Chemical Serpents: The Symbols of Illumination, by Anton Channing, illustrations by Janice Duke
When Illuminated Press, 978-1-909279-01-8, 100 pp. (incl. appendix, bibliography), 2013, Silver First Edition
I started falling in love with this book as it came out of the packaging. It’s tight, and has good, heavy cover stock and glossy high-quality pages. The cover art (an interpretation of Baphomet within an ouroboros) is a feast for the eyes and mind. The notebook-sized format, 8.5 x 11″, gives plenty of room for the text and lavish illustrations throughout its 100 pages. The print is done with accent colours, which takes a little acclimatization, rather like one’s first time playing poker with four-colour cards, but then the effect is pleasing.
The plan of the book is Pythagorean, in the sense that it starts with serpent symbolism, including the ouroboros, as the one, moves into egg-and-serpent and other generative symbols for the dyad, then has sections on the trinity, the four elements of the manifest world, then the pentagram, hexagram, and heptagram in the section on the microcosm and macrocosm before synthesizing in the long chapter on world trees, and ending in a Gnostic lecture on illumination. Continue reading
The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook: A Grimoire of Philtres, Elixirs, Oils, Incense, and Formulas for Ritual Use, by Karen Harrison
Weiser, 9781578634910, 239pp., 2011
In this book, we explore Herbal Alchemy as practiced in the West, through the uses of the plants and their Planetary signatures as developed by the 14th century philosopher and Alchemist Paracelsus.
A book on this topic couldn’t start with a more hopeful introduction. After a brief description of alchemy in different forms (lead to gold, internal alchemy, alchemy as a path to the divine), the author states this as her purpose for the book. While it sounds good, this is the beginning of my problems with the book: her use of the terms “alchemy” and “alchemist.” Continue reading
The Gnostic Faustus: The Secret Teachings behind the Classic Text, by Ramona Fradon
Inner Traditions, 9781594772047, 370 pp., 2007
This is not a book for the casual reader. Without a basic understanding of Gnostic literature, alchemy and/or the Faust legend you will rapidly find yourself playing catch-up.
This book is predominantly a comparison, section by section (and sometimes line for line) between the original “Faust book” (Anonymous, circa 1570) and major Gnostic and alchemical writings, many of which were known only by reputation until the late 19th century and later. Each chapter is introduced with a short overview, and then the reader is left to read the document (in a series of side-by-side columns) and to make his own comparisons and draw his own conclusions. Continue reading
Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy, by Robert Allen Bartlett
Ibis Press, 9780892541508, 178 pp. (incl. appendices and bibliography), 2009
“…alchemy is not a smooth monolithic system, but rather a journey full of contradictions, false turns and dazzling insights into the worlds of creation. At times it seems to defy a single definition. But, in its most general, all-encompassing form, we can say with some degree of confidence that alchemy is the art and science of bringing something to its final perfection.”
– Brian Cotnoir, from the first Preface
To most people, alchemy conjours images of ancient bearded men in dimly lit rooms hovering over various malodourous substances connected by an arcane network of tubes, beakers bubbling away, struggling in earnest to produce gold from lead. Those more familiar with Jung’s work might imagine that all this fancy is well and good, but, of course, it’s all allegorical, beneath which is philosophy deeply concerned with transforming the alchemist hirself. Bartlett argues that, for modern alchemists, there’s truth to both images. Continue reading
Green Hermeticism: Alchemy and Ecology, by Peter Lamborn Wilson, Christopher Bamford and Kevin Townley
Lindisfarne Books, 9781584200499, anti-copyright 2007
In 2003 Peter Lamborn Wilson gave a lecture titled “The Sacred Theory of the Earth” at a conference held in New Paltz, New York. This talk inspired a series of lectures and the coining of a new term “Green Hermeticism.”
The lecture given at the first conference became the first chapter of the present work, “The Disciples at Sais: A Sacred Theory of Earth.” Here he discusses the work of Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), an early Germanic Romantic poet and philosopher, and contextualises him in terms of defining a new spiritual ecology linked to alchemy and hermeticism.
In “One the All,” editor in chief of SteinerBooks and Lindisfarne Books, Christopher Bamford, discusses creation myths, though I found his overview of alchemy more enlightening. He writes: Continue reading