Adam's Alchemy Weblog|
I have decided to start a weblog of my activities related to my work with alchemy and the alchemy website. The Alchemy Website now at www.alchemywebsite.com was established in 1996 and is the longest surviving and most authoritative site devoted to alchemy on the internet.
The weblog provides a continual update on my work with alchemy as well as providing tidbits of news and information relevant to alchemy.
I try and keep to a daily schedule, though if I am rather busy or immersed in some project, this may slip a day or so.
Questions from my inbox.
13 May 2013
Late last year I decided to have an office/workshop installed at my partner Franzeska's house, so that I can do some work over the weekends. It was finally completed during the last week and this weekend I started the task of making it into a working office. I bought a desk/bench and some other necessities and began making them up. By this weekend I should have electricity installed and an ethernet broadband link. It will take a few weeks to get things totally sorted out, but a start has been made.
7 May 2013
I had just finished congratulating myself on making great progress with the new menu system, when one of my customers informed me that these menus did not work ! It turned out that they work fine in Chrome and Firefox, which I use all the time, but not in Internet Explorer, even the most recent version. As about 25% of users access my site using Internet Explorer, I could not lock that many people out from viewing the site, so I had to go and reinstall the old version. I bought a program to write the menu code and cannot understand how any programmer can be so stupid as to make their software incompatible with Internet Explorer. Anyway they have wasted a full day of my time. No doubt there will be some great excuse when I demand a refund.
7 May 2013
I have also purchased a program which has enabled me to present flipbook samples for many of the Magnum Opus series on the relevant pages. I need to sell some more books ! Do check out the Magnum Opus pages to see these flipbook samples.
I have just bought and had installed an office at my partner Franzeska's house, so I can do more work at the weekends. This cost about £7000, but it should prove to be a very worthwhile investment.
14 April 2013
During the last two months I have issued a wonderful new book in the Magnum Opus series, A Philosophical Discourse by Sabine Stuart de Chavalier, the only substantial printed work by a female alchemist, and another fine translation by the prolific Paul Ferguson. This is number 46 in the series, and as I have a number of titles currently approaching publication, the Magnum Opus series should go through the 50 barrier later this year or early 2014 at the latest. This series is the most significant publication project of alchemical material in modern times, but not many people recognise its importance. These hand made, limited edition, books are truly an investment opportunity, as the established market price is often considerably higher than the price at which I sell these. Very few people, probably a handful, actually possess a complete run of the Magnum Opus series. I will try to promote the Magnum Opus series in the next few months, and draw peoples attention to the value of the textual material and the value of the individual books.
I have also issued two of my limited edition Art Tarots in the last two months - The original Oswald Wirth deck and a tarot based on illustrations by W.T. Horton. The Horton sold out in only three days, a combination of a very reasonable price and a small edition. I am, in the coming week, about to issue another tarot in this series.
I am becoming very aware that my age is beginning to count against me and that I only have a few years left of active work ahead of me. Since the 1980s I have been making coloured versions of alchemical, astronomical and related woodcut and engraved emblems. Initially I did this for my own interest. During the 1970s and 1980s I had been able to examine a considerable number of alchemical manuscripts by visiting many libraries in the UK. I was particularly drawn to those with series of coloured images. I studied in detail the ways in which colours were used in these manuscripts and applied this understanding to the colouring of woodcuts and engravings. In the late 1990s, when colour laser printing became available at a price I could afford, I began to use my coloured images as illustrations in my books. Thus I issued my Book of Lambspring Coloured followed by many other such publications. I also began, from 1999, to sell these as A4 sized prints. In 2011 I decided to stop selling these prints as they were uneconomic. Instead I created the Blurb books of my coloured emblems. To date I have made over 1000 of these hand coloured emblems, many of which are framed and adorn the walls of my apartment.
As I am getting older, I am becoming aware of the fact that I cannot leave the problem of selling or otherwise disposing of this significant collection of my paintings to my partner Franzeska and my sister Moira, who are the executors of my estate. So I intend to begin selling off these paintings gradually over the coming years. It will probably take ten or more years to sell a significant part of these images, but I wish to begin this now.
The page through which my paintings will be sold is McLean_coloured_Emblem_paintings.html. I will be selling these at a reasonable price.
31 January 2012
I find myself neglecting this weblog. Not that I am sitting about sipping white wine and reading trashy detective novels, but instead am rather immersed in production. Since my last entry I have issued another book in the Magnum Opus series, the Great Book of Nature, edited and printed an edition of the original Wirth Tarot deck, launched my Centre for Tarot Art project, completed one painting and almost finished another.
This is a very productive time for me, and I find myself struggling to allocate time to the different projects. At this moment I have four books almost ready for the Magnum Opus with three others in preparation. Expect an announcement of the next book in the series very shortly.
The book I wrote as a catalogue for an exhibition in the BPH in Amsterdam back in 1994, has now been made available by the library as an eBook. It has long been out of print and is much sought after judging by the number of requests I get for copies. You can buy it here
15 November 2012
Yesterday I finished binding up an initial batch of the next book, Number 44, in the Magnum Opus series. This is the first translation into English of Cambriel's Course in Hermetic Philosophy or Alchemy.
In 1829 Louis Paul Francois Cambriel (1784-1850) created a series of nineteen lessons on the philosophy and practice of alchemy. He intended to sell these to a sponsor in order to raise the funding that would allow him to complete the alchemical process. Some years later, in 1843, these were published in Paris. These lessons sum up many of the alchemical ideas current in the mid-nineteenth century, thus dealing with the three principles, the nature of salt, sulphur and mercury, the dry and wet ways, the creation of a foliated earth, the different fires in the work, the hermetic marriage of metals, and many similar themes. Cambriel continually shifts between theory and practice. His nineteen lessons had considerable influence on the emergence of modern French alchemy during the early 20th century, though due to lack of a translation it had little influence on 20th century British and American alchemical circles.
Paul Ferguson's translation has now made this important work available to the English speaking world.
You can buy a copy through visiting this page
4 November 2012
I have just finished the layout for another book in the Magnum Opus series, this time a translation of a 19th century work on alchemy. I will be announcing this in the next few days. This is a very productive period for me as I have begun work on another book, the layout for which will be rather complicated. 2012 should see four new Magnum Opus titles.
2 November 2012
The latest book, number 43, in the Magnum Opus series has been available for a week or so. I have now bound up sufficient copies to meet the initial orders. This is a translation of a complex series of coloured alchemical emblems, the Thesaurus Mundi, which originally dates back to the 15th century, but is best known through the group of late 17th early 18th century manuscripts. Paul Ferguson has translated this from the Latin. It is a wonderfully enigmatic work whose imagery often challenges us. One of the best known of these images depicts two figures, one with two bird heads, mounted on a donkey climbing the ladder of digestion and grades of fire.
You can see more details or buy a copy of this amazing work here
12 October 2012
I see it has been two months since I made an entry here. A great deal has been going on behind the scenes with me primarily working on binding up books, and I made a short diversion into publishing another in my Art Tarot series. In the last week I have been finalising the layout for the next Magnum Opus book, again a translation by Paul Ferguson. This is one of the more enigmatic series of alchemical drawings found in a small body of manuscripts. I came across this many years ago in the form of individual images in books, but when I saw the full set of images, sometime in the 1980s in the copies in the British Library, the Wellcome and the Ferguson Collection here in Glasgow, I hoped that one day I would be able to publish an edition of this work. So this has now come about, and I will be able to announce the publication sometime next week.
Today I had a rather annoying encounter with a student wanting me to help him with his Masters thesis. For some weird reason he has chosen alchemy as his subject when he does not know much about this. He wanted me to provide him with material and ideas, even a short video presentation to assist with his thesis. In my first reply I said I was sorry but I did not have time to do this for him. Today I am in the middle of printing out an initial batch of my next volume to bind up next week. He immediately replied with another slew of questions and requests. I politely directed him to my website. Back he comes again with more questions. I told him this time that he should do his own research. It seems that some students today think that research means asking someone to answer their questions and provide material for their thesis. What value has such a thesis if the student does not do any significant research beyond asking people such as myself ? It is also very rude to keep pestering someone who has obviously given the signal that they do not have time to help. Neither a winning strategy nor an attractive trait, I would have thought !
10 August 2012
I have rather neglected the alchemy web site of late. This is due to my having to work on binding up books. I am also now working on my database of the artwork of modern tarot. Those who know me as an enthusiast for alchemy and emblematic imagery, may not have realised that for a number of years I have been collecting modern tarot decks and illustrations in books. As I now have the best collection of this material in the world, over 2400 items, it has become necessary to create a database in order to study and make sense of the variety of material from different countries. I have no interest in telling fortunes, but only in the artwork found in tarot designs, and this has not especially endeared me with the tarot community. I am consequently a bit peripheral to the mainstream tarot enthusiasts, but I consider my approach to tarot as an art form as being more sustainable in the longer term. Anyway I will have had to devote much of my time to this during the remainder of this year. I should be able to return to more full time work with alchemy later in the year.
Over the last few weeks I have had a number of problems with my existing computer system, which is about two years old. Those horrible intermittent and unpredictable errors that are difficult to diagnose, blue screens and inaccessble hard discs! Yesterday, I had a brainwave which enabled me to find the source of the problem - my motherboard was incompatible with some of the SATA drive modes, especially the way it cached reads and writes, so it worked most of the time but sometimes just lost the data and then there was a horrible crash. My main data drive would click every few seconds as the motherboard kept sending instructions to it to park its heads. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution and I have had to buy a new system with an up to date motherboard. It means migrating to Windows 7, when all the software I use is stable with XP, but if you want to get a better system there is no point in sticking with good old reliable XP. So I have to look forward to a horrible few days nest week struggling to get all my software installed and working properly under Windows 7.
5 June 2012
I have decided that I must devote the remainder of this entire year primarily to binding up the unbound copies of the Magnum Opus series. I have noticed some problems developing with my hands and I suspect that in the medium term I will have to give up the task of bookbinding. So it is best to get this out of the way before I am forced to give this up. It is slow work as it takes about three to four hours for each book. It will mean I will have to cut back a bit on producing new titles. I have over the last month been able to bind up the some of remaining copies of two of the Magnum Opus titles that have not been available since the late 1980s - The Rosicrucian Emblems and the Dream of Poliphilus. Few people have a complete set of the Magnum Opus editions and making these available may help some collectors of my material fill some gaps.
The Magnum Opus series is the most significant series of alchemy related books published since the 17th/18th century, and in the longer term will be recognised as a milestone in alchemical publishing. A complete set of back issues will in time be a much sought after item. Few people own a complete run. I have never seen one for sale since the 1980s when there were less than 20 in the series (now 42 titles). I would imagine a complete run would be worth (conservatively) £5000-8000 ($7500-2000) at present. There are almost no copies of the Magnum Opus books in public collections, as I have not been able to give discounts on my prices to the various library agents who buy copies for such institutions. Once the series becomes recognised by libraries as being an historically important body of books, then I expect there would be considerable upward pressure on the prices.
The Magnum Opus series is also distinguished by the fact that these books have been bound by hand. Nowadays with many people reading books on their Kindles and iPads, this should result in those unimpressed by such ephemeral formats, coming to value actual real printed books more highly. Material on old floppy discs is now inaccessable, and it will surely only be a few decades before CD-Roms are abandoned too. What chance does a Kindle formatted text stand of surviving the decades? As more and more material is originated in digital form and not as physical books, hand bound books will stand out and become even more collectable. Physical books survive the aeons. There are, after all, many manuscript books that have survived well over a thousand years, and books are instantly readable without needing some compatible hardware. They are their own hardware.
At the moment most people are behind the curve on this, but over the coming years these hand bound books will be seen as a very good investment. Over the next few years I will be making some of the copies I hold in my own personal collection available to my regular customers, so this should make it possible for a small number of people to acquire a complete run of issues.
3 May 2012
I have now issued the latest book in my Magnum Opus series. This is number 42, the Scala Philosophorum, a 15th century work on alchemical processes which influenced the way in which alchemists for hundreds of years came to see the sequence of alchemical processes in their work. Copies are now available to buy.
Over the next year or so I intend to sell off some of my personal copies that I still hold of the early editions of the Magnum Opus series. To do this I am setting up a special mailing list for serious collectors of my books. Once this is established I will organise some auctions of these rare copies.
16 April 2012
I find I have rather neglected this weblog for the last few weeks. At the moment I am working on the next title in the Magnum Opus series. This will be number 42. This item is a translation of a key early text which influenced alchemical thought well into the 17th and 18th centuries. I hope to be able to announce it at the beginning of May.
Over the next few years I expect to cut back from the task of bookbinding and selling books. I find these tasks becoming more and more difficult and probably by the time I am 70 I will have to entirely abandon these. There are a few books I really want to publish before I cease this task, so maybe I should draw a line under the Magnum Opus project at say number 50! (some time in the not too distant future).
Over the next years I intend gradually clearing out all my personal copies of the early Magnum Opus titles, and will set up a special mailing list for those people sufficiently interested in these. The Magnum Opus series is one of the most extended series of alchemical related publications there has been. The first title was issued in 1979, some 33 years ago ! Few people have complete runs of the books. I expect one day a complete run will worth a considerable amount of money. Individual copies often fetch prices £200-300 ($300-450) on such sites as abebooks.com - not that I see this money. Anyway, look out for number 42 in a few weeks, as I am currently working on the layout.
23 March 2012
I have now converted my Study course on How to Read Alchemical texts into book form. Previously this had only been available as a CD-Rom as the text is very lengthy. I have been able to issue this as a relatively inexpensive paperback (with hardback options) through Blurb.com. I have managed to squeeze the text into a 220 page paperback which has enabled me to keep the price low.
You can buy copies direct from Blurb or on this page
13 March 2012
Two of my Magnum Opus titles the Book of Distillation and Fludd's On the Divine Numbers and Divine Harmony have now gone out of print. I have a batch of new items pencilled in for publication this year, but after this I will probably have to throttle this back to a trickle - one or two items a year at most. I can no longer press on with the creative energy that I had even five years ago. I also have many other things I want to explore.
9 March 2012
Today I had yet another unpleasant email encounter. Someone wrote to me asking if I could sell him a copy of my Alchemical Emblems tarot. He already knew it was out of print as he wrote "It sucks that I always find such beautiful decks when there are none available". I wrote back to say that I was sorry and that forty or fifty people had asked me the same question over the last two or so years. He then wrote saying that he did not consider himself to be one of "those people" and asking if I might sell him my personal copy. I was a bit irritated by this and wrote "Do you think, for one moment, I would sell you my personal copy?" To this I received this totally unpleasant email :
Oh well, your loss. haha your a serious joke. You disgusting -fat- egoist pig, and your silly little alchemical tarot deck isn't even worth the trouble. When someone as disgusting as you, creates something spiritual it's corrupted and worthless, dear. Have a lovely day, oh and becareful... you never know who may be watching and waiting.It is horrible that I have to face such emails as this every few days. The threatening tone of his last sentence is quite out of order. Again the 100% turn around from appreciation of my work to hatred of it within a few minutes. I have developed a tough carapace over the years but imagine some sensitive soul receiving such an email. It could seriously disturb them and even cause them to abandon working on the public space of the Internet. We do not deserve to be treated like this. I may eventually just give up replying to emails. Such people as this will destroy the Internet as they drive creative and sensitive people out of the space.
8 March 2012
A couple of months ago I bought a new colour printer. Although this produces very good quality output, I have found it impossible to print out my books using my established software. There would appear to be a difference in the way its postscript interpreter in the printer driver formats pages compared with my previous printer. I have tried all the usual tricks to try and get around this, but without any success. I now find I have no alternative but to convert all my book files to a format which will print out successfully. This will take six or more hours per book depending on the length, so many of my evenings over the next three months or so will have to be given up to this task.
It makes me so annoyed that people, such as the one I mentioned yesterday are so mean as to try and obtain scans and pirated versions of my books and images. I have to input so many hours into making my books and images that it is rather galling that someone gloats over obtaining some of my work for free. How can these people live with themselves? I am now 64 and cannot continue working 12 hour days much longer. I get so fed up with peoples' selfishness and thoughtlessness. They drive good people to give up trying to produce material.
7 March 2012
Today I am 64. I first began using the Internet in 1995 when I created this Alchemy web site and worked to research and publish many books. Now after seventeen years or so I am becoming more and more disillusioned with the Internet, particularly by the new generation of people using it, some of whom are almost impossible to deal with.
Today a young man from the Boston area sent me an email, a rather gushing excessive adulation of myself and my work. He especially wanted high resolution scans of my artwork which he obviously took delight in. I explained that I no longer provided these as I found that people were pirating them. He then got back to me immediately with an ill thought out scheme in which he offered to help sell thousands of copies of my images on Facebook. I explained again that this was not possible as there was no way to protect my intellectual property once something is made available digitally. Whether he would ever sell thousands of copies was most unlikely and in any case only his opinion. He seemed to take offence at being rebuffed and immediately wrote an email in which he made the threat that "You are also making a selfish decision that should not be solely in your hands", essentially saying that I had no right to have to control over my own work. Just whose hands is to have control over my work? I told him that it appeared to me that he wanted to gain control over my intellectual property for free and that I was not going to let this happen. He then wrote back a gloating reply saying that as many people have already made PDF files of my art books and had done such a great job that he had just downloaded every single book and image.
Within a few hours he moved from excessive adulation of myself and my work, to a gloating satisfaction at having stolen my work.
I have seen this many times before, when people approach me for something and when I don't go along with their agenda, they immediate turn 180 degrees against me, now seeing me as a villain. It is impossible to deal with such people who turn around and attack when one does not agree with them. Even when I was young, in my late teens and early twenties, I had some solidity and integrity. It seems that many people on the Internet today are selfish, spoilt, self-absorbed, ego-centred individuals, unable to accept criticism or accept that their proposals may be rejected, and thus are impossible to deal with rationally. Being open to people on the Internet now seems to expose one to such a torrent of abuse and unpleasantness, that one feels one should withdraw a little and not engage with people. If creative and research driven people, who have created the good things on the Internet, find themselves unwilling to expose themselves to this unpleasantness, then there will be very few new sites created, and the Internet will be in the hands entirely of the large Corporates who protect themselves against exposure to personal attacks. Try directly contacting someone at Google, Amazon, Ebay, etc. We, poor, self-employed traders have to give out our email address. Our very openess means that some disgraceful people feel they can heap abuse and unpleasantness on us.
17 February 2012
I have added a couple of new titles to the Opuscula Alchemica series. John Heydon's Rosie Crucian Crowne and Rudolf Glauber's Elias the Artist. I have endeavoured to keep the price of this series of paperbacks as low as possible. I am also keeping the edition size very low. Only 50 copies of each title will be printed and I am keeping back ten of these for my own collection. Once these are sold out they will, no doubt, increase radically in price. Based on my figures for the first group I began selling at the beginning of February I would suggest that anyone wanting to collect any of these titles should buy them within the next few months, as after that there may not be many left.
2 February 2012
I can now announce a new series of books. Entitled Opuscula Alchemica these are a series of inexpensive small paperbacks of shorter alchemical texts, providing a companion series to the Magnum Opus Series. These will be produced in editions signed and numbered but limited to only 50 copies. I will sell 40 copies but hold back 10 copies for my own collection. An initial tranche of six titles is available direct from me, with a further six appearing later this year. I have chosen material, primarily from printed books in English from the 17th century. This was a key period in alchemy and I hope that making these titles available in inexpensive paperbacks will help people appreciate the wide range of perspectives on alchemy that existed at that time. You can see the list of titles by clicking here.
1 February 2012
I have been very busy in January. One of the projects on which I have been working is a new series of books. This will be a kind of sister series to the Magnum Opus books but produced as small inexpensive paperbacks. Six of the volumes are in production at the moment and as soon as I receive these from the printer I will put up an announcement.
23 December 2011
Three days ago I thought I should update the CD-Rom version of the Alchemy web site. I was expecting this to take only a few hours, but it rapidly became obvious that I could no longer use the same methodology as I had used in previous years. The web site has grown so much that this year I had to introduce hierachical pop out menus to make navigation easier for users. This would not work from the CD-Rom compiled files I had used in previous years. So I went looking for a new program which would implement this. I found and bought a copy of this software, but when I tried to compile the whole web site I found it could not cope and ran out of memory! The web site was producing far too large a search index and this was crashing the output. So I decided, for the purposes of producing a CD-Rom to break the web site down into smaller components. This was not entirely straightforward as many of the components referenced images and files in other parts of the site. So what began as a two hour task ended up absorbing two full days, but I have now produced a working CD-Rom of the Alchemy web site, with an integrated search engine. It now has seven exe files each of which have a built-in browser and will work on any Windows system. The sections are:
Alchemy web site
Alchemy web bookshop
Art of Modern Tarot web site
Hieronymus Bosch web site
Database of alchemical books
Database of alchemical manuscripts
Atalanta fugiens - music and images
These only work under Windows.
Macintosh, I-Pad, Android tablets and other users will no doubt reproach me for locking them out using this CD-Rom, but as I do not have a Macintosh, I-Pad or Android computer I am not able to develop software for these.
It is amazing how a seemingly small task takes days (and much struggling with software) to implement.
21 December 2011
The Ritman Library Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica has reopened after a period of closure. They have a set up a newly designed website www.ritmanlibrary.nl
15 December 2011
Sometimes I find myself a bit discouraged and down in my mood, but I can always rely on some email to raise my spirit. This amazing missive has just arrived.
Ah now, the twice great, that surely must be Hermes' younger brother.can you please refer me to a islamic alchemical researcher in metallurgy. found a very rare artifact from islamic moorish spain to portugals history year 711ad. found written alchemical symbology from a alchemist named hermes trismegistus twice great. may have alchemical metallurgical formula to manufacture lead into gold. found key of king solomon. seriously,can prove! i have a very rare but well saught after artifact.
15 December 2011
I never cease to be amazed at the sheer brass neck of some people. I have had whole sections of my website lifted onto others websites or CD-Rom compilations with my name expunged and these people claiming that they themselves have transcribed this material. I have had my study courses copied and distributed. Some of my coloured images have been used without my permission in publications. Today I discovered that someone has created the music from the Atalanta fugiens in a synthesiser version, claiming that we have not been able to hear these pieces of music for 400 years, presumably until he had the idea to do this :-
I actually produced a synthesiser version of the Atalanta fugiens in July 1999 - some twelve years ago - which I still sell on a CD-Rom. Although he has stated to me in an email, that his arrangements began with the notation he purchased from me some years ago, I don't see any mention in his publicity material of earlier versions which have been available for years before. As often happens I am in the forefront of these things yet get little credit, indeed I find my work marginalised by people.The 400 year wait is over! The CD of music from Atalanta Fugiens is available now! These are new orchestrations that bring out the distinct musicality and originality of Michael Maier's 50 fugues in a way perhaps never before achieved. These recordings mark a new standard in the realization of this 400 year old music.
How can people have such overweening presumption as to take the credit for making the music of the Atalanta fugiens available after 400 years of waiting? This was actually done by Joscelyn Godwin in 1987 (25 years ago) sung by three singers for the Magnum Opus edition of the Atalanta fugiens where it was supplied on a cassette tape. Then in 1998 a Czech company issued twelve of the fugues on a CD-Rom in their Bird of Paradise CD-Rom. In 1999 I produced my synthesiser version. Then followed the Vagantes consort version in 2004, Claudio records CD in 2008, and a couple others I cannot immediately recall. I even have a private tape of the first ever recorded version of four of the fugues sung by St Andrews University Choir in 1935, made for a lecture by John Read, and was pleased to have been present at a meeting at Hawkwood College in 1982 when Gareth Knight played through some of these on the piano. It was hearing these that determined me to publish the book and music which I did in 1987. The 400 year wait is over, humbug! Well behind the curve.
30 November 2011
The Ritman Library seems to be emerging from its recent struggles with the announcement of a new website www.ritmanlibrary.com and an exhibition entitled Infinite Fire in their Bloemstraat building in Amsterdam, opening on the 19th December.
9 November 2011
I have now published my next volume of coloured emblems. This is on the theme of Astrological, Astronomical and Cosmological Emblems. You can see some details on this page and see a preview of the first 20 pages.
1 November 2011
I have now completed my new art book containing 236 of my coloured alchemical emblems. As before this is published using the Blurb.com system. This book contains little text but instead provides high quality illustrations, many of which are full page, of the single emblems found as frontispieces, engraved title pages or individual images in alchemical books to illustrate a particular point the author was making. It is thus a primary sourcebook on alchemical imagery and complements the volume of Alchemical Sequences coloured which I issued about six months ago. You can see details on my page about my art books . Below is a short preview of the first 15 pages.
I am now working on a volume of Astrological, Astronomical and Cosmological Emblems. These books are not inexpensive as they contain many full page colour illustrations, but you can buy this in paperback, or pay a little more for a hardback with a full colour dust jacket. They make available a mass of difficult to find emblematic material relevant to alchemy.
26 October 2011
The proof copy of my Alchemical Emblems coloured book should arrive in the next few days, so I will shortly be able to make corrections to the layout and the colour matching of the images and make the book available on the Blurb system. I have been gathering the material for a further volume of my coloured versions of Astrological, Astronomical and Cosmological Emblems and have begun work on the layout. There are still a few images left to colour. For this volume I undertook a great deal of research and have found many wonderful though almost unknown images, so it should be a good source book for this material. I hope people will be as astounded as I was with these delightful images.
18 October 2011
Following the issue earlier this year of my Alchemical Sequences Coloured art book, a number of people have asked when I would make up a book of my other coloured alchemical emblems. So I have now begun this. It should take at least a week to do the layout, then a further two weeks to have a proof copy printed so I can correct any layout or text errors. I hope to be able to issue this early in November, as another in the growing list of items in my Blurb books. I currently have the Alchemical Sequences coloured, three of my study courses, and six of my Art Book Series available in this format.
13 October 2011
I have had to take some time off from book production and research to try and tidy up and restructure my workspace. I have so much material now, as I am working on so many different interrelated projects. I am not just working on alchemy, but am investigating in depth various emblematic traditions as well as managing the world's largest collection of modern tarot art. My archives are considerable, but are rather disorganised, often existing as piles of papers, covering almost any horizontal surface, or else buried in boxes. Paintings lie stacked against walls as I have now run out of wallspace on which to hang them. My storeroom is almost impenetrable. So I have had to devote some time to reorganising the storage, in order to make more space available and to allow easier access to material.
In the 3 July 2008 entry on this weblog I showed a few pictures of chaos that then reigned. Let us just say that it has become even worse over the last few years, but I will try and reorganise things a little better.
I have come to realise that my personal collection of material in fact documents the emergence of interest since the 1960's in alchemy, and the many twists and turns we have seen in this modern exploration of the ancient science of alchemy. I have gathered many books and articles on alchemy published during this period in many languages, and also have a growing archive of correspondence with many of the key figures in the development of the modern view of alchemy. I have been involved in both the speculative esoteric strand and the historically based scholarly view, and my work spans these two approaches. I have also always been especially engaged by imagery and so I have a considerable collection of alchemical and emblematic images.
So the materials I am surrounded with all day, I suppose, are a considerable resource that documents alchemy and emblematics in our age. I feel I must try and find some way of avoiding the break up and dispersal of this material when I am gone, so I must occasionally turn my mind to finding ways to restructure the collection and make it more accessible. Sadly, I don't have the funds to employ someone to do this, and those hours that I devote to reorganisation have to be stolen from my research and book production, and ultimately from my income. I really need a much larger building with much more wall space, but this is beyond my meagre financial resources, so I must struggle on with what I have available.
Perhaps in time someone who shares my enthusiasms might come forward with some funding to help solve this problem and sustain my collection and archive. Sadly, in the present economic climate, one cannot merely bequeath ones collection to some library or institution - they require a settlement of funds to archive and preserve the material. So that avenue is not open to me - it would be so easy just to insert a clause in my will leaving the material to some library, but this does not work any more. I feel that something would be lost if my collection was merely sold off piecemeal. Then the items that could be immediately valued by book delears would be cherry picked, and the mass of seemingly unimportant research and documentary material would be entirely lost.
10 October 2011
Yesterday I was delighted to receive a drawing for my Splendor Solis art project. This I commissioned from Philip Panton. I met Phil back in the late 1980's when I lived for a year or so in Warwickshire, and got to know him as he lived nearby in Stratford. I was amazed by his incredibly detailed pen drawings. I recently got in touch with him again and asked if he would care to accept a commission. I have scanned his drawing and you can see this on Splendor Solis art project
11 September 2011
In April this year I published the Triangular Magical book by the Comte de Saint Germain. This seemed to be a totally unique item, but I have now discovered another triangular book, this time in a Freemasonic context, also from the closing decades of the 18th century. This is a book of masonic oaths. Im not sure if this is unique in masonic circles, but as the triangle is a common symbol in masonry and a number of masonic artefacts are triangular in shape, it may be that this triangular book format was used in a number of lodges in the late 18th century. In this case the idea of creating a triangular book, may have come to the Comte de Saint Germain from his seeing such a triangular masonic book, rather than being of his own devising. Saint Germain, of course, was very familiar in masonic circles.
23 August 2011
This week I have been unable to give any time to updating the website as I have had to turn my attention to some book production. My stock of some of the Magnum Opus titles was getting low. I hope to be able to return to the uprating later this week.
18 August 2011
I have made considerable progress on upgrading the website. I am now adding a new search engine which should allow people to find items on the site more easily. The website has many thousands of files, and it can be quite a task locating pages. There is still a great deal of work to be done tuning the navigation menus. Once the new structure is complete I will begin adding some new material.
I have implemented a new search engine for the site which allows users to choose only to search for bibliographic information on alchemical manuscripts, printed books, English alchemy books and the Tarot section of the site. There is an advanced search with a number of features which will aid users to find items of interest to them. Through indexing the site I discovered that there are 8285 text files (html pages) on the site.
13 August 2011
I am almost half way through colouring Thomas Murner's Card Game of Logic. These are a fascenating, obscure, and enigmatic series of woodcuts illustrating aspects of medieval logic. Next week, I hope to have access to a translation of the work of Peter of Spain on logic, upon which Murner's work is based. Peter of Spain (Petrus Hispanus) was a thirteenth century author of the standard textbook on logic of that time, the Tractatus. Colouring the images is proving to be quite a challenge as I wanted to keep to a system, there being a number of symbols repeated across the series of woodcuts. Here are some of the image, not yet completed. They require at least a few weeks more work.
13 August 2011
With the help of a colleague, I am currently attempting to improve the navigation through the many files on the website. I have now added a top menubar, and a right vertical menubar which allows the selection of various areas of the site. I have added a left sidebar which has some other links. No new content has been added yet. It will take a week or more to update all the pages, and there will be some problems with individual pages until I have had time to reformat them. I hope this will be a great improvement, and that people will be able to gain access to some previously invisible buried areas of the site. The alchemy website began in 1994/5 and was contructed organically rather than having an entirely thought out structure. Eventually I should be able with the help of my colleague to make the site easier to use. Please bear with me over the next few weeks when there may be a few misformatted pages.
10 August 2011
A few days ago I happened to catch on TV the final half hour or so of the 1999 Polanski thriller The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depp. I had seen this before. The film to some extent prefigures the film versions of Dan Brown novels the Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, as it is based on the discovery of a mysterious esoteric manuscript, and consequent dramatic rammifications. I had seen the film before, some years ago, but I was amused to be reminded of its content again. The manuscript has a series of nine illustrations which you can easily find reproduced on many sites on the Internet. These are trite pastiches in a woodcut style, incorporating visual borrowings from tarot and even Durer's Apocalypse series.
It amazes me that there is such interest in the general public in the idea of there being mysterious ancient manuscripts, and yet little interest in my own investigation and research into the actual manuscripts and obscure books of strange emblems, that are difficult to locate and access. Many of these I have published in my Magnum Opus Series over the last thirty years. I have recently began creating my Art Book Series which aims to make some of the more obscure series of emblematic images available in printed form. The next in this series which I am preparing at present is a Card Game of Logic from the 16th Century created by Thomas Murner. Sadly, there is little response to these items and almost no sales. It amuses and yet dismays me that so many people seem interested in the fantasy of strange obscure manuscripts, and yet almost no one wants to see the true original material. If one searches the internet for the Ninth Gate images, you can even find people who seem to believe this is an actual real work ! What a strange cultural world we live in, where the contrived attracts a million times more interest than the real. I suppose I have to live with that reality.
2 August 2011
I have now set up the initial four books in my Art Books Series. This is a new project I began to work on earlier this year when I discovered the high quality art printing system called Blurb. This enabled me to publish books with high quality illustrations at a reasonable price. It also took the work of printing, binding and posting copies out of my hands.
This series of art books uses my coloured versions of series of emblematic engravings from the 15th to 18th centuries. I find that such artworks lie neglected and ignored in libraries, despite their invention, humour and virtuosic exploration of emblematic imagery. In general little text is included and the books are essentially books of artwork. As this material is only of interest to a few collectors, the books in this series will be limited to only 50 copies. This series of books will only engage a few people, who, like myself, take delight in this obscure emblematic material. I have researched and sourced these images then sensitively coloured these for issue in this series. The colouring makes them more approachable and readable by the modern eye. The edition is small and I will not reprint. I will hold back about twenty copies which I may sell in the years ahead when they may have appreciated in value.
To see the full series go to the page I have set up for my Art Books Series.
26 July 2011
I have decided no longer to sell the standard sized prints of my coloured emblems. These never made any money as I sold them at too low a price and yet never got sufficient sales. Merely to have increased the prices would have cut the slow trickle of sales even further. I find it amazing that people do not want images of these amazing engravings and woodcuts on their walls. I will instead extend the large format prints that I have been producing for a few years. These are much more expensive, but are four times the size. People who want to look at these coloured emblems will be able to buy them printed in a series of books I plan over the next months. Already I have produced the Coloured Alchemical Sequences book and others on Coloured Alchemical Emblems and Cosmological, Astronomical and Astrological Emblems will follow shortly. I will also discontinue providing the images on CD-Roms. The printed format, I believe, is the right way to distribute these images. People enjoy the process of leafing through a book of images. I also have an ambitious project under way to produce an Art Book Series. Four books are in preparation at the moment and it should be up and running in a few weeks.
I will also be trying to sell some of my original paintings of the various emblems. I intend to sell these originals mounted in standard sized mitred mounts ready for the buyer to frame, and will try and price them at a reasonable level so that people might be able to collect these. Posting a frame with glass is just too expensive.
21 July 2011
Over recent years I have been experiencing occasional periods of intense back pain. After a week or so this went away and I was able to get on with things as usual, however, in the last year the condition has worsened and was impacting on my work. Some days I found it difficult to walk any distance and I also became a bit challenged by the stairs to my flat (apartment) which is on the second floor. I have decided that I must now leave my present accommodation and relocate to somewhere more suitable. It will be extremely difficult to do this as I don't have sufficient income to buy an ideal place. I would have liked to have been able to buy a large commercial property which would have space for a gallery besides my workshop, studio, library and tarot collection, but this is impossible for me to achieve on my own. So I will have to compromise and find a small house and hope that there would be sufficient space to house all my activities. There will be some temporary impact on my publishing activities during the period of the actual move, which is not likely to take place until November/December/January, but in the meantime I will be able to continue as usual. I am, in fact, currently working on a series of art books.
I had hoped that one day I might have been able to have a larger property in which I could establish a centre for research into alchemical material and emblems, but this I cannot realise within my own modest resources. This would have required someone to come forward and help with funding.
23 May 2011
Today I received the proof copy of my new book version of my well known Study Course on Alchemical Symbolism. I managed to fix a few formatting errors and have now made it available through Blurb.com - I am very pleased with the print quality and this now makes my course even more accessible. For a number of years people have asked me to produce a printed version, but it was always far too expensive for me to do so.
17 May 2011
A few days ago I came across a file in an old folder on my computer. It contained a short text on the Glaive of Mars. I immediately realised was a commentary on an 18th century alchemical illustration of a dagger and sheath, which incorporated imagery from the illustration on the title page of Beroalde de Verville's Le Tableau des riches inventions. So I have now put this text and the illustration onto the website as The Glaive of Mars. A 'glaive' is a sword or dagger.
13 May 2011
After a couple of weeks of intense work I managed to reformat two of my study courses into book format, which will be supplied through Blurb.com. The quality of the printing is excellent, and the convenience of having this in the form of a book over reading the course on a computer screen, made we want to convert these as quickly as possible. In fact the price is not much more, certainly for the paperback which is about $43 (plus tracked shipping) as opposed to $40, while the hardback version is necessarily a bit higher. So it is now possible for people to buy printed versions of my Study Course on the Ripley Scroll and the Study course on the Most Holy Trinosophia. I am now intensively working to convert my well known Study course on Alchemical Symbolism into book format. This may be ready, if no other work intervenes, in about two weeks time.
I spent the last three days converting my study course on the Ripley Scroll into a printed book format for printing by Blurb.com. It was not straightforward as most of the images had to be rescanned, because the resolution, though sufficient for viewing on the computer screen as pdf files on the CD-Rom, would not provide good quality printed images. I should have a first proof copy in a week or so and then I will be make the necessary corrections, finalise the project and begin offering them for sale. I may be able to offer a paperback (softbound) version at only a little above the price of the present CD-Rom.
Next week I hope to devote to the much larger task of reformatting the Foundation Study Course on Alchemical Symbolism into printed form. It will be a much more extensive work with so many coloured illustrations that the number of pages and consequently the price will likely be considerably higher.
4 May 2011
I continue to be impressed by the print quality of the Blurb.com books. The printing technique they use is, apparently, one of the HP Indigo Digital Presses. This is a kind of hybrid printer which uses small colour particles suspended in an imaging oil. The ink forms a very thin and smooth plastic layer on the paper surface making Indigo printing closer in appearance to conventional offset lithography, whereby ink is actually absorbed into the paper. The examples I have seen have great colour saturation with fine detail and almost no dots visible.
Although the response to my recent Alchemical Sequences Coloured has been a bit disappointing, I have decided to press on with this printing method. I have been working to convert some of my Study Courses to this printed format. Although people like my Study Courses, a number of customers wish these were available as printed books. As always, the conversion is not straightforward and requires each page to be set up anew, but I have pushed through the first on the Trinosophia and ordered a sample copy so I can check the layout has worked out okay. I should have this in a week or so, then I can produce the final version and begin supplying these. I hope I can price these at only a little above the present CD-Roms. In a few years time I may be able to dispense with the CD-Roms altogether.
22 April 2011
I have now made up an initial batch of six copies of the latest book in the Magnum Opus series. This is the Triangular magical manuscript of the Comte de Saint Germain. This is not an alchemical work but rather one of low magic. It has quite a reputation among occultists as it was written in code and its triangular shape gave it a mysterious quality. I became rather tired of the various speculations circulating about this work so I decided to make a edition of this, in which the code was transcribed into French and then translated into English. Carl Lavoie undertook this transcription and translation for me. This book allows the reader to approach the work as it is, without contextualising it into some belief driven esoteric system.
I decided it would be essential to preserve the triangular format, though implementing this proved rather difficult. I managed to solve the problems and it is now available. You can now buy a copy from www.alchemywebsite.com/bookshop/mohs41.html I expect it will be quite eagerly collected because of its notoriety.
19 April 2011
This evening I printed and bound the first copy of the next item, Number 41, in the Magnum Opus series. This is Triangular Magical manuscript of Saint Germain transcribed and translated by Carl Lavoie.
The work which is credited to the notorious Comte de Saint Germain is written in a cypher text, which to the modern mind makes it mysterious and alluring. The cipher turns out to be a simple substitution and is easily decrypted into French. The work contains three magical diagrams or lamens used in a simple low magic ritual. It opens in grand style describing itself as " The Holy Magic revealed to Moses, discovered in an Egyptian monument and preciously preserved in Asia under the emblem of a winged dragon". The magic presented is of a low nature rather than some elevated philosophical or transcendental form.
This has been printed and bound as a triangular book and is an intensive hand-crafted item, involving a number of hours more work to produce this book than the standard Magnum Opus format. Probably I am the only person crazy enough to devote the time to the complex layout and handbinding, but I felt an edition of the book should preserve the triangular format. The price is rather high but this item should be very collectable and will keep its value and may even increase significantly when the edition is fully sold. It will not be reprinted, only one edition will be issued. In a few days time when I have made up a batch of five or six copies I will begin making these available on my bookshop pages.
14 April 2011
For over a week I have been working on the layout for a new title in the Magnum Opus series. This is one of the most complex and frustrating layouts I have ever worked upon, and it has required some lateral thinking to get it set up right for printing. Readers will realise what I mean when they buy the book. I never sell books until I have them in production, so the details will remain secret for a few more days. Indeed, a few days ago, when proofing a copy, a key component of my printer failed. Luckily I was able to buy a new part and have it delivered within two days. This confirmed to me that one should never pre-announce items. If you check my alchemy web bookshop in the middle of next week you should see an announcement about this item. It is a rather amazing book.
4 April 2011
Tonight I finished the layout for another of the coloured Art Books. This is not by myself but created by an artist friend of mine, Bob Ellaby. This is a series of 30 paintings on an alchemical/spiritual theme. Once it is available for sale I will post a notice and description here. I will occasionally publish art books by other artists whose work appeals to me.
28 February 2011
I have just received by post the first copy of my new book Alchemical Sequences Coloured . This is a book with little text but it reproduces 546 of my coloured emblems from 34 alchemical sequences. This is produced as a 158 page hardbound book by an online high quality art book publisher. You buy copies direct from them through this page. I am very happy with the print quality which does my images full justice. If I were to attempt myself to print and publish this book with so many coloured illustrations it would cost at least three times as much. This is a great sourcebook of alchemical imagery and represents many thousands of hours of my work, researching, locating and painting them. If the sales are sufficient I will produce a number of other collections of my coloured emblems.
24 February 2011
I have made considerable progress with the Alchemical Sequences Coloured book and have now finished the layout and ordered a proof copy. This should arrive next week and then I can make any modifications and finalise the books for printing. If this proves to be a good method of working I plan to produce a series of such books. I could never be able to produce large format art books using my own printing equipment, as though this is high quality, it is also high cost per page. The economics of scale of large companies with automated printing and binding equipment could enable me to produce these books at a price in line with the Magnum Opus volumes. So I await the arrival of the proof copy and hope the quality will be as good as the company suggests they can provide.
16 February 2011
A few days ago I discovered a small volume book publishing company specialising in art books. Their prices are rather high but unlike the output from some of the low end print-on-demand companies, they seem to focus on the quality of the print. I thought about what items I could produce on this system. Obviously, people like my hand made leather bound Magnum Opus series and it would not be appropriate to create these that way. It came to me that I could produce a printed book of my coloured emblems, with minimal text, but providing a reference source to this material. So I am working on the layout for a volume showing all the alchemical sequences I have coloured. There will be about 30 emblem sequences included in the book with around 500 illustrations and 140 pages. It will take a month or so for me to do the layout and have them print a sample copy so I can correct any format or text errors, then I can move to having them print an initial batch of copies for me to sell. I am quite excited about this project. I have long thought of making a printed book of my coloured emblems, but whenever I worked out the productions costs they always seemed so large that the final price of the book would be prohibitive. With this company I should be able to sell copies for around £60 ($100), within my customers price range. It will be quite an amazing illustrated book. If this proves successful, I may do similar volumes on astrological emblems, and various other artwork I have coloured.
4 February 2011
The response to my latest book, the Aurora consurgens has been very positive, despite my not yet advertising it through my email list. I have had to spend most of this week binding up copies. This is a slow process as I can only manage to produce a few books a day. I must apologise for the book being rather expensive. The price reflects the fact that it contains the full set of thirty eight coloured images. My printing equipment is of very high quality and the toners and print units are very costly. A complete set of the four print units (one for each primary colour) for my printer now costs nearly £1000 ($1600), however, it does produce very high quality images. I have no subsidy and must make my publishing projects pay their way. Many of the obscure works I publish do not sell well and essentially make a loss. I have always tried to keep the prices affordable even though my publications often sell at much higher prices on AbeBooks and other Internet bookdealers. These are small editions and will always be very collectable. Once I am no longer able to create these books, they will no doubt be more sought after.
I am so happy to have been instrumental in publishing this key work of early alchemy. There remain many other works that need publication and are unlikely ever to be published through the usual sources. Among these is the very important German work from the early 15th century, the Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit (Book of the Holy Trinity), which is contemporary with the Aurora consurgens and also contains a set of emblematic images. I have tried for years to find someone who could translate this, but though a number of people have offered, when I sent them sample pages none have felt able to tackle it. The early German words forms and grammar obviously makes it extremely difficult for a non specialist to translate. Hopefully, one day I may find someone able to do this.
28 January 2011
I have spent the last few days printing out and binding up copies of the latest book in my Magnum Opus series. This is the vitally important early work, the Aurora consurgens, which exists in a number of manuscripts, the earliest of which is in Zurich and dates to the early 15th century. Sadly, our modern view of this work has been distorted by the translation of part of the work by von Franz and its contextualisation within a Jungian psychological mindset. A few years ago it really annoyed me that the Aurora consurgens was incapable of being properly understood because people were trying to grasp it only through the Jungian publication. The work contains a series of 38 amazing illustrations but these were not included in the von Franz edition, no doubt because they did not fit into her Jungian thesis. Over the last decade or so people have been writing to me asking how the images fit into the text. I tried to explain that they only had access to part of the work through the von Franz, but it became obvious to me that in order to allow people to appreciate the Aurora consurgens I would have to produce an edition of the entire work complete with the illustrations. After attempting a translation myself, I eventually was able to put this into the much more capable hands of Paul Ferguson, and he has now produced the first ever English translation of the complete work. The ealiest manuscript, that in Zurich, has been damaged and is incomplete and does not contain the complete set of images. I decided instead to use the images from a later manuscript here in Glasgow.
So, I spend the last few days binding up an initial batch of copies and these are now available for sale. This will be seen as one of the treasures of the Magnum Opus series and it has given me the greatest pleasure to have been able to make this work available, so that people can read it as it was intended. I publish it with no commentary, no attempt to contextualise it within some set of modern ideas.
19 January 2011
Here in the UK the end of January is the deadline for presenting ones self-assessed business accounts to the Inland Revenue and pay ones income tax. I always find doing this incredibly tedious and usually more than a little depressing. The worst part is the final balance sheet where one brings together ones sales with the expenditure. Only then do I know my income for the year. This tax year was no different from those before, with my income well below the UK average. One does not, however, measure the worth of ones life merely through income, and I am aware of how much has been achieved in terms of publishing and research over this period.
In the last week Paul Ferguson sent me his translation of the complete Aurora consurgens. A year or so ago I had intended to tackle this myself, but it proved too difficult for me and I managed to persuade Paul to work on it instead. So yesterday I got rather enthused by his translation of the Aurora consurgens and decided to abandon the tedium (and depression) of my accounts and began to work on tidying up and preparing the illustrations for the book. In the book I am using the full set of thirty eight coloured drawings from a manuscript here in Glasgow. The earliest manuscript in Zurich (early 15th century at latest) has become damaged and some of the fine illustrations have been lost from the volume and many have been corroded by time and some even defaced by later owners who were unable to tolerate the nudity of some of the figures.
So I gave up on finalising my accounts and instead worked on the illustrations till I finished all thirty eight at midnight. This is going to be an amazing book, one of the best I have done. I will make as much time available as I can manage to work on the layout as I want to see this in print as soon as possible. It is going to be a delightful item with its integration of the large number of illustrations with the text. It is also important as it enables students of alchemy for the first time to see the work as a totality, as a good reflection of the original. Sadly the version of the Aurora consurgens published through the Jungians in the later decades of the 20th century does not give a true impression of the original work, as it entirely left out the second part and also the illustrations in favour of a focus on contextualising the first part within the mindset of Jungian psychology. The Magnum Opus publication will allow the work to speak for itself and not be seen only though a modern construct.
My co-operation with Paul Ferguson has really enabled a wonderful series of items to be made available in print. The material he has translated for the Magnum Opus series is an astounding group of works - the Fludd, Bonacina, Dorn, Voarchadumia and now the Aurora. Though there is often initially a slow response to these items, I am sure in the years ahead these will be seen as some of the gems of alchemical material made accessible in our time. Hidden in the literature of alchemy are such wonderful treasures. These are, of course, known to scholars who are able to visit the libaries and special collections, but not necessarily to the wider group of alchemical enthusiasts who do not have the leisure to spend time visting libraries. All the items that Paul has worked on are this sort of hidden, unrecognised treasure.
One does not need enormous resources in order to achieve things in the area of alchemical literature. Much can be done with sheer will-power and a desire to see projects through to their conclusion.
12 January 2011
The situation regarding the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica which I mentioned on this weblog on 28 November 2010, now has taken a dramatic turn. The Dutch Government, which some years ago had bought a large part of Mr Ritman's library and then lent it back to him so as to provide him with the capital to continue and develop his library, has in view of the present dispute over the bank loans and the sale of the Grail Manuscript at Sotheby's in December, now removed the books and manuscripts they own and placed them into the Royal Library in the Hague. It is uncertain at present as to whether this is a permanent or temporary arrangement. They now have the pre-1800 books and many of the early manuscripts, and apparently only the modern books post 1800 remain in the library building. The older material will in time become accessible to scholars again at the Royal Library.
Earlier in 2010 Joseph Ritman had outlined some amazing plans to relocate this library to a nearby building in which the great educational reformer Amos Comenius had lived and worked in the 17th century. Ritman had a grand vision of using this space as a centre to be called Huis met de Hoofden ("The Home of Living Books"). One can see a detailed brochure on his plans on this page. It seems that in his wish to establish this new centre devoted to keeping old books and their ideas living in the minds of people today, he has overreached the resources available to him. One hopes someone with the same depth and breadth of vision and with deep pockets, might come forward and rescue this venture.
10 January 2011
A few days ago I commissioned the UK artist Spencer John Davis, to make a drawing for my Splendor Solis Art Project. He responded very quickly with two drawings on the theme. He is very accomplished at drawing both with pencil and pen, and adopts a surrealist style often with erotic and humorous components. He is very aware of art history and his work often references earlier artists. You can see some of his work at www.spencerjohnderry.co.uk or on his blog.
5 January 2011
Weiser Antiquarian Books have now issued a catalogue to sell a collection of my books which they have for sale. They seem to have bought this from a collector. It is Weiser Antiquarian Books Catalog # 86 'Alchemy and Hermetica'. You can see it at weiserantiquarian.com/catalogeightysix/ The creator of this catalogue, Keith Richmond, has written a rather good summary of my output with descriptions of the books I have published. It is rather interesting to see the prices that some of my books are currently achieving. One can often see quite high prices for some of the Magnum Opus titles on booksellers on the ABEbooks system, but Weiser is usually more conservative. This catalogue certainly shows that my books continue to achieve high prices. Sadly, I do not get those prices! It is the collectors and secondhand dealers who get that kind of money.
Strangely, people usually wait until a book is out of print before they want to buy it. The trick for collectors, surely, is to buy copies at the original retail price, not try and find one on the second hand market. I do not reprint or reissue limited editions. I did do this in 1980 with the first book I produced, the Magical Calendar, as it was only 100 copies at too low a price and sold out very quickly. Some people asked me for copies so I made a second edition which was a batch of about 30 or so unnumbered copies. I quickly realised this was not a good strategy, and instead increased the edition size of subsequent volumes to 250. Since then I have not reissued books. Some were printed by Phanes Press in the 1990's, but though they planned to do the complete series, in reality they only did a few of the titles. I did issue another edition of the Atalanta fugiens focussing on the allegorical discourses and with my coloured versions of the emblems, but this was an entirely different one from that edited for me by Joscelyn Godwin back in the early 1980s. I also issued another version of the Crowning of Nature with revised text and my new coloured versions of the images.
My books are strictly limited to their edition size - which was usually 250, though recently I have been issuing some books in editions of 100. I have recorded each numbered book against the name of the original purchaser, which gives collectors the confidence that there are not more than the limit in circulation.
Some of my recent issues in the Magnum Opus series are close to selling out, while most of the 1980s titles are no longer available. Some of the paperback books I produced (say when I worked through the Hermetic Research Trust) were made in very small editions, of only 50 or 100 copies. The plan was to make these titles available in a cheaper format, but these are in fact rarer than the actual limited edition hardbacks !
Do take a look at the Weiser Catalogue. It is rather nice to see an independent person's view on my publications.
4 January 2011
After a long delay when the Hermetic Studies book Alchemical Coins and Medals was unavailable, I used some of the holiday period to set it up for my printer. Originally in 1998 I set it up for the printer I was then using and happily produced copies, but unfortunately the files were incompatible when I later upgraded the printer and I was unable to print copies. I have now reworked the files so the book can again be printed. It took quite some hours and a lot of intense concentration to reset the book. I expect to print out and make up some copies in a week or so.
3 January 2011
Pedro Ernesto Damasceno from Brazil contacted me a few days ago with the very generous offer to translate most of the body of alchemical texts on the website into Portuguese. This will make alchemy more accessible to people in Brazil (population of nearly 200 million) which is daily emerging as a major cultural and economic power in the world. The website is already visited by many people from Brazil. According to Google Analytics, in 2010 the alchemy website had a total of 464,842 visits from 205 countries - even one from Tuvalu, a Polynesian island located in the Pacific Ocean, which, shamefully, I have never heard of before. Brazil is tenth in the ranking.
United States 204,998
United Kingdom 35,474
I recently bought and installed a little logger for the website which shows the visitors and the countries from which they are logging onto the website pages. I find this quite instructive, and it gives visitors an insight into how widely the alchemy website is now used. I will try and find more time over the next few months to update and remodel the site to make it easier to find pages ! Some pages are not easy to find from the menus. It really needs a complete restructuring, but with thousands of pages to update, that is probably beyond me at present. With my ongoing work on researching and publishing books, tarot art and creating images, and making a living, I really need another lifetime as this one is running out.
27 December 2010
A few months ago I commissioned the redoubtable Australian magician, artist and performer, Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule, to make a drawing for my Splendor Solis Art Project. This arrived in the post a few days ago. I now have thirteen items. I will try and find the funds to commission another seven or so, then it will be time to try to have an exhibition on this theme in some gallery in Glasgow, despite the complete lack of interest in this idea. I am afraid, as usual, I am a decade or more ahead of the game and one day there will be no more decades left for me. As with everything I do, I am aware how much my lack of funds limits what I can do, but I do struggle on, doing what is possible within my means. One day soon something will have to be done about preserving my archives, but at the moment no one seems interested in helping. No doubt I will have to do all that myself.
26 December 2010
I recently received news of the death of the major figure in 20th century Czech alchemy, Vladislav Zadrobílek.
I have begun to create a memorial page about him and his work. If any of my colleagues would care to add anything to to this page please get in touch with me.
15 December 2010
Having completed my study course on Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights I have now moved on to two new projects, another two books in the Magnum Opus series. One has a rather complex layout and involves coded material which is difficult to proofread. These two books will take some time to complete but hopefully within the next two months they should be ready for publication.
Response to my Bosch study course has been very limited. I find that whenever I do something different, that few people initially want to go with me on a new leg of the journey. Eventually after five years or so, people begin to see something in what I was doing. Most of my early publications are now sold out and even some created since 2000 have sold their editions.
The last six weeks have been quite difficult for me, as my back problem has returned and instead of manifesting as an acute condition, now appears to have developed into a chronic one. I find I cannot walk any distance and so am, for the moment, entirely housebound. At least I can still sit and pound out stuff on the computer. There are many more projects on which to work.
2 December 2010
I see people are continuing to sell my work as if it was their own. Some of my study course material is being made available on DVD compilations on Ebay. The latest culprit even has the gall to write at the end of his listing
"I am not breeching or infringing on any copyrights, either I have produced the material and own the copyright, or I have full resell rights, or the material is in the public domain with no copyright because it was not registered or renewed...and as such I am in full accordance with Ebays policy."People such as these are disgusting individuals stealing income from writers such as myself. EBAY is even worse, however, because they do not allow me any way to complain or have this listing removed. They impose a ridiculous condition of one having to send them a fax. Who has a fax machine nowadays? I have never sent a fax in over 20 years. Ebay also have removed any way for you to contact them by phone. Now they wont let you contact them by email. You can only send special form-based emails through their system and these are only for specific responses. The system won't let you send a general question. I tried with total frustration. With the popularity of ebook readers, crooks are selling copyright material on Ebay. Ebay does have a responsibility not to allow people to profit by infringing authors intellectual property. Ebay takes a charge on the sales so it is equally responsible. I do hope that one day soon a consortium of writers and publishers will get together and sue Ebay for loss of income. Ebay's attitude to intellectual property infringement is a disgrace ! They will no doubt one day have to pay for their neglect. They might for now just ban all the CD-Rom compilations. I must have lost thousands of pounds over this. Multiply that by the many thousands of authors who have lost similar sums, and Ebay will find themselves in the years to come having to make a multi-million compensation payout. Google had to do that a few years back. Now the focus will shift to Ebay.
29 November 2010
Today, I completed developing my latest study course. This is an exhaustive study of Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. This painting does not have an alchemical significance, and I do not attempt to impose such an interpretation onto it, but instead I look at each component of the work and explain it within the structure of the painting itself. This is the only significant attempt ever made to explain the painting from within itself, without imposing some external interpretation. The course consists of a high resolution exploration of the entire work. It is in the form of a video (structured into a Windows exe file) lasting 2 hours, and is provided on a CD-Rom. You can see details about the course on this page. It took six weeks of constant work to develop the course. It provides the first ever coherent reading of the entire painting. During my research I decided to set up a Hieronymous Bosch website www.boschwebsite.com dedicated to Bosch and to returning his work to the painter, as so many modern commentators have projected so much nonsense onto poor old Bosch. The reason for the study course and the website is to try and show Bosch's work as Bosch would have seen it, and strip away all the modern nonsense that has been, sadly, projected onto him.
28 November 2010
Sadly the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica is again in difficulties. Some of us in the alchemical community will have receieved emails concerning this with a request to sign a petition. There is an initiative from the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam as well as an internet petition.
It is widely known that the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam, founded by J.R. Ritman, was in great danger in the 1990s, when the ING bank took possession of the collection and threatened to sell it. Fortunately, the Dutch government intervened: the BPH was put on the list of protected Dutch heritage, and the State eventually acquired over 40% of it. The books remained at the same physical location, integrated with the rest of the collection, and the government would eventually acquire all of it. As part of this process, there were great plans for further expansion. Largely due to the financial crisis and a change of government this was taking somewhat longer than originally anticipated, but nobody doubted that the library was safe.You can also sign a petition here
8 November 2010
I have recently commissioned some new pieces for the Splendor Solis Art Project. Some of my contacts were rather dismissive of this when I first began to do this a few years ago, but seem to have warmed to it as I have developed the project. I now have fifteen of these artworks all inspired by the same image, and will continue to add items as my funds permit. My plan is to mount an exhibition here in Glasgow in a year or so on this theme and produce an illustrated catalogue so that the exhibition will be documented and recorded. Anyway, for those interested in seeing how a variety of modern artists can be inspired by an image from one of the most wonderful of alchemical manuscripts you can see some of the contributions here.
22 September 2010
I have been giving some thought recently to the long term survival of my work.
I have been working with alchemy and other emblematic traditions for over 30 years. During much of that time I have supported myself through selling my publications, study courses and artwork. During the late 1980s and through the 1990s I was privileged to have been supported by two patrons, who gave me an income to allow me to undertake research into alchemical books and manuscripts, but for most of this present century I have been independent again and supporting myself through my work.
I am now 62 years old (2010) and am having to look forward into the limited years likely to be available for me, and trying to see some ways of sustaining and continuing my work when I can no longer undertake the tasks of bookbinding and running the business. I am not in any way wealthy, but I do have considerable assets. I have a good reference collection of modern books and articles on alchemy and emblematic themes. I have over 1000 paintings of alchemical and emblematic artworks. The unsold bookstock of Magnum Opus and Hermetic Research series books has a considerable value. I have the best collection in the world of modern tarot decks (over 2100 as of September 2010). I have the knowledge and expertise to create something permanent out of this material, but sadly neither the funds to do this, nor the decades of time needed to accomplish this within my own resources.
At present my archives are taking over most of the available space in my apartment. There is no way I can allow access to my materials in their present site. What would be ideal for me would be to establish a centre to house my various collections and provide me with controlled exhibition space so I could promote interest in alchemical, emblematic and tarot art. Tied in with this could be funding for someone to work with me in cataloguing and recording my collections.
Of course, this would require my finding some wealthy individual, sufficiently enthused by my work and who shared my perspective on alchemy and emblematic material. The best solution then would be to restructure my work from a business to some sort of Educational Foundation which would hold my assets in trust. Many things are possible, I can struggle on as I have been and try and do this myself or find some person with the necessary funds to make this happen easier.
I would welcome any help in locating individuals who might be willing to supply the funding that would transform my work from a personal business into an Educational Foundation, that would open up the material I have gathered and make it more accessible to the public through exhibitions, seminars and workshops.
13 September 2010
I have begun work on a new title for the Magnum Opus series. This will be quite a challenge, as you will discover when I finish work on it and make it available. It should be ready in two months.
6 September 2010
Today I have finished my new study course on the Imagery of Robert Fludd. This is the well known early 17th century English Doctor who summed up the whole of human knowledge of the Macrocosm and Microcosm in a series of large folio volumes published between 1617 and 1626. These are written in Latin and have not been translated in toto, though a number of sections have been issued in the Magnum Opus series. Fludd's work was extensively illustrated with wonderful engravings and woodcuts. This study course leads us through all the emblems in Fludd's great volumes. The course amounts to nearly 547 pages with over 550 illustrations! and I provide an explanatory commentary on each image. It is now available on CD-Rom through www.alchemywebsite.com/bookshop/Fludd_imagery_course.html
5 September 2010
Most of this weekend has been spent reformatting some of my study courses so I can make them available with the new personalised identification customisation. More hours wasted trying to get around pirating! My third attempt in as many months to get round them and try and keep control of my own writings. I had an email from some thoughtless person taking me to task for not updating the web site with more text files. Sadly as soon as I put up a new file, which may have taken me a couple of days to transcribe from a microfilm, it is just lifted and put onto someone elses web site with my name erased and them taking all the credit ! Why do I not do the same to them? Well quite simply because they do not originate anything. They are the masters of Ctrl-C then Ctrl-V. That is their sole activity. I am the one doing all the transcribing, puzzling over difficult words and trying to make the text as readable as possible. This whole task of publishing material on alchemy has become so soured by my having my material stolen from me. It seems like my creative energies and life blood are being drained from me by parasitic people hiding behind their pathetic little aliases, posturing Internet handles and silly nicknames. The piracy and outright theft of my material seems to be pushing me towards a kind of depression. Over the last four months I have found myself turning, almost as a consolation, to read my way into abstract mathematics. Topology, logic, set theory, groups and algebras, knots and graphs. Fundamental ideas such as the theory of categories and topoi seem to be increasingly capturing my enthusiasm, even such applied maths as linear algebra, vector spaces and tensors! Luckily I have an excellent University library with a good mathematics section available to me. The clean and pure certainty of mathematical ideas is more seductive than publishing in the present climate. I have a number of projects I would like to see through to completion over the next few years, but I will probably then withdraw more and more from publishing and turn to painting and studying mathematics. The pirates have won. I am too old to fight these disgraceful people. I am sure the people who run Scribd, the Pirate Bay, the various BitTorrents and all the other download ripoff sites have a good income and do not have to live in a tenement flat in a run down part of Southside Glasgow. Am I bitter? You can bet I am !
3 September 2010
Through discussing this over with the programmer who wrote that insightful response, I have decided that the Digital Rights Management approach is not right for my courses. Indeed, in the last hour I had to refund someone who purchased a course because he said he wanted to read it only on his laptop which had no internet connection. I will return to issuing my courses on CD-Roms but with some new security features which will mean that it will be possible to identify the original purchaser. This is essentially an honour system. When people buy a course from me then they must undertake not to distribute it to others. If anyone does distribute the files it will be easy to identify them from these files and thus seek redress for infringment of my copyright. No genuine user will find any problem with this. I will implement this after the weekend.
3 September 2010
I received this considered and insightful response about my recent difficulties.
I know I don't know the full story and the details of your situation, but I hope my thoughts are useful to you.
Heres my take on it, as a programmer and student of alchemy. I haven't ever bought or pirated your works, but I know legit people who would
like to buy more of your work but can't because of the prices.
1) DRM does not deter piracy in any way, it merely slows it down a little bit and makes all of your paying customers unhappy. There is one rule,
if I can see it, I can copy it. Printing via a virtual PDF generating printer is not the only approach, I could crack the DRM scheme if its not strong enough,
or just merely take screenshots of the pages into high quality PNG images and reflow it into an OCR (text) PDF. There is always a way,
there is nothing truly hermetic in computers, just layers of obfuscation.
DRM encourages people to pirate even more, because you piss off the pirates and the paying customers, you make them feel like criminals.
2) Piracy will always exist and can not be defeated. Focus on your paying customers and providing a better experience. Put a disclaimer on
every work you make about piracy and explain to people that your work could be bought for a reasonable price.
3) Your competition is not other publishers, your competition is free. Bittorrent sites, link sharing sites, whatever. A percentage of people
will always pirate, and sadly the culture today is that everything should be free or next to free. So, focus on reducing pricing.
4) Your works should either be only physical (they can still be pirated), or have low prices. I understand the need for compensation believe me,
as I sell software, but people these days just won't pay. They don't understand the amount of work it takes to create something. I sell mobile
applications, and one person told me 1.99$ is too much.
And finally from personal experience, the reason there is so much piracy is that the internet and globalization have equalized access to everything
in an unequal world. People from all over the world, in poor countries with bad exchange rates have access to the whole internet. Most of the piracy
happens outside of the US and Europe, because people either can't afford it (too much when an exchange rate is 1 USD to 4 or 10 local currency),
or they can't send money.
For example, Microsoft Office is 4 times more expensive in a certain country in which a person makes 1/3, if that, of an American salary. Conclusion,
nobody buys it because it would be crazy, and a waste of money.
You would think that you could drop prices for certain markets, but you can't do that in the internet else people from the US would be angry and
would lie to get the cheaper price. This only works with local and physical items, like going to a movie theater or buying a local copy of a book.
There is this trend to segment the whole world, Paypal does not operate in certain countries and its understandable. People don't want to do business
with customers from South America or Asia for example. If you are from the "non mainstream" world, you pirate because its the only way to get access
to the content, even if you want to pay.
Conclusion: Until we have a truly globalized economy on EQUAL terms, piracy will only get worse. It is going to get much, much worse. Drop the DRM,
provide high quality files with a little disclaimer for people who will pirate it, explain that you are one guy and you would like their support.
Focus on the people who can pay, and ignore the rest, there is nothing you can do. Small gaming companies, small music artists, etc are all following
this model, it is the only way.
Your other alternative is to focus on selling physical items and giving classes, etc. I know of people who do this because it is extremely hard to do
international business on the internet. (dealing with customs, credit cards, piracy, etc).
2 September 2010
Sometimes I feel like just giving this all up and spending the rest of my life reading and studying for my own interest, or just painting.
Last year I had a terrible time when I found my study courses being openly sold in CD-Rom compilations, being distributed on file sharing sites and given away free in the torrent files. I had then decided to abandon producing any more study courses. A few months ago I found a relatively inexpensive system through which I could protect my material, and decided to convert my courses into this new format and indeed to begin producing more study course material. Now having set this up, I find that many people who buy my courses complaining to me that they want the facility to print out the courses and read them on paper and my course files are set up not to allow such printing. Of course I cannot do this, as if I were to allow printing, anyone can merely use a virtual printer to write the material into an unprotected PDF file, and then continue their merry way pirating my work.
Now I find myself being taken to task by users for not allowing them to print out the material as they wish and I have had to refund some in order to keep them happy.
People who pirate material produced by small specialist publishers such as myself are destroying our work. I cannot see how any niche publishers will be able to continue if piracy is not dealt with. Sadly I am at the leading edge of this and while trying to do something about it I find myself having to write to people explaining why I have to protect my material and often refund them. It is proving to be a nightmare ! The emergence of the ebook readers (Kindle and others) means that there is an immense hunger for material for people to read, and people want this for free or for pennies a book.
The pirates are totally ruining everything. It is not worth my time to work on new study courses if they are pirated, so I have to try and protect them. But when I do I have to spend time and money dealing with unhappy users. They blame me for the situation, and even want me to make an exception in their imdividual case and give them an unprotected copy. How can I do this when I don't know anything about these individuals? After all, the pirated copies of my courses must have been bought from me originally. Someone passed these on to others for free, and then they found their way into the hands of the pirates. What else can I do but protect my work ?
I have just about completed work on my new study course on the illustrations in Robert Fludd's vast encyclopedia of the Macrocosm and Microcosm. When I release this I will, no doubt, have many unhappy customers who want to be able to print this out. They will complain to me but offer no solution, no real understanding of the difficulties in which I find myself.
It is depressing because I offer my courses for a mere $25, and yet people are so mean that they want it for free through the pirates. You can buy other study courses on alchemical matters from various organisations for many hundreds of dollars a go. When you read these you will find them to be mere rehashes of all the previously written material made available in books. My material is on the other hand is based on my own research and insight into alchemical matters. Not everyone will accept my approach, but it is certainly not a mere cut and paste rehash. Each course requires many hundreds of hours of my time. I have always tried to keep my work affordable even when I could have asked hundreds of dollars a copy. I had thought people might have welcomed my return to producing study course material and understood my need to protect it against piracy, but it appears not.
Some people seem to think I am merely blustering, exaggerating and making heavy weather of this piracy situation, but they have no idea how much this impacts my work ! Already I have totally abandoned my Art Tarot project because people were distributing print quality scans of the tarot decks I published. Whether I will be able to continue producing study courses in the face of the criticism of my customers who want total access to my work for a mere $25 is uncertain. I had thought I had solved this problem but now I am again thrown into uncertaintly. If I had the money I would now just retire and devote the remaining years of my life to study and painting.
Being a niche publisher nowadays is a waste of ones life, as one is at the mercy of pirates. One can have ones income decimated in an instant. I would advise anyone against going into publishing. Everything is stacked against small scale publishers. Do not try and make a living from publishing ! It is a mugs game. The pirates will merely use your material and make money from download fees. It spells the end of creativity. If creative people cannot even scrape a modest living from their work they will be forced to abandon this. I myself am very close to doing just this.
19 August 2010
Work on my new study course is proving much more demanding than I had anticipated. I have now been working on it for over 6 weeks almost full time and there is still much more to do. Researching and commenting on the images is taking more time than I expected. I am, however, being perhaps more thorough than others would be. I would estimate that the course will not be ready till September at the earliest. I decided after the first few days to add the later volumes of Fludd's vast encyclopaedia, and this has made the course into an exhaustive (and exhausting for me to create) survey of Fludd's imagery. Maybe I am getting too old now to easily undertake such things. I think people will find it a comprehensive sourcework on Fludd. Sadly, I expect few will realise how much I have struggled to make this material available. No doubt some mean people will try to copy and distribute this course freely to others, but I have faith in my new digital right management system which makes it very difficult to do this.
20 July 2010
I have made some progress with my new study course on the emblematic material in Robert Fludd's volumes. Originally I intended to issue this in a number of parts, but I now hope to be able to produce the whole course before issuing it. The illustrations to Fludd's vast volumes on the Macrocosm and Microcosm are really wonderful, but no exhaustive survey of these has been undertaken till now. I think this course will be of great interest to people. It requires me to undertake much intensive research and I am also having to spend a great deal of time improving the contrast and quality of the illustrations. At the moment the course amounts to 113 pages (text and images) and I am only about one quarter the way through.
9 July 2010
I have been preparing a new study course. Last year I abandoned producing any more courses as I found these were being distributed illegally on the internet through websites, and bound up in torrents. Recently, I have implemented a special copy protection which locks the files to the users computer. Though they can copy these and send them to others, the file will only open on the original purchaser's computer. This has renewed my enthusiasm for producing study courses. The one I am working on now is a course documenting, investigating and explaining the symbolic engravings found in the works of Robert Fludd. It will be a long an extensive course and will be issued in blocks of around six lessons. I hope to have the initial block available in a month or so, and complete the course later this year. I will make an annoucment about this shortly. It is a very interesting project.
During my research into the Fludd material, I happened upon copies of my Magnum Opus vol 13, the translation of Fludd's Origin and Stucture of the Cosmos which I issued in 1982, which were for sale on Abebooks for £286 ($400) and £352 ($520). This book has been long out of print and is now obviously keenly sought after. This set me looking for any unbound copies I might still have in my storeroom. I have managed to locate two copies which I will bind up over the next week or so. If anyone wants one of these I would be willing to sell each copy for around about £225 ($350) a bit below the retail on Abebooks. Please email me if you want a copy. This is really just for those few collectors who missed out on this title earlier.
1 July 2010
I have now set up a new system for distribution of my study courses using a download of a special encrypted pdf file which once downloaded is authorised for the user's computer only. This will stop people putting my courses onto internet file sharings sites and enable me to begin working on creating new courses. The first course I have set up in this way is my Foundation Study Course on Alchemical symbolism. It also means I have been able to reduce the price by about 30% as I can discount the costs of making up the CD-Roms, the packaging and postage. I created this first course back in 1999-2000 so I took this opportunity to upgrade some of the images and fix typos in the text. I hope this new method of distribution is acceptable to customers and if I have time next week I will begin implementing this system for all my courses. There is quite a lot of work to do to translate the courses to the new format, and to set up the web pages.
30 June 2010
Over the last year or so I have found that a number of my study courses had been distributed on the Internet through file sharing websites and in the torrent files. This lead to my having to abandon producing any further study courses. In the last few weeks some of my recently published tarot decks have been scanned and made available to people. This has forced me to abandon publishing any more tarot decks as it would be economic suicide to do so when my material was being pirated. This has lead me to looking again at the situation regarding the security of pdf files. The password protection on these can relatively easily be cracked by readily available password hacking programs and then the unprotected files can be distributed. So I have been looking for a better, more secure solution. I am currently working on implementing a digital rights management system which will allow me to distribute files digitally to end users who would only be able to access the file when they entered an authorisation code send by email. The authorised file would be locked to the purchaser's computer and copies of it would not open on any other computer. So this could well be a perfect solution for me and allow me to write further study courses. Distributing my study courses online would also enable me to further reduce the price as I can then write out the costs of making a CD-Rom, the packaging and postage. I hope to announce something positive after the weekend, once I have reworked the files into their new format and undertaken some tests to make sure this works okay.
11 June 2010
Today I received the latest painting I have commissioned for my Splendor Solis art Project. This is very beautiful miniature painting by Chilean artist Alicia Thayer Morel. You can see more of Alicia's work on Flickr, a slideshow about an exhibition in 2009. Alicia Thayer has also created a wonderful tarot deck.
I know many people think this to be rather pointless project and a waste of my money and time. I am collecting a number of envisagings of this classic alchemical image by modern artists in order to demonstrate ways in which the power of an alchemical image can still inspire modern artworks. One day I will have an exhibition on this theme. It will probably receive no support from the world of art galleries and I will have to pay for this myself, but I hope one day, long after I am gone, that this little collection will survive somewhere and will delight someone as much as it does me.
4 June 2010
Last year a local filmaker, Pat Smith, made a video of my exhibition at the Glasgow School of Art on the Artwork of Japanese Tarot . I was very pleased with this record of the event, that I decided to ask Pat to make a short video to help promote my artwork. We finished this a few weeks ago and we have now made it available at this link on YouTube. I am also distributing it free on disc in higher resolution to some of the people who buy my books, prints and study courses. Hopefully it gives some insight into my motivation and the sources of my enthusiasm for emblematic imagery.
1 June 2010
A few weeks ago I received a rather wonderful French book on distillation, a gift from the author. This is entitled L'Alambic: l'Art de la Distillation - Alcools, Parfums, Médecines, written by Matthieu Frécon beautifully illustrated by Cécilia Chauvet. The first part is a sketch of the history of distillation from the earliest times through to the 19th century. The second part deals with the history and various techniques for the distillation of alcoholic spirits. The third section deals with the distillation of essences, perfumes and essential oils and has a chapter on alchemy, spagyrics, homeopathy, floral elixirs, and aromatherapy. It is illustrated with old photographs of craft and commercial stills, engravings and drawings from books and manuscripts and some delightful drawings and humorous cartoons by Cécilia Chauvet.
14 May 2010
Yesterday was primarily spent on filming a short video about my artwork. This is primarily intended to help promote my artwork, as I would like to be able to devote more of my time to painting over the next years. This does mean, I have to be able to sell more of my work, as I cannot afford merely to put many hundreds of hours into creating paintings for my own interest. I have to be able to generate some income from painting. Of course, this is difficult, as my paintings are so very detailed and require such a large input of time, that I have to price them quite high. These are not mere smeary messes that people can knock off in an afternoon - each painting takes between 30 and 60 hours of work over about a month. The video, hopefully, will show something of this, and I will give away copies to people who buy my books CD-Roms and prints. Shortly I hope to be able to announce another interesting project involving my art.
5 May 2010
The second installment of the BBC documentary The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion What is the World Made of? was broadcast last night. It opened with a section on alchemy, with a rather fine recreation of an alchemical laboratory. They showed the Brandt discovery of phosphorus by distilllation of stale urine. The historical context was a bit sketchy but the visuals were interesting. It is on the BBC iplayer for download at the moment but will likely be removed in a few days.
3 May 2010
For any practical alchemists who have been stupid enough to work with hot mercury and who may be worried that they might have built up some mercury residue in their bodies, I noticed this self-testing kit for mercury exposure. This company also has one for lead and other heavy metals.
26 April 2010
I have been so busy recently working on various projects that I find I have little time to update the web site. I wonder if anyone might be willing to assist me with this task over the next few months. It would require someone with good internet skills and the ability to write simple html code in order to create updated pages. I suspect that a commitement of four or five hours a week for a few months would make a considerable difference and substantially update the site. Anyone who might care to volunteer should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
26 March 2010
I just received a copy of an Italian book, published in 2008, on the theme of alchemy and architecture. This is by Rosanna Balistreri Alchemia e architettura: Un percorso tra le ville settecentesche di Bagheria. It is essentially a journey of exploration among some 18th century villas in Bagheria in Sicily, suggesting alchemical influences upon their architecture - the Villa Palagonia, Villa Valguarnera and the Villa Butera. At first glance I was not at all convinced by the author's thesis. It seems to be she has gone looking for alchemical symbolism where none exists. In the salon of mirrors in the Villa Palagonia she notes the motif of coral, and immediately associated this with the thirty second emblem from Maier's Atalanta fugiens which shows a figure dragging for coral in a pool. Coral was a common enough decorative element that one does not need to immediately source this in alchemy. In other places in her book the author draws parallels with classical imagery and emblem books - again nothing specifically related to alchemy. This would appear to be one of those Fulcanelli inspired books, in which authors try and find alchemical symbolism in the houses of aristocrats. When will people realise that if one wants to find alchemy then one need go no further than looking to the thousands of printed books and manuscripts that the alchemists left to posterity. Most of the manuscripts remain unstudied. There the treasure lies, not in some villas in Sicily.
25 March 2010
Today I received a copy of a new book which a colleague drew to my attention. This is by an american academic and I look forward to reading through it. Leah DeVun's Prophecy, Alchemy, and the End of Time, deals with the Franciscan Friar John of Rupescissa, a 14th century figure who was caught up in both apocalyptic prophecy and alchemy. Some years ago I edited his best known alchemical work The Book of Quintessence and published my modernised version of an early English translation of his piece in my Hermetic Research series.
24 March 2010
I was rather saddened this morning to find myself criticised by someone for using this weblog "to whinge on" about the fact that my material is being pirated, rather than providing positive news about my work with alchemy. This pirating of my material unfortunately does have implications for the study of alchemy in our times. I am one of very few people publishing editions of original alchemical source material. To produce each edition requires me to devote many hundreds of hours of my time. Even if I have not edited or translated the text, I have to do proofreading, setting up the layout, sourcing or painting the illustrations. Then there is all the time I have to spend actually printing and hand binding the books. Sales are very small so it does take quite a few years for me to recover the costs. Just as an example, the edition of the Solidonius manuscript which I published in June 2008, has to date sold only 25 copies. To find that items like this are being pirated in pdf files is devastating. How can I have any confidence that I will have any income in future years? What is the point of my working on other books if they are going to be pirated and I will as a consequence sell insufficient copies to recover the costs of production? I would then effectively be paying for this publication out of my small income. This piracy does have implications for alchemy if it effectively stops me working on any further titles. Are any other publishers going to step in and take the risk? I doubt it. They are facing the same piracy as myself. Subsidised University Presses might be able to continue producing the occasional specialist alchemical title, but I have to invest my money and time in each book without any external subsidy. I was saddened that this correspondent merely saw me as a whinger. The implications of this piracy are very serious for my alchemical publishing and cannot be dismissed by posturing with some pathetic false positivity.
Sadly, large organisations such as Google and Ebay have no interest in helping people like myself, but I find it depressing that someone felt they had to write to me such an unpleasant email, when I am only trying to protect my publishing work. I did not need that this morning.
24 March 2010
Now I completely despair ! I raised a complaint with Ebay concerning one of their users who is selling my study courses, pdf scans of my books and Hermetic Journal on a DVD. I got a confusing automated email from them that did not address my issue. I then found a VeRO infringement form to download from their website. This form had to be filled in and then signed by me and faxed back to them. I don't have a fax. Who has a fax nowadays ? So I tried to find some other way of sending them the form. Nothing ! I tried to find a phone number through which I could contact them and find out how to proceed. They don't have a phone number on their web site ! I then seached Google for an Ebay phone number and found one. I phoned this but it was an automated message telling me to go to their web site to find an answer to any question I might have. So I have nowhere to go, and that criminal continues unimpeded to sell my work, and there is nothing I can do about it. As far as I am concerned Ebay is as responsible as that criminal. They do not make it easy for honest people such as myself to stop criminals selling my work as their own. They should jump on these people immediately and stop them trading using Ebay, but obviously Ebay does not care about people such as myself, after all they get a cut from the sales of that DVD. They profit from my work and don't give me the opportunity to have this stopped. They should be helping me, not making it impossible for me to raise a complaint. I am so angry about this ! My income is systematically being stolen from me. I am being pauperised while criminals sell my work and Ebay does nothing to stop this. They are destroying my income and letting criminals profit from my work. There seems to be no one on the side of honest people such as myself. I might as well give up publishing now ! This theft of ones intellectual property, and the unwillingness of Ebay, Google et al, to stop such theft, will lead to the destruction of small scale specialist publishers such as myself. I despair for the future !
23 March 2010
Last night I was checking Ebay and I found that someone is selling my study courses, pdf scans of my books and Hermetic Journal on a DVD. This is not the first time this has happened, so I raised a complaint with Ebay to have this offending item removed. It really is annoying me that people think they have the right to make money out of selling material I have struggled for months to write. Such people obviously have no conscience. This sort of activity has stopped me writing any further study courses on alchemy, as these are too easy to copy and sell on, so consequently I will never make back any money for all hundreds of hours required to write a nesw study course. These pirates spend only a few minutes copying my files onto a DVD, printing it out and selling it. For a few minutes of easy work they gain from my hundreds of hours of intense tresearch and writing. They steal from me. It is theft. Hopefully Ebay will address this issue and remove the offending item. This criminal even puts up this ridiculous notice at the bottom of his auction.
COPYRIGHT CERTIFICATION I am not breeching or infringing on any copyrights, either I have produced the material and own the copyright, or I have full resell rights, or the material is in the public domain with no copyright because it was not registered or renewed...and as such I am in full accordance with Ebays policy. If you faithfully believe you are the rights holder of any of my Occult programmes, please provide extensive legal documentation showing your ownership. Any lawsuit for copyright infringement needs to be brought about by the real parties in interest (the actual copyright holder or assignee), not somebody else on their behalf. Without a federally registered copyright (which automatically would carry a presumption of validity), the burden of proof is on the person bringing the lawsuit to prove that they own a valid copyright for the work....And then with discussion with Ebay I will withdraw any item in question. The contents of these DVD's are offered for informative and educational use.As if I have to prove copyright on my own writings. What a disgusting parasitic individual this is. He and his like are destroying the hard earned income of honest writers like myself. If this sort of thing continues for a few more years, I expect my income will be decimated.
18 March 2010
I just discovered that a new element, number 112 in the Periodic Table of the Elements, was discovered last year by the heavy ion research facility in Darmstadt. This is a transuranium element, unknown in Nature, and only a few atoms were created that survived a few seconds. It has just (Feb 2010) been named Copernicum (after Copernicus). What is especially interesting about this, as far as alchemy is concerned, is that it lies immediately under Mercury in the Periodic Table. Thus it is chemically related to Mercury. Measurements of its molecular properties provisionally indicate that it may be liquid at room temperature, provided sufficient atoms could be created to form a macroscopic mass. Of course it has no relevance to the study of alchemy, as no alchemist ever possessed any Copernicum, they not having heavy ion colliders, but I expect we will see it turning up now in speculative books. It is especially interesting that Copernicum was made in the Darmstadt faility by firing ions of zinc at a target of lead. This transmutation product of lead may well fuel much esoteric nonsense and speculation.
16 March 2010
I was able to find some time after finalising publication of the Voarchadumia to do some painting. I decided to tackle another of the images from the Splendor solis, this time the death of the old king and the rise of the young King. I do hope to be able to do some more painting this year, as it is such a pleasant break from the chore of bookbinding. This painting still needs a lot of work on the detail but it is substantially finished. There are some problems with the background area under the mountains. It is difficult to see whether the artist intended areas to be open water or landscape. I will have to look at the various versions and see if I can work out what is being represented.
4 March 2010
Last night I bound up the first four copies of the lastest book in the Magnum Opus series. First printed in 1530, this is among the earliest of printed books on alchemy and was influential on the later evolution of alchemical ideas through the 16th and 17th centuries. It is often referenced by modern writers though it is obvious almost none of them have actually read the text. I first tried to get the Voarchadumia of Panteo translated back in 1996. Over the next decade or more I approached at least six translators of Latin, but all gave up after I sent them samples of the opening two pages. I had almost given up ever seeing this translated when Paul Ferguson agreed to do it. Paul has achieved a great deal over the last few years. He has translated the Dorn Speculativa Philosophia, Robert Fludd's writings on On the Music of the Spheres, and the delightful text by Bonacina on The Preparation of Potable Gold. All these are important alchemical works. To these Paul has now added the Voarchadumia of Panteo. Paul has here created a clear and rigorous translation of the work which will allow people to study this difficult text for the first time. He provides a lengthy introduction in which he surveys the background of the author Giovanni Agostino Panteo and the influence of his text and ideas on later alchemy. The work is simultaneously theoretical and practical. Early in his work Panteo draws clear distinction between the different terms 'Voarchadumia', 'Alchemy' and 'Archemy'. His book outlines the laboratory practice of his time, which involved precise measurements of weights and exact use of various equipment. The woodcut illustrations are among the first detailing the laboratory and metalworking equipment used at that time. I am so pleased to have been able to publish this text as number 39 in the Magnum Opus series.
27 February 2010
Some people think I am a bit crazy sometimes in my obsessive enthusiasm for certain things. But I am old enough not to care and just get on pursuing my obsessions. A few days ago I received another painting I have commissioned for my Splendor Solis art project. I now have nine items in my hand with another commission in production. I can't really afford to commission many pieces but I do what I can. Once I have 20 items or so I will have an exhibition. This will be rather interesting as it will show how a number of artists have approached the same image. The delightfully luminous painting I received recently is by Jane Estelle Trombley, a Canadian artist whose tarot deck I published a year or so ago in my Art Tarot series.
25 February 2010
I have been working on the final layout for the next book in my Magnum Opus series. It has quite a complex layout of images tables and formatted text so there is much detail to attend to in order to get it correct. Hopefully, the book will be issued in the next few weeks. It is the first English translation available of a significant early alchemical work, much referred to by modern commentators, few of which will have actually been able to read the original Latin text.
10 February 2010
I spent a few hours in the University Library arranging for some copies to be made of illustrations for the next book in the Magnum Opus series. The layout is subtantially complete and just needs some minor adjustments and the inclusion of some woodcuts which I was missing.
A few days ago I was catching up with the recent discoveries about the Voynich Manuscript which some people think has some alchemical content. The manuscript has now been radiocarbon dated as between 1404 and 1438 at 95% confidence, and the investigators apparently have found evidence that the ink was added in the same period. This is a lot earlier than most speculations and this seems to have immediately destroyed most of the current theories about the manuscript, which relied on a later context. It is so much earlier than the development of sophisticated codes, and as one should only expect simple substitution codes to have been used in its era, this probably means that the "text" contains no meaning, since simple substitution codes are easily revealed and the text has been picked over by cryptographers for over 60 years with no success. So we should perhaps read the text as mere decoration, a graphical contrivance, possibly to make the work appear mysterious. The main substance of the work thus resides in the images, which appear in four sections - a herbal somewhat in the style of Dioscorides; an astrological section with circular cosmic diagrams; a balnealogical section involving bathers and baths, somewhat in the style of the Peter of Eboli manuscripts depicting the baths at Pozzuoli; and a section dealing with anatomy of the roots and stems of plants. It will be interesting to see if the manuscript can now be understood within its new context of the late 14th and early 15th centuries. I have not looked at the work for some time but you can see some of my notes on the manuscript here
3 February 2010
Today I began work on the next book in the Magnum Opus series. This is an important early printed work from the first half of the 16th century. It had a considerable influence on later alchemical writings. The work has been translated for me by Paul Ferguson and he has done a great job on the difficult Latin text. He also undertook an extensive study of the background to the work and its author, and he has written a long detailed introduction. The layout for this book is quite complex and will take some time as there are many tables and small images to format and incorporate into the text. I hope to complete this as soon as possible so I can print out the first copies later in February.
18 January 2010
I have been extremely lucky to have found some translators with which I can work well to make some of the more important alchemical works available in English. At the moment three translations are in progress, one from Latin, one from Italian and now a third item in French. I have yet to find someone to translate German for me. I am struggling at the moment with an interesting 18th century German text, which exists in a poor translation which I can improve. However, today I discovered that two full pages were skipped by error by the translator, and these two pages are beyond my abilities, so I am currently looking for somone to translate these two pages and perhaps assist with some difficulties in the original translation.
13 January 2010
I have had a rather frustrating few hours and wasted my time with some more Chinese rubbish. I am now entirely fed up with buying items that are made in China and are made only to look like the products but don't have the functionality. I recently bought a USB memory stick to help transfer files between my computers. I found that when I saved some files on one computer I could not then open them on the other. After a bit of fiddling about I realised that I could not open them on the original computer either. I tried rewriting and even reformatting the memory stick, but still it was unrealiable. One file would work and another wouldn't. I went on the Internet and discovered that many Chinese companies buy sub-standard edge-of-the-wafer chips for their products. So I have bought something that looks like a USB menory stick but does not remember information. Then I had to buy a calculator to do my accounts and it proved totally frustrating. I tried about six times to total up a column of figures and each time the calcular made an error with the decimal point. Totally frustrating. It turned out that the keys were not making a consistent contact when you hit them so sometimes it registered the decimal point and othertimes not. Useless for calculation. It looks like a calculator and yet does not behave like one. If only shops would print in large letters BEWARE - MADE IN CHINA. The calculator made a rather statisfying crunch as I stood on it and a nice clunk as I put it in the bin.
27 December 2009
I have decided that I must spend a bit more time on updating the web site, by adding more material, redesigning some pages and making access to the existing material easier. I have today begun with the section on imagery www.alchemywebsite.com/images_s.html
10 December 2009
Today a new book on the Splendor solis arrived in the post. It was very expensive, costing even more than my own books ! but well worth having. It is a large format art book and it includes full page illustrations of all the illustrated folios from the manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale (MS. German 113). I have not had access before to high quality images of this particular version, so it will be interesting to study these and compare them to the other versions that I have. This manuscript is dated 1577, shortly before the British Library copy and some decades after the 1545 Nurnberg manuscript. Both these later manuscripts obviously derive from the Nurnberg. In my entry here for 17th November 2007 I then pointed out that I could see the vanishing point for the perspective in one of the images in the Nurnberg, but this construction feature was absent in the London version, where the artist has obviously copied from an original rather than drawing the image out first. Thus if one traces the lines of perspective in the London manuscript, these are not exact, being merely copied. So I immediately looked at the same folio in the Bibliotheque Nationale and again found inaccurate perspective. It is likely to have been copied from the Nurnberg. I wonder, however, if the London was copied from the Bibliotheque Nationale copy instead of directly from the Nurnberg. There must be some tell-tale signs in the artwork. I will have to study and look at these details over the next few weeks.
20 November 2009
This last week I have been very busy working on the final layout for my latest book, the Atalanta fugiens coloured. I should be able to start production early next week and make copies available for sale later in the week. I have already made up a prototype copy, as is my usual custom, in order to see if there are any problems with the layout when the file is actually printed out. It looks a rather attractive book with the fifty coloured emblems. Unfortunately all the colour printing means it will be an expensive volume. It complements the earlier version edited by Joscelyn Godwin that I published as number 22 of the Magnum Opus series. Joscelyn's edition focused on the music, whereas this edition does not include the music but instead presents the dialogues or commentaries on the emblems. The earlier Magnum Opus edition, now out of print, fetches very high prices in the second hand market, and I expect in five years or so this new volume will also be eagerly sought after.
12 November 2009
Today I finished reconstructing my Atalanta fugiens slide show with the music I programmed for synthesiser. I created this ten years ago, back in 1999, so the old software I then used had to be be abandoned and the image files needed the colours adjusting. I was then able to program it all as a single Proshow Gold file, which makes it simple for the user. Of course this is a Windows exe file and will not work on Macs, and I expect the usual clamours from the Macintosh community that they are being ignored by me. However, it is not possible to develop Mac based programs without my owning a Mac. So unless some kind soul offers to buy me one, this will remain Windows only. The CD-Rom will be included with my publication of the Atalanta fugiens coloured book which should be issued next week. It will also continue to be sold separately. The show lasts for about 30 minutes and is a rather pleasant thing to show to ones friends, who may not be so engaged by the subtleties of alchemical texts, but may still be charmed by some rather fine music and images.
11 November 2009
Over the last few weeks I have had to reconsider the direction of my work. Because of the problem of people stealing my material, distributing it for free, or even selling it to others on the Internet, I have had to decide to give up writing other study course material. The only way I would continue this would be if some individual were to sponsor me to produce such courses, effectively paying me for my time in advance, then these could be distributed freely.
I have now decided to focus all my energies on producing actual objects, books and paintings, which are not easily copied. All my books are bound by hand and signed. They are truly artworks. The Magnum Opus series is the most significant alchemical publishing venture of modern times. In the future, a complete set of these volumes will be much sought after. Already the secondhand price of these often greatly exceeds the price I sell them for.
I am currently working on a new edition of the Atalanta fugiens. This was issued as number 22 in the Magnum Opus series back in 1987. That edition focussed on the music and was edited by Joscelyn Godwin and had an analysis by musicologist Hildemarie Streich. This sold out four or five years ago. I am now working on an edition which instead focuses on the dialogues and imagery using my hand coloured versions. It will thus be an entirely different book, yet it will complement Joscelyn's edition. This should be ready in a few weeks time. This is where my work will now be directed - the creation of interesting and engaging books. They will not be able to steal these from me.
28 October 2009
I am utterly depressed that the Internet allows people to get away with distributing or selling my copyright material and thus stealing my income from me. Yesterday I discovered that one of my courses is being made available on VX Chaos fileserver. These people make themselves impossible to locate or contact. They use a domain with a '.ws' country identifier. This is the small island of Western Samoa. Of course they are not based there but instead use this as a way of hiding their identity. They do not appear in a whois search. There is no way to contact them. Whether they would remove my material is uncertain as they appear to be involved also in promoting hacking and illegal warez software distribution. The internet authorities do nothing about these people. Why does Gooogle and other search engines not just lock them out of their database? It is just a matter of excluding their IP address. These people also seem to provide the source code for creating trojans and viruses.
HOW CAN THE INTERNET SEARCH ENGINES ALLOW THESE PEOPLE THE RIGHT TO BE LISTED IN THEIR SEARCH DATABASES ?
Criminals, terrorists, fraudsters will use such dangerous material for their own purposes. Why allow this to be so publicly available? Why make it easy for criminals and anti-social people to gain access to virus source code, when there is no way they could write this themselves?
People who run sites such as this VX Chaos fileserver are stealing my income from me. I am 61 years old and I was hoping to have some income from my writings as I get older and am not so able to work long hours. Now these people are taking this from me. It means I can no longer produce any study courses, for what is the point of my investing hundreds of hours researching and writing when these people just put my stuff up for free and Google conveniently provides a link to this just below my own entry in their search listings.
The person who bought a copy of my course from me then distributed this to others is the primary culprit - they should be totally ashamed of themselves. They have deprived me of my legitimate income and also led me to decide that I can no longer create any more study courses as I have no guarantee I will ever be able to get any income from this. The people who distribute my copyright material are despicable cowards, hiding away behind their email handles and obscure domains. They probably think they are freeing the Internet opening it up to people but they are in fact killing the Internet, or at least stopping creative people like myself from using it. They have effectively stopped me writing any more study courses. I am now totally depressed, as I can see no way forward. What is the point of writing something if it is just going to be stolen from me?
The owner of the VX Chaos Fileserver makes the statement at the top of his opening page "Lighting the fuse of a perverbial (sic) powder keg from under the complacent fat ass of the World Wide Web". Well I have no wealth, I live in a poor, run down, area of Glasgow, and now these people are stealing my income. They think they are targeting the rich and wealthy, but it is people like myself who suffer. "perverbial" indeed, the buffoon can't even spell.
27 October 2009
This morning I checked my list of sales and discovered that the last copy I sold of my Study Course on the Ripley Scroll was on 19th of November 2008. The course has illegally been made available for some time and can be found on some websites and also in those 'torrents' or illegal file sharing systems which one often has to pay a fee to download. So, prima facie, it would seem that my income from this course has been reduced to zero over the last year. If the same thing is done with my other material then I will be completely decimated financially. The same applies to my Hermetic Journal back issues.
While I was searching to see if my discs of coloured alchemical emblems had been made available illegally on the internet, I found a site www.bemyastrologer.com where the site owner had put a resource link to my emblem discs, which amused me with its oxymoronic comment
"Alchemical and Hermetic Emblems CD-Rom Volume 1, 276 images coloured by Adam McLean - I wish he hadn't colored them, but it's an amazing collection."With this sort of praise my future seems secure !
26 October 2009
Over the weekend a colleague informed me that one of my study courses had been made available openly online and was appearing in Google. I found the site and immediately wrote to the person identified using whois, requesting that he remove my copyright material. This he did courteously and immediately. I then decided to see if any other mentions of this study course appeared on a Google search. Sadly there are a number of sites making this material available. I will have to waste hours and hours of my time chasing these sites to remove the item, and they may not all be so understanding and cooperative as the first site.
It is very depressing to find that people are copying my own written material in this way. My study courses took many hundreds of hours to write, and it is galling to have this stolen from me. It is not as if I am selling these at a high price, I only charge $35 or GBP £20 for these courses.
I hope this stealing of my material does not increase, as it will seriously impact on my being able to continue producing courses. What is the point of my spending hundreds of hours working on something only to have my income stolen from me? One of the new culprits I have discovered actually sells copyright material including my course. He has a password protected area on his site from which you can download material and you have to pay to gain access. The subscriptions cost from $500 down to $40 depending on how much material you download. Now I wonder if this clown will be so understanding as to remove my copyright material. This parasite lives off the honest toil of other people. He cannot deny that he is making copyright material available, as I have found the books of a number of my colleagues available through his system. He steals my and other peoples' income. He lives on theft.
It is becoming a real uphill struggle nowadays.
15 October 2009
Today I woke up to discover that someone had put a symbol for an esoteric group into the "My Photos" section of my Facebook page. I had a bit of a struggle removing it, as this was not entirely straightforward. The fact that Facebook allows other people to manipulate the way I am seen - after all "My Photos" should be mine and only mine to control - rather disturbed me. I have no sympathy or interest in this esoteric group and don't want my name associated with it. I could wake up one day and find someone had placed something very unpleasant and derogatory into this section of my Facebook page, and unless I happened to log on that day and then found this change, it could remain there for a considerable time. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that Facebook had no right to allow people to do this. So I have now closed my Facebook entry. I was asked by some people a year or so ago to join Facebook and initially it seemed okay and quite an interesting way to keep in touch with people. Sadly over the last months I have noticed that a number of Facebook users have become rather aggressive self-promoters and I found myself getting loads of such promotional material, so it was not a hard decision to walk away from Facebook. It will only get worse if Facebook allows people to use their system to aggressively and shamelessly promote themselves or some pathetic agenda they subscribe to. Busy people like myself just don't have the time to read all the ruthless self-promotional nonsense or log on every few hours to make sure someone hasn't put an inappropriate picture into the "My Photos" section. The lesson for today - take care when using Facebook as it allows other people to manipulate the way you wish to be seen.
28 September 2009
In the 1970's I remember having some discussions with people associated with the Jungians about Jung's Liber Novus better known as the Red Book, an illustrated notebook with a red leather cover, which he created over a span of fifteen years between about 1915 and 1930, somewhat in the style of an old illuminated manuscript. It was written a decade or more before Jung's series of writings on alchemy Psychology and Alchemy (1944), Alchemical Studies (1929-45) and Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955-6). This was then held up as the major source for a study of Jung's ideas which perhaps revealed too much, and the people I was in contact with then seemed to believe that there was some dispute within the Jungian community regarding whether it was right to publish this Red Book as it was too personal a statement. Interestingly, nearly 50 years after his death, Jung's notebook is about to be published, in an edition edited by the Jungian scholar Sonu Shamdasani. Whether this gives us any information on how Jung was to later use alchemy we will have to wait to see, but it should present some new information on how Jung worked with emblematic source material. You can preorder a copy on Amazon and it seems likely to be published towards the end of the year. The Red Book itself goes on display at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City from October 7, 2009 through to January 25, 2010.
25 September 2009
A few days ago I was very amused by someone asking me to remove one of my comments in this weblog. He said he had written to me personally and took exception to me commenting on our email discussion. To please him I censored out the message, which was entirely innocuous and did not in any way identify him, nor even quote him directly, but as he seems to be a sensitive soul I thought it was best to comply with his wishes.
People who know me realise that I am not someone who attacks people personally, however, I don't see any problem in pointing out flaws in methodology, ideas or research, for how else can alchemical scholarship proceed. You should see the nonsense and unpleasant criticisms I regularly receive in my email box. Occasionally I receive some coherent, well conceived, criticism of my approach and I always find that of value, as it forces me to go back and re-examine my ideas and research.
I made an exception in the case of this rather sensitive and perhaps solipsistic soul (for only he could have identified himself from my remarks) but I would like to make it clear that in future that when people write to me, they are writing to Adam McLean of the Alchemy Web site, not to a close confidential friend. I am free to bring up the content of such email exchanges if I feel this is illustrating a general point, though I would never directly identify my correspondent, or attack them in some unpleasant way in an open public forum. I apply this to positive as well as negative postings - as for example in my recent posting on alchemy in postage stamps. When people write to me, I feel free to pass on this information. I work publicly with alchemical ideas and thus it is entirely weird that people should feel they are writing to a friend in confidence. I may be easily available to people at an email address, but that does not mean we have some special confidential relationship or intimate private correspondence.
25 September 2009
My recent voicings on this weblog about the Jungian approach to alchemy, led to an interesting but at the same time rather revealing criticism of me. A correspondent criticised me for inconsistency because I had used Jungian ideas in my Commentary to the Mutus Liber. I explained to this person that I wrote that commentary back in 1982 when I was still strongly influenced by Jung and that I had grown up a bit since then -- it may even be that I have learnt something in the last 27 years. This is, however, a revealing criticism of me, because it shows that I deeply read my way into the Jungian approach to alchemy back in the 1970s and 80s. I am neither ignorant of nor merely prejudiced against this Jungian approach, but I have investigated it thoroughly and moved on. I have seen the failures of this approach, its limitations, its use of selective quotation, its underlying belief structure, its ahistorical foundation. It took me some years to work my way through this Jungian/esotericism tunnel, to now basing my study of alchemy entirely on the original texts and not on imposing modern ideas onto the material. I have grown a little through the last 27 years. Perhaps when others examine the consequences of the Jungian approach to alchemy, rather than simply accepting and believing in it, they might also emerge from the tunnel and come to take a delight in writings and imagery of the alchemists, as a thing in itself. I have found it to be much more satisfying to try to get close to what the alchemists were themselves trying to say, rather than imposing a modern filter of ideas onto their work. "Let the alchemists speak for themselves" - my motto for 2009 !
23 September 2009
I am looking for translators to assist with the publication of some alchemical texts and articles. I already have people able to assist with Latin, French and Italian, but I have not been able to find translators to work on German and Spanish. The German texts are quite lengthy and require a substantial commitment of time, but they are significant works. The modern Spanish piece is quite short and well written so it should not be too difficult. All these items are for publication as books in one of my series. Anyone able to assist with these, please contact me at email@example.com
23 September 2009
A contact of mine has just emailed me to tell me of a some postage stamps with alchemical themes which are described in Edgar Heilbronner and Foil A. Miller, A philatelic ramble through chemistry, 1998. Here are just a few examples that caught my eye.
21 September 2009
Last night a colleague emailed me about the Moon-headed figure in the Aurora consurgens that I had posted here on the 10th of September. He sent me an illustration from the Ferguson manuscript of the Aurora which shows a strange triple-headed Moon figure. The original is on the right for comparison.
On looking at the original I could clearly see another face on the right side so I got up early and started cleaning up my scan, removing some of the background muddle to expose the image of the face. I could not find a face in the upper section so I merely cleaned and lightened this area. Here is the result.
I think we are now closer to the original conception of the artist who created these images.
15 September 2009
My amusement with the von Franz Aurora consurgens continues to grow. In her book she wants us to accept that the text of the first part was written by Thomas Aquinas. Now there is no evidence at all for this, and I doubt if one could find a single Aquinas scholar who would accept the Aurora as being written by Aquinas. There are some alchemical writings that are established as being written by Aquinas, for example De mixtione elementorum. Here we read a sentence, where he is speaking of compounds, such as:
"Some think that the substantial forms of the elements remain, while the active and passive qualities of the elements are somehow placed, by being altered, in an intermediary state; for if they did not remain, there would seem to be a kind of corruption of the elements, and not a combination."A closely argued and analytical piece of scholasticism. Now von Franz, finding the Aurora consurgens to be written in an entirely different style with a confused gathering together of ideas, suggested that this indicated that Thomas Aquinas was here going though some strange inner psychic struggle. This seems mere self-delusion on her part. She wants us to see the work as a record of Aquinas undergoing some psychic breakthrough, happily analysable by Jungian psychology. It is instead obvious that the work was not written by Aquinas, but then that would have spoiled her thesis. Sadly, her book has cast a long shadow over the Aurora consurgens - but it will rise again!
15 September 2009
I was very amused today, 23rd September, to be asked to remove this entry in which I had made a mild criticism of someone's scholarly methodology as a general point, without even identifying this person ! It raised a laugh. Perhaps this will make amends.
10 September 2009
I have almost completed creating a corrected copy of another image from the Aurora consurgens manuscript. It still requires a little more tweaking and cleaning up. One of the interesting aspects of this well known image is that it has been described as a battle between the Light Sun and the Black Sun. The Black Sun does appear in a very few alchemical works - the Ripley Scroll, the Kelly 'Theatre of Terrestrial Astronomy' and in an image in Mylius' Philosophia reformata - but is not mentioned in the Aurora consurgens. Instead the black headed 'Sun' is an artefact, well known to anyone familiar with medieval manuscripts. Illuminated manuscripts often had gold and silver leaf applied to parts of images. This was laid onto a cushion of gum and then burnished to a high gloss. Now gold does not tarnish as it is chemically inert, but silver on the other hand is attacked by sulphur oxides or hydrogen sulphide in the air and develops a black patina. This blackening has been interpreted by some people, unaware of this aspect of silver leaf in manuscripts, as an intention of the artist and writer. Sadly, I have on a few occasions had to disillusion people about this 'Black Sun'. They are usually unhappy about this and in a few cases even thought me to be foolishly mistaken. The 'Black Sun' image is one that Jungians and other esotericists are strongly drawn to and thus invest their belief in. They are often not very amenable to having their 'Black Sun' taken away from them - but truth remains truth, however much one wishes to believe in a contrary viewpoint. This image instead is about the opposition of Sun and Moon as is seen in the section of text in the Aurora consurgens which this image serves to illustrate.
1 September 2009
I am still harping on about von Franz and her misrepresentation of the Aurora consurgens. It is not only myself that was misled by her work but today I read in Mircea Eliade's classic book The Forge and the Crucible where on page 197 of the later English edition, he writes after referring to von Franz' book "Aurora consurgens is unique among alchemical treatises. Only about half-dozen of the "classics" of alchemy are quoted, and technical instruction and chemical recipes are lacking". The technical instruction and chemical recipes are lacking only in von Franz's redaction of the work ! I have spent the last week or more translating these chemical recipes and processes. That Eliade, who was close to the Jungians knowing them personally and being invited to the Eranos conferences, was also misled, is rather sad.
31 August 2009
Today I spent the most I ever have on a book - 200 Euros - which is 180 pounds or just over 300 dollars. I really need this book in order to prepare my edition of the Aurora consurgens. I have been looking for this book on alchemical symbolism by Barbara Obrist published in 1982, for many years, but could never find a copy. A few days ago I found a copy on Abebooks, but the price was excessive - 723 pounds (nearly 1200 dollars) - for a book published only twenty years ago! (And not even a hand made art work.) So I wrote to the vendor hoping that he had made an error. But it was not an error and somehow he expects to get that rather full price. However, after a long time searching through various sites I found the copy priced at 200 Euros, which to me is still a great deal of money, and I bought it immediately. Hopefully I should have it next week.
31 August 2009
I have made some progress with translating the alchemical text of the Aurora consurgens and am now about half way through the first rough draft. It is now becoming obvious why von Franz did not want us to read this text in her mutilated edition of the Aurora consurgens. It just did not suit or support the thesis she was presenting to us. Sadly, I myself was deceived by this and I neglected until very recently to undertake any deep research into the Aurora consurgens because of the existence of her work. I now find it very annoying that an intelligent person thought they could deceive people by purposively hiding a key part (a half indeed) of an alchemical work in making their edition. It is not as if she did not have the leisure and funding to be able to visit Zurich and examine the actual manuscript. I have struggled most of my life without such funding and leisure. I could not go and examine the manuscript in Zurich, instead I foolishly relied on her book. It is rather amusing that a Jungian writer has recently written a work of interpretation, in full Jung mode, in which they explored aspects of the Aurora consurgens - perhaps that should be "aspects of the part of the Aurora that von Franz wanted us to see". I am sure this later writer was entirely misled by von Franz and knew nothing about the full text. Hopefully, later this year I will be able to publish the full text. My translation will have flaws and imperfections, but it will at least be an honest attempt to let the original writer of the Aurora consurgens speak to us again after six hundred or more years, and not a deceptive attempt to mutilate and recontextualise his words.
26 August 2009
Following on my thoughts upon the von Franz edition of the Aurora consurgens I wonder now if the reason for her leaving out the second part was that she somehow considered that it did not mesh well with the Jungian ideas she was pursuing and did not support the main thesis of her commentary, that the Aurora consurgens contained a record in Jungian terms of a psychic process going on in the writer of the work (possibly Thomas Aquinas), some kind of abnormal state of mind that produced an eruption of the contents of the writer's unconscious. The second part is equally imaginative as the first, but is within the tradition and conventions of alchemical material and thus not really to be seen as a spontaneous emergence occasioned by some abnormal psychic state, but rather something more thought out, based within the traditional style of alchemical writings. Her decision not to mention or show the illustrations could have arisen from the fact that she would then have had to include the alchemical text of Part II as it comments on the imagery. The Jungians always use alchemy as a support for their psychological theories rather than allowing the alchemical work to speak for itself within its own terms and proper context. Jungian interpretations of alchemical works can be an obstacle to our understanding of these. So I am determined to let the Aurora consurgens now speak for itself.
25 August 2009
Back in the 1970's I was much impressed by the amazing early alchemical manuscript the Aurora consurgens. This I knew through a few of the illuminated drawings which had appeared as illustrations in some books available to me at that time. Around 1980 I managed to obtain a copy of the Marie-Louise von Franz edition. Despite the influence which Jungian ideas held on me in those days I remember being deeply disappointed by the volume. Somehow it did not seem to give me any answers. The von Franz translation of the text amounted to about 50 pages in her lengthy book of 500 pages. She was conextualising the work within Jungian ideas, which was not inimical to me in those days, but her lengthy excursions into the complexities of Christian ideas of the fourteenth century, left me rather puzzled. I left her book confused, feeling I had missed something. Her book also did not deal in any way with the imagery on the thirty or so coloured drawings. Recently I discovered that she had only translated half the text. She had left out Part II, the alchemical section which comments on the drawings, dismissing this as unworthy of her consideration and saying in her Introduction "In contrast to the entirely original, poetico-rhetorical, confessional style of Part I, Part II has a prosaically didactic character which follows the usual style of the contemporary alchemical treatises". So she cut off the alchemy from this work. Over the last few years a number of people have written to me asking which part of the Aurora consurgens refers to the illustrations, as they are puzzled by the lack of mention of this in von Franz' book. So I have now decided to translate the full text and issue it in my Magnum Opus series. Yesterday I made a start and will work on it when time becomes available over the next few months, so that we will soon be able to read the complete work and not the truncated version with which the Jungians have presented us. I find I like "the usual style of the contemporary alchemical treatises".
20 August 2009
August has been a very busy month for me, and I have found myself neglecting to keep up the weblog. Yesterday I finished binding the first batch of ten copies of the latest book in my Magnum Opus series. This is the alchemical allegory of Palombara and is number 38 in the series of sourceworks. Producing these books has been a major part of my life. Sadly not enough people seem to share my interests in the original writings of the alchemists. People today prefer to get their information on alchemy from various twentieth century writers, the Golden Dawn enthusiasts, theosophists like M.P.Hall, Fulcanelli, Jung and a whole cavalcade of esoteric commentators, who it seems have little grasp of the original writings and instead push their interpretation and ill-formed opinions onto alchemy. Most of these commentators are entirely ignorant of alchemical writings, and have not spent much time in libraries looking at the original material. I wish that people would instead turn to the original writings, the books and manuscripts of the actual alchemists, not to twentieth century speculators. Alchemy has a wonderful literature and iconography, but sadly few look at it nowadays. Anyway now I have issued, with the help of the translator Gleb Butuzov, another gem of alchemical literature. It will likely be almost ignored for years until there are only a few copies left to sell, then I will get bombarded by people wanting copies, as happens with the early editions of the series, hoping that it might increase in financial value. The few collectors who support my work by buying my books as they are issued, have kept this project afloat. Without them I would have had to abandon publishing these obscure works as it is so expensive in time and money. Happily this small group of people share my enthusiasm and want to base their understanding of alchemy on the original writing of the alchemists themselves. Without them I would be unable to continue.
1 August 2009
I am glad the last few weeks are now over. My computer developed a problem where it would suddenly freeze and there was nothing I could do except reboot it. I initially thought it was an overheating problem, but eventually I came to the conclusion that the memory or other motherboard components had become damaged. I had, at least, not lost any of my data files, just the ability to access these consistently. So I had no alternative but to buy a new system. One dreads doing this as usually one has to reinstall all the software and set the programs up again. This means one has to find the original installation discs and the registration information. I thought I would have to face some very frustrating days, however I managed to buy a program that does this without you having to go back to the original installation discs and then do all the registration again. It also moved all the passwords. It took many hours and I did not finish till 2 in the morning. There are still a few programs I had to manually reinstall, but my new system is now running well. My computer contains 25 years of my research and work on alchemy, and related artwork. My life is reflected in the shiny spinning platters of a couple of 500 gigabyte discs. drives.
23 July 2009
I first came across the amusingly named Australian Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule a few years ago through a rather fine tarot deck he designed. A few days ago I decided to buy a copy of a book of his drawings Conjunctio: A Graphic Grimmoire. Today I looked him up on the Internet and immediately found his MySpace site www.myspace.com/orryelle. He is a musician and songwriter, who plays the violin and sings, somewhat in a goth style, and is also a magickian in the Crowley tradition. His artwork is powerful but with an underlying sense of humour. He is obviously deeply influenced by alchemical ideas. When looking around his site I discovered that he also creates dramatic performances through his Metamorphic Ritual Theatre Company. One of these on the theme of alchemy attracted me and I found two videos made at one of these theatrical events. I found them surprisingly engaging. He creates forms and interactions in his dramatic performances similar to his complex interwoven drawings, even weaving and metamorphosing words one into another. It is worth taking a look at these, as this weirdly named Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule certainly is creatively exploring alchemical ideas. I have seen a number of rather embarrassing attempts where people have tried to work some alchemical ideas out in video form, but with Orryelle we have someone with an integral and original vision. I really love his sense of humour and his deep seriousness. His droning violin playing, though at first seeming chaotic and unstructured, is very evocative. I do hope he goes on to complete the cycle of four books he promised.
23 July 2009
Over the last few days I have been completing my work on the layout for the next volume in the Magnum Opus series. It still requires a final proofreading and minor adjustments to the texts and illustrations. This is a wonderful mid 17th century Italian alchemical allegory only found in a single manuscript. I have long wanted to publish this piece, but only recently managed to find a colleague to translate it for publication. While researching for the introduction I discovered some rather interesting facts and legends about the main characters behind the manuscript and its historical context. In Rome during the last half of the 17th century there was a considerable revival of interest in alchemy. The stories and legends around that are much more interesting than Dan Brown's melodramatic contrivances. There remain many wonders to be discovered in alchemical manuscripts and printed books. Hopefully, if no other urgent work intrudes on me, I should be able to proceed to publication in a week or so.
14 July 2009
While I was having some computer problems I managed to finish colouring some emblems. One that I found very interesting is a masonic engraving of symbolism from the Scotish rite used as the frontispiece to Le tuileur - expert de sept grades... Paris, 1836. This would appear to be influenced or derived from an alchemical engraving in Etteilla Les sept nuances de l'oeuvre philosophique-hermétique, 1785. There are always new things to discover. Here I show the masonic image on the right.
13 July 2009
Over the weekend I had a rather frustrating problem with my computer. For the last few weeks it has occasionally frozen for no reason and I assumed this was an overheating problem. I tried to resolve this, but on Friday the whole system refused to reboot so I was locked out of the computer. Eventually I managed to get it started again, and will now make a clone of my hard drive. One is so vulnerable when ones computer system fails as most of the things I do run through the computer.
18 June 2009
I have begun working on a further volume for the Magnum Opus series. This is an allegory from a mid 17th century Italian manuscript. This has a series of images associated with it. The text has been translated by a colleague and I have started the proofreading and shortly will move to create the layout. If all goes well it might be possible to publish this in late July, though August perhaps seems more realistic. This will be number 38 in the Magnum Opus series. I sometimes wonder just how many more books I will add to this. There are two more pencilled in for later this year and a load of half finished projects. The first title, the Magical Calendar was issued in 1979, so this year is the thirtieth anniversary of the foundation of the series. I know that a number of scholars think of me as rather lightweight, and most esoteric people see me as blinkered as I don't embrace their mindset, but at least I think I have demonstrated that I do have the willpower and stamina the follow through and get things done - I will happily settle for that.
16 June 2009
The new find system seems to be working okay. This system is very useful as it provides me with a log of how many people are using it and which key words they are searching for. The figures for searches in the first few days are quite encouraging. I am sure this new feature will prove a success and useful to users of the site.
Wed Jun 10 - 50
Thu Jun 11 - 40
Fri Jun 12 - 80
Sat Jun 13 - 46
13 June 2009
Martin Stewart has kindly sent me some transcriptions of texts from the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, so I have now set these up on the website:-
The Ordinall of Alchimy - Thomas Norton
Chanons Yeoman Tale
The Compound of Alchymie by Sir George Ripley
I have also set up a page of the texts of the English Bohemists, with some material by John Pordage and D.A. Freher. More Freher will be added shortly.
Sadly, I don't have much time, nowadays, to update the website, but I will try and add some more material over the next weeks and months.
10 June 2009
Yesterday one of my supporters and long-term users of this web site alterted me to the fact that he had only just discovered a page on my site which was not accessible to the search box. I was aware of the the fact that the free Google site search I had been using had limitations as it does not index all the files nor the total text of each file. So yesterday I decided to buy some software that would enable me to have an onsite search engine that I could customise to suit. I found some software whose selling point was that it could index thousands even millions of pages and provide fast response. So I bought a copy and began installing it. After about an hour of indexing a 134 megabyte index file was written and this took almost an hour to ftp onto the website. The results were totally disappointing. It was so, so slow to find things. I had bought the more expensive professional edition which states "This professional version is specifically designed to deal with large sites that have thousands and millions of pages". My site has 7600 html pages. In many cases when searching for two words such as "Fludd" and "gold" the search took so long that it timed out and gave an error message. I immediately wrote to the software writers and explained the problem I was having. They just ignored three emails. So I have given up on them and will try and get them to refund me for their inadequate software. If not I will have lost over $100 on this - the profit on five or six books. The old "caveat emptor" strikes again. I went looking on the internet and found another type of solution which uses an off-site indexing system. This I have now installed and am testing out. It gives almost instantaneous finds and can handle multiple word searches just as quickly. At the moment I have their free trial version which does throw up adverts, but if after a day or so of testing I find it okay, I will pay for the full version so as not to impose the adverts on my users. At least this system provides users with a fully working trial to test out thoroughly. You can yourself test out the new find system if you click here. I have not yet explored all the ways of configuring the search box nor the ways in which the finds are displayed.
5 June 2009
Sorry for the long hiatus in this weblog. May has been such a busy month and I have been absorbed in many projects. The latest Magnum Opus book, the Bonacina. The Preparation of Potable Gold is now available and I have sold a few copies. This is number 37 in this long running series. Over the last few weeks I have been working with the translator of the text for the next volume, which will be published in the next few months. My workload has substantially increased recently. I have taken a more intense interest in the emblematic tradition which alchemy drew on for many aspects of its symbolism. So I have set up a parallel web site on emblematic art. During the last few months I have felt impelled to devote time to painting, and have completed three works I began last year, and worked on two new paintings. As I get older I feel I have to allocate more of my time to painting. It is important to me. Another project that took up much of my time recently was my Art of Japanese Tarot Exhibition which after its opening in the Glasgow School of Art is now moving to its second venue. I also continue to collect modern tarot art and now have possibly the largest such collection in the world. I am just at the moment printing out an amazing tarot by the British occultist and surrealist artist Ithell Colquhoun.
So the lack of postings in this weblog reflects my having to devote much time to a variety of projects
21 April 2009
Today I worked on the layout for the next book in the Magnum Opus series. I had finished painting the illustrations last week and now have linked these into the text and sorted out all the little details of the layout. This will need checked over the next few days, then when I have time I will move on to printing out copies for sale.
20 April 2009
A few weeks ago I managed to obtain a relatively good quality copy of the frontispiece engraving to the Toyson d'Or, Paris 1613, which was a French edition of the Splendor Solis. The imagery on the engraving draws from the illustrations in the German printed book of 1598, Aureum vellus, oder Güldin Schatz und Kunstkammer. Once I had a good quality image I set about colouring it. When I get the time I will set this up, together with some other recent coloured emblems, onto my Galleries of Coloured emblems.
15 April 2009
In running the alchemy website there are moments of great amusement and terrible tragedy, coupled with the usual annoyances.
Amusement - a week or so ago I received an email from someone requesting a link exchange. When I scrolled down the page I noticed it was from a website for dog lovers. Apparently they were using some automatic link scanning software and, finding mentions of animals on the alchemy web site, the software flagged me up as a potential linker (so they could increase their rankings in Google). I was mildly amused, but a further email an hour later from their sister website for cat lovers with the same request, reduced me to howls of laughter. Today another pair of emails arrived from the cats and dogs indicating that they had removed my link on their site because I had failed to reciprocate.
Tragedy - I was made rather sad recently by the arrival of a message from a gentleman suffering from a life threatening cancerous condition. He contacted me in the hope that I might put him in touch with the person who popularised the 'White powder gold' some years ago, in order that he might obtain some and become cured. I get two or three letters a month about this fantasy substance. Usually people are just curious, but occasionally someone in desperate straits, sees this much hyped substance as a solution to their health problem.
Annoyance - I also received an email from some promoter of hallucinogenic mushrooms. His website provides all sorts of justifications and encouragment for people to use these dangerous toxins. He refers often on his website to alchemical ideas and indicates that the use of hallucinogenics was, in some way, a key part of alchemy. I have spent 61 years developing my brain cells, and find it rather unsettling that someone would want to take an untested poisonous substance of which they know nothing, with the aim of messing up the chemical balance of their brains. I have sadly, like most people, come across the casualities created by drug abuse. Back in the late 70's while I was in Edinburgh, I remember one friend who got totally absorbed in these magic mushrooms. Eventually he became so weird that I just could no longer bear to be in his company. One wishes that this absurdity had died out in the 1970s and it saddened me to see someone today using alchemy as a justification for experimenting in the use of dangerous hallucinogenic substances. People can be so self-delusive and sadly, in this case this is coupled with self-destructive. People like this, promoting the use of such untested toxins, seem totally unaware of the responsibility they are taking on themselves and the lives they will ruin. Just how many casualities will result ten years down the line? Obviously they are so blind to this that they don't care. I, for one, like to treat my brain cells well, and not fry them along with the mushrooms.
7 April 2009
I recently began a new website dedicated to emblems in art. From this emblematic background, the iconography in alchemical emblems emerged, so it is important to investigate this obscure area. You can have a little preview of what I have been working on by going to.
One of the first research projects on that site is the Children of the Planets series. This is an intesting emblematic device that emerged in the 15th Century and remained an important form for artists well into the 17th Century. Today I discovered yet another series, this time as wall paintings in the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican (late 15th Century). Sadly I have only been able to find a rather poor quality black and white image.
5 April 2009
I have made some considerable progress on painting facsimiles of the Bonacina images for inclusion in the forthcoming Magnum Opus book. Most of these are almost finished, only requiring some minor work on details and modelling to bring them to completion. I should be able to finish these during this week or early next week if I get delayed. I have my exhibition on the Art of Japanese Tarot to arrange over the next ten days or so, and work on this might well interrupt painting the Bonacina.
30 March 2009
Over the weekend I managed a few more hours work on painting the Bonacina images. These probably need about twenty more hours of work to bring to completion. Creating one of my Magnum Opus books requires many, many hours of work. Also in the case of the Bonacina book, I don't dare even think of how many hours the translator, Paul Ferguson, spent working on the book. No doubt many times my input. Still, some people moan about the price of my books. In fact, many of my books cost more secondhand than they do bought direct from me. As these are small limited editions they are collected by some bibliophiles. After all, my Magnum Opus Hermetic Soureworks is one of the longest lasting of modern publishers. My first publication in the series was the Magical Calendar on the 20th of April 1979, so this will be the 30th Anniversary ! I wonder how many other small unsubsidised publishers from the early 1980's still survive. Perhaps I should issue a special print of the Magical Calendar engraving to mark this. There I am, giving myself even more work to do. I am still very concerned about how to preserve my work in the longer term. I now have accreted a vast amount of material and would not like it to be entirely broken up, dispersed or thrown away, if for some reason I was unable to continue. As one gets older one does dwell on such matters.
27 March 2009
Today I began adding some further large format prints to my bookshop pages. I have been producing these giclee prints for over a year but the sales are extremely slow, which is rather disappointing, both because I would like to gain some sales and because people are missing out on having some of these wonderful images to contemplate. I, of course, am immersed in that material and so enthused by alchemical, astrological, and emblematic imagery that I find it difficult to understand why others would not also not wish to have such imagery. I do also produce standard format print at A4 size, but many images really become striking when available in the large format. Not all are suitable to be printed in the larger size but I have now added about 15 further images. It takes quite a time as the original paintings have to be rescanned at 1200 dpi in order to provide the best quality for printing. Anyway you can browse the items by clicking here. I have also reduced the prices to USA and Worldwide customers to reflect the recent currency fluctuations.
26 March 2009
Today a big envelope arrived from the Post Office announcing their latest price increases. These are quite high at about 8%, so I will have to start thinking about revising my prices, otherwise I will find these new postal costs erode my income from the sales. I have adopted a policy of including the postage costs in the price of the items I sell - the books, prints and study courses. I now wonder if this is a correct strategy and that I should perhaps quote a price for the item then the costs of the postage. The real postage costs, of course, include the not inconsiderable cost of the packaging and the fee I have to pay to have the Post Office uplift mail from my address every day, as well as the actual stamps. This would have effect of making people aware of the true costs involved and appear to reduce the price of my books. I think most people expect to see the cost of postage when they buy items. When I sell a book for 50 pounds then up to 10 pounds can be the post and packing charges. When I have the time I will begin moving over to this new way of working. So, when you see the prices of my books fall, then please remember there is postage on top of that !
11 March 2009
I have had to temporarily abandon work on the Bonacina images and devote most of my time to preparing the exhibits for my forthcoming exhibition on the Art of Japanese Tarot. This opens on 17th of April and I will have to work on framing the exhibits for all this week and part of the next. Happily the catalogue is now completed and in the hands of the designer. A few days ago I received some facsimiles of the printed version of the Bonacina which was previously unknown to me. It contains woodcuts of the emblems, some of which have been coloured.
8 March 2009
As each year peels away from the span of ones life, one encounters in closer and closer focus the reality that one has a relatively short time left to bring ones work to some kind of completion. I have been very fortunate that at certain phases of my life I had the financial support of a number of people whose generosity enabled me to progress my work. Currently I am entirely self supporting and am becoming very aware of the fact that I have created and gathered a considerable body of material that documents alchemy and the related emblematic traditions. In the longer term I would hope that something could be done to preserve this in some coherent form, but I doubt that I will ever be able myself to create sufficient resources to perpetuate my work in such a way. The income I make from sales of my books, prints and study course material is all absorbed in capitalising my publications and acquiring materials for research. If I were forced through ill-health (or worse) to give up my work then I expect my things would just be sold off piecemeal. I was very saddened a few years ago that when the major British artist Robert Lenkiewicz died, much of his work had to be sold off. He had hoped to have been able to establish a permanent library that documented the various obsessions he found so fascinating, but his amazing book collection had to be sold off. I will have to begin looking for some means by which all that I have gathered together over the decades could be held together in some way as an educational resource which people could use. I have enough material to form the basis for an alchemical museum, art gallery and research library, but no personal finance to facilitate this.
1 March 2009
Over the last few weeks I have found a few hours here and there to begin work on making the series of facsimile paintings that will be used in the forthcoming edition of the Bonacina manuscript. There are ten images in all, and as I am painting them as a totality moving from one to another to keep the colours consistent, I have not yet actually completed any of the paintings. The one closest to being completed is the second illustration. I have still to work on the foreground, rework the sky to make the layers cohere, and do some general tidying up and adding detail to some parts of the image. Here is my version alongside the original. Once I have completed the images and scanned them in for the book, I may try and sell them as a complete set. I am working them quite small, 7 by 5 inches, (a bit larger than the originals). I think they will look rather good together on a wall. The sequence naturally divides into two sets of five.
24 February 2009
A recent discussion on my scholarly alchemy discussion forum illustrates the sort of detailed investigation that scholars have to undertake in order to discover the truth about some source. A colleague alerted me some months ago to a manuscript of the Theatrum Astronomiae Terrestris by Edward Kelly described as being dated to 1594, shortly before he died. I wrote to the holding Library (Harvard College Library) and obtained a microfilm of the work. On first seeing this I was not convinced that it was actually of that date, so I posted out a message onto the forum to see what other scholars might make of it. It is important to discover whether this was close in time to the original, or merely a copy made from the printed book which appeared in 1676.
We will have to look at the handwriting, the people through whose hands the manuscript passed before it found its way to Harvard, as well as any internal evidence that might help with dating it.
This all will appear boring and mere pedantry, far removed from the excitement of speculating wildly and without restraint about Dee and Edward Kelly or ancient manuscripts, but it is through such painstaking detail that one arrives at something substantial and closer to the truth of things. I have kept the forum restricted to people who adopt a scholarly and collegiate approach, and this seem to be working. Sadly a few speculators and belief-driven people rapidly destroy the positive exchange of information, as we have so often seen in the past with alchemy discussion groups. The discussion forum is open for the public to read, and over its first year of operation there have been 350,000 page views and over 80,000 visits to the pages by the public. The discussion forum shows how alchemical research is pursued in a scholarly way. Those who seek the excitement of believing in an alchemical fairyland will only find disappointment here.
19 February 2009
I have now made a start on making some facsimile paintings of the illustrations from the Bonacina manuscript. I decided to make these in the rather small size of 7 by 5 inches. This is actually about double the size of the originals. Making them any larger would be rather difficult and time consuming. I estimate about a days work for each of the ten paintings. Of course I will not be able to allocate that time in a single block, as I have so many oither things to work on, so they will be done gradually over a few months, a few hours at a time.
4 February 2009
Most of the past weeks I have been working on my forthcoming exhibition on the Art of Japanese Tarot, however, I have now received the translation by Paul Ferguson of an early 17th century work by Bonacina on the aurum potabile. I first came across this twenty years ago when I met up with an Italian researcher who had visited the libraries in Prague looking at alchemical manuscripts. I remember talking with him in the Library of the Wellcome Institute in London and he drew out a folder containing slides of the illustrations in this manuscript. These really intrigued me, and I was immediately drawn to the work. Then about ten years ago I came across illustrations of another manuscript version, dated a bit later, which had some very high quality paintings of the ten illustrations in the work. Last year I was contacted by a museum curator in the Czech Republic who was creating an exhibit on the alchemist Bonacina, and I managed to get a copy of the original manuscript. Paul very kindly agreed to translate this from the Latin. I was not entirely sure if the text was going to be as interesting and engaging as the illustrations, but Paul proved me wrong and now I have the text available in English I can see that it is a clear exposition of many of the well known ideas current in early 17th century alchemy. Now I have to make my own facsimile paintings in order to use these as illustrations in the book. This should take a few months. Interestingly, back in 2000 I did make a facsimile of one of the Bonacina illustrations. I had intended to work on more, but never was able to allocate the time. The next few months are going to be extremely busy and creative ones for me.
14 January 2009
Today I received one of those amusing though at the same time insulting emails. A gentleman wrote enquiring about my study courses, appending a list of questions about my background and other details to enable him to make his mind up as to whether my course was worthwhile or not. I ploughed through answering the questions till I came to final one "Have any of the materials you provide been "harvested" from other programs?" At first I laughed out loud, then this became a wry smile, then I felt rather insulted, bordering on annoyance. Just a few days ago someone had informed me that, once again, some of my courses and other copyright material was being made available for free on one of those torrents that supply material (mostly pirated videos, music files and software) for free or even paid download. This material of mine was also illegally put onto a Czech server over last summer and made available. So this person dares to suggest that I might have "harvested" material from the Internet to make up my courses, when it is entirely the other way round ! It is insulting because I am a creative individual, who researches material in great depth, and spent many hundreds of hours writing each study course. Harvesting, indeed! What an insult !
13 January 2009
It must seem as if I have been on a long vacation as I have not made an entry here for some weeks. I have in fact been very busy with various projects and had my focus entirely on those. Among other things I have been working to finish the latest book in my Magnum Opus series. I have now completed the layout and can now begin production. This is number 36 in the series and is a translation of Robert Fludd's book On the Music of the Spheres which is a part of his great two volume work on the Macrocosm and Microcosm. The book was translated over the summer months by Paul Ferguson and during this we rediscovered some original musical compositions by Fludd. Paul and I decided to issue versions of these on a CD-Rom with the book. For those who do not know the Fludd book it is the section of his Macrocosm and Microcosm with the now famous monochord engraving. I am so pleased to have been able to publish this work. Back in 1980 I remember looking at this piece and truly wanted to publish this in English. I had such limited resources and there was no way at that time that I could do this. I still have limited resources, but with the assistance of people such as Paul Ferguson wonders can be achieved. I have had to wait nearly thirty years to make this happen.
The book together with the CD-Rom is now available to purchase from www.alchemywebsite.com/bookshop/mohs36.html
18 December 2008
Following on from yesterdays entry I found this double-beaked pelican flask surviving from the 17th or 18th century. This is in the Jagiellonian University Museum, in Cracow, Poland. The entry on their web site says that is probably the only extant example of such a form of vessel in the world. These pelican flasks with their narrow re-entrant arms must have been easily cracked. This one, in distinction to most of the illustrations in books and manuscripts, has an opening at the top through which the substances could be added. In most of the woodcuts and engravings, there seems no provision for adding the substance. Perhaps pelican flasks were made for a single use and the substance added through a hole in the side before this was closed with one of the re-entrant tubes or arms, and at the end of the work, they would be broken to remove the substance. This would also explain the fact that so few have survived over the centuries. Otherwise, we might see the little nipple-like form on the top of pelican illustrations might be intended to indicate a stopper in a hole for filling the flask. It is not entirely clear, like much in alchemy.
17 December 2008
An american sculptor from the Seattle area has been in touch with me a few days ago. He sent me some photos of alchemical vessels he had made based on an image in Hieronymus Braunschweig's Book of Distillation (1500) which he saw on my website. This is a vessel tied to a weight so that it would always stand upright when placed in a waterbath. Waterbaths were often used in order to distil subtle oils and perfumes from plant material which would have become chemically altered if heated at too high a temperature. Early alchemical apparatus was not always made from glass, as this was vulnerable to heatshock and the consequent cracking. It appears that many flasks were made from some kind of ceramic material, and even glazed inside to seal in the pores of the clay.
16 December 2008
For a bit of alchemical amusement, one cannot do better than looking at the work of the artist Suzanne Treister. In the last two years she has produced a number of alchemical diagrams, drawings taking the form of well known alchemical emblems, works of Fludd, Kircher, Schweighardt, Freher, and so on. These she constructs with text from the front pages of newpapers, mostly from the UK, but some American, French, German and other international sources. She takes the text from a particular issue, and works it into the form of the alchemical emblem. Thus here is a wonderful reworking of a Freher diagram from the works of Boehme, using text from the Jüdischer Allgemeine, 10th April 2008, and another using the structure of a Theophilus Schweighardt emblem and the text from The Guardian, 20th September 2008. She was born in Britain but now lives and works in Australia. Her irreverence I found quite refreshing.
You can see more of her work on ensemble.va.com.au/Treister/ALCHEMY/ALCHEMY.html
15 December 2008
A few days ago I saw a television documentary on the Medici family and their art collections. During a section on the Studiolo, a small painting-encrusted barrel-vaulted room in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, commissioned by Francesco I de' Medici, the presenter pointed to a well known alchemical painting by Jan van der Straet, which shows an alchemical laboratory within which a distillation is taking place. Of course, I know this painting well, but I was surprised to hear the presenter say that one of the figures in the painting is a portrait of Francesco de Medici. Apparently, he is the figure on the right gazing towards the apparatus in the foreground. Whether this it correct or not I am unable to say without further research. I am afraid I tend to feel unable to put full trust in the research presented in television documentaries. Perhaps some art historian has looked at this matter and compared the image with accepted portraits of Francesco de Medici.
10 December 2008
I have been rather busy recently. Much of the earlier part of this week has been devoted to creating the penultimate audio-visual presentation for my Exploring Emblems series. This image was especially complex and had over fifty components to assemble into the final narrative structure. Once I had completed it I found it ran for over 14 minutes. Sadly, only a few people seem interested in my new approach. Maybe they will catch up with me in a few years time when I have then moved on to something else. Sometimes I do feel like giving up on trying to present the truth about alchemy to people, when most people seem to prefer to follow the nonsense put out by various writers and groups purporting to teach alchemy - writers who have little understanding and knowledge of the subject, and who certainly have never spent time in libraries looking at the original material, but instead merely rehash and rework the writings of 20th century popular writers. I find now that I am often tempted to give up my work with alchemy and instead devote the remaining years of my life to painting.
5 December 2008
My colleague Paul Ferguson has uncovered a manuscript of Edward Kelly's Theatrum astronomiae terrestris dated to 1594, within the last years of Kelly's life. This was printed in 1676 but I had assumed that there was no earlier source than this book. It just goes to show that, in the alchemical tradition, little has indeed been lost, and that there are still many interesting discoveries to be made.
By contrast, how tedious it is to read the churned out drivel that appears in much of modern "esoteric" writings on alchemy. These are so lacking in any solid scholarship. These writers think that research means reading though a few books published in the 1980s and 90s, and rehashing those ill-conceived accounts of alchemy.
It is only by looking at the original material that one will get any grasp at all of what alchemy is about. Primary research into the source material of alchemy still turns up amazing finds.
30 November 2008
This weekend I had some new bookshelving installed. This will help me get all the books temporarly piled up on the floor onto shelves which will make them so much more accessible. I also had another set of shelves installed in my store room as I have so much material, images, research notes, correspondence and other such stuff that I am reluctant to throw away. When looking through this muddled mass of papers for something, I often find in this unsorted material other items of import and interest to me. It is, I suppose, a kind of archive of all the work that I have done over the last 30 years and I don't feel able to just throw it away. Unfortunately, this material has just been stacked up in amorphorous piles, but now I can hopefully get it into a more structured form.
26 November 2008
Last night and for most of the first part of today I have been creating a new coloured version of one of the alchemical emblems from the late 18th century Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. I stripped out almost all of the text to reveal the emblematic core and coloured it, following a copy of the original printed book which had this emblem coloured. The colouring in the original is rather poorly executed, lacking subtlety and, as the pigments have faded, I have restored this and hopefully remained sensitive to the original. I was hoping to have been able to create a study course on this work in the style of the presentations in my new study course in audio visual format Exploring Alchemical Emblems, but as there has been such a poor response to that course, I will sadly have to abandon that idea. I will, however, include this item as one of the final lessons in the Exploring Alchemical Emblems course.
24 November 2008
This afternoon I decided to update the thumbnail images on my galleries of alchemical emblems. The earliest of these had file dates back in the mid 1990s. I remember that in those days the scanner (top of the range) had to do three passes when scanning an image. These early scans were also rather contrasty and oversaturated and did not adequately represent the originals, so I created a new set of thumbnails for the earliest of the emblems (up to about 150). I also tried to normalise the heights (though the broader images could not be set to the standard height). They look much better now !
24 November 2008
I added a few new coloured emblems to my growing series. I was particularly pleased to be able to colour the engraving from Benedictus Figulus, Thesaurinella olympica. I have been trying to get a good quality copy to colour for a few years. Still, if one is persistent and patient one does eventually find what one wants. I have quite a backlog of images to colour, particularly items from emblem books and 16th century woodcuts which influenced alchemical illustration.
21 November 2008
I have been spending a great deal of time recently on the final presentations in my new study course in audio visual format Exploring Alchemical Emblems. Creating these lessons requires research and writing the text, but that is just the beginning as the images have to be scanned at the highest possible resolution, then edited and corrected for the video format. Then the commentary has to be recorded in short sections and all these individual components assembled into a coherent structure. I am, as usual, rather ahead of people, and there has been a poor take up of the course. Perhaps when I eventually put the material onto a CD-Rom there will be rather more customers for it. Creating this course has absorbed many hundreds of hours of work, and I seem to have earned merely one pound an hour from doing this. It is rather dispiriting. I perhaps should have worked instead on publishing a new book or making some paintings. I have paid dearly for the mistake of thinking that people might be interested in seeing the way I work with alchemical emblems. I had thought this audio-visual method would be a good vehicle for showing and explaining complex visual material, and had provisionally planned other projects. These will now have to be shelved as it seems few are interested.
21 November 2008
Today I received notice of a interesting video from from someone demonstrating the old method for extracting metallic antimony from its ore at 800 degrees centigrade. The video was taken using only the light from the furnace and the red hot crucible, which makes it very dramatic and evocative. It is currently on Google video, You can see it by clicking on the image opposite.
11 November 2008
In repackaging the Hermetic Journal for the DVD format, I was musing on the period in which I created that magazine. In those days, I was much influenced by the esoteric and Jungian approach. I remember in the late 60s and early 70s having the view that the speculative and esoteric approaches were much more free than what I, and others, saw as the academic reductionism of that period. Many of us then felt that the scholarly approach was blinkered and essentially designed to strip everything away from the subject of alchemy, and reduce it to a backwater of history. In recent years, this whole picture has become entirely reversed. The speculative, esoteric, Jungian approach is now the status quo, the established one in most people's minds. Now I find myself having to fight against the narrow mindedness of these established esoteric views. Today we find many people wishing to reduce alchemy to some one dimensional viewpoint, as they seek to project some simplistic interpretation (usually derived from some 20th century speculative ideas) onto alchemy. Thus people want to reduce the delightful complexity of alchemy to some set of principles - they want us, for example, to see alchemy as a kind of emanation of people's dreams, a coded message hidden in ecclesiastical and domestic architecture, a secret tradition of illuminati and Freemasons, visions induced by taking hallucinogenic mushrooms, ergot or even cannabis, and so on. People today seem to have no inhibitions against imposing a narrow, restrictive view on alchemy.
Of course, such people have no real contact with the original writings of the alchemists. They have not spent hours in a library, trying to read a particularly difficult 16th century hand, or looking through the sequence of editions of key alchemical printed books. The scholarly approach is now delightfully diverse, some scholars taking a history of ideas approach, others relying on textual analysis, others looking at historical context, some deciding merely to research and uncover material, while other scholars look at how a manuscript was written, its target audience and its intention. It is now the scholarly approach that is diverse and vibrant, while the speculative esotericists are bankrupt of ideas and merely recycling outdated and superceded perspectives. The scholarly approach with its focus on deep research into the source material is constantly being refreshed by new discoveries in manuscripts and printed material, in contrast to the empty recyling of tired old ideas from the twentieth century speculative writers, who want to reduce the diversity of alchemy to their one dimensional perspective.
10 November 2008
I have decided to issue the Hermetic Journal back issues in a new format. Originally I wrote a program which gave access to scans of the pages. I wrote this back in 1996 and it has remarkably remained compatible with all the new versions of Windows. However, as it seems that there can be problems for some Vista users, I have now converted all the files and put them into a large Adobe Acrobat pdf file. This also makes this compatible with the wide range of Macintosh computers. The file is 1.6 gigabytes in size and as I cannot get this onto a CD-Rom, I will have to issue this on DVD. It is unclear as to how many people do not have DVD drives, so I will probably have to keep selling the older version for a year or so. I have set this up on the website page www.alchemywebsite.com/bookshop/hj_cdrom.html
7 November 2008
Recently, a number of users of the web site have made it obvious to me that my collection of links are useless as most of these pages no longer exist and one gets a broken link error. This shows that the alchemy web site is outliving many other sites. I had thought I might update these, but as it would take so much time, I have instead decided to remove the link to that series of pages from the main navigation sidebar, so that users do not find their way to these pages. I will actually keep the original pages on the site until I find the time to update them. This should be a medium term solution.
Yesterday, I spent a lot of time on trying to speed up my computer, which is often going very slow. I tried all the usual tricks one is supposed to do, cleaning the registry, deleting unnecessary files, uninstalling all those small utilties that one downloaded to try out and then forgot about, and so on, but it made little difference. I expect the only realistic solution would be to buy a new faster computer system, however, as I had a terrible problem with incompatiblities when I installed Vista last year, and had quickly to uninstall it and go back to XP, I am a trifle reluctant to buy a new system as these are now all supplied with Vista. I have a number of older programs in which I have a mass of data installed and I would not wish to lose it. I may have to go for a two computer solution, but this takes up so much desk space. There is also the problem of keeping the two computers synchronised. On a network one can sometimes lose track of which is the more up to date version of a file, and sadly lose one edits by overwriting a newer version with the older.
6 November 2008
There seems to be a sudden rush of interest in alchemical music recently. Yesterday I received some copies of an audio CD of the recording of the Fifty Fugues of Atalanta Fugiens which has just been issued. This is a remastered version of the recording which Joscelyn Godwin arranged back in 1986, and which I provided on cassette tape with the edition Joscelyn edited for my Magnum Opus series. It is good that it is now available again. It is issued by Claudio Records here in the UK. You can see details and buy a copy here.
A day or so ago, a correspondent contacted me to tell of a project he had begun, to inspire some musicians to arrange settings of the famous Alchemical Mass by the late 16th century alchemical writer Melchior Cibinensis. A few years ago the avant-garde jazz musician Jeff Kaiser, who is very influenced by alchemy, produced his working of the alchemical mass, together with a suite entitled Solution. You can hear samples of some of the tracks here. The Introitus is in abrasive avant Jazz style which not everyone will find easy, but the Kyrie is more conventional.
29 October 2008
I had a number of orders for books over the weekend so I had to dedicate almost of the last two days to bookbinding chores. This was a little frustrating, as I have also received recently a number of items, articles and books, which I would really like to be able to read, if not in depth, at least skim through. I had some rather positive correspondence with two Italian editors of works by a late 17th century alchemical writer Federico Gualdi, whose emblematic alchemical sequence I only just discovered recently. During the exchange of emails, I discovered an edition of a late 18th Century work for which I have been looking for many years, the Telescope of Zoroaster, now issued in a French edition available through Amazon.fr Telescope de Zoroastre. It is not an alchemical work as such, but presents a divinatory system. My main interest in it are the rather unique emblematic devices. I have bought a copy and should have it in hand in a few weeks. There are so many interesting items still to uncover. I wish sometimes that people would share my enthusiasm for this material. Instead most people seem to prefer to read the inconsequential and vapid theories of modern writers - whom I would describe as esoteric entertainers. The actual source material is so much more interesting than the waffle and imaginary garbage of modern authors - but few seem to get this !
27 October 2008
This weekend I worked again on the pieces of music by written by Robert Fludd back in the early 1600s. During last week I managed to obtain a better recorder patch for my synthesiser. One of the problems with the synthesiser is that for some sounds this only seems to imitate the instrument within a tight range. The original recorder voice I had sounded very bell like in the upper notes, but the new patch sounded much better, so this weekend I created versions of Fludd's pieces with recorder + recorder + string bass (actually a violin). Of course, it is folly to try to create an "authentic" performance using a synthesiser, but I thought I would like to try this using a virtual recorder voice. Hopefully, I should be able to record a performance by a real recorder consort some time next year, but for now these synthesiser versions will have to do. Here is a short piece by Fludd entitled A Toy. This, of course, is the first recorded performance of this piece for over 400 years. I wonder if Fludd ever thought that his music would be available four centuries after he had written it ?
24 October 2008
In my weblog entry of a month ago I mentioned a manuscript with a series of alchemical illustrations which was new to me. It is not often I come across an unknown alchemical sequence. This was in an 18th and 19th century source but I have now found an earlier version. This appears to have much better quality illustrations so I will try and get the library to make me some colour prints or scans of these illustrations. There are always interesting things still to uncover. Why on earth do people waste their time speculating and theorising about alchemy when the real excitement lies in discovering and researching items like this ?
23 October 2008
This week I have been trying to work on some of my audio visual lessons for the Exploring Alchemical Emblems project. Unfortunately, builders have been working on the apartment below mine and the occasional hammering and drilling stopped me being able to work on the spoken commentary. Today, however, there was a little bit of peace as the builders did not seem to have turned up, so I was able to complete one of the presentations at least. Maybe I will get another quiet day tomorrow.
22 October 2008
The Alchemy Discussion Forum I set up earlier this year has proven very successful. This is due to my only allowing bona fide scholars to register on the system. Thus we have a small group of people interested in looking at aspects of alchemical research in a scholarly way, which has resulted in some very interesting discussions and exchange of information. This is not proceeding in a vacuum, however, as the forum is open to the wider alchemical community to read. It is proving to be a useful tool for furthering scholarly alchemical research. Here are the recent statistics from the alchemy discussion forum.
20 October 2008
I spent most of the weekend having a little holiday from books, manuscripts, and emblems, but not entirely from alchemy. I decided to program the Robert Fludd music on my synthesiser. This required quite a bit of experimenting with the different sounds and effects till I could create versions which seemed listenable. Fludd's music, to my ear at least, seems really interesting and competant and stands beside many other pieces composed during the early decades of the 17th century. For my synthesiser versions I used bowed bass with strings for the lower treble and often a horn for the lead. I also programed in some ambience and thickened the sound using some resonance. They need a little bit more work but, for me, they enable us to hear Fludd's music again, perhaps not as he intended but hopefully with some sensitivity to the integrity of the pieces. Here is an MP3 version of Fludd's piece A Dreame.
16 October 2008
Yesterday a correspondent of mine told me about the collection of the papers of M.A. Atwood, the writer of the key work on alchemy in the mid 19th century A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery. This consists of 700 items of her letters and notes and would be invaluable for anyone researching for a biography. I think such a study would be timely. Perhaps someone looking for a subject for their Ph.D. might care to look at this as a possible project. The papers are in the John Hay Library in Brown University in Rhode Island. Among the items are autograph letters letters to Mme. de Steiger; drafts of manuscripts by Mrs. Atwood concerning alchemy, heraldry, metaphysics, mythology, neo-Platonism, ontology, theosophy, typewritten notes by the previous owner of her papers. The letters contain explanation and discussion of Mrs. Atwood's views as a theosophist, with repeated condemnation of "Modern occultism" and of modern science. Frequent references to Mrs. Besant, H. P. Blavatsky , A. P. Sinnett, Max Mueller, and to the periodicals Light, Theosophical Review, Lucifer, Broad Views.
15 October 2008
I have decided on a new strategy in order to deal with questions from anonymous individuals. What I propose is that:-
15 October 2008
Recently one of my correspondents gently took me to task, making the point that the wacky theories that seem so absurd to me are the brain-children and cherished ideas of the questioner and that this kind of questioner perhaps deserved some compassion. To this I could only reply that it is also compassionate to reveal to someone that they are basing their view on a falsehood, otherwise they are believing in a fantasy. This led me to recall a recent communication I had from an anonymous correspondent who wrote to me asking why I did not believe in the "phonetic cabala". I had replied :
It is not a matter of belief. If one studies the writings of the original alchemists you do not find such a phonetic cabala. This is entirely invented by the person who wrote under the name of Fulcanelli in the 1930's.A simple question and a seemingly innocuous reply. But to this I received the rant:
To the Comic Book Collector,This sort of thing makes it difficult for me to answer correspondents, as here I gave a simple straightforward and in no way aggressive or disparaging reply and I received in return a torrent of abuse. One never knows who one is dealing with behind an anonymous email address. Earlier on today, I spent nearly half an hour writing to someone who asked my advice about how he could embark on and make a career as a professional alchemical scholar. I tried to provide him with some contacts and practical advice. This was an example of a straightforward request for information and I don't expect any venomous rant in return. However, the earlier correspondent also asked me a straightforward seeming simple question. How am I to tell the difference between these two ? Either I ignore all such questioners, or I reply to them all, as there is no way of judging from their initial email as to their state of mind or attitude towards me. It is sometimes very frustrating working in a public way with alchemy.
13 October 2008
I am being rather bombarded at present with emails from people taking me to task on some point. I seem to be getting about two or three a week at present. This seems to arise from the fact that people often write to me essentially wanting me to endorse their particular take on alchemy. I suppose they see me as a knowledgeable person and having my endorsement will enable them to quote this when they write to others. The problem arises when somone has almost no understanding of alchemy except what they have read in some speculative popular book on the subject. From this they come up with some nonsense theory and want me to say that they are right in their approach. As I never know what they will do with my replies - they may well use my words for some purpose of their own, getting something published or whatever - I now feel I have to express my own viewpoint, rather than saying something seemingly non-committal such as "how interesting", "a fascinating theory", or whatever. Sadly when I do reject their theory, I often get an abusive reply. The abuse level now seems to be increasing considerably to the extent that I never want to have to meet such people face to face. I have now to restate that in no circumstances will I allow anyone unknown to me to visit me in my home. Anyone turning up will be politely but firmly turned away. I really should not have to put up with this abuse. Long years of email communication have developed in me a thick skin, and I can easily put such things aside, but I don't want my day ruined by a face to face encounter with some irrational individual.
I am also now getting many people wanting to join my Alchemy Discussion forum. This is for scholars only. I know I upset people when I reject their application to join. Please understand that it is open for anyone to read but only for scholars of alchemy to register and contribute postings. This is in order that orderly and sensible scholarly discussion can ensue, without the wild, free for all, nonsense often found on other alchemy forums. The discussion forum has been quite successful so far, with many informative postings. Merely stating that you are a scholar, does not make you one. I am not entirely stupid!
5 October 2008
I constantly receive a number of emails from enquirers in which they want some further information about some aspect of alchemy which they have read about, but which is a myth or misunderstanding. Alchemy being obscure and poorly served by the popular writers on the subject, people are being fed with discredited myths and stories about aspects of alchemy. It does get rather tedious for me to to write back and explain that they have a misunderstanding. It is also rather unrewarding for me, as these correspondents often totally refuse to accept my correction of the idea they have picked up, and often this ends in them expressing annoyance with me as they want me to endorse, rather than criticise, the view they have come to accept. Sadly, all my research and study of alchemy counts for nothing, as these individuals want to believe the myth, and don't respond well to me undermining this. So I have decided to set up a section on the website exploring these myths, in which I will try and clear them up in detail, then I can just point people to that particular page or section. Running the website does generate a large number of enquiries from people, most of whom are happy to have a reply from me, but I seem to be getting an increasing number from correspondents who want to take me to task, rather than listen to what I have to say. Perhaps this new section will help. I will begin setting it up over the next few weeks.
4 October 2008
One of the great problems I have is dealing with people who adopt an ahistorical view on alchemy. This arises often from their main source for reading being 20th and 21st century popular books on alchemy and related ideas, in which the authors mix together all sorts of traditions and sources that seem to have some superficial similarities. People who read such popular books are exposed to sloppy thinking and often become unable to think about history in a linear way. They take a Doctor Who or time tunneling attitude to history. Thus they find nothing wrong with quoting something written at a particular time, as a source for ideas hundreds of years earlier. Now, for some strange reason, I seem to live in a linear world, where what I have for my evening meal, does not seem to assuage my hunger earlier on in the day. Call me irresponsible, a pedant, someone with a blinkered view, but I prefer to put my centuries in ascending order. I recently had a extended email exchange with someone who was putting forward certain views on the origins of alchemy in Europe. One of the points he was trying to make to me was that alchemy in its early period might have been influenced by (among other things) the Hebrew Zohar from Spain. Now as the Zohar was written in the 13th century, and I know of no alchemical manuscript of that period which displays any knowledge of the Zohar or the influence of Zoharatic ideas, I wrote back to say that there was no influence of Kabbalah (Zoharatic or otherwise) on alchemy, as if there were one would see it in the manuscripts. I made the point that alchemy was of no interest to Kabbalah until many centuries later with the rise of Christian Kabbalah in the 16th and 17th centuries. Sadly, this individual was unable to read what I said, and instead turned my words against me, saying
"While I have no great desire to rock your boat of certitude, I feel it incumbent upon me to at least mention in passing that (in no particular order) Blasius Vigenerus (1523-96), Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (1636-89), Gerhard Dorn (1530-84), Marsillus Ficinus (1433-99), Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) and Dr. John Dee (1527-1608) are just some of the alchemists who are known to have been influenced by the Kabbalah/Zohar."He must think me a total fool that he thought he might point out my ignorance. I have been studying alchemy for so many years that my hair is now turning grey, and yet I had not realised this ! He must have thought I was entering my twilight years and early onset dementia was already eroding my memory, or was he merely patronising me? Had I entirely forgotten that I had published a translation of a book from the great volume of Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, or the first ever translation of a work of Dorn? The point I was clearly making was that these were Christian Kabbalists from the 16th and 17th centuries. This is not evidence, except to someone who has perhaps seen too many episodes of Quantum Leap, of the influence of Zoharatic ideas on 13th century alchemy. How can one deal with people whose ideas are all over the place ? A rhetorical question with no answer. I despair sometimes about the way in which people think nowadays.
3 October 2008
Is anyone reading this weblog ! Happily the answer seems to be YES. My counter shows a steadily increasing daily audience, which though a very small subset of the thousands accessing the alchemy website every day, nevertheless, I find that I currently have about 100 readers a day for the weblog, growing from the initial 20 or so readers at its inception a year ago.
2 October 2008
I have been rather busy recently undertaking some research and also with my art tarot activities, so have been unable to allocate much time in the last few days to the website. My new audio visual study course on exploring alchemical emblems has now reached its halfway point. The few people who have elected to take this course seem to find the material interesting and instructive. As always, I seem to be a bit ahead of people with such projects, and very few have signed up, probably because it seems a bit of a new format - it is not a book or a conventional text-driven study course - so they are not willing to take this course. In reality, it provides a clear way of looking in depth at alchemical emblems, and exploring the symbolism presented there. In these audio visual presentations, I do not impose an interpretation onto the emblems, instead I try and reveal what is found there, and in many cases base my commentary on the text associated with the emblem itself. Today I am putting the finishing touches to my presentation of an emblem from an 18th century French book. Happily the book itself provides an explanation of the symbolism so I am using this as the basis for my commentary. This study course on exploring alchemical emblems will no doubt in a few years time, once people have gotten used to my way of working, become more popular, but at the moment a small, elite group of less than 20 people, are benefitting from the many hundreds of hours I have put into this project. Most of my work is long term. I never expect a project to attract many people to start with. I have to invest so much time up front. It is a great pity that so few people seem to share my excitment and interest in alchemical symbolism - perhaps they will catch up with me in a few years time.
28 September 2008
Many alchemical notebooks contain details of idealised processes. The alchemist outlines the process and presents it to the reader as a fait accompli. There are very few actual descriptions of how such a process proceeded.
I have found two actual alchemical diaries, one in which the alchemist recorded the progress of one of his experimental processes and the other of an unidentified alchemical enthusiast who records his observations and conversations with various alchemists during the period 1687-89.
26 September 2008
I have made a small start to reorganising the texts section of my website. I decided to leave the original page as it is as people are used to this and not everyone likes to find a key index page changed, but I have installed a little toolbar at the top which leads one to pages with the items from the 16th century and earlier, the 17th century and the 18th century and later. Now I can begin to add all the new material, which I have neglected adding to the texts page over the last year.
24 September 2008
There are so many alchemical manuscripts yet to discover and research. While I was at the recent alchemy conference in Spain, my attention was drawn to a series of alchemical emblems of which I had not before been aware. This is described in a German book which includes some black and white illutrations of the series together with an extract of the text. I am not sure of the present location of the manuscript which was, in the 1930's, in the Archive of the Grand Lodge of the Freemasons in Berlin, but may well have been lost or moved during the Nazi period. The manuscript itself is from the 18th century Golden and Rosy Cross period of the integration of alchemy and Freemasonry and is a work by Frederico Gualdo on the Hermetic Philosophy. The work seems entirely alchemical with no masonic content. I hope to be able to research it further over the coming months. Here are four of the thirteen illustrations known to me.
23 September 2008
Last night I decided I would add a section on Questions from my Inbox. I receive many questions by email. Often these are requests for simple facts or some explanation of some point, even for help finding things on my website ! Sometimes they are from people who have just discovered the subject and want more information or even to ventilate their initial opinions about alchemy. I also get emails asking me to try and identify some image that the sender believes is alchemical in origin. Many of these questions and my answers are only of importance to the sender, but occasionally someone asks a question that perhaps states a point that perhaps has some wider interest to other readers of the alchemy website. So I have decided to occasionally place these interesting questions onto this page. I will, of course, remove details of the sender, as I only wish to share the contents of the email and my replies.
22 September 2008
Today while searching through Google for the words "alchemy texts" I discovered a site new to me www.alchemytexts.com. I thought I would find yet another site that had lifted all the alchemy texts from the alchemy website and repackaged these. However, I received a surprise when I logged on - for this was a site specialising in adult cartoons ! Not an alchemy text in view. I have no concept as to why should they use this title.
21 September 2008
I spent some time this weekend painting part of a series on the Hand of the Philosophers and also took the opportunity to complete a couple of emblems I had been working on. It took such a long time to set up the web pages for these emblems as I had somehow gotten the file names into a bit of a muddle. Later today I will check this over again to make sure everything is okay and post them up. Yesterday I had some new ideas as how to structure the website. I thought it might be a neat idea to provide users with different sections which would highlight their especial interests.
19 September 2008
My next main task with the website is to bring some order into the section of alchemical texts. I have added so much material that it is almost impossible for people to find items when they are all listed on the same page. The present texts page has not even been updated to include all the texts on the site. My initial thought is to create a series of linked pages dealing with different groupings of texts. It will take some time to sort out this problem. Hopefully I will allocate some time in the coming week to this task. I am determined to make the alchemy web site easier to access. It might also be a good idea to create a searchable index for the alchemy texts, so that one can search for a word or phrase, such as "antimony" or the "green lion" across all the texts on the site. This will require some radical reorganisation as to create an actual search all these texts have to be moved into a new sub-directory and this would mean that links on external sites to these texts would be lost. I may have to create two copies of each text one in the original place and one in a directory in order to preserve the links from external sites. Organising a website can be a complex task !
19 September 2008
Every few days I seem to get an email from someone who appears to have recently discovered alchemy and wants me to tell them how they should proceed. Usually I write back a short reply, saying something like "read the original alchemical texts" and "I am sorry but I don't have time to give personal instruction". This is perhaps a bit abrupt and unhelpful, so yesterday I decided to write a few pages for the website for beginners. Then in future, I can point enquirers to this section. It is short but tries to engage with the main problems that someone new to the subject will face. I will probably, in time, develop this section for beginners further, but for now it is just a series of four pages.
18 September 2008
Last night I converted my descriptive listing of early printed books on alchemy published in English into an online searchable database. This adds to and complements the other bibliographic databases I set up earlier this week.
Last week I attended the interational Chymia 2008 conference on alchemy, which was held in Spain at the conference Centre attached to the El Escorial Palace. I rarely travel to conferences but I could not miss this one as so many of the major scholars of alchemy were presenting papers. There were people from many countries, Japan, Taiwan, Poland, Czech Republic, Portugal, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, among others, as well and many from Spain, the USA and the UK. The Conference was organised primarily by Miguel López with some support from the Chemical Heritage Foundation. The organisers could not have been more welcoming and provided an excellent environment for the conference. It was held in a building with a central courtyard and many of us spent long hours socialising and discussing various points about the papers, and exchanging information about source material. One of the contributors, María Tausiet, took a group photo on the final day, with many of the attendees posed around the central fountain. I came away from the conference with lots of new information on source material, contacts and ideas for re-envigorating my work. Certainly, it made me realise, that it was important that I further develop my alchemy web site. I have been neglecting the site over the past year, due to my having to spend so much time on other projects. Being at the conference made me decide to allocate the time to work on my website. This photograph contains most of the major scholars seriously working on alchemy in the present age. There were a variety of different viewpoints and perspectives represented in this group, but alchemical scholarship, being so diverse and multifaceted, was pursued in a totally respectful and positive atmosphere. Arising out of the Conference was the establishing of a new Spanish Society for the History of Alchemy.
17 September 2008
I have made up a small audiovisual presentation of two of the images from the Atalanta fugiens, which can be played on a Windows computer. This has my coloured version of the emblems and my versions of Michael Maier's 'fugues' on synthesiser. The file is quite large (4.5 megabytes) so a full version with the 50 emblems and music would be far too long to place on the website.
17 September 2008
Another day working with the searchable databases. Having done all the difficult computer coding yesterday, I was able to create the online database for the alchemical manuscripts realtively quickly as I only had to adapt the code. This is now set up online. I also decided to make some adjustments to the onl;ine database of books. In my database I have a field with descriptions of illustrations in the book. Initially I included it in the online files but this was giving many hits that people might not wish to see. So I have now divided this into two separate searchable databases - one without the descriptions, and the other only including books with illustrations. This seems to me to be a better setup. All three databases can be searched through my
16 September 2008
When I was at the alchemical conference in Spain last week, I became aware of the fact that among the features of my web site that were most accessed by scholars were the databases of manuscripts and printed books that I had developed in the mid 1990's. I felt rather bad that I had not continued to develop these further and made a promise to myself that I would make this information easier to access and also gradually add more material and build these databases further. The first task I set myself was to create a search facility for the database of alchemical printed books. This proved quite difficult. One can set up what is termed a SQL database which can be indexed by a program run on the web server. This was problematic as the costs were quite substantial (around 40 UK pounds a month for each database) on my web host. It also meant that the data did not exist as actual HTML files on the web site, but the finds for each search were built dynamically by this program. I spent some hours hunting around and managed to find a piece of software that could create search indexes accessed through an asp code. It was also relatively inexpensive at 65 UK pounds. This meant that each page describing a book could remain as a text on the site and potentially be indexed by Google - a perfect solution. So I next had to write some code in my database of alchemical books which could export the data as a series of formatted HTML files. Once I had this set up online, I could get the Zoom software to index this and create a quick and easy find. Needless to say the whole process took many hours and it is still not complete. Getting the data correctly formatted is quite a struggle. There are 4640 books in my database, so 4640 web pages in the BOOKS folder. It takes a long time to upload these and I had to do this ten or more times in order to correct formatting errors in the code. It is amazing how slow Windows is in dealing with folders containing 4600 files, the computer ground to a halt for minutes while it went through the process of accessing the files during the process of developing the database. After twelve hours I have the search index working but it needs a lot more polishing to get the search program fully integrated with the data. Online it is nice and fast and does Boolean searches which makes it really neat at focussing in on the finds. Anyway, for those who have any interest in this, you can access the search through
Now I have to move on to the equally demanding task of creating a similar search engine for my alchemical manuscripts database.
13 September 2008
I have been away all week at the Chymia 2008 conference in Spain. I got back to a mass of emails, letters and book and CD-Rom orders which I have now to answer and deal with. Thus I have not been able to keep up the weblog over this past week.
3 September 2008
Today was a total washout as I tried to recover from a computer disaster. My archives on my computer have now grown so much, due mostly to the need for me to store thousands of 600 dpi images of emblems, paintings and pages scanned from manuscripts, that earlier this year, I had entirely outgrown a 200 gigabyte hard disc, and my work was consequently spread over two discs. Earlier this year I added a 500 gigabyte disc so I could have a backup for all my work, but because this was located on the only available disc slot behind the CD-Rom, this compromised access speeds and my computer really began noticeably to slow. Thus I decided to buy a RAID card and another 500 gigabyte disc and run these as a single mirrored system, thus creating two copies of each file automatically. Well, these things are supposed to work, and clever people write the software to run these system, but they sometimes get things wrong. So the installation of the hardware yesterday went well enough, and I set up the RAID system and instructed it to copy all the data on the existing disc to the new one. It seemed to be working but was taking so long that I left it running overnight. I woke up in the morning to two blank discs! The stupid software had reformatted my original data disc. Not everything was backed up as I could not squeeze eveything onto the 200 gig disc and my external hard drive unit won't work with large format drives! I got a utility to unformat the drive. This took six long, long boring hours during which time I could not use the computer and at the end of this seemingly interminable process I was dismayed to find that it had recovered the files but renamed them all as FILE0029145.jpg or whatever, absolutely useless. Thus it had lost the directory structure and filenames. After a bit of frustrated ploughing through the online manual, I found a feature that could help restore the structure, so another few hours of the program churning away before I found whether it was successful. It found and restored about 80 percent of the data in its original form and what was irrecoverable luckily had been backed up onto existing hard discs. Needless to say I abandoned the idea of the RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Discs) and settled for setting my discs up as conventional hard discs and will have to manually backup every few days. My computer now contains nearly 1.5 terabytes of storage. I am old enough that the first computer I had with a hard disc, a Lisa (precursor to the Macintosh), had a 5 megabyte hard disc! I now have 300,000 times that storage space (if my calculations are correct). The day ended with my resolving the problem, but with very little work done. I was cheered up when I found that an artist sent me a banner he designed for my web site and I have added this to the top of the pages.
25 August 2008
Today I felt extremely tired and realised I could not work on anything creative. Rather foolishly I thought I would revamp my alchemy web bookshop to make it easier for people to locate the various prints I have for sale there. I always underestimate the time and concentration required to program web pages, so this proved to be a considerable task and I found I had taken up six hours in doing this. Once I started I realised that many of my images for the CD-Roms were totally out of date, so I had to rescan these and add them in. I think the CD-Rom section is now much clearer and easier for visitors to grasp. Hopefully I won't have to do this for a while. I do hope I can sell a few of the Art Prints. I know these are expensive, but they are really very fine and totally unique. I recently added a few more prints to this section
25 August 2008
While answering a question posed by an email correspondent today, I found this reading in Latin of the text of the Tabula Smaragdina (the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus) on Youtube recited by Denis Y. Boulet
and for a bit of fun he even sang this in the style of a church chant!
21 August 2008
When, back in 1970, I first began to seriously investigate alchemy, I realised that I would have to base this on studying the original texts. Luckily I had access to most of these through the Ferguson and Young collections in Glasgow. At that time I was, however, still very much under the influence of the Jungian and esoteric approaches and this coloured my way of looking at alchemical imagery and reading alchemical texts. As I grew away from these narrow perspectives, I began to see instead what the alchemists themselves had written and pictured, rather then viewing this through a limited filter. It does depress me somewhat that few have followed this approach, but instead people still read alchemical works through the filter of their own preconceptions. They read a work to find in it confirmation of their own ideas, and usually miss what the alchemist was trying to communicate. I get many emails from people who have some weird idea that they feel can be confirmed by alchemy. They write to me, essentially asking me to endorse their approach. One thing that alchemy has taught me is to think clearly, and to immediately recognise when someone is completely convinced by their own rhetoric. This does not apply only to alchemy, but to any discipline, cultural history, the analysis of artworks, and even to modern science. For example, I find the scientific establishment view that global warming is a result of human driven atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, riddled with such rhetorical science. In the last few years one sees constantly on television programmes, pictures of a glacier in Iceland which is melting and has retreated some kilometres from the sea. This is presented, in a rhetorical way, as incontroversial evidence for human driven global warming. Sadly, what these scientists fail to mention, is that as the glacier retreats, on the exposed ground one can see evidence of human occupation, the foundations of houses and farmsteads. Indeed, this area was extensively farmed in the 16th and 17th centuries but was abandoned in the 18th and 19th centuries as the glacier grew and overran the land surface. The melting and regrowth of this glacier seems more likely to be a long term cyclic event. What is totally wrong is for climate scientists to present this rhetorically as incontroversial evidence for their case, and to ignore its true context. They never mention the archeological evidence of earlier human occupation of this area. Through my study of alchemy, I am trying to get people to see it in its proper context, and to release themselves from the bond of rhetorical thinking, for if you look into alchemy to merely confirm some wacky new age or esoteric idea, you will miss out on seeing its true nature and what the alchemists were engaged with and attempting to communicate.
20 August 2008
Today I visited the Ferguson Collection here in Glasgow and among a number of things I wanted to look at was Libavius' Commentariorum alchymiae of 1606. I managed to clear up the little confusion about the diagrams. It turns out that both of these are in the book. They occur in a section devoted to the Philosophers' Stone. I took a half hour or so to have a read through some of the text, and was surprised that his Latin was quite easy for me to read. Usually I get a bit lost in the clauses and complex sentences, but Libavius writes wery clearly, in short simple sentences.
I also took the opportunity of looking at the various editions of Paracelsus' Prognosticatio, printed from around 1536 when he was still alive. Most of the Paracelsus books were edited and printed after his death and consequently it is in some cases uncertain as to whether some of these were not perhaps written by the editors, so this is an early item in the Paracelsus corpus. I have been intending to publish this with my coloured versions of the woodcuts, however, today as soon as I saw the later edition with engravings, I immediately decided to use this instead. So I will have a few weeks of colouring to do.
The Libavius image of the Globe of the Philosophers' Stone printed out very well on my large format printer, so I am making this available as one of my art prints. Click here to view.
17 August 2008
This afternoon I finished colouring the Libavius engraving that I mentioned a few days ago. I have coloured it strictly according to Libavius' description in his Commentariorum alchymiae of 1606. I will include an analysis of it in my Exploring Alchemical Emblems study course, that I began a month ago. This has raised a puzzle for me as in 1999 I coloured a similar emblem which I thought was from the same book. Although superficially similar, there are some major departures in the symbolism. This is rather a mystery which I will now have to try and clear up. I will hopefully find time this coming week to go and see the original versions of Libavius' books which are in the Ferguson collection here in Glasgow, and try to find how these two images are related.
15 August 2008
Today I have been colouring a version of a well known image from an early 17th century work by Libavius. Some ten or more years ago I coloured the woodcut that was printed in the original book, but I have found that the description in Libavius' text was not followed by the artist/wood-engraver. Instead an engraved version from over 150 years later, in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert, much more closely follows Libavius' conception. So I managed to obtain a copy of this large engraving and have today begun colouring it following the indications given in Libavius' text.
15 August 2008
I am still getting bombarded with various email newsletters that someone went to the enormous bother of subscribing me to. It seems to be a puerile revenge for some minor thing I said on a discussion forum. Some people seem to be on a hair trigger and any rejection of their ideas results in a rush of fury. Sadly the choice of these newsletters/mailing lists that this person has subscribed me to, reveals something about that individual. They subscribed me to many newsletters on geriatrics, and older peoples' health issues, and a large number of gay newsletters. How sad it is is for someone to think to do this in order to get revenge. It reveals so clearly the sheer smallness of their mind. It would be rather amusing if it were without its inconveniences, and having to manually unsubscribe from a mass of such newsletters. Unfortunately people like myself who openly use my real name and use a public email address are at the mercy of people on the internet who hide behind pseudonyms and handles, so that they are never held responsible for what they say or do. Such people are merely cowards and bullies. Luckily I am a strong person and not hurt by such things, but I could imagine a more sensitive soul being upset to the point that they withdrew from using discussion groups and email communication.
8 August 2008
This evening I finally managed to understand and extract the descriptive material from the Steganographick preface to Beroalde de Verville's Tableau de Riches Inventions. This now enables me to fully grasp the intention behind the symbolism on the wonderful engraved frontispiece to this book.
8 August 2008
Someone has just today gone to the enormous bother of subscribing me to hundreds of mailing lists. Prima facie, this would seem to be a vindictive or vandalistic person trying to mess up my email. The rubbish people I have to deal with ! Luckily most of these lists seem to request that I reply in order to actively subscribe, so hopefully email returns from these subscriptions will be minimal. This sort of thing is so childish !
8 August 2008
This past week I have been continuing to work on my audio visual study course on exploring alchemical emblems. This seems to be going very well and I have included some very complex emblems which though difficult to explain in the conventional format of a written description, work well when forensically investigated using this particular way of working. The feedback from the users has been rather positive, so I am already thinking ahead to other courses I could implement in this new medium. Last week I received a rather large order for books, which was very gratifying, however, making up the books took up a great deal of my time. Usually I find I can do the bookbinding in the evenings and free up my days for more creative work but when I get a large order for books, I end up having to do this during the daytime as well. It can become quite exhausting. Producing books to order is becoming more and more difficult as I get older. In the longer term I will have to give up on the bookbinding. I have, after all, been doing this for 30 years. However, as no one else is publishing editions of this rare alchemical material, and I do feel impelled to make this material available. My life has been substantially given up to letting the work of the original alchemists speak again to us - I only wish it did not involve the burden of my doing all the bookbinding. Most other editors just sit at their computer and originate the material, then it is passed on to a publisher to issue and sell, whereas, I have to do all the work myself, layout, printing, bookbinding, making up the packets. It has allowed me the freedom to publish what I like, but it has been quite a struggle, and as I get older I become more and more aware that I will not be able to continue in this way indefinitely. Perhaps the best solution would be to find a financial partner who could help capitalise the printing of my small specialist editions, which would then free up more of my time for creative work.
30 July 2008
My new course exploring alchemical emblems through a series of audio visual presentations has been going for two weeks and has so far attracted eight users. It is probably a bit of a departure from my usual format, thus people are wary of it. Often I find myself getting a little way ahead of people but eventually they catch up and find what I am doing has some value and interest for them. A similar thing has happened with the book on the Solidonius manuscript. This has been available for two months and only attracted nine purchasers. It is, certainly, a rather obscure item, and though few people have seen its images or even heard of the work, it is an important alchemical sequence. Surely there must be somewhat more than nine people interested in this work. Last week was a rather expensive one for me, as my colour printer which has produced such excellent output for the last three years had a major components failure. I had to have this replaced at a cost of £450 ($900) and this coincided with the expiry of four colour print units which cost £150 ($300) each - so I suddenly had to spend nearly a thousand pounds just to keep this printer going. I suppose in a year or so I will have to think about replacing it. It was a very expensive printer but the quality is superb so I may try and get a few more years out of it.
17 July 2008
I have now created a number of presentations for my Exploring Alchemical Emblems course. It took a while to get familiar with the software, and to discover how to best use the medium, but after a bit of work on these I feel this to be a rather interesting way to explain detailed and complex alchemical illustrations. These are not deeply scholarly investigations but rather intended for those not especially familar with alchemical material and yet interested in finding out what lies hidden in the amazing alchemical emblems. The shortest presentation is about 5 minutes and the longest about 10. Because of the detailed graphics these are large files. For this course will be issuing one every week for the next six months. If people choose to study an emblem a week they will soon become quite familiar with the intricacies of alchemical sysmbolism.
13 July 2008
A few days ago I noticed that one of the copies of my Magnum Opus Three Tables of Man which I sold a few months ago for £125 ($250) has been auctioned on Ebay and sold for $300 (plus postage). Perhaps the seller was expecting a little bit more, but he at least made a modest profit within a few months of purchase. This book will no doubt increase in value over the years ahead, as it is in an edition of only 60 copies and I am holding back 10 copies from sale for my own collection. Thus there are 50 copies to sell, 40 have sold so far and I have another batch of 10 copies to produce and sell. I intend to do this later this year, but I may have to reconsider the way in which I will sell these if people are merely going to buy and resell quickly. I have about 20 people so far wanting the ten copies for sale, though it always happens that people put their name down for something then don't actually buy when it comes available. I may sell five to previous customers whom I know are primarily interested in collecting the material rather than being people investing in rare material like this, then offer the final five on an Ebay Auction and let the market decide the price. It is a difficult problem to sort out.
10 July 2008
I have made a start on my new project, which I am entitling Exploring alchemical emblems. This extends my well known Foundation Study Course on Alchemical Symbolism by my creating a series of audio-visual presentations in which I explore the symbolism in an emblem. Each lesson will consist of a five to ten minute presentation. These will be issued approximately every fortnight. Each file is quite large (5-13 megabytes) and so it will not be possible to send these by email attachments. I plan to set up password protected website from which people who have registered will be able to download the lessons. The course will last about a year, so we will have say 24 lessons amounting to three to four hours of audio-visual material. This will give the student an insight into the structure and meaning of many alchemical emblems found in manuscripts and printed books. I have today completed the first lesson and will work on more over the coming weeks. When I have five or six completed I will announce this on my mailing list and hopefully a few people might be interested in buying the course material. I find this a really interesting way of presenting information. It is like conducting a seminar, rather than writing a course book. I think people will be engaged by this new means I am developing for presenting information and it will help them appreciate and understand the significance of alchemical imagery.
3 July 2008
Recently I have taken on so many projects that my workplace is becoming totally chaotic and muddled. I just cannot seem to find the time to try and clear things up and tidy items away. Also I dont have space to store everything, so books and images pile up on any available horizonal surface. My library and study room is usually quite tidy but has now degenerated completely so it has become almost as bad a muddle as my workshop. I am hoping over the next month to get some more bookshelves to store away some of the debris!
Here are a few photos I took this afternoon of my library space.
My workshop, of course, is never tidy - but almost total chaos.
3 July 2008
I have decided to create a series of complex slide show presentations on the reading of alchemical emblems to follow up on my study courses. I have now obtained a really powerful software package which enables me to do pans and zooms. This will enable me to provide a commentary on a number of complex alchemical emblems as the software zooms and pans into the parts of the image being discussed. It will take some time to create a disc of such presentations, and I am not sure how I will find the time to do this as I have so many projects to work on at present, but it does excite me that I now have the software tools to be able to create such presentations and thus allow people to study alchemical emblems in greater detail.
1 July 2008
Over the last week I have had a number of emails from a correspondent which gradually came to rather depress me. He started off asking me some straightforward questions about my work, saying that he, metaphorically, sat in the same place as me, by which I understood that he shared and respected my approach. I quite happily answered his questions, but from his replies I quickly realised that he had some underlying agenda and belief driven approach to alchemy. Today he sent a rather hurtful and depressing email accusing me of being at it so long and merely going through the motions and saying that my motivation for my work is, so to speak, to pay the bills. People can be so cruel. Because I do not endorse his belief driven ideas he entirely misses the essence of my work. I made the point that I am one of the most active researchers into alchemy. Every day I discover new things. It is the continual discovery of new information about alchemy, through my focussing on the original source material, that drives and motivates me.
People want to sit in their chairs and theorise, imagine and invent all sorts of interpretations. I prefer to actually read the original material and try and find what the alchemist was trying to communicate. Thus I have little time for modern speculators and commentators. It is only through a direct study of the original works that one can penetrate through to a meaningful understanding of alchemy. That is the way I work. He sees this as me going through the motions. Sadly, he is missing the opportunity and delight of undertaking true research and totally misunderstands the focus of my work.
I have been receiving recently a number of these carping criticisms. Sadly it only shows to me that some people are determined not to see the point of my work. It seems weird to me that someone interested in alchemy, would turn away from looking at the original writings and instead base their perspective on some contrived and invented interpretation of a modern commentator. Indeed, it seems strange that someone supposedly interested in alchemy would prefer to make hurtful remarks to me, which can only result in my withdrawing from any serious dialogue. Obviously he does not value my work or see it as having any validity - for him I am, after all, merely going through the motions.
24 June 2008
In my entry for 9 Apr 2008 I recounted an email exchange with someone (possibly a younger person) who wrote to me to bring up some points about alchemy. He continues to send me images of paintings on which he has created a grid of lines, supposedly with some significance. However today he excelled himself by sending me a text file in which he has gathered together many quotations from alchemy texts to support his contention that the prima materia of alchemy is cannabis. It totally amused me and I had quite a few minutes of fun reading through it. He tends to look for any mention of such words as "gum", "green lion", "grass", "herb", "white vapour". I must say I totally cracked up when I saw his extract from Geber "Let it be sublimed in an high body and head…" Surely the term "high" did not mean "enthused by psychedelic substances" in the 16th and 17th centuries, I seem to recall that first being used in the 1960's, not the 1560's. Whoever said that alchemical research was not great fun ! Sadly, I am inclined to think that he believes his rhetoric. Perhaps a too frequent acquaintance with the prima materia is affecting him.
24 June 2008
Having received the microfilm of the manuscript containing music written by Robert Fludd, I was able yesterday to scan the images using a microfilm scanner. This is a terribly slow process as the scanners have to do 4800 lines per inch in order to create a sufficiently detailed image. It took about six hours. I then printed these out and will now send them to a colleague in England who has kindly offered to transcribe them into modern musical notation. The manuscript is in fact a series of partbooks. The music is in three parts, played by different instruments, so each player had his own book of parts to play. This, compounded by the fact that early 17th century music did not use bar lines and often assumes the player knows the rests or periods they don't play notes, could make it difficult to reconstruct the pieces, but I am sure it will be done successfully. There are eleven pieces by Robert Fludd in the manuscript. The four pieces already transcribed sound really interesting and are definitely not mere technical exercises. In fact, the bulk of the manuscript includes short pieces by well known English composers of the period, William Lawes, John Jenkins and other such figures, so Fludd's compositions are amongst distinguished company. The manuscript itself came from the Filmer family. During the relevant period of Robert Fludd's lifetime we find that Sir Edward Filmer (1566-1629) was the owner of Little Charlton, East Sutton and three other manors in Kent. Fludd, of course, came from Kent and would have known Sir Edward Filmer well.
This is a really interesting project for me, as once we have the transcriptions we will be able to record these pieces. It is very rewarding to be able to recover these lost musical pieces and let Robert Fludd's music be performed and listened to again.
19 June 2008
This morning I listened to an interesting discussion on the 'Music of the Spheres' on Radio 4 here in the UK. The discussion involved three British scholars - Peter Forshaw, Angela Voss and and Jim Bennett. The discussion did not touch on alchemy as such, but on many of the ideas that played into the alchemical tradition. You can hear this on the website
Click on the link "In our Time".
14 June 2008
I have rather neglected the large art prints I produce. I have not sold very many of these over the past year, but I feel I should now try and develop this further and try and encourage people to buy these. About a year ago I bought a large format giclee art printer at considerable cost. It took a while to discover the correct settings for the different papers one can use, but I managed to solve the problems within the first month or so and now produce consistently high quality output. As I was not selling many prints I rather forgot about this section of my website, but this weekend have made some progress and put up a lot more material. The prints I produce are on 24 by 16.5 inch (61 by 42 cms) 280 gram white matte paper and being pigment based will not fade as do many prints produced on dye based printers. A complete set of pigment tanks (there are twelve of these) costs over £500 ($1000). Some people have said that these prints are too expensive, but I cannot see how these could be produced at a lower price, unless these were done in large volumes. One cannot compare individually produced prints with mass market high volume items. My prices even include air mail post in a study large diameter tube, which costs me in total over £7.50 ($15) per item. These are unique items which cannot be purchased elsewhere. Unlike the books it seems unlikely that these will appreciate much in value, but as so very few are sold, they could become quite rare if I had for some reason to stop production. I have now added prints of alchemical sequences. This is a useful way of seeing at once all the images in a alchemical series. I have put up six of these series to start with. Should there be some interest I will create a further set of these. To see my art prints pages please click here. The site includes alchemical, astronomical/astrological, and general emblems, together with the new section of alchemy series.
6 June 2008
I am always moaning on about email, but things are really getting serious now. All the mail sent to my contacts on Comcast.com, one of the largest USA ISP's, is now being returned with a "server refused mail service". This has happened on six occasions over the last few days. This is really annoying as there is no way now for me to communicate with these contacts. When they write to me my email replies will be refused and returned. How can people allow their ISP's to arbitrarily block mail in this way ? These ISP's just cut their customers off from receiving genuine emails. If this junk mail paranoia goes on much further none of us will be able to be sure of communicating by email. These dumb and arbitrary junk mail filters are killing the Internet ! I am so fed up with this situation.
5 June 2008
I finally completed the Solidonius and bound up the first three copies. I have now written the next issue of my alchemy mailing list and sent this out to the subscribers. Last year I cleared out my mailing list which had grown to around two thousand, most of which were totally inactive and never responded to any communication. So early this year I set up a new mailing list which now has gathered over 300 members. However, this is still problematic with over 20 (8%) email addresses discontinued in only a few months. Email communication is getting more and more difficult. People seem to use a whole mass of different email addresses which they then abandon a few months later. I cannot see the point of doing that. Anyway, for what it is worth, I announced the publication of the Solidonius and also the Dorn Speculative Philosophy. I also brought to peoples' attention the fact that there are now only three copies left to sell of my Coloured version of the Rosary of the Philosophers. This edition of 100 copies has sold out quite quickly in about two years. The next few days I will spend doing bookbinding.
2 June 2008
Over the weekend I finalised the layout for my next volume in the Magnum Opus series. This is a translation and reproduction of facsimiles of the Solidonius manuscript. This was translated for me by Vincent Matley who earlier translated the Marinier manuscript. I love these obscure alchemical emblematic sequences of coloured emblems and intend to issue further such items in the Magnum Opus series. As this is a specialist item I have decided to issues this as a limited editon of 100 copies, of which 75 will be available for sale. I have begun producing copies and they are now available to buy.
30 May 2008
Yesterday while in the University library I took a look at a 17th century book which dealt with a strange and enigmatic inscription which had so intrigued people since its appearance in 1548 that they puzzled over it and tried to come up with some interpretation. A number of alchemical writers were drawn to it looking for some kind of alchemical allegory, possibly because of the reference to the hermaphrodite. The book I was looking at, written by Carlo Cesare, Marchese Malvasia [1616-1693] Aelia Laelia Crispis non nata resurgens... Bologna, 1683, documents the many interpretations that had been put forward. Chapter 1 lists the various authors who have brought forth explanatory interpretations, including Richard Vitis of Basinstoke, Ioannes Turris of Brouge, Nicolas Reusner, Franciscus Scottus of Antwerp, Athanasius Kircher, Nicolaus Barnaud, and so on. I counted 43 authors in all. There are a number of illustrations in the text, and the final chapters refer to and make parallels with classical seals and inscriptions.
Aelia Laelia Crispis,
Neither man nor woman, nor androgyne, nor maid, nor boy, nor crone, nor chaste, nor whore, nor virtuous, but all.
Carried away neither by hunger, nor by sword, nor by poison, but by all.
Neither in heaven, nor in earth, nor in water, but everywhere is her resting place.
Lucius Agatho Priscius,
Neither husband, nor lover, nor kinsman, neither mourning, nor rejoicing, nor weeping; raised up neither mound, nor pyramid, nor tomb, but all.
He knows and knows not what he raised up to whom.
This is a tomb that has no body in it.
This is a body that has no tomb round it.
But body and tomb are the same.
29 May 2008
Today I will make a visit to Glasgow University Library to take a last look at the copies of the Solidonius manuscript in the Ferguson Collection just to make sure that I have not missed anything. Then I should be able to finalise my Magnum Opus edition of this and move to publishing it next week. If I have time, when in the library, I will take a look at some emblematic material I have discovered. I always have a pile of items I want to research.
25 May 2008
Over the last few days I have made considerable progress with the Solidonius, both in finalising my facsimiles of the emblems and in writing a short introduction to the piece. It is almost unknown except to a few specialists, but is a significant alchemical sequence which was rediscovered in the 18th century. If nothing else gets in the way next week, I should be able to finalise the layout and move on the production. I first thought about publishing this back in the late 1980s. It is amazing how long it can take to bring all the material together to create one of my books. In this case, I needed to find a translator, good quality images and some research into the manuscripts. I managed to find in Vincent Matley, an excellent translator of French, whom I could easily work with. With the images, I could not find a source for high quality images so I decided late last year, that I would have to make my own facsimiles. About five years ago, by serendipity, I came across an early German version of this work, dating to 1541, and I have brought some of this into the introductory material, though the book itself is based entirely on the later 18th century French manuscripts. This will be number 35 in the Magnum Opus series.
22 May 2008
Today I noticed a copy of my Three Tables of Man book which I sold for £125 ($250) already being sold secondhand for $350 after just a few months!
21 May 2008
Today I made some further progress with the Robert Fludd music. This is developing into an interesting project though it will take many months to come to fruition. I have ordered a microfim of the original manuscript, then will have to have the music transcribed into modern notation. We already have, through the generosity of Todd Barton, access to his transcriptions of four of Fludd's pieces. I also made considerable progress with the Solidonius illustrations, tidying up some details, scanning in the images and making some further corrections in Paint Shop Pro. I now only have Emblem Four to complete. This is the most complex of all the emblems and there are a lot of details to clear up. In the original image from I am working, the flesh colours of the figures have had to be restored and the colours brightened considerably. Here is the original I am copying from and my copy as it stands at the moment. I hope it will only require three or four hours more work.
19 May 2008
I am just trying to finalise my travel arrangements to the Chymia 2008 conference on alchemy at El Escorial in Spain later this year. I rarely travel but this conference, which has nearly fifty speakers, will give me the opportunity to meet many scholars who I have only known through their books, articles or emails, so I reckoned I could not let it go by. The travelling arrangements are not especially easy for one such as me, who finds the whole process of travelling an enormous struggle, but I have, at least, been able to find a direct flight to Madrid from Scotland. I did hope to attend the conference in Philadelphia a few years ago but the travelling was a bit difficult and expensive to arrange, so I dropped out. There are few scholarly conferences on alchemy each decade, so I am pleased to be able to get to this one. I am sure it will be very informative and I will make some new contacts as well as renewing old friendships. The programme is a very full one exploring many topics in seven sessions: Alchemy and Patronage; Vernacular alchemy and Local Knowledge; Chymia and Matter; Collectors of secrets; Chymia and New Philosophy; Books and libraries; Mediaeval Alchemy.
18 May 2008
Today I had to send a reply to a correspondent writing to me from an Earthlink address. This email provider is notorious for its spam blocking, which requires anyone sending a mail to an Earthlink address to fill in a request, so that the recipient can okay your email. What a load of rubbish that is ! And they dare to call it Earthlink when it is actually getting in the way of linking people. I have been rather annoyed by this system for some years, but today I found that they had changed their authentication which involves reading a series of printed letters and numbers, to make it even more difficult to read. I had to try three times, as I could hardly make out the characters from the background, and misread these two times before getting it right the third time. People on Earthlink must think themselves smart not to have any spam in their inbox, but they do try the patience of busy people like myself. I will probably in future not bother to reply to Earthlink emails.
14 May 2008
I have begun again to work on my paintings for the Solidonius book. These probably need about four or five full days of work to complete. There are 18 paintings in all and I suppose I have spent more than ten hours on each image - so about two hundred hours in total.
13 May 2008
Tonight I had to make up another batch of copies of my Alchemy: Treasure house of symbolism book as I got another order for this today. I made up ten copies and this should keep me going for a while. This has been a rather successful publication. It was well worth doing the exhibition, though it was a great deal of work at the time. I still have quite a few of the covers left, but when these run out I will not be able to afford to reprint them. This book was kindly subsidised by one of my supporters who thus enabled me to print the high quality laminated covers, and to keep the price down. I hope one day to be able to mount another exhibition. I am continually gathering new material and recently have been exploring the illuminated manuscript tradition and emblematic panel paintings of the late 14th and 15th centuries, out of which alchemcial symbolism emerged. In a few years time I should have made a reasonable number of paintings of this material, so that could be used as the basis for an exhibition. I am also planning to have an exhibition of the various Splendor solis artworks I have collected.
13 May 2008
Last night I spent five hours uploading a full set of files into Levity.com/alchemy. I had to do this in batches as the large number of files rather swamped the system. FTP is so slow and can be a total pain as the server often times out halfway through a batch ! I have now restructured the files on Levity in order to reduce the load somewhat and shift this onto alchemywebsite.com. The alchemy web site gets so many hits every day that it can overwhelm the servers. The recent problems with Levity being offline are now completely resolved as Dan Levy has moved Levity onto a new server. I also took this opportunity to remove the animated graphic from the top left hand corner of each page as this does take too long to load for people without broadband connections and hope this will make the site less frustrating for these users to access. I continued uploading the files this morning, and I also will upload the alchemywebsite.com files which have also had to be rebuilt.
12 May 2008
Today I received a recording of an initial play through, by Franzeska and her friends, of Dr Flud's Dreame on three instruments, treble, tenor and bass recorders. It appear to me as amazingly competent music and has some rather interesting musical devices, with fine embellishings of the melodic line and some inventive harmonic tricks. At the end it adopts the unusual device of short pauses or silences which lead on to the final cadence. I look forward, in time, to hearing some further pieces from Robert Fludd's book of compositions. I do not know if this piece has been played in recent times. The musicologist and composer Todd Barton did research and transcribe some of Fludd's compositions back in the early 1980's, but I am not sure if he then managed to get a group of players to play through the pieces. The Dreame certainly sounds rather good played by a recorder consort.
12 May 2008
Readers of this weblog may have noticed recently my growing frustration with some of the people who write to me. I have always been open to discussing ideas and receiving information about alchemy, but over the past year there seems to be an increaing tide of difficult email correspondents.
There are people with weird idiosyncratic ideas about alchemy, some strange theory they have thought up or got from reading someone else. They then write to me, essentially wanting me to endorse their ill thought out ideas. When I write back, indicating the flaws in their theories, they get rather annoyed with me and then keep writing emails, taking me to task for being narrow-minded and even a repressor of their wonderful new insights. This is getting totally tedious, so I will now have to desist from responding to such emails. People should try to understand that I have been studying alchemy almost full time for over forty years. I have read my way through all sorts of interpretations of the subject, but now base my work with alchemy entirely on the source material and the established historical facts about the subject. I am always interested in engaging with people who have the same respect for historical facts and wish to share information about texts, images and source material. These are the kind of person I will always want to keep in touch with.
There also appears to be a growing number of people who seem determined to misunderstand my motives. They assign all sorts of motives to me on the basis even of a missing email. It has happened a few times that, when an email did not get delivered, people interpret this as me slighting them in some way. This is so childish. Email is no longer a reliable method for communication, with all the complex junk mail filters getting in the way. If people do not receive an email for me then they should not immediately jump to conclusions that I am ignoring them, or have some strange agenda or attitude to them.
My main motivation is to research and find out new facts about historical alchemy, source material (manuscripts, books and images) which have not been explored. I also try to publish and make such material available to others. I do work long hours, often not finishing up till midnight. I have limited financial resources and cannot easily do things for people that they might wish me to. I have no assistants or secretaries and must do all the work myself. I write all the HTML code for my websites as I cannot afford to pay to have someone manage the site. Setting up a page can take many hours. One correspondent recently said to me that I was making too much of my lack of resources and that I should be more positive. I don't know what can be more positive for a 60 year old to do than working till midnight most nights. I am the one publishing the books - who else has now issued well over fifty books on alchemy ! What is negative, surely, is for me to wake up reading a load of carping criticism and mean spirited remarks. Struggling against a continual drip of criticism is no fun.
Now I will go and make up some book orders and then work on the Solidonius paintings.
11 May 2008
On Friday I received transcriptions of two of the pieces of music composed by Robert Fludd. My friend Franzeska, who is a fine recorder player played these through for me and I was so surprised to find them to be excellent pieces of music. These were not mere exercises in harmony but very competant and interesting compositions. One of the pieces Dr Flud's Dreame written for three instruments (treble, tenor and bass) has some excellent and inventive interveaving of themes. It will sound rather good on three recorders. Hopefully, I will be able to persuade Franzeska and some of her friends to record the pieces and make them available for the first time in 400 years. Some days are really interesting and make up for all the critical and mistrustful correspondence I now seem to receive.
9 May 2008
This was a good news day. Amongst a number of good emails, I received notice from one of my colleagues that he has made considerable progress in translating a section of Robert Fludd's vast work on the Macrocosm and the Microcosm. This deals with music and is a wonderful exposition of early 17th century music theory. So if nothing goes wrong, we should be able to publish this later this year. I did warn people, some months ago, that this was going to be a great year for Magnum Opus publications. The old dog still has some fight left in his sore bones! Also today, a musicologist and composer has kindly offered to send me his transcriptions of music created by Robert Fludd. I am hoping that some friends of mine who perform early music might be encouraged to play these through and record them in order that I can issue these with the book. This should be quite an exciting publication. I am also beginning to work on the Solidonius alchemical manuscript, as the draft translation is now complete. This will be illustrated with facsimile oil paintings I made earlier this year. These have to be amended in light of the descriptions of the colouring in the text, so I hope to find time in the coming weeks to do that. The absence of a few days entries on here should not necessarily be taken to mean that I am taking time off to lie in the pale Scottish sun, drinking white wine, and snoozing intermittently.
4 May 2008
Last night I decided to rebuild the printing file for my edition of the Mutus Liber Coloured. This has been unavailable since I bought my new printer and I found the old file structure would not then print properly. I have put off doing this for some years, partly because I don't get that many requests for copies but also because it required some rescanning and much fiddling about to get the layout right. So I have made a start on that and will work on it for most of today. So I should be able to put copies up for sale next week.
3 May 2008
Sorry, it is a day for another of my moans. Yesterday I had an email from a university professor in America taking me to task for pricing my most recent book the Speculative Philosophy at $80 and suggesting that I make the text of this available more widely (with the implication that I put it on the website). I found this rather deflating and totally unrealistic. 80 dollars is hardly a high price for an academic book ! I recently had to pay $116 for Stanton Linden's Mystical Metal of Gold: Essays on Alchemy And Renaissance Culture produced by a subsidised University Press. My books are signed limited handbound editions and usually the second hand price exceeds the price at which I sell them. I don't have the luxury of a professor's salary let alone a regular secure income, and would go bankrupt quickly if I gave my work away for free. I have provided 150 megabytes of free information on my alchemy website, which actually cost me many thousands of hours of my time to prepare as well as the ongoing costs of hosting the web space and bandwidth. I don't think I should be expected to further give up my income. Of course if someone were to subsidise and fund my time I would be very willing to do this, but it is totally unrealistic to expect me to give my work away for free.
This recent email just demonstrated to me how someone can have no idea of, or sensitivity to, the difficulties I have to face up to in trying to survive from my work promoting alchemy. Because I do not have a high income, regrettably I have to live in the cheap side of town amongst the poorer communities of this city. Just a few days ago the apartment below mine was broken into. I have to live alongside such low level criminality as I cannot afford to reside in a reasonably secure part of town. These are the realities I have to face in my life and being told by someone on a university professor's salary that my books are too expensive is really rather hurtful.
2 May 2008
There are always things to discover about historical alchemy, but sometimes one is totally surprised. Today a colleague informed me of some pieces of music written by the well known alchemist Johann Daniel Mylius, famous for his Philosophia reformata, 1622 and Opus medico-chymicum, 1618. I had not known that he wrote music, but three of his pieces have been included on a recently issued CD Lute Music for Witches and Alchemists performed on the lute by Lutz Kirchhof. These are three dances, two courantes and a volte. I managed to download some mp3 samples and to my ears these sound very fine indeed. You can get some previews on this page. The CD includes one of Michael Maier's well known fugues from the Atalanta fugiens. I will now go and buy the complete CD.
1 May 2008
In my weblog entry for 3 Apr 2008 I mentioned that the artist J. Karl Bogartte had created an image for my Splendor solis art project. The print arrived early this morning. It is a large format giclee print and wonderfully detailed. The scanned images of his work that Bogartte has placed onto his web site just cannot do his artwork justice - you really have to see a print to fully appreciate his art. He creates complex interwoven textured layers against which the main images are set. These layers are not merely decorative but incorporate all sorts of imagery, so when you look at a large format print your eyes go on a journey exploring these interlinked overlapping layers. In a sense the work appears like a dark mass of alchemical prima materia out of which the main images are seen struggling to emerge. His art style is very appropriate for the Splendor solis image. I am so pleased to have this for my project.
30 Apr 2008
This last week I have been so very busy binding up books for customers. For some reason, I have been inundated with a rush of orders and have had to spend almost every evening making up books. Tonight I have received a further three orders so the workload continues. I have not had much time to keep up this weblog, but hopefully things will slacken off soon. I will probably go for a week without a book order and then be moaning about the lack of sales ! Today I spent some hours in the University Library undertaking research primarily into imagery, and later in the afternoon came back to a little drama as there had been an attempt to break into the apartment immediately below me.
27 Apr 2008
Most of the weekend was spent reading through the Solidonius translation and working further on the colouring of the Prognostications. The alchemy web site on Levity.com seems to have settled down and is working well now the files have been uploaded.
24 Apr 2008
There has been a catastrophic disaster for my web site, the consequences of which I am only just beginning to realise. The primary site has been on Levity.com/alchemy for about 12 years and over this period had built a reputation across the Internet as a source for information on alchemy. Over the last week or so, there has been a technical problem at levity.com and it has been offline. Unfortunately it seems Google has, during this period, undertaken a routine spidering or indexing of the site and finding it missing has now removed it from the Google search listings. Usually my site was close to the top of the first page on any search related to alchemy. Now it is invisible. I have run in parallel, the alchemywebsite.com site for about five years, but it has not achieved the rankings that levity.com/alchemy has, being well down in the fifth or sixth Google pages. I suppose it gradually will creep up the rankings over the next few years, but it is likely that my work will be somewhat less visible for some time, until people start putting links to alchemywebsite.com onto their pages. Losing my rankings in Google is going to have quite an impact on my work and booksales, I expect. People are going to think I have died. For those who have set up my site as a favourite on their browsers, it would be best now to set this to www.alchemywebsite.com
The engineers are working hard on replacing the Levity server which lost all the files but replacement files should be uploaded soon and we will see what happens when Google reindexes the site. Maybe some of the earlier rankings will be preserved. It is all very uncertain.
23 Apr 2008
Today I have my faith in the power of the internet restored. Alex Griffin emailed me a few days ago and sent me a scan of an image from the Splendor solis manuscript that he had made in charcoal and pastel. He had seen my Splendor solis art project in which I have collected a number of different artists interpretations of the figure of the man emerging from the swamp. He had made his interpreted facsimile of the image of the young king and the dying old king, which is set immediately before in the Splendor solis manuscripts.
I wrote to him and asked if he would make a version for the Splendor Solis art project, and today I received a positive response. It will take him a long time to complete this as he works large scale, but I will be happy to commission this drawing. The image above is about 60 by 40 inches. Such positive news helps lift my mood.
22 Apr 2008
Some days I just wonder if I live on the same planet as some people. Today I received a rather annoying series of emails from someone (who sounds like a rather spoilt child), taking me to task for my not providing him immediately with information he wanted, and for some links on my web site not functioning. The Levity.com server is still offline and I do not have any direct access to this and I have to wait on the engineers who run that server to get that working again, but this person seems to expect me to immediately fix it for him. He takes me to task further for not replying to an email over the weekend. Well, as it happens, I was away from home this weekend. I do have a life outside of replying to emails ! This person seems to think I should be at his disposal 24/7. It is depressing that someone should write to me in such a tone. I am an easy going sort of person but I do not take well to being lectured to by some spoilt child. All he has succeeded in doing is to make me unwilling ever to correspond with him again.
I have had an increasing amount of problems with email communications recently. People take you so much for granted. Also they immediately take offence if I criticise their pet half-baked theories, and want me to endorse their ideas. Why write to someone like me asking for an opinion and critical assessment if they are unwilling to listen to the answer ?
Usually I just put this down to their being silly adolescent boys - but you never know they might be grown up adults ! You cannot tell who anyone is on the internet. A depressing thought.
I now NEVER, NEVER, NEVER accept unannounced visitors to my home. NEVER , NEVER, NEVER.
People will be politely turned away. I don't care if people have come a great distance - I am unwilling to accept unknown people into my home.
20 Apr 2008
Over the weekend I received the final version of a translation I asked one of my colleagues to undertake of the Solidonius manuscript. Over the next month or so I hope to find the time to work this into another book for the Magnum Opus series. It has a wonderful series of coloured illustrations.
On Saturday I spent a great deal of time colouring some the woodcut images from the Prognostications of Paracelsus. I begun this earlier this year, in January I think, but have not had time to work further on it. I have now made about half the images. Eventually, given time, I will publish this in the Hermetic Studies series. I have so many projects under way at present.
17 Apr 2008
I finally have issued the latest volume in the Magnum Opus Series, Number 34, the first ever translation into English of Gerhard Dorn's Speculative Philosophy. I have waited some ten years to make this key early work of spiritual alchemy available and despite a number of failed attempts to enthuse people to make a translation, I finally found Paul Ferguson who quickly produced an accurate translation for me. This work was much quoted by Jung as a 16th century forerunner for the ideas of his psychological philosophy. I was never very convinced by this and I always have wanted to let Dorn speak for himself, rather than have an interpretation projected onto his writings through selective quotation. One of the great delights I find in publishing, is in allowing a writer whose work has been buried for 400 or more years, to speak to us again. I decided not to provide any interpretation but just let Dorn speak directly to us. A handful of my regular customers have already bought copies which will be posted out tomorrow. It is rather a nice feeling to know that Dorn's ideas will be studied and pondered over again in our generation.
15 Apr 2008
I spent much of this afternoon and evening writing my introduction to the new Magnum Opus book. Tomorrow I will proofread the whole work one last time and then move on to production. This will be number 34 in the Magnum Opus series. I wonder if I will ever reach 50 books in the series ! There is a whole life's work in the Magnum Opus books. When I look at one title I can remember something of my life at that time I was producing it - the madness of thinking I could handcolour 67 illustrations of the Crowning of Nature, the Dee Five Books produced during my short stay in a cottage in rural mid-Wales, the Kabbalistic Diagrams with its need for much Hebrew characters produced on my first Mac, the Fludd Divine Numbers marking my return to publishing after the wonderful period when through the generosity of Mr Ritman I was able to devote myself to research, the delight of realising that I could make the Three Tables of Man with its complex opening out illustrations, and so on. Of course, keeping this crazy project going for 29 years has meant my having to spend hours and hours some days handbinding books for customers. Now I wonder just how many books I have handbound? I could work it out if I had the interest to go back and count through the limited edition lists for each book. It is certainly many thousands. I will promise to do that for the 30th anniversary of the Magnum Opus series which will occur on the 20th April 2009.
15 Apr 2008
Yesterday afternoon and evening I printed out a new batch of the illustrated catalogue Alchemy - A Treasure House of Symbolism. Today I will allocate the time to binding them up. I only have a limited number of the printed covers left in my storeroom and I doubt I will ever be able to afford to reprint the covers, so when these run out, I will have to abandon producing the catalogue. There are still plenty copies left at the moment. Once I have done this binding I will do some more work on the next book in the Magnum Opus series. I have already printed out and bound a sample, in order to solve any problems with the layout. Once I have this done I will have to write a short introduction then we can move to production. It is a rather interesting book and will surprise some people who have only read short phrases and extracts from it in some Jungian works, but after many attempts over the last ten years at getting it translated, Paul Ferguson undertook the task and completed it quickly producing an accurate and readable translation. I have to decide now on the size of the edition. Recently I have been making the Magnum Opus volumes in editions of around 100. This may be too low for this particular book.
13 Apr 2008
Over the last couple of days Levity.com has been offline. This is the original site for my alchemy web site, and is operated by Dan Levy from New York City since 1996. I have tried to fnd out what the problem may be but so far without any success. The mirror of the website at alchemywebsite.com which I set up in 2001 is unaffected and running as normal. For those who access my site through a favourite on their browser, it might be best to change this to www.alchemywebsite.com
11 Apr 2008
Yesterday afternoon I found a manuscript previously unknown to me, containing two beautifully coloured emblems derived from the Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit. These are two disbound leaves obviously belonging to the same manuscript, which are now in the Free Library of Philadelphia. This library seems to have been endowed with a considerable number of early illuminated manuscripts, though as far as I am able to determine, this is the only alchemical one. This item is in the Lewis collection. The library assigns this to the 15th century. These are rather wonderful examples of alchemical emblems, beautifully drawn and coloured. The stylised Sun and Moon trees giving rise to the red and white tinctures, in the emblem on the right, are exquisite. There are always more treasures to uncover. If only I had more time to devote to research! I do find undertaking any substantial research nowadays is very difficult as I have to steal that time from other of my projects, however, I was glad to give a few hours of my time to find these wonderful images.
10 Apr 2008
I had an enquiry today regarding the book Finis gloriae mundi. This immediately reminded me of yesterday's entry in this weblog. This is a book written in the last decade and published as if it were the output of the 1930's French writer who used the pseudonym Fulcanelli. So we essentially have a contrivance published as the genuine work of the contrived author Fulcanelli. Isn't modern alchemical publishing a fascinating minefield! How on earth can people work out what is actually going on? The title of this book supposedly written by Fulcanelli, refers partly to a painting of that title by the 17th century Spanish artist Juan de Valdes Leal (1622-1690). This painting has nothing at all to do with alchemy. It is a vanitas genre painting. These were rather popular during the 17th century and many artists turned to creating these images, which are essentially morality paintings about the vanity of seeking the riches of life. There are hundreds of such paintings in art collections around the world. Leal was part of that tradition and also a conventional religious painter of the period. One thing one can be sure about the person who wrote the two works under the pseudonym Fulcanelli, is that he was a rather melancholy soul, who would be drawn to and respond to such artwork. There is absolutely no evidence that Valdes Leal had any interest in or influence from alchemy. Indeed, this interpretation arises out of an inability of people today to read paintings for what they are. Solid art history has been overrun with pseudo art historians who project whatever they want into a painting. It is rather interesting that another vanitas painting, Poussin's Et in Arcadia Ego, was misappropriated as having some hidden mystery by the authors of the Holy Blood, Holy Grail nonsense. Anyway Juan de Valdes Leal's Finis gloriae mundi made in 1671-2 is, appropriately, in a Church in Seville the 'Hospital de la Caridad' (Hospital of Charity). A wonderful painting but nothing to do with alchemy.
Probably my correspondent of yesterday will now go looking for his Reshel grids and the hidden secret geometry in this painting, and will later inform us about the nature of the philosophers' stone. One might find it in an anagram of the mysterious words written in the pans of the scales - 'nimas nimenos'. We should expect nothing more nor less than some secret code or instruction, or should I first reach for my Spanish dictionary?
9 Apr 2008
I had an interesting email exchange with someone (possibly a younger person) who wrote to me to bring up some points about alchemy. He mentioned such things as Reshel grids, Templar sacred geometry, mentioning Henry Lincoln and also an absurd web site as authorities. I am afraid I can be a bit condescending, even patronising (forgive me it is my age!) to people who uncritically accept spoof, fiction, cynically manipulative pseudo-historians and the totally whacky as truth. Many people nowadays seem incapable of assessing the truth of a statement, or the credentials of the writers of this drivel. Of course, it is so much more exciting to read something that is actually written like a film script storyboard, than plough through difficult academic articles on alchemy. Truth is hard to attain and rarely seductive. It requires much struggle and a willingness to let go of ones preconceptions. Of course, there has grown up in recent years a substantial industry of writers, gurus, lecturers, pseudo-historians and cult leaders, willing to provide simple, easy to digest, accounts of all kinds of esoteric twaddle. One of the weapons in their armory, sadly, is the subject of alchemy, which they feel able to misrepresent at will, because they know that few people understand or have studied this subject in sufficient depth to see through their nonsense.
At the end of one of my correspondents emails he told me a great secret "The Ubigerani MS says quite clearly that marijuana - the Green Dragon - is the first matter" and to prove it he quoted the relevant passage:
4 Apr 2008
After a long break I am again working on a new Magnum Opus title. It is not that I have a lack of material, indeed I have about six provisional new titles in the pipeline, but I find it not always easy to allocate my time to this task. Just keeping my web bookshop going takes up a considerable amount of my time, and as I have no income apart from the sales of my books, CD-Rom courses, and prints, this has to get priority. Last night for example I had to bind up three books for customers and didn't get finally finished till midnight. Earlier this year I decided that I would want to focus on making some more paintings, partly because I enjoy doing this, but also because I feel that time is slipping away from me now I have entered my sixties. In the past months I have had some rather painful back problems which are now beginning to limit what I can do, so I feel I have to focus on things that are important to me. I have always loved the imagery of alchemical emblems, and am astounded that so few people seem to share my enthusiasms. Making good quality facsimile oil paintings of alchemical emblems seems to me to be of major importance in the longer term, even if I do not sell many of these, as it is such a delight to have these on the walls of my workshop. Anyway a colleague has now translated an important 16th century alchemical work from the Latin for me, and we are now working on the final revisions. Hopefully, in the next few weeks I will be able to work on the layout and produce some copies for sale. This is an interesting work, much misunderstood, as it has been contextualised by the depth-psychologists, who seem to want to project their interpretations onto this 16th century text. I will publish it without a commentary as I feel this author must be allowed at last to speak for himself, and not have his ideas and intellectual perspective pressed into a mould of modern ideas. It is so good that there are still people about who are willing to take on such translations. I have two other such translations in my publishing pipeline and these should be ready later this year. So although the first part of 2008 has seen little activity from Magnum Opus, by the end of the year a number of important works will have seen publication.
3 Apr 2008
One of my contacts, the artist J. Karl Bogartte, www.photomorphose.com has kindly created an image for my Splendor solis art project. This is a wonderfully detailed and layered piece of digital art. He is going to provide it to me as a large format print. I have been in touch with him over many years as he has a deep interest in alchemy and reflects this in his work.
J. Karl Bogartte is shortly (Spring 2008) to publish a book The Mirror Held Up In Darkness a collection of prose poems, alchemical and surreal. Do check his web site and consider buying one of his unique prints. Unlike much art today, Bogartte's work is deeply considered and arises out of an intense immersion in alchemical ideas. He is not someone using alchemical ideas in a superficial or trivial way, but they are an essential part of his artistic and intellectual landscape.
30 Mar 2008
I am not one to spend time flicking through YouTube looking for material, but today I came across a video of a lecture at the University of California at Los Angeles by history Professor Margaret Jacob, a noted historian of science. In this 2004 UCLA Faculty Research Lecture she explores cosmopolitanism -- the ability to accept the foreign, the strange, the different. Much of her lecture deals with the science of the last half of the 17th century, Robert Boyle, Newton, the Royal Society, and the influence of alchemy.
It certainly gives us a picture of how alchemy is being seriously discussed in US university courses.
27 Mar 2008
I have recently been working on making a facsimile painting of one of the images from the Splendor solis. I decided to use the 1545 Nurnberg version made nearly forty years before the most familiar copy in the British Library. The London is an almost exact copy of the earlier version but it does have a few differences. In particular, the artist making the London copy chose not to reproduce the facial styles from the earlier version. The earlier version uses particularly stylised faces which are perhaps rather too heightened with red blush.
This is a facet of the style of a particular artist/illuminator, as he uses it throughout the manuscript, and thus he could be identified through this feature. Simon Bening one of the obvious candidates does not use this blushed face. Albrecht Glockenden has also been proposed as the artist but I have not yet been able to see reproductions of his work. When I have time I will visit the University Library and look through the early and mid 15th century manuscript illuminators to see if this feature can be seen in other manuscripts. I have not looked at the original manuscript, but only at scans, and it could be that this rose blushing on the faces was added later. One cannot be sure without looking at the original if this blushing was painted into the face or later applied as a layer on top of the painted face. To me it looks as if it has been applied on top in a broad sweep with a relatively large brush.
19 Mar 2008
Yesterday I received an email from someone I had previously corresponded with about books and manuscripts. We had also worked together on a couple of my publishing projects. So I was rather surprised to be taken to task for ignoring him about some book he had emailed me about. He viewed my lack of response as both discourteous and due to some motive of envy that he projected upon me - somehow I was supposed to be envious of him and thus ignoring him. This was a rather strong overreaction to the fact that he assumed I had received the email he had sent me.
It is ridiculous that people seem to rely on email. I find that many emails I send get lost in people's junk mail filters, so much so that I even expect them to get lost. Yesterday I had to send some large attachments to someone in the Czech Republic. Rather than just sending these, I also sent, at the same time, a small text email asking them to confirm that the attachment files had arrived (I find that large attachment file often get trapped by junk mail filters). I never assume that an email has got through. Email nowadays is severely flawed and unreliable due to the need to filter out the junk mail.
Happily, this gives me the opportunity of informing people that my old email address firstname.lastname@example.org is no longer valid - from now on I am using the mail email@example.com which I have used for many years - having given up on Pipex. All my mail has had firstname.lastname@example.org as my return address for some years now. It still is rather depressing that people rush to ascribe motives to me based on not receiving a reply to an email I do not appear to have received. However, my mood was lifted somewhat when I received the second letter in two days from people wanting me to tell them the method for turning cheap metal into gold. As I don't really know how to respond to such people these ever hopeful seekers must think I keep this knowledge to myself in order to pay for the running of my web site.
18 Mar 2008
Yesterday afternoon I finally got reconnected to broadband. This went offline on 26 February, so for the last three weeks I have been struggling with a slow dialup connection. It turned out that my internet connection had been wrongly set up at the telephone exchange during some modifications, and they just had to plug it into another piece of equipment. Three weeks of frustration and it was fixed in five minutes. Having to log on using dialup made me realise how slow my web site pages loaded. This was partly due to some animated graphics at the head of each page which had to load before the text component would appear. I really liked this animated graphic which I made from the final 21 images from the Crowning of Nature manuscript, but I have decided to remove it from the pages, to give those struggling on dialup a better chance of getting to read my pages. I have already implemented this on www.alchemywebsite.com and will do the same for levity.com/alchemy over the next week or so.
18 Mar 2008
Today I received an invitation to speak at a conference on Traditional Alchemical Medicine organised by a student group at Bastyr University at Kenmore near Seattle. It is nice to be asked, but I almost never accept invitations to speak at conferences. I really cannot spare the time, especially if it involves any travelling. Attending a conference usually requires four or five days of my life, and I lose all those days work. Also when I get back I have a backlog of emails and orders to catch up on and this takes another few days. As I get older I find I also just cannot face the struggle of travelling. So I will have to decline this one, as I do most invitations.
17 Mar 2008
The Chateau Moravska Trebova in the Czech Republic is organising an exhibition in April on the theme of The Alchemy laboratory of Doctor Bonacina. They are going to use some of my coloured illustrations as part of a slide slow running during the exhibition.
16 Mar 2008
I live in Glasgow, primarily to be close to the most comprehensive collection of alchemical books and manuscript in the world, in the Ferguson Collection. When I find time to do research I usually find my way there for an afternoon among the books and manuscripts. There is an interesting article by David Weston, the current Keeper of Special Collections in Glasgow University Library, entitled A Magus of the North? Professor John Ferguson and his Library, contained in a collection of articles edited by Amy Wygant The Meanings of Magic. From the Bible to Buffalo Bill, Berghahn Books, 2006. This gives the background to Ferguson's collecting enthusiasms, as well as giving us an overview of the importance of this library. There are a couple of other essays in this book which touch on alchemy.
12 Mar 2008
Today I received a copy of a new book by the scholar Claude Gagnon, L'alchime dans l'Europe naissante. This is a gathering of various essays written by the author, some of which have been published in journals, on the theme of the birth of European alchemy in the Middle Ages. I look forward to reading through it over the next few weeks.
Running the alchemy web site does have its amusing moments. I do get some rather weird emails from people, often offering me their particular take on alchemy, or asking me for samples of the philosophers' stone. Today I had a rather charming email from someone not overly impressed by my work. It was quite short but to the point.
go fuck your mother, son of a bitch This site is a ball shit. Kill yourself! Get a live, idiot!I am afraid the spelling errors rather got to me and the impact of the email was to make me laugh rather than question the point of my work.
10 Mar 2008
It is almost unbelievable that I still do not have my broadband connection working after two weeks ! I have moved to another provider after my original broadband company let me down, but transferring to another company seems a bit of a struggle as it takes so long. I am sure it is just a matter of adjusting some switches at the local telephone exchange and setting up the account details on some network computer, but us customers just get messed about as usual. At the moment I have to access the internet using a dial-up modem which is very slow and also expensive in terms of phone calls. Eventually it will get sorted out, but it does make one realise how poor a quality of service we currently get in the UK. When something goes wrong, we customers are just left hanging. A broadband connection should be seen as a utility, like gas, elecricity and water services, as so much of ones life depends on it, but here in the UK providers we customers just get the runaround. You are given no priority, but just have to wait and wait and wait. It is not as if I am using one of those cheap providers, but I pay a high monthly fee in the hope of getting a good stable, continuous, quality service.
Over the last few days I have received two books of scholarly essays on alchemy Mystical Metal of Gold: Essays on alchemy and Renaissance Culture edited by Stanton Linden, and Chymists and Chymistry: Studies in the History of Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry edited by Lawrence Principe. These are really useful volumes for me and I have been dipping into these to take a glance at an article or two when I have a few minutes to spare from my other work. Both of these are mines of information and will take me some time to absorb.
6 Mar 2008
Thanks to the kind assistance of a colleague in the Czech Republic I have been able to obtain microfilms of two versions of the work by Bonacina in Prague. I have long known this work through its wonderful sequence of emblematic images, but I had only seen the later 18th century copies and not these earlier examples. The first appears to be written in the 17th century and is set up like a printed book, with dedicatory epistle and a Preface to the Reader. The title is set out as Compendiolum de praeparatione Auri Potabilis Veri M.E. Bonacina. D. Medici Mediol. I have not been able to locate a printed book under this title, so I will have to assume that this is not a copy of a printed work but rather the author's holograph or a copy of this set up for the printer, or a one off presentation copy to Bonacina's benefactor Ladislav Velen. The illustrations are not particularly skilled pen drawings which could even be by Bonacina himself. The text is in relatively easy Latin and in a good legible hand so it could be possible to have it translated and published.
The second manuscript is probably from a little later. The illustrations are by a more skilled artist, who is able to model the forms.
The third illustration that I show here is from the 18th century manuscript with which I am more familiar. It is interesting to note how the artist has reversed the direction of the chevron on the shield. I wonder if that is intentional or a slip of the pen. Such are the mysteries of alchemical research.
29 Feb 2008
The last few days have been very difficult as far as my work is concerned, as my broadband connection is still not working. I have now discovered that my internet provider Pipex recently sold its 570,000 customers (myself included) for 210 Million UK pounds ($400Million) to another company called Tiscali. The failure of my broadband connection (now four days) appear to be a result of some problem arising from the migration of my service to the Tiscali system. Of course no one at Pipex will admit this ! I am disgusted that my connection can be sold to another company without my permission, or even informing me of the change. Thus I have not been able to get on line easily to do research and keep up with what is going on. I have been logging on using an old 56K modem, but it is obvious that many other Pipex customers are doing the same, so the dial-up service is congested so much that it takes up to a minute to send a single email! Thus I can still get the orders for books and CD-Roms and send these out and answer emails as usual, but the speed of the dial-up service is so slow that doing any research or browsing is so frustrating as to be useless. I am now in the process of changing to a better quality provider and I expect this will be set up over the weekend.
Anyway, this has given me the opportunity to press on with my painting and I have been able to do some further work on my copy of the Mona Lisa. As I must wait a while for the paint to dry between adding new layers I also began to work on making a copy of an amazing painting by the 15th Century Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden, his rather melancholy image of Mary Magdelene. His work is delightfully detailed and wonderfully bright compared to the Mona Lisa so it is quite a contrast and a different challenge. I love the idealised landscape used in many Flemish 15th century paintings. So far I have only had time to work on the face and some of the landscape background. It will take a few weeks of work.
27 Feb 2008
Yesterday and today my broadband connection through Pipex went offline. I have been with this company for well over ten years and for much of that time they did provide a good service, however since December I have experienced three major outages, one lasting a week (though there were intermittent periods of connection), one of about 12 hours and the most recent lasting now over 36 hours. They are obviously having severe technical problems, however, their helpline staff are totally unhelpful, and even try and shift the blame onto my equipment, suggesting that I replace filters and routers, when they have a blanket email message on their phone helpline stating that they have a current outage ! So I have decided to shift away from them and find a new provider for my broadband. I am temporarily having to go back to an old 56K dialup modem which is ridiculously slow. Hopefully Pipex will get their system running properly shortly so I can go back to that. I will probably use the same company that provides my alchemywebsite.com site to supply me with a broadband connection as this site has not had any technical problems that I have noticed. I will now phase out the email@example.com email address which I have used for at least 10 years and will then be released from the mass of junk mail it receives - I get about 3000 emails a day of which most are junk and sadly I cannot simply filter these out as, if I set the junk filter too high, then it locks out genuine emails. I will be glad to dispense with that old address and the problems it has now brought me. All my mail will in future be handled through the address firstname.lastname@example.org which I have been using in any case as my primary email address for at least a year.
25 Feb 2008
I have made considerable progress with my painting of the Mona Lisa. You can see details and some images here. Much remains to be done, and I suppose I am a bit less than half way through.
21 Feb 2008
Today I decided to take a little time off from alchemy research and instead do some painting. A few weeks ago I decided to challenge myself to make a facsimile copy of the Mona Lisa. This is a bit different from the usual sorts of paintings that I work on, which are usually illuminations from alchemical manuscripts, or some other allegorical or emblematic manuscripts that capture my interest. I have decided to work not from the Leonardo's original in the Louvre but from a 17th century copy as this has better preserved the brightness of the colours and also has not had the original framing pillars painted out. There are at least ten early copies of the painting made in the 16th and 17th centuries - one indeed is even in a private collection here in Scotland. I like the image when it has the pillars, as it reminds me of some 15th century Flemish paintings by s Van Eyke, Rogier van der Weyden among others, where it was quite a convention, and this device was also often used in the 17th century Dutch vanitas genre paintings. It will probably take me months to make the facsimile paintings at two or three hours a week ! I never seem to be able to allocate much time to painting, but I don't have that many years left to do things like that, and I will regret it if I neglect painting.
20 Feb 2008
The new scholarly discussion forum seems to be going well and it should develop further over the next month. It will always be a select group, restricted to scholars, rather than those more drawn to an esoteric or psychological approach, but at the same time open for everyone to read the contributions. Today I was able to spare a few hours to making some more of my coloured emblems. I am now determined to make available, for the first time to most people, a significant number of emblematic images that are part of the context for the images, woodcuts and engravings, found in alchemical printed books.
In the last week I have been able to obtain some wonderful source material of alchemical imagery. Much of this I found during a day long, concerted session of research using the internet. I don't usually have time to do such a thing, as my attention is diverted to the mundane tasks fo bookbinding and making up the various orders. I was then able to find some important material for sale and arrange to purchase it. So my bill for books this month will be rather high.
13 Feb 2008
Yesterday I decided to make yet another attempt to create a discussion forum on alchemy. In the past I have had to abandon various discussion groups I have set up, when they degenerated into nonsense and babble. There are some seriously weird people interested in alchemy, who have highly charged beliefs, who do not like to be challenged or have their beliefs examined. Also there are some complex game players who get some kind of perverted fun out of pretending to be alchemical adepts - these people also react very aggressively when exposed. So the domain of alchemy discussion groups is truly a minefield, and moderating these has been a great waste of my time in the past. However, since 1999 I have been running the Alchemy Academy email discussion group which has been very successful and there are some wonderful enlightening discussions in its archives. This discussion group was conducted by email but this has now become a real obstacle, as so many people use junk mail filters that screen out postings, and the email box itself gets 300 plus junk mails a day which I have to wade through. So I have decided to set this up as a web based discussion forum.
Before people get too excited, I am going to restrict the discussions to a scholarly and academic one, and only deal with historical alchemy. It will not be an open forum free for all, as that will only attract the weirdos and game playing manipulators and result in it rapidly descending into nonsense and babble. Only scholarly people will be able to join the forum and post messages. People will have to use their true names, with no hiding behind silly, pompous, posturing pseudonyms or internet 'handles'.
I will create a space where scholars and those with a academic approach to alchemy will be free to discuss the various facets of alchemy with their peers, and not have to deal with the difficult and weird people who seem in our time to be drawn towards alchemy. It will take a few weeks to get going and build up momentum, but I hope eventually it will provide a safe space for the scholarly discussion of alchemical matters. Anyone can access the site as a guest and read the postings and information, but I can only register as active posters those people who are known to me as scholars or as people who adopt an academic approach.
12 Feb 2008
Yesterday I managed to bind up five of the ten copies of the Three Tables of Freher book and today I posted these out to my customers. Later this evening I will put the covers onto the remaining five copies. Four of these are already sold and the other will probably go later today as there was quite a lengthy waiting list for copies. I worked out that it takes about ten hours of my time to make up each book and that does not include the many hours I spent originally researching, painting the images, and doing the layout for the book. I won't make up the final batch for a while, definitely not till later this year. It is an expensive book but I expect it will appreciate in value once the edition is sold. Over the weekend I grabbed a few hours away from bookbinding and managed to colour three emblems. Here are two from the 17th century English emblem book by George Wither. I chose these because they symbolically quoted from some earlier alchemical emblems.
7 Feb 2008
I finally finished making up the complex engravings that constitute the Three Tables of Freher. This has taken nearly six days of solid work and has required a lot of will power to push on with making up ten copies. Although it is great to see the completed tables, it is rather tedious cutting them out and pasting them in with all the little flaps and opening out sections. Now I have to bind them into book form, which I will probably do early next week, as I want to have some time to devote to more creative tasks over the next few days.
6 Feb 2008
Today I took a few hours to examine in detail the scans of the Splendor solis manuscript, with which the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg kindly supplied me. It is immediately obvious that the London manuscript is copied directly from the Nurnberg, however, although most of the detail is copied precisely, the expressions on the faces of the figures are quite different. Most interestingly I have noticed a date on image 16, the Peacock in the flask. In the lower right a musician playing the lute is sitting on a cubical stone. In the London manuscript this has the date '1582' clearly drawn, and the earliest manuscript in Berlin has the date '1532'. In the Nurnberg there is a date '154-' the last figure of which is unclear. I tried all sorts of filters, contrast adjustments and other ways of manipulating the image in order to try to make out the last figure, but with no success. It is probably rubbed away, and could only be seen by someone inspecting the manuscript in indirect illumination. Perhaps, one day I will find someone in Nurnberg to take a look at it. In the book on the Splendor solis by Jorg Vollnagel (2004) he gives the date as '1545' so perhaps he was able to read the final figure. The history of this work through its series of manuscripts really interests me. It may be that the Berlin (1532) manuscript is not actually the original. The illustrations for the most part have little coloured panels obviously intended for text. Many of these (though not all) in the Nurnberg have short Latin phrases, the London copies only some of these, while the Berlin has many left blank. It could be that there was some earlier original bearing the full set of Latin tags which has been lost.
4 Feb 2008
I have received a number of requests recently from people wanting to visit me. One person visiting Glasgow even phoned up and asked if he could come immediately. I am sorry but there is no way I can accept such unannounced visits from people. I will just turn people away if they arrive on my doorstep. I am much too busy to abandon what I am doing and make time for people. Indeed, I can now only accept visits from people that I know well, or have some knowledge of their background or some clear context (fellow writers, artists, researchers) with bona fides. I do make myself available on the Internet through email, but I am no longer prepared to accept unknown visitors into my home.
3 Feb 2008
I received an email today which though it initially amused me now has left a rather bitter taste on the palate. It was an advanced promo for a new audio book about the 'Order of the Alchemists'. The author seems to suppose that there was some secret 'Alchemical Order' working behind outer history which still exists today and has incredible power. I really despair sometimes that such rubbish should be published. I have been trying for years to get people to look at alchemy clearly, to examine its wealth of surviving documents, and base their understanding of alchemy on this source material. But authors come along and create an alluring fiction which they present as facts. If there ever was such an 'Alchemical Order' then myself and other scholars would have found its traces in the historical record as we are surely not entirely stupid! The Da Vinci Code was bad enough, but it was clearly a novel and only some rather sad people took it seriously as an account of history, but this new polished production on the 'Order of the Alchemists' seems to blur the clear divisions between facts and fiction. Sadly, the authors of such faction seem just to be manipulating people, and they rely on the fact that few people have the critical apparatus or the background reading to be able to make any clear assessment. The authors of such material seem not to have the ability to do any real research, so instead they just invent history. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, as we see from various theosophical publications from the beginning of the 20th century and the well known Holy Blood, Holy Grail among many, many others. However, people never learn from such publications and authors still feel free to fill the world with ever more contrived history. It will be left to people like myself for years ahead to have to argue that such an 'Order' only existed in the mind of a 21st century writer, and, because we speak in measured, informed, prosaic tones, we will be ignored - people prefer to read or hear a fictionalised account, as it seems more exciting and engaging. I have to struggle on against these tides of nonsense and drivel, though this does make me feel sometimes that my work is so easily blown away - truth being so very fragile in today's world.
2 Feb 2008
I spent most of the day cutting out sections of the coloured engravings which I need in order to make up another batch of the Magnum Opus Volume 31, the Three Tables of Man by D.A. Freher. I have already made up and sold 30 copies (nos 11-40) of this book back in 2005-2006 and have 20 copies (41 -60) still to make up for sale. I limited the edition to only 60 copies as I realised that it would be an enormous amount of painstaking work to make up the engravings with their many opening-out flaps. This is a truly amazing book requiring many hours of work, printing, cutting out the 50 individual pieces of paper, and glueing them into the correct position so as to create the effect intended by Freher. I intend to keep back numbers 1 to 10 for my own collection and will only sell them when I have effectively retired and can no longer work at publishing. This book will definitely increase in value as no one else would have the will power and committment to push this through. I managed about eight hours of cutting with scissors (this cannot be done any other way) and got about half of the task completed. I then have to accurately position, paste and make up the images, then bind them into large format book form. Hopefully, I should get this completed this month. I have about 20 customers waiting for the batch of 10 copies ! So they will have to fight it out. I will try to find time to make up the final 10 copies later this year.
25 Jan 2008
This year should be a rather productive one as I have four new Magnum Opus titles in preparation. I will give details later when publication is immanent, and these items will be great additions to the series. I will be 60 this year so am becoming more and more aware of the limitations on my mortality and the need to press on with making this material available. I am also deepening my research into the early manuscripts and this might possibly lead to some new publications in future. I am not sure if I will have time, but I am hoping to begin work on a further study course.
24 Jan 2008
I had some rather good news today. The Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg has agreed to supply me with some high resolution scans of their copy of the Splendor solis manuscript. The British Library version is well known and often reproduced in books, so much so that most people seem to think of it as the original. I had already discovered, back in November, that the British Library version must be a copy of the Nürnberg, as in attempting to copy the perspective it makes some errors, whereas if one traces back the vanishing point in the Nürnberg one clearly sees a mark on the parchment. I have only ever seen a few illustrations of the Nürnberg Splendor solis, so I look forward to making some further discoveries when I can see all the illustrations in detail.
23 Jan 2008
I spent most of the afternoon and much of the evening reformatting the web pages about my paintings. I hope to be able to devote at least some time this year to painting, so I thought I might just make the site about my work a little bit more accessible. I will try and find some time next week to take some further photographs of my workshop as things have changed greatly in the years since the last photographs were taken. My paintings website may be a bit messy over the next few days as I tweak and modify the pages. It never ceases to amaze me how much time it takes to set up web pages. One works away, then looks at the clock to find that three hours have just slipped away.
This evening I sold the last copy of the Chymical Wedding. This is one of the few books that I produced in the 1980's of which I had copies left for sale. The few other titles from that era are quickly diminishing as the numbers approach 250 (the usual size of the editions I then issued). As I am now considerably older, and may not have 20 more years left in me to hand-produce books, the current issues in the Magnum Opus series will be restricted to around 100 copies or so. It is always wise to buy my books while you can and not think to wait for a few years. I may not always be able to do the necessary hand-binding. A year or so back I did have, what appeared to be, some arthritis in my finger joints. Happily this seems to have resolved and I am able to make up books with no problems at the moment. This week has seen the start of the mail uplift from my home, which saves me having to go and wait in line in the local Post Office every day. It is all working out easily at the moment.
18 Jan 2008
I have long been looking for someone to translate a key work, on what we might describe as spiritual alchemy. This is the Philosophia speculativa by Gerhardt Dorn, written in the closing decades of the 16th century. Small pieces of this were translated by Jung and von Franz and quoted in their books, however, I am very aware that these translations are not accurate, but seem to filter Dorn's ideas through Jungian constructs. What this needs is for someone to translate it literally from the Latin, so that we can get a clearer picture of what Dorn was trying to say, rather than what the Jungians wish to gloss into his text. I have had a go at translating it but it proved a bit too difficult for me to render it into readable English. It really needs someone with good Latin and a willingness to make a literal translation. Any offers ? The text itself is not too long. I have the entire text available and would definitely publish this in my Magnum Opus series should someone offer to translate it.
17 Jan 2008
Today I received a gift of a book from an Italian writer and researcher of alchemy, Massimo Marra. This consists of a series of extended essays on various alchemical themes, by Massimo Marra, Paolo Aldo Rossi, Andrea De Pascalis and two other contributors. Rossi contributes a piece on Greek alchemy, while De Pascalis has a lengthy article on the early 17th century 'Golden Age Revived' by Madathanus and translates the Latin text into Italian. Massimo Marrara provided a number of short essays, including an account with transcription of some alchemical poems he found in a manuscript in the Bibliotheca Vittorio Emanuele in Naples. Just last week I bought another recent Italian work on the Liber Vaccae. In recent decades there has been a serious interest in alchemy flourishing in Italy, which few people recognise or have any contact with. Many of the major scholars of alchemy living today are Italian. I must try and keep up with what is being published there and check the online bookstores often. Sadly, Italy, as yet does not have an amazon.it so one has to search through a number of smaller online bookstores.
15 Jan 2008
For many years I have been absorbed in the Ripley Scroll, having made a full-sized facsimile painting restoring the fresh colours of the original, and creating a study course on the Scroll itself. Like many others, I have often puzzled over the figure found on the bottom left corner of the Scroll. This is thought to be a depiction of the scribe, or even of Ripley himself. Today, while in the library, I found an illustration of parchment making from a medieval manuscript in Bologna. Outside the workshop where parchment is being made, we see an itinerant scribe setting out, no doubt having replenished his stock of parchment. This figure, with his pointed stick, and the inkwell at his waist, reminded me immediately of the figure on the Ripley Scroll. Strangely he has a shell in his hat, which at that time indicated that he had completed the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. Perhaps this particular scribe specialised in writing absolutions or indulgences.
11 Jan 2008
In the last few days I have had to become an accountant and prepare my records for the tax authorities. This is such a boring yet exacting task and doing it is very frustrating as I really want to push on with understanding the Aurora consurgens, so any relief from the boredom of accounting is very welcome. So I got a quick rush of amusement today from someone emailing and asking if I lent out books from my Alchemy Research Library. I mean, just how out of touch can anyone be, to think that I would lend valuable books by post to complete strangers on the other side of the world. 10 of out of 10 for having the cheek to ask, but also 10 out of 10 on the out-of-touch-with-reality scale.
9 Jan 2008
Yesterday my spirits were lifted later in the day by the postman delivering a book. I had been trying to get hold of a copy of this for some months from a bookshop in Italy but they were very slow in getting it to me. It contains a translation of the text of the Aurora consurgens. As I indicated here, back in November I decided to embark on a quest to understand and contextualise the imagery of the Aurora consurgens, one of the most mysterious of early alchemical emblematic manuscripts. The work is well known through the Marie-Louise von Franz book, however, few people realise just how misleading her book is, as she focusses on only one section of the text and mines it for Jungian concepts rather than placing it in its proper context. Thus her book, for me, throws little light on the true nature of the Aurora consurgens. Last night I began studying the material and wrote up short piece on the mystery of the Aurora consurgens which I finished this morning. You can see this here. It shows one of the illustrations with the actual text that comments upon it. Perhaps one day I will publish an edition of the work restoring the images and translating the text so that people can read the commentary which goes with the images. It will take much work, however, and I have so many other projects in hand. It will make a major addition to my Magnum Opus series.
8 Jan 2008
Another miserable day. I have found that yet another person is selling material lifted from my web site and selling it on a CD-Rom as his illustrated library of alchemy. A few months ago a found that a French publisher was using my hand painted images for the covers of his books and he never responded to my requests to cease doing this. Such people are parasites. They steal my research and long hours of work, remove my name (of course) from the files, and then sell these to people as their own work. It is thoroughly dispiriting. I fear that my study courses will also be targetted and possibly my books. I live on a very modest income, and work very long hours to make enough money to sustain my work. I have just had to pay 500 pounds ($1000) for scans of images from an alchemical manuscript. I need this for my research. If I eventually publish this, will some parasitic nobody just lift this material and sell it as his own? It makes me so angry and at the same time rather depressed.
7 Jan 2008
I have known the work of the american artist Ann McCoy for some time. Her work is very much influenced by alchemy and she has made a deep study of the subject. She emailed me recently to tell me about her current exhibition in Berlin, The Transformation of the King and the Alchemist of Pfaueninsel which is based on the 17th century alchemist Johannes Kunckel. She is also working on a performance piece she has written on this theme. Do have a look at the exhibition pages which shows the work in the gallery setting.
5 Jan 2008
At this time of the year, there is one chore I have to do and that is to make up the Alchemy Website CD-Rom for 2008. It might seem like an easy task but it takes quite a while to get right, as my website is now rather complex and it is difficult to make sure that all the necessary files are in their correct place on the CD-Rom. I had to spend some hours struggling to get all the image files in the correct folder, and after making a few test burnings of CD-Roms I finally got a fully working version. The web site today has 164 megabytes of text and images. I used a rather nice little program that I have had for some years which scans the directory and builds the whole web site into a single exe file. I needed to repeat this a few times to get the setup exactly right so that all the text and images fitted together correctly. This also indexes the text so the purchaser can do a full search on the CD-Rom without connecting to the internet and using the local Google search that I have set up on the online site. I then had to make up the new labels for the CD-Roms, set up the files for burning onto blanks, then edit the pages on the alchemy web bookshop to reflect the new version. All in all it took about five hours. I will have to sell a large number to make back the costs of all that investment of time.
4 Jan 2008
This morning I had a request from someone asking for the text of Robert Fludd's Summum Bonum. Not too difficult to answer, as the book is well collected in libraries and one can easily obtain a microfilm at a price. However, I think my correspondent really wanted the text in English translation. I pointed him to the short extract in Paul Allens' Christian Rosenkreutz Anthology, issued back in the late 1970's. This made me realise again how so little of the key corpus of hermetic and alchemical works has been translated, and what a miniscule contribution I have made to making such material available. Having devoted 30 years of my life to this task, so little seems to have been accomplished, and so much remains undone. It is almost depressing. If I were not such an optimist, I might be forgiven for sinking into despair. Instead I will just push on with making new publications. I have at least three new volumes in the Magnum Opus series in the pipeline for 2008.
3rd January 2007
This New Year I decided to treat myself and pay for the mail to be uplifted from my premises every day. This is a rather expensive service, but my back problems have become rather chronic recently and that combined with the fact that my local post office closed down and relocated a little bit further away, meant that it was becoming a bit of a struggle to have to carry the daily packages of books and CD-Roms to the Post Office and wait in line for service. The Post Office here in the UK is now offering a pick up service for small business with a limited volume - it used to be you had to be a major business for them to do that. I also am now set up to print my own stamps using the Post Office SmartStamp service. It will take a week or so to set all this up but it will be a blessing. Being an alchemical publisher is not all poring over ancient manuscripts struggling to understand the nuances of the text, it has its more prosaic moments - bookbinding, packaging, accounts, being a mailboy.
2nd January 2007
Today one of the supporters of my work paid me a visit. He brought his digital recorder with him a made an interview which once edited I will put up on the website. Today, after the New Year holiday, had a little flurry of emails and some telephone calls from people, some more amusing than others. If I was to let you have a little look into my email inbox, you would see a communication from someone taking me to task for not providing on my web site a clear set of dates for Maria the Jewess, indeed conflicting dates were mentioned by different people on the site. I wrote back to say that as it is not even certain that Maria the Jewess was a real person, there being little trace of her in the historical record, it is probably difficult to establish a realistic set of dates for her. That did not satisfy my correspondent and he immediately replied with a series of quotes from various 20th century sources. I then had to explain I wished that alchemical research was as easy as accepting the information in modern encyclopaedias or in the works of modern commentators and we have to realise that modern writers usually are trying to push their world view through their writings and are not neutral observers. Patai, Lindsay and Jung each had strong agendas underlying their writings. Their "history" is a component of their rhetoric. Sadly, my views did not seem to get through and a reply quickly returned. I had then to explain that most of the early alchemical writings don't exist as early manuscripts but rather in later copies. There are no 'Dead Sea Scrolls' for alchemical texts, so these early writings have been filtered through a series of later copies of a presumed original corpus of writings. I don't think I convinced him - he preferred certainty. Next, a series of phone calls from a young man desperately trying to find alchemical books. He had been reading some works of Jung and wanted to read the original works. He seem to think that one could just go out and buy these. I had to explain that most of the works he was interested in were in Latin and had neither been translated nor reprinted. I told him that he could see them in The British Library. He seemed to think one could borrow original 16th and 17th century books from libraries, and he also believed that Routledge and Kegan Paul (the English publishers of Jung) must have had copies of all these books in order to print the illustrations. I wasn't getting through here either. Next up was some emails from a man who wanted my advice about selling alchemical products. He did not appear to know much about alchemy but had heard of the Hudson White powder gold. I told him that if I were him I would take care with such products as they are not medically tested and he may be legally liable for any damage they do to the purchasers. He could could easily be sued. He quickly wrote back asking my advice about some "red lion" made in the traditional way that someone had offered to sell him. So I don't think he got the point I was making either. It seems to be a day when I was entirely missing the target. Next, I get an email from someone asking for samples of my writings, one of my lessons or something, so he could be clear if I was a good teacher, but I managed to resist the impulse to write back an ironic reply. In between all this, I managed to bind up three books that people had ordered over the past days. A good start to the New Year.
22nd December 2007
While I have been making paintings of the Solidonius series recently, I decided to make a portrait of a friend of mine. This worked it quite well and I rather enjoyed the discipline of making an exact photorealist portrait, so much so that I was suddenly impelled to make a small copy of the portrait of John Dee which was made in the early 1690's, later owned by Elias Ashmole and now in the Ashmolean in Oxford. I have painted this in oils on a panel 11.5 by 9 inches, and once it is finished I may try and sell this. It still needs quite a bit of work, but the main forms are well established. A year or so back I also made a copy of the early portrait of Paracelsus by the Flemish artist Quentin Metsys (c.1465-1530). I took the opportunity to finish this off, and will shortly varnish it and possibly offer it for sale - though I do rather like it and make keep it for a few more years. No doubt one day people will want to collect my work.
9th December 2007
I have been so busy with production recently that I have rather neglected this weblog. Well a day or so ago I received the painting I had commissioned from Erin McCauley for my Splendor solis art project, so I would like to draw peoples' attention to this rather fine addition to the collection. This Splendor solis project will seem a bit strange to those who are not enthused, as I am, by the wonderful emblematic imagery of alchemy. I managed a steal a few hours from the task of bookbinding to work on my paintings of the Solidonius series and also on a portrait. I do enjoy making photorealistic portraits (usually of friends).
29th November 2007
This week I have found myself deluged by orders for my books and as these are hand made it takes about three hours to make up a book for sale. Consequently, I have had to devote many hours this week to book production. I have also been very busy with my another major activity producing the lates of my art tarots, so I have not been able to allocate any time to painting. This is rather frustrating as I wanted to make some progress with the Solidonius series.
24th November 2007
I recently comissioned Miguel Calle, an artist working in Brazil who describes himself as a 'Piroalquimista', to make an version in his medium of an image from the Splendor solis. He has now completed the work, and was kind enough to send me a scan of the final piece.
I am very pleased with the result, the exquisite detail and the way he has handled the sphere on the man's head. I would recommend others to get him to make pieces for them. He is especially interested in alchemical symbolism and it seems he is able to sensitively reproduce an alchemical engraving, woodcut, or even manuscript drawing in pyrography. You can contact the artist Miguel Calle through his website at piroalquimista.vilabol.uol.com.br/principal.htm
21st November 2007
Today someone called Dan, has posted a video he has made using the coloured emblems from my web site onto the YouTube system. The accompanying music is not entirely to my taste, being by The Cage from their album Hell Destroyer. I suspect his interests lie more with The Cage rather than alchemical imagery, but it was nice to see it. You can view it on www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-bzgjRlOUw
20th November 2007
I spend some of Sunday and much of Monday preparing tracings for making oil paintings of images from the Solidonius manuscript. Hopefully I will be able to allocate some time, over the next week or so, to make the paintings. I will do these in oil on board. I had considered working in watercolours but I do so much prefer the medium of oils for this subject.
19th November 2007
Those who read Spanish should take a look at the new issue Number 5 of Azogue edited by José Rodríguez Guererro www.revistaazogue.com/azogue5.htm. I noticed, in particular an article exploring the relationship between alchemy and mythology during the Late Antiquity and Middle Ages. There is also a important critique of the Jungian approach to alchemy in Azogue 4, which is well worth reading. It would be excellent if this article could be made available in English and reach a wider audience. José Rodríguez Guererro is one of the finest scholars of alchemy living today, with a growing body of work.
17th November 2007
I had a realisation when looking at the Nurnberg and London versions of the Splendor solis. I happen to have a high quality image of one of the Nurnberg paintings (in van Lennep's book) and also the London. When I looked at these in detail I noticed that the perspective on the London version was slightly wrong. The Nurnberg painting has the perspective drawn tighly and correctly and if one traces back the vanishing point one clearly sees a mark on the parchment. On the London version, when one traces back the vanishing point it is not in the same place for all the perspective lines. This no doubt means that the Nurnberg version is the original and the London is a later copy. I really must try and get access to high quality images of the Nurnberg (Nuremberg) version.
16th November 2007
Last night I had the impulse to look into the possible source for the artwork of the Splendor solis manuscripts. This was produced around 1530 and obviously draws on the Aurora consurgens for some of its emblematic content. There are a number of beautiful illuminated manuscripts of the Splendor solis, the best known example being that in the British Library. This is of supreme quality and one feels that it must be by one of the top artist/illuminators of the period. It is a work painted on vellum with trompe d'oeil floral and animal borders of which similar examples are seen in the Flemish miniature paintings in Books of Hours and other works emanating especially from artists from Bruges. Some years ago I saw the exhibition Illuminating the Renaissance at the Royal Academy and noted the similarities between the work of Simon Bening and the London Splendor solis. The London manuscript is probably not made from the supposed original in the Kupferstichkabinnet in Berlin dated 1531-1532, but rather from the copy in Nurnberg. The Kupferstichkabinnet manuscript does not have the floral and animal borders but the images are framed in architectural structures. The Nurnberg copy, dated to 1545, does have the floral borders and the London version is directly related to this. Unfortunately I only have a few images from the Nurnberg to compare with the London. I may write to them and ask if they can sell me some scans or photographs. The history of the Splendor solis manuscript has still not yet been entirely explored. In 2005 a facsimile of the 1531 Cod. 78 D 3 in Berlin was published by Coron-Exclusiv Splendor Solis" (Sonnenglanz) 1531/32. It would be nice to have a copy but the price is £3000 ($6000), and people think my book prices are high !
15th November 2007
I have had no reply from that French publisher who appears to be using my coloured images for the book covers of fifteen of his books without my permission. I will have to write to him by snail mail using registered post. This sort of problem really annoys me as it is stealing my work and using it to sell books. It is difficult enough for me trying to make a living out of publishing obscure books on alchemy without people appropriating my material for their own profit. I have made over a thousand coloured emblems, many of which took ten or more hours of work each. Researching and painting these has taken up many years of my life. It is so dispiriting to have my work stolen. People who think they have the right to use my work in this way are thoughtless, selfish and without conscience. The fact that I have not even had the courtesy of a reply to my emails, seems to confirm that this was not done by honest error.
13th November 2007
As I have not yet received good copies of the Aurora consurgens manuscript illustrations, I have decided to push on and make facsimile paintings of the equally unknown Solidonius manuscript. This is a later work, dating apparently to the 17th century, though most of the manuscripts are from the 18th century. I will, over the next few days, make some tracings in preparation for making oil paintings of these. I will work on a small scale, just slightly larger than the originals, as I find that these images do not work well when expanded too large. There are eighteeen images in this rather beautiful series. A colleague is currently translating the text into English for me and hopefully this will eventually become a volume in my Magnum Opus series.
11th November 2007
I have received a number of orders for books over the past few days, so much of the weekend will be taken up with binding up these copies for my customers. I noticed that I now have only three copies left to sell of my Chymical Wedding book (1984).
I had a talk with an artist colleague yesterday and hopefully he will agree to accepting a commission for a work for my Splendor Solis art project. I showed him much of the material and I think I inspired him a little to consider undertaking this. This is a crazy idea of mine but I hope an engaging one. By early next year I will have added another three works to this project so will have at least eight. I have some other artists in mind, from which to commission a painting, but I don't necessarily have the funds to buy more than a few paintings each year. All the many hours spent bookbinding does, happily, help pay for such projects. One day I will organise a little exhibition of these here in Glasgow, and perhaps issue a book with each work illustrated. Back to the bookbinding chores !
9th November 2007
Today the Robert Lenkiewicz manuscript arrived. It is exactly as it remembered seeing in his library some years ago. Robert Lenkiewicz in creating this work combined his artistic abilities with his love of books and manuscripts, and made an exact copy of a section of manuscript Sloane 3772, mimicing the handwriting and including all the marks on the paper, the foliation numbering, the stains and flaws in the paper. It is a wonderful facsimile of a alchemical manuscript. He even pasted in his British Library reader's slip which shows that he examined and probably copied this work in January 1974.
8th November 2007
I was shattered today to discover that a French publisher appears to be using my coloured images for the book covers of fifteen of his books. I cannot understand how he would have managed to get hold of high resolution images in order to print these. It is so annoying that my many hours of work seems just to be lifted and used to help sell someone else's books, without asking my permission. A number of publishers have used my images and I am happy for them to do so, but only if they recognise my copyright and pay me a modest fee for the high resolution scans. I do allow free use of the thumbnail images for people to use on their web sites, but not for publication in print media.
It is absolutely unacceptable for someone to just steal my work and use it in this way. I have emailed them, and wonder what sort of reply I will receive. If it is a genuine error I will understand, but it will be so galling if I discover that someone has purposively stolen and misappropriated my work. It is difficult for me to see how they can have obtained my high resolution scans.
I had a similar problem about eight years ago when someone sold my study course lessons, having removed my name from them. I also find that a number of people have copied the texts from my alchemy web site and put them onto a CD-Rom and sell these. I have given up on trying to stop them as the texts themselves are not actually in copyright and I cannot see that they will get many sales when people can read all the texts from my web site for free. It is actually rather amusing as they carefully remove my name from all the files, but preserve the artificial division of some texts. I created this division into small parts when making up these files back in the 1996 when people were on very slow internet connections (1200 and 2400 modems in those days) so large files took a long time to download. These copying buffoons preserve this artificial structure.
6th November 2007
I am continuing to get more and more drawn into the wonders of the imagery in the Aurora Consurgens manuscripts. I have known of this manuscript since the early 1970's and over the decades have made a few tentative attempts to explore its iconography. I have now decided that the time has come for me to make an intense study of this key early work of symbolic alchemy. The earliest manuscript probably dates to the first decades of the 15th century, and thus is contemporary with the Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit but unlike this German work is not suffused with Christian religious imagery. I have now managed to locate a translation of the text of the second part of the manuscript (left out of the von Franz translation as it did not suit her thesis to include it) and should have this in a week or so. What I do lack are good quality images of the manuscript paintings. I have been trying to obtain copies from the holding libraries but without success so far. If anyone can help me with this I would be most grateful. I am especially looking for a contact in Berlin who might look at the manuscript there for me. Happily there is a late copy here in Glasgow.
5th November 2007
Today I picked up a package from the Post Office. Inside were two new scholarly books on alchemy I had bought through Amazon. The first is Chymists and Chymistry which consists of the papers presented at the 2006 Conference at the Chemical Heritage Foundation conference on alchemy. I had planned to go to that conference but the costs rather went against me and I had to pull out. So it will be good, at least, to be able to read the contributions. This is edited by Lawrence Principe. The other book by Bruce Moran is entitled Andreas Libavius and the Transformation of Alchemy. This will be quite a challenge to read as it is densely written and structured, certainly not a work one can skim read.
I am planning to create a web page devoted to new publications on alchemy. I managed to give this an hour or so later in the afternoon, but it probably needs about four hours to get it structured. It is always amazing how long it takes to make up a web page, gathering the material, making scans and fiddling about with the layout.
4th November 2007
Last week I was contacted by someone from Slovenia, who told me, among other things, about a conference held in Solvenia in 2002 on alchemy. For those unfamiliar with European geography, Slovenia is the country lodged between Italy on the West, Austria to the North, Hungary to the East and Croatia on its southern border. In earlier centuries this area under Habsburgs rule and later formed the part of the Austrian Empire. It is not entirely surprising that during the 17th century there are records of a number of alchemists, the foremost being Count Rein from Strmol castle, who was an enthusiastic alchemist in the 17th century who had a small laboratory, as did Janez Vajkard Valvasor, a geographer and member of the English Royal Geographical Society, who had an interest in alchemy and international and domestic connections with alchemists. I am hoping to be able to obtain a copty of the proceeding of this conference for my library. The papers presented there included items on - An overview of metallurgical practises in the Idrija mine - Argentum vive and cinnabar in alchemy and in production of argentum vive in Idrija (technical article about the production of cinnabar in Idrija mine, including an overview of technical innovations in the mine) - The early natural scientists in Carniola (overview of the beginnings of chemistry, medicine and physics in Carniola with a short biography of some notable persons) - Alchemy in the works of Istrian medicine doctors (a study about Petrus Bonus) - Janez Vajkard Valvasor, hermetism and alchemy - A song of Daniel from Justinopolis (an alchemical poem about the Lapis philosophorum) - Symbolic explanation of alchemy and its symbolical meaning (a Jungian oriented study about alchemical symbolism) - Alchemical experiment as a ritual (a sociological study of the alchemists role in society and the role of experiment) - On the spirit of gold. Language and alchemy in medieval texts (a study about the language that alchemists used) - Alchemistic mistakes. Mistaken interpretation of texts (linguistic and hermeneutical study) - Enochian magic of John Dee (a brief biography of John Dee and his encounter with Edward Kelly and the influence of Enochian magic on Golden Dawn and some modern magical groups in Slovenia). The conference seems to have been organised under a Jungian focus with with the well known Jungian writer Edward F. Edinger presenting a paper.
2nd November 2007
I spent a great deal of time this week painting two images from the Aurora consurgens manuscript. This early 15th century manuscript has truly amazing and engaging images, but they have become rather damaged through the years. I decided I would like to paint 'restored' facsimile versions of these. One, the monkey violinist, is almost complete, now just needing a few details retouched. Here is the original alongside my restored version. I hope I can follow this through (there are nearly 30 images to paint). It will be a major investment of my time, but if I can sell some of these small paintings it would help cover this investment. Anyone interested in acquiring these unique items (available for the first time in 500 years !) please email me at email@example.com These are painted in oils on smooth untextured board and are around 9 by 6 inches (230 by 150mm).
1st November 2007
I am delighted to have been able to buy one of the great British artist Robert Lenkiewicz's bound copies of an alchemical manuscript. We were in touch for some years by phone when he often asked my advice on alchemical books to buy, then in the late 1990's he invited me to visit him at his studio. Among other things, he showed me copies he had made of alchemical manuscripts, so I am very happy to have been able to buy one from the Weiser sale as a reminder of this remarkable artist and bibliophile. The sale catalogue states (I summarise) "This is a handwritten and bound copy of a transcription by Robert Lenkiewicz of MS. Sloane 3772. The original British Library reader's slip, showing that Robert Lenkiewicz viewed the manuscript on 4 January, 1974, has been affixed to the inside front cover. Ingeniously - and cheaply - hand bound by Lenkiewicz. The covers are quite literally boards, that is two sheets of plain plywood, secured together with a linen backstrip, over which has been placed a paper spine, down which Lenkiewicz has hand lettered the author and title details." I well remember looking at a number of these hand-bound volumes when I visited his library, and perhaps even this very volume !
31th October 2007
I got quite a surprise today when I received a fine gift from an artist in South America that I had been in contact with a few weeks ago. He has sent me a beautiful diary, the front and back of which has alchemical emblems burnt into the wooden fibreboards using pyrography. This is not one of those poor quality items manufactured by a laser, but is hand-crafted using a heated graving tool. It even has that distinctive charred wood smell! The artist, Miguel Calle, describes himself as a 'Piroalquimista'. He was born in Lima in Peru but now lives in São Paulo in Brazil. He makes many articles using pyrography but is especially interested in alchemical imagery. The first book he read on alchemy was A mandala alquímica (the Brazilian-Portuguese translation of my old book The Alchemical Mandala. He has a comprehensive web site of his work
I am going to commission him to make one of his pyrographs of the Splendor solis image for my Splendor Solis art project. Perhaps some of my readers here would be interested in commissioning a piece from him. I think his style and medium would work very well with woodcuts.
30th October 2007
Today I received a copy of a interesting little French Book, Jean Beauchard's L'alchimie dans la Franc-Maçonnerie: Art et Initiation, Editions Vega, 2007. Jean Beauchard is a fine artist who has created two tarot decks, the Masonic Tarot (1987) and an Alchemical Tarot (2006). Of course, tarot has nothing to do with historical alchemy, but is merely a modern reworking of alchemical imagery into the form of tarot designs. I was very struck by Beauchard's fine draughtsmanship and the way in which he has redrawn many images from alchemical emblems, often giving these his own particular artistic spin. Although his book is suffused with the usual modern esoteric interpretations, his artwork is very fine and he has obviously studied the imagery of alchemy in considerable depth.
28th October 2007
I spend most of the afternoon and early evening tracing and redrawing two of the images from the Aurora consurgens series preparatory to making oil paintings of these wonderful images. My versions will be good facsimiles of the originals but with the erasures and damaged parts of the images repaired. Some years ago I attempted this task but made the images too large and when scaled up they did not really work well. Now I intend to paint them about the same size as the originals and am quite hopeful that this will give a better result. I would like to use these eventually as the basis for an edition of the 'Aurora consurgens restored'. Perhaps I might even be able to sell these pictures in due course. I am now just hoping that I will be able to free up enough time over the next few weeks to work on these paintings. It will be a good exercise and really enable me to grasp something of what the illustrator was attempting to convey through his imagery.
I managed to find a little bit of time to make up a page with a reading of the chemical process contained in the Lully 'Chymical experiments'. You can see this here. There is unlikely to be much enthusiasm for a straightforward reading of an alchemical text, but I would be willing to repeat the exercise with other texts, if people have any interest. Sadly, everyone nowadays prefers a 'Da Vinci Code' interpretation of alchemical material rather than reading what the writer actually described in their work.
27th October 2007
This morning I found time to take a quick look through a new book which arrived a few days ago. This is a study of Ithell Colquhoun : Pioneer Surrealist artist, occultist, writer and poet, by Eric Ratcliffe. It includes a number of illustrations of some of her paintings. Among these are some with distinct alchemical resonances, such as The Second Adam and the related Mystic Figure. I was pleased to discover that one of her paintings is in the Hunterian Art Gallery here in Glasgow, though I have never seen it on public display. I will ask them if I might get to see the work, as I always like to see how a painter worked their paint. I never met Ithell Colquhoun, though I did have a short correspondence with her back in 1978-79, when she wrote some short pieces for my Hermetic Journal.
26th October 2007
I have now with great relief closed my Alchemy Discussion Forum. I suppose it was worth trying to establish a place where people could sensibly discuss alchemy. There was no single incident or person that led me to decide to close the forum, rather a steady drip, drip, drip of criticism, and blatant misunderstanding of my motives. As the days wore on it became more and more of a chore, and I eventually came to dread logging on to the site each morning to see what nonsense had been posted there, and what tiresome games and interpersonal disputes were being played out. People are really rude and unpleasant to one another, and it is surprising that they think they can act in this way and yet expect the person running the Forum and thus dealing with all the flak and personal emails, to feel that his task is worthwhile. Such people drained the fun I had from setting up the Forum. The owner of such a Forum must get fun from doing it, and the contributors bear a responsibility towards conducting themselves in a way which does not give more and more grief to the organiser. With their cantankerous, narrow minded, often ill-informed, relenteless criticism, they deplete the energies and enthusiasm of the organiser, so that eventually one has to decide whether it is worth continuing. I have a relatively sanguine and forgiving character, but even I get worn down. I have, after all, so many things I want to do with my life. I was hoping to spend the last few days looking at the Aurora consurgens, but that went out the window with all the demands of running the Forum. Now, having made this decision, I can relax and turn my attention to more positive things. Sadly, those individuals, who valued the Forum and respected what I was trying to do, have lost out.
26th October 2007
The last few days on my Alchemy Discussion Forum have seen a number of little dramas. It seems to be increasingly impossible to run such a group and expect straightforward and sensible discussion of alchemy. The main culprit may be the Internet itself. It allows people to hide behind aliases and thus, since they feel free of any censure or repercussions, or personal responsibility for their words, they often end up making unpleasant remarks that they would never make in a personal email or in a face to face conversation. It is all a bit sad really. It may well be that sensible discussion of alchemy is now becoming impossible. I have put quite a bit of time into running the Alchemy Discussion Forum, but I am now wondering if this is worthwhile. I do run another discussion forum devoted to tarot collecting. That is a complete delight with no troublesome people and everyone is so courteous and helpful towards others. It is a joy to log on and see what everyone wants to share and contribute. In contrast, the online alchemical community seems at times full of sour, unhelpful, overly critical people who are ready to jump on and even misinterpret ones every word.
In an attempt to bring some serious focus back to the discussion section on practical alchemy, I decided to give a reading of a 17th century text that someone had posted onto the Forum inviting comment. I attempted a straightforward line by line reading of the text showing that it described a reproducable chemical process. Few on the Forum seem to think it has any validity. I will over the next day or so make it up into a page for the website.
It seems I am always a rebel against established ideas. When I was young I rebelled against the stranglehold that academia seemed to have over the perception of alchemy and I tried through my publications to open people to more of the wonders of alchemical manuscripts and imagery. Now, I rebel against the stranglehold that modern contrived esotericism has imposed on the perception of alchemy. All I ask is that people read what is actually in the source material. That is what I try to do.
24th October 2007
I am going to spend as much time as I can make available over the next week or so to investigate the iconography of the Aurora consurgens manuscripts. This is one of the earliest alchemical manuscripts with illustrations dating to the early 15th century. There appears to be almost nothing written about this work in English, apart from the Marie-Louise von Franz book on the Aurora consurgens which is frustrating in that she entirely ignores the illustrations and focusses on the first part of the text and provides a massive commentary which draws the reader into a mass of Jungian interpretations. She focusses our attention on the existential/religious content of the text and chooses only to translate one part of the text associated with this work. Luckily there are some studies in French by Barbara Obrist and in Italian by Mino Gabriele. I am determined to read through these then attempt to make some sense of the series of illustrations. One of the most enigmatic is the monkey violinist - a truly amazing image to ponder over.
22nd October 2007
It has been a month now since I set up my most recent attempt to foster sensible discussion about alchemy through the Internet. This is the Alchemy Discussion Forum www.alchemydiscussion.com
In general the discussions have been quite reasonable, though it still depresses me somewhat to see how little that people know about alchemy and the fact that they rely so much on modern 'esoteric' and popular books for their information. The section on modern practical laboratory alchemy is dominated by people trying to upstage one another and pretending to have secret knowledge. It is quite amusing, and well worth an anthropological study. Outside the practical section, I try my best to keep people focussed on realities and not let them drift off into meaningless speculation. The sections on alchemical symbolism and on alchemy texts are worth keeping in touch with, as are the sections on recent publications and on news about conferences and events on alchemy.
20th October 2007
I just noticed that a complete set of back issues of my Hermetic Journal is for sale through a secondhand book dealer for £517.50 ($1050). That is a staggering price to me. Sadly I am not benefitting from this increase in its value ! Maybe I should hunt around among my piles of stored papers and see if I could not assemble a full set. Another dealer is selling a number of my books for £150 ($310) which I still have in stock and sell for £45-50 ($90-105). Maybe I should increase my prices.
19th October 2007
I coloured another emblem from Johann Theodor de Bry’s Proscenium vitæ humanæ sive Emblematum Secularium Frankfurt, 1627. This is Emblem XXVI, 'In love is grief'.
18th October 2007
Here is a rather fine emblem from Johann Theodor de Bry’s Proscenium vitæ humanæ sive Emblematum Secularium, which was published in Frankfurt, in 1627. This is Emblem LXV, the 'Doctor of Fools'. I spend this evening colouring it. It is obviously satirical, as are most of the emblems in de Bry's emblem book this "theatre of human life". De Bry's emblems are richly allegorical and he draws on Breughel and other paintings of that time. The de Bry family, of course, were responsible for publishing many of the great alchemical masterpieces of the opening three decades of the 17th century. This image shows a doctor holding up a urinal to inspect it. This was a common diagnostic technique in 17th century medicine. In the urine flask is a small homunculus. One of his patients is seated on the left and is being tended by the doctors assistant. His distended belly is being tapped and a stream of strange creatures spills out into a wooden tub. On the right another patient is being treated in heated bath. Here it appears that it is his head that is is infected with all sorts of dreams and obsessions. His head has become a still head or alchemical alembic and mice are being distilled off and fall to the floor.
I was drawn to this image, not only because of its delightfully humorous content and the strength of the imagery, but especially because this image is derived from an earlier alchemical manuscript.
17th October 2007
I just found a rather fine manuscript painting of Valentine's Ninth Key. It is probably 18th century. It is apparently in private collection but the book I found it illustrated in does not identify that collection. I place alongside the more familiar engraving from 1618.
16th October 2007
Today I received notice that Weiser Antiquarian Books is currently preparing a catalogue of Books on Alchemy and Hermetica, mostly from the Lenkiewicz Collection.
Robert Lenkiewicz was a remarkable British artist, who sadly died too young, a few years ago. He also had a great interest in books and in alchemy, magic and hermeticism. I met him at his workshop in Plymouth about 10 years ago. Although surrounded by his wonderful large photorealistic paintings, he told me that he valued his library above his artwork. He had plans to leave behind him a vast library as his legacy. He gave me a whole evening in which he showed me his treasures, early editions of key alchemical and hermetic works, but I was most impressed by his own painted copies of alchemical and magical manuscripts from the British Library. He had lovingly evoked the images in the original manuscripts.
It saddened me that his library project was never realised. He died too young (at about 60). Had he lived another decade or so he would probably have been able to raise the money from the increase in the price of his paintings. Now, it appears, some of the volumes from that library are to be sold off.
15th October 2007
Here is the second painting I recently discovered. This one is a kind of alchemical fountain, on which the planets gaze down.
Sadly, few people have any interest in these paintings. I have now printed both these images out on my large format press and they now have pride of place in my workroom. Almost no one has any interest in this material.
12th October 2007
I have just commissioned the artist, Erin McCauley, whose Phantomwise Tarot I recently published, to make a painting of the Splendor solis image for me. I find her artstyle rather engaging. For her tarot she made paintings in a restricted pallette of blacks and warm greys. I look forward to seeing what she makes of the image.
12th October 2007
Today I managed to obtain a copy of a 1960's French art magazine. In this was an article by the art historian Philippe Audoin, who has written extensively on surrealism. This particular article presented illustrations of two large gouache alchemical paintings. One is of an alchemical grotto and the other of an alchemical fountain. Annoyingly, Audoin does not give us any details of who painted these images, their age or their present location. I suspect they are late 18th century, but they could even be modern recreations by a skilled artist. The imagery is strikingly similar to the coloured emblems in the Marinier manuscript which I published a few months ago. Here is the first image, which Audoin describes as the 'alchemical grotto'.
11th October 2007
This evening I decided to make a coloured version of one of the emblems in the Salamandram super triplici ararum foco..., a work on the salamander written by Johann Wurffbain and printed at Altdorf in 1676.
11th October 2007
I have always been fascinated by the eighth image from the Splendor Solis manuscripts. This shows the strange figure of a man emerging from a swamp. One arm is white, the other red and his body black, thus incorporating the main colour changes in the alchemical process. His head is metamorphosed into a glassy sphere, and that I find a wonderful image. As he walks out of the swamp, an angel figure appears and hands him a red robe. Some years ago I made a facsimile copy of the main part of the image. It sat on my wall for a few months and then I sold it. A year or so later I found I was somewhat missing this image and I asked an artist friend of mine, Phil Gibson, to make a version of it in his own style, but keeping the central core of imagery. I was so pleased with this that I decided to ask other artists to make a version of this image in their own style. Bob Ellaby and Laurel Price next made versions for me. This is an ongoing project and I am now going to commission other artists, whose painting styles I admire, to make further copies. Eventually, if I can afford to continue with this project, hopefully I will in time gather ten to twenty such paintings and then I may be able to mount an exhibition of this theme.
10th October 2007
One of my contacts has brought to my attention the alchemists' garden, Le Jardin de l'Alchimiste, in the French village of Eygaliere in South East Provence (not far from Saint Remy de Provence).You can see some photos of this remarkable garden on their web site
It is composed of a number of different architectural and horticultural elements including the Berechit maze, Magical garden, and the Alchemical Garden, which has three components - the Black Work garden, The White Work garden, and the Red Work Garden. It sounds like a wonderful place in which to hold a small seminar on alchemy.
9th October 2007
I have had to spend the last few five days making up batches of my coloured books in the Magnum Opus series. After 30 years of doing bookbinding it is now a rather tedious chore, but absolutely necessary. I have had quite a few orders recently for the coloured books and decided I needed to build up a small stock to deal with incoming orders and free up some of my time for more creative work.
6th October 2007
A few weeks ago I was able, at great expense (£100, $200) to obtain a copy of a book for which I had been looking for over 10 years. This is an Italian book presented by the art historian Bruno Nardini entitled Zoroaster Ermetismo e Alchimia which contains reproductions of 38 coloured drawings in an 18th century German manuscript Zoroaster: Clavis Artis. This manuscript is in three volumes and was bought by Nino Rota, the Italian film composer, who worked with the director Fellini and is best known for his music for the Godfather trilogy of films. Rota was able to collect a substantial library of alchemical books and manuscripts and this was ultimately given to the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome. Nardini wrote a introductory commentary to the set of images. This is rather poor and displays his lack of understanding of alchemical imagery. Indeed he is, obviously, unaware of other similar alchemical emblems, and instead waffles on in a tiresome way with inappropriate explanations and psychological interpretations that just display his ignorance of the alchemical context. He also misdates this work to the 17th century when it is 18th, and misses the key clue to its origins, as the phrase 'R. et A. C.' appears on one of the opening folios. This locates it to the circle of the Rosae et Aurea Crucis the mid to late 18th century Masonic-Alchemical ritual group. Anyone with any grasp of alchemical imagery will immediately see in the images in the second volume references to the Nicolas Flamel series in Abraham Eleazar, Uraltes chymisches Werck, Erfurt, 1735. The third book has many images of dragons/snakes and I look forward to working to understand the structure of this complex sequence. I am so pleased to have this work in my hand after 10 years of trying to find it.
19th September 2007
My new alchemy discussion forum is now up and running www.alchemydiscussion.com Within the first few days it has attracted 58 people to register, with many more visitors. There have already been a number of postings and the system seems to be working well. One of the best features is the fact that one can post images directly into your message. It is relatively easy to use and the division into categories and threads means that one can easily find the posting you are interested in.
14th September 2007
I have now decided to set up a discussion board on alchemy. Over the last twelve years I have run various dicussion forums on alchemy based on email. I have now set up a new bulletin board software which is so much more useful than simple email. It allows the discussions to be posted in definite topics which are divided into different categories. Users can set up avatars and also post graphics into their messages. They can also watch various threads and have email alerts when there are replies or new messages. Although the site is still under development, you can be among the first to join to test out the system. Just go to this page and register www.alchemydiscussion.com I will be announcing this discussion board on my mailing list next week.
12th September 2007
I am currently looking for someone to translate a short alchemical allegory from Italian into English for publication in one of my Magnum Opus books. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you could help with this.
11th September 2007
The lack of postings on this weblog is not due to lack of activity but quite the opposite. The past few months have been extremely busy for me. My exhibition in Edinburgh took up a great deal of time. I still have some copies of the book connected with this exhibition for sale. It is entitled Alchemy: A Treasure House of symbolism and you can see details on this page www.alchemywebsite.com/bookshop/treasure_house.html
I also spent some weeks finishing the latest book in the Magnum Opus series. This is the The alchemical manuscript of the Seven Keys of Honoratus Marinier, possibly the last alchemical emblem series ever created. As the manuscript contains large emblems, I have issued this as a large A3 book.
24th July 2007
Went through to Edinburgh for the first day of installing my exhibition. We kept a photolog of us setting up the exhibition. A few photos are currently included and more will be added over the next few days
17th July 2007
After many weeks of concerted work, the catalogue for my forthcoming exhibition of alchemical artwork at the Edinburgh Festival in August is now printed. It is looking rather a nice production, being a large format (A4 size) paperback with a rather beautiful cover and in full colour throughout, with 65 colour illustrations. This will go on sale to coincide with the opening of the exhibition on the 3rd of August. Now I have a further period of hard work installing the exhibits and setting up the exhibition.
23rd May 2007
A few days ago I managed to get a high quality copy of an emblem I have been keen to colour for some years, but was never able to obtain a good copy. It is from an emblem book by Otto Vaen of 1607 and has always intrigued me since I first saw it as an illustration in a book. It is not alchemical as such, but somehow it captured my interest. I coloured it last night and have now put it online in my growing galleries of coloured emblems into my third gallery of emblems related to alchemy.
21st May 2007
I spent much of last week creating a new CD-Rom of my coloured emblems. This is the fourth in the series providing a further 280 emblems for people to study. I have now created over 1100 of these emblems and this is the most significant resource ever created on alchemical symbolism and emblems. I have recently been drawn to early astronomical and astrological imagery as well as expanding the section on related emblems from religious and other sources. It is amazing how much time is absorbed in just making up the CD-Roms as all my original scans have to be reprocessed and built into pdf files. I also had to create printable images with watermarks so it just took days and days. Some people seem to think one can just do this sort of thing in a few hours - they obviously have never undertaken such a task. Of course creating the images themselves was an emormous amount of work over the last three years. Some of the larger and more complex images took 12 or even 15 hours to colour and even a seemingly simple image can take well over 2 hours. It is not just a matter of applying colour on a whim - as what makes my work distinctive is the deep study I have made of original coloured manuscript material, which I try and echo in my colouring scheme. Often it takes quite a long time to decide on just how I will colour an image, indeed, I have a little pile of such images which I still am puzzling over. This is quite a crazy project as I estimate it has absorbed over 10,000 hours of my time over the past ten or so years. Many of these emblems were almost entirely unknown before I uncovered them and produced my coloured versions. You can see details on the recent disc of emblems by clicking here.
11th May 2007
I reserved much of my time this week to painting some more coloured emblems. I concentrated on a number of astronomical/astrological as well as some emblematic materials as I feel it is important now to contextualise alchemical imagery within the artwork of its period. I have now made over 1000 coloured emblems and provided the most significant resource for this material that has ever been gathered together. Over the next few weeks I will be putting much of the new material I have created over the last year onto a fourth volume of my emblems CD-Roms. I have already put up the thumbnails onto my galleries of astronomical/astrological material and the emblematic material.
7th May 2007
A rather weird thing happened recently. A few days ago I received an email from a company wanting to buy the alchemy web site. I thought it was just a marketing ploy for one of those web design companies, and sent them a facetious reply saying "Sure, for five million dollars!" Strangely the company replied and said they were interested but not at such a price. After a bit of two and fro emails I discovered that their plan was to buy the site and use it for marketing, with onscreen adverts and so on. Of course I would not do this, as I would lose editorial and content control and then my readership would be barraged with adverts for Harry Potter or Da Vinci Code books, but it was interesting that a commercial venture had recognised the substance of the alchemy web site. The site does attract a growing number of readers, but I would no doubt frighten them all away by selling it out for advertising purposes. So my regular readership can rest assured that the site will continue to be run by this rather obsessive enthusiast for all things alchemical, and remain independent of the mass marketers.
30th April 2007
I have now set up an Alchemy Art section on my website to sell large format art prints of my coloured alchemical, astrological, astronomical and other emblems. A few weeks ago I took delivery of a high quality printer that can produce art prints up to 24 by 17 inches in size. This has enabled me to produce quality artwork at a more affordable price. I had already been selling a few such items which I had to get printed for me, but I found that the high price I had to charge made these prints inaccessible to most people. Now I am able to sell these at half that price. Only a few images in my galleries can be printed at such a large size, and I have selected a few to start with and will be adding more over the next months. I have decided to discontinue selling the A3 prints and instead will sell the standard prints on A4 (11.75 by 8.25 inches) and these new large format prints. The production of these prints is very timely as I work towards my exhibition in August at the Edinburgh Festival. I hope that this will help people come to view alchemical imagery as an art form.
25th April 2007
I managed to put aside a couple of days to do some painting, making some further coloured emblems for my galleries. I hope to be able to devote a week or so to painting over the next months.
19th April 2007
I am setting up a new section of my website devoted to the artwork of alchemy, astrology/astronomy and emblems. I have selected a few items that can be provided as large format art prints. With my new printer I am now able to sell this artwork at an affordable price. See this page
I will develop this section over the next few weeks. At the moment it is under construction.
18th April 2007
Tonight the History Channel in the UK aired a documentary entitled The Real Sorcerer's Stone in its 'Decoding the Past' series, which was a reasonable, straightforward account of alchemy. It used a number of my coloured alchemical emblems as dissolves between various scenes. Among the main contributors were the scholars Lawrence Principe and Deborah Harkness. The opening and closing sections were rather good, sensible summaries of alchemical history, but for me the documentary got a little bit bogged down in two central sections on Flamel and John Dee (complete with the obligatory wife-swapping story). For me it is the best, most unsensational and sensible television programme on alchemy that I have yet seen and for a mass-entertainment medium this was an excellent presentation. The Producers and Director did not impose their own agenda onto the material.
13th April 2007
I have now taken delivery of a large format giclée printer. It is a massive beast and needs a whole bench to itself. It weighs some 90 lbs (50 kilos). I will spend some time over the next day or so setting it up and doing some test prints. I will then be able to offer high quality large format prints at more affordable prices for my customers. In the past I had to charge so much because I had to get these made by another printing company. I have many wonderful images to make available in this large 16.5 by 24 inch format. I should be able to make some announcements next week.
9th April 2007
I spent much of the past week working with the designer Ronnie Heeps on the catalogue for my exhibition of alchemical paintings at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Today I finished the initial draft of the text but will still have to do some proofreading and editing over the next months. It is good to get this finished well in advance of the actual exhibition as there is nothing worse that having to meet a looming deadline. Much of my other alchemical publications have had to wait till I was able to finish the catalogue. It should be a really nice publication in large A4 format (11.75 by 8.25 inches) and with colour illustrations on each page. It will be available for purchase once the exhibition opens in August.
30th March 2007
I am seriously considering buying a large format printer that will enable me to make high quality giclée art prints up to A2+ (17 x 24 inches) size. This is a very expensive piece of equipment (about £2000 or $4000) but it would make it possible for me to make large prints available of some of my emblems at a more affordable price and thus enable a wider group of people to own a piece of alchemical art. The artwork is so beautiful and has such an impact when printed up in large format like this that I really want to be able to supply these easily. I still have to work out the costs involved and the financial implications of making such a substantial investment, but I feel impelled towards acquiring this equipment if I can make it pay.
27th March 2007
A few days ago someone offered to do translation of an alchemical work from Latin for my Magnum Opus series. I immediately thought of the Gerhardt Dorn Speculativa Philosophia which sadly remains untranslated. The translator has agreed to do this and the sample translation he made of a page from the work is excellent and wonderfully clear. It will take some time but hopefully later this year I might be able to make some announcement about publication.
21st March 2007
Today I began work with the designer on the catalogue for my exhibition in Edinburgh. There are five months to go before the exhibition but we wanted to make progress on this so as not to get rushed as the deadline approached. I have sold another copy of the full sized Ripley Scroll so that means I will have to get two more copies made as I must have one for the exhibition.
14th March 2007
I spent many hours working on the colour scans of the pages from the 18th century alchemical manuscript that I intend to publish shortly. The images required quite a bit of retouching work to make them print well. People rarely understand just how many hours one has to put into editing a book and a few ignorant souls seem to think you just throw stuff into Microsoft Word and out comes a well structured and printed book. I printed out a sample of the images and text to check the layout and things are looking good, just requiring a little tweak here and there. I still have to write the introduction and commentary, but once that is done I will be able to proceed to producing copies. It will be an expensive book because it is in large format page size A4 (11.75 by 8.25 inches) with over twenty full page emblematic paintings. This work is almost entirely unknown. I 'discovered' it about 15 years ago and I am so pleased now to be about to see it published and made available to people.
10th March 2007
Yesterday I put up a message that I had a spare copy of my version of the Ripley Scroll for sale. Amazingly, I awoke to find someone had bought it. Now that was a good start to my day.
8th March 2007
Yesterday I went to my art printer to pick up some of the large giclée prints that I am preparing for my exhibition in Edinburgh during August. The prints have come out very well and I decided that I would print an edition of 10 copies of each, using one for the exhibition, keeping one for my archives and would offer the remaining 8 copies to my regular customers in advance of the exhibition, as this would help cover some of my costs. So today, I spent far too much time making up a page about these prints for my alchemy web bookshop. You can see these on
I also have a spare copy of the full sized Ripley Scroll for sale. This is very expensive as it is such a large item to print and the printer charges by the area of the print.
27th February 2007
Begun work on a 16th century emblem book which I intend to publish with coloured illustrations. I recently managed to obtain good quality images and have begun colouring these. This is one project amongst a mass of things I am trying to juggle with at present. I also managed through my research over the past month to get a number of illustrations, woodcuts and engraving from a number of sources. I now have a pile of nearly 100 images awaiting colouring. This I will try and work through over the coming months.
26th February 2007
I spent quite a number of hours setting up the 67 illustrations I have coloured from the Crowning of Nature manuscript so they could be printed as a large format giclee print for my exhibition. I hope this will print at about 40 by 60 inches. Making an image this size at 600 dpi really stressed my computer as the image size exceeded the 2 gigabytes of memory installed there, and I found I could only paste in small areas at a time, and eventually discovered I had to keep shifting between two separate graphics programs. One program had certain features I wanted to use, but had problems with the size of the file, so I had to keep saving the image and then open it in another program. Quite a fuss but eventually I produced a good result. I posted the massive file on a CD-Rom to my printer friend and I hope to see some test printings later in the week.
25th February 2007
I went through to Edinburgh to see the Embassy Gallery people and view the space available for my exhibition Alchemy: A treasure house of symbolism during this year's Edinburgh Festival. It is one of those experimental galleries supported by the Scottish Arts Council (a government body that supports some art activities) and also by the Edinburgh Art School. The space is quite large and divided into three rooms. I have decided to structure the exhibition into three sections - Alchemy of the Cosmos, Alchemy of the Soul and Alchemy of Matter. I have already designed the Cosmos section and will be working on the other two sections over the next few weeks.
I am currently making some large format giclee prints for the exhibition to provide some contrasting material to the smaller paintings. I will probably have a very small edition of these made up for sale to some of my subscribers. I am also going to include a full size version of the Ripley Scroll which will be laid out horizontally on a plinth. It will require quite an input of work and this would not be worth doing merely for a short lived exhibition, so it is essential, from my point of view, to have the exhibition presented also in the form of a descriptive catalogue. The curator of the Exhibition is a fine artist graphic designer and I hope he will undertake the design work on the catalogue.
So all seems to be going well and I do not foresee any problems. The gallery committee people are entirely supportive and very keen on the idea of the exhibition as it is so different from anything they have done before.
20th February 2007
Spent much of the day in the University Library looking at the 18th century manuscript I am going to publish shortly. I was checking over a few points in the text, and making sure I had the layout for the illustrations correct. In the late afternoon I was waiting for a new computer to be delivered, as my old one is now showing its age and I really need to replace it, especially to get my data onto new hard discs, however, as usually happens this was delayed by the supplier for a day. The present discs have been spinning now continuously for well over two years ! Later in the evening I programmed a page that auto scrolls all my coloured alchemical emblems. It is difficult for users to page through all 15 pages of the 260 individual emblems. Now they can opt to just sit back and let the page slowly scroll through all these emblems. You can see this on
14th February 2007
A rather boring night spent translating some Latin phrases in the 18th century French alchemical work which I am going to publish in the next few months. I do find Latin very difficult, especially those fragmentary phrases which do not necessarily adhere to the correct grammar.
12th February 2007
Late in January a colleague in London finalised the translation of an 18th century alchemical work which exists in only two manuscripts, one here in Glasgow and the other in London. This work is distinguished by its having 20 large coloured emblematic illustrations. I intend to publish this in my Magnum Opus series. I managed to find time today to work on the layout. I still have to write some introductory material and also obtain scans of the original artwork. It will probably take another two months, considering all the other projects in which I am involved at present. This will be an amazing work when published. I have wanted to publish it for about ten years, but only last year found a translator.
9th February 2007
Today I began some work on creating pages on my bookshop to sell the larger format prints. I have had some interest in these recently and I need to do this anyway in preparation for the forthcoming exhibition of my art work.
8th February 2007
A few days ago, I saw a documentary on Channel 5 here in the UK, on the background to Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. A great play was made by the programme maker on the possible inspiration for the Dr Frankenstein figure as being Johann Konrad Dippel (1673- 1734), the German pietist theologian, alchemist and physician. Dippel was born at Frankenstein Castle and was said to have made some special oil with supposedly stimulant and restorative properties from animal bones, blood and other bodily fluids. A number of stories circulate about him, in which he is seen as making experiments with corpses in order to find an elixir of life. It all seems to fit with the Victor Frankenstein figure. Sadly, however, it appears that many of these stories were created by the Brothers Grimm a century later, close to the time (1816) that Mary Shelley was writing her novel.
So Dippel, the pietistic alchemist, is now seen as someone messing about with corpses in a Frankenstein manner. It reminded me of Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun (1580-1653), here in Scotland, who was interested in alchemy and related philosophical matters. He appears to have been a learned man, but popular history has branded him as the 'Wizard Earl', and portrayed him as being involved in black magic and devil worship. He is even seen as the inspiration for the magician in the Harry Potter books, as Gordonstoun is now a well-known boarding school.
It is interesting how the pursuit of alchemy led in some cases to a person's image being embedded in a muddle of superstitious myths, possibly for eternity. Perhaps some German scholar has investigated the true biography of Dippel. I could, however, find no sensible account in English of the life of Sir Robert Gordon.
7th February 2007
Last night someone wrote to me to complain about the price of one of my books, the Alchemical Compendium I which I published in 1999, and consists of translations by Mike Dickman of some French allegorical alchemical texts. I sell the book for £42. Being a bit put out that someone should think I have overpriced my books, I decided to take a look at the secondhand price of this book, and found one for sale on abebooks (that amazing consolidation of secondhand bookshops) for £150 ! Now I did know that many of the books I produced back in the 1980's fetch high prices secondhand - I have seen the Atalanta fugiens at £300, and the Fludd Origin of the Cosmos going for £250, but the Alchemical Compendium is from 1999 and I still have quite a few copies left to sell. Maybe I should uprate my prices.
6th February 2007
I went to see a printer friend of mine about printing out a full size version of the Ripley Scroll as one piece. I do at the moment sell my coloured version of the scroll as four large A3 (16x12 inch) panels for a rather modest price. This is really to go along with my Study course on the Ripley Scroll. I am intending, however, to have a large version printed out on a roll of paper as part of my forthcoming exhibition in Edinburgh, so I went to see what the print quality would be like. The printer had printed out a sample section and I found that the quality was really excellent. It is the very expensive giclée, pigment-based, process used to make the highest quality of art prints so that the colours are archival and permanent. We also decided on the right weight of paper. He told me that he could fit two images side by side on the widest paper, so I will get him to print two copies. Perhaps I will find one of my regular customers who might want to buy the extra copy, though it will be expensive. It is certainly an astounding piece of art.
5th February 2007
During this past week I have spent so much time fiddling about with computer problems, so I was rather dreading upgrading to the new Microsoft Vista operating system. It went relatively smoothly, but with the usual hour or so of despair when things seemed to have gone totally wrong. Only a few programs won't run on Vista and I find that I don't need those anyway. I had a few problems finding drivers for some of my printers and scanners, but after a bit of messing about on the internet I found updated versions. All is running smoothly now. It seems that Vista takes a long time to become entirely comfortable with the hardware, but after a day everything settled down and I didn't have to keep staring at the little circling 'wait' icon as I had to do during the first day.
2nd February 2007
Email has been becoming a bit of a nightmare over the past year, so I had to find a solution. One problem is the sheer volume of junk mail. I get well over 2000 junk mails a day and though I use a junk mail filter I find that if I set the sensitivity too high then a number of genuine emails get dumped in the junk and I may not read them. So I have to set the sensitivity low, and consequently get a mass of junk mails into my email box. This is partly because I have used the same email address 'alchemy @dial.pipex.com' for over ten years. For the past year I have used an alternative email address email@example.com and I have now decided to make this my primary address. I will keep the pipex.com address active for a number of years, but it is now definitely being phased out. Another problem is the fact that ISPs are now identifying domains as sources of spam/junk mail and refusing all emails from that domain. The domain I have used 'dial.pipex.com' has nearly one hundred thousand users in the UK. If one of them uses their email to send junk mails I find that an ISP (even large systems such as AOL) refuse to accept emails from me. This has been a growing problem over the past six months - my mails being returned as undeliverable as 'Client host rejected'. I have now found a good solution, though it does cost a little. This is a special email sending service that guarantees delivery by stopping its clients (such as myself) sending junk mailouts. I implemented this today and now feel I have a good solution to my former email problems.
30th January 2007
Today I spent a number of hours on my computer sorting out stuff to prepare for installation of the new Windows Vista system. As my Norton Internet Security software apparently will not work with Vista I removed it and replaced it with Onecare. It was astounding how fast and responsive my computer became. I had known that Norton really slowed things down with its continual and possibly unnecessary scanning of every file of every application as they load, but without it my computer became a joy to use again and not a clunky frustrating annoyance. Graphics and printing processes are now happening at their correct speed. In a few days I will install Vista. I also had to work on making up some copies of the Paradoxical Emblems. This is not in my standard A5 format, as it is a smaller book and I have to cut all the various materials down from the A5 size. I will continue working on this tomorrow and then should have a little stock of 10 part-bound copies, only requiring me to add their leather covers when people buy them. I have sold over twenty copies of this in the last year as it seems people are getting interested in this emblematic mystical material. For years I sold none of these at all but now as the edition is almost finished people seem to want copies. I produced this book back in 1983 and it appears that 24 years later people are beginning to find in it what had first attracted me to the manuscript. Being a pioneer can seem fun, but to have to wait 24 years for people to recognise what I was doing is really too long. If this pattern continues I will be long dead before people catch up with what I am working on right now !
29th January 2007
I spent a great deal of time, more than I expected, updating the alchemy web site CD-Rom from the 2006 issue to the 2007. This required quite a lot of manipulating the material, producing the searchable exe file and the the pdf version for those people using Macs. The site is now 150 megabytes with over 2500 sections. On the CD-Rom I include the html files, the exe and pdf version and a number of databases and other material so that there are now 610 megabytes on the disc. I still sell this for a very low price £15 or $28, which undercuts some of those rip off merchants who sell discs of the alchemical text files taken straight off my web site. Rebuilding the website CD-Rom made me very aware that I should spend some substantial time adding some files and other information which I have gathered over the past year. I will try and do this once I have cleared my present backlog of work. There is always so much to do.
20th January 2007
Much of this last week has been taken up primarily with the rather boring and prosaic task of preparing my income tax returns. It appears that I have made so little money over the past year that I will be required to pay little tax ! However, this situation has arisen because I have invested most of the sales from last year into buying equipment, research materials, books and especially tarot cards. In doing the accounts I also discovered that I have spent really large sums on my colour printer which is proving to be extremely expensive to run, and over the past few years I have issued five books with numerous colour illustrations. I may have to reassess the pricing of these books.
Work is proceeding with the exhibition of my alchemical artworks at the Edinburgh Festival in August. One of the main things that must be addressed shortly will be the preparation of a descriptive catalogue. I have managed to outline a provisional structure for the exhibition so it should have three sections - the Alchemy of the Cosmos, the Alchemy of the Soul and the Alchemy of Matter. The gallery fortuitously has three rooms, so this structure should fit the space perfectly. The costs of mounting the exhibition are in place, all that remains is to finance the printed catalogue. I really want a full colour large format catalogue with a minimum of 24 pages but hopefully with considerably more - 48 pages would be best. I think we need to raise a further £1500 ($3000). As part of the exhibition activities I have been asked to give a lecture on the iconography of alchemy to the Edinburgh Art School.
15th January 2007
Yesterday I had a visit from a group of people who run an Art Gallery in Edinburgh, the Embassy Gallery. They came to disuss the possibility of me doing an exhibition of my alchemical artwork for this years Edinburgh Festival (in August). We were able to sketch out the structure of the exhibition and sort out some of the technical matters. This should give an opportunity for presenting alchemical emblematic imagery to a wide cultural audience at the Edinburgh Festival, so I am very enthusiastic about this project. One thing I am insisting on is that we can produce a catalogue for the exhibition so that this will provide a permanent record of the exhibition. I can then sell it to people who would not have been able to come to the exhibition. At the very least the catalogue would be a description of the artworks exhibited and some analysis of the material. If I could get some subsidy then it might be possible to expand the catalogue into a more significant piece on alchemical art. The gallery has limited funds and most of this would be chanelled towards the costs of mounting the exhibition, so I may have to try and find someone willing to subsidise the cost of printing such a catalogue. This is really a great opportunity to bring alchemical emblematic imagery before a wider audience than the group who visit my website, buy my books, study courses, prints or CD-Roms of imagery. It will require much hard work but it should be worth all the effort.
9th January 2007
Over the past month I have had three examples of people selling or using my copyright material without my permission. It is a bit stupid for people to attempt to steal my intellectual property and then try and sell it, as whenever they try and sell a CD-Rom or whatever, it is immediately visible in Google. One cannot really hide on the internet. One of these individuals made a genuine mistake and thought my coloured emblems were actually made in the medieval period. Once I explained the situation they immediately apologised and removed the material from sale. Another person wanted me to sent my study courses to them by FTP rather than as a CD-Rom. I then discovered that this address was a publically accessible folder on their web site! Needless to say I didn't upload the files. A third person was selling a CD-Rom of the material from my web site, not merely the old texts, but all the modern copyright material written by myself and others. He seemed to think he had a right to do this! It is a growing problem, as many people nowadays seem to think they can just download other people's work, spend a few hours stripping the original writer's names from the files and then offering these for sale as their own work. The situation is very worrying as once the material becomes decontextualised by my name being erased from my writings, then someone buying a CD-Rom with this material quite justifiably thinks these to be public domain, and may in turn innocently circulate them further. Thus my work gets disconnected from myself. I do allow people to use the out of copyright original alchemical texts and also the thumbnails of the coloured emblems I have painted, on their websites, but not for commercial purposes. I do not allow this material to be sold or used in commercial products, without my permission. I would welcome any information about people selling my material to others, or distributing it as their own work. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org , if you have any information about such potential infringements, as I feel I have to get on top of this potential problem before it runs away out of control. It seems many people nowadays do not feel they have to respect other peoples intellectual property. Copying and selling other people's intellectual property is merely a form of theft.
21st December 2006
Rather a bad day. I damaged my back lifting a heavy item up the stairs to my apartment. After that I couldn't do much at all. After a few hours rest I found that it was not interfering much with my doing painting or working on the computer, so I worked on some of the Beham 'Planet' series of woodcuts, which I started last year but had never found the time to complete. I managed to finish off the work on two that I had partially completed ages ago. These are really elaborate large woodcuts and it takes me well over a day (probably 12+ hours) to make a coloured version. You can see the series on the Astronomical Emblems page two. These woodcuts were a clear influence on the planetary flasks section of the Splendor solis manuscripts. I still have the 'Sun' to complete.
19th December 2006
Spent a day in the University Library here in Glasgow. I went there mainly to look at an 18th century manuscript which I am considering for publication and also to look at the various editions of the famous Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine. The Valentine work is really interesting and almost totally misunderstood, its meaning occluded by modern esoteric twaddle, so I am thinking of either writing a book on the work or preparing a study course. I will see what comes of this next year. I also had a look at some emblem material, and especially at a catalogue of exhibition celebrating the life and work of Matthaeus Merian who created many engravings for alchemical works (most notably the Atalanta fugiens). In fact, Merian, sadly almost unknown to the art world, produced a wide variety of emblematic and illustrative material for many books in the early 17th century. This catalogue shows some examples of his sketches and drawings together with the finished engravings. I also looked at many emblems in the Cesari Ripa Iconologia, the Weiditz woodcut engravings to Petrarch (the Petrarca-Meister) of 1532. There is so much wonderful material out there that I ran out of time looking for good images of the Trionfi of Petrarch.
13th December 2006
Today started out with a potential disaster. Here in Glasgow we have had almost continuous rain for about a week. This morning I noticed drops of water coming through the ceiling in my library just over the main wall of bookshelves which houses my alchemical library. Luckily, I caught this in time and only a few books got splashed a bit with water. If I had been out for the day I would have come back to some more severly damaged books. I had to shift all the books from the bookcases and pile them up on the other side of the room. It is now total chaos, but the books are safe.
10th December 2006
I am trying to reorganise the prints section of my alchemy web bookshop, to make it easier for people to buy these using Paypal in pounds or dollars. I also hope, given time over the next few days, to sort of some new pages to make it easier for people to buy the larger format prints. It is taking much longer than I thought to organise this as there are over 800 pronts but only a few can be realistically made available in A3 large format.
25th November 2006
It is not often one hears a reference to alchemy on the BBC World Service Radio programme devoted to science, but my ears did not deceive me. This was a short piece based on an article in the recent issue of the UK science Journal Nature. This was about the recipe for high quality crucibles produced in Hesse from the late 16th century and well known to alchemists. A short summary of this can be seen on
23rd November 2006
Spend some hours reading through the translation of a 18th century French alchemical manuscript that I intend to publish. There were a few words that the translator found difficult to read, but I managed to work these out. It is a really interesting work with a series of large coloured illustrations, almost totally unknown, so I look forward to publishing this next year.
I had quite a few problems to deal with today. I had to strip down my gold blocking press which had got locked up mechanically. I couldn't see anything wrong, but as often happens with mechanical things once I put it together again, it worked okay. I also managed to fix my CD-Rom drive which began playing up a week or so ago, rejecting discs as unwritable. At first I thought I had a batch of bad discs, but then the drive crashed my computer a few times. I was about to go out and buy a new drive, then I thought I might try updating the drive's firmware and drivers. It seems to be working okay now, but if it has another problem I will just chuck it and get new.
22 November 2006
Today I received in the post from Amazon a copy of a new book on Paracelsus by Philip Ball The Devil's Doctor. As soon as I opened the package I saw the painted portrait of Paracelsus on the dust jacket. This is a painting I know very well as I have made a facsimile painting of this which you can see on http://www.alchemywebsite.com/paintings/McLean19.html. What really interested me was the note inside the book in which this painting is ascribed to the painter Jan van Scorel (1495-1562). The painting is in the Louvre and had previously been assigned to the Flemish artist Quentin Metsys (c.1465-1530). Paracelsus died in 1541 and thus the ascription to Jan van Scorel means that it could well have been drawn from life. He was born in 1493 and thus if the painting had been by Metsys then Paracelsus could not have been older than 37 and we do not know if Metsys was still painting in 1530 (when the artist would have been 65), whereas if it was by van Scorel, the artist could have seen Paracelsus at a later age. I am not entirely convinced by this new ascription as the Paracelsus portrait certainly looks in Metsys' style when one compares it to Metsys' other portraits. The famous woodcut portraits of Paracelsus depict him differently. I have already documented some of this at portraits of Paracelsus. It is a really interesting question as to how we picture a figure like Paracelsus to ourselves. Now I have to read the book !
21 November 2006
Today began well with the arrival by email of a translation which a colleague was making for me from French of an 18th century alchemical text. Hopefully I will find time later in the evening to read through this. It is a most interesting alchemical manuscript with a series of coloured illustrations which I have wanted to publish for many years. Now the translation has been made I hope to be able to publish this in my Magnum Opus series in January or February. Much of today will have to be taken up with bookbinding chores as I have a few orders for books to deal with. Later in the evening I set up an article for the website transcribed by Alan Pritchard from the Royal Society Transactions.
Alchemical, astrological and
emblematic art prints
Alchemy and art
Art books Series
Study course on Bosch's
Garden of Earthly Delights
New Hieronymus Bosch Website