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Peer Reviewers
List of Illustrations
part i. cornerstones
Ancient Alchemies, East & West
Introduction to Part One: 18
Circumambulating the Alchemical Mysterium
Aaron Cheak
1. Te Perfect Black: 44
Egypt and Alchemy
Aaron Cheak
2. Telestic Transformation and Philosophical Rebirth: 92
From Ancient Egypt to Neoplatonism
Algis Udavinys
3. Metallurgy and Demiurgy: 150
Te Roots of Greek Alchemy in the
Mythology of Hephaestos (Discussions)
Rod Blackhirst
4. Taking from Water to Fill in Fire: 167
Te History and Dynamics of Taoist Alchemy
Aaron Cheak
5. Mercury and Immortality: 207
Te Hindu Alchemical Tradition
David Gordon White
6. Iatrochemistry, Metaphysiology, Gnsis: 229
Tibetan Alchemy in the Klacakra Tantra
Kim Lai
part ii. transformations
Alchemies of the Spirit, Body & Word
Introduction to Part Two: 292
Interzone: On the Origins and Nature of European Alchemy
Aaron Cheak
7. Te Alchemical Khiasmos: 310
Counter-Stretched Harmony and Divine Self-Perception
Aaron Cheak & Sabrina Dalla Valle
8. Altus Ominous Aphorism: 320
Reading as Alchemical Process
Mirco Mannucci
9. Turris Philosophorum: 325
On the Alchemical Iconography of the Tower
Christopher A. Plaisance
10. Of Ether, Entheogens and Colloidal Gold: 355
Heinrich Khunrath and the Making of a Philosophers Stone
Hereward Tilton
11. Becoming an Angel: 421
Te Mundus Imaginalis of Henry Corbin
and the Platonic Path of Self-Knowledge
Angela Voss
12. Te Kiss of Death: 434
Amor, Corpus Resurrectionis and the
Alchemical Transfguration of Eros
Paul Scarpari
13. Agent of All Mutations: 458
Metallurgical, Biological and Spiritual
Evolution in the Alchemy of Ren Schwaller de Lubicz
Aaron Cheak
14. Take Two Emerald Tablets in the Morning: 518
Surrealism and the Alchemical Transubstantiation of the World
Leon Marvell
15. Incredible Lunatic of the Future: 536
Te Alchemical Horticulture of Alan Chadwick
Rod Blackhirst
16. Alchemical Endgame: 548
Checkmate in Beckett and Eliot
Dan Mellamphy
end matter
Abbreviations 639
Bibliography 641
Author Biographies 677
list of illustrations
1. Stylised ouroboros from pseudo-Cleopatras Chrysopoeia (Auri-
faction, Gold-making). Manuscript of Saint-Marc, in Ms. 2325,
Bibliothque nationale, fol. 188, verso, thirteenth century.
2. Jade ouroboric dragon coloured with cinnabar. Shang-Zhou Dy-
nasty, c. 1150-950 bce. Victoria and Albert Museum, London
(Photo, Cheak, 2005).
3. Self-Manifestation of the Tao and its Reversal
4. Elemental and Spatio-Temporal Orientations.
5. Taking from Water to Fill in Fire.
6. Wheel of emanation (the emanation cakra).
7. Te Ptolemaic cosmograph shared by most Renaissance alche-
mists. From Peter Apians Cosmographia, siue Descripto universi
Orbis (1584).
8. Frontispiece to the Musum Hermeticum (1678): What are in the
superiors, are also in the inferiors: that which points to heaven, is
frequently held by the earth.
9. Athanor as castle in Lambsprincks De lapide philosophico in the
Musum Hermeticum (1678).
10. Te athanor as a tower in Gebers Liber fornacum.
11. Athanors with removable rooves in the Mutus liber or Silent Book
(1677, plate 10).
12-14. Te torre philosophica (philosophical tower) shown both in as-
sembled and disassembled states. It is described as both forno
(furnace) and torre (tower). Te second and third images depict
it with the instruments for making the magistry of the Aqua Vit
(water of life). From Donato DEremits DellElixir Vit (On the
Elixir of Life, 1624).
15. Paracelsus, Anatomia corporum adhuc viventium (Te Anatomy of
Still Living Bodies, 1577), comparing the proportions of the fur-
nace to the proportions of the human anatomy.
16. Tower identifed as homo sanus (a healthy human); four archan-
gels repel the four diferent kinds of illness (depicted as demons).
Robert Fludd, Medicina catholica, 1629.
17. Te tower of man, infltrated by demonic attacks, succumbs to the
four types of illness. Robert Fludd, Integrvm morborvm mysterivm,
18-19. Correspondences between the human body and the seven planets
(lef); and between the human body and the signs of the Zodiac
(right). Robert Fludd, Utriusque cosmi, 1617.
20. Edward Kelleys vision of the cosmos as a castle comprised of four
towers. John Dee and Edward Kelly, A True & Faithful Relation
21-22 Two cosmic athanors representing the physical and spiritual struc-
ture of the universe. Annibal Barlets fourneau cosmique (cosmic
furnace) which comprehends the Zodiac and celestial sphere
(1653); and Tomas Nortons stylized athanor representing the ar-
chetypal, angelic, elemental and infernal spheres (1678).
23. Conjunction of Lady Alchimia and the Athanor King in the tow-
er/castle, representing the conjunction of philosophical mercury
and sulphur in the philosophers furnace. Cod. Pal. Lat. 1066 (ff-
teenth century).
24. Janus Lacinius, Pretiosa Margarita novella (sixteenth century),
where the union of king and queen gives rise to the philosophical
tree and the maturation of the philosophers stone.
25. Ripley Scroll (ffeenth century).
26. An eighteenth century rendition of the authors portrait from Khu-
nraths Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae (1609 edition). ULB
Darmstadt, Ms. 3263 (with permission of the Universitts-und
Landesbibliothek Darmstadt).
27. Te dissolution of the subject represented by dismemberment,
from Splendor Solis oder Sonnenglantz (Berliner Staatsbibliothek
Codex Germ. fol. 42, late 16th century, from the 1972 facsimile edi-
tion of Inge Veifues).
28. Rosenburg castle near Krumau, Bohemia the family estate of
Wilhelm von Rosenberg (1535-1592), who employed Khunrath as
his physician in 1591.
29. Te alchemical Green Lion, from Michael Maiers Atalanta fu-
giens (1618). With permission of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek,
30. Te coniunctio oppositorum, from the Aurora consurgens. Zrich,
Zentralbibliothek, Ms. Rh. 172: Aurora consurgens. With permis-
sion of the Zentralbibliothek, Zrich.
31. Te distillation of aqua regia, from Lazarus Erckers Aula subter-
ranea (1580). With permission of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek,
32. Te purifcation of gold with antimony, from Count Michael
Maiers Atalanta fugiens (1618). With permission of the Bayeri-
sche Staatsbibliothek, Munich.
33. Te furnace and recipient, from the Consilium philosophicum
practicum (Halle UB, Ms. 14 A 12 (1)), f. 16 verso (Khunraths
34. Visiting the interior of the earth, from the Aurora consurgens.
Zrich, Zentralbibliothek. Ms. Rh. 172: Aurora consurgens. With
permission of the Zentralbibliothek, Zrich.
35. Te cosmos of Heinrich Khunrath, from an eighteenth centu-
ry manuscript copy of the Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae
(1609). ULB Darmstadt, Ms. 3263 (with permission of the Univer-
sitts-und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt).
36. Te stag (soul) and the unicorn (spirit) in the forest (body), from
Lambsprinck, De lapide philosophico (1625): But happy shall that
man be called, who shall snare and capture them. With permis-
sion of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.
37. Te alchemical Farbenlehre of Ren Schwaller de Lubicz.
38. Bas Reliefs from the Botanical Garden of Tutmose III showing
proliferous Nymphaea lotuses (Detail, west wall, Karnak).
39. Instance of teratological proliferation recorded in the Museum of
Paris Bulletin.
40. Arms of Isia (ze-sur-mer), Cte dAzure, France. (Photo, Cheak,
Part One
Ancient Alchemies,
East & West
How one should turn to stone.
Slowly, slowly become hard, like a precious stone
until at last one remains still, lying in the bliss of eternity.
Ni e t z s c h e , Mo r g e n r t e , 5 4 1
I nt r o du c t i o n
Aa r o n Ch e a k

One is the serpent whose poison is doubly composed.

lchemy may be described, in the words of Baudelaire, as
a process of distilling the eternal from the transient.
As the
art of transmutation par excellence, the classical applications
of alchemy have always been twofold: chrysopoeia and apotheosis
(gold-making and god-making)the perfection of metals and mor-
tals. In seeking to turn poison into wine, alchemy, like tantra, engages
material existenceofen at its most dissolute or corruptiblein or-
der to transform it into a vehicle of liberation. Like theurgy, it seeks
not only personal liberationthe redemption of the soul from the
cycles of generation and corruptionbut also the liberation (or per-
fection) of nature herself through participation in the cosmic demiur-
gy. In its highest sense, therefore, alchemy conforms to what Lurianic
kabbalists would call tikkun, the restoration of the world.
Almost invariably, the earliest alchemical texts describe proce-
dures for creating elixirs of immortalityof extracting transformative
essences from physical substances in order to render metals golden
Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra, in Marcellin Berthelot, Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs
(Paris: Georges Steinheil, 1887), vol. 1., 132, fg. 11.
Charles Baudelaire, LArt romantique, in uvres completes de Charles Baudelaire (Paris:
Calmann Lvy, 1885), vol. 3, 68: de tirer lternel du transitoire.
i ntroducti on 19
and mortals divine. Trough this, the earliest alchemists innovated
physical processes such as distillation and fermentation, extraction
and refnement, and the analysis and synthesis of various chemical
substances. However, it must not be forgotten that the earliest contexts
of material alchemy were not proto-scientifc, but ritualistic. Wheth-
er one looks at the Taiqing (Great Clarity) tradition of third-to-sixth
century China, the Siddha traditions of early medieval India, or the
magical and theurgical milieux of Hellenistic Egypt, the most con-
crete alchemical practices were always inseparable from ritual invo-
cations to and supplications of the divinities whose ranks the alche-
mist wished to enter. Moreover, in east and west alike, the alchemical
techniques themselves were allegedly passed down from divinity to
humanity. Alchemy was a divine art; a hieratik techn.
Whether stemming from the entheogenic properties of physical
elixirs, or developing independently, the desire to encounter the di-
vine directly through inner experience (gnsis, jnna) was soon culti-
vated via internal practices of a meditative or metaphysiological char-
acter. Here the elixir began to be generated within the vessels of the
human body in order to transform it into an alchemical body of glory.
Tus, the two basic traditionsexternal and internal alchemy; neidan
and waidan, laboratory and oratorycan, in the fnal analysis, be re-
garded as complimentary approaches to the same end: the attainment
of perfection through liberation from conditioned existence.
Despite these generalising remarks, and despite the unusual apt-
ness of Baudelaires phrase, it must nevertheless be conceded that the
efort to defne alchemy to everyones satisfaction may well be impossi-
ble. On one hand, alchemy needs to be defned in a way that encapsu-
lates the living breadth and depth of the worlds alchemical traditions.
On the other hand, such a defnition must also be internally consistent
with the many specifc, historically contingent (and at times contra-
dictory) expressions of alchemy. Moreover, the very attempt to strike
such a golden mean between the universal and particular, between
the synchronic and the diachronic, is something of an alchemical act
in and of itselfthe elusive, indeed transformative, point where art
becomes science and science, art. In this respect, alchemy may well
be seen to inhere in precisely such nodal points of qualitative change
(as Jack Linsday called them in his landmark study of Graeco-Egyp-
tian alchemy),
or in instances of qualitative exaltation (as the twen-
Jack Lindsay, Te Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt (London: Frederick Muller,
1970), 382-92. Lindsay came very close to encapsulating the essence of the alchemical pro-
cess when he said it consisted in the vision of unitary process and nodal points of qualitative
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 20
tieth-century alchemist, Ren Schwaller de Lubicz, described them
with regards to the teratological proliferations of biological species).
Rather than ofer a single, rigid defnition (which will quickly be-
come restrictive), what I would like to do in this introduction is pres-
ent a series of linguistic, historiographical, and phenomenological
circumambulations around the alchemical mysterium. In so doing,
I seek to trace some of the more salient contours of the alchemical
landscape, and, if possible, glimpse the presence of its elusive centre.
One of the merits of approaching alchemy by circumambulation is
that it afords a much wider circumscription of the phenomenon than
the narrowly fxed parameters of disciplinal specifcity usually per-
mit; it therefore allows a more eidetic or phenomenological insight
to developan approach that, in German philosophical traditions, is
seen to promote actual understanding (Verstehen) rather mere expla-
nation (Erklren).
As Hans Tomas Hakl points out in a recent study
of Julius Evolas alchemical works, circumambulatio is precisely the ap-
proach taken in order to engender an actual experience of the realities
that allegedly underpin the multiplicity of Hermetic symbols.
It is,
potentially, a method of knowledge by presence rather than simple
representational knowledge. Of course, such approaches, which are
fundamentally morphological in their method, are also ahistorical in
character, and so what must be ofered here is not an exclusively phe-
nomenological approach, but a circumambulation that is also tem-
pered in the fres of historical rigour. Such an approach, in my expe-
rience, is fundamentally more balanced than either of the extremes.
change. It was this qualitative and unitive element which defned the spirit of alchemy; mod-
ern chemistry, lacking this qualitative spirit, was by contrast not just alchemy without the
nonsense; it was alchemy tamed, reduced wholly to a quantitative level, and thus giving up
its ghost. Lindsay observes that the methodological precisions of quantitative science were
necessary but the science that emerged developed at the expense of the essential vision of and
relationship with the qualititative aspect of nature that was the unique province of alchemy.
See my contribution to part two of the present volume: Agent of all Mutations: Metallurgi-
cal, Biological and Spiritual Evolution in the Alchemy of Ren Schwaller de Lubicz.
Principally Wilhelm Dilthey, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Heidegger. See in particular
Dilthey, Selected Works, vol. 1 (ed. and trans. Makkreel and Rodi, Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1989), who was in fact reviving a long-standing tradition of textu-
al interpretation rooted in biblical exegesis; and Steven D. Kepnes, Bridging the Gap between
Understanding and Explanation: Approaches to the Study of Religion, Journal for the Scientif-
ic Study of Religion 25 (1986): 504-12.
H. T. Hakl, Te Symbology of Hermeticism According to Julius Evola in Lux in Tenebris:
Te Visual and the Symbolic in Western Esotericism (ed. Peter Forshaw, et al.; forthcoming).
i ntroducti on 21
At the same time, it must be recognised that there is an inher-
ent tension to this balance. Tis tension requires one to embrace a
Heraclitean harmony of contraries between deeply opposed meth-
odologies. In circumambulating a centre, whether as an essentialist
or relativist, the ultimate nature of the centre, indeed the substantial
existence of the centre itself, must remain an open question. As the
Dao de Jing remarks, thirty spokes meet in the hub of the wheel, but
the function of the wheel is in the empty part. Without the concrete
spokes of empirical-historical data, we may not become aware of the
centre, and yet this centre, which is empty, is precisely the function
(the phenomenological Verstehen) around which the spokes revolve,
giving them their form, their function and thus their meaning. Both
aspects are interdependent, and both must be equally accounted for.
Tus, before we open up to any deeper phenomenological percep-
tions, our circumambulations must begin by frst situating alchemy in
its concrete historical-linguistic and historiographic contexts.
Etymol ogies
Te historical purview of what came to be called alchemy includes
an undeniable current of infuence stemming from Pharaonic and
Hellenistic Egypt on one hand, and another stemming from ancient
China, medieval India and Tibet on the othercurrents that appear
to have cross-fertilised before converging in Arabic alchemy, whence
the term proper: al-kmiy.
Scholars have long known that the word
alchemy points to an Arabic transmission (alkmiy becomes Spanish
alquimia, Latin alchimia, French alchimie, German Alchemie, etc.)

Given this interweaving lineage, the term alchemy itself is perhaps intentionally polyvalent,
being intended to evoke not a single linguistic origin, per modern linguistic requirements,
but rather, through the associations of folk etymology, to encapsulate something of the mul-
tiplicity of meanings that have adhered to the term over time. Be that as it may, the clearest
notes of etymological resonance have been struck in the Chinese and Graeco-Egyptian lin-
guistic registers.
See in particular: F. Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schriftums (Leiden: Brill, 1971), iv,
1-299; M. Ullmann, Die Natur- und Geheimwissenschafen im Islam (Leiden: Brill, 1972),
144-270; Ullmann, al-kmiy in Encyclopedia of Islam, second edition (Leiden: Brill, 1986),
v, 110-15; Ullmann, al-kmiy, in Wrterbuch der klassischen arabischen Sprache, 1 (Wies-
baden, 1970-); Z. R. W. M. von Martels, ed., Alchemy Revisited (Leiden: Brill, 1990); Charles
Burnett, Te Astrologers Assay of the Alchemist: Early References to Alchemy in Arabic
and Latin Texts, Ambix 39.3 (1992): 103-9.
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 22
Te Arabic defnite article al- points clearly to this, yet the precise or-
igin of the lexeme kmiy is far from certain. Academic consensus has
generally favoured Greek sources, notably those published by Mar-
cellin Berthelot,
suggesting an origin from the term (chyma,
that which is poured out; fows, fuid; ingot, bar; metaphorically,
confused mass, aggregate, crowd; materials, constituents), whence
(chymeia, the art of alloying metals) named from its supposed
inventor, (Chyms).
As Harris observes in his 1704 Lexicon
Chymisty, is variously defned, but the design of this Art is to sep-
arate usefully the Purer Parts of any mixd Body from the more
Gross and Impure. It seems probably to be derived from the Greek
word [chymos], which signifes a Juice, or the purer Sub-
stance of a mixd Body; though some will have it to come from
[cheein], to melt. It is also called the Spagyrick, Hermetick,
and Pyrotechnick Art, as also by some Alchymy.
Te idea of fuid essences, extracts or elixirs is clearly central to the
alchemical purview, and as will be seen throughout this volume, it is
also inherent to the very names for alchemy in Chinese and Indo-Ti-
betan traditions (Chinese dao jindan, Sanskrit rasyana, Tibetan bcud
len). In addition, the Greek etymology distinctly emphasises the idea
of metallic fusibility, and the idea that metals are fundamentally fus-
ible entities proves central to the alchemical perception. In the Greek
world, metals were regarded as essentially fuid or malleable in nature,
the products of fusibility. Te word metal itself (, metallon,
, metalleion) is homophonous withand most likely de-
rived froma whole series of words indicating transformation, such
as metalloisis (), which is formed from the preposition
meta (between, with, afer; taking a diferent position or state) and
the substantive alloisis (alteration or change).

Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs (Paris: Georges Steinheil, 1887).
LSJ, vide: ; On the Greek metallurgical etymology in refutation of the Egyptian et-
ymology, see H. Diels, Antike Technik: Sechs Vortrge (Leipzig: Teubner, 1914). Te Greek
etymology itself goes back at least as far as the turn of the seventeenth century.
Cf. John Harris, Lexicon Technicum: or, an Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Scienc-
es Explaining not only the Terms of Art, but the Arts Temselves (London, 1704), unpaginated.
Note here that Harris adduces chymos, juice, on which the Chinese and Indian terminology
must be compared (see below: jin i, rasyana).
For further discussion, see the very interesting essay by Procopios D. Zacharias, Chymeu-
tike: Te Real Hellenic Chemistry, Ambix 5 (1956): 117-8. Zacharias draws on the generally
i ntroducti on 23
Whether derived from chyma, chymeia, Chyms, or chymos, the
term alchemy appears to come to the Latin west from late Greek
sources through the same kinds of channels that preserved Platonic
and Aristotelian texts, in Arabic translation, afer the fall of the Greek
Academy. While the lines of historical transmission are well known,
matters are not quite as simple as they frst appear. Egyptologists and
Sinologists have both brought forward diverging evidence that the or-
igins of alchemy lay not in Greece but in the Ancient Near or Far East.
Te Egyptian Etymology
In addition to the Greek etymology, the root kmiy has also been
traced to the Egyptian name for Egypt, km.t (Coptic keme, kmi),
which Plutarch gives as (chmia), the blackest earth (
, malista melangeion).
Te implications of this etymolo-
gy are explored in detail elsewhere in this volume.
Sufce it to say
for now that a wealth of theological and cosmological signifcations
deeply pertinent to alchemy emerge from Plutarchs identifcation of
the name of Egypt with not only the blackness of the soil, but also with
the blackness of the pupil of the eye. On a basic, symbolic level, this
coheres with the fact that the Nilotic black earth, which literally (and
geographically) defned Egypt, was fertile soilthe perfect receptor of
life-giving seed; in the same way, the transparent openness that forms
the pupil of the eye is the perfect receptor of light.
As will be seen, these signifcations directly tie the early concep-
tion of alchemy to genuine Egyptian theological conceptions on one
hand, and to the Greek Hermetic corpus on the other, a point that
has already been articulated in some detail by Erik Iversen with re-
gard to the Memphite cosmology of the Shabaka stone and its clear
recapitulation in the Corpus Hermeticum itself.
Furthermore, as the
late Algis Udavinys makes abundantly clear, this current of alchemy
neglected work of K. Stephanides, who in fourteen publications between 1903 and 1910, com-
mented on and corrected the work of Berthelot, and by consideration of other sources threw
much light on this obscure and misunderstood aspect of the history of chemistry (116).
Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride, 33; Frank Cole Babbitt (trans.), Moralia vol. V (Loeb, 1936),
83. Te Egyptian thesis (chmia chem-) appears to have been frst put forward in modern
times by Hermann Conring, De Hermetica Medicina (1648), 19; though, as Bain suggests
(see discussion in chapter 1, with refs), it appears to have been current in antiquity.
Cheak, Te Perfect Black: Egypt and Alchemy.
Erik Iversen, Egyptian and Hermetic Doctrine (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press,
1984), passim.
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 24
cannot be divorced from the numerous morphological continuities
that exist between Egyptian mortuary cult on one hand, and Homeric,
Orphic, Pythagorean, Platonic and hieratic Neoplatonic traditions on
the other.
And as scholars such as Peter Kingsley have shown, these
morphological connections are not merely apparent: they are deeply
rooted in a fne web of mutual historical and geographical interactions
between the initiatic traditions not only of Egypt itself, but those of
southern Italy and Sicily (whence the Pythagorean current that would
retain such a strong presence in the Hermetic tradition down through
the centuries, from Bolus of Mendes to the Turba Philosophorum).
Te Chinese Origin of the Chem- Etymon
Joseph Needham, in the alchemical volumes of his magisterial Science
and Civilisation in China, makes a very plausible case for the Greek
and Arabic borrowing of the Chinese term jin (gold) or jin i (gold
juice, gold ferment), terms explicitly linked to aurifaction, aurifction
and elixirs for perfecting bodies, all of which appears to place kmiy
in an original context not only of Taoist metallurgical practices, but
also of traditions of physical immortality (macrobiotics).
Afer one
of the most lucid and thorough surveys of the existing etymological
evidence for alchemy, Needham, concludes:
See Udavinys contribution to the present volume: Telestic Transformation and Philo-
sophical Rebirth: From Ancient Egypt to Neoplatonism.
Peter Kingsley, From Pythagoras to the Turba Philosophorum: Egypt and Pythagorean
Tradition, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 57 (1994): 1-13; Ancient Philosophy,
Mystery, Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (Oxford: Clarenden Press, 1995), 55-
68, 298-9, 317 f, 335-347, 371-91.
Joseph Needham, et al., Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5, part 4: Spagyrical Dis-
covery and Invention: Apparatus, Teories, Gifs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1980), 353, citing Mahdihassan: jin i, gold juice, gold liquid; on gold fuid, potable gold,
cf. further: Wu Lu-chiang, and Tenney L. Davis, An Ancient Chinese Alchemical Classic:
Ko Hung on the Gold Medicine and on the Yellow and the White; Te Fourth and Sixteenth
Chapters of the Pao-pu-tzu, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 70
(1935): 221-84; of jin i, Needham remarks: the ancient pronunciation [] would have been
kiem iak. Cf. Homer H. Dubs, Te Origin of Alchemy, Ambix 9 (1961): 34: Tis Chinese
phrase, jin-yi [], was pronounced in Tang times at the imperial capital as ki[e]m-ik. Tis
phrase means, literally, the juice (or sperm) of gold. It was one of the common Chinese
names for the elixir of immortality. Like other alchemical phrases, it disappeared from usage
with the decay of Chinese alchemy.
i ntroducti on 25
If some have found an infuence of jin (kiem) on chmeia (chimeia,
chymeia) difcult to accept, there has been less desire to question
its infuence on al-kmiy. No Arabic etymologist ever produced a
plausible derivation of the word from Semitic roots, and there is
the further point that both jin i and kmiy could and did mean an
actual substance or elixir as well as the art of making elixirs, while
chmeia does not seem to have been used as a concrete noun of
that kind. We are lef with the possibility that the name of the Chi-
nese gold art, crystallised in the syllable jin (kiem), spread over the
length and breadth of the Old World, evoking frst the Greek terms
for chemistry and then, indirectly or directly, the Arabic one.

Needham makes it saliently clear that alchemy is not simply a
product of Hellenistic culture. Although it is difcult to accept an ex-
clusively Chinese origin for alchemy, the copious evidence adduced by
Needham and his collaborators over four large volumes irrevocably
transforms (and complicates) the overall picture of the genesis of al-
chemy. In short, not only must one come to terms with the Ancient
Near Eastern infuence upon Hellenistic and Islamicate alchemical
traditions, one must also contend with the Ancient Far Eastern in-
fuences upon the intellectual and technical history of alchemy. Tis
is especially pertinent given the attested lines of cultural exchange
between the Asian, European and African landmasses along the Silk
Road, which were established during the Han Dynasty (206 bce220
Te most important Chinese term for alchemy was jindan, or
golden elixir, which was conceived in both an external sense (as a
macrobiogen) and an internal sense (as a spiritual embryo).
also referred especially to cinnabar, the red salt of sulphur and mercu-
ry, and the raw ingredient from which mercury was refned. As such,
cinnabar points to one of the most ancient and pervasive mineral the-
ophanies of the worlds alchemical traditions: the marriage of mineral
sulphur and metallic mercury to form a red crystalline stone (mer-
curic sulphide). Around this naturally occurring substance, multiple
layers of historical, cultural and mythological meaning would accrue
not only in Chinese and Indo-Tibetan but also in Islamicate and Eu-
ropean alchemical traditions.
With regard to our previous remarks on metal as a quintessential-
ly fuid substance, it may also be added here that in ancient Chinese
Needham, 5.4, 355; transliteration modifed.
See especially Fabrizio Pregadio, Jindan, Te Encyclopedia of Taoism (ed. Fabrizio Prega-
dio, London: Routledge, 2008), vol. 1, 551-55.
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 26
cosmology, metal (for which jin was also a generic term) was regarded
as one of the fve elements (wu xing); not only was it regarded as the
mother of the water element, the metal element itself was defned
precisely by its double capacity to melt and to solidify into new form
(as in a mould).
Tis ability to revert from a solid form to an amor-
phous or liquid state, and back again, is a very important principle. In
the western alchemical canon it would inhere in the formula: solve et
coagula, dissolve and coagulate, a formula that possesses deep sym-
bolic value in regards to ontologies of fux and permanence (point-
ing to a more paradoxical ontology embracing both permanence in
fux and fux in permanence). It also underscores the universal value
almost unanimously given to mercury as the essence of metals. For
next to gold and cinnabar, mercury fgures as the most universal of all
alchemical substances in eastern and western traditions alike. When
alchemically refned, moreover, it came to be regarded less as a sub-
stance per se, and more as the underlying principle of pure sublim-
ityof absolute volatilitywith the unique power to penetrate and
transform all things, especially minerals and metals (the most dense
historiographical considerations
Due to the very nature of the topic, the study of alchemy has bordered
on a surprisingly large number of disciplines. Generally, and signif-
cantly, it may be said to straddle both the history of science and the
history of religions. Moreover, due to the wide, cross-cultural pur-
view of alchemy, these dual histories have converged in Egyptological,
Sinological, Classical, Islamic, Indo-Tibetan, medieval western, early
modern and modern western contexts.
More recently, following the
Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 2: History of Scientifc Tought (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956), 243 f.
Notable studies in these felds include M. Berthelot and C. E. Ruelle, Collection des
anciens alchimistes grecs, 3 vols. (Paris: Georges Steinheil, 18881889); Ruska, Arabische Al-
chimisten (Weisbaden, 1924; reprint 1977); Julius Ruska, Tabula Smaragdina: Ein Beitrag zur
Geschichte der hermetischen Literatur (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1926); Ruska, Turba Phi-
losophorum: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Alchemie (Berlin: Julius Springer, 1931); Ruska,
Das Buch der Alaune und Salze: Ein Grundwerk der sptlateinischen Alchemie (Berlin: Verlag
Chemie, 1935); Ruska, Al-Razes Buch Geheminis der Geheimnisse mit Einleitung und Erluter-
ungen in deutscher Ubersetzung (Berlin, 1937); Paul Kraus, Jabir ibn Hayyan: Contribution
lhistoire des ides scientifques dans lIslam, 2 vols. (Cairo: 1942-3; Paris: Les Belles Lettres,
1986); E. O. von Lippman, Austehung und Verbreitung der Alchemie 3 vols. (Berlin: Springer,
1919, 1931; Weinheim/Bergstrasse: Verlag Chemie, 1954); Joseph Needham, Science and Ci-
i ntroducti on 27
eforts of scholars such as Antoine Faivre, alchemy has become a topos
in the history of western esotericism (i.e. the history of Hermeticism,
gnosis, alchemy and related currents), which has become increasingly
established as an academic discipline.
As in other areas, scholars have started to speak less of alchemy
and more of alchemies, and an increasing efort has been made to
distinguish and contextualise the individual currents or expressions
of alchemy over and against the idea of alchemy as a sweeping, mono-
lithic tradition. With this distinction comes the recognition that the
idea of alchemy as a single, unifed phenomenon is more the product
of an esoteric interpretation of history (e.g. metahistory or hierohis-
vilisation in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19542008); Mircea Eliade,
Forgerons et alchimistes (Paris: Flammarion, 1956) = Te Forge and the Crucible (New York:
Harper, 1962); Lama Anagarika Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism (London: Rider
& Co., 1960); Nathan Sivin, Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies (Cambridge MA: Harvard
University Press, 1968); Jack Lindsay, Te Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt (Lon-
don: Frederick Muller, 1970); Martin Plessner, Vorsokratische Philosophie und griechische
Alchemie in arabisch-lateinischer berlieferung (Weisbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH,
1975); Edward Todd Fenner, Rasayana Siddhi: Medicine and Alchemy in the Buddhist Tantras
(PhD dissertation: University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1979); Robert Halleux, Les Textes al-
chimiques: Typologie des sources du moyen age occidental (Turnhout-Belgium: Brepols, 1979);
Franois Daumas, LAlchimie a-t-elle une origine gyptienne?, in Das rmisch-byzantinische
gypten: Akten des internationalen Symposions 26.30. September 1978 in Trier (Mainz:
Philipp von Zabern, 1983); Henry Corbin, Alchimie comme art hiratique (ed. Pierre Lory,
Paris: LHerne, 1986); Phillipe Derchaine, LAtelier des Orfvres Dendara et les origines
de lalchimie, Chronique dgypte 129 (1990): 21942; David Gordon White, Te Alchemical
Body: Sidha Traditions in Medieval India (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994); B. D.
Haage, Alchemie im Mittelalter: Ideen und Bildervon Zosimos bis Paracelsus (Munich: Ar-
temis & Winkler, 1996); William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe, Alchemy Tried in
the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry (Chicago: Chicago University
Press, 2002), to name but a few.
Antoine Faivre, Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press,
1994); Questions of Terminology Proper to the Study of Esoteric Currents in Modern and
Contemporary Europe, in Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion: Selected Papers
Presented at the 17th Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, Mex-
ico City, 1995, eds. Antoine Faivre and Wouter J. Hanegraaff (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters,
1998), 110; Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Empirical Method in the Study of Esotericism, Method
and Teory in the Study of Religion (1995): 99129; Te Birth of a Discipline, in Western Eso-
tericism and the Science of Religion, vii-xvii; On the Construction of Esoteric Traditions, in
Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion, 1161; Beyond the Yates Paradigm: Te Study
of Western Esotericism between Counterculture and New Complexity, Aries 1, 1 (2001): 537.
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 28
tory) rather than a strictly empirical description of historical phe-
nomena. Te idea of a Hermetic or alchemical tradition thus says
as much about the formulation of esoteric identity as it does about
the complex historical and social vicissitudes of the phenomenon in
and yet, as Kingsley has noted, the idea of Hermeticism
itself is bound precisely to a tradition of interpretation and transla-
tion (hermneus) between traditions.
Moreover, as Faivre has not-
ed, alchemy, like magic and astrology, evinces a strong cross-cultural
character. With these considerations in mind, it is important to speak
of alchemical traditions in the plural to emphasise the diversity and
uniqueness of the diferent historical expressions of alchemy; this is
not to preclude the possibility that broader unities may be discerned
among them, but simply to ensure that they do not displace the in-
dividual care and attention that each current or tradition requires in
order to be understood on its own terms. At the same time, grand,
unifying perspectives, ofen unpopular in the post-modern academy,
should not be abandoned, for they provide important heuristic tools
that help elucidate and coordinate deeper thematic and morphologi-
cal integrities.
Because a large part of the historiography of alchemy has typically
been formulated within the context of the history of science, and be-
cause a virulent polemic against alchemy was pivotal to the establish-
ment of a rationalised science, this has resulted in an overwhelmingly
positivist and dualistic intellectual heritage in the study of alchemy.
In the one-sided criticism advanced by positivist histories of science,
alchemy is summarily dismissed as merely erroneous proto-chemis-
try. Fortunately, much of the efort in the historiography of alchemy
over the past ffy years has been successful in slowly dismantling this
lingering attitude so that more balanced perspectives have been able
to prevail.
Cf. Kocku von Stuckrad, Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge (Lon-
don: Equinox, 2005), 611, who makes the distinction between a religious or esoteric tra-
dition and a religious or esoteric feld of discourse; he also discusses the importance of
recognising the complexity of esoteric identities.
See Kingsley, Poimandres: Te Etymology of the Name and the Origins of the Hermetica,
Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 56 (1993): 1-24.
Signifcant studies in this respect include the work of J. R. Partington, A History of Chem-
istry, 4 vols. (London, MacMillan. 19611970); Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to
Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (Basel: Karger, 1982); Allen G. Debus, Te
English Paracelsians (Oldbourne Press: History of science library, 1965); Debus, Te Chemical
Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1977,
i ntroducti on 29
Misconceptions in the historiography of alchemy from the per-
spective of science are, of course, matched by those advanced from the
perspective of religion and spirituality. With the turn of the scientifc
revolution towards the end of the seventeenth century, alchemy and
chemistry, previously synonymous under the term chymistry, were vo-
ciferously diferentiated and, although the esoteric rhetoric of alche-
my continued, its operative aspect was largely (though by no means
entirely) abandoned.
By the Victorian era, this current culminated in
the works of Mary Anne Atwood and the afrmation of an exclusively
spiritual alchemy in which the operative element would be dismissed
Tere is no evidence, remarks Principe, that a majority,
or even a signifcant fraction of pre-18th century European alchem-
ical writers and practitioners saw their work as anything other than
natural philosophical in character, as even the prolifc occult writer,
A. E. Waite (18571942) was forced to admit toward the end of his
career in 1926.
Such remarks are useful for establishing broad lines
of development, and while on the large accurate, must also be taken
with a grain of salt, especially in light of statements by pre-eighteenth
century alchemists such as Stephanos of Alexandria (seventh centu-
ry), who explicitly emphasises intellectual and theological aims, most
notably in his admonition: Put away the material theory so that you
may be deemed worthy to see with your intellectual eyes the hidden
(Tis counter-example is important, for Stephanos work is
explicitly linked to the Byzantine and Arabic traditions that form the
2002); A. G. Debus and M. T. Walton, eds., Reading the Book of Nature: Te Other Side of
the Scientifc Revolution (Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies) (Tomas Jeferson University
Press, 1998); Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 19542008); Mircea Eliade, Forgerons et alchimistes (Paris: Flammarion,
1956); Henry Corbin, Alchimie comme art hiratique (ed. Pierre Lory, Paris: LHerne, 1986);
William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe, Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle,
and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2002), amongst
On the term chymistry, see William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe, Alchemy
vs. Chemistry: Te Etymological Origins of a Historiographic Mistake, Early Science and
Medicine, 3, 1 (1998): 3265.
Cf. in particular Mary Anne Atwood, A Suggestive Enquiry into the Hermetic Mystery
(Belfast: William Tait, 1918).
Lawrence M. Principe, Alchemy I: Introduction, in Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Es-
otericism, ed. W. Hanegraaf (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 13.
See F. Sherwood Taylor, Te Alchemical Works of Stephanos of Alexandria: Translation
and Commentary, Part I, Ambix 1 (1937): 11639; Te Alchemical Works of Stephanos of Al-
exandria: Translation and Commentary, Part II, Ambix 1 (1937): 3949. Quotation modifed.
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 30
foundations of European alchemy).
Despite such nuances, many scholars remain increasingly criti-
cal of not only the spiritual interpretations of alchemy popular in the
nineteenth century, but also the psychological interpretations of al-
chemy that emerged in the twentieth. Te scholarly discontent with
these interpretations appears to derive from the fact that they strong-
ly colour many peoples assumptions about alchemy. Tese scholars
therefore see themselves as undertaking the continuous dismantling
of erroneous views of alchemy promulgated since the Enlightenment
which have, despite their dubious qualifcations and origins, deeply
tinctured a major part of the literature on alchemy written during
the 19th and 20th centuries.
Such attitudes are particularly directed
against the very infuential work of Carl Jung, for whom processes in
the alchemical vessel are a screen for the archetypal projections of the
Not surprisingly, Jung has come under increasing historical
criticism in this regard; Lawrence M. Principe, for instance, has sug-
gested that the work of Jung is merely an extension of the deleterious
outgrowth of Victorian occultism.
Principe, whose own area of spe-
cialty is early modern European alchemy, is particularly critical of the
occult-spiritual and psychological interpretations as he fnds them in
especial contrast to his fndings in the works of early modern chy-
mists, such as Starkey, Philalethes, Boyle, and Newton, among others.
While the excesses of the spiritualist and psychological interpre-
tations are recognisable when circumscribed to their proper contexts,
this by no means precludes more nuanced approaches to the question
of psychological and spiritual alchemies. In this respect, in the early
modern period alone, some of Principe and Newmans own oversim-
plifcations have been countered by the more nuanced studies of the
spiritual dimension in early modern alchemy profered by scholars
such as Hereward Tilton, who observes: Te historiography proposed
by Principe and Newman can only be upheld by portraying early mod-
ern laboratory alchemy as purely chemical research (conceived in
crypto-positivist terms), and by erasing from history the development
of alchemical thought subsequent to the seventeenth century. For re-
searchers in the history of western esotericism, this modus operandi
Lawrence M. Principe, Alchemy, DGWE, 12.
Carl Gustav Jung, Psychologie und Alchemie (Zurich, 1944); Jung, Mysterium coniunctio-
nis: Untersuchungen ber die Trennung und Zusammensetzung der seelischen Gegensatze in
der alchemie (Zurich, 1955); Jung, Studien ber alchemistische Vorstellungen, C. G. Jung Ge-
sammelte Werke, vol. 13 (Freiburg im Breisgau: Walter-Verlag, 1978).
Principe, Alchemy, DGWE, 14.
i ntroducti on 31
is entirely inadequate.
Indeed, too rigid an insistence on an overtly
or exclusively operative alchemy cannot be sustained nor extended
beyond its proper contexts, any more than can an exclusively spiritual
alchemy; this becomes especially evident once one steps outside the
relatively narrow period of early modern and modern western Eu-
rope, whereupon the picture changes drastically. Te broader picture
ofered by the history of religions opens up a far deeper perspective
on the relationship between operative and spiritual alchemies. David
Gordon Whites magisterial study of rasyana siddha traditions in
Medieval India, for instance, lays bare a blatantly alchemical world in
which the transmutation of the mortal human body into an immor-
tal, divine body was explicitly homologised with metallurgical trans-
mutations according to the formula: as in metals, so in the body.

Here, the whole elixir tradition takes centre stage, the origins of which
take us back to the deeply Taoist alchemy of ancient China, which, per
the work of Needham, Sivin and Pregadio, shows no contradiction at
all between the inner (neidan) and outer (waidan) elixirs.
Te case
becomes even more explicit in the Tibetan Buddhist alchemy of the
Klacakra Tantra, in which metallurgical, medicinal, and metaphysi-
cal aims are thoroughly intertwined; here, metallurgical and botanical
processes are used in the creation of iatrochemical elixirs designed to
prolong life not for its own sake, but in order to buy time to achieve
liberation in life (jivanmukti) through the actualisation of the initi-
ates Buddha Nature (buddha-dhtu, tathgatagarbha).
Hereward Tilton, Te Quest for the Phoenix: Spiritual Alchemy and Rosicrucianism in the
Work of Count Michael Maier (15691622) (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2003), 256, with 918,
2356, 2536.
Rasrnava 17. 1645: yath lohe tath dehe kartavhah stakah sad/ samnam kurute devi
pravishan dehalohayoh/ prvam lohe parksheta tato dehe prayojayet; David Gordon White,
Te Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (Chicago: Chicago University
Press, 1996), 315 with 446 n. 21, and passim.
Nathan Sivin, Chinese Alchemy: Preliminary Studies. (Cambridge MA: Harvard University
Press, 1968); Sivin, Chinese Alchemy and the Manipulation of Time, Isis 67, no. 4 (1976):
51326; Sivin, Te Teoretical Background of Elixir Alchemy, in Joseph Needham et al.,
Science and Civilisation in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), vol. 5.4,
210305; Fabrizio Pregadio, Awakening to Reality: Te Regulated Verses of the Wuzhen pian,
a Taoist Classic of Internal Alchemy (Golden Elixir Press, 2009); Pregadio, Te Seal of the
Unity of the Tree, vol. 1: A Study and Translation of the Cantong qi, the Source of the Taoist
Way of the Golden Elixir (Golden Elixir Press, 2011).
See especially Kim Lais ground-breaking contribution to the present volume: Iatrochem-
istry, Metaphysiology, Gnosis: Tibetan Alchemy in the Klacakra Tantra.
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 32
the work of Henry Corbin on the Persian alchemist Jaldak shows the
deep insistence that was placed in Islamicate tradition on alchemy as
an ars hieratica, and the distinct relationship that was seen to exist
between the metallurgical process, the animation of statues, and the
creation of a resurrection body.

Te deep relationship that emerges here between metallurgical
and physiological processes all pertain strongly to the hidden conti-
nuity between all bodies, from the mineral to the divine. Terefore,
inasmuch as general statements about alchemy are to be advanced
cautiously, if at all, the fact that alchemy has traditionally been studied
from the twin vantages of the history of science and the history of
religions appears to refect a strong tendency in alchemy toward the
unifcation of the material and the spiritual.
alchemy as nondual process
A child of metallurgy and the traditional crafs, alchemy cannot be
separated from the concrete aspect of existence any more than it can
be separated from the transcendent. Indeed, both become interfus-
ible, interdependent and interchangeable. If alchemy appears elusive,
it is precisely because it cuts across categories ordinarily seen as mu-
tually exclusive. For this reason, alchemy may be better approached
not so much as a fxed domain of activity, but as a nondual process.
Indeed, its sphere of operation is better comprehended as existing be-
tween domains, or better yet, as the medium in which more fxed
domains proceed. Like the fusible nature of metals, this medium may
be regarded as the substance from which fxed forms solidify, and
into which they dissolve. As such, it is the conditio sine qua non for
transmutation and dissolution, for converting one form into another,
and for dissolving and abrogating the familiar boundaries or borders
between apparently fxed states.
One explicit example of this is the fact that the key object of the
western alchemical quest itselfthe philosophers stone or univer-
sal medicine (the perfecting agent par excellence) is also, literally, a
universal poison. In the Greek alchemical manuscripts, the expression
is given as katholikon pharmakon ( ). Te word
katholikon means universal, whole, while pharmakon, a very ambig-
uous word, means not only medicine, but also poison, and magical
philtre. According to the mercurial Jacques Derrida (who perhaps un-
derstood ambivalence better than anyone), this medicine or philter
Corbin, Le Livre des sept Statues dApollonios de Tyane, comment par Jaldak, Al-
chimie comme art hiratique, ed. Pierre Lory (Paris: LHerne, 1986), 63-4, 71-3.
acts as both remedy and poison and already introduces itself into
the body of the discourse with all its ambivalence; this charm, this
spellbinding virtue, this power of fascination, can bealternately or
simultaneouslybenefcent or malefcent.
If the pharmakon is am-
bivalent continues Derrida, it is because it constitutes the medium in
which opposites are opposed, the movement and the play that links
them among themselves, reverses them or makes one side cross over
into the other (soul/body, good/evil, inside/outside, memory/forget-
fulness, speech/writing, etc.)
Tus, in conjunction with its ability
for transformation, the (universal) pharmakon is also a medium for
cosmic enantiodromia.
Tis capacity for fuid interweaving between diferent states of ex-
istence is perhaps most eloquently expressed within alchemical tra-
dition proper by Maria Prophetissa: if you do not render corporeal
substances incorporeal, and incorporeal substances corporeal, and
if the two are not made one, nothing will be achieved.
Te seven-
teenth century Suf, Muhzin Fayz Kshn describes an equivalent
process in which spirits are corporealised and bodies spiritualised,
a process that, according to Henry Corbin, takes place in an ontolog-
ically real, yet liminal, zonethe mundus imaginaliswhich Corbin
defned precisely as a juncture between the eternal and the transient,
the intelligible and the sensible: the intermonde or intermediary realm
par excellence.
Importantly, Corbins phraseology is not only drawn
from Persian and Arabic mystical texts (which deeply tinctured the
alchemy of the time), it is also consonant with other, earlier Islamicate
alchemical sources, such as the Kitab Sirr al-Asrar (Latin: Secretum
secretorum), whose Tabula smaragdina (Emerald Tablet) famously
states: that which is above is like that which is below, and that which
is below is like that which is above, to perform the miracles of the one
Tis formula, which is further ascribed to [pseudo] Apollo-
nius of Tyanas Book of the Secret of Creation, or Book of Causes (Kitb
Sirr al-alqa, or Kitb al-ilal), bears a still deeper identity to the hi-
eratic art (hieratik techn) as practiced by the Neoplatonic theurgists.
Jacques Derrida, Platos Pharmacy, in Dissemination (trans. Barbara Johnson, Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1981), 70.
Derrida, Dissemination, 127.
CAAG, 2.4, 40 (frst to third centuries ce) .
Kalimt maknna (Sayings Kept Secret), ch. xxx (Teheran, 1801), 68-70; (Bombay,
1296/1878), 69-72; trans. Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, 177.
In Latin: Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius, et quod est superius est sicut quod est
inferius, ad perpetranda miracula rei unius.
i ntroducti on
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 34
According to Proclus,
the theurgists established their sacred knowledge afer observing
that all things were in all things from the sympathy that exists be-
tween all phenomena and between them and their invisible causes,
and being amazed by that they saw the lowest things in the highest
and the highest in the lowest.
In the alchemical purview, the higher and lower aspects of ex-
istence are ultimately reciprocal and interdependent expressions of a
deeper, more inclusive reality. Tus, to separate alchemy into a purely
material and a purely spiritual aspect in a mutually exclusive fashion,
without recognising their fundamental complementarity, is to miss
the greater fux between the volatile and the fxed with which alchemy
is almost invariably concerned. As a hieratic art, the alchemical vision
of reality encompasses all levels of existence within the holarchical
monad, and as such engages the worldincluding the world of duality
subsumed in the greater wholeas a nondual reality: a simultaneous-
ly abstract and concrete integrum.
In speaking of alchemy as a nondual process it is important to
understand just what is meant when the term nondual is used. Te
word itself is a formal translation of the Sanskrit word advaita (a- +
dvaita, not dual),
and is used to indicate an epistemology in which
both seer and seen are experienced not as separate entities but as
a unity, a single act of being in which both the subject and object of
experience become agent and patient of one divine act. While non-
dualism forms the basis of three of the broadest currents in eastern
metaphysics (Buddhism, Taoism and Vednta), it is also expressed
explicitly or implicitly in the western philosophical canon by fgures
such as Plotinus, Eckhart, Bhme, Blake, Spinoza, Schelling, Hegel,
Nietzsche, Bergson, Whitehead and Bohm, to name but a few. De-
spite this, the idea of nondualism has not been readily understood
or accepted in the west, and this is because western constructions of
reality, especially afer Decartes and Kant, are based precisely upon
a strict afrmation of mind-matter or subject-object dualism. At the
root of the matter lie two fundamentally diferent ways of experienc-
ing the world. One is the everyday experience available to everyone;
the other proceeds from a metaphysical experience theoretically avail-
Proclus, Hier. Art., 148, cited in Udavinys, ed., Te Golden Chain: An Anthology of Py-
thagorean and Platonic Philosophy (Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom, 2004), 300.
Here the a- as alpha privativum indicates not simply negation of but freedom from du-
able to, but not necessarily attained by, everyone. Although dualism
and nondualism describe two diferent experiences of the world, it is
not simply a recapitulation of the materialist-idealist divide (which is
simply another dualism). As David Loy remarks:
none of these three [Buddhism, Taoism, Vednta] denies the du-
alistic relative world that we are familiar with and presuppose as
common sense: the world as a collection of discrete objects, inter-
acting causally in space and time. Teir claim is rather than there is
another, nondual way of experiencing the world, and that this other
mode of experience is actually more veridical and superior to the
dualistic mode we usually take for granted. Te diference between
such nondualistic approaches and the contemporary Western one
(which, given its global infuence, can hardly be labelled Western
any more) is that the latter has constructed its metaphysics on the
basis of dualistic experience only, whereas the former acknowledg-
es the deep signifcance of nondual experience by constructing its
metaphysical categories according to what it reveals.
What is proposed, therefore, is to begin to understand certain
forms of alchemy as an expression of a nondual experience of (and
engagement with) the world, not only with regard to the dualities
of spirit and matter, but also their corollaries: subjective experience
and objective experiment. As Prussian poet and Kulturphilosoph Jean
Gebser observes with regard to the structures of consciousness that
underpin entire modalities of civilisation, nondualistic or aperspec-
tival epistemologies do not exclude but integrate more perspectiv-
ally-bound epistemologies within a diaphanous whole.
What this
means is that apparent dualities are not ultimate; rather, they are rel-
ative expressions of a deeper reality that is ultimately free from the
limitations of dualism and opposition. It means that one can see all
things in the ultimate reality, and reciprocally, the ultimate reality
in all things. It is to see, with Blake, a World in a Grain of Sand and
David Loy, Nondualism: A Study in Comparative Philosophy (New Haven, Conn: Yale Uni-
versity Press, 1988), 3.
Gebsers seminal work, Ursprung und Gegenwart, is contained in his Gesamtausgabe, vols.
2-4 (ed. Hmmerli, Schafausen: Novalis, 1999); cf. Te Ever-Present Origin (trans. Noel
Barstad and Algis Mickunas, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985). What Gebser describes
requires an efort to place the entire basis of rational epistemology within a deeper, more
complex, and ultimately more integral processone that incorporates, but is not exclusively
reduced to, the ontologies of its component parts.
i ntroducti on
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 36
Eternity in an hour.
According to this view, one eventually fails to
distinguish between the ultimate and the relative in a rigidly dualistic
way, abandoning the attribution of any inherent ontological prima-
cy to one or the other. Because there is no longer any essential con-
tradiction or opposition perceived to exist between them, so-called
material and spiritual realities become co-present, interdependent
expressions of a deeper, existentiating feld of being.
What is more,
according to the ancient epistemology like knows like, the nondual,
aperspectival or integral nature of reality, in both its relative and ul-
timate expressions, can only be known by the nondual, aperspectival
or integral consciousness. It is in this sense that alchemy, in its more
profound sense, necessitates a metaphysics of perception.
agent & patient of one divine act
To illustrate the dynamics of this process and to conclude our cir-
cumabulations, let us have a look at a series of interrelated alchemi-
cal formul from Persian and Graeco-Egyptian antiquitya series of
formulas that not only persist in various permutations throughout the
Graeco-Egyptian, Islamicate and European alchemical corpora, but
which are also mirrored in the alchemical symbolism of the far east.
As will be seen, these formulas all revolve around the image of the
ouroboros: the beginningless serpent that swallows its own tail.
Te image of the ouroboros itself can be traced as far back as the
Egyptian mehen serpent (circa 1500 bce). Te complex historical or-
igins of the ouroboric formulas, however (which are replete through-
out the Graeco-Egyptian alchemical canon), are linked to a mysterious
Persian magos named Ostanes, who allegedly passed the knowledge of
his science on to the Greek philosopher, Democritus.
Te tradition
linking Ostanes to Democritus was transmitted, some say invented,
by the Hellenistic alchemist Bolus of Mendes (c. 200 bce), who tells
William Blake, Auguries of Innocence, Te Ballads (or Pickering) Manuscript, c. 18013:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infnity in the
palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.
Just as alchemy straddles the history of science and religion, so too may this ground or
feld of being be understood from both scientifc and spiritual perspectives, e.g. via David
Bohms implicate versus explicate orders of existence in quantum cosmology, or via the
concept of raya, the primordial ground of being in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Bud-
dhism. Such layers, though, must be understood as kataphatic attempts at explicating what in
the fnal analysis remains apophatic.
For discussion, see especially Kevin Van Bladel, Te Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to
Prophet of Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 48-54.
us that Ostanes was summoned from Hades in a rite of necroman-
cy to divulge the secrets of his alchemical science. According to the
text, Physika kai mystika, Ostanes directed his necromantic inquirer
to the temple, where Democritus reportedly found the lost texts inside
a pillar (stl).
Intimating the explicitly self-refexive nature of the al-
chemical process, the science of Ostanes preserved in these texts was
distilled in the following formula:
nature delights in nature; nature overcomes nature; nature rules
nature (h physis t physei terpetai, h physis ts physin nika, h phy-
sis tn physin kratei).
In support of this tradition, Synesius informs us that Democritus
was initiated into the mysteries by the great Ostanes in the temple of
Memphis along with all the priests of Egypt, while the Greek chron-
icler George Syncellus not only corroborates the presence of Ostanes
in Egypt, but informs us that he was sent there to preside over the
Egyptian priests.
Te motif appears to be further corroborated by
the correspondence preserved in a water-damaged Syriac manuscript
between a Persian magos called Ostron (probably from srn, priest)
and an Egyptian philosopher by the name of Pebechius.
announces to Ostron that he has discovered the books of Ostanes,
written in Persian, in Egypt, and he asks for Ostrons assistance in
translating them. Te texts contain distinct alchemical references, in-
cluding a series of inscriptions on seven sacred stel [or tablets] of
Hermes (foreshadowing the famous Tabula smaragdina of Hermes
Trismegistus), which are hidden behind seven portals, each associat-
ed with the seven planetary metals. Afer a lacuna in the manuscript,
mention is made of a dragon that eats its tail, alongside other works
of art of a symbolic character.
According to the formula of Ostanes, nature enjoys, conquers and
rules herself like an ouroboric serpent. In order to understand what
this formula means, we must comprehend its double character. Tis is
Berthelot, CAAG, 1.2.1.
Berthelot, CAAG, 1.2.1: La nature jouit de la nature; la nature triomphe de la nature; la
nature matrise la nature.
Berthelot, CAAG, 2.3; George Syncellus, 297.2325 (471); Alden A. Mosshammer, ed.,
Georgii Syncelli Ecloga chronographica (Leipzig: Teubner, 1984).
Berthelot, La Chimie au moyen age, Lettres de Pbchius, vol. 2, 309-12; Kevin Van
Bladel, Te Arabic Hermes, 48-50.
Lettres de Pbchius, in Berthelot, La Chimie au moyen age, vol. 2, 312: il retraa un
dragon qui mange sa queue des images, uvres dart dun caractre symbolique.
i ntroducti on
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 38
most evocatively signalled in the quote from Cleopatras Chrysopoeia
that we placed at the beginning of this chapter: One is the serpent,
which has its poison according to two compositions. Cleopatras for-
mula comes from a fascinating illustrated Greek manuscript depict-
ing the dual-natured, self-returning serpent. Here, two inscriptions
nested in concentric circles form a stylised ouroboros. Te outer coil
reads: One [is] the all (hn to pan), the source of all, and the culmi-
nation of all; if the all did not contain the all, it would be nothing. Te
inner coil reads: One is the serpent (ophis), which has its poison (ion)
according to two compositions (synthmata).
At the centre of the
circle are the Hellenistic symbols for sun, moon and mercury.
Figure 1. Stylised ouroboros from pseudo-Cleopatras Chryso-
poeia (Aurifaction; Gold-making). Te outer coil reads: One
[is] the all, the source of all, and the culmination of all; if the
all did not contain the all, it would be nothing. Te inner coil
reads: One is the serpent, which has its poison according to
two compositions. Lef-to-right, the symbols at the centre are
the Hellenistic signs for moon, mercury and sun.
Te line is an elaboration of the root formula, hn to pan, one [is]
the all, expressing the self-contained, self-refexive, thus Hermetically
sealed character of the alchemical process. Perhaps the most reveal-
ing key to this formula is provided by the Egyptian alchemist, Zosi-
mos of Panopolisone of the earliest and most important fgures of
Berthelot, CAAG, 1.1. Synthemata is a technical term in theurgy; it can be translated as
synthemes, symbols, signatures, talismans.
the western alchemical canon. In a text entitled On the Divine/Sul-
phurous Water (Peri tou theiou hydatos), Zosimos prefaces a version
of the ancient Democritian formula by saying that the divine water
possesses two natures but one essence (dyo physeis, mia ousia): It is
the all, and from it the all [comes], and by it all [exists].
Te theme of two alchemical natures as complimentary expres-
sions of one underlying pan-unity would dominate alchemical sym-
bolism right down to the early modern period. According to the over-
arching schematic of the alchemical perception, reality unfolds from a
single essence that polarises itself into two natures: one that separates,
and one that unites. Te struggle and interplay of these two natures
embody the twin processes active in the constitution of reality. Tus
conceived, reality as such evolves from one primordial nature or sub-
stance, which polarises itself, acts upon itself, and reacts to its own
activity to create the multiplicity of phenomena in which we are situ-
ated. Reality, according to this ouroboric perception, consists of one
nature acting upon itself, dividing itself, multiplying itself, and fnally
returning to itself.
In the eastern alchemies, this same double natured single essence
is expressed in the simultaneous bi-unity and bi-polarity of mascu-
line and feminine principles (Chinese yang-yin, Sanskrit shiva-shakti,
Tibetan yab-yum, etc.), where the two gendered polarities represent
the complementary aspects of an active-passive, mutually interpene-
trating and inter-receiving integrum.
Dual natures were thus seen to
inform the dynamic of a unitary reality, a conception readily seen in
the Taoist taijitu (chart of the supreme ultimate) through the harmo-
nious interplay of dark and light (yin-yang). In accordance with this
symbolism, images of ancient Chinese tail-eating dragons are attested
as early as the Zhou dynasty (ninth to sixth centuries, bce).
signify the processes of duality and multiplicity emerging from and
returning to its primordial unicity (the dao) through the separation
and unifcation of opposites.
One notable example, dated to the Shang-Zhou dynasty (c. 1150-
950 bce) and preserved in Londons Victoria and Albert Museum,
is fashioned from jade and coloured with cinnabar. Te minerals are
alchemically signifcant. Jade represents the principle of celestial im-
Zosimos, Peri tou theiou hydatos; Berthelot, CAAG, 3.9.
Needless to say, this commonplace of comparative mythography also applies to the sun-
moon or sulphur-mercury dyads of the Graeco-Egyptian, Islamicate and European alchem-
ical traditions.
Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 5.4, 382-3.
i ntroducti on
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 40
mortality, while cinnabar (sulphur and mercury, components of the
elixir) represent the two natures or polarities (yang-yin) that emerge
from the primordial ground of being, and which must be refned and
united in order to realise celestial immortality. Te ouroboric form
itself, moreover, is best understood as an augmentation of the ex-
ceedingly ancient bi discs (fat discs of jade with a hole in the centre).
Dating back to Neolithic times, the bi discs possess a cosmological
signifcance that remained infuential down to the Warring States and
Han periods. Specifcally, they represent the idea of a heavenly cover-
ing (gaitian) revolving upon a central axis.
Te Chinese ouroboros
is thus assimilated to the primordial, eternally circumambulating ce-
lestial unity, and like its Hellenistic counterpart, is imbued with two
poisons or natures.
Figure 2. Jade ouroboric dragon coloured with cinnabar.
Shang-Zhou Dynasty, c. 1150-950 bce. Victoria and Albert
Museum, London. Photo: Cheak, 2005.
Just as polarity emerges from the primordial ouroboric eternity,
so too is it swallowed up by this eternity. Te two alchemical phases,
the cosmogonic emergence and its reabsorption, thus form two arcs
of one cycle. Taoist alchemy proceeds precisely by the reversal of the
Te return from multiplicity to the primordial dao thus
Teng Shu-PIng, Te Original Signifcance of Bi Discs: Insights Based on Liangzhu Jade Bi
with Incised Symbolic Motifs, Journal of East Asian Archaeology, 2.1-2 (2000): 165-194.
Te path of cosmogenesis is epitomised in the Daodejing as follows: Te Tao produced
One; One produced Two; Two produced Tree; Tree produced All things; Daodejing 42,
trans. James Legge; Sacred Books of the East, vol. 39; ed. Max Mller, Oxford: Oxford Univer-
constitutes the alchemical path.

Tese two arcs or orientationsone creative and the other de-cre-
ativeare pivotal for comprehending the seemingly opposing aims
of alchemy across traditions. In some currents of alchemy, the art is
explicitly connected with participation in the divine demiurgy and
thus the catalysis of the cosmogonic process,
whereas in other cur-
rents of alchemy it is precisely the reversal of the cosmogony and the
reabsorption of creation into the primordial, pre-creative substratum
that is sought. It is why practicing, laboratory alchemists begin with
reincrudation (the reversion of a metal to its primordial, living state);
it is what Suf alchemists call tawil (the process of interpretation by
which a phenomenon is taken back to its creative source); and what
Taoists alchemists call reversal (ni) or inversion (huan) of the normal
order by which things come into existence (i.e. the reversal of the tao
or way by which the cosmogonic process instantiates itself). Te two
orientations go a long way to explaining the respective material and
mystical emphases of alchemy, and when both arcs are understood as
interrelated phases within a greater ouroboric cycle, the antinomy be-
tween the two can be resolved. Te snake must destroy itself to create
Trough a fuid process of constant creation and dissolution to-
wards an ever-present, primordial perfection, one encounters a series
of polarities that, when engaged, transmuted and refned, lead back to
the principle from which they originated. Like the fertile black earth,
and like the god Osiris, the ouroboros represents the principle of re-
generative death underpinning embodied existence. At the same time,
however, it is also the principle of celestial deathlessness that tran-
scends all earthly generation and corruption. While on one level, the
divergent approaches may be understood as two phases within a single
cycle, on another level they are actively and simultaneously confict-
ing. Indeed, it is precisely the tension between them that is of interest,
for it forms a harmony of contraries in which opposition is actually
integral to the greater constitution. Indeed, more than anything else, it
is the Heraclitean principle of counterstretched harmony (palintonos
harmoni), that provides the most convincing Ariadnes thread out of
the alchemical labyrinth.
sity Press, 1891.
Te Daodejings formula of cosmogonic processio and its alchemical reversal is mirrored
by the axiom of Maria Prophetissa, a Hellenistic Jewish alchemist from the frst centures ce:
One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.
Cf. especially Eliade , Forgerons et alchimistes (Paris: Flammarion, 1956), passim.
i ntroducti on
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 42
Te Hermetically sealed, henadic ontology is both agent and pa-
tient of its own transmutation, which is efected precisely through the
act of dismemberment (separation) and reunifcation (reintegration)
according to what Zosimos calls the rigour of harmony (systasin har-
Here, alchemical processes are not operations with natures
alien one from the other; they are one thing, that is to say, one nature,
acting upon itself :
One nature transforms itself. For all things are woven together and
all things are taken apart and all things are mingled and all things
combined and all things mixed and all things separated and all
things are moistened and all things are dried and all things bud
and all things blossom in the altar shaped like a bowl. For each,
by method and by weight of the four elements, the interlacing and
separation of the whole is accomplished for no bond can be made
without method. Te method is natural, breathing in and breathing
out, keeping the orders of the method, increasing and decreasing.
And all things by division and union come together in a harmony,
the method not being neglected, the Nature is transformed. For the
Nature, turning on itself, is changed. And the Nature is both the
nature of the virtue and the bond of the world.
Tese rigours of harmonyin which all things are mixed and
separated, woven together and taken apart, and which by division
and union come together in a harmonypertain to the most quint-
essential methods in the alchemical path to perfection. Generally
speaking, transmutation towards perfection proceeds by means of
separation (purifcation) and unifcation (reintegration), or in Empe-
doclean terms, Love and Strife. Tis is as true of eastern as well as
western alchemies, both of which proceed by separating and puri-
fying the primordial polarities (the two poisons or natures, whether
sun-moon, sulphur-mercury, yang-yin, and their many symbolic ho-
mologues) before recombining them in their purifed forms (the co-
habation or chymical wedding in European alchemy; the formation
of the golden embryo in Taoist alchemy; the union of wisdom and
method in Tibetan alchemy, etc.) However in doing this, it is imper-
ative to realise that alchemy is not creating something new; rather,
it is ultimately seeking to render the pristine ontologythe nondual
CAAG, 3.1,: rgles de la combinaison. English translation: F. Sherwood Taylor, Te Vi-
sions of Zosimos, Ambix 1.1 (1937), 88-92.
CAAG, 3.1; Taylor, Te Visions of Zosimos, 88-92.
Berthelot, CAAG, 3.1; Taylor, Te Visions of Zosimos, 88-92.
ground of beingpresent to living perception. Tis underscores a sig-
nifcant point, for in understanding the goal of alchemy as perfection,
it must be realised that the perfection in question is not teleological,
but perennial. Tat is to say, the originary or primordial nature does
not exist in the future, nor should it be confused with the past; it is, in
the words of Gebser, ever-present and ever-originating:
Origin is ever-present. It is not a beginning, since all beginning is
linked with time. And the present is not just the now, today, the
moment or a unit of time. It is ever-originating, an achievement of
full integration and continuous renewal. Anyone able to concret-
ize, i.e., to realize and efect the reality of origin and the present in
its entirety, supersedes beginning and end and the mere here and
Whether this ever-present origin is cast in terms of the Taoist
golden elixir (jindan), the Buddha-element of Tibetan alchemy (bud-
dha-dhtu), or, in western alchemical cosmologies, as the logos or
potential cosmos subsisting as both initium and telos in the originary
chaos, many of the worlds alchemical traditions cohere in viewing
the goal of alchemy not as the creation of some future perfection,
but as the rendering present of a pre-existent, eternal incorruptibility.
Whether alchemy proceeds by progress or reversal, the core of the
process must not be understood as reversion or advancement in a rig-
idly temporal sense, but rather as a process of polishing the mirror.
It is a purifcation of temporal accretions in order to let the boundless
existentiating Urgrund shine forth in an unobstructed, uninhibited
manner according to its innate, diaphanous nature.
Gebser, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 2, 15: Der Ursprung ist immer gegenwrtig. Er ist kein An-
fang, denn aller Anfang ist zeitgebunden. Und die Gegenwart ist nicht das bloe Jetzt, das
Heute, oder der Augenblick. Sie ist nicht ein Zeitteil, sondern eine ganzheitliche Leistung
und damit auch immer ursprnglich. Wer es vermag, Ursprung und Gegenwart als Ganzheit
zu Wirkung und Wirklichkeit zu bringen, sie zu konkretisieren, der berwindet Anfang und
Ende und die blo heutige Zeit. Gebser, Te Ever-Present Origin (trans. Noel Barstad and
Algis Mickunas, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985), xxvii.
i ntroducti on
author biographies
aaron cheak
University of Queensland, Australia; University of Philosophical Re-
search, Los Angeles.
Dr. Cheak studied classical Sanskrit, German, Greek, religious studies,
philosophy and classics at the University of Queensland. His research
interests encompass the phenomenology of consciousness, nondual
currents in eastern and western philosophy, and the traditional hierat-
ic sciences (magic, theurgy, alchemy, tantra). For the past seven years,
Cheaks research has concentrated on the deep interstices between in-
tegral and hermetic philosophy, focusing on the lives and works of
two of the twentieth-centurys most neglected phenomenologists of
consciousness: French gyptosoph, Ren Schwaller de Lubicz, and
German Kulturphilosoph, Jean Gebser. Despite a strong academic
background, Cheak believes (with Suhrawardi) that philosophy must
go hand in hand with higher modes of experiential apperception, and
in this respect he is devoted to the cultivation of nondualistic epis-
temologies within the academy. Cheak has also been trained in the
preparation of spagyric elixirs at the Paracelsus College in Victoria,
and is currently undertaking training within the Nyingma and Kagyu
lineages of Vajrayana Buddhism. He presently resides on the eastern
coast of Australia, where he maintains an active interest in tea, wine,
poetry, typography and alchemy. He has previously appeared in Kh-
thonios (2003), Tunderbolt (2003-4), Journal for the Academic Study
of Magic (2004) and Occult Traditions (2012).
algis udavinys
Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts, Lithuania.
Algis Udavinys (19622010) was a prolifc Lithuanian philosopher
and scholar whose work pioneered the hermeneutic and compara-
tive study of Egyptian theology, Greek philosophy, and Neoplatonic
theurgy (to include their innate afnities with Mesopotamian reli-
gion, Indo-Tibetan metaphysics, and Islamic esotericism). Udavinys
was Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Culture, Philosophy,
and Arts, Lithuania; Associate Professor at the Vilnius Academy of
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 678
Fine Arts, Lithuania; Research Associate at La Trobe University, Ben-
digo, Australia; and member of the International Society for Neopla-
tonic Studies and the Lithuanian Artists Association. His books have
been published in Lithuanian, Russian, English and French, including
translations of Plotinus, Frithjof Schuon and Ananda Coomaraswamy
into Russian and Lithuanian. He contributed regularly to journals
such as Sacred Web, Sophia and Eye of the Heart. In addition to numer-
ous articles, he is the author of Philosophy as a Rite of Rebirth: From
Ancient Egypt to Neoplatonism (Prometheus Trust, 2008), Philosophy
and Teurgy in Late Antiquity (Sophia Perennis, 2010), and Ascent to
Heaven in Islamic and Jewish Mysticism (Matheson Trust, 2011). He is
the editor of Te Heart of Plotinus: Te Essential Enneads (World Wis-
dom, 2009) and Te Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and
Platonic Philosophy (World Wisdom, 2004).
rod blackhirst
La Trobe University, Bendigo, Australia.
Dr Blackhirst has over ffeen years experience as a tutor, lecturer and
supervisor across the Humanities. Te focus of his teaching is in phi-
losophy and religious studies, with deep interests in traditions having
their geographical locus in the ancient Levant and Mesopotamia. His
doctoral dissertation, Myth in the Timaeus: the Mythological Under-
pinnings of Platos Cosmology, explores the roots of Platos cosmology
and natural science in Greek mythology and in the religious cults of
ancient Athens. His wider research interests encompass the monothe-
ist religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam (with an especial emphasis
on Islamic mysticism and metaphysics); Islamic/West relations; the
Gospel of Barnabas; Early Christianity and Biblical texts; Religious
art, architecture and iconography; Plato, Platonism, Pythagoreanism
and the Timaeus; Ancient Egypt, Hermeticism; the premodern scienc-
es; and the perennialist perspectives in religious studies and compar-
ative religion (Gunon, Coomaraswamy, Schuon, Burckhardt, Nasr et
al.) with particular attention to traditional cosmology. His personal
interests include organic gardening, old world roses, doves, Mevlevi
Sufsm and the spirituality, music and culture of Islam. In addition to
numerous scholarly articles, Dr Blackhirst is the author of Primordial
Alchemy and Traditional Religion (Sophia Perennis, 2008).
david gordon white
University of California, Santa Barbara, USA.
David Gordon White received his PhD from the Chicago Divinity
School in 1988 and is presently the J. F. Rowny Professor of Compar-
ative Religion at Santa Barbara, California. He holds the distinction
of being the sole foreign scholar to have been admitted to the Centre
dtudes de lInde et de lAsie du Sud, Paris, where he has been an active
research fellow since 1992. White is the author of the following highly
acclaimed works: Sinister Yogis (University of Chicago Press, 2009),
Kiss of the Yogini: Tantric Sex in its South Asian Contexts (University
of Chicago Press, 2003), Te Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in
Medieval India (University of Chicago Press, 1996) and Myths of the
Dog-Man (University of Chicago Press, 1991). He has also edited two
anthologies for Princeton University Press: Tantra in Practice (2000)
and Yoga in Practice (2011). White has been the recipient of several
research fellowships and grants, including a John Simon Guggenheim
Foundation Fellowship (2007-2008) and three Fulbright Research
Fellowships for India and Nepal. A panel to honor his scholarship
formed part of the program of the annual meeting of the American
Academy of Religion (Chicago 2008).
kim lai
La Trobe University, Bendigo, Australia.
Kim Lais work derives from several decades of personal and academ-
ic research into the Klacakra Tantra. Within the Klacakra corpus,
the great Tibetan esoteric encyclopaedia, he fnds a compelling in-
terest in itsapproach to the traditional sciences, especially the unique
symbolic language of correspondence astronomiae (rtsis rig). Tese
esoteric felds range from yoga and medicine to liberative alchemy,
from macro-microcosmic correspondences to their unifying reality,
from anatomy and meta-physiology to psycho-anatomy, from man-
dala art and ritual to theurgy and siddhi, from astronomy and astrolo-
gy to redemptive astronomiae, and from the distinct epistemologies of
reason and direct-perception to non-dual meditative gnsis. Kim has
studied with Tibets leading astronomiae professors, and learnt much
from contact with the Klacakra vajra-masters from several lineages.
He practices a form of Buddhist astronomiae that recognises its orig-
inal role as a traditional science of the psyche. Valued in Tibet as the
marriage partner of medicine this astronomiaes objectives are prima-
ry therapeutic and redemptive. He is presently completing his doctor-
author bi ographi es
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 680
al dissertation on Te astronomiae correspondences of the Klacakra
Tantra: a Vajryana view of dependent arising under the supervision
of Rod Blackhirst.
sabrina dalla valle
University of Philosophical Research, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Sabrina Dalla Valle, MFA was born just before winter, and just afer
midnight on a Pacifc Ocean coastline. She received her undergrad-
uate degree in Linguistic Anthropology from Reed College and her
MFA in Writing and Consciousness from New College of California.
Her greatest interest is in the poetic imagination as an aspect of both
phenomenological perception and authentic integral expression. Her
experimental writing and academic research aim to explore the ara-
tional, what is understood as living thinking free from both irratio-
nal faith and rational certitude. Sabrina lives in Los Angeles, Califor-
nia where she teaches writing and consciousness studies. She is the
author of the award winning 7 Days and Nights in the Desert (Tracing
the Origin) (2013, Kelsey Street Press, previously published as a chap-
book in 2012 by Mindmade Books, and anthologized in Best Poems
of 2012 by Kore Press). Her poetry and book reviews have been pub-
lished in many journals.
mirco mannucci
City University of New York.
Dr. Mirco A. Mannucci, is, in his own neologism , a holomath, i.e. that
special breed of polymath who ceaselessly strives to link the tangled
threads of his multifarious interests into an compact whole. A mathe-
matician, a writer, an inveterate traveler, a practitioner of the internal
arts, a Waldgnger, an ascetic hedonist, he has rejected the artifcial
borders of so-called education to reach that twilight zone where the
Great Work begins.
christopher a. plaisance
Centre for the Study of Esotericism, University of Exeter, United King-
Christopher Plaisance is presently a graduate student at the University
of Exeters Centre for the Study of Esotericism. His principal research
interests revolve around the history of Neoplatonic philosophy and
theurgy, with an emphasis on Iamblichus. He has contributed chap-
ters to Daimonic Imagination: Uncanny Intelligence (2013), Occult Tra-
ditions (2012), and is the chief editor of the Journal of Contemporary
Heathen Tought. He resides in Southeastern Pennsylvania with his
wife, children, and cat.
Angela Voss
Canterbury Christ Church University; University of Exeter, United
Angela Voss was a lecturer for ten years in the Teology and Religious
Studies section at the University of Kent, UK, teaching on the MA
in Mysticism and Religious Experience, and directing an MA pro-
gramme in the Cultural Study of Cosmology and Divination. From
January 2014 she will be teaching on a new MA programme at Can-
terbury Christ Church University: Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred.
Angela is an honorary lecturer for the MA in the Study of Esotericism
at the University of Exeter, a tutor for Community Arts and Education
at Canterbury Christ Church, and a practising astrologer and tarot
reader. Her research interests centre on the role of the symbolic imag-
ination in the Western esoteric traditions, and she has published ex-
tensively on the astrological music therapy of the Renaissance magus
Marsilio Ficino. Her website is www.angelavoss.org
paul scarpari
La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
Paul Scarpari is a scholar and graduate of La Trobe University (2009),
residing in Melbourne. Upon completion of an honours thesis focus-
ing on Henry Corbins concept of the mundus imaginalis in the uvre
of William Blake (supervised by David Tacey), Scarpari has gone on
to examine a wide range of eclectic subjects and interests within the
domains of history, ontology and metaphysics. He has recently spent
the last few years closely exploring the philosophy of Georges Bataille
and his views on transgression, sovereignty and the sacred, which un-
derpin Batailles entire Weltanschauung and reveal signifcant onto-
logical concepts pertaining to self-deifcation and the metaphysics of
being. Scarparis main scholarly interests include esoterism, theurgy,
Gnosticism, hermeneutics and phenomenology; and the writings of
Ren Gunon, Ren Schwaller de Lubicz, Julius Evola, Henry Corbin,
Friedrich Nietzsche and Georges Bataille. His other private interests
and passions are classical music, poetry, gothic novels and fn de sicle
occultism. At present, Scarpari is preparing research towards a book
on the ancient Egyptian god Seth-Typhon and his Messianic role in
author bi ographi es
alchemi cal tradi ti ons 682
early Gnosticism.
hereward tilton
University of Exeter, United Kingdom.
Dr. Hereward Tilton is a lecturer in Reformation history and early
modern esotericism at the University of Exeter in England. He holds
degrees in the history of European esotericism and the psychology of
religion, and he has published work on Rosicrucianism, alchemy and
magic, most notably his book Te Quest for the Phoenix: Spiritual Al-
chemy and Rosicrucianism in the Work of Count Michael Maier (1569-
1622). He is currently researching occult infuences upon Carl Gus-
tav Jungs Red Book, and is also studying high-grade manuscripts of
the Gold- und Rosenkreuz, the employment of entheogens in angelic
communication, alchemical motifs in Renaissance magical literature,
and the relationship of European esoteric practices to Indo-Tibetan
leon marvell
School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University, Mel-
bourne, Australia.
Leon Marvell is an Associate Professor at Deakin University, teaching
flm and cultural studies. For many years he was an active member of
the Surrealist Group in Australia, contributing to interventions, exhi-
bitions and supporting a general disdain for the prevailing misrabi-
lism of the times. His interest in alchemy and esotericism began early
in his wayward youth, and has resulted in at least one scholarly treat-
ment of esotericism, Transfgured Light: Philosophy, Science and the
Hermetic Imaginary (Academica Press, 2007).
dan mellamphy
University of Western Ontario, Canada.
Dan Mellamphy, Inaugural Visiting Fellow of the Center for Trans-
formative Media at Parsons: Te New School for Design, is Adjunct
Professor of Interdisciplinary Teory and Criticism in the Faculty
of Arts, Humanities, Information and Media Studies at Western. He
studied comparative culture and ethnographic techniques with San-
ta Cruzs Roger Keesing at McGill University, comparative literature
and oulipology with Ann Arbors Ross Chambers at the University of
Toronto, comparative literature and interdisciplinary theory with the
Rotating Faculty of Westerns comparative literature and interdisci-
plinary theory programs, as well as modernist theory and practice
poetry, prose, plays and philosophical ruminations from W.B Yeats
to Eliot and Beckettwith Ian Balfour, Art Redding and Christopher
Innes at York. His work has appeared in journals such as Modern
Drama; Foucault Studies; Deleuze Studies; Dalhousie French Studies;
Contre-Attaques; Symposium: International Journal of Continental
Philosophy; Paideusis: International Journal in the Philosophy of Ed-
ucation; Collapse: Journal of Philosophical Research and Development;
Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continen-
tal Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts; Glossator:
Practice and Teory of Commentary (forthcoming); Ozone: Journal
of Object-Oriented Studies (forthcoming); and in anthologies such
as Leper Creativity, (eds. Ed Keller, Nicola Masciandaro and Eugene
Tacker), Imaginary Apps (eds. D.J. Spooky/Paul Miller and Svitlana
Matviyenko), and the present one (ed. Aaron Cheak). He is also the
co-founder of the annual Nietzsche Workshop @ Western (NWW),
co-translator of Gilbert Simondons treatise On the Mode of Existence
of Technical Objects (coming soon c/o Semiotexte/MIT Press), and ed-
itorial board-member at Punctum Books.
author bi ographi es