An Interview with a Bohemian Hermeticist
An Interview with a Bohemian Hermeticist
This past summer Lubos gave me a personal tour of the National Museum's renowned mineral collection. He then escorted me to Vysehrad, Prague's hilltop sanctuary for a moment of profound contemplative silence.
Jan Vanis's contemporary book, A GUIDE TO MYSTERIOUS PRAGUE, describes Vysehrad as the ancient fortress of Prague's patroness, Libuse, the pagan prophetess princess. Jan Vanis cites contemporary folklore which tells how Libuse sleeps with her army of knights in catacombs beneath Vysehrad. Fables assert that in times of trouble they will awaken to aid the Czech nation. This belief is only a modern metamorphosis of older Bohemian legends connected to St. Wenceslas, Mt. Blanik and Melnik. One meets here the myth of the hallowed hollow hill inhabited by helpful higher beings. Other examples may be found at Mt. Girnar or Mt. Arunachala in India, the Glastonbury Tor in England or Mt. Shasta in Northern California. These helpful higher beings serve as "watchers" standing guard over a collective consciousness. They fulfill the duty of an "egregore", a term derived from the Greek word for "watcher".This term usually refers to the autonomous psychic residue of a group mind. Such an egregore bespeaks a yet to be heard wisdom. It shines a yet to be seen illumination dormant in stone. Recovery of this wisdom and light remains the labor of the alchemist...and men such as Lubos Antonin.
J.C. Lubos, how do you integrate your professional work with active practice of Hermetic Wisdom?
L.A. I began my academic training in Philosophy late in
life at the age of 27. While engaged in the study of philosophy from Heidegger
to Post-Modernism I discovered Alchemy and Mysticism. I realized something was
missing from our understanding of Renaissance philosophy. Bruno for example
could not be understood as only a philosopher but as a practicing Hermeticist.
My interests followed his interests in Marsiglio Ficino. So I began related
studies of the Enlightenment. I discovered that scholars of the Enlightenment
not just scholars of the Renaissance studied alchemy. I did not expect this! I
prepared an exhibit for the National Museum in 1994 documenting this. It was
called "The Kingdom of Alchemy". Thus I integrate my job and personal
work. My long term professional work involves compiling an alchemical
bibliography of Czech Hermetic Literature from 300 castle libraries. I hope to
show with concrete examples the history of Czech alchemy. The people here
involved with natural science were very interested in alchemy. Industrial
science, for example processing coal and steel, is very important in this
country. There is an awesome relationship of alchemy to industrial science and
anti-dogmatic post-modernist philosophy.
L.A. For me now it is simply a matter of collecting and studying alchemical texts. Thanks to this I have seen what Czech alchemists actually do. I assist them in locating and interpreting classical texts. In the 20th century there is a long tradition of practical alchemy here. It emerged as a belief system derived from Templar, Masonic and Rosicrucian traditions in which actual practice is unconditionally necessary. Although it has presently ceased to exist, the pre-world war organization, UNIVERSALIA, was revived in 1990. Its former president, Vladislav Zadrobilek, with his publishing company, Trigon, functioned to republish many classic alchemical texts. They made possible the recent OPUS MAGNUM exhibit and the catalogue that so well documents Czech alchemical history.
J.C. Could you please tell us briefly the great alchemical myth of the founding of Prague by the pagan princess prophetess, Libuse and her ploughman husband, Premysl?
L.A. This is very significant. Libuse is the Czech version of the Delphic Sibyl. She was a virgin ruler of the people here perhaps more than twelve hundred years ago. They were not satisfied with a woman ruler and demanded a king. From her fortress presumed now to be at Vysehrad she went into a trance. She ordered her soldiers to follow her white horse through the forest to the future king. The horse led the soldiers to the ploughman, Premysl. They presented him with fine clothes and an invitation to become king. He set free his oxen who disappeared into the earth or according to other versions ascended into the sky. Then he placed his ploughman's staff into the ground and it immediately took root, blossomed and flowered. According to some versions at the time he was approached he was using his iron plough blade as a table for his lunch. All of these items have Hermetic import. He went on to become a great ruler. The country blossomed and flowered.
I personally went to the place where this happened. During a rain storm I used my screw driver to dig up some sacred mud. As I dug, my screw driver became mysteriously deformed. I got some mud and made a cup which for me embodies the sacredness of the Holy Grail.
It is believed that Libuse still sleeps under the hilltop fortress of Vysehrad and will awaken when Bohemia is in greatest danger. During the Velvet Revolution, on the 17th of November, 1989, thousands of students spontaneously assembled at Prague's south end, upon Vysehrad's temenos, the sacred precinct of Libuse. They lit candles and held an all night vigil as if to invoke her help. Then followed the miraculous bloodless revolution. The communists quit. The Russians went home. Democracy was restored.
J.C. Is this myth alive for the Czech youth today?
L.A. Consciously no it is not. But unconsciously this myth is a vital part of contemporary Czech culture. Its origins might only have emerged from the romanticism of the 19th century Czech National Revival. There are older versions of this myth. According to some the knights of St.Wenceslas sleep inside the sacred hollow mountain of Blanik or beneath the castle fortress of Melnik waiting to come to the aid of Bohemia in its hour of greatest need. Other versions have nothing to do with St.Wenceslas. This collective memory although not clear is yet alive and sleeps in the Czech landscape. The recent Czech Olympic Hockey victory is an aspect of this egregore of Wenceslas and his knights coming to the aid of Bohemia. For a moment his sleeping soldiers awoke to become the victorious Hockey players.
J.C. Is Vysehrad a sacred location even in spite of its doubtful historic authenticity as Libuse's fortress?
L.A. Yes it is. I believe the actual site of her central fortress was Sarka, where we visited earlier today, just west of Prague. It is close to White Mountain and the Star Palace. Although barren the land here still resonates with a potent mystic charge.
J.C. Bohemians are often pictured as people who glory in cheap beer, free love and bad poetry. What does it mean to be a Bohemian Hermeticist?
L.A. There is a popular misconception of Bohemians as Gypsies. One frequently meets the image of the gypsy fortune tellers or occult magicians. Their life style is strange and very different from Czech Hermetic vision. The roots of Czech Bohemian Hermeticism emerge from Jan Hus and Komenski. It finds expression as Rosicrucian philosophy and general esoteric tradition for example the work of Jacob Boehme.
J.C. What is the significance of the Black Virgin of Prague and what is her role in Hermetic practice?
L.A. She may possibly be linked to the mining tradition and its guilds as its patron. She represents an intriguing subculture with specific values expressed in the mythic language of minerals and metals. Just as the cathedrals represent textbooks of alchemy written in stone there has been speculation that the city of Prague is a book of alchemy written in the streets and houses. The royal coronation procession path, the Royal Road, might refer to a process. Some see the Black Virgin as playing a role in this. But she is a relatively recent phenomenon compared to Libuse.
J.C. Do young Czechs still appreciate the religious heritage of the Roman Catholic Church?
L.A. This is possibly the most atheistic nation in the world. It is an issue of social conformity. Atheism is the most popular fashion. The few that still attend mass often do so without full understanding. No, young people here do not see the Catholic tradition for what it is, the most perfect system in the world. The Roman Catholic Mass is a magic ritual par excellence. It can not be improved. Outside the esotericism of the Catholic Church there is nothing greater. Yet people feel a need to develop themselves as individuals. Thus they turn to spiritualist, occult and hermetic practices. We have some Protestants here but their path is just faith, service and psychic hygiene. The ritual of the Catholic Mass captures the magical experience like no other tradition. "The Unspoken Word" is expressed in its highest purest essence in the Catholic Church, The alchemical ideal is expressed in the sacrament of transubstantiation. The mystery of the Trinity is expressed most wonderfully in Catholic Theology. I laugh when I see people involved with ceremonial magic because they can never compare to the greatness of the Catholic Mass. What more could you want? What more is there?
J.C. Are you familiar with the growing movement in the Catholic Church to revive the Latin Mass?
L.A. Yes. Latin is a sacred language, as is Hebrew or Sanskrit. The mass has its fullest magic power in Latin. When the Mass is celebrated in a national language it is only a lecture not a magic ritual.
J.C. The National Museum displays a fabulous collection of artifacts from mineral, vegetable and animal evolution. It constitutes a superb place for meditation. Is alchemy correctly understood as accelerated metallic evolution or is it the science of Genesis or is it natural magic?
L.A. The National Museum was established by Masons. It is a synthesis of society and Nature. This was intentional. Alchemy emerges from the study of Nature. We easily see this at the National Museum. Yes, alchemy is mineral evolution. It is also the great science of Genesis. It is also natural science and natural magic. On the second floor front lobby of the National Museum in the floor tiles there is a yantra-like mandala. This diagram is outstanding for meditation. During his wake the coffin of Tomas G Masaryk, the first president of this country after WWI and the first true democrat here, was placed overnight upon this mandala. An upcoming Internet site on the National Museum will feature this mandala as its logo.
J.C. Do you have any favorite alchemical authors? Are the books ends in themselves to the process of expanding consciousness?
L.A. Athanasius Kircher had a powerful imagination derived from Ignatius Loyola's Jesuit contemplative exercises. This was actual visualization practice. He was wrong about many things but his emphasis on the power of the imagination is invaluable. Johann Glauber and Johann Becher are authors which have long fascinated me but their works unfortunately are not illustrated. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Faulkner were alchemists like Glauber and Becher. Hemingway spent his life searching for the Stone. But I believe it is not sufficient to just read the books.
J.C. What are your plans for future work?
L.A. Michal Pober and I are working on an upcoming tour:
"Magical Journeys in Bohemia": "THE GOLDEN
SALAMANDER" to be led by Stanislas Klossowsi de Rola. More information
is available on Michal Pober's web site:
J.C. Lubos, I'd like to thank you not only for making time for me here today but also for your life's work of keeping the dream alive. Thank you Lubos Antonin.
This interview was conducted on April 18th, 1998 at ROMAN SKAMEN's PUB, a stone's throw from the National Museum in Prague and later at the TERMINAL BAR, Prague's premiere Internet café. Special Acknowledgment to Michal Pober for arranging this interview and providing editorial assistance and to William Hollister for acting as interpreter-translator. Lubos Antonin can be reached at Narodniho Muzea, Vaclavske Nam 68, 11579 Praha 1, Czech Republic. Telephone 011 420 2 24497308
Demetz,Peter; PRAGUE IN BLACK AND GOLD, Allen