Breaking with Tradition

So, I present for reflection in the end; when you seek a self initiation, what do you seek? When you state a denomination or traditional pedigree to your initiation, what are you really stating? When you state you are priest/priestess – who are you really and why did you took on this office?

– from The Initiation of Self, Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold

Reading Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold’s post, The Initiation of Self, lead me to reflect on the ways that his question applies to the Alchemical Tradition. The assumption is all too often made that the Mysteries passed down by Tradition are simply a sexier way of dressing up a metaphor, some psychological template that can be assumed at will through reading a book or going through the pre-ordained motions.

Often when a seeker hits upon something they don’t understand, or finds no outlet for their search, they will take the easiest byroad that seems to fit what they are looking for. When that seeker puts on the mantle of teacher this deviation can become a recommended path, not proven by true realization, but carved well enough to trick the unwary eye.

Within alchemy this has been the standard course for centuries. Disregarding the full breadth of the Tradition many have come forward with their ‘stones’ speaking as if they had attained the Truth while never even touching it’s farthest border. From chemical chimeras to psychological sophistry the pageant of false initiation runs the entire line of imagination’s potential. For all the color in these creations they remain illusory answers that will never attain to Truth.

What happens when the image of a Tradition is not properly reflected? We are lead astray. When this straying attends to something like the nature of the Alchemical Tradition this path can be very harmful.

On the personal level a misstep in praxis can lead one down an endless and unfruitful path, when a person on this false path has the charisma, resources or support to influence society the consequences are much more dire. Today’s shortsighted scientism is an example of this problem, a problem that Isaac Newton foresaw when he warned Robert Boyle about being too bold in his experiments and impatient with revealing his results.

In the United States more than 50% of the population is currently taking some form of prescription pharmaceutical drug. These drugs are manufactured using synthetic chemicals created to mirror the effects, or enhance the specific effects, of naturally occurring organic compounds and minerals. These synthetic compounds are basically man made reflections of the ‘essence’ contained in these naturally occurring materials.

We find an analogy to this in the qelippot ( meaning “peels”, “shells” or matter) found in the Tradition of QBL.  These are the outer husks of the Sephiroth, devoid of the Divine Spark. They are the Image without the Spirit of Life. In terms of synthetic compounds a simple understanding of their chemical basis is enough to show the accuracy of this analogy, when chemists synthesize a natural molecule they design a similar molecule that fits the Image of the original such that it will fit the same receptors in the body.

How does this pertain to the Art? Let us take a look at the history of just one pharmaceutical company to see how a misstep in the Art can lead to dire repercussions:

“Merck’s beginnings can be traced back to Friedrich Jacob Merck’s 1668 purchase of an apothecary in Darmstadt, Germany, called ‘At the Sign of the Angel.’ Located next to a castle moat, this store remained in the Merck family for generations.

The pharmacy was transformed by Heinrich Emmanuel Merck into a drug manufactory in 1827. His first products were morphine, codeine, and cocaine.

Between the wars and during World War II, the company was led by George W. Merck, who oversaw America’s germ-warfare research at Fort Detrick.”

History of the Merck Pharmaceutical Company

As Hans Nintzel, founder of the Restoration of Alchemical Manuscripts Society, reminds in an interview from 1997, “Patience is the ladder of the Philosophers and Humility is the key to their garden.“  This quote comes from Louis Cattauix’s work The Message Rediscovered and is worth reading in full:

Let us accept the good and the bad equally, and let us leave to the meditation of time the care of separating them within us, for the sages have said: Patience is the ladder of the philosophers, and humility is the gate of their secret garden.

The Tradition that Friedrich Emmanuel Merck passed downed to his family began with the Art, but his sons did not prove patient in their discipleship, or perhaps Friedrich knew only a portion of the Art and as the generations progressed the darkened mirror that he held grew darker until it reflected only monsters. We might ask ourselves what Angelic Sign hung over the shop that he purchased.

Mechanical manufacturing is an outcome of impatience; morphine, codeine and cocaine are outcomes of a lack of humility in the face of the Alchemist’s most austere friend, Death.

We have in the Alchemical Tradition the example of the Society of Unknown Philosophers, the Invisibles, as detailed in the Rosicrucian Manifestos, to hold up as a plumb line to the actions of the Merck family. It is in this tradition they walked, knowing the injunction that Nicolas Flamel read on the Book of Abraham, Maranatha. John Wesley in his Notes on the Bible states, “It seems to have been customary with the Jews of that age, when they had pronounced any man an Anathema, to add the Syriac expression, Maran – atha, that is, “The Lord cometh;” namely, to execute vengeance upon him.

And what is the tradition of the Society of Unknown Philosophers?

Their agreement was this…that none of them should profess any other thing, then to cure the sick, and that gratis.

– Fama Fraternis

Friedrich originally sold plant Alkaloids to chemists and doctors, but Heinrich Emmanuel Merck turned to manufacturing medicines for sale and how quickly, in less than a hundred years, his heir George W. Merck turned the Art to creating weapons of the most debased, unforgivable and hideous kind.

It’s a heinous distortion of the secrets of Nature to participate in creating  weaponized bacteria, to use plague as a weapon.  This is the mark of truth in the word Maranatha, to profane the Art is not only to risk personal condemnation, but to risk unbalancing society itself.  This is not to say that there were no “good intention” behind this misstep, but “good intention” means nothing in Light of the Truth.

Although the rude world herewith will be but little pleased, but rather smile and scoff thereat; also the pride and covetousness of the learned is so great, it will not suffer them to agree together; but were they united, they might, out of all those things which in this our age God doth so richly bestow upon us, collect Librum Naturae, or, a Perfect Method of all Arts. But such is their opposition that they still keep, and are loth to leave, the old course, esteeming Porphyry, Aristotle, and Galen, yea, and that which hath but a mere show of learning, more than the clear and manifested Light and Truth. Those, if they were now living, with much joy would leave their erroneous doctrines; but here is too great weakness for such a great work. And although in Theologie, Physic, and Mathematic, the truth doth oppose it itself, nevertheless, the old Enemy, by his subtilty and craft, doth shew himself in hindering every good purpose by his instruments and contentious wavering people.

– Fama Fraternis

“By 1926, the year George Merck died, his son George W. Merck had been acting president for more than a year. The first major event of the younger Merck’s tenure–which would last 25 years–was the 1927 merger with Philadelphia-based Powers-Weightman-Rosengarten, a pharmaceutical firm best known for antimalarial quinine. Following the merger, Merck incorporated his company as Merck & Co., Inc. The merger enabled Merck & Co. to increase its sales from $6 million in 1925 to more than $13 million in 1929. With the resultant expansion in capital, Merck initiated and directed the Merck legacy for pioneering research and development. In 1933, he established a large laboratory and recruited prominent chemists and biologists to produce new pharmaceutical products. Their efforts had far-reaching effects. En route to researching cures for pernicious anemia, Merck scientists discovered vitamin B12. Its sales, both as a therapeutic drug and as a constituent of animal feed, were massive.”

History of the Merck Pharmaceutical Company

To say that the Merck scientists discovered vitamin B12 is a misnomer, it would be more accurate to say they found a way to synthesize a naturally occurring vitamin produced by bacteria in the soil. The very same bacteriological analysis that lead to the company’s proficiency in germ warfare also lead them to synthesize and sell back to the public a vitamin that is integral to the production of neurons in the brain.

One might argue that they were “researching cures for pernicious anemia.“ It would be wise to look up the use of the weaponized form of Coxiella (C.) burnetii, a bacterial agent that causes fever and anemia, a bacterial agent found in it’s natural form in sheep similar to the15 to 20 sheep kept by George Merck ” on the grounds to test the effectiveness of an animal disinfectant.” Sheep which “became a permanent part of the Rahway landscape.” Paracelsus’ wise words come to mind, “All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison….

It should also be noted that due to the prevalence of insecticides and anti-bacteriological agents used in scientific agriculture this vitamin is now depleted from most of the food bearing soil found in the industrialized world. This depletion means that it is now available in the proper quantities only in its synthetic (monetized) form.


To win in war without the cost it takes to pick up arms they sought quicker ways to subdue the enemy, this is impatience. To increase the potency of a naturally occurring vitamin they sought to synthesize it, this is a lack of humility. To fund their rape of Nature and impertinent quest for Knowledge of Her secrets they sold their discoveries at the cost of our future, this is the Seal of their Judgment.

In this way let us approach a brother or a sister who is sick, and visit them in a way that is right, without guile, and without covetousness, and without noise, and without talkativeness, and without such behaviour as is alien from the fear of God, and without haughtiness, but with the meek and lowly spirit of Christ.  Let them, therefore, with fasting and with prayer make their adjurations, and not with the elegant and well-arranged and fitly-ordered words of learning, but as men who have received the gift of healing from God, confidently, to the glory of God.  By your fastings and prayers and perpetual watching, together with your other good works, mortify the works of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He who acts thus “is a temple of the Holy Spirit of God.”1 Cor. vi. 19.  Let this man cast out demons, and God will help him.  For it is good that a man help those that are sick.  Our Lord hath said:  “Cast out demons,” at the same time commanding many other acts of healing; and, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” Matt. x. 8.  For such persons as these a goodly recompense is laid up by God, because they serve their brethren with the gifts which have been given them by the Lord.

– Epistle of Clement, Rules for Visits, Exorcisms, and How People are to Assist the Sick, and to Walk in All Things Without Offence.

Now let us look at the error of psychology.

Only by discovering alchemy have I clearly understood that the Unconscious is a process and that ego’s rapports with the unconscious and his contents initiate an evolution, more precisely a real metamorphoses of the psyche.

– Carl Jung

In an introduction to the work of Louis Cattauix referenced earlier in this reflection, Lanza Del Vastro says the following:

“The sages having scrupulously hidden their knowledge, the charlatans took advantage to hide their ignorance under the same mysterious signs. The imbeciles confused them for a long time, believing in one and another. But now there has emerged, halfway between the charlatans and the imbeciles, a new species that ensures the definitive triumph of the conspiracy. This new species is that of the academics and official scholars. On the day of their arrival, they declared the philosophal mystery invalid; chimera, the research of the ancient masters; child’s play, their science; a hoax, their art. The imbeciles instructed by the new scholars have once again confused the sages and the charlatans, but this time they do not believe in either of them. They believe in nothing but the science of the newly-arrived ones, who teach simply that the truth is in their science and that everything they cannot discover or demonstrate does not exist. But they have neither taught nor discovered nor demonstrated anything about life and death, sin and judgement, about love, pain and redemption, about the behaviour of man and the destiny of the soul, about sense, essence and salvation. The more they discover new nebulas or new electrons, new vitamins or new explosives, the more they distance themselves and divert us from the essential. And now the truth is so well hidden that one no longer seeks it. It would even be totally lost if some simple spirits for whom the truth exists did not survive.”

There is a wholeness to the Mysteries that Tradition carries, the Mysteries of Alchemy can not be laid on either side of the empirical line. Empedocles is traditionally taught as the first (known) exponent of the theory of the 4 elements in the Western world. As Peter Kingsley details, Empedocles was also seen as the father of a very potent branch of Sufism which lead to the Illuminationist school of Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, a school which shares many similarities to the Augustinian Christian tradition.

Neither Plato, nor Aristotle, are usually shown as teaching the unity of both the spiritual realm and the material, the unity of that which is above and that which is below, yet it is from the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions that we draw our contemporary understanding of Nature and Life. Note also that Augustine makes it very clear that he does not follow the Platonic tradition or Aristotelian tradition, and it is his separation from these traditions that marks the beginning of his life as a follower of Christ.  Similarly al-Din Suhrawardi is specific in citing Empedocles, despite the fact that many Sufi lineages are identified by contemporary scholars as NeoPlatonic in their metaphysical doctrines.

This is a very important distinction to make.  The inter-connection between  physics and metaphysics, which forms the basis of the ancient Tradition followed by Empedocles, passed on to the Illuminationist schools, and central to the Art, has not been the commonly taught in either the scientific or mystical doctrines that we are most familiar with today.  Those that follow the Platonic tradition give more credence to ideal spiritual forms, while those that follow the Aristotelian tradition give more credence to empirical forms. Professor Gordon Campbell points out that in contrast to this “Empedocles draws a close analogy between the cycle of the soul and the cycle of the cosmos itself. This is a hallmark of his work: frequently he uses the same language whether describing the journey of the soul or the cycle of the elements.

It is interesting to see what Empedocles says in his poems regarding his Tradition:

” By my instructions you shall learn medicines that are powerful to cure disease, and re-animate old age; you shall be able to calm the savage winds which lay waste the labours of the husbandman, and, when you will, shall send forth the tempest again; you shall cause the skies to be fair and serene, or once more shall draw down refreshing showers, reanimating the fruits of the earth; nay, you shall recall the strength of the dead man, when he has already become the victim of Pluto.”

This Tradition has carried through to this very day, and by this I mean that these statements represent the ultimate exposition of the Art and should not be taken as metaphor. In an attempt to understand this, and to understand why this is such an important point, we must come to a deeper realization of the Hermetic maxim:

“That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.

A statement made by Paul of Tarsus in 1 Corinthians 13 may provide some assistance. The phrase “βλεπομεν γαρ αρτι δι εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι,” is commonly rendered as “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” The immediate impression of Paul’s statement is that we do not yet fully understand the importance of what is being said, our vision is clouded, but there are further meanings to be found here.

Paul uses the word εσοπτρου, which is rendered in Hebrew as אספקלריה, and in Latin as specularia or speculum. In some instances this word can be said to refer to a glass window (specularibus lapidibus – clear polished stones), but in many cases it is rendered in english as ‘mirror’.

The Talmud uses this word in the expression, “All the prophets gazed through a speculum that does not shine, while Moses our teacher gazed through a speculum that shines.” The Talmud does not denigrate the prophets, their teachings are valid teachings, but there is a clear distinction made between Moses, who stood in the presence of the Divine, and the tradition of the prophets.

This same distinction is given in that Elijah is the only prophet who appears with Moses during the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospels. Elijah is also the only prophet (outside of Enoch who is not properly included in the prophetic tradition) that ascended to the Divine before dying, and Elijah is also the only prophet who was said to have raised the dead, and to have literally called down fire, an act of controlling the elements.  The similarities to the statements made by Empedocles regarding the power of his tradition are striking.

For Hazrat Inayat Khan, a 20th century exponent of Sufism, the “mind-world” is called “Aina Khans’, translated as the Palace of Mirrors. This idea of the “mirror” is important because the Art teaches us a methodology, a Sacred Science, for aiding in the progression of the elements, for taking part in the very powerful Tradition that Empedocles details in his statements.

“There is the story of Daniel. who entered the den of lions, and the lions were tamed instantly. Did he will them to be so? No. It was the calm and peace of the heart of Daniel reflected upon the lions that made them quiet like him. His own peace became their piece; they became peaceful…

The phenomenon of reflection differs in its nature and character by reason of the nature of different personalities. The person whose thought becomes reflected in the heart of another may have a concrete form in his thought and may be able to hold it as one design or picture. In that case the reflection falls in the heart of another being clearly: but if the mind is so weak that it cannot hold a thought properly, then the thought is moving and it cannot reflect in the mind of another properly. If the mind of the person is not in good condition then the picture is not clear. If a person’s mind is not clear, if it is upset or too active, then the mind cannot convey the reflection fully.

The mind can be likened to a lake. If the wind is blowing and the water is disturbed, then the reflection will not be clear; but when the water is still the reflection is clear. And so it is with the mind: the mind which is still is capable of receiving reflections. The mind which is powerful, capable of making and holding a thought, a picture can project its thought beyond any boundaries that may be there to hinder it.

– A Sufi Saint Reflects on the Mind as  Mirror, Hazrat Inayat Khan

What happens to images seen in a darkened mirror? They are distorted and altered, they do not provide a true representation of what they are supposed to reflect.  As Dion Fortune points out in her work Sane Occultism, “If the light that be in us is darkness, how great is that darkness?”

2 responses to “Breaking with Tradition

  1. My dear David,

    this is a very nice Post, with impressive reflections. Not for the many, though. The Speculum of the Wises it’s a dark matter mirror, real and touchable, where the Philosopher may look at Nature without any constraint. It’s a bewildering looking, because there are outer manifestations, where we may not enter nor interfere with. The alchemist can only contemplate it, and reflect – deeply – about how far from Truth are our personal and sociological “truths”.
    “La Patience est l’échelle des Philosophes, et l’Humilité est la porte de leur Jardin” said Nicolas Valois in his book. Several centuries ago. Patience and Humilité are the foundation’s keys of the solitary seeker, who works his matters in his forgotten laboratory, where joy and surrender are the only sounds of his hopes. These two virtues – that is: forces, from the Latin ‘vis’ – are so forgotten and abused today, that we may not realize the peace of surrendering to Mother Nature’s embraces. You’re right, David, every human being casts his powerful thoughts all around our planet (and beyond…), and yet we all ask ourselves how and why we see sorrow and intolerance around us. The answer has always been given, not only by the Wisemen of all times, but by Nature which shows us the gardens of our auto-built golden prison and the Gardens of Paradise. One is apparent, the other is hidden, beyond the dark glass. There are so many new flowers, and waters, and hills, and sweetness, and gifts to look for…it’s just a matter of choice, David; it’s a personal choice, very intimate, very personal. Very radical. Quite secret. These world of us will always be as it has been: we, the humans, are the constant builders of our illusion, as we are the eaters of our own illusions. A change towards those gracious Gardens will never occur here, I’m afraid. But the possibility of leaving this and live in a new world, not polluted by the all our eager selves, it’s hidden in some – not all – very well hidden paths in Alchemy. the walk it’s a long one, possibly the longest one. There’s no certitude that one may succeed in getting to the ‘Fontaine des Amoureux’. There’s no possible deal about it. Just a long walk, far from the rules, far from new illusions, far from the crowd. The seeker is a Pilgrim and a Pilgrim should never ask ‘why’…he may only pray and look at the Sky. Working with his hands and chanting with his heart.

    Please forgive my emotional words, David: but I felt I could share them with you.

    Captain NEMO

    • As always your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

      “The seeker is a Pilgrim and a Pilgrim should never ask ‘why’…he may only pray and look at the Sky. Working with his hands and chanting with his heart.” – always something to keep in mind, especially in regard to what you were saying in terms of alchemical contemplation. Very difficult to hold on to, especially connected to the internet.

      “Not for the many, though…” I was thinking about this when rereading Nicholaj’s post. The living nature of the Art requires a relationship, a calling, and disrespect for traditions immediately marks against the proof of that calling. As you’ve pointed out in previous comments on the alchemy study group this relationship with Nature is not easily grasped.

      Thank you for giving me much to reflect on.

      All the best,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s