Next time you enjoy that cocktail or drink at a bar, tip your imaginary hat to the alchemists of yore.
This episode is the extended version of the History of Alchemy’s segment of the History Podcasters’ Network collage on alcohol.
We talk about Archimastry on this podcast episode:
In that episode we attempted to deepen our definition of alchemy by contrasting it with another aspect and definition of alchemy: Archimy.
1530 Panteo published Voarchadumia contra alchemiam ars distincta ab Archemia et Sophia, in which he differed alchemy from Archimie.
Alchemy can not produce real transformations in gold, in contrast to Archimie, which attributes to the biblical Tubal, connects this with the Kabbalah.
Tubal can be a people of Iberia or Iberia and Italy, depending on the sources.
Arquemie the word is used in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, to designate a metal or alchemical substance composition, ie a mixture of gold and silver with a lower metal ”
The word Archimastry, appears in the first verse of Chapter I of a work by Thomas Norton in 1477: “Mastrye full merveylous and Archimastrye Is the tincture of holi Alkimi.”
Varchi Benedetto (1502-1565) uses the word as a synonym for alchemy archimie in the archimia If è vera e no questione (1544) – the archimie is a “truly royal science”.
For Pantheus, alchemy provides that golden objects on the surface and appearance, while archimie is the ancient science of biblical character Tubal-Caïn, followed by medieval alchemical authors and Arab latins. This is, for him, a “Cabal of metals,” at the time the Kabbalah, introduced by Pico della Mirandola, raises in the West, a major fascination. Treaties Pantheus are reprinted in 1550 in Paris, and repeated in the great collection of alchemical Theatrum Chemicum. They have interested many alchemists, including John Dee, Michael Maier, Jacques Gohory, Heinrich Khunrath, Oswald Croll and Andreas Libavius
In 1834, the French Dictionary of Napoleon Landais archimie defines as “art of making gold and silver. The archimie differs from alchemy in that it generally occupies the transmutation of imperfect metals into other more perfect. “The French-English dictionary Porquet in 1844 archimie defines as “the chemical analysis of metals.” Marcelin Berthelot archimiques compiles the work described in papyri or ancient manuscripts.
By the 19th century it became a French word for studying metallurgy.
For Fulcanelli, alchemy is esoteric, exoteric and the archimie is more along the lines of spagyric alchemy (like herbal medicine and the like).
Alchemy is the “hermetic science,” a “spiritual chemistry” which “attempts to enter the mysterious dynamism chairs” to the “transformation” of “natural body.” The archimie continues about one of the goals of alchemy (“the transmutation of metals into each other”), but it uses “only materials and chemical means,” it is confined to the “mineral kingdom”.
Remember Fullcanelli lived in the 1920’s.. so it could be an attempt to give alchemy a 2nd life by separating archimastry from what alchemy had become.
According to Patrick Rivière, the archimie is the art of counterfeit precious metals, especially gold and argent.
Philosopher’s Stone, Elixir of Life, but also: Homunculus. Some alchemists were more after this than gold, and in some theories a homunculus can be used as a philosopher’s stone.
A homunculus is basically an artificial man. Hear to learn more:
German secret society with alchemical undertones.
There’s a lot more good stuff to come to this page, please be patient!
Turning one thing into another. In Alchemy usually turning base metals into gold. The alchemist idea of transmutation was taken much further in other occult beliefs, like transforming the soul intro something more pure (See neoplatonism) Be speak about this ad infinitum on our podcast, so until I have time to break it down for you here, why not delve in?
Mercury, along with sulfur and salt are the three essentials that get mentioned over and over. Mercury deserves it’s own page, which is here. The three essentials can also be called the Tria Prima, the Three Universals, the three humors, and many other things. It can be represented by a three headed dragon in illustrations. To alchemists all created things consist of Sulfur, Mercury and Salt, though they don’t always mean the same thing as one would expect. The alchemical meaning might be spelled out as sophic sulfur, sophic mercury and sophic salt, or just capitalized. They can have spiritual meanings, and sometimes even more than one precise meaning in the same text. I talk a little bit about that when discussing Michael Sendivogius. Basically to the philosopher’s stone (to some) was a re-combination of the three essentials: break them down, purify and build them back up the right way. A similar theory, that is often repeated is from Al-Jabir (Geber) which is that all metals are a mixture of sulfur and mercury, gold is just perfect balance of them. So to make you gold you simply break them down and balance them, alternatively the philosopher’s stone is a substance which instantly created that balance (therefore creating gold). To complete that theory of matter, the [theory of elements] is important too: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
The union of sulphur and mercury is often mentioned in alchemical recipes. It’s associated with the fire element.
Salt is the stuff of growth and involved in precipitation and crystallization processes. It is the principle of the earth element.
The Greek classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Aether. These were considered the building blocks of all matter. It’s also the bases of much of medieval understanding of how matter works and interacts. Add onto that hot, dry, wet, and cold. Aristotle put it like this:
Aristotle added Aether to the four classics, since the stars don’t change, and the four classics do. Now (because we’re into alchemy) we’ll add Geber’s sulphur, salt, and mercury (also Paracelsus’s tria prima) on top of the original 4. Now we have 7 items in our list, which is significant. In the time frame we look at, they thought there were 7 heavenly bodies besides the stars. They associated those 7 heavenly bodies with 7 metals (see astrology).. and now we have the bases for their understanding of matter, how it interacts and how we can transmutate it into something else.
The theory of the 4 (or 5) elements directly ties in with the theory of the 3 humors (or three essentials). All matter was considered a mixture of the 4 elements. Likewise Hippocrates considered a correlation with 4 bodily fluids (humors)
Before Paracelsus (thought not to give him too much credit) it was mainly believed that illness was caused by an imbalance of the 4 humors, and therefore the cure was to drain the excess one(s). That’s where we get leaches, etc. from as medicine. Alchemists (both European and Muslim) played an important role is switching this thinking to one where outside forces can be to blame, and therefore outside substances (medicine, tonics, elixirs, etc.) can be the cure. The balance of humors went beyond physical illness though. It was also thought to impact mental health and personality types.
Newton, Pythagoras and Paracelsus (among many others) had theories on exactly what it was. It could be the neoplatonic idea of the world soul, of which a part is in everything and all of us. It could be a light outside of the visible spectrum, or the stuff stars are made of. This is important in alchemy because it’s this quintessence that they were often after when distilling stuff down for the philosopher’s stone.
According Paracelsus this “una res” is a similar idea as quntessence—a sort of universal spiritual “indestructible essence”. This was first passed to Adam, and it’s what enabled Moses to build the golden vessels in the Ark, and gave King Solomon his riches (through the “wisdom”).
God’s miracles seen as a sort of magic. We discuss some of the debates alchemists had and break down some ways they may have gotten supernatural help. For instance using the bible as a base for magic. In this system biblical miracles are seen as a form of magic.
We’ve been holding off on this show for a while. There are too many related areas of philosophy, theology and the occult to just have this show in a vacuum.
To get the whole picture it helps to have a basic understanding of qabalah and hermeticism. We’ve covered those, so we think you’re ready.
At the center of what we’ll talk about today is the debate on whether alchemy somehow involved magic or was purely a natural process. Opinions of this varied, but before we get into the different views on alchemy, let’s get through some definitions:
Thaumaturgy can be thought of as a sort of magic. But to some folks in history so can mathematics be thought of as a sort of magic. They can go hand in hand with qabalistic theories.
At it’s simplest definition Thaumaturgy can be thought of as performing miracles. There’s a strong theological aspect to it, and if you’re religious you probably wouldn’t think of someone who does thaumaturgy as a magician or thaumaturgist, you’d probably call them a “wonderworker.” Like a saint performing miracles through God’s help. Or maybe the belief of healing by the laying on of hands.
From (from the Greek words θαῦμα thaûma, meaning “miracle” or “marvel” and ἔργον érgon, meaning “work”)
John Dee anglicized the word, and Dee’s mathematics could be the layman’s miracles.
If we talk of qabalistic alchemists, an understanding of thaumaturgy help to understand them. There’s just a correlation there, qabbalah is not thaumaturgy, but theosophy (more to that in a second)
Theurgy is perhaps related, but thought of as more of a way to connect to God. When Christians fast or pray to get God’s favor; that’s theurgy. So is a rain dance. Or sacrifice.
We we talk of alchemy, theurgy is an important aspect of neoplatonic alchemists.
In neo-platonism, theurgy was a form of mediation to be closer to God, who was unobtainable. We talked about this in several shows: alchemists contemplating God in the lab and meditating over their incubator. That’s theurgy.
Another reason I wanted them both together on one show is that Theurgy isn’t just praying for say, a better crop and hoping. Iamblichus and other neo-platonists thought that theurgy was strong enough of a force to do things like make statues talk. So -to some- clearly in the realm of magic (while to others not.)
It’s basically like asking for devine intervention, whereas thaumaturgy is more like using God’s power to create miracles yourself.
I’ll throw in Theosophy too. This is wisdom received from God. Maybe on the nature of God. Could be through qabalah. Or through divination. Edward Kelley supposedly got an alchemical recipe from the angels he was talking to… which he did using theurgy and goetia (summoning angels/demons) They would pray and fast before using their scrying glass to summon the angels.
We talked about theosophy in our hermeticism episode. Now we’re just tying it all together.
So let’s look at some examples:
Using qabbalistic methods to find hidden meaning, or finding hidden meanings in scripture, or even divinely inspired scriptures are all examples of theosophy.
So was alchemy done through magic, or some sort of divine intervention?
Or was it just imitating some natural process.. something akin to science?
We have philosophers and alchemists who debated on these topics for centuries and the full discourse would cover books, so let’s distill this all down a little:
First we had people that would argue whether transmutation is possible at all. Examples on both sides would be given, quoting Avicenna, Aristotle, etc.
On one side it would be argued that alchemy is an art, and like art it imitates nature, but the gold created is not really gold. Even if you can’t tell the difference, and it passes all the tests. It still wouldn’t have the healing effects (for example) that people thought gold had.
On the other hand, people would give examples of transmutations carried out by humans all the time, with the help of nature. A farmer planting seeds to raise crops. People burning ferns to ash (and I guess add sand) to create glass. Those are some examples given where humans are using nature in a way to transmute one thing into another.
Alchemists would often (but not always) -depending on the time period- try to stay clear of the reputation of being a sorcerer. They would insist that in a lab they are replicating the natural process in which the earth transmutates different metals into higher ones.
In this way the furnace and sulphur and mercury were thought to be a replication of what happens in nature.
This was argued back and forth.
But then we also have people in the camp that insist that gold can only be created with god’s help. We see this a lot. So -in a way- that’s at the very least theurgy. The recipe itself can be gotten from theosophy – Edward Kelley got a recipe from angels, for example.
We saw in Zosimos’ episode that higher beings help, so it’s just a matter of astronomy to determine whether it’s God, or demons that are helping.
To summarize the debate in magic vs. nature:
It was debated whether transmutation was possible at all, whether it was possible to create something real or only an imitation.
And then it was debated whether the transmutation was possible without God’s help and will.
And again, there were always those who knowingly made fake gold and tried to sell it as something else.
But even leaving charlatans out of this for a minute, the genuine belief and and arguments for or against alchemy varied over the centuries.
Was the gold created genuine, or an imitation?
Was alchemy dabbling with evil forces – or done by the pious, with the will of God?
Or were people imitating nature and therefore simply perfecting a science?
The answers are more various than the number of alchemists we’ll probably ever cover on this show, but interesting questions to ask about each person we discuss in our show.
Throughout the span of alchemy these questions were at the center of the debate of its merits, and I think spending some time on the subject should clarify how alchemy was viewed through it’s history.
A legendary substance that can turn base metals into gold. One of the two key things sought after by Alchemists. The other being the elixir of life – although it’s often the same thing. Lapis Philosophorum, Chrysopoeia (heart of gold), Magisterium (Magistry), Spiritus Mundi (Spirit of the world, see: neoplatonism), Stone of the Wise, Diamond of Perfection, Universal Medicine, and the Elixir, could be the universal solvent (alkahest) to get to its quintessence, aurum potable (drinkable gold). It has parallels, to the holy grail, a masonic keystone and the Yesodic foundation stone of the Kabbalah, the garden of eden’s forbidden fruit, etc. Albertus Magnus is said to have had it and passed it on to Thomas_Aquinas. Michael Sendivogius was also said to have had some philosopher’s stone powder. It seems almost every alchemist had a different theory of what it was and how to make it. Michael Sendivogius describes it as ‘the purest gold’ as in, gold so ripe it’s seeds create more gold. If one simply purified god enough, the result would be the stone. Listen to his podcast to hear more. I think he has one of the more interesting theories. Paracelsus describes a tincture, that when gold was added to it multiplied the gold. Depending on the quality, maybe 10 times, maybe 10 000 times. To him, the ‘alkahest’ is the matter of which the four elements are made of. So why did they think it existed? Silver from galena (lead ore). The theory of the elements included the belief that one element can be changed to another. What did it looks like? Some descriptions include: Golden seeds, Liquid gold, A dark red regular stone (made of red powder) Made of ‘carrot’ light (weight)
In truth, they’re basically the same thing. It’s the potion sought after by alchemists thought to give eternal life and/or eternal youth. This is one of the two main things sought after by alchemists (the other being the philosopher’s stone. Also known as liquid gold, universal medicine, or the X tincture (fill in the blank for X… it has many names). To waaay oversimplify the difference: Elixir of Life is what medical alchemists were after as a cure-all, or as a way to prolong life. They still got the reputation as alchemists in Christian Europe, and in the Islamic world actually used the word “Alchemy” do describe their processes of making tinctures, etc for medicine.
My podcast on Neoplatonism:
The podcast is an interview with Peter Adamson from the History of Philosophy without any Gaps Podcast
Not to be confused with Platonism.. plato lived from around 424BC – 348 BC Neoplatonists lived some 600 years later Basically take platonism and mix some mysticism with a Hermetic core. Later Neoplatonists embraced theurgy So first off, what is Platonism.. or at least part that did sort of stick around? Platonism What is real, what is perceivable, what is real, but not perceivable, etc.
asserts that non-material abstract (butsubstantial) forms (or ideas), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. Forms (capital F) The way I understand it is the idea of concept of something can be more real than our perception of it. I’ll just give you an example. Think of a dog. We might all think of different breeds, colors, sizes, etc. Maybe none of us thought of the same image of a dog.. but the Form of dog, the general concept of dog is one thing, but the particulars are different. This can lead to idealism.. the idea of something is more pure than any particular instance of it. Which leads us to:
the term wasn’t around until the 19th century, but what the 3rd century ‘platonists’ brought to the table is significantly different that it’s important to separate it into it’s own thing. It’s important to note that at the time neoplatonists just would have considered themselves platonists. Basically add jewish and egyptian mysticism to platonism and this is what you get. Since Alexandrians had a huge influence, many things regarding neoplatonism will sound very familiar if you are familiar with gnosticism. Gnostics and neoplatonists developed in the same time period and place and where aware of each other. They would sometimes contrast their own beliefs against the other. Gnostics did use some terms taken from greek philosophy and platonism: _ hypostasis (reality, existence),
so.. to dive down the rabbit hole a little bit… forgive me if I make some mistakes here, this is how I understand it and I am in no way an expert on the topic.
as opposed to dualism – EVERYTHING comes from the One. There is no “evil” because god is outside of morality. This is a form of monotheism, but in a very different way to the Christian form. The primeval Source of Being is the One and the Infinite.. Think of it as the Form of god. it’s the source of all life and therefore the only real thing (monism) It cannot be truly understood. We can have an idea, but we can never know the Form.. you can’t attribute our insignificant moral attributes to it.. therefore no dualism like “goog” and “evil” Being beyond existence, it is the most real real. There is no way to even imply limitations on it, like morality, or time and space..
The original Being initially emanates, or throws out, the nous, which is a perfect image of the One and the archetype of all existing things. It is simultaneously both being and thought, idea and ideal world. As image, the nous corresponds perfectly to the One, but as derivative, it is entirely different. …with me so far? What Plotinus understands by the nous is the highest sphere accessible to the human mind, while also being pure intellect itself. Nous is the most critical component of idealism. And then we have the World-soul.. basically everything is connected. The world soul can be seen as between the immaterial and the material. Our soul strives to return to the world-soul (maybe the Form -capital F- of soul?) And this brings us to:
The soul, as a moving essence, generates the corporeal or phenomenal world. This world ought to be so pervaded by the soul that its various parts should remain in perfect harmony. Plotinus is no dualist in the same sense as sects like the Gnostics; in contrast he admires the beauty and splendor of the world. So long as idea governs matter, or the soul governs the body, the world is fair and good. Again: It is an image – though a shadowy image – of the upper world, and the degrees of better and worse in it are essential to the harmony of the whole. Evil exists, but not in a dualistic sense.. it’s more like a parasite.
The religious philosophy of Plotinus for himself personally sufficed, without the aid of the popular religion or worship. Nevertheless he sought for points of support in these. God is certainly in the truest sense nothing but the primeval Being who is revealed in a variety of emanations and manifestations… got it? so everything is in some way a reflection of the real deal. Later Neoplatonic philosophers, especially Iamblichus, added hundreds of intermediate beings such as gods, angels and demons, and other beings as mediators between the One and humanity. (maybe for it to be easier to swallow or understand if you belonged to a different religion?)The Neoplatonist gods are omni-perfect beings and do not display the usual amoral behaviour associated with their representations in the myths. The One God, The Good. Transcendent and ineffable. The Hypercosmic Gods Those that make Essence, Life, and Soul The Demiurge The creator The Cosmic Gods Those who make Being, Nature, and Matter—including the gods known to us from classical religion Now that we know how the world is structured according to neoplatonism, let’s move on to:
So how should we live our life? By means of ascetic observances the human becomes once more a spiritual and enduring being, free from all sin. But there is still a higher attainment; it is not enough to be sinless, one must become “God”, (henosis). This is reached through contemplation of the primeval Being, the One There is a path to take.. of intellect and contemplation of all things and of The Good. It sounds maybe like meditation. Neoplatonists believed human perfection and happiness were attainable in this world, without awaiting an afterlife. BUT, they believed the soul to be immortal and it would return to the One or world-soul when this life is ended. No re-incarnation. One only returns once
Augustine re-interpreted Aristotle and Plato in the light of early Christian thought. In his Confessions he describes the Logos as the divine eternal Word. Augustine’s Logos “took on flesh” in Christ, in whom the logos was present as in no other man. He influenced Christian thought throughout the Hellenistic world and strongly influenced Early Medieval Christian Philosophy.Perhaps the key subject in this was Logos. Augustine went from a pagan to a neoplatonist to a christian with strong neoplatonist interpretations, to re-examining his beliefs purely based off of scripture. It’s easy to identify the One with the Abrahamic God. Neoplatonic thought had a fairly strong influence on Christian theology will into the rennaisance. Often much more than people think. In addition: Influence on Kabbalah and Jewish thinkers, and Islamic thinkers like Avicenna (who we mentioned in the Al-Ghazali episode and others) and even Al-Ghazali himself. There are especially similarities with Sufism, which we also mentioned. These texts were widely available in the arab world and predate Islam..
Cosimo I de’ Medici was very interested in these neo platonic ideas and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who was banned as a heretic Marsilio Ficino 1433 – 1499 Roman Emperor Julian was the last pagan emperor, and he tried to unify hellenic religion along neoplatonic lines.. he had some marginal success in the eastern empire, but less in the western one.
Especially that Alchemy with a hermetic core is about Transmutation of the soul.. which ties in nicely with neoplatonic ideas of contemplation of the devine to reach it. They also have some commonalities with the physical being reflected in the spiritual.. so like hermeticists: “as above, so below” and the macrocosm being reflected in the microcosm; neoplatonsits see the nous from the one being reflected in matter. Think again of From (with capital F) being the perfect idea of any single, less-than-perfect example. The philosopher’s stone is the perfect From of Gold The elixier of life is the perfect Form of medicine BUT Hermes Trismegistus was seen as an alchemist (among alchemists) and hermeticists deal with transmutation. Hermetecism has the idea that things have a soul… like an essence. So when trying to purify something into gold, you’re basically distilling it, or breaking it down and building it back up to ripen it. Neoplatonists, when dealing with alchemy come back to the idea of Form… so the idea that the soul was already perfect (part of the world-soul and even the one).. it’s just a matter of being that way again. Matter is an inferior thing. Both alchemies use “sublimation”… breaking a matter down, but for neoplatonists it stops there. Often alchemists speak in code, they may right one thing but mean another. “Gold” can even be code for purifying your sould, not actual gold. In neoplatonism this is probably more often, if not always the case. Later Alchemists that were actually after gold lost these double meanings of mercury and gold by trying to litterally read these texts accidentally invented chemistry.. if I can put it like that. According to wikipedia: Allan Combs claims that ten modern thinkers can be called Neo-Platonists: Goethe, Schiller, Schelling, Hegel, Coleridge, Emerson, Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, Jean Gebser Bibliography: merriam-webster’s encyclopedia of world religions and various websites.. some interesting reading on jung and neoplatonism, and I’ve come across this when researchign Paracelsus and Al-Ghazali and others… if you want to see a pattern, those that have contributed to medicine in and were often seen as Alchemists, can often also be seen as neoplatonists (thought wouldn’t have called themselves that)
Mercury, along with sulphur and salt are one of the three essentials that get mentioned over and over. Mercury, above all, deserves it’s own page. A related concept is “Philosophical Mercury”. Sometimes confused with the philosopher’s stone, but not the same thing. Isaac Newton commented on this, saying that getting to the philosophical mercury is the first step on the right track, but not the same thing.
Only metal to be liquid at room temperature. In the ancient theory of elements it was said to be the essence of air and water.
Innermost planet, named after the Roman God.
“cold” and “dry”
In Roman mythology he’s the messenger of the gods. The equivalent is Hermes and Thoth, and is therefore the very roots of Western alchemy.
Cabala (Kabbalah, or Qabbala, etc.) can be broken down into it’s main component of an esoteric philosophy within Judaism (though not part of Judaism itself) and Christian Kabbalah and Hermetic Cabala. I tend to lump all of these along with Pythagorean (and others’) theories together into ‘numerology’ but that’s an oversimplification. Cabala is basically a system of finding hidden meaning in the holy scriptures using the 22 Hebrew letters. For a more in-depth look listen to our podcast:
See: Christian Kabbalah For more interest look up: 10 Sephiroth: Gloria, Sapientia, Veritas, Bonitas, Potestas, Virtus, Eternitas, Splendor, Fundamentum (See Llull’s, Dignities of God) On the podcast we talk about the Tree of Sepiroth, so here’s a pic: The Zohar (1275) Abraham Abulafia.
It’s basically an esoteric tradition that grew out of Jewish communities. It’s not a religion itself and emerged out of esoteric traditions in 12th-13th Century southern France and Spain. It gained momentum in 16th Century Ottoman Palestine when they started to focus on looking for when the long-awaited messiah would come. Especially around Safed.
A follower is called a Mekubal, and if you ask them Cabala is ancient knowledge (passed down by Tzadikim: righteous people. Link to Wikipedia). The knowldege that eventually led to all religion, science, art, political thought etc. This general idea of some truth come down through the righteous or deserving is something we see a lot when we look at various alchemists.
According to the Zohar, a foundational text for kabbalistic thought (a book I’ve read for this episode and we’ll get into), Torah study can proceed along four levels of interpretation (exegesis). These four levels are called pardes from their initial letters (PRDS Hebrew: פרדס, orchard).
Peshat (Hebrew: פשט lit. “simple”): the direct interpretations of meaning.
Remez (Hebrew: רמז lit. “hint[s]”): the allegoric meanings (through allusion).
Derash (Hebrew: דרש from Heb. darash: “inquire” or “seek”): midrashic (Rabbinic) meanings, often with imaginative comparisons with similar words or verses.
Sod (Hebrew: סוד lit. “secret” or “mystery”): the inner, esoteric (metaphysical) meanings, expressed in kabbalah.
Kabbalah is considered by its followers as a necessary part of the study of Torah.
Disclaimer: But don’t confuse Cabala as being part of the Jewish religion. while Mekubal consider it necessary, non-Cabalist Jews consider the Cabala heretical. This is definitely an esoteric, mystical, occult philosophy. Not part of mainstream Judaism.
Cabala does deal with philosophical question, like the nature of the universe or human beings, or why are we here.
And to break it down a little further, we’re dealing with Theosophical Cabala, vs. Meditative Kabbalah or Magico-theurgical tradition of Practical Kabbalah
In a future episode we will talk about Hermetic and Christian Kabbalah, which has more in common with some alchemists believed. However we thought it important (and interesting) to lay the foundation with the original… and to kind of break up an otherwise huge topic. Not to mention the colorfull personalities throughout Jewish mysticism’s history. That could be its whole own podcast series.. but this one is about alchemy, so we’re just laying the foundation to get back to alchemy in a future episode. Another important caveat is that we sort of stop with Medieval cabala, which was the influence of hermetic and christian cabala. Later developments are very interesting, but simply outside our scope.
Kabbalah itself evolved over a long period of time and has various branches, so instead of trying to define it definitely, we’re going to give examples of hidden knowledge we came across while reading the Zohar. Remember the different hidden meanings in the Torah we mentioned earlier? So here we go:
Sephirot (/ˈsɛfɪrɒθ/; Hebrew: סְפִירוֹת Səphîrôṯ, pronunciation), meaning emanations, are the 10 attributes/emanations in Kabbalah, through which Ein Sof (The Infinite) reveals himself and continuously creates both the physical realm and the chain of higher metaphysical realms (Seder hishtalshelus). The term is alternatively transliterated into English as Sefirot/Sefiroth, singular Sephirah/Sefirah etc.
So basically each of the ten circles is one way God reveals himself.
Talks of when god split the sea into 7 streams (isaiah) which make up the lower 7 sephirot (associated with strenght, victory etc.)
He created the world with 10 words, hence 10.
The Sephiroth are organized into three discrete columns or gimel kavim (“three lines” in Hebrew). They are often referred to as the three “Fathers,” are derived from the three “Mothers,” and are attributed to the vowels (Vav, Yud, and Heh.) They are as follows:
Kether heads the central column of the tree, which is known metaphorically speaking as the “Pillar of Mildness” and is associated with Hebrew letter Aleph, “the breath”, and the air element. It is a neutral one, a balance between the two opposing forces of male and female tendencies. Some teachings describe the Sephirot on the centre pillar as gender-neutral, while others say that the Sephirot vary in their sexual attributions.
Right column, in Hebrew kav yamin:
Chokhmah heads the right column of the tree, metaphorically speaking the “Pillar of Mercy”, associated with the Hebrew letter Shin, the fire element, and the male aspect;
Left column, in Hebrew kav smol:
The left column is headed by Binah and is called the “Pillar of Severity.” It is associated with Hebrew letter Mem, the water element and the female aspect.
While the pillars are each given a sexual attribution, this does not mean that every sephirah on a given pillar has the same sexual attribution as the pillar on which they sit. Wikipedia floats one idea that of all the Sephirot only Binah and Malkuth are considered female, while all the other Sephirot are male.
Additionally (and this applies to both Jewish and Hermetic Kabbalah), each sephirah is seen as male in relation to the following sephirah in succession on the tree, and female in relation to the foregoing sephirah.
Alternative traditions consider the grammatical genders of the words involved. Thus, Gevurah is feminine because it has an atonal finialHeh. Thus, Severity or Justice becomes a feminine attribute while Chesed (Mercy or Lovingkindness) becomes a masculine one, despite the modern Western tendency to genderize these terms in reverse manner.
In a numerological sense, the Tree of Sephirot also has significance. Between the 10 Sephirot run 22 channels or paths which connect them, a number which can be associated with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Together the spiritual forces of the 10 Sephirot and the 22 connecting channels are called the “32 Paths of Wisdom”.
To envision the tree, consider each of these ten spheres as being concentric circles with Malkuth being the innermost and all others encompassed by the latter. None of these are separate from the other, and all simply help to form a more complete view of the perfected whole. To speak simply, Malkuth is the Kingdom which is the physical world upon which we live and exist, while Kether, also call Kaether and Kaether Elyon is the Crown of this universe, representing the highest attainable understanding of God that men can understand.
Each letter grouping has significance in Genesis 1:
The Mothers represent the three times Genesis states “God made.”
The Doubles represent the seven times Genesis states “God saw.”
The elementals (or singles) represent the rest of the times “God” (Elohim in every instance of Genesis Chapter 1) is mentioned.
Kabbalistic thought extended Biblical and Midrashic notions that God enacted Creation through the Hebrew language and through the Torah into a full linguistic mysticism. In this, every Hebrew letter, word, number, even accent on words of the Hebrew Bible contain esoteric meanings, describing the spiritual dimensions within exoteric ideas
Gematria or gimatria (Hebrew: גימטריא/גימטריה gēmaṭriyā) is a traditional Jewish system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other, or bear some relation to the number itself as it may apply to a person’s age, the calendar year, or the like. Although the term is Hebrew, it most likely derives from Greek geōmetriā, “geometry“, which was used as a translation of gēmaṭriyā, though some scholars believe it to derive from Greek grammateia, rather; it’s possible that both words had an influence on the formation of the Hebrew word. (Some also hold it to derive from the order of the Greek alphabet, gamma being the third letter of the Greek alphabet (gamma + tria).) The word has been extant in English since the 17th century from translations of works by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Although ostensibly derived from Greek, it is largely used in Jewish texts, notably in those associated with the Kabbalah.
The best-known example of Gematria is the Hebrew word Chai (“life”), which is composed of two letters which (using the assignments in the Mispar gadol table shown below) add up to 18. This has made 18 a “lucky number” among Jews, and gifts in multiples of 18 are very common.
Just to clarify: the following is all interpretation as written in the Zohar.
When God said “Let there be Light” he wasn’t talking about the light of day (as one might normally read the Bible) but was talking about wisdom (which we see in many esoteric traditions, or even “the enlightenment”). So God gave the light to Adam, so he could see everything, to David, Solomon and Moses, but hid it from others.
It basically re-interprets the creation story in Genesis very differently. So the “separation of light from darkness” is the creation of esoteric knowledge that is not available to everyone.
ADAM: Alef, dalet, mem: In the Zohar, it is the cardinal directions that made man. The word Adam is broken down into it’s cabalistic meaning of cardinal directions (or at least east and west) and One: One woman: Who was the first woman?
Do you know the story of Lilith? Very cool.
It’s mentioned in Deuteronomy that God is a pillar of fire, yet elsewhere that we should embrace him. This starts a discussion on the nature of fire, that there is consuming and pure fire. Like when you look at a candle and see that the top white fire is burning on top of blue (or red or black fire) that is burning the wick.
Likewise the fire represents hidden wisdom.
YHWH represent the stages of ever increasing divine manifestation, and the colors associated with the letters is taken for granted and compared to the stages of fire.
Even sentence structure of the scripture is scrutinized for deeper meaning.
The soul is likewise broken into three parts and compared to the flame. Abraham’s story is re-interpreted as an example of where he received the parts of the soul, and eventually God’s wisdom.
When death is close (you’re about to die) you stop dreaming, and sometimes don’t see your shadow when you pray. The Angel of Death follows you around and you start to see your father and dead relatives who’ll take to your new dwelling.
I’m reading up on astrology and will use this for my notes as I get closer to that podcast episode. I’ll add more to this when I get that far.
My Podcast on the topic:
Based on the writings of the legendary Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes was the greek God of knowledge and Hermeticism is the foundation of much esoteric tradition. It has had a great influence on Astrology and Neoplatonism, though don’t necessarily pre-date them. It emerged at the same time as those as well as Gnosticism and early Christianity. Greek or ptolemaic egyptian. cultivated by arabs and through them reached the west.
“As above so below” is one cornerstone that has greatly impacted Astrology and is the bases of Horoscopes. What is above in the stars and planets directly affects life below. Method of personal ascension from the constraints of physical being, which has led to confusion of Hermeticism with Gnosticism, which was developing contemporan The Caduceus, symbol of Hermeticism. Two snakes spiraling upward with wings at the top. confused with the Rod of Asclepius (medical symbol) Fusion of Eastern religous elements with Platonic, Stoic, gnostic and neo-pythagorean philosophies similar aspects of the kabbalah’s tree of life. As a religion I find it sometimes indistinguishable from neo-platonism and the importance of God, or “The All” or “The One” NO FILE four_elements.txt The four elements of air, earth, fire and water are mentioned. Like in other esoteric and ancient greek belief systems.
prisca theologica, an original untainted, pure set of doctrines, secretive, which allegedly were compiled in ancient times, in Egypt, and whose undiluted purity guarantees their veracity and efficacy. Development of the soul “As above, so below” – central to astrology So the microcosm of man is reflected in the macrocosm of god. that’s how stars can affect our life and can be read in horoscopes. Good and evil: two kinds of magic, Goëtia, and Theurgy Possibly reincarnation