked to murmur, adding to the perplexities of the subject.

Thus the chasm between worldviews poses one serious barrier to any attempt to understand alchemy in modern times. There’s another barrier, though, which was just as difficult to cross in the days of the colonial alchemists as it is today, and that’s the simple fact that alchemical texts were deliberately designed to conceal the secrets of alchemy from the uninstructed.  They are the opposite of user-friendly—some of them more so than others.  One of the texts in my library, The Red Lion of Salomon Trismosin, looks like a straightforward recipe for the Stone of the Philosophers; you take a certain amount of gold, dissolve it in strong acids, add this, do that, let the result evaporate and form crystals, and then pound the crystals up good and hard in a mortar and pestle and add them to red hot metal, which will then turn to gold.  I don’t recommend trying to follow these instructions, though.  Followed exactly, the recipe makes several ounces of lethally explosive gold fulminate, and that first tap of the pestle will blow you to kingdom come.

Most alchemical texts are less vicious in their protective strategies. The more usual approach is to use ornate symbolism that has no obvious relation to the behavior of chemicals in a crucible, or to any of the other materia that were the basis of the different alchemies discussed above. If you happened to be lucky enough to study with an experienced alchemist and win his or her trust, the secret could be explained in a few minutes.  Otherwise, the user’s manual amounted to these seemingly unhelpful words:  Lege, lege, lege, relege, ora, labora, ut invenies (Read, read, read, reread, pray, work, so that you will find it). Plenty of people have followed that advice over the years, but the number of known adepts remains very small.

All this was well known in intellectual circles in the years when the first European colonies in America were being established.  The spread of printing and the industrious labors of scholars such as Elias Ashmole had made the old alchemical literature much more accessible than ever before; where aspiring alchemists in 1400 might have to content themselves with a single handwritten book, their equivalents in 1650 could fairly easily purchase enough classic texts to fill a couple of bookshelves. As a result, a great many educated Europeans flung themselves into the study of alchemy with varying degrees of enthusiasm and competence. Isaac Newton was of course one of them—true believers in scientific rationalism have been trying every since his time to ignore the fact that he devoted more hours to alchemy than to physics, and wrote a million words on the subject in his private alchemical notebooks—but some influential figures in colonial America also devoted their time to the same quest.

As far as anyone knows, the first practicing alchemist to arrive in the American colonies was Jonathan Brewster, a member of the Brewster family so well represented aboard the Mayflower. Unlike his parents and brothers, Jonathan stayed in Holland for another year and sailed to the Plymouth colony on the Fortune, arriving in late 1621.  He supported himself as a merchant while devoting his off hours to alchemy; by 1656 he believed he had worked out the method, and wrote out a copy of his discoveries for his fellow alchemist John Winthrop Jr., to be delivered to the latter on Brewster’s death.

Winthrop was an even more important figure in the history of American alchemy.  The son of the first governor of Massachusetts Colony, and himself the first governor of colonial Connecticut, he had a first-rate education and took up alchemy while at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1631, a year after his father went to Massachusetts to take on the governorship, Winthrop sailed for the New World.  His interests extended to the practical—he founded one of Massachusetts’ first ironworks in 1633, helped develop mines in New England, and became a physician, treating up to a dozen patients a day—but he also had the largest alchemical library in the colonies, having gathered books assiduously during trips back home, and a busy and well-equipped laboratory.

Brewster and Winthrop were the leading edge of an era of active alchemical experimentation in New England. Christian Lodowick, the famous polymath of Newport, Rhode Island, included alchemy among his omnivorous intellectual interests. Other famous colonial alchemists were Samuel Danforth, who studied alchemy as part of his research into natural history (that’s spelled “science” today) at Harvard, and the Rev. Ezra Stiles, who was president of Yale from 1778 through 1795 and a friend of Benjamin Franklin. The most influential of all, however, was a young man by the name of George Starkey.

Starkey was born in Bermuda in 1628 and was sent to Boston in 1637, on the death of his father, to continue his education. He enrolled in Harvard at the age of 15 and devoted much of his time to alchemical studies.  In 1650, at the ripe age of 22, he and his wife Susannah crossed the Atlantic the other way and settled in London, where Starkey had access to books and also raw materials for alchemical practice that were unavailable in New England. He immediately became an important figure in the English alchemical scene of the time, and began writing books on alchemy under the pen name Eirenaeus Philalethes (“peaceful lover of truth”).

Starkey had an immense impact.  Many people who know a little about the history of science have heard of Robert Boyle, who is now considered one of the founders of scientific chemistry; Boyle learned the basics of laboratory technique from George Starkey. Isaac Newton, whose alchemical work has already been mentioned, copied Starkey’s recipes into his voluminous alchemical notebooks. George Newman, whose book Gehennical Fire first conclusively showed the identity of Starkey and Philalethes, notes that Starkey was the most widely cited American scientist in Europe until the time of Benjamin Franklin.  According to public records, Starkey died in 1666 when an epidemic of bubonic plague swept through London, but several of his books are still considered among the classic texts of laboratory alchemy.

With so substantial a base of support among the wealthy and educated in New England, and a pool of talent sufficient to produce one of the great names of alchemy  it may seem surprising that alchemy failed to become a permanent presence in the American occult scene. Nonetheless, that was what happened.  While English folk magic, Bakongo spirituality in its American incarnation as hoodoo, and classic Western astrology spread readily throughout the colonies, and German Pietist occultism found an enduring home among the Pennsylvania Dutch, alchemy lingered as a fringe interest among a few graduates of Harvard and Yale, and finally died out completely in the third quarter of the nineteenth century.  The reasons why that happened are worth considering here.

Among the most important reasons was the sheer expense of alchemical work.  The varieties of occultism that put down deep and lasting roots in America were all relatively inexpensive to practice and relied on readily available resources; an aspiring astrologer could get to work with nothing more difficult to obtain than a copy of William Lilly’s Christian Astrology and a few books of tables, for example, while a hoodoo practitioner during the years of slavery could carry out all the operations of that system of magic with materials that anyone could gather: scraps of cloth and cord, roots dug up in the forest, dirt from the nearest graveyard, and so on.  To practice alchemy, on the other hand, you need a well-equipped laboratory with plenty of glassware and specially designed furnaces that could maintain a constant steady heat for days on end—not an easy thing to do in the days before electricity—and you also needed various exotic reagents and raw materials.  All of this cost a great deal of money.

There were alternatives, and many years later—when the American alchemical revival began, in the middle years of the twentieth century—those alternatives saw plenty of use. Perhaps the most common of those is spagyrics, known more casually as “plant alchemy” and more formally as the opus vegetabilis, which applies alchemical processes to make herbal medicines. Spagyrics works with much cheaper ingredients and much lower temperatures than mineral or metallic alchemy, and you can outfit yourself with the necessary gear and supplies to make the simpler spagyric magisteries for a tiny fraction of what it costs to tackle even the simplest forms of metallic alchemy. Spagyrics thus became the standard first step in alchemical training in the twentieth-century revival in America, and holds that status today.

Many of the alchemists of colonial America practiced spagyrics, too, and those who were doctors used spagyric preparations to treat patients; George Starkey certainly did so, for example. The alchemical imagination of the age was tautly focused on the metallic side of alchemy, however, when it wasn’t fixated on the spiritual aspects so richly developed by Jakob Böhme and the Rosicrucians.  It’s common for people caught up in a fading movement of thought or practice to fling themselves at the grandest possible goals, to dream the most extravagant dreams, at a time when more modest goals and dreams might preserve more through the fallow period ahead. Certainly that’s what happened as the last golden autumn of Renaissance Hermeticism guttered out and the long bleak winter of scientific materialism closed in.

Fortunately the writings of the old alchemists were preserved, and helped inspire more than one burst of exploration in the years that followed.  We’ll be discussing some of those as our story continues.

157 Comments

  1. Dear JMG,

    Do I understand correctly that the alchemical process figures heavily in banishing rituals: solve et coagula, the space is banished, solve, and then filled with divine light, coagula. This is repeated as a sort of retort distillation of the aura and space? And so you meet people who’ve been doing banishing rituals for decades and they are filled with immense light from the alchemical process?

    And then, too, journaling about issues seems like a general solve and then choosing the correct working serves as the coagula. The issue and the person are separated through conscious process and then put back together on a higher level with the correct affirmation or what have you.

    It seems that almost inevitably one can look at these Hermetically derived magical practices and see at their heart the alchemical method as applied to spiritual growth the retort distillation that so excited Jung in his _Alchemical Studies_ really does seem to figure prominently into Western magic of a theurgic bent. Even the long night of the soul combined with contemplative prayer seems alchemical to my eye. That is, there’s a mystic alchemy as well as the magical, in which self-purification alternates with prayer in a grand solve et coagula as described by Evelyn Underhill.

  2. Did all living knowledge of alchemy die out or did any alchemists maintain a practicing lineage through the winter of scientific materialism?

  3. An interesting modern figure who was accused by many of being some kind of Alchemist is the Chemist Linus Pauling. His research in to the nature of chemical bonds is legendary, is often considered the most brilliant and original work in chemistry for which he won a nobel prize. But his later work in the health effects of Vitamin C has led to great ridicule from both the scientific and medical communities. While I don’t think that he exactly practised alchemy in the tradition of Newton, he is treated as medieval alchemist by many. Just yesterday my wife had a teleconference with her doctor and mentioned her increased intake of vitamin C to ward off Covid-19 and was met with a scoff and a remark something like ,” Linus Pauling’s witchcraft aside, there is no proof that large doses of Vitamin C have any health effects.”

  4. That is one of the things which will determine which practices and technologies will survive the decline and fall of Western civilization: how resource-intensive and complex a given technology or practice is. Beside the obvious candidates for extinction (mass tourism and air travel), there may be surprising ones.

    About alchemy, my impression is that it is generally not as prominent in occultism than other occult practices.

  5. Do you have a preferred metaphor for what the brain is most like? I’ve been disappointed with the historical ones involving hydraulics, clockwork and computers. The best one I could come up with is the brain is like a city. Obviously it’s not perfect but I think it comes closer to reality. More importantly, it opens up a whole new world of potential insults. 🙂

  6. Dear JMG,

    Another thought if I may:

    You write: “Plenty of people have followed that advice over the years, but the number of known adepts remains very small.”

    Here I can’t help but think that as I understand it the process of reincarnation functions as an alchemical process. Within the alembic of the body and soul the spirit undergoes its transformations with a solve and coagula of death and rebirth. For this reason, I imagine that the highest reaches of alchemy would be limited to those who’ve already had various transmutations of their spirit through the processes of reincarnation, and are reading themselves to enter a different sort of existence.

    It’s interesting in this light that at least some Asian alchemies that have immortality as the stated goal of the alchemical process, with the creation of a different sort of subtle body. This is not to discount the laboratory portion of all of it or to put an excessively psychological or spiritual spin on the process. Still the parallels between the alchemical method and reincarnation is persuasive, to say the least, especially considering the stated goals of some Asian alchemies.

    I’m curious your thoughts on this angle, if it’s something you wish to share!

  7. Violet, good. Remember that alchemy was one of the two core disciplines of Western occultism for a millennium and a half — astrology being the other — and an immense amount of alchemical thought spread throughout the spiritual end of Western culture, very much including Christian mysticism. There are old texts, plenty of them, that explicitly interpret the process of inner transformation in prayer and contemplation as an alchemical process, with Christ in the role of the spiritual Philosopher’s Stone.

    Tim, in the Western world it died out completely, and has had to be slowly rediscovered — a process that isn’t finished yet. There are Indian and Chinese alchemical traditions that are apparently still intact, but the methods vary enough that direct borrowing isn’t an option.

    Clay, these days “there is no proof” very often works out to “we’ve gone out of our way not to look into it.” As for Pauling, I grant that he’s treated as though he was an alchemist, but unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have studied the alchemical method — he might have done even more impressive work if he had.

    Booklover, yes, very much so — the more expensive and resource-intensive something is, the less likely it is to be preserved through the descent, no matter how essential we now think it is. As for alchemy, these days the alchemical community is fairly small and very quiet, simply because it’s expensive, complicated, and doesn’t have the kind of immediate payoff you get from ritual magic, say, or divination.

    Yorkshire, my favorite metaphor for the brain? The brain is like a radio receiver. The signals that come out of it aren’t produced inside it — the mind is not the brain! They’re just stepped down into a form that’s perceptible to the senses.

    Violet, as I noted in the post, if you apply the alchemical method to different subjects, you get a lot of different alchemies! Yes, that’s also one of them.

    MikeL, funny. Thanks for this.

  8. I’ve always found Alchemy to be fascinating. However, Spagyrics seriously appeals to me and resonates on a number different levels. Of course I can google it but I fear drowning in an excess of dubious information. Can you recommend a beginning reading list to explore this in greater depth?

  9. Clay Dennis – I just want to say that large doses of vitamin C worked for me! I read about that treatment being useful stop reactions to allergies and since I suffer quite badly in the Arkansas springs from the pollen and unfortunately, as a result, get sinus infections and coughs, as well as asthmatic attacks, I thought I would give it a try. One high dose of Vitamin C per day (from a good source) bring al the symptoms back to within reasonable levels and good enough for me to cope with, within 3 days or less of my starting the dosage. The first year I did it, it actually stopped and essentially cured my sinus infection that I had had for the previous month. I have even done my own test (not scientific but good enough for me) by stopping my dose for a few days – all my symptoms come flooding back and I feel lousy again and in fact ill enough to want to go to bed. So I think I will stick with something which works for me, and has relatively few side effects. PS I think your wife’s doctor is close minded fool and that’s a conclusion I have come to without a scientific study, but based on the evidence I have……

  10. Hello JMG,

    I guess the Emerald Tablet is in the category of texts that are “less vicious in their protective strategies” – if I’m not misguided. When I first read the Emerald Tablet without any clue about Hermetic philosophy, it looked like gibberish to me. However, after I read the Kybalion, I came back to the Emerald Tablet and read it again; then it made much more sense, at least in terms of “mental alchemy”. I wonder whether this approach can be generalised to other types of alchemical texts with similar level of complexity.

  11. So do you have a metaphor for the mind?

    If a skilled alchemist had the best possible lab, a couple of competent assistants, and could make it their full time occupation, what would their output look like? How much physical stuff, how many ‘product lines’? How much would be for customers and how much would they consume themselves? How many customers could they support? What’s the maximum number of concoctions they could have cooking at one time before their attention would be spread too thin and the mental aspects wouldn’t work any more?

    Also, Solve and Coagula sound like the strangest superhero team ever. 🙂

  12. Re: “ That’s where we get the iron dogma that insists that matter and energy can only be influenced by matter and energy—never by minds. ”

    Exactly! And yet did they not consider that “mind” might be energy which manifests, via the planes of existence (dimensions), as more solid matter?

    (Seems as though Jung had a far greater understanding of “mind”.)

    We might consider matter and energy as ONE big MIND.

    Which might make us, as conscious beings, as well as the planet and galaxy in which we reside, as “thoughts” manifested by that ONE MIND.

    Interesting to see how, throughout the ages, man would wish to complicate and intellectualize something, which in effect is quite simple.

    All that wasted energy, which if man could see himself as ONE with ALL, would be able to access deeper and greater mysteries.

    “As above, so below.” / DA’ATH

    Perhaps man (at that time and now?), so used to relying on the 5 senses and hence the material world or “reality”, assumed that alchemy is the transmutation of physical materials or metals vs the transformation of energy or adjustment of frequency (or raising of energy from the base level / root chakra, to the crown chakra).

    Thank you JMG for prompting worthwhile thought and discussion. Love your sense of humor peppered throughout!

    Blessings,

    Tanya

  13. John–

    Re the difference between mind and brain, and the radio receiver analogy

    My wife and I have been together for not quite eleven years now and something I can say with great certainty is that one of the purposes of this relationship is to yank me out of my head. In regards to the radio receiver and mind-is-not-brain, I have been given evidence, repeatedly and at times annoyingly, that my thoughts do not remain within my skull. On more than one occasion over the years, i have had my wife text or call me to find out what’s wrong, because she’s suddenly “feeling something.” One example: not too long ago, I got an internal email at work regarding a project I’d been working on (with some passion) for a good while, informing me that the higher-ups had decided to set it aside, which quite frankly pissed me off. I felt a sharp surge of anger–actually, rage–and my next thought was “Anne’s going to be calling me.” Not two minutes later, my phone rang, because she’d just been “punched in the gut,” as she put it.

    So as much as my (egoic) frustration wants to say that what goes on in my head is my own d— business and no one else’s, that just ain’t so.

  14. I studied the history of science in school, and was always fascinated when we touched on alchemy. (History of Science, as a field, was juuust starting to accept that there was a lot of meaning in the old alchemical texts.)

    Even then, a decade before my TSW moment, I had the strong intuition that removing the “spiritual” element from the investigation of nature was a big mistake. In the modern approach we take extreme care to learn about, control, and manipulate the objects of research, but we’re shockingly cavalier with the other half of the equation!

    I’ve always wondered what would happen if someone took an alchemically-inspired approach to modern scientific research. Would you get good results, or are the the fields just incommensurable at this point?

  15. What exactly is the alchemical method? Is there a simple explanation, like for the scientific method:

    (IIRC) Observe, read related science, observe again, develop theory, design and perform experiment to test theory, analyze results, observe…

    What is the alchemical method? And is there a good beginner book that explains it?

    Sincerely,
    Jessi Thompson
    anotheramethyst

  16. John,
    Fascinating as always. Have you ever read Maria Szepes’ classic occult novel “The Red Lion”?

  17. “Bravo” on the story your are bringing to the tables of waiting right now. Something to truly contemplate. I would like to do a radiocast on the subject if you find the time and even care too for that matter. I would just write your email but that has changed . So i will ask here. Thank you JMG for what you do, it has helped us freaks to understand why i feel like o freak so often. And guess what? its OK!

    Peace Hawk

  18. A man who was partially responsible for the fading of Alchemy in the second half of the 19th century is Andrew Dickson White. While ,as a good Yale man he understood Alchemy but soon after the civil war he helped found a university that was built on the idea of completely separating science from the spiritual. He went on to further beat down alchemy in his tome,” A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.” Though I would guess ADW would rank as one of the modern enemies of Alchemy, his personal library contains one of America’s great collections of books on Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy though it is mostly famous for the collection on Witchcraft.

  19. @JMG

    Alchemy is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. No matter what books on the occult I read they all seem to lead back to alchemy. A few weeks ago I mentioned your other blog how I think the SoP is a very alchemical ritual and how it relates to the four primary functions of the Ego.

    I don’t know if I will ever get into laboratory alchemy though, for several reasons, the only alchemy schools that teach laboratory work on a regular basis (that I know of) are located on the west coast in and around California and the classes cost quite a lot, sometimes thousands of dollars. Self-studying herbal alchemy is, of course, a cheaper option.

    I expect you will talk about Frater Albertus in your next post, the curious thing for me is what happened after him, how a lot of alchemists just packed their bags and moved to Australia and New Zealand. I still wonder why.

    @Everyone

    There’s a new podcast with JMG: https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-9b5hu-dc74dc
    where Archdruid recites the Emerald Tablet by memory, among other things.

    The April podcast with the Center for Progressive Urban Politics is available on YouTube again, turns out it was actually a technical problem (I thought it was a political one, they did offer some praise to president Trump which is a no-no in the world of the political Left).

    You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcHM29hiaPs

  20. Dear JMG,

    I would humbly suggest that any practitioner of the Cannabis Arts, especially if combined with meditation and mindfulness, has the potential to tap into those same insights of self transformation and alchemy. The various tinctures that the current crop of “Experts” claim is what works for various symptoms is often miles away from the practical experience of the whole plant methods of the old school stoner. In essence, determining what works as therapy and relaxation differs for each patient, and there is no universal rule, relegating Cannabis Alchemy like many other forms of non-dead world concepts to the arts.

    Of course, I suggest that the difference between art and science is as different as the gulf between science and the living world. Art itself is only possible by some mysterious factor that cannot be explained by science. There are theories and rules of course, as science has answers for everything, but only after the fact, and only in criticism. There are always a million reasons why something cannot be done, and when it is achieved, a million corollaries that alter the rules for just that one occasion, thus proving that the dogma wasn’t wrong! Whereas I find that while discussing things with artists, and those that create, the overall running statement is that the rules are there to guide the process, not to chain it. Simple acknowledgement that the rule was broken and it worked for the piece is often enough of an explanation in the realm of art and mind.

    However, I’d also suggest the same thing for anyone who becomes involved in a physical martial art that requires actual practice and repetition to achieve also can tap into that same personal alchemy. A person cannot normal throw themselves at the ground and walk away unscathed, yet through years of practice, it becomes second nature. An evolved instinct, created by mind, and honed by personal alchemy of labor. Another practical display of the mind, over time, creating a change not only in the physical world, but in the very nature of the mind’s reaction. A fundamental transformation, and the essence of alchemy, IMHO.

    I’d just suggest that the ability to fail and to learn from the failures is as important to alchemy as the recreation of success. The ability to fail, especially in America, is an ability many lack. It is important for a task to be performed badly before it can be performed well, and with the emphasis on recording and polishing to the greatest of perfection, it discourages many, I feel from even beginning the journey towards self-transformation and enlightenment. When quality is disconnected from effort, it only exacerbates the situation

    Again, might be wrong, but thanks for hearing my rambles.

  21. The Kundalini flowering in the human organism (all levels) is an alchemical process. Under certain conditions, the K process doesn’t take much of a pestle tap to blow you sky-high. Heh, as I well know.

  22. Btidwell, of course. You want The Alchemist’s Handbook by Frater Albertus, Spagyrics by Manfred Junius, and the Philosophers of Nature correspondence course on spagyrics, which you can download free of charge (as directed by the author’s will( here.

    Minervaphilos, the Emerald Tablet is a classic example of a set of instructions phrased in terms so abstract that you need a commentary to bring them down to the plane of practice. Yes, Atkinson can teach you how to apply the Tablet to mental alchemy; other commentaries can teach you how to do the same things with other alchemies.

    Yorkshire, sure. It’s the radio signal, and the spirit is the transmitter. As for alchemy, it depends entirely on which alchemy we’re talking about. As I noted in the post, there are many. One thing, though — you don’t do alchemy for customers. You can’t. The whole point of a participatory science is that you have to involve yourself in the process directly; you can’t just throw money at it.

    Tanya, and yet if you try to think your way through a brick wall, you may find it a little challenging. 😉 Mind and matter, in alchemical language, are different modalities of “the one thing,” but they’re not quite interchangeable!

    David, exactly. Mind is a continuum, just as matter is.

    PeterB, not only is it possible, it’s being done. Are you at all familiar with Rupert Sheldrake’s work? He’s spent years now working on the mind-matter continuum where alchemy takes place. More research along the same lines would be very helpful.

    Jessi, the alchemical method has been defined neatly as solve et coagula — in English, “separate and reunite” is perhaps the closest translation. Is there more to it than that? Of course — but it all works within that pattern. You separate the different aspects of the material, take them through certain transformations while separated, and then rejoin them. In the process, you separate out your subjective experience of the process from the objective process itself, and then recombine them. Modern science only knows the solve side of the process; when it begins to figure out the coagula, the world will become very different.

    Ethan, I have indeed.

    Hawk, sure thing. Put in a comment marked “not for posting” with your current email, and I’ll be in touch.

    Clay, White is a fascinating figure. I’ve long suspected that he desperately wanted to find room for magic in the universe, and reacted against that by persecuting the thing he secretly loved. Wouldn’t be the first time…

  23. Ecosophian, there’s no need to study in a school to learn laboratory alchemy, especially if you do it the smart way and start with spagyrics. The resources I recommended to Btidwell above will get you started. As for Frater A, we have a lot of people to cover before we get to him.

    Brevdravis, that seems quite plausible to me. I haven’t explored any of the various methods of psychedelic alchemy — they don’t play well with the disciplines that I’ve made central to my own spiritual path — but psychedelics of various kinds (cannabis included) have a long history as elements of traditional spiritual paths, and puting the personal, alchemical equation into the mix strikes me as very sensible.

    Will, it’s one of the forms of the Dry Way, under the presidency of Fire, and as the old lore points out, that Way is much quicker but much more dangerous than the Wet Way.

  24. JMG, I don’t know how organized Western Alchemy (WA) is/ever was, but Eastern/Daoist Alchemy (EA) along with Chinese Medicine, Taiji/Qigong and all seems to be a much more complete system. Now given, just like WA has had many different variations so does EA (making it difficult to speak of either of them as one unified system). Regardless, the more I study the more I get the feeling that they all have the same roots, but do to physical and temporal distance, different ways of training have developed. Many times, when I look at religion, I get the same feeling…that somehow a basic Truth got express in a myriad of ways over time. With this said, some of the paths seems to lead to the top of the mountain more readily than others. For this reason, I am grateful for you taking the time to connect the dots and fill in the blanks. Your generosity of time and commitment to uncovering the forgotten, lost and hidden are deeply appreciated.

  25. Fascinating article John. My take away from this, as a recently retired geologist, is that we should approach our conversation with nature as not only a physical process but as also a spiritual journey

  26. Plant alchemy? Fascinating. I will definitely have to look into spagyrics. Can you recommend any texts for the beginner?

    Was there any acknowledgement back in the day of how alchemical method affected or gave rise to certain styles of music? Given the importance of the music of the spheres in holding together universal order in the Renaissance worldview, there must have been extensive tinkering to unfold the mysteries hidden in the musical materials. That definitely sounds like it would be an alchemical process to me. Are there any good texts exploring musical alchemy?

    Given the similarities between alchemy and paint production in both methods and equipment and the dependency of the revolutionary shift to oil painting on new chemical discoveries, did the aesthetic or spiritual principles guiding painting influence the direction of chemical alchemy or vice versa? When an alchemical procedure yielded a compound of noble color that was stable enough to be used in painting to portray royal garments, how did that compound’s usefulness in the arts affect its attributions or nobility in chemical alchemy?

    Which of course leads to the question was the whole “rediscovery” of perspective and other principles of design in the Renaissance a participatory process of artistic alchemy? The endlessly repeated myth that a few rebellious Scholastics rediscovered the perfection of the aesthetics behind Classical antiquity always rang hollow to me. They certainly took inspiration from the surviving architecture and literature of the Classical age, but invented a wholly new Renaissance aesthetic out of their explorations, both outside and within.

    If the heady, fomenting age of discovery we call the Renaissance was guided, governed, and inspired by an alchemical methodology, does the creative initial stage in any civilization’s life cycle grow out of a child-like, playful, participatory science? IIRC you labelled that creative exuberance the Age of the Phoenix. Is an alchemical perspective the natural catalyst of Phoenix Ages?

  27. JMG,

    You carefully emphasized “participatory science, not a participatory science”. What might be the relationship between alchemy and the social sciences? Once there was just philosophy before the divergence between natural and moral philosophy. I don’t think that split was recognized a lot until the 19th century. Newton wrote on economics and Adam Smith wrote on astronomy. Thank you.

  28. Hi JMG,

    I’ve been reading Lucretius lately who, if I’m understanding him correctly, was an early proponent of many ideas which form the basis of scientific materialism.

    Lucretius argues that ‘spirit’ and ‘mind’ are the same thing and that they both expire at death. One of his arguments in particular roused my attention. He talks about how during illness the mind wanders or races and that this was evidence that disease could “invade” the mind and that therefore the mind was destructible.

    I had occasion to test this theory last year when I was in bed with fever for a few days. My mind was racing with the usual fever dreams. At the time, I had been working through the exercises in Mouni Sadhu’s book Concentration. I thought I would try and adapt those to see if I couldn’t calm my mind and ‘switch off’ the fever dreams. Lo and behold, it worked! I was able through concentration to get into a meditative state. And when my focus slipped, the fever dreams returned.

    Lucretius also uses intoxication to try and make the same argument for the destructibility of the mind. Which reminded me of Sartre’s story about the man who, as much as he tried, could not get so drunk that he no longer felt responsible for his actions.

    Cheers,
    Simon

  29. Is it also possible that one of the things that led to the dying out of interest in alchemy was a phenomenon seen today with science?

    That is the current proliferation of ‘experts’ who, in representing special interests, vociferously drown out anyone with real knowledge and expertise. These ‘experts’, who are becoming less and less believable and contributing to the downfall of science in the mind of the public.

  30. Thanks for this!

    Once again, as often happens when I read your work, you describe something I kind of intuitively know, or intuitively do anyway, but don’t quite have a name for what I’m doing. I do ‘alchemy’ all the time, in my cooking (as you mentioned) in my gardening work and in my music (there are other examples I’m sure).

    I can only describe it as a process of communicating with matter and talking to matter and getting matter to behave in different ways, or rather getting people to experience matter in different ways by bringing the matter to life in some way.

    I have a strong intuition for ‘dissolving’ things, starting a process of transformation, turning things to gold (literally and metaphorically).

    And I have studied no formal alchemy (in this lifetime)…

  31. Hi John,

    Interestingly, Aristotelian metaphysics points to something beyond the mathematical structures uncovered by modern science, and philosopher David Chalmers makes a good case for panpsychism. And if panpsychism is true, then matter can be “magnetized” or otherwise affected by our consciousness. (beyond the obvious ways.) That’s one way to make sense of houses that feel happy or sad.

    Another idea occurs to me: Chalmers asks us to consider a (philosophical) zombie which acts and reacts as a normal person would, except there is no consciousness. This zombie represents what materialism can uncover about the person, seen from the outside and disregarding any “psychic” modes of knowing. But we in fact are conscious. Chalmers concludes that consciousness must be a separate property of matter. And in this conclusion I discern a surprising corollary. Consciousness by its nature is not tied down to time and space, although it may focus on a particular space and a particular time. My reason: Chalmer’s zombie vs a person do not differ in their mass or energy content. Adding consciousness does not add energy. And mass-energy and space-time seem to go together, So if consciousness as such is untethered from energy, then I’m guessing that, in its fundamental nature, it’s untethered from space and time as well. This might be one reason behind remote viewing.

    Perhaps the scientism elbowed alchemy aside because the former led to quick results (like military weapons) and did not require any growth in wisdom. Whereas, alchemy tended to deliver results more slowly, and only in proportion to the wisdom attained, since it tied into the conscious state of the alchemist? It’s the difference between a series of one-night stands for the sex versus working on a loving relationship. Adolescents can be technically adept; whether they could be alchemically adept is another matter? So a society trapped in scientism has the feel of being in a perpetual adolesence.

    (Side science note: Even in the modern sense, the alchemists could have deliver even more empirical results, if they only tapped the gasses and not just the liquids.)

  32. Clark, I’m pretty sure that Western alchemy used to be that well structured and systematized, but it got very badly disrupted during and after the scientific revolution and is still in the process of recovering from the 200-year dark age that followed. That said, Taoist alchemy is a rich and robust tradition and I’m delighted to see so many people pursuing it.

    Raymond, you’ll get no argument from me!

    Christophe, the best starting points I know of for spagyrics are The Alchemist’s Handbook by Frater Albertus, Spagyrics by Manfred Junius, and the Philosophers of Nature correspondence course on spagyrics, which you can download free of charge here. For alchemical music, you probably want to start with the Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier, which is a collection of 50 alchemical emblems, epigrams, essays, and three-part fugues, all based on the same cantus firmus. Your other questions are great themes for research and meditation, which is in part a way of saying that I don’t know the answers to them!

    Daniel, several authors wrote on economics from an alchemical background — the one whose name comes to mind at the moment was Gerrard Winstanley, the chief theoretician of the Diggers during the English Civil War, who derived a labor theory of value from alchemical first principles. I seem to recall that there were German authors also who explored the alchemy of economics, but don’t recall names.

    Simon, nicely done. Lucretius speaks for all those people who assume that the limits of the untrained and unexercised mind are the limits of the mind per se.

    PatriciaT, that’s an excellent point.

    BB, maybe not, but either you studied it in a previous lifetime or you developed the appropriate skills some other way!

    Greg, that’s a very good metaphor. You might be interested to know that the concept of “gas” (as well as the term) was invented by the alchemist Francis Mercurius van Helmont, and that the alchemist Cornelius Drebbel used chemically generated oxygen to enable an oar-powered submarine to travel beneath the Thames in 1620…

  33. “Brevdravis, that seems quite plausible to me. I haven’t explored any of the various methods of psychedelic alchemy — they don’t play well with the disciplines that I’ve made central to my own spiritual path — but psychedelics of various kinds (cannabis included) have a long history as elements of traditional spiritual paths, and puting the personal, alchemical equation into the mix strikes me as very sensible.”

    Slightly off topic here but I’ve often thought one of the key reasons why western civ has such awful issues with drugs is that they offer people a relationship/insight with different states of consciousness, with the spiritual and with an insight into something other than their dull dreary boring industrial surroundings (this is also partly why I think attempts to prohibit drugs are doomed, they suppress the symptom rather than deal with the problem).

    I would love however to see drug use (like Cannabis) contained within ritual space as much as possible.

  34. Dear Mr. Greer – Can some parts of cooking be considered alchemical? Not so much some of the modern, trendy byways involving beakers and foaming things. Or, what comes out of processed food labs. (Truly dark magic?)

    I’m thinking of some of the interesting reactions you get, in good old fashioned cooking. Getting mayo to form. Churning out a good meringue. I think the Maillard reaction is very magical. And tasty.

    And we can’t forget brewing. Bread making? To me, it all seems kind of wondrous and magical. Lew

  35. @JMG

    Could you explain what the motivation for the secrecy and misdirection was? It’s easy to ascribe negative motivations such as fraud to some examples but I’m under the impression that there’s considerably more to it than that.

    Where would someone begin these days if they wanted to effectively explore mineral alchemy? Can it only be by personal instruction?

  36. In one of your replies to Darkest Yorkshire here, you say that alchemy can’t be done for customers; in the post itself, though, you say that doctors who practiced spagyrics would use spagyric preparations to treat patients. How are there reconciled? Were the patients brought into the process actively? Was it key that the preparations were being used by the person who made them, such that a preparation provided to another doctor and then used in the same way would not work? Bother, or something else?

  37. I have only a peripheral familiarity with the Alchemical method, but it has occurred to me that the hard segregation of mind and matter in Western thought seems very much like the ‘separate and purify’ portion of alchemy. It’s almost as though the hermeticists, seeing the divergence of science and religion, attempted a massive, ongoing alchemical work on the whole process.

    Does anyone else, perhaps with a deeper understanding of alchemy, see a similar pattern? And if so, does it seem like that attempt might still be successful?

  38. JMG,

    It strikes me as likely that Golden Dawn magic could be forgotten much like alchemy was, due to the sheer time it takes to assimilate all the information into a coherent whole in the mind.

    Any thoughts on how to preserve the best aspects of it? It has so much potential, and would be very sad if it became lost completely in the future.

  39. …speaking of the music of the spheres…

    JMG wrote, “The alchemists of colonial America were the last heirs of the Renaissance worldview, inheritors of a cosmos in which every material substance was full of life and consciousness, in which metals branched and flowered in the veins of the rocks and planets sang to one another as they circled through the heavens.”

    My latest Radiophonic Laboratory segment for Free Radio Skybird is based on the theme of the Music of the Spheres, as interpreted by Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and Laurie Spiegel, working at Bell Laboratories, among a few other things. Though the episode it appears in won’t be broadcast until June 7 and 14th on shortwave, I will share a download link for the wonderful commentariat who gather around this blog. Cheers to the music of the spheres and the veins of flowing metal running through this world.

    Click here to stream or download:
    https://u.pcloud.link/publink/show?code=XZFxbqkZrz45k2d2nxpy9Kc8a1FoNhRyFuzy

  40. Do you have a reference for Gerrard Winstanley, alchemy and the labour theory of value?

    Since the Diggers have been brought up, I’ve got something to add here. There are socialists who look for scientific principles that suggest their desired end goal is possible. Complexity theory’s self-organisation of complex systems is a popular one. But it’s also used to support free market capitalism as well. Particularly to support revolution there are superfluid and supercritical fluid rapid phase transitions. These are the times when a really hot cup of coffee boils on having a sugar cube dropped in, or a bottle of very cold beer freezes solid when banged on a table. Similarly there are cellular automata where under certain conditions it’s like a shockwave runs through them and they all change at once.

    Marxism has been compared to Christianity with a new coat of paint, but things get really interesting when you compare it to alchemy instead. The four stages of alchemy match up suprisingly well to concepts in revolutionary theory like the class struggle, polarisation of social forces, ferment and crystallisation of ideology, dual power, the role of revolutionaries… And probably a load of other stuff I could spend the rest of the day thinking about. Oh yeah got another – how in making the revolution the proletariat transforms itself, becoming both capable of running, and worthy of, the new post-revolutionary society. The only bit where the comparison falls apart is the last phase. The newly purified bourgeoisie don’t get reintegrated: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ivan_Vladimirov_flight-of-the-bourgeoisie-from-novorossiysk-in-1920.jpg 🙂

  41. It’s a far more mundane example, but in the start-up industry, they often talk about unbundling and bundling industries/verticals, which the discussion on solve et Coagula reminded me of.

    Right now for example, there is a lot of talk about unbundling the whole higher education industry. Most people are not going to pay $40,000 to get taught through Zoom calls.

    I doubt the entrepreneurs/business people who came up with this term were alchemists but I guess this is something observable in nature. The alchemy of business as it were.

  42. @bb

    Since this is kinda my thing, I’d like to chime in with a little more elucidation. IMHO, the necessity of education and study before indulging in any kind of substance is vital.

    If you look at many older civilizations, and here I use models such as oracles and ecstatic celebration, much of the use was often condemned as chaotic and disruptive to society. In many mythologies, the chaining of such activities to a ritual submission to an authority figure is central to the “Founding Myths” as Apollo’s victory over Python. Or the Maeneds being subdued by their association with Dionysus. (Who’s to say WHAT the Pythia were inhaling…) You even see such things in C.S. Lewis children’s books, where the party is considered acceptable, provided one remembers that there is a deeper purpose to it. (Sometimes I think Lewis was a poor Pagan, trying to make his dry religion into one that exalted joy among his peers. Even the creatures he selected show it, IHMO… sorry, ramble and OT)

    As such, it is important that any insights gained from such activities be carefully scrutinized for ones own biases and impulses. For me, for example, many of my insights pertain to the present, however they’re expressed in memories, both fictional and not, crossing my minds eye. It’s a matter of figuring out what the brain is trying to tell me while it’s in an altered state. Hence Self reflection and Meditation is as vital as the enjoyment of the experience, in order for therapeutic or alchemical self-transformation of thought.

    I see a similar transformation in martial arts, as I mentioned. The ecstasy of exertion is a real thing, and alters the state. In a formal class, with guided meditations and full ritual workout, the energy becomes electric and transformational. You see a similar activity in the Military with their morning PT. The transformation of thought and body through repeated ritual and dogma.

    I would greatly appreciate more people seeing drugs as what they are, which is a gateway to an altered state. It’s how we prepare and learn from that altered state which is important, IMHO, not the state itself. However, those in such a state of changed consciousness are extremely easy to manipulate, as the old saying goes, “Ask her again after two drinks.” So, yes, in a society run by folks who want to take advantage of others, free and unlimited use of drugs would be a easy way to make a lot of marks.

    Sorry, that was a LONG ramble again, but I’m a firm believer in experience being a great teacher, but only if somebody is actually ready to learn.

  43. For anyone interested in Atalanta Fugiens:

    Atalanta Fugiens; can listen to samples of the music (quite captivating) for free here;

    https://www.amazon.com/Maier-Atalanta-Ensemble-Plus-Ultra/dp/B004QDNSS8

    Atalanta Fugiens or Atalanta Fleeing, an emblem book by Michael Maier, can be found here;

    http://93beast.fea.st/files/section1/maier/Maier%20-%20Atalanta%20Fugiens.pdf

    more info about Atalanta Fugiens;

    http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/Eberly/AtalantaCommentary.html

  44. I would guess that your idea from many years ago of classifying different industrial activities between “mixing” and “sorting” processes (if I’m remembering the terms correctly), the former lending itself to centralization and the latter most effective when distributed, was inspired by alchemical concepts. Was that from Winstanley or one of the Germans you spoke of, or is it your own economic alchemy?

    Now I’m seeing these principles everywhere. For instance, the key to vision (as in eyesight, although the concept does generalize) is sorting then mixing. Light from every direction strikes every exposed part of the eye. For a focused image, a lens is needed to sort the light by which direction it came from, onto a physical map on the surface of the retina. (The mixing, re-assembling the retina’s signals into an experience of a scene in front of us, is far more complex in this case. Clearly there are a lot of other ingredients going into that coagula.)

    Speaking of light, Newton must have seen his work with the color spectrum as a breakthrough in alchemy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he regarded it as his most important discovery.

    Can I mention the data processing operations of sorting and merging, and how utterly central to the field they are, from the days when they were performed literally on stacks of punched cards, right up to today? It might not be welcome news, if it turns out a hefty portion of the modern successors of the Renaissance alchemists are working around server farms… and up to no good.

  45. I saw the comments about vitamin C and recalled the story of what happened to Donald “Deke” Slayton. He was part of the original Mercury Seven, but was cut from the flight crew because of heart murmurs. The story goes, that he caught a cold in the winter of 1971, and self-medicated with massive doses of vitamin C and runs on the beach. When he next went for a check-up, his “incurable” heart condition was cleared up and he was finally cleared to fly on the 1975 Apollo/Soyuz test project.

    BTW, I’m having a little bit of difficulty relating the mixing of chemicals in glass flasks to the exploration of esoteric philosophical knowledge. I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the connection. Unless is it like cooking? Where two people can read the same recipe, but one person manages to make it much tastier than the other because the ‘love’ cooking and the other doesn’t?

  46. BB, both those points seem quite reasonable to me.

    Lew, well, I said in so many words in the post that every good cook practices alchemy, so yes, I would have to agree. 😉

    Andy, first of all, until modern times it was standard practice in every profession to keep the core methods secret. That’s one of the things about medieval and Renaissance culture that modern people have a hard time understanding — we tend to think of knowledge as a shared good, they tended to think of it as something that was cheapened by being made public. Still, if the old alchemists are telling the truth, there was more to it than that. They insisted that if the secret of the Great Work were to become widely known, the result would be an unparalleled catastrophe, type not clearly specified.

    As for learning metallic alchemy, the link to the Philosophers of Nature course listed above will get you the best information on that subject I know of. I strongly encourage you, though, to put a year or so into spagyrics first — that will give you a lot of the necessary skills, including subtle capacities of mind and spirit, that you’ll otherwise need to develop at much greater expense and risk.

    Reese, good. Keep in mind that alchemists also had to support themselves, and a good many of them made herbal and mineral medicines and treated illnesses to pay the bills. Some of the simpler spagyric processes produce medicines that you can give to another person with good effect, and if course if you’re a spagyrist and know your way around herbs, you’ve got the training you need to make ordinary tinctures and the like. The serious magisteries, though, were for the alchemist alone.

    Greencoat, that’s possible — the question then becomes whether the coagula can take place, or whether what has been divided will stay divided.

    Connor, the great advantage Golden Dawn magic has is that it can be preserved intact in a single book. (Yes, that would be Regardie’s famous volume.) Since all the instructions are written out explicitly, and the actual costs of practice are very modest, all you have to do is see to the preservation of copies of the book — or of Golden Dawn literature more generally — and we’re good. With that in mind, anything that furthers the survival of letterpress printing technology would be an investment in the right direction.

    Isaac, that idea seems to be surfacing in a lot of minds just now. Thanks for the link!

    Justin, huzzah! Thanks for this.

    Yorkshire, it’s been a long time, but there was an anthology of Winstanley’s writings published in the 1970s, I think. As for Marxist alchemy, hmm. Looking at the historical examples, I don’t really think that follows — for example, in Russia and China, it wasn’t the proletariat that became capable of running the post-revolutionary society. Rather, the radicalized intelligentsia seized control and became apparatchiks, leaving the proletariat just as dispossessed as ever.

    Alvin, fascinating. That makes sense, though — if the alchemical method works, as I have reason to think it does, then alchemical models would explain phenomena whether or not those phenomena were created with alchemical ideas in mind.

    JeffinWA, thanks for this! The Joscelyn Godwin translation is I think long out of print, but worth getting if you can find a copy.

    Walt, I’m scratching my head trying to remember ever saying something about mixing and sorting. It’s a great classification, and I can see the usefulness of it, but I’m far from sure I have any business taking credit for it!

    Renaissance, yes, it’s like cooking. In fact, I mentioned that in the post!

  47. @JeffinWA

    Thanks for the reminder about Michael Maier’s emblems… A man named Adam McLean played them and made a video so that each emblem is shown during the same musical portion, available here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1a6X-JUL2LE

    Speaking of all this alchemy, I think musical alchemy is certainly its own field of study. At least music in relation to magic and mysticism, and certainly there are aspects that would relate to alchemy. Or as I think of mixing music, and even the way I create some of my radio, a certain way of mixing the sounds to create the right conjunctions and distillations.

    Joscelyn Godwin has been on my mind a lot this week… and there are a few of his books, though available at the library, that I want to have in my own collection.

  48. I really like the metaphor of the brain as a radio. (although I think maybe a cell phone is slightly better, because the cell phone also has memory that can alter how the signal gets processed.)

    The brain as a receiver is very interesting because it implies that the mind is not just in the brain, it really does also exist outside of the brain.
    I started to read the alchemy pamphlets you linked to, the best nugget I found so far is :
    Meditating is like fishing………..for ideas.
    I guess that in the meditative state the brain is like a lure trying to catch an idea.
    I am going to have to meditate on that idea for a while, see what I catch 😉

    Just to build a little bit on what Walt F was talking about;
    The ear might be an even better example of sorting (distilling/ purifying) and recombining.
    In the ear there is a little weirdly shaped bone that acts like a prism for sound. It takes the complex incoming sound and breaks it up into its different frequencies (does a Fourier Transform). The nerve cells in the brain don’t start out with the complex sound wave, the brain starts out sonic information presorted to build up what you hear.

  49. So in other words, the reason alchemy didn’t make the transfer to colonial America was not because it was technically unfeasible, but because it was economically unviable in contrast to, say, London? (And, of course, by the time it became economically viable, it had become discredited…)

    …Hmm, sounds like something else we’ve discussed on your blogs before. Won’t name names, but it starts with three W’s and it ends in a tearful plea to turn off your ad-blocker or at least whitelist this site.

  50. Okay now the metaphor has graduated to the next level of interesting. What happens if we reverse it? Say you were doing an alchemical operation to produce whatever is alchemy’s closest equivalent to the workers’ paradise (modest Abred-only version – doesn’t have to build shining towers all the way to Ceugant). But then at the end there’s just some gunk stuck to the bottom of the bottle that smells of stagnant bureaucracy and labour camps. What would you think had gone wrong with the process?

  51. The following might be of interest – Islamic Medical Manuscripts at the National Library of Medicine:
    the first link is the ‘welcome’; the second is the ‘catalog’ which lists alchemy along with many other topics (with links), including for example ‘Magical/Astrological Medicine’; third is a list (with links) of various manuscripts on alchemy; the fourth page has images from from various manuscripts, including some charts (gorgeous eye candy for non-Arabic readers like myself).
    https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/arabic/welcome.html
    https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/arabic/catalog_tb.html
    https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/arabic/alchemy_tb.html#top
    https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/arabic/alchemy_gallery.html

    By the way, this website was found during a search for old books.

  52. Hello Justin, so your show is going out over the air on shortwave only (no internet feed I gather). Could you kindly provide the time and frequency?

  53. Hello JMG. You replied to Isaac regarding Mark Stavish’s interview link. What do you think of Stavish’s book ‘The Path of Alchemy’? I did not see you mention it as recommended reading.

  54. Hey jmg

    Do you happen to know if alchemy was ever used for less benign purposes, such as making poisons for example?
    I remember you saying that students make the mistake of trying to make spagyric mushroom tincture which apparently aren’t safe, did people ever make that stuff with intention of putting that lack of safety to good use?

  55. Oh, how odd! I’ve been applying the “mixing vs. sorting” concept for years and I’ve always associated it with the ADR. (I can’t find it in my archive, though.) Maybe it was discussed at some other peak oil site around the same time (though I read few of those), or it was an article someone linked to in the comments. The context was centralized industrial operations that were relatively likely or unlikely to survive deindustrialization in centralized form. The paradigms for the two categories were a bakery for mixing, and a recycling “center” for sorting. The latter has an arguably negative economy of scale (especially, absent the externalities of underpriced energy), making its current centralized form a temporary aberration.

    Other sorting operations include cleaning, butchering, and fiber processing. Most crafts and trades are mixing, but their supply chains require sorting steps. For example, skinning before tanning and shoemaking.

    Other factors have to be taken into account, though. Mining and smelting are technically sorting, but they kind of have to be centralized where the ore is. Distilling is technically sorting, but there are advantages to doing it alongside brewing, which is mixing. So one might imagine distilling being done on all different scales, from highly centralized to highly localized—and historically, that’s what we see.

    But in general, in an efficient (not merely cost-efficient) economy, high-entropy mixed stuff should be sorted (or used) where it is instead of transported. No shipping dirty laundry from San Francisco to Hawaii or China to be cleaned, as was actually done in the Gold Rush era. Sorted stuff (and low-entropy mixed stuff, like shoes) are what should be moved around, when necessary. Maybe there’s a parallel alchemical principle.

  56. If alchemy is a participatory science, in which the scientist is working with other forces in the cosmos to both transform the materials they work with and themselves; and bearing in mind the conversation from last week about how today’s scientists may sometimes be in communication with elemental forces and physical laws without conscious knowledge; is it not possible to conceive a generous reading of science’s replicability crisis to encompass not only corruption and dishonesty, but also passionate scientists whose results are not replicable because the results inadvertently depend also on the relationship between them and the forces they work with?

  57. JMG,

    With regard to The Red Lion of Salomon Trismosin, do you have to just happen to have the background in chemistry to figure out the result, or is there some way to realize it’s a bad idea before getting too far?

    I was thinking a lot about boobytraps in old magical tomes, and how that would impact the authors karmically, recently.

    In the potential boobytrap in Bruno (what you mention about the astrological images in your commentary), there seems to be a rather brilliant logic: That section of the text is kinda just there, without exact instructions. A reader who just found it perplexing and walked away would be fine, but someone who is serious can either ask “How can I use this?” or “Should I use this?”
    If they focus entirely on how to get what they want without thinking about whether or not they should, they can end up imprinting badly timed malefics all over their “internal writing.” If they think about whether or not they should, they’ll realize the issues with using it, and if they think about both “should” and “how” the potential utility of that sections starts to open up (although I’m certainly only at the beginning of that).

    There seemed to a similar logic in an Arabic manual of magic someone mentioned on MM a while back: The text claimed you needed to commit a variety of heinous crimes in order to obtain great power, and insisted that these needed do be done in a particular order and with certain precise details fulfilled. The result of all of the instructions was that you needed to spend a lot of time in a city (I.e., near law enforcement) committing a series of crimes arranged more-or-less in order of “likelihood of getting you caught red-handed,” and anyone reading the book who was immoral enough to commit heinous crimes for power and dumb enough to follow instructions without reflection would find themselves in prison or worse long before they got to any of the really bad stuff or discovered any real power.

    So I can understand why the authors would think the boobytrap was the morally preferable option: If the magic contained within really could be used to hurt people, it would probably be better to make sure that it would blow up in the face of anyone who doesn’t think about the consequences of their actions than to give such a person clear instructions.

    Am I on the right track regarding the logic of traps in alchemical tomes, or is it nothing so predictable?

  58. Mr. Greer,
    Is the Samuel Danforth you refer to the Reverend Samuel Danforth, who was born in 1626 and died in 1674? He emigrated from England to the U.S. in 1632 to Cambridge, MA and graduated from Harvard in 1643. The Danforth Genealogy mentions he was an astronomer as well. If so, I am descended from his brother Jonathan. His other brother Thomas was the deputy governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Salem witch trials; however, Thomas did not sit on the Court of Oyer and Terminer, nor did he believe in spectral evidence.

  59. Since cooking is a form of alchemy, I infer that cuisine may rightly be considered a spiritual activity, and the finest chefs are doubtless those nearest to Gwynfydd.

    I can’t help wondering if something of the sort applies in the case of old time painters, or more often their apprentices, laboriously grinding precious and semiprecious stones and other minerals into fine powders and carefully mixing them with oils or other binders, creating ink or heating sticks of willow to make drawing charcoal, and the like: all of which must be made with focused attention. There’s quite a bit of chemistry in such preparations, so perhaps some degree of alchemy too.

  60. Dear John Michael,

    Australian Aboriginal art can, I feel, express this delving into the inner life of all things.

    The digital image is a degree of seperation from actual experience, but this piece “Seed Story” can begin as an example:

    https://www.australianaboriginalartgallery.com.au/gallery?task=details&item=81531840

    The artist has not painted “the seeds”. She has painted the story of how the seeds and her ancestors have lived together for millenia, a relationship that has transformed them both.

    I have at times stood in front of a canvas that, to the modern materialist, would be eg. “white dots on a blue background”. But no, it was so much more than that. The canvas breathed, a living representation of the artist’s subject and it’s unique life experience in spirit form.

    Some pieces seem to me a picture of what the thing would look like if all subjective traits were removed and only its soul remained.

    I suspect that this is a part of what the alchemist finds. To see inside the living essence of something, test how it’s components react to her own, and be mutually transformed by the experience.

    So, a scientist could do this, if she acknowledged the life experience of her subject and allowed them both to be transformed in the exchange, yes?

    Thank you for all you do.
    Chris

  61. Skyrider, the metaphor that compares meditation to fishing is quite traditional!

    Brendhelm, yep. An occult practice doesn’t have to make money to survive, but if it’s too heavy a drain on the pocketbook…

    Yorkshire, in this case it’s not just some gunk at the bottom. The entire contents of the vessel stink of secret police, prison camps, and mass graves. In alchemical terms, your process failed in the first stage — the putrefactio or decay of the old structure, instead of giving rise to something new and luminous, simply kept on rotting. (So, of course, did the 75 million or so people killed by Marxist regimes since 1917…)

    PatriciaT, thanks for this.

    LunarApprentice, thanks for the reminder! It’s quite a good book.

    J.L.Mc12, no doubt, but for obvious reasons none of the sources talk about that.

    Walt, fascinating. It’s certainly a valid analytical tool.

    Quin, yes, that’s also potentially an issue!

    Yucca Glauca, the only way to know that the Red Lion is going to tear you to pieces is to know enough about the chemistry of metals to realize what the result of the operation will be. The book gives no warning. As for the logic behind the traps, that’s part of it; another is that alchemists ran the risk of being imprisoned by kings and aristocrats who wanted to extort the secret of the Great Work. If that happened to you, if things went well, you could hand over the Red Lion and get someplace safe; if worst came to worst, you could offer to teach your captor the method in person, and blow up him and yourself with a single tap of the pestle.

    Chinese alchemists had a sneakier but no less lethal method. They had various recipes for pills of immortality that contained carefully measured amounts of mercury, arsenic, and antimony, all three of which are nasty nerve poisons. If you take them in modest doses, though, at first you feel a rush of vitality — very small doses of arsenic used to be used as a tonic in Western medicine for that reason. So you make the pills of immortality for the nobleman, he feels the effects and is all happy, and you let him know that when his hands start trembling that’s a sign that the qi is flowing powerfully through the meridians and immortality is just a few pills away. You have a good chance of getting away — and of course not long after the nobleman’s found stone cold dead, and his body doesn’t decay, so everyone decides that he became an immortal after all. Everyone’s happy — well, except the nobleman, who’s just dead.

    Kimberly, I’ve heard it pronounced spa-JIH-ricks and spa-JYE-ricks.

    Jgregg78, yes, I believe that’s the same Samuel Danforth. So, like Charles Dexter Ward, you have an alchemist in the family… 😉

    Kevin, yes, very much so. All the old handcrafts that involved a great deal of personal interaction with the material verged on alchemy.

    Chris, yes, exactly.

  62. I have spent years messing around with chemistry as a hobby, and I have an assortment of relatively basic/cheap but serviceable glassware, equipment, and reagents. I’m wondering – do you know of any accessible books on chemical/physical alchemy? Preferably one that doesn’t try to blow me up!

  63. Alchemy, a persons interaction with physical processes, just as cooking where two people won’t make for the same result, though with the same ingredients and recipe.

    That is an interesting thought, though I haven’t yet grasped the gist of “Alchemy” debated here.
    I remember however a very vivid discussion here on ecosophia, and a very interesting one, about the premise that everything has a soul or consciousness.
    People argued how they expereinced two items of the same type like a boat paddle to differ in their handling, even though they should have been produced uniformly, thus share the same traits in everything!

    There was one chemist here who recounted how the set up of chemical cycles in industrial projects *never* is a standard process and always takes a long time to calibrate, even though by blueprint it should always be the same! That is something I found very interesting and exciting to think about.

    About ten years ago I heard from a german engineer who made a good living in China repairing machinery in the industry. Because the chinese engineers, at least back then, could study a blueprint and the *theory* of how the machinery works, but they were unable to solve non-standard problems that would invariably arise.

    But that, as a conclusion to my comment, is also some kind of central faulty premise to the modern day materialistic thinking – that everything follows due process in science and technology. Peope unacquainted with a field of science and research often underestimate individual experience and internalized knowledge entirely, at least that is what I often guess. As if knowledge would exist objectively, as opposed to the notion knowledge only exists when there is a consciousness to contain and transform it.

  64. Our host says, ‘if the secret of the Great Work were to become widely known the result would be unparalleled catastrophe-‘

    Kenneth Rexroth, in his essay on alchemy, says:

    ‘It may be objected that I have not explained in literal detail exactly what Thomas Vaughan and his wife were up to. The reason should be obvious. It killed them. Tantric and yogic works are full of warnings of the dangers of unguided autonomic nervous-system experiments. The neophyte is told again and again that he can learn only by submitting himself to the personal guidance of a teacher — guru. If not, he is warned that he will certainly come to a bad end. Furthermore, all texts all over the world of this type of mysticism point out that the precondition and essential foundation for all such practices is right living, the fulfillment of the commonplace injunctions of Buddhist, Christian or Chinese morality. Without this foundation the would-be adept is, as the experience of millenniums has shown, inevitably doomed.

    I am well aware that following hard on the heels of Carl Jung have come a horde of apostles of irresponsible do-it-yourself ecstasy. Alchemy, Gnosticism, Tantrism are today part of a world characterized also by hallucinogenic drugs, folk songs, peace marches and black stockings. The great trouble with these people is that they confuse transcendence with sensationalism. Thomas Vaughan was a wise, disciplined and careful man, yet vision was too much for him. His work may be an inspiration but it is certainly also a warning.’

    Do you think Rexroth was roughly right about alchemy?

    engleberg

  65. @JMG

    I can promise you that I will not be diving into practical mineral alchemy, I’m just curious. In fact I’m curious about the whole world of occultism and although I am getting increasingly helpful results from Geomancy I’ve got no illusions (I hope) of my talents in this area. After 6 months effort I have reached the dizzying heights of the ‘semi-circle of protection’. I’m not even out of two dimensions yet! No, it’s going to be divination, SoP, and then proper discursive meditation in due course. Mundane and horological astrology after that, then I’ll see.

    So my question was more like a student in first term picking up the catalogue and wondering what course ‘Tensor Equations 525’ was like.

    Your comment about the modern attitude towards knowledge as a public good was intriguing. I believe I’ve seen the trailing edge of this with the rise of open source software in the past 30 years, with enormous companies making a very good living from software that they give away. I wonder if this attitude will be one that improves the downwards slope of the long descent. Our descendants will have much to complain about what we’ve done; maybe this will be the saving grace.

  66. Walt, there’s a curious exception to the rule against shipping low purity stuff: gold ore. If a remote mine was refining high purity ingots, they’d have thieves lined up down the street. A bulk freighter full of ore will be far safer on the way to a secure refinery.

  67. A few odd ideas. Definitely not coagula or whatever.

    1. In my family contemplating is an honourable activity. I guess it is at least related to meditation.
    2. It is known that when an experiment is performed it is also affected by the watcher. So there is interaction between watcher and watchee even if the watchee is supposedly inanimate.
    3. I cannot understand anyone who still tries to convince anyone that Communism is a good idea. It has had plenty of time to prove its efficacy. I am very glad my great-grandmother came here from Poland. I have had a better life. Nobody should be trying to create a paradise for anyone else. Live and let live is also a time honoured idea in my family.

  68. In one of my imaginary lands there’s a monastery high in the hills. A river flows past it and pools many times on the way down. Any aspirant who wishes to join the monastery ritually bathes in every pool on their way up, performing different rites in each and being cleansed at deeper levels as they go. When they finally emerge from the topmost pool, they are sufficiently purified to enter the monastery and begin their training.

    The idea was inspired by the counterflow heat exchanger, and a type of restaurant dishwashing station designed to maximise efficient use of water. 🙂 Not sure if it had occured to me before how alchemical it sounds.

  69. If there is any basis to the possibility that the replicability crisis is due in part to inadvertent alchemy, then science (of the variety that ignores all except perceptible material causes) has been hoist upon its own petard, since the result is a crisis of confidence caused by its own inability to avoid participating with the universe it studies, try as it might. Then it could be said that one of the greatest limits of the knowledge of Science lie in its practitioners’ inability to know their own relationship with the forces they seek to study. If this is so, then by seeking to separate itself from from alchemy, material science has created a condition whereby material science ironically fails— due to alchemy!

    Then again, this may also provide a clue to the nature of whatever ends up being the next great scientific paradigm shift. It may be that after the long separation from participatory science may come reintegration, wherein the Observer Effect is newly understood not as an unfortunate obstacle to be worked around or minimized, but rather as a great opportunity to do even greater work!

  70. JMG – In the Wikipedia article for “fulminating gold”, I read that the amorphous “compound” can be created by accident, if one is try to leach gold from electronic scrap. If the “scrap” was restorable old ham radio equipment, there might be some justice involved. 😉

    BTW: I ran a Special Event Station last Saturday from 8 AM to 1 PM, and made contacts in the 40m band from Georgia to Vermont, and Michigan. So Rhode Island is probably within my contact zone, even during the day, even with record-breaking low levels of solar activity.

  71. Dear JMG,

    Thank you for your responses! The part about alchemy dying out in large part due to its expense has me thinking about spiritual practices in general. Certainly, during Dark Age times with extreme poverty one sees a lot of intense devotional mysticism, which is perhaps the spiritual practice that needs the least amount of resources. If one looks at the lives of Christian mystics in Dark Ages Europe, for example, a lot of them were what we could describe as ‘homeless,’ very often undernourished, wandering, harried, and somehow also caring for lepers! Indeed, this devotional mysticism really seems the closest humans get to “living on love.”

    More formal magical practices seem like they require quite a bit more: privacy, personal space, materials, and access to books. A devotional mystic and go around everywhere with their intense devotional energy, making friends with wolves, living in lean-tos, and eating whatever slop the peasants donate every few days — here I think of the life of Saint Francis especially. A mage needs at least a room that he or she can have access alone, regularly, and at least some amount of supplies. So a mage needs at least marginally more than the devotional mystic, who can often get by with a cloak and a begging bowl.

    It seems to me that in a real practical sense a mage is limited by what he or she can afford: an ephemerides will help the practice significantly, for instance. A shelf full of books much more so. Some good beeswax candles, yet even more, a censure, a suit of clothing only worn for rituals, a room of his or her own, etc. Of course, a mage can get by on much less. But it’s interesting to see with urban hoodoo practice how quickly so much of this stuff got incorporated into hoodoo, that is, how quickly hoodoo which as you note at first only required “scraps of cloth and cord, roots dug up in the forest, dirt from the nearest graveyard” soon expanded to include complex altars with continually burning candles and all sorts of curios. Of course, magic practice can be scaled back in complexity…but not quite to the level of the cloak and the begging bowl.

    The laboratory alchemist needs to have not only a room of his or her own, but also all sorts of fancy and specialized equipment, not to mention many books and ample free time. At this point, one has gotten into the absolutely prohibitively expensive, not just for the supplies, but for the indoor space for a laboratory, the technical ability to run a laboratory, etc. Of course, the laboratory alchemist can scale back…but not quite to the level of cloth, cord, roots and graveyard dirt level.

    It’s certainly interesting to view various spiritual practices from the vantage point of their material basis, and to see the great cycles of spiritual practice shift in cultures based upon the grand sweep of the historical period, with perhaps mysticism flourishing most in the darkest of dark ages, magic more penumbral and often associated, at least in the West, with times of change and transition, and laboratory alchemy a flower of great complexity, a bright intermingling of technical expertise and spiritual sophistication.

  72. @LunarApprentice… I’m not sure the exact time of the broadcast for the June 7th / 14th epsiode. But the next scheduled episode Free Radio Skybird, with a different Radiophonic Laboratory segment is scheduled for Sunday May 24th with a repeat on May 31st. It will be at 1100 UTC 6070 khz. For what it is worth, this will most likely be the same time slot and frequency (Sundays at 1100 UTC on 6070 khz ) for the June shows, although there have been some variations as Channel 292 also has access to another frequency on 7440 khz.

    It is on Channel 292 out of Germany, and with propagation what it is these days, the coverage is pretty good for Europe up into Russia. You can listen via SDR (software defined radio) that are streamed. Channel 292 has a dedicated SDR streaming that show which you can find on their homepage: https://www.channel292.de/

    Thanks for asking are you and swl or a ham?

    My home ham station is currently limited to 2 meter, 220, and 440 which is local, and 10 M and 6 Meters. However, I am saving up for a better antenna system so I can get back on HF from home.

  73. I’d always wondered what alchemy was (beyond the obvious chemistry) and I must say that I am rather charmed by the philosophical underpinnings, in part because the processes touched on here seem to mesh with some of the work I’ve found myself engaged in through meditation, journaling, affirmation-crafting, and generally working toward change (in myself) for the better. I like to switch lenses when old ones aren’t working.

    Last week I honed in on a few paragraphs in the early pages of the DMH – suddenly, with a minor change in subject-focus, the text was pointing at a method and the tools to work my way through something.

    A few days before you posted this essay, I wrote the following after my meditation: “Reimagine, reinvent the image. Undo its pieces and put them together differently. Allow for a different approach, response, and outcome. Generate an image that heals the wounds and rights the wrongs.”

    I’d never heard the phrase solve et coagula until this week, but… well, there you go.

    Man, I love this stuff.

  74. @JMG @Commentariate

    “Fortunately the writings of the old alchemists were preserved, and helped inspire more than one burst of creation in the years that followed.”

    Including the expanding works you have out if I’m not mistaken. Reading your books, this blog, Magic Mondays, and the AODA forum have given me some hints on wand making. Since you have published your enchantment rituals I will share this amateur wand recipe.

    Find a fallen branch with your choice of wood in a forest with the energy you resonate with.
    Ask permission and then break or saw three branches off this larger branch depending on your answer.
    Make sure each branch is roughly a similar size.
    Strip the branches if you want to following this. Perhaps not with an iron tool…

    Find a stone with a shape and constitution for focusing energy…perhaps from the same area you found your branch. Ask permission for stone to be used as well.

    Find some twine.

    Let these items spend some time in rain and sun.

    Following this decide which branch is knowledge, which is power, and which is peace.

    Enchant the stone.

    Cut the twine into three long strands good for wrapping and tying. Perhaps identify which spirit each piece of twine corresponds to.

    Take these three resources and combine them.
    Tie the wand in three places. At the end, middle, and around the stone.

    Enchant the wand using preferred ritual.

    Wand making for example isn’t as difficult as blacksmithing I have discovered in as much as there is no long days of hammering involved. However the enchantment ritual for Wands in the DMH is difficult in and of itself. Both are alchemical processes in my view.

  75. John–

    I have to say, I’m interested in exploring the linkages between plant alchemy, natural magic, and soul development. So many books to read…

    My greatest hurdle is always in making that step from contemplation to action. The link to the alchemical resources you gave above will be most helpful. The best place to start, I suppose, is at the beginning.

  76. Violet, the amount of material needed for magic depends on the magical system. The system in the Druid Magic Handbook doesn’t need many materials, it works even without specialized clothing. The Sphere of Protection doesn’t need any materials except the body of the magician and presumably privacy. One thing that I have read is that magical rituals performed by at least some hunterer-gatherer tribes were much simpler than the typical Golden Dawn ritual. Be that as it may be, dark ages are full of magic, if I understood JMG correctly.

  77. JillN, the theory is that revolutions are exceptionally vulnerable to initial conditions. So once a few key mistakes were made early on, no matter how long it lasted, it was never going to deliver as promised.

    This is the best way I can explain the psychology of people who won’t give up on revolution.

    Imagine the aftermath of a failed early attempt at powered flight:

    “I almost had it!”

    “Dude, you’ve got a tail fin stuck in your ribs! Just give it up!”

    “No, I felt it starting to rise! I know what went wrong and how to do it right next time!”

    Once you’ve tasted the possibility you can never let it go.

  78. Grebulocities, if you’ll check further up the comment thread you’ll find a link I posted twice to the Philosophers of Nature alchemy courses. Those are pretty much the gold standard these days. Please do strongly consider doing spagyrics first, for the reasons I’ve cited above!

    Curt, excellent. Yes, exactly — the scientific method works by trying to exclude the interaction between observer and observed as much as possible, and while that enabled scientists to achieve a great deal, it’s a falsification of reality that’s blown up in their faces more than once.

    Engleberg, he was quite correct about that kind of alchemy. Other forms of alchemy, mishandled by those who don’t know what they’re doing, will kill you in different ways. Can you point me to a source for that essay, btw? I haven’t read it and the bit you posted is intriguing.

    Andy, duly noted; you can certainly look at the textbook. I hope you’re right about the open source movement — and of course that governs a lot of what I do as well, in putting occult material onto the internet and into print either for free or for a very modest price.

    JillN, but a very useful solve! As for Communism, it’s one of the unfortunate truths of existence that a lot of intellectuals crave power over other people, and Marxist ideology caters to that craving by insisting that the entire arc of history leads toward a dictatorship of the intelligentsia over the proletariat, disguised as a dictatorship of the proletariat over itself.

  79. @Justin. Thank you for this. I don’t recall when, if ever, I looked over the SW bands since the late 90’s. Back then, I came across nothing in English but fundamentalist Christian preachers, and a sprinkling of state sponsored propaganda, mostly Chinese, as I recall. So I lost interest.

    I also got my novice ham license in the late 90s; CW (Morse code) only, which was all I was interested in. I put together a little QRP rig, the Norcal 40, which was, and remains I understand, a superlative CW rig. I had a dipole antenna for 40m, mounted atop the chimney of the 3 storey house I then owned, with the ends strung to trees. I still have the Norcal rig, but I let my ham license expire.

    My only SW equipment is an old AM/FM radio with a couple of SW bands, with just the stock antenna. So come to think of it, I’m probably not equipped to receive you over the air, as I live in the Pacific NW. I’m a SW dilettante at best. My personal life is in disarray right now, so I’ll not be putting in any real time/effort into ham/sw for the foreseeable future.

    Thank you for the stream link, and thank you for the little dialog, and I rather expect I shouldn’t be cluttering JMG’s forum with my nerding out (apologies to JMG and all).

  80. @engleberg:

    Thank you so much for the pointer to Kenneth Rexroth’s essay, which I have only just now read for the first time. Superb insights, and very sound scholarship!

    For others who may want to read it, it first appeared as a new introduction to the University Books 1967 reprint of A. E. Waite’s “The Magical Works of Thomas Vaughan.” Rexroth republished it in his “With Eye and Ear” (1970) and then in his posthumous collection of selected essays “World Outside the Window” (1987).

    The 1987 book is on books.google.com, and as it happens all the pages with the essay on Vaughan are included in the preview:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=jKWypl5GiAEC&pg=PA243&lpg=PA243&dq=%22Thomas+Vaughan%22+rexroth&source=bl&ots=ZdwEPuW6cr&sig=ACfU3U3js-sRrRumWK_eXZK1MTiyS7iE4g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjBkJuDpsjpAhUCgnIEHeXqAfgQ6AEwEXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Thomas%20Vaughan%22%20rexroth&f=false

    Rexroth also contributed an essay on kabbalah to a similar reprint of Waite’s work “The Holy Kabbalah” (Citadel Books).

  81. A great deal of what has been written here confirms my attitude to the occult. It is not that I don’t believe in it at all. It is that I believe all too well, see its dangers and will leave it alone.
    Good luck to those who are prepared to put in the time and effort but I really would rather read a book or meet friends for coffee.
    When I know people are dabbling I do sometimes warn them.

  82. Dear Booklover,

    those are excellent points — thank you! I was playing with ideas and it wouldn’t surprise me that I may have come up with something that doesn’t prove adequate descriptive of actual events. Of course there are magical practices that involve much less than the most complex — indeed I practice some! — that said, I’m not sure that your argument refutes my basic point that: “magic practice can be scaled back in complexity…but not quite to the level of the cloak and the begging bowl.” The reason I mention the cloak and begging bowl is that the history of dark ages is so rife with such wandering mystic mendicants, and it seems to be that the reason that such impoverished times may have so much of this variety of spiritual practice may largely be on economic grounds. Of course, during dark age times there has been practicing alchemists too as well as mages. Still, I wonder if there’s a meaningful variance in popularity of various paths with various resource bases. Of course, there may not turn out to be a great correlation!

  83. John,
    tank you for the link. I’ve archived a copy and look forward to reading it when I’m no longer so pressed for time. My introduction to alchemy many years ago was “Morning of the magicians” by Pauwels and Bergier. They describe the dry method. My introduction to the wet method was “Gold of a thousand mornings” by Armand Barbault. I have included the link to tha alchemy web site (Levity) that includes an archive of a large number of the older texts. As for the question raised by Andy – why the mystery? I remember one of the texts from the Levity web site that I read about twenty years ago where the author stated words to the effect “It is unwise to speak too plainly of some things for if fools should leave too much then all agriculture would perish and the world would die”. That might sound like exaggeration but it seems most appropriate when you consider the way that liquid mercury was literally poured into rivers where it would react with trace gold to form amalgam that would then literally descend down river until it would hit a large pool. At that point the amalgam would be bucketed up and heated to drive the mercury off to produce large quantities of gold. Fools do sometimes learn too much.

  84. John,
    Thanks for the pointers to the Spagyrics course and the “Alchemist’s Handbook”. Most interesting on an initial look.
    Also “Old Nathan” – thet was a fun un….

  85. Yorkshire, I like that!

    Quin, I hope you’re right. Integrating observer effects will require a great deal of care and an even greater deal of introspection and self-knowledge, but those aren’t exactly things we need less of these days.

    Lathechuck, I’ll keep that in mind!

    Violet, it’s an interesting perspective. I’d like to see Western high magic move more in the directions explored by, e.g., the shugenja of Japan, who do very effective magic with a few highly portable ritual working tools, and do a lot of their practices outdoors. Still, dark ages are good for such things; the shugenja inherited a lot of their magic from esoteric Buddhist schools of the Heian period that made use of vast amounts of hardware, but simplified things during the long years of decline and warfare thereafter.

    Temporaryreality, excellent. There’s a great deal of not very explicit material in the DMH, including quite a bit of alchemy…

    Ian, exactly. Other than a few sections in The Celtic Golden Dawn, I haven’t written anything explicitly about alchemy…

    David BTL, exactly. Simple spagyric practices are a good place to start.

    JillN, and that’s a perfectly reasonable and wise decision. Occultism isn’t for everyone, and it’s a standard piece of teaching that you should either take it seriously or leave it strictly alone.

    Conversations, a case could be made that much of modern technology is the product of fools learning too much!

    Janitor, you’re most welcome!

  86. JMG, you’ve mentioned elsewhere your interest in Stephen Wolfram’s work. I wonder if you have seen this recent essay, from April 2020, in which he discusses whether his work has finally led to a model for the fundamental rules of the universe:

    Finally We May Have a Path to the Fundamental Theory of Physics… and It’s Beautiful

    I think it’s on-topic for this wek’s post, since he does discuss the role of consciousness and the observer. I certainly don’t have then background in physics or mathematics to realy grok this, but there are fascinating and illuminating insights even for the layman. I’m going to need to re-read this several times….

  87. JMG, what’s the worst thing that can happen to dabblers? Raspberry jam? TDS? Wasting a lot of time and money? Being killed by a demon? And what is the nature of dabbling, exactly? If a person reads cards or runes but does nothing else, should he worry? How much Druiding is too much? How much meditation is too much? (We know a week’s worth, like with vipassana, is too much unless you’re very familiar with the religion behind it, but what about one-size-fits-all, like Zen?)

  88. With such a broad concept of alchemy, are there any processes that are definitely not alchemy?

  89. Violet, i don’t know how much a complete magical system can be reduced with regards to hardware, but i agree that it is probably not wholly reducible to the niveau of a cloak and a begging bowl.

  90. Well. Something clicked in this discussion of alchemy. I had not heard of solve et coagula till this week’s post, like at least one other person posting here, but it occurred to me that a perfect example could be found in the KonMari method of Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s pure alchemy.

    Begin with your living space as it exists. Take everything out of all the nooks and crannies and sort them into piles putting all like things together. Solve.

    Pick up each item individually, tap it to “wake it up” and enter into a relationship with it, asking whether it sparks joy and responding to it emotionally, thanking it for its service and letting it go if not. See Spirit in everything in your surroundings. Observe how the tidying process changes your relationship to the objects in your life. Observe how it changes you as you go through the process. Observe how the inner clutter of emotional baggage is dealt with through the process. Observe how the outer and inner is transformed at the same time through the process.

    Put your living space back together again. Coagula. You have been transformed and now have a new life.

    Mundane, yes, but an easy to understand example I can use to apply to other things in my life.

  91. JMG’s answer to Andy: “They insisted that if the secret of the Great Work were to become widely known, the result would be an unparalleled catastrophe, type not clearly specified.”

    Like nuclear power? If everyone had the directions, and the means to construct their own nuke even for just producing their own power, you know someone will use it for nefarious purposes. If people who had not attained spiritual/magical maturity obtained alchemical secrets, goodness… what disaster would be the result?

    JMG’s answer to JillN: “…it’s one of the unfortunate truths of existence that a lot of intellectuals crave power over other people…”

    I’ve long thought that one should seek power over only oneself. Want to make the world a better place? Work on yourself.

    Joy Marie

  92. Dear JMG,

    Thank you for your considered response, that makes a lot of sense and I imagine that it can and will be done as this age winds down.

    If I may, I’ve been thinking on why it would be such an unmitigated disaster if folks were to know without finding for themselves the alchemical truths. To my mind, this makes purpose sense. People don’t know themselves, they know the contents of their ego and call that everything. As Carl Jung wrote in his _The Undiscovered Self_: “Since it is universally believed that man _is_ merely what his consciousness knows of itself, he regards himself as harmless and so adds stupidity to iniquity.” pp. 108-109

    Furthermore, if we examine that iniquity we see some very scary prospects:

    “Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic. In this state all those elements whose existence is merely tolerated as asocial under the rule of reason rise to the top. Such individuals are by no means rare curiosities to be met with only in prisons and lunatic asylums. For every manifest case of insanity there are, in my estimation, at least ten latent cases who seldom get to the point of breaking out openly but whose views and behavior, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced by unconsciously morbid and perverse factors. There are, of course, no medical statistics on the frequency of latent psychoses — for understandable reasons. But even if their numbers should amount to less than ten times that of manifest psychoses and of manifest criminality, the relatively small percentage of the population figures they represent is more than compensated by the peculiar dangerousness of these people. Their mental state is that of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgements and wish-fantasies. In the state of “collective possession” they are the adapted ones and consequently feel quite at home in it. They know from their own experience the language of these conditions and they know how to handle them. Their chimerical ideas, upborne by fanatical resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there, for they express all those motives and resentments which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight. They are, therefore, despite their small number in comparison with the population as a whole, dangerous as sources of infection precisely because the so-called normal person possesses only a limited degree of self-knowledge.” pp. 13-14

    If people were to attend to their chimerical wish-fantasies and fanatical resentments with spiritually potent tools I shudder to think of the Hells people would make manifest if they knew the secrets to the great work without having attained it through and by a transformative and enlightening process. We saw what happened when Hitler harnessed magic in service of his fanatical resentments and chimerical wish-fantasies, and he was a rather postmodern mage, all considered. It seems to me very clear only be being transformed by the process, their vibrations raised over the costly labors, do people attain the power of self-knowledge and discretion to use the powers thus gained with wisdom.

  93. Hmm … In theatre, it is a truism amonmg actors that with sufficient skill one can make any play come powerfully alive for the audience on a bare stage, with no props, clad only in identical minimalist black leotards (and that merely for the sake of modesty). Of course, that level of skill is rare; but former students of mine who are actors insist it is entirely possible. (There is some disagreement about whether off-stage control of sound and lighting can also be dispensed with.)

    Magic in many respects is very like theatre–or, perhaps, it is theatre that is very like magic. So I’m inclined to think that magicians of sufficient skill can also dispense with all ritual tools, robes, altars, written books, and so forth.

    Of course, such high skill will be rare, just as it is rare among actors. Yet I suppose it to be possible. If so, then there should be the possibility of magicians, like mystics, who have nothing but their simple robes and begging bowls.

  94. Bogatyr, yes, I’ve seen this, though I haven’t had the chance to study it closely. I hope Wolfram’s right.

    Your Kittenship, it depends on what kind of dabbling you do. Divination — for example, casting the occasional rune reading or getting your horoscope done — is pretty safe unless you get obsessive about it and make every decision depend on a reading. Meditation is a little chancier — one of the reasons I recommend discursive meditation is that it’s about the safest kind around — but up to half an hour a day won’t harm you unless you’ve got preexisting mental problems. Ritual magic? You can attract the attention of malign spirits, who can make a lot of trouble for you; that’s fairly easy to prevent, but you have to know that it’s an issue and take seriously the need for regular banishings. Scrying and other forms of clairvoyant work? If you treat everything you get as gospel truth you can end up in a pretty fair state of delusion. Work with the subtle energies of the body? You can end up sick or dead. Alchemy? Once the rubble stops bouncing and the fires get put out, they have to identify your remains from dental records.

    This is why most of the old writers recommend that if you’re not prepared to take the work very, very seriously, you should stick with the practices recommended for laypeople in one of the established religions; those have been tested long enough that they’re pretty safe. I don’t think it’s necessary to go that far — some divination, some natural magic, and maybe a good basic ritual like the Sphere of Protection, won’t hurt anybody who isn’t already some distance around the bend — but the kind of situation you see these days, with clueless beginners prattling enthusiastically about summoning demons and the like, is a train wreck waiting to happen.

    Engleberg, thanks for this! Rexroth very clearly knew his stuff. I wasn’t aware that he was that well educated in occultism.

    Yorkshire, of course. Any process that doesn’t make use of the participation of the observer in the thing observed, and doesn’t follow some form of solve followed by coagula, isn’t alchemical.

    Myriam, hmm! You’re quite correct, of course. I wonder if Kondo knows that.

    Joy Marie, it’s entirely possible — since metallic alchemy, at least in theory, involves changes on an atomic level — that something very close to nuclear power is involved, and what kind of destructive possibilities might be unleashed by unwise use of the process isn’t something I want to think about. As for changing yourself — yes, exactly. That’s the real secret of magical power — change yourself and your world changes in response — but it takes some degree of maturity, or a certain number of hard thwacks from life’s clue-by-four, before most people can accept that.

  95. Violet, I was very struck by this part of the longer quote of Jung’s you posted:

    “If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic.”

    I don’t know of a better description of America today. This is timely, too — I’ve placed my book on the Kek Wars with a publisher and we’ve been discussing possible expansions of the text, and this is highly relevant, so thank you!

    Robert, very true. It’s a commonplace among some of the older schools of ceremonial magic that all the intricate hardware is there for training purposes, and the better you are, the less of it you need, because you’ve internalized the forces the hardware is there to represent. If you know what you’re doing, you can do a major magical operation stark naked in an empty room with no working tools at all. (I’ve done this myself, as a test, and gotten good results.)

  96. Joy, there’s a story from management consulting that’s relevant to the question of personal or systemic change. In the 1980s it became very popular for companies to send their staff on team-building exercises. A lot of people spent weekends getting wet and muddy in the Lake District. The personal transformation from at least some of these courses was real. Participants reported radical changes to their relationships and their outlook on life.

    But when they got back to work on Monday morning, nothing had changed. And nothing could change as long as policies, procedures, the IT system, etc, remained the same. They’re separate spheres. The management theory I learned has a basic principle that bad systems can break even the best people.

  97. Thanks, JMG! Going at it from the opposite end, what would happen if for some reason you quit after all these years?

    Serendipity strikes again: Sonkitten’s watching the “Samurai Jack” episode with the Druid. 😄

  98. Joy Marie,
    I absolutely agree that the only person you should try to control is yourself. If you see a problem well that is yours to work on in whatever way you can.
    I have seen many people who do not understand, and therefore cannot control, themselves having a go at controlling others to be comfortable with such behaviour. A

    An odd sentence but it does work if you reread it.

  99. Hi JMG, what major magical operation was it? Don’t leave us hanging!

    I hope that wasn’t the time you conjured up Batman. He’s used to people who are wearing odd costumes, not…well, not.

    While I’m on the subject, had you kept Batman around, would he have qualified as a tulpa?

  100. @Skyrider, yes, that’s another good example. The thoroughness of the solve et coagula the world goes through to reach our awareness justifies a fair amount of doubt about how much what’s really there corresponds with what we perceive. For instance, is time really out there in the world, or does it get added in the process of experiencing? I usually don’t worry about such questions but I can’t say with certainty they’re not valid.

    @Darkest Yorkshire, yeah, that’s part of mining being an exception as a sorting activity when it’s forced to centralize where the ore is. Massive freights of low-purity gold ore are a curious aberration resulting from compensating for other aberrations. If there were a thousand prospectors with pans and pickaxes scattered across a generally lawful region they wouldn’t have as much trouble bringing their ounce or two at a time to secure locations. The whole gold mining business in the present day is such an ecological disaster that nothing about it fits into any kind of sensible pattern.

    But in general, before the modern world, most cargo was concentrated in value, making it a target for theft. Sea pirates weren’t just looking for chests of silver (that is to say, in most cases, the target crew’s payroll). Just about anything freighted by ship was worth stealing and reselling. Likewise for anything borne by caravan or carriage or messenger. That’s still often true today (anything left in a box on someone’s porch…), but there are more exceptions. (“Robbing the mail” today would get you what… a lot of magazines, catalogs, advertisements, and other people’s bills?)

  101. As I’ve followed this post and the comments, I’ve also been reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Living With a Wild God. (2014). Although a self-proclaimed atheist, she struggles in this book with the notion of supposedly dead matter. In her chapter called “Anomalous Oscillations” she describes her experience conducting a straightforward research project that produced unanticipated, and apparently impossible results, putting her undergraduate thesis in jeopardy. In her subsequent research she turned up another case of impossible results, involving “a chemical reaction that produced regular oscillations in the color of his reagents,” which the Russian authorities (peer-reviewed journal) refused to publish; that was the research of Boris Pavlovich Belousov in 1951. (In 1980, Belousov’s results were finally verified by another Russian chemist.) I think there may be a relation to alchemy here, but also an illustration of the pressures experimenters face to falsify their results in the direction of what is expected.
    .

  102. Dear JMG,

    You’re most welcome! If I may hazard the inevitable exclamation — what a synchronicity! More to the point, I’ve found that book invaluable for navigating the psychic epidemic that occurred after November 2016. Interestingly I got it while working hauling garbage by bicycle in early 2016, and it was many of the synchronous books I picked up at the transfer station at the time, another one being Hesse’s _The Glass Bead Game_.

  103. @JMG I would very strongly recommend setting time aside to read it. His key insight, as you’ve mentioned elsewhere, is that the universe is shapoed by rules and relationships rather than physical properties.

    Somewhere in the middle he sems to be saying that his model shows that timelines diverge but will almost always reunite – which implies that in a given moment people share the same reality, but some will have arrived at that moment via a different timeline to others. That would explain a lot, By that point he’s already show that relativity and quantum mechanics are natural outcomes of the rules

    Towards the end, if I’ve understood it correctly, he goes on to say that the model proposes that all things are simultaneously possible, that the rules of physics are essentially arbitrary, and that we experience the world the way we do because we have agreed on one particular set of values: implying (again, if I have undersood corectly) that other cultures, or other intelligences, are actually living in a literally different physical universe, having chosen different values. If that is true, then he has not only given an explanation of qi, nwyfre, and magic, he as given a maths-based explanation of why they stop working when a different culture becomes dominant. He also seems to have given a demonstrable proof for the existence of the Otherworfd and the Fair Folk.

    Of course, I may just be reading too much into it. I would very much like to hear your thoughts on it.

  104. Ugh, sorry for all the typos. I need a new keyboard. I also need my eyes to go back to working the way they did 20 years ago.

  105. Hi John Michael,

    “It’s common for people caught up in a fading movement of thought or practice to fling themselves at the grandest possible goals, to dream the most extravagant dreams, at a time when more modest goals and dreams might preserve more through the fallow period ahead. “

    I’m uncertain, but I see that recurring theme in the Arthurian cycles that I have encountered and read. And I have often wondered whether the story was intended as part warning to the readers (and listners)? Not quite sure though. Whatever may be the case such words have lessons for us today.

    I can’t say that I’m a fan of the dead cosmos (and planet) theory. It is a sad worldview.

    Cheers

    Chris

  106. One of my favourite research papers during my undergrad years was about alchemy (it was a humanities course dedicated to the Renaissance, of course). I recall starting the paper with a quotation from an alchemical text which, if taken literally, was about roasting a toad. Naturally, I didn’t take it in face value.

    No big surprise that alchemy didn’t really catch on in the colonies: overall it was a pretty rough-and-tumble place.

    As much as I respect traditional alchemy as a path of occultism, it isn’t my cup of tea. I prefer to devote my time and energy to a much simpler and dirt-cheap form of alchemy: turning the “base metals” of discarded kitchen and yard wastes into the black “gold” of humus, with the aid of the four elements in the correct proportion and the “philosopher’s stone” of a gazillion little critters!

  107. also re: observer effects, music; today on the CBC:

    “[A] theory is that our ability to process and create rhythms arose from a need for social cohesion. Whether for cooperative building projects or military might, we’ve long needed large groups of people to act as one.
    … when two people move in synchrony with each other, they’re more likely to feel connected to one another and, consequently, are more likely to help each other.

    “It says you’re working together [and that] you have a common view of the [world],” says Trainor.”

    and

    “In one study, Iversen presented an ambiguous rhythm to both English and Japanese speakers. The rhythm sequence consisted of alternating long and short tones. With no discernible starting point, the sequence could be interpreted as either “short-long” or “long-short.” English speakers heard it as “short-long,” while Japanese speakers heard it as “long-short,” with both groups following the rhythmic cues embedded in their respective languages.

    https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/neuroscience-reveals-how-rhythm-helps-us-walk-talk-and-even-love-1.5550722

  108. Are there waste products from alchemy, beyond the occasional billowing cloud of smoke? If so are they dangerous and what do you do with them?

    What are the longest and most complicated works that have ever been done, or are theoretically possible? Are any so long they actually require multiple generations of alchemists? It’d be fun to set one going, work on it as long as you could, pass it on to others, then reincarnate in time to rejoin the project and see it to fruition. 🙂

  109. JMG, Brevdavis, Myriam, & BB:

    I also found the explanation of the alchemical method, and your reflections thereon, enlightening. Thank you!

    This really got me thinking about the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. A fair dose of, for example, psilocybin mushrooms can be highly effective in taking your mind apart and then re-integrate it to a healthier state. (Of course, it can also get you the mental equivalent of blowing up your house if you’re not reasonably careful.) The same can be said of effective drug-free methods of psychotherapy, although it’s somewhat harder to notice what they do because the process is generally much more drawn out in time. Interestingly, it can *not* be said of most legally prescribed psychotropics, which simply numb or stimulate the mind. So no wonder mainstream science, even as it’s starting to come to grips with the fact that psychedelics can be helpful for people who struggle with certain mental conditions, has such a hard time explaining *why* they work — as the process is alchemical in nature.

  110. The smallest oil refineries in the world are about two feet tall and made of laboratory glassware. They’re used for assay and quality control. At that scale you can keep an eye on the entire process. Has petroleum alchemy been done? Or would that lead to the same death energy problem as using mushrooms?

  111. One of my children was assigned to read a book, apparently very popular in classrooms, titled “The Alchemist”. I read it, and found it to have nothing to do with alchemy. Spoiler alert: it has to do with “follow your dreams to get rich, young man”. I was very disappointed. It’s popped up on the best-seller list in the paper several times in the last few years, along with other likely classroom assignments (e.g. “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “1984”).

  112. When I’ve been curious about alchemy in the past, my internal dialog went something like this:
    “Alchemy might be a cool thing to know.”
    “why?”
    “It could make me more powerful.”
    “why do you want to be more powerful?”
    “To do good works in the world around me.”
    “what have you done in the world around you with the powers that you already have?”
    “… Right. Off we go. Alchemy will have to wait.”

  113. @JillN, @Joy Marie, @JMG

    There is always one part of Occultism that anyone can work on. Sila as it’s called in Sanskrit, usually translated as Morality but it really means ‘doing good’ that’s needed in the moment (or moments) it’s called for or even as an avocation. Though I am fond of Ghandi’s explanation of best – “Be the change you want to see.” Since very few people actually want to live in a worse environment and society than what they defacto have already it’s a good way to be working on one’s subtle energy and chakras all the time without ‘outright’ working on them via ritual, visualization, affirmations, emotions or kriyas.

    In Dharma traditions its one of the 4 major pathways to the Ultimate – Karma Yoga. It is the branch of Yoga that Swami Vivekananda was a big booster for since it’s the only “public” branch of occultism practice. The other three (Kriya, Bhakti and Jnana) are all more personal and therefore more amenable for solo practice. But Karma yoga is accounted a very powerful path in it’s own right and some yogis and yoginis specialize in it all the way up. The Path of the Hearthfire is Karma Yoga.

    In terms of rebirth if one does Karma Yoga regularly as one’s path then your rebirths will be some of the very best of all 4 paths. Many of those rebirths will see you in high positions of authority, wealth and influence since your prior lives actions led to direct improvements upon so many other living beings (helping animals counts for sila too so it’s ‘living beings’, not just ‘humans’ in that sentence).

    Unfortunately, in the Kali Yuga age, after too many rebirths without constantly upgrading ones negative traits you usually reach the manifestation limit of your ‘good character’ and start manifesting more strongly the neglected traits that have turned septic. Hence recurring eras where there is lots of corruption and other wrongdoing going on.

    Added note for clarity:

    One reason the negative traits start overtaking the good character traits is the common habit of ‘resting on one’s laurels’. People in positions of good fortune consciously or unconsciously (usually the latter) deciding to coast on that good fortune.

    BTW – once this starts – the manifesting of negative traits competing or overshadowing the good ones it’s a sure sign one’s future rebirths will be of lower fortune than what one has now. So yes, the elites of the world (this goes for anyone of any class actually, not just elites) will eventually be on the receiving end of their own negative traits.

  114. So science and alchemy are to poles of a binary then: once includes the observer as part of the process, and one seeks to remove it as much as possible; Hmm. This would imply that by definition anything science is good for alchemy is horrible at, and vice versa, which

  115. John—

    Spending some time on your comment about mind, like matter, being a continuum, it occurred to my that one might illustrate this idea using probability distributions (translating these concepts into math, as I often do).

    So, consider my physical body, which is highly localized but rather like the planet’s atmosphere, without a strictly-defined boundary. We might represent this as a highly-centralized probability distribution with a tight variance and a high kurtosis (math-speak for “very pointy”). So, my body is almost exclusively this thing I see it as, but there is a small amount of the distribution which extends infinitely off in all directions.

    Likewise, we could see the mind similarly. Two people who are “linked” might have a greater degree of overlap in their distributions than two people who aren’t.

    Extending this notion to other planes/bodies, might one way of representing our various presences in these different planes as a collection of these distributions, with some of the work we do in magical training being to alter (extend?) the astral/mental/spiritual dimensions? Or at least to understand their interactions with other such bodies?

    In the Druidic sense, might we say there are five such distributions, one each for the corff, bywyd, nwyd, hunan, and elaeth?

  116. Ok. I had planned for only 1 post this week (see earlier post on Karma yoga) but then saw several comments which I wanted to toss my 2 cents worth in about.

    On Marie Kondo:

    Yes, Ms. Kondo is aware of the spiritual dimensions of her tidying up practices because she used to be a dedicated weekly volunteer and attendee for a local Shinto shrine while she was growing up. The whole thing about ‘thanking’ the thing you’re considering comes from the gratitude practices advocated by the shrine. I watched a video on Youtube where a reporter was going around and asking ordinary Japanese (after her show became a hit on Netflix) if this ‘thanking a thing’ and the ‘spark joy’ was a regular Japanese cleanup habit. He even played several segments of Kondo’s tv show for english-speaking Japanese.

    Only a handful and I mean that literally – you could count them on one hand – and they were all very old Japanese even recognized what Kondo was talking about. They recognized it as Shinto but the vast majority of Japanese these days are a-spiritual and so were baffled and surprised these ‘spark joy’ and ‘gratitude’ practices were being taught to foreigners as something ordinary Japanese do. More than a few stressed to the interviewer this is NOT something ordinary Japanese do or at least they did not know of anyone whom did this before or during cleaning up. Not a single one recognized what she was going on about and a few mentioned they thought it was oddball and strange. Only the very old recognized it at all though they didn’t do it themselves and never had.

    On materials for a magic practice:

    There are some tantra lineages that provide a magic path to the ultimate that don’t need any accoutrements or ceremonies at all. Agastyamuni’s hatha yoga for one. The downside is that you need initiation from a good lineage to get the most benefit from it. Otherwise it just becomes the dumbed-down version peddled in Europe and the U.S. in shopping malls and gyms – a good stretch-and-exercise class or home exercise routine. Which…considering the potential for damage that could be done with it going DIY – maybe it’s a good thing so many people are inadvertently selecting the dumbed-down ‘stretch and exercise’ version.

    *[JMG’s path works the path of willpower – the motto: changes in consciousness in accordance with will pretty much announces which chakra paths and nadis through the body are going to be emphasized for talent-specialization vis-a-vis the other pathways – but if his path isn’t a good fit or you want to specialize in a different area don’t despair as there are 113 others to choose from. To give a hint of one of those other paths that can be specialized in there is the path the Buddha took – the chakra/nadi path of awareness of which emphasis leads to great wisdom even compared to other genuinely wise people].

  117. Stirb und werde! (Goethe)

    Many thaks for the post John

    When Spengler used the term Faustian was a doble good choice, because the more famous writer about the Faust myth was J.W. Goethe, an incredible wise man that was born in a “Culture” and died in a “Civilization”, he was an alchemist as another facet of the investigation duty of a “natural philosopher” before the term “scientist” (materialist) occupied the place.

    Herder cornered and bullied him to abandon the alchemits’ “superstitions” but Goethe simply could not, he simply could not swallow all the new materialistic worldview, it does not fit what he really know and see, he was a man of too much sensibility to surrender to the new faith.

    Jung was dead wrong about the meaning of Faust for Goethe, and I think may be the “Homunculus” of the Wagner’s laboratory was a metaphor for the “new” artificial man born in an artificial world but that wants, has a deep desire for experiencing the world, to be really “alive” (I think in the dionysiac sense), so he went to Greece (of course) to experience the Walpurgis Nacht in the Aegean Sea.

    I read Doctor Faust around every 10 years, cause the meaning is totally different when you get old, it is a curious experience for me, it was unreadable when I was 20 but that changed a lot with time.

    Cheers
    David

  118. A propos the very interesting discussion of alchemy as participatory science and the question of why it was displaced by a mechanistic view of a dead universe, I take the opportunity to post a somewhat lengthy extract from Charles Taylor’s acclaimed “A Secular Age” (p. 557-560) which mentions Descartes, Locke and Hume as foundational figures for the world view that displaced participatory science.

    Taylor is a philosopher, and what he summarizes here is probably child’s play for people trained in philosophy. However, for myself as a working scientist, it was a huge eye-opener. Though German is my mother language, I have never felt capable (or maybe never felt it was worth the effort) to read Heidegger, and I had never heard of Merleau-Ponty. Taylor’s later book “Retrieving Realism” expands much more fully on the argument set out in this extract.

    He is talking here about the underlying framework for the materialistic world view:
    “At its most blatant, this structure operates with a picture of knowing agents as individuals, who build up their understanding of the world through combining and relating, in more and more comprehensive theories, the information which they take in, and which is couched in inner representations, be these conceived as mental pictures (in the earlier variants) or as something like sentences held true, in the more contemporary versions.

    Characteristic of this picture are a series of priority relations. Knowledge of the self and its states comes before knowledge of external reality and of others. The knowledge of reality as neutral fact comes before our attributing to it various “values” and relevances. And, of course, knowledge of the things of “this world”, of the natural order precedes any theoretical invocation of forces and realities transcendent to it.

    The epistemological picture, combined as does very often with some understanding of modern science, operates frequently as a Closed World Structure. The priority relations tell us not only what is learned before what, but also what can be inferred on the basis of what. They are foundational relations. I know the world through my representations. I must grasp the world as fact before I can posit values. I must accede to the transcendent, if at all, by inference from the natural. This can operate as a Closed World Structure, because it is obvious that the inference to the transcendental is at the most extreme and fragile end of a chain of inferences; it is the most epistemically questionable. And indeed, granted the lack of consensus surrounding this move, as against earlier steps in the chain (e.g. to “other minds”), it is obviously highly problematic.

    Now I introduce the epistemological picture in order to bring out some features of the way Closed World Structures operate in our time, the way they are on one hand contested, and on the other maintain themselves.

    We are all aware [MG: this is a huge exaggeration, I certainly wasn’t clearly aware!] of the contestation, because some of the most famous twentieth-century philosophers have taken part in it. And referring to Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty as paradigm cases of the refutation of epistemology, we can see that this view has been comprehensibly turned on its head. (1) Our grasp of the world does not consist simply of our holding inner representations of outer reality. We do hold such representations, which are perhaps best understood in contemporary terms as sentences held true. But these only make the sense that they do for us because of an ongoing activity of coping with the world, as bodily, social and cultural beings. This coping can never be accounted for in terms of representations, but provides the background against which our representations have the sense that they do. (2) As just implied, this coping activity, and the understanding which inhabits it, is not primarily that of each of us as individuals; rather we are each inducted into the practices of coping as social “games” or activities; some of which do indeed, in the later stages of development, call upon us to assume a stance as individuals. But primordially, we are part of social action. (3) In this coping, the things which we deal with are not first and foremost objects, but what Heidegger calls “pragmata”, things which are the focal point of our dealings, which therefore have relevance, meaning, significance for us, not as an add-on but from their first appearance in the world. Later, we learn to stand back, and consider things objectively, outside of the relevances of coping…

    …the general thrust of these arguments is to completely overturn the priority relations of epistemology. Things which are considered as late inferences or additions are seen to be part of our primordial predicament. There is no getting behind them, and it makes no sense to contest them… We only have knowledge as agents coping with a world, which it makes no sense to doubt, since we are dealing with it. There is no priority of the neutral grasp of things over their value. There is no priority of the individual’s sense of self over the society; our most primordial identity is as a new player being inducted into an old game…

    From within itself, the epistemological picture seems unproblematic. It comes across as as obvious discovery we make when we reflect on our perception and acquisition of knowledge. All the great foundational figures: Descartes, Locke, Hume, claimed to be just saying what was obvious once one examined experience itself reflectively.

    Seen from the deconstruction, this is a most massive self-blindness. Rather what happened is that experience was carved into shape by a powerful theory which posited the primacy of the individual, the neutral, the intra-mental as the locus of certainty. What was driving this theory? Certain “values”, virtues, excellences: those of the independent, disengaged subject, reflexively controlling his own though-processes… There is an ethic here, of independence, self-control, self-responsibility, of a disengagement which brings control; a stance which requires courage, the refusal of the easy comforts of conformity to authority, of the consolations of an enchanted world, of the surrender to the promptings of the senses. The entire picture, shot through with “values”, which is meant to emerge out of the careful, objective, presuppositionless scrutiny, is now presented as having been there from the beginning, driving the whole process of “discovery”…

    It isn’t just that one day people looked without blinkers and discovered epistemology; rather this is the way things could be made to look from within a new historical formation of human identity, that of the disengaged, objectifying subject. The process involves a re-invention, a recreation of human identity, along with great changes in society and social practices. There is no simple stepping out of an earlier identity into the pure light of bare nature.”

  119. Your Kittenship, I have no idea. I don’t know of a case of a serious occultist just up and quitting. The one thing that does sometimes happen is that in old age, they switch from occultism to religious mysticism, and put their remaining years into prayer and contemplation. Those who do this generally do quite well.

    As for the major magical operation, it was the Z-2 ritual for spiritual development from Regardie’s The Golden Dawn. The conjuration of Batman happened more or less spontaneously after I spent most of a long sleepless night reading a fifty-year retrospective of the comic book — and yes, the result would have become a tulpa if I’d let it hang around.

    Phutatorius, fascinating; I didn’t know that about Ehrenreich. I know that people get impossible results in experiments; there was a while in the early 20th century, as I recall, when every measurement of the speed of light came in anomalously slow — and scientists dealt with that by redefining the speed of light as a constant!

    Violet, synchronicity indeed.

    Bogatyr, I’ll do that as soon as time permits. Right now I’ve got a novel to finish, two nonfiction books in the works with deadlines later this year, the Heathen Golden Dawn project getting back on track, and my cell salt experiment bringing in data! But it’s fascinating to see him heading in those directions.

    Chris, that’s certainly how the various occult analyses of the legends frame them: this is how a very good thing can run off the rails and fail catastrophically.

    Ron, you might be interested to know that 17th- and 18th-century alchemists worked out recipes for organic fertilizer, and that the first description of the nitrogen cycle in the environment appeared in an alchemical manual. You’re not as far from traditional alchemy as you think!

    Pixelated, fascinating. I didn’t happen to know that about Kondo.

    Your Kittenship, hmm! I’ve seen make-your-own diagrams for a divinatory d12 in early modern printed books, but I didn’t know people were rolling d20s in Ptolemaic Egypt!

    Yorkshire, it depends very much on the type of alchemy, of course. Metallic alchemy can produce some very toxic waste products, and getting rid of them can be a problem. The waste products from spagyrics, on the other hand, can all be composted. As for the longest and most complicated works that can be done, do you think anyone’s described those in plain language?

    Jarle, that makes a great deal of sense.

    Yorkshire, a Jewish alchemist named Kallinikos in the early Middle Ages worked with petroleum and created Greek fire, the lethal flamethrower weapon that defended the Byzantine Empire for centuries. It was a state secret, however, and I haven’t heard of anyone doing petroleum alchemy in recent years.

    Lathechuck, yeah, Paulo Coelho’s book didn’t impress me either. As for your reasoning regarding alchemy, good — because alchemy isn’t a source of power. It’s a process of transformation, and it doesn’t enable you to change the world, only to change yourself.

    Panda, in Western occultism that’s also recognized: morality alone is not enough. It was when too many branches of Christianity replaced faith in a living god with belief in an ideology, and abandoned spiritual practice in favor of a rule-following morality, that the Western world really ran off the rails.

    Kevin, good. Now identify the third factor that turns the binary into a ternary!

    David BTL, that makes a great deal of sense.

    Panda, I was aware of the spiritual dimension in Kondo’s practice; my question was whether she’s familiar with its alchemical dimension. As for the different paths of practice, well, of course — Western occultism is only one of many options, and the version of it that I teach is only one of many paths within Western occultism. Your mileage will inevitably vary!

  120. DFC, Jung was an odd duck, and I think you’re right that he got Goethe’s Faust completely bollixed up. One of Jung’s limitations was that he had a very hard time grasping the possibility that he wasn’t always the smartest guy in the room.

    Matthias, fascinating. I’ll definitely want to read that book when time permits.

  121. I read Marie Kondo’s book, and the idea didn’t make much sense to me. I certainly need a toilet brush, but I can’t say that the brush brings me joy. Likewise the car. This is a very rural area in the U.S., so you need one, but I can’t say the car brings me joy either. It’s just this big expensive box on wheels, another thing that has to be cleaned and expensively maintained. And so on.

  122. One further point about Barbara Ehrenreich if I may; although she’s an avowed atheist, as part of her family “heritage,” it’s actually monotheism that she objects to. She seems more open to a “world full of gods” although she does not use your phrase, and she does not appear to have delved into “the occult” at all. It’s mysticism that interests her more.

  123. Tomorrow’s a U.S. holiday, will there be Magic Monday?

    For those who don’t live here, the U.S. likes to have holidays on Mondays so that the employees of banks, libraries, NGOs, and Federal, state, and local governments can have a 3-day weekend.

  124. Well, that being the case, I’m proud to come from a long line of agrarian alchemists (formerly known as “farmers”)! 😊

    If it’s not asking too much, I’d like to know the title of the alchemical manual (and/or its author) that depicts the nitrogen cycle. This is not a trivial piece of trivia!

  125. JMG – Perhaps I skipped a step in my transcript of an internal dialog, but it makes no sense to me to “transform myself” if there isn’t some resulting changes to the world around me, made possible by the self-transformation. If I can’t create objective change in the world around me, validated by an impartial observer, I won’t trust my own self-perception of transformation. And if the change is not for the Good, then why bother?

  126. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks for confirming that, and it is a salient and important lesson. Hmm.

    Hey, the little light bulb went on this morning, and it dawned on me that the tracks in space that have been discussed at length, are another way of saying the word: Life. Or am I completely off the mark?

    Cheers

    Chris

  127. Phutatorios & JMG,

    Rupert Sheldrake’s book “The Science Delusion” goes into depth about several cases of scientific experiments not turning out the way they’re supposed to, from the 20th century scientists getting different results for the speed of light to undergraduates seeing their meticulously performed lab work refusing to provide the “correct” answers. I’m not sure which is more interesting: the anomalous results, or the way mainstream science deals with them! The book, in any case, is highly recommended reading.

  128. Developing craft is about mind and body in balance, at peace, and in the tao. Working on craft, the art of making things—the various language arts included—unites mind and body in a purpose which constantly unfolds. Learning to trust the process leads to a perception of natural laws and insight into how one goes about making things. These laws are marvelous to behold and to study, such as, for example, the Golden Mean Ratio, and the related Fibonacci sequenced: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, … , where each number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two, after getting a running start with the 0 1 1. (It’s best to start at the 2 and work backwards.) This sequence produces a spiral pattern of growth, which we humans enjoy as being very beautiful.

  129. JMG and Kevin, are there hard definitions of Science and Alchemy?

    I’ve been puzzling over whether brewing a cup of tea makes me (technically) an herbalist. The tea leaf certainly has a pharmaceutical effect! Many other herbs and spices seem to be listed in herbal books…although I know more about where to find recipes for baked goods with cinnamon than I do about what is a useful dosage of cinnamon, and for what conditions.

    I’d think that cooking has a science component, and has many opportunities for controlled experimentation, but if it is just you in the kitchen with the flour, water, yeast, and salt, and you need a loaf of bread, there are certainly some alchemy-like features of the process.

    tldr: examples of categories of study or practice that don’t have well-defined boundaries which are therefore hard to count.

    (I’m asking a question about where the boundaries are, not claiming that these are the same thing)

  130. Mr. Greer, I have a couple of questions:

    1. In your books and articles, you have written at length about Hubbert’s curve, and depicted it as a symmetric bell-shaped curve. With today’s knowledge of stochasticity and other mathematical concepts, however, we can say that the curve is less like an ideal bell curve and more like an asymmetrically shaped nonrepeating waveform that is jagged and is steeper on the side representing the post-peak extraction time. Given this, don’t you think that the collapse of industrial civilization will be relatively steeper than what you have written about? I’m not talking of an overnight crash, but only saying that the unravelling of industrial society will be quicker than the roughly 2-3 centuries long timescale that you’ve sketched out.

    2. In his book ‘Entangled life: how fungi male our worlds, change our minds and shape our futures’, Merlin Sheldrake writes:
    “The ability of fungi to prosper in such a variety of habitats depends on
    their diverse metabolic abilities. Metabolism is the art of chemical
    transformation. Fungi are metabolic wizards and can explore, scavenge, and
    salvage ingeniously, their abilities rivaled only by bacteria. Using cocktails
    of potent enzymes and acids, fungi can break down some of the most stubborn substances on the planet, from lignin, wood’s toughest component,
    to rock; crude oil; polyurethane plastics; and the explosive TNT. Few
    environments are too extreme. A species isolated from mining waste is one
    of the most radiation-resistant organisms ever discovered and may help to
    clean up nuclear waste sites. The blasted nuclear reactor at Chernobyl is
    home to a large population of such fungi. A number of these radio-tolerant
    species even grow toward radioactive “hot” particles, and appear to be able
    to harness radiation as a source of energy, as plants use the energy in
    sunlight”.

    While no doubt such fungi are valuable for environmental remediation (like many plants and bacteria too), I’m a bit weary of such claims as they’re bandied about by the ‘progress is the only way forward’ crowd, which uses such arguments when confronted with the hard reality that we can’t have our cake and eat it too (I personally think that technologies like these belong more appropriately to the appropriate technology toolkit than to the conventional tech one). The argument used by the ‘progress’ crowd is that since these organisms, whether they are bacteria or fungi or plants, can clean up our industrial pollution, we can continue doing what we’re doing, as our pollution will be taken care of. A few of them even point out to the degradation of plastics by these organisms, saying that this process provides us with oil, which we can use as fuel, so we don’t need to be concerned with peak oil and ecological overshoot. Personally, I’m skeptical of such arguments, but I cannot articulate clearly as to why these claims made by the ‘progress’ crowd are on very shaky ground. I’d like your comments and views on this.

  131. (JMG, if this is comment is veering too badly off topic, please feel free to feed it to your favorite digital black hole.)

    Lady Cutekitten,

    You may find it amusing to know that the petro-state of Norway has made the three-to-five-day weekend into something of an art form, to the point where “inneklemt dag” — literally, “squeezed-in day” — has become an everyday expression for a Friday immediately following a public holiday, on which the managerial classes rarely cares to come into the office.

    These are particularly frequent in the month of May: Worker’s day on the 1st is a public holiday, as is Constitution Day on the 17th, and of course Ascension Day which has a variable date, but always falls on a Thursday and effectively gets the well-off a four-day weekend.

  132. JMG, were you aware your other site’s up and down, mostly down, tonight?

  133. John–

    This is blindingly obvious now that I think of it, and hardly an insight, but alchemy as transformation-of-self and the quest for power in order to transform the world are not at all opposed because the self is also part of the world. Thus transformation-of-self is also transformation-of-world, only in a field and on a scale of time wholly discounted by the casual observer. Rather like the difference between someone focused on getting wealthy tomorrow versus the slow but steady develop of prudent spending habits, consistent saving and investing, and budget discipline, which will enable one to have sufficient wealth in time.

  134. You could say that I’ve been working for a while now on recoagulating modern mathematical logic with premodern philosophical logic, a la Greencoat’s proposal, and a lot of what JMG says about chemistry vs alchemy applies just as well there.

    (JMG, have you ever heard of someone interpreting Aristotle, in particular, as logical alchemy? I have this pet theory that his surviving books are a misleading puzzle of the sort alchemists like to make…)

    Since philosophical and mathematical logic are superficially similar but based on very different assumptions, training in one of them actually makes it much harder to understand the other. It’s taken me about three years to unlearn enough modern thinking to feel comfortable with the traditional approach.

    Suggested reading for anyone else who wants to explore this:

    – The late Daniel Perdue’s Course in Buddhist Reasoning and Debate explains the basic rules of philosophical debate. It’s about a specific Tibetan Buddhist debate format, but most of the principles apply to the other systems. (It may be the only such book in history! Traditionally, everywhere, the basics have always been taught in person; it took Perdue some 20 years to figure out how to convey them in writing.)

    – Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic will help you notice some of the assumptions of mathematical logic, if you’ve previousy swallowed them.

    – There are many good books on modern logic, but my personal favourite is Software Foundations, which involves justifying every theorem to an extremely stubborn computer program. It’s a workout!

  135. JMG- You mentioned in a passing comment about the “Dry Way” and “Wet Way” which I hadn’t heard of till I read your comment. The strangest thing though is that those words match up perfectly with a concept that came to me a few years ago on a 150 mile backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. There had been several days of rain and when your camping every night it is so hard to dry out. So as I slogged along in my dampness I began to formulate a concept that all existence was the interplay/balance between wet and dry. Too much dryness caused death but so did too much wetness. All life was the balance between the two.

    Any sources on Dry Way and Wet Way out there? Web search wasn’t super helpful.

  136. John Michael, if you haven’t seen it yet, the article “Medicine as Religion” by Giorgio Agamben is quite interesting. It explores the relative power and sway of the three Western faiths of Christianity, capitalism, and science. He sees the current realignment bypassing arguments of dogma by stressing religious practice instead — wear the holy masks, keep the sacred distance. In fact, no one is to be allowed to question the questionable dogma, for they will be de-platformed if they try. Do as you are instructed; no alchemy allowed.

    Agamben sees medicine as the most pragmatic (and practicable) branch of science, thus playing the vanguard role in science’s outflanking of its opponents. Christianity and capitalism have ceded supremacy over to science to a surprising extent. Apparently the church and the invisible hand no longer believe that their miracles can deliver. Only science™ can save us! Only its deity, with whom we ignorants have no connection except through His priests in their sacred lab-coat vestments, can deliver. Give us this day our daily pill and forgive us our unworthy questions, as we forgive those in lab coats who have treated us as unworthy.

    Most interestingly, Agamben finds medicine wielding eschatology to neverendingly frighten its devotees. The goal is crisis management, never crisis resolution, with the holy grail of vaccine always somewhere just beyond the horizon. Should the first successful vaccine for a coronavirus ever materialize, another crisis will be immediately minted to remind converts that the evil enemy always lurks within them, ready to pounce. As rational science hypocritically practices magical binding spells on the populace for all to witness, I am reminded of the ever-so-rational Radiance amplifying spells it claims cannot possibly work in your Weird of Hali series. Did our priests of scientism grow equally desperate when they saw their control mechanisms failing to offer up increased market share? Good luck guys — doubling down on your failed practice usually ends in double the failure!

    https://thesaker.is/medicine-as-religion/

  137. @David by the lake (and Lathechuck), about the self versus the world around you, I’d go even farther and say that there’s no hard separation or distinction between them at all. One can make a very useful rough classification, to make valid points such as JMG’s, upthread, about the main focus of attention of alchemical work, but at some point one might need to move past that.

  138. Eastern and southern U.S. residents, are any of you seeing or hearing 17-year cicadas yet? Last year they were also predicted for my area in 2021. The cold spring must have thrown them off schedule because they never showed up, and believe me, 17-year cicadas are not the kind of delicate phenomenon that will easily escape your notice. I can remember standing at a roadside corn stand near Cincinnati and the proprietor and I actually having to shout to be heard over the millions of cicadas around us.

    Also, JMG, your other site’s working again.

  139. @Dan, regarding Aristotle’s suviving books:

    Some ancient author or scholiast (I forget who) tells us that both Plato and Aristotle wrote and published dialogues, but Aristotle’s dialogues were not as popular as Plato’s and fell out of circulation. He goes on to say that the works of Aristotle available in his day (that is, mostly the ones we have now) were not meant for publication by Aristotle at all, but were basically his private notes for himself of his teaching and his rough drafts of his thoughts and arguments. After Aristotle’s death these “papers” (papyri, probably) passed through the hands of several heirs, were bought by someone from the last of those heirs, and ended up stored in a basement in (IIRC) Pergamon. There they were eventually rediscovered in somewhat disheveled condition and were transcribed, and then the disparate fragments were worked up into a plausible reconstruction of what the notes had originally been. Only then were they published to the Greek-speaking world at large.

    If the scholaliast is even approximately right, Aristotle’s surviving works were partly-solved puzzles from the very day they were first published, centuries after Aristotle’s death, and we later folk have been wrestling with those poorly reconstructed puzzles ever since.

  140. Biscuits and gravy recipe from 1953!

    For a long time I would not eat B & G because, let’s face it, however good people insisted it tasted, it LOOKS like dog barf. But I was finally induced to try it and have been a convert ever since.

    https://valorguardians.com/blog/?p=100170

  141. Phutatorius, I wish that more people who think they’re atheists would realize that they’re actually a-monotheists or (very often) simply a-Christians, and recognize that there are other options.

    Your Kittenship, neither rain nor snow, etc.!

    Ron, easily done. The one I’m familiar with is Aurea Catena Homeri by Anton Joseph Kirchweger, first published in 1723. Kirchweger got many of his ideas from Michael Sendivogius, another alchemist who lived about a century earlier and who was the first person to discover that air is a mixture of gases and not a single substance; I haven’t studied Sendivogius’ work, but he might be worth examining for material on the nitrogen cycle.

    Lathechuck, of course change in yourself will lead to changes in the world — that’s one of the ways that you know that the work on yourself has actually borne fruit. But it really does matter which end of the puzzle you start on…

    Chris, not off the mark at all. Good!

    Jarle, okay, I’m definitely going to have to find that.

    Dragon, and that’s another angle we’ll be discussing as we proceed.

    Sylvia, hard and fast boundaries are in very short supply in this world of ours. As a very general ostensive rule, though, if a way of understanding nature focuses on mechanical explanations and tries to keep the observing subject as separate as possible from the observed object, it’s science; if it focuses on vitalistic explanations and works with the mutual effects of subject and object on each other, it’s alchemy.

    Rajat, (1) Nope. For every reason that’s been proposed for a faster decline, there’s an equal and opposite reason for a slower decline. I stand by my prediction. (2) As for those fungal fantasies, if that were true, our civilization would be collapsing right now because fungi would be eating all of our plastics, lubricants, and other hydrocarbon-based manufactured substances. Until the progress-über-alles crowd can show real-world examples of pollution being effectively remediated at a pace fast enough to matter, they’re just shoveling smoke.

    Your Kittenship, yep. It gave me an annoying time wrapping up Magic Monday.

    David BTL, ding! We have a winner.

    Dan, no, I hadn’t heard that suggestion! Thank you.

    GP, a good ecological insight! In terms of the Dry Way and Wet Way in alchemy, you pretty much have to spend a lot of time wading through classic alchemical texts. They weren’t interested in making it easy to figure out!

    Christophe, thanks for this! No, I hadn’t read it. The priests of medicine may find that the faithful are starting to ask hard questions, though; a week ago, while running errands here in East Providence, I talked to a clerk who said, “Don’t go to the hospital; they’ll kill you. Tylenol and a lot of sleep are what you need.”

    Your Kittenship, no locusts yet — and yes, I was able to get things rolling again there by 12:30 am or so Eastern time. As for biscuits and gravy, I’m convinced that heroes breakfast on that in Valhalla.

  142. I think it possible they emerged at their usual time of late April and died from the unusual cold.

    I remember dead cicadas lying in heaps on the steps of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and employees filling buckets.

  143. “Excuse me, ma’am, Thorfinn Bloodaxe needs more gravy over here…”

  144. I was checking at my library for Rupert Sheldrake’s book, and it appears that it was published in the U.S. as “Science Set Free” in 2012. And my library has it! Another one for the reading list (which gets longer every week)!

  145. @Dan: Justifying your theorems to a stubborn computer algorithm? Way cool!
    @GP: The balance between wet and dry hits home a lot to a desert-dweller in Florida, and I’m reminded that life also exists in the zone between stasis and chaos.
    @Lady Cutekitten – Biscuits & Gravy is one of my guilty pleasures breakfasts, and when you add an egg on top – one with a nice runny yolk (if the cook can do anything besides Hard and Almost Raw!) it’s a perfect one. Just add coffee or tea and orange juice. On a par with hotcakes and fresh strawberries.

  146. P.S. Lady Kitten and all fans of biscuits & gravy – once you taste Southern biscuits, you’ll be spoiled for any other. Anyone headed to Gainesville, Fl, drop in at The Flying Biscuit – or for that matter, most of the midtown and downtown restaurants that serve breakfast, but this is the one in my daughter’s neighborhood.

  147. JMG: Thank you for all of this!

    I like Jung’s interpretation of alchemy as a symbolic representation of psychospiritual processes. I also think language and writing are forms of alchemical work; theater (including rituals) and magical incantations are an example of this. In fact probably all the arts including architecture (landscape and buildings) can be used this way.

    Jade Dragon thank you for expressing this so beautifully:

    “Developing craft is about mind and body in balance, at peace, and in the tao. Working on craft, the art of making things—the various language arts included—unites mind and body in a purpose which constantly unfolds.”

    About 10 years ago, I wrote about a personal solve et coagula experience, and inspired by your post on this topic, offer it here:

    https://innavalon.blogspot.com/2020/06/solve-et-coagula.html

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