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Archive for the ‘Alchemy’ Category

The last two astronomers I’m going to expound upon have a book written about them entitled Tycho and Kepler: The Unlikely Partnership that Forever Changed our Understanding of the Heavens. It’s written by a woman named Kitty Ferguson. (I love that name…Kitty Ferguson…what a terrific marriage of whimsy and pragmatism!) Usually I find historical non-fiction books a bit dry, but this one was rather a good read. I think it might be the first book of it’s type that I read all the way through and mostly in order. Usually I get bored and skip around a lot, which sometimes leads to eventual completion and other times to confusion and abandonment.

Anyway.  Tycho (pronounced like Tee-ko or more accurately Tÿcho, which was a Latinized version of his given name Tyge) Brahe and Johannes Kepler were unlikely candidates for “The Partnership that Forever Changed the Way We View the Heavens.” Here’s a little breakdown of what I’ve learned from Kitty Ferguson (I’ll do Tycho first, he was older):

Tycho Brahe was born in Denmark in 1546, into a family of great wealth. When he was two years old, his aunt and uncle (his father’s brother) kidnapped him from his parent’s castle and took him to their own castle a few hours away. Apparently his parents didn’t mind so very much that he was stolen from them. His father Otte did threaten to murder his brother if Tycho wasn’t returned, but they never made any attempt to retrieve him. This may have had to do with the fact that Otte’s wife Beate gave birth to eleven children and Jørgen and Inger, the aunt and uncle, had none, save young Tycho.

The kidnapping turned out to be a boon for Tycho, because his aunt Inger’s family were scholors, while the Brahe’s were militiamen. Otte felt that there was no need to study Latin, while Inger’s family made certain that Tycho had the best education available at the time. (One of Inger’s closest friends was Princess Anne of Denmark, one of the few recorded female alchemists.) Tycho grew up to be very suave and confident as he mingled with royalty. He understood etiquette and custom to a fine, fine point. His style and flair at kingly court was matched only by his exacting methodology and mathematical genius. Jørgen wanted Tycho to become a lawyer but Tycho wanted only to study the stars, which he did secretly, unbeknownst to the “preceptor” (sort of like a mild spy/nanny) that Jørgen hired to attend University of Copenhagen with fifteen-year-old Tycho.

Eventually Jørgen died and Tycho was able to study the skies out of the closet, so to speak. (He was still hampered by the fact that noblemen were not supposed to lower themselves to such petty careers as scientists, but he was able to find ways to buck that system as he grew older more savvy to the politics of the day.) Shortly after his foster father’s death, Tycho had an argument with a cousin over which man was the better mathematician. The quarrel came to blows and a portion of Tycho’s nose was severed. It took him a full season to heal from the wound, but in this time his lifelong interest in medicinal alchemy was set. Tycho had a two new noses sculpted from metal–one of lightweight copper for everyday use, and another of gold and silver mixed together (fleshtone) for special occasions. He attached the nose to his face with special adhesive salve.

Tycho eventually became the premier astronomer in Europe during a time of great observation and theory making. Tycho rejected Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, although he knew things weren’t so simple as Ptolemy made them out to be. Tycho tried to have his cake and eat it too, coming up with the geo-heliocentric model: the Moon and the Sun revolve around the Earth, everything else revolves around the Sun.

Not surprisingly, it was Tycho’s astronomical observations and the instruments he invented and built to make them (along with his political schmoozing) and not fabulous attempt at a new cosmological theory that made him famous. Tycho built three huge observatories in his life, Uraniborg and Stjerneborg on the island of Hven in Denmark and another outside Prague later in his life. He spent forty years attempting to make the world’s most accurate empirical measurements of the stars, planets, and comets.

Interesting Brahe-ian tidbits:

Wikipedia says that Tycho kept a clairvoyant dwarf and a court jester at his lavish observatory on the Danish island Hven. He also had a beloved tame moose-like animal, which got into the beer hold one evening, became intoxicated and died falling down the stairs of the castle. This marked the beginning of a very sad time in Tycho’s life.

Tycho was incredibly secretive of his observational records, preferring to keep them to himself and a very close assistants, rather than publish them. He was fearful that other would-be astronomers would steal his ideas, which they often ended up doing anyway.

Tycho Brahe published several books (some from his personal printing press at Hven) despite the fact that noblemen weren’t supposed to stoop to such lowly scholarly activities.

Tycho tutored a young, upstart Protestant mathematician named Johannes Kepler who was fleeing a spirituality torn Germany. Tycho was suspicious that Kepler was a spy for many, many months and refused to show Kepler his life’s work of observations until a few days prior to his death.

Tycho died of either a.) a burst bladder brought on by the fact that he wouldn’t get up to urinate during a royal dinner (it wasn’t polite) or b.) he was poisoned with mercury by an unknown murderer.

More on Johannes Kepler next time around…

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(Aster Blooms photographed by André Karwath aka Aka)

I’ve been seeing this pretty little flower all around town of late. How could I have missed this all summer long? I asked my 11-year-old what kind of flower it was because she has a memory like a steel trap when it comes to flowers. She told me that it was a Michaelmas Daisy. Ah! I didn’t miss it after all! It only blooms in the fall, during the time of St. Michael, chief general of the divine army.

According to this lovely site, archangel Michael is given four duties:to fight against Satan, to swoop in at the hour of death and rescue the souls of the innocent from evil forces, to be the champion and patron of God’s people, and to weigh human’s souls in order to bring them to justice. Muslims revere Michael (as well as the Christian and Jewish faiths).

In Muslim lore [Michael] is described with four wings that are emerald green and hair of saffron. Each strand of hair has a million faces with a million mouths and tongues that speak in a million dialects. They believe that Mikha’il uses all of his mouths to plead with Allah to forgive the sins of humankind. (quoted from here)

Michael is the end of the road…the buck stops with him, so to speak. I suppose that is why he honored in the fall, the beginning of the end of the cycle. This was the time in medieval history (the period of origin for the Michaelmas feast, which falls on September 29th) when the bills were due, workmen were hired for the the year, accounts were settled and the harvests pulled in and distributed. And, as it so happens, the time when the Michaelmas Daisy blooms…

At first this flower appears to be a simple blue/purple flower, almost easily overlooked as a decorative weed. However, upon further meditation and research, this lovely flower shows another face. The Michaelmas Daisy  is a member of the Aster family. It is named after the goddess Astraea, who was forced to leave the earth as humanity degenerated into violence and war. A great flood washed over the earth, cleansing away the evil. After the flood, saddened Astraea’s tears fell from Libra and Virgo as stardust. Where they landed grew Michaelmas Daisies. (Incidentally, the word aster means star, sharing roots with asterisk, asteroid and disaster…)

The Michaelmas Daisy has a long history of mystical, magical and medicinal uses.

The Chippewa Indians used Michaelmas daisy in hunting magic, smoking the dried roots as a way to attract game (consider using it for other sorts of hunting, for instance, seeking a lover or finding an object). The Iroquois employed this starwort as hunting medicine and in love charms, which shows its rulership by Venus (it has been used to treat skin problems, a Venus trait for medicinal herbs). The Meskwaki and Potowatami made a smudge with it to awaken unconscious people, which points to possible modern-day magical uses in other types of awakenings, as in initiation or awakening one’s Third Eye.

Michaelmas also marked the beginning of hunting season in Ireland, which ties it to the use of Michaelmas daisy as a hunting charm in North America. And of course, since it is associated with the Archangel Michael, it can be helpful for angel magic. (qtd. from here)

According to Scott Cunningham (Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs) that Aster is ruled by the planet/goddess Venus and, as such, makes a great love potion. More cool facts:

The aster was sacred to the gods and so wreaths of asters were placed on their altars. Aster leaves were burned to keep away evil spirits and drive away serpents in ancient Greece. The bite from a mad dog was cured by an ointment made from asters. Pliny the Elder recommended a tea of aster in cases of snake bite and an aster amulet to ease the pain of sciatica – and Virgil wrote that the flavour of honey would be improved if asters were boiled in wine and placed near a beehive. The aster is considered a herb of Venus and like the daisy, which belongs to the same family of Compositæ, it has been used in love divinations. (qtd. from here)

So take a peek around you when you go for a walk in the next few weeks…perhaps you’ll spot a patch of Astraea’s tears. For me, the Aster is a great reminder that every little plant has it’s history and mystery.

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(William Shakespeare)

Several years ago when I was in college writing a paper on something important involving things that had to do with my education, I distracted myself by reading an online dissertation on whether Shakespeare really wrote all those plays. This morning, for some weird reason, I woke up thinking about this topic, so I thought I’d write about it.

Shakespeare is/was a beloved writer. Or at least, we think he is/was. There happens to be a plethora of evidence that suggests a fraud. I will list some of this information (which I found  here and here and in the [awesome] book The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall) for your perusal.

1. If you were famous, don’t you think that your family would talk about that a little bit to one another? My brother recently took a photograph of David Hasselhoff and I’ve told no fewer than several thousand people about it. And that’s David Hasselhoff. Shakespeare was the JK Rowling of the Renaissance. One would think that his family might have sent each other a letter or two about how great that was. No such letters or communication exist. Nothing. (As a matter of fact,  Shakespeare’s parents and at least some of his children were illiterate.)

2. There are only six known examples of Shakespeare’s handwriting in existence. All of these examples are signatures, and three of them are in his will.

The scrawling, uncertain method of their execution stamps Shakespeare as unfamiliar with the use of a pen, and it is obvious either that he copied a signature prepared for him or that his hand was guided while he wrote. (Manly P. Hall)

Hmmmmmmmm.

3. Stratford on Avon only had a grammar school (King Edward IV Grammar School) meaning Shakespeare had only the equivalent of an eighth grade education. Further, there is no evidence that he ever travelled outside England. There is also no evidence that William Shakespeare had a library. In his will, WS makes special notice of his “second best bed” and his “broad silver gilt bowl” but makes no mention of any books, manuscripts, or unpublished work, which, it would seem, should have been the most valuable of his possessions.

Where did William Shakespeare secure his knowledge of modern French, Italian, Spanish and Danish, to say nothing of classical Latin and Greek? The philosophic ideals promulgated throughout the Shakespearian plays demonstrate their author to have been thoroughly familiar with certain doctrines and tenets peculiar to Rosicrucianism; in fact the profundity of the Shakespearian productions stamps their creator as one of the illuminati of the ages. (Manly P. Hall)

4. Lastly I will mention the strange inscription on William Shakespeare’s tombstone. It reads:

Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare, To digg the dust enclosed heare. Blese be ye man that spares the stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.

Some folks say that other folks were trying to keep a third kind of folks’s prying shovels away from an empty coffin…

So, if William Shakespeare didn’t write all those plays, than who did? And why did the person use an alternate identity? Manly P. Hall has a suggestion. He says that Francis Bacon, the alchemist, wrote the plays. Bacon renounced all personal credit to his work when he entered the secret society of the Rosicrucians (Hall has a LOT of other evidence to back up his claim, but I haven’t got room for that today). Sam Sloan says that a woman named Elizabeth Vere wrote the plays and gave credit to WS because a woman couldn’t write a play and be taken seriously at the time.

Who knows what the truth is? Nobody. Certainly not me. But it is interesting. (I sense a Francis Bacon biography blog post in the works…)


(Francis Bacon)

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(photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

In the book Dreaming the Future, Clifford Pickover describes a few themes recorded during several future life progressions (as opposed to past life regressions):

21st Century-World peace is attained and lasts three thousand years. Hunger, greed and prejudice are reduced. 22nd Century-Solar power is part of daily life. The average life span is ninety years. 23rd Century-Transportation is noiseless and efficient. Nuclear power is used extensively. Average life span is 110 years. 24th Century-Humankind reexperiences earlier mistakes. International political problems recur. A small scale-nuclear war reduces human population. 25th Century-Humans control the weather. Androids perform all menial tasks. A major nuclear war occurs that decimates most of humanity.

When I first read this, I was surprised that nuclear power was a major source of energy. I had always thought the nuclear power was bad, bad, baaaaddd. So I looked it up on Wikipedia. Here’s the skinny:

Nuclear power is cheap (around the same cost as coal), it doesn’t produce smoke or carbon dioxide pollutants, it requires very little fuel to create a LOT of energy, and there is only just a small amount of waste produced in nuclear power production. HOWEVER, that small amount of waste is highly toxic (can cause genetic mutation, cancer, and death) and takes 10,000 to 1,000,000 years to break down.

Sheesh.

So as I’m reading this on Wikipedia, I run across a curious word: transmutation. Transmutation is an alchemical term. Yes, alchemy. The scientific study of the ancients (Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Indians, Persians, Greco-Romans, medieval Islamics as well as the ancient Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans). Alchemy is the art of refinement. The alchemist’s goal is to separate the ingredients of different chemicals and refine them using various means (extraction, fire, distillation, etc.) to their purest form. The most popular goal of alchemy is turning lead into gold, however, alchemy is first and foremost a spiritual discipline. Transmuting base metals into gold is a metaphor for purifying the human body, with the highest goal being no less than immortality (enlightenment).

What can this have to do with nuclear waste? Well, here it is: scientists have discovered ways to transmute the elements (not fire, water, air and earth…I’m talking about the actual elements on the periodic table). In 1901 Fredrick Soddy noticed that thorium can convert into radium. In 1919 Ernest Rutherford converted nitrogen into oxygen. And in 1957 scientists recorded their discoveries that elements are transmuted in the fires of the stars. Now, scientists are using this nuclear transmutation, a hearkening back to the theories of the ancients, to de-toxify radioactive waste.

Transmutation was banned in the US in April 1977 by President Carter due to the danger of plutonium proliferation, but President Reagan rescinded the ban in 1981. Due to the economic losses and risks, construction of reprocessing plants during this time did not resume. Due to high energy demand, work on the method has continued in the EU. This has resulted in a practical nuclear research reactor called Myrrha in which transmutation is possible. Additionally, a new research program called ACTINET has been started in the EU to make transmutation possible on a large, industrial scale. According to President Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) of 2007, the US is now actively promoting research on transmutation technologies needed to markedly reduce the problem of nuclear waste treatment. (from Wikipedia)

Wow. Maybe there’s hope yet. (At least until the 25th Century that is…)

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Once, when I was a kid, somebody told me about the fight between creationists and evolutionaryists. I looked up some information in my red Encyclopedia Britanica. I couldn’t figure out who was right. So I asked my mom, who usually knew the answers. She said both were right.

Both.

Can you believe it? Two totally opposite viewpoints which, on the surface, seem to be completely contradictory, are simultaneously right. Her simple explanation was that God started the Big Bang. To my young mind, the answer was genius. Why couldn’t everyone else see that?

John Dee (13 July 1527-1608 or 1609) was a noted mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination, and Hermetic philosophy.

Dee straddled the worlds of science and magic just as they were becoming distinguishable. (from Wikipedia) (I like that last sentence.)

John Dee, in between his algebra lectures and his medical practice, was involved with alchemy and the art of calling angels. He used a black crystal stone (given to him by a boy-shaped angel)  and an obsidian mirror for scrying, although he preferred to let his friend Edward Kelly do the scrying while he took notes.

The angels taught Dee the ‘language of Enoch,’ which was supposedly spoken by Adam before the Fall. Kelly, in a trance, dictated to Dee The Book of Enoch, which revealed the mysteries of creation. (from The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft Magic, by Susan Greenwood)

Dee’s life ended poorly. He broke off connections with Kelly when Kelly told him that the angels wished for Dee to share his wife with his friend. His benefactor, Queen Elizabeth died. Her successor James I had no sympathy for divination and provided him no respite. His books and property were stolen. He died a pauper. But he had lived with a vision. His vision was to see the ultimate truth.

Dee did not draw distinctions between his mathematical research and his investigations into Hermetic magic, angel summoning and divination. Instead he considered all of his activities to constitute different facets of the same quest: the search for a transcendent understanding of the divine forms which underlie the visible world, which Dee called “pure verities.”

His ultimate goal was to help bring forth a unified world religion through the healing of the breach of the Catholic and Protestant churches and the recapture of the pure theology of the ancients. (Wikipedia)

Wow.

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(etching by Durer: Knight, Death and the Devil)

I nearly lit my kitchen on fire burning the plant feces (also called caput mortuum or dead head) in the last steps of my calcining process. Who would’ve known that the grain alcohol would explode with such ferocity? And who could’ve guessed how easily the trusty terry cloth oven mitt would catch on fire when put in direct contact with a 6- inch fireball?

But don’t worry. I got the salts. My tincture is complete. My metaphorical house guest, my little child of spirit has been birthed.

Non nobis Domine! Non nobis, sed nomini tuo do Gloriam! (that means “Not unto us, O Lord! Not unto us, but unto Thy name give Glory!” Mark Stavish says that this is the motto of a true alchemist, because an alchemist is not working just for herself, but to help all humankind.)

I must admit, standing over my crucible (ok, it was a mixing bowl) and stirring the embers of my caput mortuum (I guess I prefer this to feces), smoke filling the kitchen, I felt the presence of Paracelsus. I imagined him grinding black coals and burning them down to ash, perpetually refining his surroundings.

For it is we who must pray for our daily bread, and if He grants it to us, it is only through our labour, our skill and preparation. –Paracelsus

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A few weeks ago I became intrigued with Vincent van Gogh. I remembered a story that a teacher told me, about how van Gogh shot himself in the stomach (which is an excruciating place to be injured) and that it took two days for him to die. His last words were, “Who knew that life could be so sad?”  (The teacher wondered why he had chosen to shoot himself in the stomach. He conjectured a guess that perhaps that is where his pain was coming from. Solve et coagula.)

It has been said that Vincent van Gogh saw the world differently than others, which is reflected in his paintings.  It is certainly true that he related with others in a very different way than was socially acceptable (beyond cutting off his own earlobe, he held his hand in a lit lantern to convince a girl’s parents to let him see her, he threatened Gauguin with a razor blade after throwing a cup of absinthe at him [on a slightly different note, after being threatened by the blade, Gauguin apparently decided to try and stare van Gogh down which is not the course that I would have chosen in that situation. Alas, I wasn’t there. Had I been, history would have certainly been very different.], and he agreed to marry a woman ten years his senior, who he didn’t love, because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Or something like that.)

Vincent suffered in his life, that is assured. He failed at dealing art, quit his teaching job because he wasn’t being paid, was fired from a missionary gig, and failed the examinations for the ministry after fifteen months of study. At this point, he decided to become an artist, despite the fact that his mother thought his drawings were “ugly.”

After this, things got a little bit depressing. He was starving most of this time because he spent his money on art supplies, he had hallucinations and heard voices in his head, he poisoned himself by eating his own paint (probably accidentally), he couldn’t sell any paintings (the only one ever sold while he was alive is pictured above) and no women wanted him except the one he didn’t love. And yet, he continued to paint every day. In his words: “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”

Was it really necessary for him to make that choice? What about contentment? Where does that fit in? It is my goal to be happy by not holding grudges, by not talking negatively about people, by being compassionate.  My counselor once asked me if I wanted to become Jesus and I said yes. Why not?

But she (my counselor) felt like we need conflict in our lives in order to live authentically, to continue peeling back the layers of the onion. So here’s the question: If van Gogh could have been more content, would he have been able to paint the way he did?

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