Paolo Lucarelli (scientist, essayist, Canseliet’s friend) explains the historical origins of Alchemy and philology of the word Sulphur, θεῖον, theion, sacred.
The literature on Hermetic, in the contemporary west, though it may seem strange in an age that seems quite indifferent, is huge and it was further expanded in recent decades. Unfortunately, barring a few exceptions (Among them Elemire Zolla must certainly be mentioned for his“the wonders of nature”, Milan 1975), it seems curiously deformed, mostly useless for those who want to seriously explore the issue.
It is divided into two main strands, each recognizable by a parent of success. Marcelin Berthelot (Introduction à I’etude de la chimie des Anciens et du Moyen Age, Paris 1889; Les origines de l’Alchimie, Paris 1885; La chimie au Moyen Age, Paris M.DCC.XCIII.) has opened a careful and comprehensive study from Alexandrian Alchemy to medieval period. To him, and his school, we owe the recovery of rare manuscripts, Syriac and Greek, in the only edition still available.
Berthelot was a famous chemist, and never moved away from the view that alchemy was a kind of ancient chemistry, more or less rudimentary.
All his studies and his research sought to investigate in this effect the value of the texts translated and published, in an attempt to show that under a pseudo-esoteric language, lurked trivial metallurgical operations, more or less misunderstood by those investigators.This way of approaching the problem has continued without doubt or hesitation till today, although it is clear that the scholars who take charge are mostly forced to give up the understanding of most of the texts, or consider our ancient predecessors some naive incurables, and at best some ‘idiots, who liked to repeat unnecessary operations without conclusive results, all taken by a form, fortunately harmless, of schizoid monomania. From time to time, happy event, they discovered a new compound or procedure used for less noble purposes than those which openly sought, and then enriched dyeing fabrics, or hidden drunk brandy, or the less honest, proposed for alloys Pinchbeck to other idiots who took the gold for good. A relatively recent example, by an expert in Alexandrian Alchemy (F. Sherwood Taylor: A survey of Greek Alchemy. Quoted by M. Eliade), is particularly illuminating on this strange way of thinking. Having considered the various alchemical process in which a body recurred, which the Greeks called sulfur, he finds that it was not described none of the reactions very evident and common of sulfur. Completely indifferent to the exhortations of the same text ( “our sulphur is not vulgar sulphur, our sulphur is alive sulphur …») infers that the authors (in particular Zosimos of Panopolis) had no ability for testing, actually, any interest for testing. He is not even touched by doubt, that they are not talking about the chemical element with which it is used to operate. Among others in ancient greek there was a pun between “θεῖον Theîon”, meaning “divine – from the gods – sacred “, as adjective, and “god – nature or divine being “ as a noun, and ”θεῖος Theîos”, meaning Sulphur. Which should lead to cautious reflection.
At the other extreme, another group of scholars stand out for the absolute technical-scientific ignorance. This allowed observation of the Hermetic texts without any injury of the type described, and led them to an exegesis that reads each statement or description in an allegorical sense.
Here are some under schools are being born and they rely on personal culture that filtered each reading. C.G. Jung inaugurated the psychological interpretation which imagines the alchemists suffering, more or less unconsciously, a language which conceals a metallurgical process outlined in “individuation,” or other obscure similar terms (1). Other closer to the historic religious and anthropological theories have mediated with appropriate comments. To all these were added, weedy bottom row, so called esotericism who have precluded any chance of understanding in a vicious circle that explains the alleged allegory with allegory, creating an intense happiness to anyone who wants to exclude the existence of the problem. Obviously, these authors carefully avoid most of the Hermetic literature, that is too obviously inconsistent t with their hypothesis. Indeed they are recognized by a particular characteristic, which consists of a circularity of citations that are passed to each other, always the same text, which nobody reads full. They are therefore even less useful than the former, who have at least made available more or less complete editions of the authors studied (2).
It remains us to determine what the hermetic philosophers have said about themselves. Few, however, at least until the seventeenth century, who introduced ramblings theoretical or historical texts, given the substantial indifference to everything that was not guiding the operations. So in the medieval monk Simon of Cologne (3) is an exception, with these considerations accompanying practice:
“In many ancient manuscripts there are definitions of this art, which we need to know immediately the aim. Hermes said: Alchemy is a substance from one body and for one, made with precious minutiae for alternating decoration, reaching the effect in the same natural mixture, converting generally better. Another says it is a science which teaches how to transform every kind of metal into another, by means of a medicine of their own, as appears from many philosophical books. So is knowing that a certain degree of so called science through a philosopher named Alchemus and this art teaches you to make a medicine called Elixir, which poured over imperfect metals, it perfects them completely, and this was the reason why it was invented ” .
- In fact Jung was preceded by H. Silberer, student of Freud who in turn had been taken up and developed by E. A. Hitchook, General American scholar and Freemason influenced by Swedemborg. The works of Jung and his students are still driving this trend now. For these problems see A History of Psychological Interpretation of Alchemy of L. H. Msartin jr., In Ambix vol 22 n ° 1, March 1975 ;
- Do not give bibliographical information, it is easy accessible. We can never forget the hermetic tradition of J. Evola, if only for its considerable glee that gave us a reading of some passages in the text exceptionally, and for the profound boredom that inspired the stupidity of the doctrines of social-political implications;
- Speculum minus alchimiae Bibl. Univ Bologna 153, chap. 1 XII;