by Walter Lang (1976)
The material of the Egyptian Book of the Dead was said to be old already when it was assembled by Semti in the First Dynasty some five thousand years ago.
Perhaps due to the second law of thermodynamics (which may be as relevant in biology and psychology as it is in dynamics) the evolutionary ferment of Egyptian alchemy began to involve. Maybe the mechanism of its degeneration was a shift in the level of will from which it proceeded. An evolutionary technique would thus become increasingly enlisted for involutionary ends. Alchemy, God-orientated, would become magic, self-dedicated. Such would be the dying Egypt against which Moses inveighed.
As always, however, knowledge of the technique was compressed; a torch was lit; an ark was launched. Before Egypt became totally submerged in idolatry, the Great Secret was transmitted.
The seeds of alchemy were scattered. Some fell on good ground and flourished; some fell on stony ground and died.
Egypt seems to have sown chiefly in Greece and Israel, perhaps also in China.
Strange as the idea may be, Greece appears to have made less of her chances than she might. The Glory That Was Greece may have been a poor shadow of the Glory That Might Have Been.
Also, Greece stood to Rome as parent to offspring, and Rome proved to be a delinquent child and a degenerate adult in the community of human cultures. The plant of alchemy flowered only briefly in Greece and the seeds that blew to Rome never germinated at all.
The transmission from Egypt to Israel was initially one of great promise but again the promise was not realized. Whether wilting of the plant in Israel was due to the Dispersion or whether the Dispersion was a consequence of the Jewish failure to manage their alchemical inheritance, is not known. The Elders of Jewry at any rate were unable to find conditions within which their inheritance could be brought to its full actualization.
To ensure its survival in some measure, they were obliged to compromise dangerously. They externalized some of it in the Zohar and maintained a small initiated inner circle. It may be that this circle, very greatly depleted, survived in Europe in isolated pockets like Cracow until the thirties of the present century.
While Greece sowed abortively in Rome during her lifetime, she also sowed posthumously—and successfully in Arabia. Here the alchemical energy chanelled through the esoteric schools of Islam and through exceptional individuals like Jabir externalized in the veritable explosion of Mohammedan art and science of the eighth to twelfth centuries.
The wave of Islam's expansion reached Spain where two streams appear to have joined up. In Seville and Granada there were initiated Jews who carried the Egyptian transmission. They met Arab initiates who carried the Greek transmission and the latter were perhaps reinforced from a permanent powerhouse from which all evolutionary operations are directed.
If it is true that some 'beads of mercury* were reunited through Mohammed, two more were reunited in Spain. Out of this confluence grew a very large part of the whole of Western civilization which we have inherited and whose origin hardly one man in a million has ever suspected in seven centuries.
The current which flowed from the beads of mercury which were reunited in Spain flowed into an immense invisible force field over Europe. The nature of this noumenal structure can never be glimpsed and its functions in a higher dimension cannot even be imagined. It externalized into the common life in a series of culture components which in aggregate constitute a large part of Western civilization.
A selection of these factors at random would include the Christian pilgrimage (based on the form established by the Cluniacs to St. James of Compostella); the Crusades; Heraldry; the orders of chivalry (cheval-ry: from the horse as a glyph of the alchemical 'volatile'?); castle architecture; the Gothic cathedrals; illumination and embroidery, the Troubadours, Albigenses, Cathars and Minne-sanger; the Courtly Romances; the Arthurian Quest Theme (reuniting the Celtic pre-Christian Grail Quest); the Cult of the Virgin in Catholicism; the theological philosophy of Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas; the cosmology of Bacon; the devotional systems of St. Francis, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa; the Wandering Players, Jester, harlequinades and Mystery Plays; specialized dancing; falconry and certain ball games; Free-masonry and Rosicrucianism; gardening (the Spanish Gardens); playing cards; die Language of the Birds concept; the Craft Guilds; archery; some medicine like immunology (Paracelsus) and homoeopathy, and cybernetics (Raymond Lully). All the foregoing were the externalized forms of a major alchemical operation at an invisible level. Only one aspect however, that of chemical alchemy, used the terminology which has been subsequently identified with the word.
For some hundreds of years alchemy existed in Europe as a real science of transformation at many levels. At one level it was concerned with the ultimate transformation of human souls.
Perhaps because Christianity had rejected the wisdom component of its total revelation—a decision in which Constantine was probably crucial—alchemy, being concerned with the totality, had to operate in disguise. Precisely because orthodox religion was defective in the wisdom component, any modality which contained it was, ipso facto, heresy.
The genuine Christian alchemists—estimated to number four thousand between 1200 and 1656—readopted a chemical code which had served in similar circumstances in the past. A certain principle of nature (rendered in the codex attributed to Hermes, 'as above, so below') ensured that the alchemical process at its hidden level could be represented with full integrity by the terminology of a lower discipline. This lower discipline—metallic chemistry—was all that the common fife of Europe ever understood by the word alchemy.
Since Jung's work in alchemy began to infiltrate modern psychology, alchemy as a 'mental' or at any rate a non-physical process, has become a fashionable acceptance. Typical of the 'reductionist' attitudes of the twentieth century is the current belief that alchemy has now been explained. It is 'nothing but' an early and crude study of psychology and perhaps of ESP. Dazzled by the success of science in providing a label for everything, few have bothered to inquire whether the aphorism of Hermes 'as above, so below' might not require a process valid at mental level to be equally valid at physical level.
A label has been affixed, and therefore the mystery is no more. No-one, it seems, notices any conflict between the Jungian 'psycho-logical interpretation' and the documented historical record of men like Helvetius and the Cosmopolite (Alexander Seton?) who demonstrably did make tangible yellow twenty-two carat gold. That which is above is as that which is below' might never have been written.
Throughout the whole European record of Alchemy, its genuine practitioners appear to have been under certain obligations which may in fact apply to 'artists' in the Work of every age. It seems that they are required to leave behind them some thread which those who come after may use as a guide line across the web of Ariadne. The indications provided must be in code and the code must be self cancelling; that is, an inquirer who does not possess the first secret must be infallibly prevented from discovering the second. 'Unto him that hath . . .' is nowhere better exemplified than in the attempt to study alchemical texts.
Given that the inquirer knows the first secret, search and unceasing labour may wrest from the code, the next step following but the searcher will need to have made progress in his own personal practice before he is able to unravel a further step. Thus the secret protects itself.
In the course of his work the alchemist may come to understand that certain familiar legends have a wholly new, practical and unsuspected meaning. He may suddenly discover what Abraham was required to sacrifice and why; what the star in the East really heralds; what the Cross may symbolize; and why the veil of the Temple was rent.
The strictly alchemical aspect of The Great Work has been quiescent in Europe for about three centuries but rare and exceptional individuals still find their way through the maze—perhaps by making contact with a source outside Europe—and achieve one or other of the degrees of the Magnum Opus.
Few such instances come to the knowledge of the outside world but one exception to the general rule is the case of the modem alchemist who has come to be known as Fulcanelli.
In the early 'twenties, a French student of alchemy, Eugene Canseliet was studying under the man now known as Fulcanelli. One day the latter charged Canseliet with the task of publishing a manuscript—and then disappeared.
The manuscript was the now famous Mystere des Cathedrales and its publication caused a sensation in esoteric circles in Europe. From internal evidence the author was a man who had either completed, or was on the brink of completing, the Magnum Opus. Interest in such an individual, among those who knew what was involved, was enormous.
For nearly half a century, painstaking research has gone on in an effort to trace the vanished Master. Repeated attempts by private individuals to pick up the trail—and on at least one occasion by an international Intelligence agency—have all ended in a blank wall of silence.
To most, the conclusion seemed inescapable: Fulcanelli, if he ever existed, must be dead.
One man knew better—Fulcanelli's former pupil Canseliet. After a lapse of many years, Canseliet received a message from the alchemist and met him at a pre-arranged rendezvous. The reunion was brief for Fulcanelli once again severed contact and once again disappeared without leaving a trace of his whereabouts.
One circumstance of the reunion was very remarkable—and in an alchemical sense of the highest significance. Fulcanelli had grown younger. Canseliet has told the present writer: The Master' (when Canseliet had worked with him) was already a very old man but he carried his eighty years lightly. Thirty years later, I was to see him again, as I have mentioned, and he appeared to be a man of fifty. That is to say, he appeared to be no older than I was myself'.
One other possible appearance of the mysterious master alchemist is reported by the French researcher Jacques Bergier.
While working as assistant to Andre Helbronner, the noted physicist who was later to be killed by the Nazis, Bergier was approached one day by an impressive individual who asked Bergier to pass on to Helbronner a strange—and highly knowledgeable— warning. This was to the effect that orthodox science was on the brink of manipulating nuclear energy.
The stranger said it was his duty to warn that this same abyss had been crossed by humanity in the past with disastrous consequences. Knowing human nature, he had no hope that such a warning would have any effect but it was his duty to give it. The mysterious stranger then left. Bergier is convinced to this day that he was in the presence of Fulcanelli.
Treatises have been written to prove that Fulcanelli was a member of the former French Royal Family, the Valois; that he was the painter Julien Champagne; that he was this or that occultist.
Not a few were driven to the conclusion that Fulcanelli was a myth and that no such person had ever existed. This theory is a little difficult to sustain in view of the existence of Mystere des Cathedrales. This work is authoritatively accepted as the work of a man who had gone far—very far—in the practice of alchemy.
The myth theory is also untenable against the testimony of Canseliet. In September 1922, in a laboratory at Sarcelles and in the presence of the painter Julien Champagne and the chemist Gaston Sauvage, Canseliet himself made an alchemical transmutation of 100 grammes of gold using a minute quantity of the Powder of Projection given to him by his teacher. Thus there is a European, alive at the present time, who personally testifies not only to the existence of Fulcaneli but to the veridical nature of an event which modern science regards as an absurd myth. Legend has it that this transmutation took place 'in a gasworks'. The account seems the plainest possible statement of a purely physical event. Alchemists, however, warn repeatedly that when their descriptions seem plainest the camouflage factor is highest. The alerted reader will certainly consider here that a gasworks is a site where a volatile substance is produced from a heavy mineral and will recall that alchemy is a process of 'separating the fine from the gross'.
In being allowed to perform an alchemical operation with energy lent him by another, Canseliet thus joins a remarkable band of privileged—and perhaps bewildered—people who through history have recorded the same experience. These include Johann Schweitzer (whose experience was investigated by Spinoza) Professor Dienheim of Fribourg in 1602 and Christian II Elector of Saxony, in the following year.
But for all practical purposes Fulcanelli has vanished as though he never existed. Only his contributions to the literature of alchemy remains, Mystere des Cathedrales.
It has long been believed that the Gothic cathedrals were secret textbooks of some hidden knowledge; that behind the gargoyles and the glyphs, the rose windows and the flying buttresses, a mighty secret lay, all but openly displayed.
This is no longer a theory. Given that the reader of Mystere des Cathedrales has even begun to suspect the first secret, Fulcanelli's legacy is at once seen as an exposition of an incredible fact: that, wholly unsuspected by the profane, the Gothic cathedrals have for seven hundred years offered European man a course of instruction in his own possible evolution.
About one thing it seems impossible to have any doubt. The unknown who wrote Mystere des Cathedrales KNEW. Fulcanelli speaks as one having authority. By pointing to a glyph in Notre Dame or a statue in Amiens and relating an unknown sculptor's work to some ancient or modem text, Fulcanelli is indicating steps in a process he has himself been through.
Like all who truly KNEW, from Hermes through Geber and the Greek and Arab artists to Lully, Paracelsus and Flamel, Fulcanelli masks and reveals in equal measure and like all before him, he is wholly silent on the initial step of the practice.
But in his method of repeatedly underlining certain words and perhaps in some curious sentences on the rose windows, he suggests, as explicitly as he dares, the mightiest secret that man may ever discover.
*Behold,' said Boehme, 'he will show it to you plain enough if you be a Magus and worthy, else you shall remain blind still.'
-- from the Introduction to Fulcanelli's Le Mystere des Cathedrales.