Monday, December 26, 2016

Roos. Alchemy and Mysticism (2)

Here are the other summary posts from Roos's Alchemy and Mysticism. I'm still on the Introduction to the book, starting today at p. 15.

Roos is now zooming in on German traditions, including the court of Emperor Rudolf II, "known as the German Hermes, whose Prague court was home to the most famous esoteric scientists of the day."

There is now the first image of a book by Athanasius Kircher: the Turris Babel. That's at Hathi Trust: Athanasii Kircheri Turris Babel sive Archontologia at Hathi TrustThere are some lovely plates here; definitely worth investigating later. And there is an even more lovely presentation at the University of Heidelberg's Digital Library. I'm not finding the Kircher Museum plate that Roos says is in this book (?), but there are some wonderful other plates like this one that opens the book, with the title of the book appearing on the placard to the left:

It's clear that Roos is also a fan of Fludd, which is great! I would certainly like to learn more about the "Trismegistian-Platonick-Rosy-crucian Doctor." And here is how Roos characterizes Kircher: "in his early attention to oriental and Asiatic systems of religion, he prepared the ground for the adventurous syncretism of the Theosophical Society." That definitely gets my interest; I've always wanted to learn more about Kircher.

Now going back to the origins of alchemical ideas, Roos draws a contrast between the demiurge of Plato and of Gnosticism: "While in Plato's world creation myth, Timaeus, the demiurgen, also called the poet, forms a well-proportioned cosmos out of the primal world, in the form of an organism with a soul, the Gnostic demiurge produces a terrible chaos, a corrupt and imperfect creation which, in the belief of the alchemists, must be improved and completed through their art with a new organization or reorganization."

He then links Gnosis and Cabala: "Before the Fall, according to the Gnostic-Cabalistic myths, the whole of heaven was a single human being of fine material, the giant, androgynous, primordial Adam, who is now in every human being, in the shrunken form of this invisible body, and who is waiting to be brought back to heaven."

And this passage about the imagination is great; I need to find this actual passage in Paracelsus: "The equivalent in man of the demiurgic, world-creating urge of the outer stars is the creative capacity of the imagination, which Paracelsus calls "the inner star." Imagination is not to be confused with fantasy. The former is seen as a solar, structuring force aimed at the eida, the paradigmatic forms in the real world, the latter as a lunatic delusion related to the eidola, the shadowy likenesses of the apparent world."

And look at this lovely quote from Albrecht durer: "If someone really possessed these inner ideas of which Plato speaks, then he could draw his whole life from them and create artwork after artwork without ever reaching an end."

Wow, this Paracelsus stuff reminds me of the brain plasticity thing I read the other day about imagining activities that in turn activate neural pathways: "Paracelsus likens the imagination to a magnet which, with its power of attraction, draws the things of the external world within man to reshape them there. Its activity is thus captured in the image of the inner alchemist, the sculptor or the blacksmith. It is crucial to master them for what man thinks 'is what he is, and a thing is as he thinks it. If he thinks a fire, he is a fire' (Paracelsus)."

Roos includes da Vinci's Vitruvian Man at this point:

And so we reach William Blake who "rightly described the deistic God of the progress-loving Enlightenment, who abandons the machinery of creation once he has set it in motion, leaving it to continue blindly on its course, as a Gnostic demiurge."

The next plate is from Baro Urbigerus, which shows up at Hathi Trust in an English translation: Aphorismi Urbigerani, or, Certain rules clearly demonstrating the three infallible ways of preparing the grand elixir, or circulatum majus of the philosophers : discovering the secret of secrets, and detecting the errors of vulgar chymists in their operations : contain'd in one hundred and one aphorisms : to which are added, The three ways of preparing the vegetable elixir, or circulatum minus / all deduc'd from never-erring experience by Baro Urbigerus (gotta love those 17th-century book "titles"). The book looks like a fun read, but it is poor on art; there is only one plate as follows:

The plate Roos includes (mercurial water) is from a German edition of Baro Urbigerus entitled Besondere Chymische Schriften, and when I Googled that, I found this treasure trove: Adam McLean's Gallery of alchemical images. I haven't been able to find an online edition of the German book, but find McLean's lovely collection of hand-colored images is well worth it. What a great project to handcolor the images as a form of study and meditation!

I hadn't expected all this gender stuff to be coming up, but it is fascinating; here's just a brief sample of the kinds of ideas Roos introduces here: "The climax of the Work is the moment of coniunctio, the conjunction of the male and female principle in the marriage of heaven and earth, of fiery spirit and water matter (materia from the Latin mater, mother). The indestructible product of this cosmic sex act is the lapis, the red son of the Sun."

Roos next includes two images from D. Stolcius von Stolcenberg, Viridarium chymicum (1624). It looks fascinating, but is not at Hathi Trust, alas. It is apparently an important emblem book, and I would really like to find a copy online. ... Whoo-hoo: here it is at a Swiss site:, "the platform for digitized rare books from Swiss libraries." So, it's only available as PDF download, but that works! And it comes from a section of e-rara that will be really useful in general: Alchemy, Magic and Kabbalah (Foundation of the Works of C.G.Jung). Yes!!! So, back to Roos, here are the two emblems that he includes:

And I think I will stop there: so far this is turning out to be a great way to discover books to browse and read online. What a heap of books there will be by the time I get through all of Roos. :-)

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