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Thread: General Comments on Alchemical Texts

  1. #11
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    So.. for the sake of reining this in a bit (but more importantly, in the interest of getting answers to my original questions ), let's confine this to the western alchemical tradition and its roots, so, loosely following that line that moved from Egypt through Greece and the Middle East, and then through Europe to where we are now. This would include the classical works that were the topic of this thread. All along that line throughout the history, lions were present on the continents, they were (and are) still found in Asia, Africa, Europe, N America, etc. There are images of lions carved in and painted on stone thousands of years ago, and I think it's safe to say that imagery plays a role in alchemical studies (in fact lions seem to be pretty common in alchemical and heraldic emblems), so in that respect, the written language barrier is basically breached. Likewise, if you spend some time looking at the images painted on the ancient temples in Egypt, I expect you'll recognize a few philosophical ideas being communicated there, without having to read the language.

    And further, let's just say that during over this entire time period, anyone drawn to the alchemical art would have been equipped with a basic understanding of what eagles and fires and moons are.

    The reason I have posed questions on this thread is because this is a situation I have been discovering lately that is super interesting to me, I don't see a right or wrong side to things, just differences in perspectives. It seems that as a perspective shifts, all things can be true in one way or another. Lots of people I have talked to are convinced that they have one the one true way according to particular system or master, to the thing that everyone is looking for, and they'll be happy to hand you a list of discredits for all the others, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. But how can there be 40 different "one true ways?" I suspect that this is indicative of something, but I don't know what yet, so I'd like to learn more about it. It's kind of fascinating actually.

    In this thread, the idea was posited and subsequently supported that the classical alchemical texts are fairly useless in this Art. I just happen to know a person or two that has had the exact opposite experience, meaning that they are finding that some of these texts are in fact the most useful and reliable in the Art, which negates the constraints due to the era of their origin. So this is why I am curious about the distinction between people then and people now and how the differences between them would render the classical works inaccessible.

    Thanks for your patience!

  2. #12
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    I didn't read anyone as suggesting that the texts are useless. I think the value of comparing experiences with someone is self-evident. I certainly have my own list of texts I like to recommend. But what I've understood to be written here is exactly what you're getting at: that there is no, "one true way" that isn't exclusive to a single experience, that the differences between the "paths" are a matter of perspective and technique. To paraphrase the Turba, "it seems as if the philosophers are in disagreement, but everywhere we have spoken we have spoken in perfect concord."

    This is not to say that it's not possible to recapture the context of an antique text, and this is why we've recommended reading up on the author of a book you read, and on their life and times and home.

    Another factor which will lead to experiences of uneducated people finding wisdom in the texts is where the context is so lost to them they see whatever makes sense to them in it. This is like reading tarot or casting lots - you see things you already know but couldn't bring to words.

    As a false counterpoint let me put it another way - there is one true way, but it can't be captured in words. It's like trying to fish for air with a net. Anyone who says they've caught it is trying to sell it to you.
    From separation between the seen and the unseen, a feeling of distance.
    From separation between the seen and the seen, a feeling of breadth.
    From separation between the unseen and the unseen, a feeling of depth.
    From rotation of the elements, a feeling of motion.
    From the equivalence of alternate rotations, a feeling of choice.

  3. #13
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    imo, the context is given: the PHILOSOPHERS' stone.
    reading Plato, Plotinus, etc has been very useful to me. also reading those who use Sophia as an archetype... kabbalah (refers to Hokmah), and Gnosticism i've found useful. it's all useful imo. i read Rumi and Tagore and see lots of alchemical symbolism/references. the Bible is also a great resource. and one can hardly due without mythology, Homer, Hesiod, etc...
    lege, lege, lege!
    http://serpentrioarquila.blogspot.com/

    "To conjure is nothing else than to observe anything rightly, to know and understand what it is." - Paracelsus

    "Why, then, don't you act when you see the danger of your conditioning? The answer is you don't see... seeing is acting." J. Krishnamurti

  4. #14
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    i guess i should say it takes a lot of reading to come to the point of burning your books and knowing what is useless.
    http://serpentrioarquila.blogspot.com/

    "To conjure is nothing else than to observe anything rightly, to know and understand what it is." - Paracelsus

    "Why, then, don't you act when you see the danger of your conditioning? The answer is you don't see... seeing is acting." J. Krishnamurti

  5. #15
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    That's exactly because in any given texts there will be some places you can find the context and others where you can't. The tradition becomes a context for itself, and you end up bouncing from one book to another, and back to the first. Every pass lights up a little more of the last book. Hence the "garden of the mysteries" in which we'll get lost without Ariadne's thread. We've been doing it this way very self-consciously at least since Della Mirandola, and it seems to work well enough.
    From separation between the seen and the unseen, a feeling of distance.
    From separation between the seen and the seen, a feeling of breadth.
    From separation between the unseen and the unseen, a feeling of depth.
    From rotation of the elements, a feeling of motion.
    From the equivalence of alternate rotations, a feeling of choice.

  6. #16
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    Aww, maybe McLean can be a little cranky at times (and who isn't really...), but he has spent the better part of the last two decades coloring and painstakingly reproducing alchemical emblems and imagery by painting them. Seems odd that a person that has focused that much of their mental and emotional energy into the traditional imagery wouldn't glean a thing or two after a while.. it's a pretty solid long term practice

    Or not, who knows.

    I didn't read anyone as suggesting that the texts are useless.
    I expect it's entirely my misunderstanding then, because that's how I read the following:

    I have come to the realization that a considerable number of Alchemical writings (that we usually cherish) are in fact close to utterly useless when it comes to the Great Work itself
    Any text unfortunately assumes context that is only really accessible at the time they were written.
    Point being that each text is embedded firmly in the world that created it, which is to say the internal world of its authors and no other.
    That's why I asked for some specific examples illustrating this from the classical texts, to get some clarity and a larger understanding of what is being suggested, that's all. I have no issue accepting that I've misread what's been posted here

  7. #17
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    they're not useless. they make great coasters, or stack them like steps for capillary distallation, bruise plants with them before maceration...
    "separate the subtle from the gross with great ingenuity"
    http://serpentrioarquila.blogspot.com/

    "To conjure is nothing else than to observe anything rightly, to know and understand what it is." - Paracelsus

    "Why, then, don't you act when you see the danger of your conditioning? The answer is you don't see... seeing is acting." J. Krishnamurti

  8. #18
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    Lol.. for the Love of All that is Good and Right in the Universe, do NOT use books as coasters! You can send them to me instead, c/o Jen, at the Classical Alchemical Text Preservation Fund, or, CATFP. I will see that they find good homes.

    Honestly.. did you not hold a poll here on the Greatest Alchemist? Looks like a list of classical alchemists to me (although I couldn't help but notice the absence of Eirenaeus Philalethes..), what on earth were your criteria for selection? Who wore the best wig? Who had the biggest alembick? Who, iyho, actually produced gold ?

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rheomode View Post
    Aww, maybe McLean can be a little cranky at times (and who isn't really...), but he has spent the better part of the last two decades coloring and painstakingly reproducing alchemical emblems and imagery by painting them. Seems odd that a person that has focused that much of their mental and emotional energy into the traditional imagery wouldn't glean a thing or two after a while.. it's a pretty solid long term practice
    McLean has made considerable contributions to the field of alchemy, and as of late, to tarot. His analysis of texts does tend to stay on the 'safe side' but one can easily build upon his method, if the right intent and perseverance is there. I do know that I have also seen him be 'off target' (i.e., redrawing of Plate 7) especially when dealing with Crowning of Nature, my most beloved of all manuscripts. I prefer the Barchusen Series, in some regards over his.

    My experiences lead me to say that if he advanced his analysis (viz., interpretations) in parallel with laboratory work, he would perhaps change some of the comments he made in the past. To only interpret intellectually, and without self or tutor initiations, one can easily fumble around, and miss tiny clues.

    For me, in the greater scheme of things, it is all learning and can be beneficial.

  10. #20
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    Maybe it was I who wasn't clear enough.

    The good Alchemical texts are useless for The Great Work without the complementary aspects/keys (received orally from a Mentor/Adept and/or via personal Revelation/Auto-Initiation).

    But eventually, yes, when the 'One Thing' is fully internalized (conceptually, mentally, emotionally, philosophically, etc...) - I don't think there is a need for the texts anymore, unless for occasional reference or unless you already know what they are talking about (as opposed to trying to figure it out).

    IMO.

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