Tuesday, October 04, 2016


How to become an alchemist

François Jollivet Castelot, (whom we have met before {in SH16} being initiated by Papus into the Martinist Order), published a book in 1897 called Comment on devient alchemiste: traité d’hermétism et d’art spagyrique (How to become an alchemist: treatise on hermeticism and the spagyric art). The  spagyric art according to the book concerns alchemical principles applied to the vegetable rather than the mineral world. On the title page we learn that the author is Secretary General of l’Association Alchimique de France and editor of the magazine L’Hyperchimie as well as being Special Delegate to the Supreme Council of the Martinist Order.

 Papus provides a lengthy Preface welcoming this pioneering work, claiming that Science once had a metaphysical side, recognising a Spirit and a Soul behind the Physical. So alchemy was as much a religious as an intellectual pursuit, with the Oratory playing as important a part as the Laboratory. A fact incomprehensible to those who think that alchemy is simply the first childish babblings of an adult modern chemistry.

In older times Nature was studied in its aspects of Body, Life and Spirit, united in one unique science. The study of the Body of Nature taught the laws of universal organisation, social as well as natural. The study of the Life side of Nature brought understanding of the laws of transformation,  such as crude ore into refined metals and wild flora and fauna into cultivated species. And study of the Spirit inspired knowledge of the laws of creation and the power, not only to transform, but to create.

During the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries a reaction developed whereby the metaphysical part (Soul and Spirit) was rejected and only the physical remained, a post mortem on the corpse of Nature.

Then Papus makes a startling claim! That he received an alchemical initiation in July 1883.  Startling because he would have been only 18 years old at the time, just a year after his  private initiation into Martinism. Did this come from a fellow Martinist? Who knows? However, he considers it sufficiently important to quote in full a document concerning it, our translation of which runs as follows.


You desire to know our faith; and wish to become one of us. Our door is not closed but is open to all who know how to enter the temple. We have no priests, and you can arrive at the faith on your own, with the help of an adept whose duty is limited to showing you the way. You must pursue it alone after that.

Hear ye!

You know nothing and you want to learn. Why? You are discontented and want to be happy, thinking that science will bring the happiness you desire; you think that by work you can overcome the ennui that oppresses you.

Hear ye!

All that is true. You could be happy; but you should not think that Science, the true Science, will make you happy through money. Nor should you come to us if you seek a knowledge that will bring you honours.

If you count on Science to ‘arrive’ – go to the University Faculties. There you will learn all that is needed to be many things if you work at it. By that you may achieve respect, but never  happiness. Jealousy, ambition will overcome you and you will pass your life in continual irritation, not knowing who or what opposes you.

You will suffer as much as can be suffered in your spirit by what you teach. For if you are independent you will feel that what they make you say is wrong. Or if you are submissive you will find that after gaining the highest honours you are as discontented as before, starved of the happiness you sought. You may try again, but being old and lost in the maze of modern Science, you will always feel, regarding Nature, that you lack something.

Hear ye!

The true adept must be independent.

Alchemy will not make you a physical fortune. It will give you a more lasting one, a spiritual fortune, that misfortune cannot weaken.

Whatever you suffer, you will be happier than any savant, eaten up with jealousy or pride; or  the wealthy, eaten up by boredom. Boredom, ambition and pride will fly far from you, and through that you will be superior to all men.

If you are not wealthy, you will live by working, but will never reveal the secrets you have found. Each day will bring another load of intellectual riches, and your work will seem easier each day.

Soon you will come to work less for men and more for Faith, and your tastes will be quite modest in a happiness that contents you with little.

Do not think that my words are without foundation. In support of what I say I can cite the example of more than two thousand of our own who have lived peacefully and modestly in the midst of the cruellest wars in the most turbulent centuries, and always good fortune smiled upon them. When, come to the height of intellectual happiness, you find God revealed to you. When, just and wise, however modest your employment among men; you will be superior to the official expert.

Both ways are open: it is for you to choose.  I repeat that we cannot grant you any material well being; we can only bring you spiritual happiness.

Hear ye!

Before entering into the book of God, you will need to look at men.

Look at the friend who sells his friend for gold; look at those men who destroy each other for gold, look at those priests who are eaten with ambition for honours; look at the doctor who kills men to earn more and does not admit that he is powerless; look around you: you will only see everywhere the hunt for gold.

You who have come to us aiming to become rich more quickly. Do you think that we too dementedly struggle in the current that drives to despair? Do you think that alchemists are as unhappy as other men? I tell you that we are happy in the midst of all the fevered mishaps of today; do not believe that we think only of gold.

True adepts who found this secret, as witness the pieces of gold exposed today in foreign museums, these adepts, I say, died without revealing their secret for they knew men too well. If transmutation exists, the adept does not dream of the riches it can procure him. He dreams of it because it is one more occasion for him to find himself near to God and to prayer.

If you study Nature, never forget that your discoveries must not be told to anyone indiscriminately.

Realise that the adepts distrust men, and as soon they have given advice to any who appear worthy, they leave things to Nature.

The adept must be alone in his work with just a few students.

If you wish to leave your work to descendents, follow the advice of our Masters.

Hermes Trismegistus, who knew the story of the Moon and the Sun: John of London, who could explain the hermetic signs, and all our other great masters recommend speaking only in parables.

The proud cannot understand our language; they can laugh at it, and that is their punishment.

The ambitious cannot be ours, for in so far as a man is ambitious he is linked to the condition of human beings and cannot understand Hermes.

Do not be concerned when the ignorant laugh at our masters, when they treat them as fools or mystagogues. Watch, Pray and be Silent.

Finally, once you have known the great law of God, if some misfortune comes to you on the part of men, you will know how to endure it. The first flash of pure gold will make you forget all the injustices. And if some day you have your heart broken by the ingratitude of a friend, the exaltation of the air by the fire will show you the way to wisdom.

My son you have heard. Reflect carefully, and if you so decide, enter resolutely into the way of God.

We have kept our promises my son, our counsel has shown you the way to happiness, it is for you to follow it, by which we will see if you are worthy to be an adept.

If after studying nature you find the true way, be assured that we will open your eyes and then I will be happy for I will have found an adept with whom to share our discoveries.

Then, confident in the law of nature, we will see men gather round us and we will happily await the moment when we join in the sublime concert of Divinity.”

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So much for the document which, while making a case for the pursuit of alchemy, may not give very much detailed information, as tends to be the way with alchemical literature.

However,  François Jollivet-Castelot does his best in the text of his book, which is divided into three parts, structured closely on the Tarot, following the sequence favoured by Eliphas Levi. As we will see in French occultism of the period, with the exception of a few mavericks and fortune tellers, Eliphas Levi, is regarded as an infallible rock upon which to start. 

However, the Emerald Tablet of Hermes is perhaps the best preliminary for an understanding of multi-dimensional reality – and following Papus’s preface – is given pride of place in François Jollivet-Castelot’s book.

We append his list of contents, which may give some hints to the general drift of his lines of thought. 

 Alchemy and the Kabbala or the Septenary of Principles. 1. Juggler:  Force, Absolute, God, Male. 2. Popess: Matter, Nature, Feminine. 3. Empress: Energy, Movement, Holy Spirit, Neuter. 4. Emperor: Life, Birth, Symbolic Cross. 5. Pope: Universal intelligence. 6. Lovers: Equilibrium, Analogy of Contraries. 7. Chariot: Astral light; Realisation.

How to become an Adept or the Septenary of  Laws. 8. Justice: Harmony, Balance, Equilibrium of Forces and Faculties. 9. Hermit: Isolation, Power on the Astral. 10. Wheel of Fortune: the Future, orientation of the Life of the Adept. 11. Strength: Strength of the Will, Energy of Thought. 12. Hanged Man: Voluntary Sacrifice, Abnegation. 13. Death: Death of the Passions, Regeneration,  Deprivation. 14. Temperance: Changing, many Exchanges, Adaptation, Mutations, the Adept knows how to make the Stone and to use it.

Practical or the Septenary of Actions. 15. Devil: Astral Light in circulation, dynamised. 16. House of God: Adamic Fall of Matter, Destruction. 17. Stars: ‘involuted’ Physical forces in the Work made to evolve. 18. Moon: Chaos – the matter of the Work in travail. 19. Sun: Elements, Nutrition, Mineral kingdom. 20. Judgement: own Movement, Respiration, Vegetable kingdom (2nd degree evolution). 21. Fool: Innervation, Animal kingdom (3rd degree evolution), Matter is living. 22. World: Great Work realised, Return to Unity. [The third ‘septenary’ (although containing eight Trumps with the inclusion of the Fool) is said to correspond to the transformations of evolved Matter in the Great Work – to the operations of Alchemy itself.]

Jollivet-Castelot “respectfully and fraternally dedicated” his book to the memory of Albert Poisson, (1868-1893) founder of the Societé Hermetique, who had written three books on alchemy before his death at the tender age of 24, including a much sought Théories et Symboles des Alchimistes. Victor-Émile Michelet evoked him in his memoirs, recalling an evening spent at Stanislas de Guaita’s apartment when Albert Poisson triumphantly brought in a beautiful old alchemical book he had found in a bookseller’s bin on the Quays, great joy lighting his face as they pored over the engravings, from the marriage of the mystical King and Queen in the Egg within the athenor up to the birth of the Royal Child. 

If ever the face of a man revealed his personality, he said, it was certainly that of Albert Poisson. During his short life an alchemist was an unlikely person to meet but no one, on seeing him, could be surprised to learn that he was an alchemist, for he had the look of a legendary “puffer”, with his long thin face emerging from a dark cloak, framed in intense black hair and beard, from which projected a great nose reddened and dilated by the fire of the athanor.

His brief life was filled with the ardent haste of one who was destined to die young. From the age of twelve all his pocket money was devoted to buying books on alchemy, and at eighteen he threw himself into continual research. The morning was devoted to personal study in his room in the rue Saint-Denis, part library, part laboratory. The afternoon was spent studying and working in the laboratory of the Faculty of Medicine, and on leaving there he was off to the Quays in the hunt for books. Thus he built up a precious library that he left to Papus and Marc Haven.

But he was not a solitary enclosed in an introverted prison of study. He could be seen, affable and discrete, in all groups where those in quest of esoteric knowledge met to study, and at these meetings he never despaired of finding some interesting proposition or some ardent spirit capable of becoming a study companion.

Was it Poisson who discovered Rémi Pierret? He was certainly one of the familiar visitors of this curious man who lived on the hill of Ménilmontant, concierge at a house that certainly did not appear luxurious. Like the great mystic Jacob Boehme, he scratched a living as a shoe repairer. And there, surrounded by sheets of leather and mended shoes, was one of the finest alchemical libraries of the 19th century.

How did this humble man acquire it, and develop such a passion for the art of Hermes? Nonetheless the likes of Albert Poisson, Stanislas de Guaita, Papus, Marc Haven and Victor-Émile Michelet might be found here as study companions of the friendly cobbler. Nonetheless the impoverished Rémi Pierret was forced over time, with heavy heart, to sell his beloved books. Most of which ended up with Papus and Stanislas de Guaita.

Another noted alchemist and friend of Jolivet-Castelot was the stormy Swedish playwright Strindberg whom we can perhaps take a look at, from a safe distance, at a later date.


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