Just HOW Rosicrucian is Thier Alchemy Anyway?
Dear friends and readers,
This section continues the Rosicrucian Review of the Golden Dawn. So far we have reviewed Amorc, the Martinist Order and are nearly finished with the G.D.
This review specifically focuses on Golden Dawn alchemy, as the second installment to the Trinosophia Score which examines the three aspects of magic, alchemy and Cabalah.
The alchemy score is worth a total of ten points, contributing towards a potential total of thirty.
For those new to my Rosicrucian Reviews I strongly suggest you read about my scoring system here. Every Order is considered not upon the merits of the teaching in terms of ‘spiritual value’ but rather how well it reflects the traditional aspects of the Rosicrucian manifestos and early documents.
In our last review for example it was seen that while G.D magic is some of the most versatile and brilliant it does not resemble ‘Rosicrucian magic’ as much as that of the Martinist Order.
We also came to the conclusion that actually the REAL Rosicrucian Order either resembles something of a cloister type brotherhood for monks, or otherwise a circle of scholars who wrote occult allegories describing the same brotherhood. But ritual-Orders like the Golden Dawn derive their ritual heritage from masonry, and don’t resemble either scenario very well, to any degree.
This is not to deny the evolution the tradition itself, which continues to create new ideas. My thoughts however is that the Rosicrucian tradition stopped dead in its tracks at the year 1900. Nothing new has evolved since then and everything since then was an explanation or copy-cat manifestation of what was already done. In fact I believe the Rosicrucian Orders have forgotten much of their roots and ideals set out in the manifestos hence the creation of this blog series.
The Golden Dawn also has a similar problem, in that two very different types of Orders have evolved. The Public Golden Dawn is one branch and the Esoteric/Hidden Golden Dawn is still very traditional.
The Public Golden Dawn itself considers its leaders to be the only true authority, having gathered quite a following as a result of their published books. Their fan base also reinforces their-own sense of certainty. The Hidden G.D on the other hand sits quietly and avoids discussion with the Public G.D because so much of what has been written, including its own new ideas, have been set in stone as ‘the original G.D did it this way’ and ‘tradition’ just because they say so.
A fine example of this is that the S.M of Felkin and current offshoots, which have stated over the last ten years that the original G.D used red, black and white colors on their outer order diagrams. As Darcy Kunz and Robert Word have pointed out, in fact several temples in the original G.D had full color diagrams for its rituals. Branches of the Alpha et Omega also continued this practice.
This makes it very difficult to review an Order when much is public and is often misleading and all too certain of its stances. The Hidden G.D comes from the A.O branch of Mathers and the Public from the S.M of Felkin. There is next to no interaction between the two but in this review I have tried to share some views from both parties and very few blogs speak of the actual existence of a Hidden G.D.
G.D Alchemy the Early Phase
There is a large difference between opinions held between present groups, as well as the difference to how alchemy was viewed in the original pre-schism Golden Dawn.
The key here in this review is to understand which of those BEST represents the ACTUAL view from the Rosicrucian manifestos, as well as exposing the original alchemy system of the G.D.
At first glance G.D alchemy seems quite scant if not misleading. Written by Westcott in 1890, the flying roll paper on alchemy is quite brief and uninformative. From the original G.D it appears William Alexander Ayton was the real alchemist doing actual laboratory work. He was known to have reorganized the Order with Waite. A group under his supervision practiced alchemy however it fell into abeyance after 1900. Several parties want the G.D to be an alchemical Order and point to his work as evidence. However he was after all very old and unfortunately much of his practice does not reflect G.D work itself, but rather a lifetime of experience having been a member of the SRIA, the HBL and the Theosophical Society. Nothing of his work entered into the G.D curricula.
But let’s be clear, the Golden Dawn is NOT an alchemical Order. The Golden Rosenkreuzers was.
While several ‘histories’ claim that the G.D is the continuation of the Golden Rosenkreuzers (GuRC) the fact remains that the GuRC was an alchemical Order and its teachigns were different. While the G.D uses a similar grade structure, its similarities all but stop there. The G.D is instead a magical Order with little alchemy, whereas the GuRC was an alchemical Order with less magic. True there are degrees of both in each Order but the teachings and curricula were completely different. Thus the story of the G.D being the ‘continuation’ of the GuRC is just a myth of convenience.
Where both Orders do have a similar origin is in the story of Pansophy which I’ll cover later.
Among the G.D members, Westcott and Waite were not alone in their interest in alchemy. Mathers, Florence Farr, Gardner and Felkin, Allen Bennet and Julian Baker shared this interest. Amongst them we know that Wescott, Ayton, Felkin and Bennet could practice lab alchemy because they were either chemist or physicians. Felkins use is quite interesting but does not belong to the original G.D.
No doubt the members of the G.D studied alchemical papers in detail.
After all, Wynn Westcott had an occult library, which adepts could access. He founded it in 1891 and he circulated the Collectanae Hermetica, fully translated, which included:
– Vol I. Hermetic Arcanum by Jean d’Espagnet with notes by Sapere Aude.
– Vol III. A short Enquiry concerning the Hermetic Art by “A Lover of Philalethes” (with an introduction to alchemy and notes by S.S.D.D. Florence Farr).
– Vol IV. AEsch-Metzareph or Purifying Fire from the Kabbalah of Rosenroth (translated by “A Lover of Philalethe” – 1714 – with notes by S.A.)
– Vol VII. Euphrates or the Waters of the East by Eugenius Philalethes (Thomas Vaughan) with a commentary by S.S.D.D. (Florence Farr).
Of these the Purifying Fire is the most important, especially because Rosenroth’s diagrams were included in G.D initiation rituals. The problem is however that his work does not reflect a practical lab alchemy but rather a Cabalistic alchemy which applies to the magical G.D system. You should be starting to get the picture here because something interesting is going on…
Remember, all those above named adepts studied alchemy. Yet none of their research ever became official papers to be circulated by inner order adepts for official study.
‘The Hermetic Museum’ was translated by Arthur Edward Waite 1893. It contains several important alchemical treatises, but the WHY of selecting these particular items is quite telling in terms of the Rosicrucian heritage of the Golden Dawn. In fact one of these documents relates to the Z2 operation of alchemy, which Public G.D Orders are yet to pick up on.
Thus it is clear alchemy in the G.D appears surface at best or a side subject.
Where the original order really shines in terms of its early alchemical teachings is in the Portal Ritual, which leads to the inner Rosicrucian Order of the RR et AC. This is quite fitting as after all alchemy is required, to be present, in order for any order to be able to really call itself ‘Rosicrucian.’
The three wands of the officers are based on sulphur, salt and mercury. The movements of the officers are said to resemble the operations of alchemy upon the matter, which is embodied by the candidate undergoing initiation. Alchemy here is not spoken of directly during the ritual itself, but certainly its actions, such as the burning and perfection of the four elements, allow for alchemy to be studied layer at a higher level. Thus so far the G.D alchemy is alchemical drama.
In my own publication ‘Rosicrucian Tradition of the Golden Dawn’ I also revealed how by layering the Portal temple and its diagrams over the 0=0 temple, and looking at the movements of the 0=0 (in that higher temple), an actual alchemical process is shown working behind the rituals.
Thus so far, we know is that the candidate of initiation in the G.D was the ESSENTIAL material put through an alchemical process, and that the candidate himself was the material subjected to transmutation. But that does not discount practical alchemy for the Golden Dawn.
Z2 Alchemy as the Practical Alchemy of the Golden Dawn
Where alchemy is actually carried out for transmutations in the Golden Dawn it is done through an elaborate processed called ‘Z2 alchemy,’ a document that outlines a magical regeneration upon the matter. For those new to the G.D this means that the Neophyte ritual of initiation or 0=0 becomes a magical process to employ upon various operations, including Talisman magic, or evocations etc.
In this case that process is transferred upon an alchemical material, lending it astral light.
As an example of understanding the Z2, consider that essentially the candidate is replaced by the Talisman, or material being transmuted, and is put through the same initiatory process.
Here the concept is that the magical forces that ‘protect the order’ will also protect the operation, but more importantly the Neophyte hall is done inside the Egyptian Hall of Maat. Based on the afterlife, the Egyptians believed the soul would be weighed and measured against the feather of truth. When applied to a magical environment in the Z2 the operation is instead judged by the gods as worthy or unworthy for receiving the astral light. This idea should protect the magician from practicing black magic as the polarity of Osiris would not be provided to unjust intentions.
This relates nicely to another traditional Rosicrucian teaching. In my last post we saw how in traditional R.C alchemy the Ergon (inner regeneration) must first be achieved or else the Parergon (outer work) can have no success. So the Z2 system is quite consistent with Rosicrucian ideas when seen through its approach of applying judgment godforms to magic and alchemy.
At the same time a new issue arises, worth much argument;
Has alchemy even been applied correctly in the Z2 and for that matter, was it made to fit with the Golden Dawn initiation process? Did the architects of the Golden Dawn KNOW alchemy well enough to say, ‘ok our Z2 alchemy process is based on the Z1 Neophyte ritual?’
This would imply, if done correctly, that the Neophyte ritual itself was based on alchemy. As after all.. if it wasn’t then basing an alchemical process upon that ritual might very well be flawed.
This question is quite important as something of a dilemma has arisen in Public G.D.
If alchemy says to apply the practice one way, and yet that process is changed in order to better comply with the G.D Neophyte ritual, which is then the right way? It seems many do not question the integrity of the Z1 process as if somehow Public G.D has smelted the Order into a Golden Calf for worship. If there are inconsistencies between the actual alchemical approach and that used in the G.D most of its ‘Adepts’ have favored the G.D operation, when in fact it is quite clear that alchemy is the greater tradition. Thus it is safe to conclude that the Neophyte 0=0 ritual should be based upon alchemy, and not the other way around…
Let me make this point clear:
Z2 Alchemy is based upon Z1.
Z1 is the Neophyte initiation process.
If that process is not based on alchemy…
Then why would the Z2 correctly create the Stone?
Something is a bit fudged up here, but we’ll explore this in the next post.
Looking at the original Z2 alchemy operation it is brilliant in many ways. But it does stretch the alchemical process to fit the ritual. That much is clear.
What is important about the Z2 itself is the brilliance it offers in connecting ritual work with alchemical operations. I mean alchemical laboratory work could be just carried out mechanically without regard to prayer or invocations. But the Z2 here makes a major contribution to R.C alchemy, by staging the ceremonial side from the Neophyte ritual and projecting its ceremonial phases onto the steps you’re doing while you’re going at it with furnace, glassware and liquids.
Just as ‘ora et labora’ means ‘pray and work,’ the Z2 offers a theurgic approach to run alongside the lab process in such a way that encapsulates the ORA of the labora perfectly.
This is especially useful in that although ritual and mysticism always went hand in hand with alchemy, the operative alchemical manuscripts remained elusive on the ritual methods needed.
The GuRC did introduce ritual operations alongside alchemy, particularly in its ‘Fraternitatis Roseae et Aureae Crucis – Liber II: “De Magia Divina et Naturali cum Chymico-Magicae Secretorum.” Thus in the history of the Rosicrucians the Z2 alchemy process was a natural evolution.
Transforming the ritual process into an alchemical process took interesting turns. Where in the ritual the candidate sees two officers, one in the west and one in the east, the Z2 alchemical practice replaces the officers with the sun and moon, exposing the alchemical fermentation to their rays. I had thought this a new idea from the Golden Dawn but it appears in the Motus Liber which tells us to collect the dew and ferment it under the moonlight as well. The Magia Divina introduces the solar rays part to the Rosicrucian process but uses magical mirrors to project the rays into the vessel.
Concluding how much alchemy the original Order did, it appears Ayton was the real practitioner. His notebooks also contain alchemical rituals based on the Z2 alchemy. But it remains; lab alchemy remained secondary in the original Golden Dawn, which clearly prefers to subject the candidate to the process of transmutation. Practical alchemy took a back seat. However this was not a bad thing.
After all, in my last post on Rosicrucian alchemy it was established while there are many forms of alchemy, the form of alchemy that is SPECIFIC to the ROSICRUCIAN tradition was in fact an INTERNAL art that applied the process to body. Thus we should be looking for that practice in the Golden Dawn.
This is after all a Rosicrucian Review and not a general alchemical one.
So far we’ve covered the early phase of G.D alchemy.
Next I’ll go into the Stella Matutina and Alpha et Omega alchemy approaches, and then round off with what modern G.D leaders are teaching.
So the final alchemy score will have to wait till the next blog post.
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With warmest wishes, Samuel Robinson