Book Review by Joseph Caezza
THE HERMETIC MUSEUM: Alchemy and Mysticism by Alexander Roob. Taschen Books, Hohenzollernring 53, D-50672 Kolin, 1997; 711 pp., $29.95
This volume easily ranks as the most significant work in recent years on western alchemy. It succeeds not by merit of its brilliant yet brief text but on the grandiose virtue of classic illustrations. Here are the visions of Blake, Jacob Bohme and Hildegard Von Bingen among others placed in appropriate context with the very finest of hermetic icons. This fabulous collection of images many of them in vivid color indeed constitutes a museum. Connoisseurs who already own Klossowski de Rola's GOLDEN GAME or Fabricius's ALCHEMY, THE ROYAL ART, similar studies of this kind illustrated only in black and white will find very little overlap.
The ingenious organization of these plates testifies to a profound understanding of the hermetic enigma. An initial chapter explores cosmological foundations captured in the well known symbols of the sun, moon and stars. A section devoted to "Genesis" aptly clarifies alchemy as the sacred science of continuous creation. Images from Cabala, Tantra and Pythagoras support this thesis. The central mystery of germination, gestation and growth finds greater explication in a further section entitled "Genesis in the Retort". One finds here the magnificent engravings from Barchusen's ELEMENTA CHEMICAE and the splendid paintings from Salomon Trismosin's SPLENDOR SOLIS.
The cover illustration taken from a 1516 painting depicts Nature admonishing a misguided alchemist to abandon the deceptive mechanical wonders of laboratory chemistry. True alchemy always follows Nature. The Great Work is not technology but perception refined beyond the labor of applied artistic intensity to the level of pious contemplation and exalted prayer. Rather than pursue a true science of genesis only accessible with amplified consciousness seekers too often fall victim to the beguiling myth of salvation through technology. This collection of images serves as a potential vehicle to the expanded perception required for a genuine Opus Magnum. This is a book to live with, an alchemist's pillow book.
A good picture is worth much more than a thousand words. Often in the annals of hermetic literature inscrutable texts such as THE ROSARY OF THE PHILOSOPHERS or the TWELVE KEYS OF BASIL VALENTINE serve as background for mind shattering icons that bear the true force of revelation. The seventeenth century MUTUS LIBER, a wordless book of fifteen plates represents an outstanding example of hermetic hieroglyphics. Roob presents captions to these figures closely following interpretations of Eugene Canseliet, pupil of the legendary alchemist Fulcanelli.
A section entitled "Hermetic Yantras" calls to mind the mysterious homology of symbolic forms presented by western Alchemy and Tantric Yoga. Both disciplines pursue the central goal of unconditional Being framed by elements and principles emanating from and returning back into cosmic wholeness. Alchemists through the ages have attempted two dimensional geometric projection of the archetypal process of Nature in mystic diagrams which serve as superb supports for intensive meditation.
Other sections on topics of "Divine Geometry", "Signatures" and "Script" among others justly attend to the myriad peripheral aspects of the Royal Art. Concise explanations clarify bewildering arrangement of forms. The presence of glorified sages, unknown saints and exalted adepts emerges from these pages to lift the casual reader beyond the confines of ordinary consciousness.
The recent issue number five of Lapis magazine included Roob's introduction to THE HERMETIC MUSEUM as a feature item in its "Lovers of Wisdom" column. The magazine's cover photograph almost identical to one in the book depicts the inside of a linear accelerator. An account of "modern practical alchemy" describes the Goddess element, copper, bombarded to the extreme of penetration by charged high velocity atoms of tin. Fusion of tin, atomic number 50, with copper, atomic number 29, produces gold, atomic number 79. Is this true alchemy?
Adept alchemists understand forced fusion of this kind to be nothing less than rape. This violent manipulation counts among the most abominable crimes conceivable. Correctly executed hermetic work is neither a team effort nor a spectator sport. It proceeds with the sacred intimacy of matrimonial consummation. A section of Roob's book entitled "Conjunctio" reveals this concept with a plethora of images featuring a royal couple engaged in pre-coital gestures.
This work of over seven hundred
pages in sewn signatures printed in Italy offers a genuine bargain
to any serious student of Hermeticism. These eruditely captioned
illustrations on high quality chlorine-free paper represent
a lifetime of dedicated research. Here are untold hours of
contemplative entertainment, inspiration and insight.
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