P u b l i s h e d b y M a n e y P u b l i s h i n g ( c ) S o c i e t y f o r t h e H i s t o r y o f A l c h e m y a n d C h e m i s t r y
VoL 37, Part
THE STUDY OF SPIRITUAL ALCHEMY: MYSTICISM, GOLD-MAKING, ANDESOTERIC HERMENEUTICS
IN 1845, Baron Karl von Reichenbach, a German industrialist and research chemist, published his pioneering studies of what has since come to be termed parapsychology.Reichenbach claimed that all physical bodies have invisible force fields that are visible to"sensitives" in Mesmeric trances. When examined as they occur in crystals, these forcefieldsare bipolar. They feelcool and-1!Rpearblue at one pole, but lukewarm and yellow-red at theother. Reichenbach termed the force "Odic" after the Scandinavian god "Odin" and identified Mesmer's Animal Magnetism with it.
Although Reichenbach presented himself as a scientist, several motifs that I have cited may be alchemical. Since the Romansidentified Odin with Mercury, an "Odic" force is "Hermetic" by definition. Again,Reichenbach's discussion ofcrystal is notable. In the Gold- und Rosenkreuz, a developmentof the alchemical tradition of Paracelsus and Boehme in late eighteenth century Germany,the insignia ofthe ninth and highest degree,
consisted ofa "gleaming and fiery" Urimand Thummim and Schemhamphorash.
It is at least probable that the German alchemistsnamed their engraved brooches in allusion to their use in crystal-gazing or scrying. The biblical Urim and Thummin, or high priest's breastplate, had been used in divination (Ex28: 15-30); and the English import of the Gold- und Rosenkreuz system by the HermeticOrder of the Golden Dawn
associated Rosicrucianism with crystal-gazing.
Crystal alsoalluded to salt which, in Paracelsian alchemy, designated the quintessence.Complementing Reichenbach's early efforts, Mary Anne South, later Mary AnneAtwood, addressed the historical dimension of the problem.
A Suggestive Inquiry in to the Hermetic Mystery,
published anonymously in 1850, claimed that both the EleusinianMysteries and alchemy secretly concerned the quintessence or ether, the substance ofwhichsouls are composed. Texts manifestly discussing the transmutation of base metal into gold were to be interpreted as secret allegories of the soul's perfection through Mesmerism.
With Reichenbach's failure to win the approval of scientists, Atwood's book found appeal chiefly among occultists. It was endorsed by Eliphas Levi in 18556and embraced inthe 1880sby members ofthe Hermetic Order ofthe Golden Dawn, an English occult societywhose teachings have since come to dominate Western esotericism. Some Golden Dawnmembers understood spiritual alchemy as the conjuring of spirits.
Others regarded alchemical mysticism as a metallic symbolism for cabalistic magic.
Although these occulttraditions come to the same thing, it is clear that they were not originally alchemical. In theItalian Renaissance, spirit conjuring was known to be a cabalistic practice newly imported fromJudaism,9 where its antecedents can be traced for over a millenium.
The associationof alchemy with spirit conjuring possibly originated in the Elizabethan period when Dr.John Dee and Edward Kelly happened to engage in both practices.
The syncretism of alchemy and cabalism was accomplished no later than the pseudonymous 1612publicationof the
of Nicholas Flamel.
Historians of chemistry, seeking to date the origin of spiritual alchemy, have followed different paths to the same era.John Read named Paracelsus, in the sixteenth century, as the
Department of Religion, Syracuse University,
Hall of Languages, Syracuse, New York