Sunday, January 22, 2017


An approach to Star Alchemy                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         François Jollivet-Castelot, a leading alchemical enthusiast, like Gérard Ecausse, was an early starter when it came to writing books. In fact even more so! He started at the age of 20. No wonder Papus was impressed.

The first, entitled  La Vie et l’Ame de la Matière (The Life and Soul of Matter) came out in 1894. It was his belief that all matter was alive, a philosophy going by the name of ‘hylozoism’ with the laboratory discipline of ‘hyperchemistry’ trying to encourage the progress of that ‘evolution’. The natural route was hoped to be from lead into gold!  

The contemporary discovery of radioactivity and of sub-atomic particles such as the electron and atomic nucleus at first encouraged theories of the alchemically minded although, as has since been established, lead tends to be the end of a process of decay from unstable elements such uranium, radium and polonium rather than the start of a progress into bankable precious metals.  

Comment on devient Alchimiste (How to Become an Alchemist) came out at much the same time that J.J.Thomson discovered the electron, Ernest Rutherford the atomic nucleus, and Paul and Marie Curie radioactivity.  A fascinating period, when interest in alchemy by sons of |Hermes was running alongside discoveries on the nature of matter that at first did suggest that all matter came from a common base – an electromagnetic spectrum.  It was the orthodox who proved right in the end through the magical wonder of the creation of matter progressively cooked up in stars or in cosmic rays to be explosively distributed to solar and planetary systems via hydrogen, helium, lithium and the like to make us what we are, beings who originated as star dust.   

Divided into three parts, this Jollivet-Castelot book claimed to be the most complete on the subject, presenting an Initiation to Alchemy. The first part devoted to ALCHEMY AND THE KABBALA; the second to MAGICAL TRAINING on HOW TO BECOME AN ADEPT; the third under the title PRACTICE details of experimentation, historic and critical. A SYNTHESIS to sum it all up. It was considered by enthusiasts to be an important work of initiation that would  convince many chemists and philosophers, for, addressed to the sceptical expert, it brought - through the Laboratory - the laws of Analogy and the principles of mineral Transformation.

There was, however, not a great deal in practical terms from the efforts of the alchemists, although in 1925 Jollivet-Castelot did claim to have transmuted a small amount of silver into gold and became somewhat embittered that his work was never tested or verified, let alone approved, by official science. Reluctance of academia to take him too seriously may have been a consequence of his initial book, which was not so much evidence of scientific research as the musings of an occult student speculating on the significance of the Tarot Trumps as outlined by Eliphas Levi – ground already turned over by the youthful Papus, nine years his senior.

He had however, published, in 1904,  La Science Alchimique, covering the history of the subject through predecessors such as Roger Bacon, Raymond Lully, Arnold de Villeneuve and Nicolas Flamel up to contemporaries such as Albert Poisson and Stanislas de Guaita, and in which he took account of recent scientific discoveries which he felt to be in support of alchemical theory, such as the common electromagnetic basis of all the chemical elements, which could, theoretically at least, point to the possibility of transmutation of one element into another.  

Thus he hailed the discovery of radioactivity by Paul and Marie Curie in a chapter on ‘The Life of Metals’ even if evident only in certain elements. His enthusiasm is quite infectious.

A new state of matter, to which physicists have given the name of radio-activity, has been discovered by M. and Mme Paul Curie, who have thus recorded, if that is what one could call it, of the life and soul of certain remarkable metals. In fact, polonium, radium and actinium possess a spontaneous radiation, a luminosity analogous to phosphorus, but much more intense and permanent; radioactivity a hundred thousand times more intense than that of uranium (recorded in 1896 by Becquerel) luminous energy particular to these metals, that they derive from no external agent, and that develop electricity, impress photographic plates, pass through solid bodies, exercise on animate beings a marked physiological action , finally communicating properties, by induction, to the substances which one finds in contact with particles of polonium, radium and actinium.

The emission of these radio-active bodies is composed of a gaseous emanation, arrested by glass, and  a radiation that penetrates glass and metals; this radiation divisible into two types: one responsive to magnetism, the other not so.

Research on these bodies is still very difficult and expensive: one retrieves about a tenth of a gram of chlorate of radium from a ton of the mineral residues of uranium. [Note: Philosophically the radium, by its energetic spontaneity, demonstrates the reality of Monism, that is to say the identity of force and matter, essential forms of Being, and beings, of the Universe. The living unity of the Cosmos thus appears in its simple beauty.]

Experts are literally plunged into a stupor by the demonstration of this strange physico/chemical phenomenon that contradicts the ‘static and unchangeable’ principles of Contemporary Science regarding the conservation of Force and Matter. What is it that constitutes this focus of spontaneous energy, this radiation that nothing is needed to feed and that cannot lose an atom of its weight of substance. That is the enigma that has come to trouble the self satisfaction of official Science. The Soul of Matter, the Life of metals under the form of Od, appears astonishing to the eyes of physicists! They state undeniably, by means of the fact, the irrefutable experience. Hylozoism!

 There, where they think they are manipulating an inert substance, they are, on the contrary, touching animate matter, living, bizarre and mysterious, that delivers to them its indistinguishable astral spark! “Matter is one, it lives, it evolves and transforms.”

This is a far cry from speculation about the relevance of Tarot cards to the creation and behaviour of matter but is a fair shot at the constitution of physical chemistry and shows a sense of wonder that is altogether admirable, similar to scientific workers in the field today, such as the French astrophysicist Michel Cassé, whose Stellar Alchemy The Celestial Origin of Atoms I have found to be one of the most inspiring books on the creation of the elements I have met. {English translation by Cambridge University Press}. It is, regrettably, priced at far more than it should be in my opinion, but by shopping around the second hand markets it is possible to pick up a bargain.   

It contains a defence and illustration of nuclear astrophysics, one of the most beautiful sciences there is. It bridges the gap between the atomic microcosm and the celestial macrocosm, setting out the origin and evolution of all the elements that make up our universe. It combines the physics of the very small and the very large, the inner workings of nuclei at one end of the scale and stars at the other. A sumptuous marriage between nuclear physics and astronomy, Earth and sky, celebrated in scientific thought, opening the way to a genuinely universal history of the material substance constituting all visible things.

Sunday, January 08, 2017


François Jolivet Castelot - alchemist - and Madame de Thebes, society clairvoyant.

Turning a new page for a new year, {my contacts seem to like a rest between Advent and Twelfth Night}we will leave aside for a time the last days of Maïtre Philippe –  “Friend of God” and “spiritual master” of Papus – to follow the steps of a very active newcomer, the enthusiastic young alchemist François Jolivet Castelot.

After his initiation into the Martinist Order {that we described in SH16} he set about forming an alchemical society, devoted to collecting relevant books and manuscripts and encouraging  the performance of alchemical experiments; his belief being that Matter is inseparable from Life and that every atom and molecule of a metal or a mineral expresses the Universal Will according to the degree of evolution it has attained.

Founding a monthly magazine, Rosa Alchemica, he organised meetings at public restaurants to encourage enquirers, although was disappointed that many were what he regarded as too “Parisian”, that is to say preferring to chat and speculate about occult theories rather than apply themselves to the prayer, practice and discipline of laboratory work. 

Although this did not prevent François from seeking guidance from wherever he might find it, including the fashionable society clairvoyant, Madame de Thebes, who for the past twenty five years had operated a psychic consultancy in luxurious apartments near the Arc de Triomphe. Her impressive list of clients included the Empress of Austria and the Queen of Italy as well as a number of artistes from establishments such as the Opèra, the Vaudeville and the Comedie-Française.  Albums full of their autographed portraits decorated her rooms along with an impressive bevy of model elephants {don’t ask me why!}of various sizes, in bronze, copper or porcelain.

A bejewelled and matronly figure now in her fifties, an hour of whose time originally set back clients a golden ‘Louis’ – or 20 franc piece – the equivalent of ten Victorian sovereigns – that eventually inflated to twenty four times that sum.

Matching her style to those who came for guidance, she received the young alchemist rather after the style of an ancient temple priestess granting audience to a junior magus. In an analysis of his character and fortune, examining  his hands with the aid of a magnifying glass, she predicted eventual success that would be earned through his own efforts, for though luck might not always favour him, given due application he would  attain the mental poise that could bring high achievement.

She also encouraged  his current political sympathies, that at the time followed those of the Duc d’Orléans in supporting the restoration of the monarchy. With her list of aristocratic customers, perhaps this was to be expected!  Although it has to be said that twenty years later the highly idealistic young man became committed to Christian communism – a combination that did not help his prospects, political or mystical, terribly well.

However, in terms of the present, like many of her kind, Madame de Thebes’  high degree of popularity probably rested on the psychological skills of a sensitive and sympathetic ‘agony aunt’ rather than a mastery of the secrets of cheiromancy – or palmistry. But let credit rest where it is due!

One of the youngest of Papus’ trusted associates, Jolivet Castelot visited Paris frequently during the next few years, admitted to the higher Martinist lodges and appointed Professor of Alchemy and Spagyric Medicine.  He also covered Magic, Hermetic Therapeutics, Astrology, Alchemy, History of Occultism, Mysticism and the Divinatory Arts, although techniques of ceremonial magic gradually played a lesser role, becoming regarded as contrary to Martinist principles; preference being given to Kabbalistic tradition and esoteric Christianity.   An influence coming no doubt from Maïtre Philippe, although also implicit in Saint-Martin’s original approach to the doctrines and practice of his initial teacher, Martinès de Pasqually .