Sunday, September 15, 2013

A new interview with me about my work on Philip K. Dick

Occult Sentinel - Ted Hand - PKD and the Western Esoteric Tradition

Podcast Outline

Here are some tentative titles I brainstormed for a podcast miniseries to review my research.

Spiritual Alchemy and Science Podcast (main theme[s] in parentheses)

#1 historiographical problem (hard truth: not an esoteric meditation)

#2 spiritual alchemy or spiritual alchemies (good news: many ways to learn from religious aspects)

#3 do secular alchemy studies downplay religious aspects? (scope choices don't necessarily mean marginalizing)

#4 intro 16th-17th century flowering of spiritual alchemy (armchair metaphor vs. lab practice as meditation)

#5 Khunrath, Maier, and Fludd (visual treatments turning alchemy into a religion?)

#6 Alchemical Transmutations of Christian Cabala (when Alchemy met Renaissance magic...)

Monday, August 26, 2013

General Review of Muslim Chemistry

Until the time of Jabir, chemistry was 'without form and void'. The solid technical knowledge of the craftsmen was lost in the vapourings of occultists, and if there were any men with a more reasonable view of chemical science, its aims, its objects and its methods, we find no record of them. By the efforts of Jabir and Razi, the two Muslim chemical geniuses, much of the vast accretion of unbridled speculation was cleared away, and chemistry first began to take shape as a true science. Experimental fact was at last informed with the beginnings of reasonable theory, while on the practical side a workmanlike scheme of classification was evolved and a divide range of substances was carefully investigated and systematically characterized. The common laboratory methods of distillation, sublimation, calcination, reduction, solution and crystallization were improved and their general purposes well understood.
Chemistry, in the work of the great chemists from Jabir to the time of Avicenna, was concerned chiefly not so much with alchemy but with concrete technical matters such as the development of apparatus, the preparations of, and the study of their reactions. The development of chemistry in the period, although almost entirely empirical, was of great importance in that a new high level was attained in the accumulation of chemical data.

(read more)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Quick thoughts vs. Asprem on the historiography of "spiritual" alchemy

I like this post, admire Asprem greatly, but think he's mistaken to describe Principe's analysis as "simplistic." Of course attention needs to be paid to the spiritual side of alchemy, but to criticize Principe for not dealing with it misunderstands the scope of his project. Principe is arguing that the historiographical concept of alchemy being "not really" concerned with the physical chemistry is mistaken. He has adequately demonstrated that by showing that the chemical meanings can be found and the experimental results duplicated. He's not arguing that the spiritual side shouldn't be taken into account in order to give a thick description of alchemy, and if you read his recent book "The Secrets of Alchemy" you'll see that he's not trying to sweep spiritual meanings under the rug. He just insists as any good historian would that we must take the cultural context of any alchemical spirituality into account, ideally after first understanding the chemical significations of the text.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

interesting post on Zosimos

I have presented a paper in Cardiff on Zosimus. For those interested, I've
posted it on my page.
To my knowledge, there is no link between Zosimus and any specifically
platonic doctrine, despite the fact that the Souda ascribes a life of Plato
to Zosimus (this is not the only strange thing with this notice). The most
interesting link between early Greek alchemy and Platonism that I have read
is in an article by Luc Brisson called "Le corps dionysiaque." which shows
the alchemical connotations of Olympiodorus' reading of the anthropogenesis
attributed to Orpheus in which both Dionysius and the Titans are
sublimated by Zeus' lightening.
To the works on ancient Greek alchemy already cited, there is also the
important edition that Michèle Mertens did of a part of Zosimus' corpus in
the Budé series (Vol.4 part 1 of the *Alchimistes grecs *collection). For
those interested in the technical side of alchemy, there is also the
edition of two papyri with recipes (part of the "Anastasi papyri", from
which a lot of the PGM come from) done by Robert Halleux in the same
The most "philosophical" treatise by Zosimus, called "On the Letter Omega"
(part of M. Mertens' edition) was also edited, translated and annotated by
Howard Jackson in SBL. For those interested in the Gnostic connection,
Jackson also has an interesting article on the identity of the Nicotheos
"the hidden" quoted by Zosimus in the same treatise.

Olivier Dufault"

on the [neoplatonism] e-list

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Quote of the Day -- On Alchemy's Place in the History of Science

The systems which confront the intelligence remain basically unchanged through the ages, although they assume different forms... there is nothing so disastrous in science as the arrogant dogmatism which despises the past and admires the present.
-Hoefer (quoted in Read)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Alchemical Metaphors are still metaphors -- vs. Cailan on Böhme's alchemical language

"In several works he used alchemical principles and symbols without hesitation to demonstrate theological realities. Borrowing alchemical terminology in order to explain religious and mystical frameworks, Böhme assumed that alchemical language is not only a metaphor for laboratory research. Alchemy is a metaphysical science because he understood that matter is contaminated with spirit." Calian 2010, p.184.

I can understand how writers like Böhme borrowed alchemical terminology, but I don't see how it follows that this means that alchemy was "not only a metaphor." If he's using it as a metaphor to make a theological point, isn't it important that the metaphor be a metaphor? It is not at all clear to me how this borrowing is evidence of alchemy being a "metaphysical science." Neither is it clear how this notion of "matter contaminated with spirit" makes alchemy more than a metaphor. Since there is already a theological reality to be described that doesn't necessarily require an alchemical explanation, it seems that to privilege the alchemical side of the metaphor is to fail to do justice to the theological side. Obviously alchemy has a spiritual important since it is being used to explain this theological reality, but we run into huge problems when we try to exalt it as a "metaphysical science."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

J. Coulthart on Alchemical illustration

"As Borges considered metaphysics to be a branch of fantastic literature it’s possible to consider this kind of alchemical illustration as a branch of fantastic art."
feuilleton -- Atalanta Fugiens