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To: alt.magick
From: LeGrand Cinq-Mars
Subj: Alchemy (0000.alchemy.lcm)
Date: unknown

(1) I do think Jung makes some good points, and that Jung's approach to
alchemical texts sometimes pay off, and that his argument is subtler and
more defensible than josh suggests -- or than those who pass Jung's name
over their own readings usually understand;

(2) I think (1) despite the fact that there are some very real problems
with Jung's approach, not least of which is a blurring of lines between
culture, tradition, convention and learning on one hand and "unconscious
processes" on the other;

(3) I think that, although "alchemy" refers to a very wide domain,
any attempt to understand it that does not take into account the
central place of physical processes with physical goals in the alchemical
tradition is bound to be at best limited and incomplete.  "Psychological"
and "spiritual" readings can be generated of just about anything.  But
a psychospiritual reading of a VW repair manual won't necessarily help
you get your bug moving, while an auto-repair reading might well do
so.  The latter, of course, means you have to get your hands dirty.

(4) Even late alchemists (e.g. Thomas Vaughan, Isaac Newton) were
working with metals, with very traditional aims. Their laboratory
notebooks survive and have been studied.

(5)  For Newton, look at

 Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter, 1930-
 The Janus faces of genius : the role of alchemy in Newton's thought /
 Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs.
 Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1991.

 Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter, 1930-
 The foundations of Newton's alchemy : or, "The hunting of the greene
 lyon" / Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs.
 Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1975.

(6) Recent work on earlier alchemical texts:

 Constantinus, Pisanus, 13th cent.  Obrist, Barbara.  Centre national de
 la recherche scientifique.
 Constantine of Pisa, The book of the secrets of alchemy : introduction,
 critical edition, translation and commentary / by Barbara Obrist with the
 collaboration of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique.
 Liber secretorum alchimie. English & Latin
 Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1990.

 Geber, 13th cent.  Newman, William Royall.
 The Summa perfectionis of Pseudo-Geber : a critical edition, translation
 and study / by William R. Newman.
 Summa perfectionis magisterii. English & Latin
 Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1991.

(7)  Nevertheless, the domain of "alchemy" is much broader than this,
and I'm not easy with insisting that the "lab-ability," so to speak,
is the touchstone to distinguish true from false texts.  (A typical
candidate for the alchemical fringe is
 Cohausen, Johann Heinrich, 1665-1750.  Campbell, John, 1708-1775.
 Goldsmid, Edmund.
 Hermippus redivivus; or, The sage's triumph over old age and the grave,
 wherein, a method is laid down for prolonging the life and vigour of man.
 Including a commentary upon an antient inscription, in which this great
 secret is revealed; supported by numerous authorities.  The whole
 interspersed with a great variety of remarkable and well attested
 relations.  London, Printed for J. Nourse.  MDCCXLIV. Ed. by Edmund
 Edinburgh, 1885.

--a precursor to a kind of sexualized alchemy of the breath of the sort one
finds later (in the 19th century).

(8) I think sweeping general claims about "alchemy" are hard to justify;
that it's best to stick with particulars.  To be in a position to say
anything definitive, or even worth saying at all, about alchemy in
general is something that requires a great deal of work.  When I hear
people make glib general formulations "("alchemy is a way of the
soul"), I take their statements as evidence that they haven't done
much of any of that work.

(9) I have only done a very little real work with alchemical texts and
procedures -- the results of which have convinced me largely that 
general claims about "alchemy" are usually rash oversimplifications
at best.


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