Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lawrence Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy

I got this book as a Christmas gift and have not been disappointed. It's really the first reliable, scholarly introduction to alchemy that is both an easy read and a fascinating guide to the subject. It is well illustrated with useful diagrams that help explain the chemistry, which Principe shows was the real focus of the work. I especially appreciated the chapter on Zosimos, which sets the record straight about the nature of his dream as well as providing an interesting framework for thinking about his gnostic influences. There's lots of great stuff on medieval and islamic alchemical theory explained more clearly than I have seen in any book on alchemy, and Principe even tackles some of the more difficult renaissance cases like Maier and Khunrath, persuasively putting those strange texts into their religious and alchemical contexts. I only wish that it had been longer. A more lengthy review to come.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Versluis vs. Hanegraaff (not sure he understands emic vs. etic here)

Still, one has to wonder about the implications of the sharp division he makes between a “religionist” perspective and an “empiricist” one. Let us consider, for a moment, the example of an alchemical treatise. It may well be that this treatise includes arcane allusions to alchemical work that only a practicing alchemist would recognize and understand. We could envision an etic approach to this treatise that completely fails to recognize what the treatise conveys on alchemical discipline, whereas an emic approach might very well be the only one that could get at what the alchemical work is actually about. In this case, as in a number of others I might also cite, a sympathetic empiricist perspective may well be indispensable for understanding the work one is investigating. And this, in fact, is the methodological approach that I am advocating here.
Methods in the Study of Western Esotericism

Friday, November 2, 2012

Zodiacal Man

Adam McLean on the "Frater Albertus" school

"Yes, it is good to see some researchers revisiting actual alchemical
processes and attempting to repeat some alchemical experiments
described in the original writings, books and manuscripts of alchemists.
Unfortunately, as these often involve high temperatures, molten metals
or salts, corrosive acids and alkalis, as well as poisonous volatile
substances, these can only be undertaken in a properly equipped
chemical laboratory.

From the 1980s, there was popularised by Frater Albertus in the USA
a type of kitchen chemistry, involving simple low temperature distillations
of herbal material. This was presented as an actual "alchemy" which could
result in plant stones and various such preparations which people were
led to believe could cure them of illnesses. Sadly, this was mere froth and
fabrication and had almost no connection to anything one might recognise as
being recorded in actual alchemical writings. During the last 30 years, this
Frater Albertus concocted "alchemy" seems to have been the one which
has become the popular view of practical alchemy, and is trawled through
in study courses and various web sites.

The important thing, surely, is to explore the original writings of the alchemists
and also attempt to repeat their experimental work."

taken from a comment posted here

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Spiritual Alchemy and the function of images

Spiritual alchemy and the function of image : coincidentia oppositorum in Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens / Florin George Calian
The function of image in alchemical treatises like Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens opens a discussion of alchemy as laboratory work or as spiritual discipline. According to some scholars, the iconography of alchemy is a metaphorical illustration of laboratory work. This thesis argues that it is not the case with Atalanta fugiens, where the iconographical language is part of a tradition that stresses the power of image in expressing spiritual and metaphysical achievement. The tradition for which the image plays the major role is identified by Ernst Gombrich as a Neo-Platonic one. Using Gombrich’s theory (the Neo-Platonic symbol theory) and his terminology pertaining to the function of images (didactic, revelative, magic), I explored the possible ways of interpreting Atlanta fugiens’ iconography for both the initiated and the common “reader”. Three emblems (VIII, XXX, and XXI) are analyzed in relation to the additional text to illustrate the possibility of building a structural model for the images (didactic-revelative, didactic, and revelative), but also to discuss their ambiguity in several semiotic layers. The hypothesis is also advanced that Atalanta fugiens’ illustrations were influenced by the iconography of Lambspring’s De lapide Philosophorum, and not the other way around. This entire excursion returns to the starting point of the thesis, which stresses that alchemy is an allegorical manner of expression for something spiritual and religious, and not merely pre-chemistry.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Saturday, September 1, 2012


 Picatrix is the name used today, and historically in Christian Europe, for a grimoire originally written in Arabic titled غاية الحكيم Ġāyat al-Ḥakīm, which most scholars assume was written in the middle of the 11th century,[1] though a supported argument for composition in the first half of the 10th century has been made.[2] The Arabic title has been translated as "The Aim of the Sage" or "The Goal of The Wise".[3] The original Arabic work was translated into Spanish and then into Latin during the 13th century. The name "Picatrix" is also sometimes used to refer to the author.
Picatrix is a composite work that synthesizes older works on magic and astrology. One of the most influential interpretations suggests it is to be regarded as a "handbook of talismanic magic".[4]
  Another researcher summarizes it as "the most thorough exposition of celestial magic in Arabic", indicating the sources for the work as "Arabic texts on Hermeticism, Sabianism, Ismailism, astrology, alchemy and magic produced in the Near East in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D."[5] According to Eugenio Garin "In reality the Latin version of the Picatrix is as indispensable as the Corpus Hermeticum or the writings of Albumasar for understanding a conspicuous part of the production of the Renaissance, including the figurative arts."[6] It has significantly influenced West European magical thinking from Marsilio Ficino in the 15th century, to Thomas Campanella in the 17th century. The manuscript in the British Library passed through several hands: Simon Forman, Richard Napier, Elias Ashmole and William Lilly.

 According to the prologue of the Latin translation, Picatrix was translated into Spanish from the Arabic by order of Alphonso X of Castile at some time between 1256 and 1258.[7] The Latin version was produced sometime later, based on translation of the Spanish manuscripts. It has been attributed to Maslama ibn Ahmad al-Majriti (an Andalusian mathematician), but many have called this attribution into question. Consequently, the author is sometimes indicated as "Pseudo-Majriti".

Shams Al-Marif

  (text borrowed from an ad and from wikipedia)

 "This is the leading text of Islamic Occultism, written by the mysterious Cabbalistic Sufi Ahmad al-Buni. This work is about the Secrets of the Asma Al-Husna (the 99 “Excellent Names” of God), the mysteries of the Huruf Muqatta’at of the Qur’an (the enigmatic letters appearing at the start of some chapters), and it discusses the influence exercised by the sun, moon and stars at the time of preparing prayer-charts or phylacteries. There is a great deal on magic squares, numerology, alchemy, amulets, many formulae for day-to-day use, and much more.     The Shams al-Ma’arif rivals the Picatrix in importance. Most of the "time-tested" books on sorcery in the Muslim world are simplified excerpts from the Shams al-Ma’arif. Both the Picatrix and the Shams al-Ma’arif were probably a model for H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. More intriguing, perhaps, is the similarity between some of the symbols in the Shams al-Ma’arif and the veves of the Voodoo tradition."

Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Buni (Arabic: أحمد البوني‎), his complete name is Sharaf al-Din or Shihab al-Din Ahmad ibn Ali ibn Yusuf al-Buni al-Maliki al-Amazighi. Born in the city of Bône (Annaba), Algeria (died 1225) Ahamd al-Buni was a well known Sufi and writer on the esoteric value of letters and topics relating to mathematics, sihr (sorcery) and spirituality, but very little is known about him. Al-Buni lived in Egypt and learned from many eminent Sufi masters of his time.[1]

A contemporary of Ibn Arabi,[2] he is best known for writing... the Shams al-Ma'arif, a book that is still regarded as the foremost occult text on talismans and divination. It was to be banned soon after as heretical by followers of the Islamic orthodoxy.

Instead of sihr (Sorcery), this kind of magic was called Ilm al-Hikmah (Knowledge of the Wisdom), Ilm al-simiyah (Study of the Divine Names) and Ruhaniyat (Spirituality). Most of the so-called mujarrabât ("time-tested methods") books on sorcery in the Muslim world are simplified excerpts from the Shams al-ma`ârif.[3] The book remains the seminal work on Theurgy and esoteric arts to this day.

In c. 1200, Ahmad al-Buni showed how to construct magic squares using a simple bordering technique, but he may not have discovered the method himself. Al-Buni wrote about Latin squares and constructed, for example, 4 x 4 Latin squares using letters from one of the 99 names of Allah. His works on traditional healing remains a point of reference among Yoruba Muslim healers in Nigeria and other areas of the Muslim world.[4]

Al-Buni also made regular mention in his work of Plato, Aristotle, Hermes, Alexander the Great, and obscure Chaldean magicians. In one of his works, he recounted a story of his discovery of a cache of manuscripts buried under the pyramids, that included a work of Hermetic thinkers.

 Shams al-Ma'arif or Shams al-Ma'arif wa Lata'if al-'Awarif

(Arabic: كتاب شمس المعارف ولطائف العوارف‎, lit. "The Book of the Sun of Gnosis and the Subtleties of Elevated Things") is a 13th-century grimoire written on Arabic magic and a manual for achieving esoteric spirituality. It was written by quasi-Qabalistic Sufi Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali Al-buni in Egypt, who died around 1225 CE (622 AH). The Shams al-Ma'arif is generally regarded as the most influential textbook of its type in the Arab and Muslim worlds,[1] and is arguably as important as, if not more than, the Picatrix in both hemispheres. In contemporary form the book consists of two volumes; Shams al-Ma'arif al-Kubra and Shams al-Ma'arif al-Sughra, the former being the larger of the two.[2][3] The first few chapters introduce the reader to magic squares, and the combination of numbers and the alphabet that are believed to bring magical effect, which the author insists is the only way to communicate with genies, angels and spirits. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Zodiac Mosaic From an Ancient Synagogue

Enochian d20

Forkbearded Angel

(of course I'm reminded of the Tyroshi from George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones novels)

Is this Arabic Occult Manuscript the source of Lovecraft's Arkham?

Halu Rumuz al-Arkam fi Kashfi 'Ulum al-Aklam




Ta'likat al-Buni


here's an article on al-Buni: Noah Gardiner, Forbidden knowledge? Notes on the production, transmission, and reception of the major works of Ahmad al-Buni