Book Review by Joseph Caezza

DWELLINGS OF THE PHILOSOPHERS, by Fulcanelli, Archive press, 1999; 530
pp. 38 plates $ 150.00 hand crafted, leather bound, limited edition, $49.99 hardcover.

     At last the eagerly anticipated English translation of the sequel to Fulcanelli's MYSTERY OF THE CATHEDRALS has been made available by Archive Press. Never in the annals of Hermetic philosophy has any author been more passionate, explicit or exhaustive. Mind shattering in its revelations here is a text of incomparable value. No student of Alchemy can afford to ignore this work.

     It follows closely the structure of the author's earlier publication by creating in the introduction a sense of awe for the spiritual aspirations of the Gothic age. The body of the text entails intriguing Hermetic interpretations of medieval architectural ornamentation. However this volume deals with secular edifices rather than Christian temples. Such buildings bear immediate living testimony to the great mystery of Being at the root of the Royal Art. Like its predecessor this book concludes with a study of monuments dedicated to upcoming geological cataclysm, a subject especially appealing to contemporary millennial madness.

     The first dwelling to receive exhaustive analysis, "The Manor of the Salamander" in Lisieux, Normandy, represents perhaps the product of an adept from a 15th century school of Hermeticism based in the nearby city of Caen. The so-called house of "The Man of the Woods" in the country town of Thiers offers sim ilar iconography from the same period revealing the deeper nature of philosophical mercury. Fulcanelli devotes extensive attention to fireplace ornamentations from the castle Coulonges of Louis d'Estissas. The central motif of this complex of sculptures depicts two monstrous gnomes facing each other. They represent the two metallic principles, sulfur and mercury. D'Estissas, a contemporary of Denis Zachaire and Jean Lallemant may have been initiated by the sage Francois Rabelais. In the same geographic region as castle Coulonges can be found the "spells and wonders" of the castle Dampierre. One hundred and fifty pages explore the import of symbolism preserved in this fabulous yet unknown repository of wisdom. Certainly the most memorable of all Fulcanelli's discourses concern the "Body Guards of Francis II". These four life-size statues of the cardinal virtues exhibit in finest detail the most profound secrets of alchemy. Prudence for example crushes a serpent with her foot indicating the fixation of mercury. The back of her head reveals the Janus-like face of an old man, sulfur, that conjoins to her own mercurial nature. She holds a mirror identifying the prima materia which reflects the archetypal process of nature.

     This very complete volume features three prefaces to earlier French editions by Fulcanelli's disciple, Eugene Cansiliet. However the translator, Brigitte Donvez's preface appears even more significant. Her fabulous abilities have also made possible the alchemical lessons of Jean Dubuis at the heart of THE PHILOSOPHERS OF NATURE, an international organization devoted to practical laboratory methods. She vehemently denounces the misappropriation of alchemical symbolism by pompous psychologists, therapists and counselors who would reduce sacred mysticism to adolescent academic armchair acrobatics.

     Fulcanelli clearly situates the symbolic components of myth in their rightful role as the functional principles of the universe. He sharply defines alchemy as a practical art distinct from spagyrics or archemistry. His detailed descriptions of laboratory operations that separate metallic sulfur from mercury rank among the most tantalizing illuminations this text has to offer. His persistent explication of Cabala goes further than any author before him to unveil the code that shrouds the best Hermetic texts.

     The oblique style of discourse demands diligent rereading. The persistent student discovers details of operative laboratory manipulations distributed in discontinuous fragments within the body of the larger text. Even aspects of millennial cataclysm express phenomena occurring in the limited field of the hermetically sealed vessel. This book constitutes a hard core guided tour through the tradition of alchemy. A myriad surprises await even the most well read student. St.Vincent de Paul, "the father of lost children", an adept educated in Islamic tradition endowed hospitals and orphanages with the fruits of his labors. Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels contains blatant references to Cabalistic wisdom. Long considered a buffoon, Cyrano de Bergerac finally earns recognition as a Hermetic savant.

     This literature represents the unquestionable testimony of an illuminated adept. Speculation on the historical identity of its author remains an exercise in fruitless folly. Is wisdom ever a stranger to folly? Can one invoke the privilege of Castanada's "controlled folly" or the I-Ching hexagram of "youthful folly" in order to indulge such speculation? Andre VandenBroeck's AL-KEMI, A MEMOIR: Hermetic, Occult, Political and Private Aspects of R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz (1987 Inner Traditions/Lindisfarn Press) reveals a clandestine collaboration between Fulcanelli and this obscure genius. Dwellings of the Philosophers contains an immense amount of insight also present in the writings of Rene Schwaller. Schwaller confided to VandenBroeck that Fulcanelli stole from him an original manuscript on the alchemical symbolism of the Gothic Cathedrals and published it under his own name.

"He was too materialistic to appreciate the laboratory events, but that never got in the way of our collaboration. He was able to devise a procedure for any operation one could propose, and that was his importance, as a manipulator. His practice was fabulous, and I had it in my service. He did all the manipulations. But the ideas that moved those hands, the ideas always came from me. Remember, when I say ‘Fulcanelli', I mean that whole group of literati and puffers: Canseliet, Dujols, Champagne, Boucher, Sauvage; they all contributed to give shape to Fulcanelli's production, once he had spread my ideas among them. He used my cathedral work as a vehicle, and a lot of talk about operations he has had contact with, thanks to me, but whose function, whose form, whose nomenclature he doesn't understand. And then the glitter all around it, the fantastic erudition, much of which can be traced to Dujols and some to Canseliet; add the artwork of Champagne, and you have a very salable book. They made a career out of it, but in the process, they missed the moment, they missed the Word..."

..."They did me a favor, though; they saved me from identifying my work with cathedral symbolism, which kept me available for Egypt, for Al-Kemi instead of alchemy. It is the same work of course, only in the language of our time, whereas Fulcanelli speaks in the language of the great medieval alchemical renaissance. But what we must be involved with now is not a renaissance, it is a resurrection. The Great Work is a work of resurrection..."

..."I was saying that Fulcanelli took it upon himself to publish what he had advised me not to bring out, as well as what he had sworn to keep to himself. You see, one good thing about observing a vow of secrecy is that you will not talk about what you do not understand. In Fulcanelli's case what came out in print is hopelessly garbled, full of unnecessary obscurity and certainly of no use to any seriously practicing adept although it gives much ammunition to puffers with its nice-sounding phrases."(1)

     Schwaller's allegation appears highly credible considering his later work on similar symbolism found in the Egyptian Temple at Luxor. He spent 15 years of on site research at Luxor. Strangely, after twenty eight years of effort the English translation of Schwaller's magnum opus, The Temple of Man (Inner Traditions) has just been released as if to accompany Fulcanelli's masterpiece. After long hours of meditation on these texts one ponders: Is the Temple of Man the Dwelling of a Philosopher? Is Egypt, known in ancient times as Al-Kemi, the source of alchemistic mysticism?

     Amidst a vast amount of congruence between the ideas of Schwaller and Fulcanelli, one matter of laboratory insight stands out. VandenBroeck relates an episode from Schwaller's youth:

"He then told me in considerable detail about the experience that had opened his third seven year cycle. Here, in a few minutes, his entire scientific orientation was determined. The experiment took place in his father's laboratory, and it was his father, a pharmacist, who manipulated a mixture of chlorine and hydrogen gas in the production of hydrochloric acid. As is well known, these components maintain their individual character as long as they are kept in darkness. Light however, even when diffused, will prompt a reaction. Under direct sunlight, an explosion occurs...

...Yet it was in the nature of fire that he found the essence of this moment of intellectual discovery which opened his third cycle. Fire had been the principle agent in the little experiments he had undertaken since childhood with a toy chemistry set; hitherto, he had known heat from the flame of a Bunsen burner to activate most reactions. Now he realized what a shallow conception of fire he had been entertaining. It appeared to him that a universal element, best named "fire", existed in the physical world, and was contained in a degraded state not only in flame and heat but penetrated physical existence through and through, its most refined occurrence being light."(2)

Compare this to Fulcanelli's discourse from Dwellings of the Philosophers:

"We have just spoken of fire; and yet, we only envisage it in its common form and not in its spiritual essence, which introduces itself in bodies at the very moment of their appearance on the physical plane. What we want to demonstrate without leaving the alchemical domain, is the grave error which dominates all of modern science and which prevents it from recognizing this universal principle which animates substance, to whatever kingdom it belongs. Yet it manifests itself all around us, under our very eyes, either by the new properties which matter inherits from it or by the phenomena which accompany its liberation. Light -rarified and spiritualized fire- possesses the same chemical virtues and power as elementary crude fire. An experiment with the object of synthetically creating hydrochloric acid (HCl) from its components, amply demonstrates it. If we put equal volumes of chlorine and hydrogen gas in a flask, the two gases will keep their own individuality as long as the flask that contains them is kept in darkness. With some diffused light, they progressively combine. But if we expose the vessel to direct solar rays, it explodes and shatters violently."(3)

     The most outstanding revelation from VandenBroeck's memoir of his studies with Schwaller concerns the elaboration of stained glass used in the great gothic cathedrals typified by the intense reds and blues of Chartres. Scientific analysis detects no chemical pigmentation yet the glass appears tinted throughout its mass. Schwaller explained to VandenBroeck the alchemical procedure by which the Chartres glass was dyed in its mass by the volatile spirit of metals. He had discovered shards of similar glass during his archeological research in Egypt.

"I have retrieved fragments of this kind of manufacture in crucibles of early Pharonic sites. It is a nontechnical ‘truc', the most readily available proof of alchemical manipulation, at least in our time. This is what I worked on with Fulcanelli. Once you can infuse reds and blues into glass in this manner, you have proved the gesture of ‘separatio', you have ‘separated the earth from fire, the subtle from the dense;' remember the Emerald Tablet. It takes great agility to separate while keeping both parts. Yet this is essential, for there must be body from which the spirit can rise, as there must be earth for the descent of fire. The glass is colored by the spirit of the metal, by the color-form."(4)

Fulcanelli describes identical alchemical procedures in Dwellings of the Philosophers(5). As in VandenBroeck's memoir these revelations represent the most dazzling illuminations this text has to offer. Is this a coincidence?

     Schwaller offers brutal criticism of Fulcanelli's cabalastic exegesis. The excessive intellectual attempt to root French language directly to ancient Pelasgian Greek so as to make it a privileged vehicle for cabalistic expression, the so-called ‘language of the birds', is wholly contrary to what is actually required for cabalistic interpretation. Beyond intensified perception, celestial grace and the intelligence of the heart what does one need in order to read directly the signatures of Nature? Fulcanelli's academic expositions remains hopelessly over-etymologized. Cabalistic expression and its interpretation appear only as symptoms of amplified consciousness. They are not its cause. After careful reading of Fulcanelli a bounty of deeper insight can be derived from study of VandenBroeck's memoir as well as the works of R.A.Schwaller de Lubicz.

     The English publication of Dwellings of the Philosophers constitutes the culmination of fifteen years of intensive effort by a host of heroic individuals, many of whom studied alchemy with Alpert Riedel at the Paracelsus Research Society. Seemingly insurmountable legal and technical obstacles to publication have been solved over the past decade by the dedicated members of Archive Press. Both the numbered, sealed, leather-bound edition with its marbled paper, red bookmark ribbon and gold salamander stamp limited to three hundred copies and cloth-bound edition of almost equal quality limited to a thousand copies seem at first glance to exemplify the highest standards of bookmaking. Exquisite typesetting along with durable sewn signatures in both editions measure up to expectations. However the illustrations would reproduce better if they had been printed on coated stock. Yet these reproductions are of equal if not better quality than the original printing. The cheap bonded leather binding of the more expensive edition represents a grievous disappointment. This kind of bonded leather made from unusable scraps gathered off the cutting room floor and sometimes even from recycled old shoes, pulverized and mixed with glue, rapidly deteriorates due to its high acid content. It will easily chip, scratch and loose its water repellent nature. At such a cost one might also anticipate that the pages of the fine arts edition would have been gilded in gold. The lower priced cloth edition presents a much better buy. Online ordering and payment are available at

(1) VandenBroeck, Andre, AL-KEMI, A MEMOIR; HERMETIC, OCCULT, POLITICAL AND PRIVATE ASPECTS OF R.A. SCHWALLER de LUBICZ, (1987) Inner Traditions/Lindisfarne Press, pages 151-153.
(2) VandenBroeck, Andre, AL-KEMI, pages 200-201.

(3) Fulcanelli, THE DWELLINGS OF THE PHILOSOPHERS, (1999) Archive Press, pages 51-52.
(4) VandenBroeck, Andre, AL-KEMI, page 112.
(5) Fulcanelli, THE DWELLINGS OF THE PHILOSOPHERS, pages 88-91.

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