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Alchemy Academy archive
September 2000

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Subject: ACADEMY : Recent lack of activity
From: Adam McLean
Date: 21 Sep 2000

Members of this group will have noticed a fall off in the number
of postings over the summer period. This is probably due to
a number of our regular contributors having been on holiday,
but it is also a result of the fact that I have been so very busy
recently that I have not been able to undertake much
research which I can feed into this group.

I do hope that we can get the momentum going again as I
really value the discussions and exchange of information on
alchemy which occurs on this group

Adam McLean

Subject: ACADEMY : The meaning of white
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2000
From: Francesca Beconcini

Could anyone explain the hermetic, alchimistic meaning of white
(colour, pigment)?


Francesca Beconcini

Subject: ACADEMY : The meaning of white
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2000
From: Adam McLean

Francesca Beconcini wrote:

> Could anyone explain the hermetic, alchimistic meaning of white

Alchemy is such a diverse subject with many different writers
presenting different views, that it is impossible to give a simple
one-dimensional answer to a question as general as this.

It might be better to investigate how colours appear in the
alchemical work. There is, of course, a cycle of colours which
many alchemical texts refer to. This 'classical' sequence of
coloured stages often has the structure:

Black - multicoloured - white - red.
Nigredo - peacock's tail - albedo - rubedo.

The white and red correspond to the white (lunar) and red
(solar) ferment or tincture.

White is often used in coloured alchemical manuscripts
in an association with the Moon or lunar aspects.

I suspect that to understand white in a particular alchemical
work, one should explore its meaning through reference to
other colours mentioned or depicted there. There is no simple
look-up table or dictionary in alchemy.

Adam McLean

Subject: ACADEMY : The painter Turner and alchemy
From: Tom Morris
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000

It has been suggested that the well known painter J M W Turner
was influenced by alchemy in his compositions. I apologise
for the fact that this is a little off-topic, but this is an area of
interest to me and I would appreciate any comments or
references which could be suggested.


Tom Morris

Subject: ACADEMY : The painter Turner and alchemy
From: Adam McLean
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000

I have not heard of any definite connection of Turner to alchemy,
but it is well known that Turner made some paintings in which
he explored Goethe's colour theory. Some anthroposophists
(followers of the occultist Rudolf Steiner) conflate Goethe's
theory of colours with alchemy. It may be that this general and
vague association is the source of this idea that Turner was
influenced by alchemy.

If we consider another late 19th century cultural figure such as
Strindberg, we can quite clearly see the importance that alchemy
had for this playwright. In this case he left many notes, wrote some
articles about alchemy, and was well documented as having
connections to many of the writers interested in alchemy during
that period. This is a clear connection. I doubt that such similar
evidence exists in the case of Turner. I, for one, would be
interested to hear of any definite and clear association
between Turner and alchemy.

Adam McLean

Subject: ACADEMY : The painter Turner and alchemy
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000
From: ME Warlick

Hi Tom,

Like Adam, I'm surprised to hear that Turner has been connected to
alchemy, but would like to hear more. Do you have any citations for
this? You might explore why (beyond his admiration for Claude Lorrain)
suns and moons so often dominate his compositions. I suspect that might
be a more fruitful line of investigation than whether or not his color
theories are alchemical.

M.E. Warlick

Subject: ACADEMY : The painter Turner and alchemy
From: Jon Marshal
Date: 22 Sep 2000

Adam McLean wrote:

> I have not heard of any definite connection of Turner to alchemy, but
> it is well known that Turner made some paintings in which he
> explored Goethe's colour theory. Some anthroposophists (followers of
> the occultist Rudolf Steiner) conflate Goethe's theory of colours
> with alchemy.

Like everyone I've not heard the connection between Turner and
Alchemy before, but would like to know who makes it and how.

Though I also appreciate that the connection between Goethe's
colour theory and alchemy is probably remote - could you tell us
who are the anthroposophical writers who make this argument?


Subject: ACADEMY : The meaning of white
From: Stanislas Klossowski de Rola
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000

I am in slight disagreement with Adam in his response to Francesca's

Hers is a relatively easy question to answer in a general fashion.
As in the axiom "Post Tenebras Lux"

White symbolizes life and resurrection in contrast to blackness which
symbolizes death and dissolution.

In Gaston le Doux's Dictionnaire hermétique...(Paris 1695) p.19 under
the heading "Blancheur des Philosophes" we read: "La Blancheur
est dite par les Philosophes, vie & resurrection; & la noirceur, mort..."

Under the heading "Le Blanchir des Philosophes : c'est cuire la nature
jusqu'à ce qu'elle soit parfaite."
Translation: The Whitening of the Philosophers: it is to cook nature
(i.e the matter) until it is perfected.

Of course one could multiply the quotations and plunge Francesca
into utter confusion but I do not believe it to be necessary.

All the best
Stanislas Klossowski de Rola

Subject: ACADEMY : The painter Turner and alchemy
From: Adam McLean
Date: 22 Sep 2000

Jon Marshall wrote:

>Like everyone I've not heard the connection between Turner and
>Alchemy before, but would like to know who makes it and how.
>Though I also appreciate that the connection between Goethe's
>colour theory and alchemy is probably remote - could you tell us
>who are the anthroposophical writers who make this argument?

Dear Jon,

One of the main writers who makes this connection is Ronald Gray
in his 'Goethe the Alchemist' Cambridge University Press 1952.

He devotes a chapter to Goethe's theory of colours in which
he draws many parallels with colours in alchemy. Gray was not
an Anthroposophist but I recall some of the later Steiner people
drawing on this books. Unfortunately I no longer have access to
any of their books, but (if I can trust my memory) I seem to recall
that Fred Gettings (an art historical writer heavily influenced by
anthroposophy) mentions this in one of his many books.

Incidentally Gray mentions Turner in that chapter in a footnote,
where he refers to the two Turner paintings in the Tait which
indicate Turner's use of Goethe's colour theory. The note,
however, concludes,

"The annotations [in Turner's own copy of Goethe's work
on colour] reveal a marked antagonism to Goethe's
theoretical views, but suggest that Turner was prepared to
experiment with their practical applications to painting."

Perhaps this indication from Turner himself clears up
the issue.

Adam McLean

Subject: ACADEMY : The painter Turner and alchemy
From: Tom Morris
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2000

The suggestion comes in a review article by Norman Weinstein in the
Nov-Dec issue of the "The Sciences" from the New York Academy
of Science of the book:-

REVOLUTION by William S. Rodner University of California Press,
1997 222 pages; $45.00

The quotation is

" Although Turner's library housed few scientific tomes, it did
include books touching on religious and metaphysical matters.
It has been suggested that Turner was fascinated by
alchemy and the occult as well as by the conventional sciences
and technology. The glowing furnaces he so enjoyed painting
were an important alchemical symbol. Whereas to modern
sensibilities alchemy is merely a primitive and misguided
precursor of chemistry, Turner likely took it as seriously as
he did Faraday's magnetic theory.

One might say that, sequestered in his studio, Turner was
a kind of alchemist himself. As the conservation scientist
Joyce Townsend notes in her 1993 book Turner's Painting
Techniques, Turner was a tireless experimenter with new
oil colors, all kinds of papers and new finishing techniques.
Chemical and spectroscopic analyses of his pigments and
painting techniques show that his methods were highly
innovative. Seeking to express hitherto unknown special
effects of light, shadow and color at their most extreme and
exotic, Turner turned his studio into a kind of alchemical
laboratory where newly minted pigments and other materials
were constantly put to the test.

Turner's challenge was truly Promethean, enough to make a
sorcerer out of anyone. He was striving to paint landscapes
the world had never seen before, landscapes marked by
chugging trains, churning steamboats and soot-belching
factory smokestacks. To do justice to such stark manifestations
of the new science and technology, he had to employ new
tools: a revolutionary aesthetic that anticipated the French
Impressionists, and a methodology marked by constant

Certainly, to me at any rate, some of Turner's paintings evoke
a sense of light emerging from a darker chaos.

Tom Morris

Subject: ACADEMY : The meaning of white
Date: Fri, 26 May 2000
From: Francesca Beconcini

I thank you all very much for your answers. I brought up
such a query because I'm studying Caravaggio's alchemistic
culture connected with Bacchus (emblematic figure of alchemistic
Neoplatonism). What doyou think of the study I'm making?
You can have a look at it:

The link is philosophers'wool.

Francesca Beconcini

Subject: ACADEMY : Prague 1998 - Cartesian Mysteries
From: Bo Brand
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2000

Dear Academy members,

I am a student (55 years old) of philosophy at the University of
Copenhagen, and now also beginning the study of medieval Latin.

I had the pleasure to be present at the conference "Prague,
Alchemy and the Hermetic Tradition", held in Prague, August 30th -
September 2nd, 1998.

On Monday, September 1st, Professor Zdenek Neubauer
presented an interesting paper: "CARTESIAN MYSTERIES",
dealing with the alchemical contents in Rene Descartes'
"Metaphysical Meditations", based on the original Latin version
"Meditationes De Prima Philosophia, ..." (1641), as opposed to
the 'authorized' French translation.

I have tried, without success:

1) to write Zdenek Neubauer c/o Charles University - Prague, and
2) to buy a copy of the official audio-tape recording of his lecture.

Now I'm asking:

1) if any of you have notes and/or an audio-tape recording
from this lecture, which you are willing to copy for me (I will
of course pay all expenses), and
2) if you know of any published papers of Zdenek Neubauer
(or others) on this subject in English, German, or French.

Yours sincerely,
Bo Brandt

Subject: ACADEMY : The painter Turner and alchemy
From: John Ashpool
Date : 25 Sep 2000

Concerning generalities about art and alchemy.
As an artist may I add mine? ( My generalities.)

(Show me an artist's library that doesn't contain books
touching on religious and metaphysical matters!)

Though no Turner, I think it might be useful to say to non artists
that art is a solitary, plodding, often thought numbing,
sometimes seemingly futile,intuitive activity.

It is practiced, most often, by loner type individuals who have
patently chosen an apparently irrational quest - seccumbing
to sirens perhaps - in place of 'normal' career, which is
generally; going to the mine ('carrière' in French) looking for
material ore.( Gold is 'or' in French)

In my experience, the silence and solitude of the studio,
allied with the daily intimate contact with the materials of the
trade, make it almost impossible for artists to see matter and
colour as inanimate, and exterior to their conciousness.

Until such times as they become numbed by success, failure,
alcohol,etc and effectively abandon the 'quest', as most
do, they are surely working in parallel to alchemists.

To what extent such manifestations as the increasing use of
gold/yellow in late Bonnard or Turner (and others) are conscious
or not, the parallels are particularly clear - however ignorant
the artist may have been concerning the terminology, history
and method of what he was practicing - probably intuitively.

Masters whose subject is 'matter' rather than 'light', as for
example Michaelangelo and Cezanne, similarly work towards a

The case of Piranesi's 'Prisons' to illustrate a 'parallel'
comes to mind, but I fear to have strayed into another forum.

John Ashpool

Subject: ACADEMY : South Africa conference
From: Susanna Åkerman
Date: 27 Sep 2000

The conference on Western esotericism and Jewish mysticism
in Durban, South Africa in August was intense and interesting
although Elliot Wolfson did not come as planned. Wouter
Hanegraaff spoke of Ludovico Lazzarelli's Crater Hermetis which
is going to appear in a sourcebook of the Hermetica that Hanegraaff
is editing. Hanegraaff is quite brilliant and spoke of the preparing
of the golem or making of souls in the Crater. Lazzarelli had a
teacher, Mercurio Coreggio, who entered Rome on a donkey in a
Christlike procession crowned by thorns in 1484 (Edighoffer has
speculated that this influenced the dating of Christian Rosencreutz
life). This identification with Christ-Pimander influenced Lazzarelli
deeply and made him into one of the most advanced Hermeticists
even if Yates does not mention him except in passing in her books
on the hermetic tradition.

The best paper was probably by Yuri Stoyanov (author of the
Hidden tradition in Europe - on the Bogomils and Cathars) who
wrote on the Enoch tradition, Metatron and its influence on the
Royal Arch degrees and so on, but who could not come in
person as he had contracted food poisoning in the Ukraine.
Otherwise there were three papers showing first the non-influence
of Kabbalah on Boehme (Arthur Versluis) emphasizing his
creative originality - but it was pointed out that a German book
has recently been published showing parallells between
Kabbalah and Boehme. Boehme's kabbalist/alchemist mentor
Balthasar Walther was brought up. Then there was a paper on
the non-influence of Kabbalah on Swedenborg (Jane Williams
Hogan) comparing Scholems reports on Kabbalah with
Swedenborg's notion of Christ as the Lord, thus comparing Jewish
Kabbalah (instead of Christian Kabbalah) with the wrong elements
in Swedenborg - she could have looked at his concept of maximus
homo and its relation to Adam Kadmon or the idea of influx and
piritual development in degrees or his view of the layers of
meaning in the Word.

Last was a paper on the non-influence of Kabbalah on Freemasonry
(Jan Snoek) before 1809. Showing that the hidden word in
Freemasonry is preserved as the vowels of Jachin and Boaz
creating the hidden name Adonai. Faivre thought that Snoek had
shown a kabbalistic influence while Snoek maintained that his
finding showed Freemasonry's independent development. I
quoted him the Rosicrucian Johannes Bureus' mentioning of
Jachin and Boaz in the Adulruna ms. of 1636 at the latest in a
temple-mystical apocalyptic context calling it a kabbalah and an
"ars eruendi mysteria". Clearly Kabbalistic influences were more
subtle than direct quotations from the Zohar, the Sepher Yetzirah
or other known tetxts. Snoek also attacked Schuchards
methodology and non-sceptical attitude in masonic research but
she tried to persuade him of her ideas on Stuart Jacobite
freemasonry in the seventeenth century by conversation later, which
seemed semi-sucessful. Coudert delivered a beautiful and fun
paper on Mercurius van Helmont's kabbalah and Leibniz'
monadology. Coudert thought the papers mentioned were
appalling attempts to claim that western esotericism is
independent of Jewish mysticism. These papers were very
skillfully drawn up, but were absurd in tendency. Anyway now there
are arguments to try to disprove, and a challenge to show the
Kabbalistic influence on western esotericism. I persuaded Schuchard
to write a shorter paper on Swedenborg and the Kabbalah although
she instead prefers Wolfson or Idel to do so. (Her book-ms. on
Swedenborg is 1100 pages long.)

Antoine Faivre spoke of the Magus, the Ostentator (the scholar) and
the Saturnian melancholist as three types of Hermeticists. It was a very
good way of summing up our contributions. I spoke of Bureus'
reading of Dee on the monas and Postel on the construction of
Hebrew out of a single Yod and Chirek (vowel point), pointing out
that Postel and Dee met in Paris in 1551. There was an interesting
speech by Annine van der Meer on the Sabians at Harran as Hermetists.
Kocku von Stockrad who has published a huge book on ancient
and medieval astrology spoke on ancient Hermetic texts and its
transmission challenging Faivre's thesis that Hermeticism does not
exist until the renaissance. Faivre replied with a reinstatement of his
distinction between Hermetism (transmission of ancient textst) and
hermeticism (developments since Ficino). In all there was much to
learn and ponder.

Hanegraaff has employed Jean Pierre Brasch and Olav Hammer
( a Swede who writes on the new age) as lecturers for his new
Amsterdam chair in hermetische philosophie en verwandte
stromingen. He also promoted the new journal ARIES now to be
published by Brill.

Susanna Åkerman

Subject: ACADEMY : Question about the word 'myrobolan'
From: TCR
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000

Dear friends,

I am in the midst of working with my interview data for my dissertation about
renewal by vision in the fiction and lives of creative writers. While it is
not directly an alchemy dissertation it certainly has its roots in my
academic work in alchemy.

As I have been working I have come across a quotation that I have saved and
have been contemplating for quite a while. It is quoted in Couliano: Eros and
Magic in the Renaissance (p 138) From Ficino:

"We can incorporate more and more of quinta essentia by knowing how to
isolate ailmentary compounds of which it is a part of by making frequent use
of those things that abound mostly in spirit of a high degree of purity, such
as noble wine, sugar, balsam, gold, precious stones, myrobolan, the things
that have the sweetest perfumes and things that are shiny." (Vita coel.,I).

I am trying to find out what is meant by "myrobolan" and have been
unsuccessful in finding a definition or explanation. Can anyone help me with

Thank You for your assistance

Subject: ACADEMY : Question about the word 'myrobolan'
From: Adam McLean
Date: 27 Sep 2000

You will find this entry in the Oxford English Dictionary

myrobalan Forms: miro-, ( mera-, muro-), myro-, mira-, myra-; ( -bolon),
-bolane, ( -balane, -balam, -um, -bolam, -um), -bolan, -balan.
mira-, marablane.
[a. F. myrobolan (= It., Sp. mirabolano, Pg. myra-) or its source
L. myrobalanum, a. Gr. (1) perh. the ben-nut, (2) in mod. Gr., emblic,
f. unguent, balsam + acorn, date, ben-nut. Known colloq. amongst
dyers as m'rabs.]

Astringent plum-like fruit. Also a plum tree.

In the context of Ficino's sentence it probably had the more general
meaning of an astringent balsam or unguent. I cannot recall ever
having come across the word in an alchemical context. You may
find a more relevant meaning in a Greek dictionary as Ficino,
of course, drew heavily from the Greek language.

Adam McLean

Subject: ACADEMY : Question about the word 'myrobolan'
From: Mike Dickman
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000

Myrobalan (or myrobalan arjuna) is an important medical plant in the
pharmacopaea of Indian and Tibetan medicine.Either the astringent fruit or
other parts of the plant are used.
According to Raoul Birnbaum's 'The Healing Buddha' [SHAMBHALA, 1979],
"...Vagbhata, commenting on ch. 6 of the Sutrasthana, notes that there are
three types of myrobalama fruit:

'Terminalia chebula, phyllanthus emblica and terminialia belerica are the
elixirs of long life. These three fruits eliminate eye disease and benefit the
eyes, and cure such diseases as wound discharge, skin troubles, bleeding
of wounds, adipose disorders, pain in the urinal tract, as well as the
overabundance of phlegm and blood.'

Among the three, terminalia chebula seems to be especially potent.
Vagbhata describes its qualities in detail:

'The taste of terminalia chebula is astringent. It leaves a sweet taste upon
digestion. It has a slightly dry taste. It has no salty taste. It is light. It is very
heat producing, helps digest food, makes the mind attentive, and brings
about a hearty old age in the finest sense. Terminalia chebula has the power
to cleans internally with great warmth. It grants long life and keenness of
thought. The eye and other senses become clear. It overcomes leprosy,
discolouration of countenance and bodily appearance... (etc.)'..."

T. J. Tsarong in his 'Handbook of Traditional Tibetan Drugs' [TIBETAN
MEDICAL PUBLICATIONS, 1986], Myrobalan in various combinations is
used against the following disorders:

Myrobalan 7: against general splenic disorders, swollen spleen, swollen
abdomen due to splenic disorders, dark and reddish-brown lips;
Myrobalan 10: against inflammation of the kidneys giving rise to pain in the
kidney region, hips, thighs and feet;
Myrobalan 18: against imbalance of kidney channels, renal inflammation,
pain in the hip and waist region, kidney disorders giving rise to stooping body;
Myrobalan 23: against renal disorders and weakene, enlarged or shrunken
Myrobalan 25: against disorders affecting the renal nerves and blood
disorders affecting the kidneys;
Myrobalan 35: against inflamation and vitiation of kidney channels, pain
around hips and waist region, gout, arthritis and serumal disorders and pus
in the urine;
Black Medicinal Myrobalan for the pacification of 'hot' (sanguine) and 'cold'
(bile and phlegm) disorders, and alleviation of the common cold.
All of these combinations (the figures represent the number of supporting
ingredients in the medicine itself) have terminalia chebula as their basis.

Hope this is of some use.


Subject: ACADEMY : Question about the word 'myrobolan'
From: TCR
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000

Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for your assistance with my mystery word!

I am grateful.


Subject: ACADEMY : John de Monte-Snyders
From: Adam McLean
Date: 27 Sep 2000

A colleague has asked me if there are any writings - articles or
in journals or sections in books - about John de Monte-Snyders
the 17th century author of the 'Metamorphosis Planetarum'
and other alchemical works.

Adam McLean

Subject: ACADEMY : Question about the word 'myrobolan'
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000
From: Ahmad Hassan

In Arabic materia medica myrobalan is called ihlilaj or hililaj.
From Arabic sources (such as Ibn al-Baytar) we learn that
it was an important material in medicine. The tree is similar
to a palm tree; and there were four varieties of fruit that differ
in their shape and colour. The fruits came from India, China
and Kabul(in Afghanistan). Many medical uses were cited
(some of which were given in the message of Mike

Two additional interesting facts are worthy of mention. First
myrobalan (Ihlilaj) was used as an ingredient to facilitate the
melting of iron in crucibles for making Damascus steel (see
al-Birun in Kitab al-Jamahir).
The second fact is that the Indian variety was known to have
a nice smell similar to that of myrtle. (see al-Antaki in al-Tadhkira).


Subject: ACADEMY : South Africa conference
From: Mike Dickman
Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2000


Thank you for the most illumining comments I've read on this
conference so far.


Subject: ACADEMY : Question about the word 'myrobolan'
From: Michael Brosse
Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2000

Mirobolant (from myrobolan, fruit des Indes) also means in French:
marvelous, too beautiful to have a chance to happen....

Baudelaire: "On inventa en ce temps-la tous les puffs les
plus mirobolants, les plus incroyables, les plus enormes"

I guess the virtues of the fruit must have fed the imagination
of the time !

Michel Brosse

Subject: ACADEMY : Question about the word 'myrobolan'
From: Peter Kelly
Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000

Fulcanelli refers to "myrobalan" on page 426 of his book "The
dwellings of the philosophers".
There is a picture of an engraving, of a fig tree, a date tree, and
a palm tree, taken from Jacques Coeurs palace in Bourges.

Fulcanelli says ".... the tree of hermopolis, a kind of oak, called
by the Greeks myrobalan". He seems to relate it to the subject of
the sages.

He also says, "certain authors have indicated the hermetic fruit
by the name of myrobalan, and why the term has remained in
French, meaning marvellous or rare." Also "The seed of Halalidge
and the myrobalan are identical with the fig, the fruit of the date tree,
with the egg of the phoenix, which is our philosophical egg."

It might be worth following the thread of the oak tree, which
Fulcanelli also talks about in his first book "The mystery of the
cathedrals" .

Peter Kelly