Impression of Contentment…

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Pablo Picasso
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso image Wikipedia

I never really got contentment. “Are you happy?” I once asked a friend. “No, but I am content,” was his reply. To me, it wasn’t enough. It seemed like accepting some kind of mediocrity. I was young then and life was lived in all the vivid hues of passion. Emotion ran sky high or hit the depths… the times in between were bland, a mere waiting for the next rise and fall of the rollercoaster.

Emotions, back then, were all sharp-edged, like a cubist painting… and like such works, always disassembling the object of them to examine them from every angle. Some of the edges were so sharp you would bleed if you touched them… but you were alive. There were no in-between days of grey and dun.

Alizarine: sandorfi, maklary
Alizarine: Etienne Sandorfi, image: Maklary

A little older and the days took on a greater realism. The consequences of action and reaction were more direct as the responsibilities of adulthood were revealed in stark detail. Like looking in the mirror, these days reflected back at you only what you projected into them. The colours were still sharp; the detail and emotion clear… all the edges well-defined. A delineated life, with specific duties… niches for the fragmented self that is required by the roles demanded by the varied aspects of a society that likes to label everything.

But even that changed, morphing into abstraction where the lines and stark hues threw everything into question and the secure assumptions of youth that had flown direct as arrows suddenly seemed to realise that infinity is not a straight line. Stubbornly held beliefs were taken out of the strongbox and held up to the Light. Some were found to be tarnished, others broken, some simply too outmoded to be of any pertinent use. Yet there is a freedom in that de-cluttering of heart and mind, a simplicity that leaves much open to interpretation and, like a gallery, the fewer you hold on to, the more you can begin to appreciate what remains in all its glory.

The Depth of Woman by Benjamin Prewiit
The Depth of Woman by Benjamin Prewitt

These days I have a preference for a more Impressionistic style. I like my edges softer, the detail less focussed. I like to be able to stand back and lose myself in the moment in order to see a bigger picture, full of suggestions and possibilities half-glimpsed; open to the imagination and the emotional whispering of the heart-centred soul. There is something about this time that both softens and excites. I find that I like the lack of definition, the gaps only my heart and mind can fill. Instead of wondering about the name of the artist, I ask instead what message they were trying to convey.

And finally, I know contentment. It is not that there is nothing I could wish had been different. Nor is it that there is no looking back in the knowledge that I could have done things differently… for better or worse… Yet there is an acceptance that everything has its purpose. Like the myriad dots of a pointillist painting, each speck of experience may seem out of place when looked at too closely in time and emotion, yet stand back and the colours of the days blend and merge into something beautiful, understandable and whole, where every scrap of colour is in the perfect place.

A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte,_Georges_Seurat,_1884
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat. Image Wikipedia

There is a new beauty… and it is far from the mediocrity of my youthful disdain. The colours of this new world are deep and rich, their contrasts sing against each other, dark illuminating light. I can see that both are needful and their harmony beautiful. The detail fades in importance; the whole is where the story lies, waiting for our eyes to read it on a wider canvas than the frantic myopia of youth can encompass. The frame of my days holds a beauty only the heart can see and its starry skies are streaked by the fingertips of the creator.

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh
The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh. Imgae: Wikipedia

Newton: Wholesome Soul…

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To round off our brief but succinct survey of the Alchemists,

we shall give some examples from the works

of those savants that we have so far considered.

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Finally for now, Isaac Newton…

“… First of all know antimony to be a crude and immature mineral having in itself

what is uniquely metallic, even though otherwise it is indigested.

Two parts of antimony with iron give a regulus which in its fourth fusion

exhibits a star!

By this sign you may know that the soul of the iron

has been made totally volatile by virtue of the antimony.

If this stellate regulus is melted with gold or silver by an ash heat

in an earthen pot, the whole regulus is evaporated.

Which is a mystery!”

The Key

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The ‘star-regulus‘ or little-king,

a diminutive of latin, rex, King

was regarded by Newton as the bright-star

in the heart of the constellion Leo, the lion.

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Do not be misled by references to on high,

these are not pyrotechnics in the sky,

but fire-works of the ‘minds-eye’…

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Paracelsus: Conscious Mind…

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To round off our brief but succinct survey of the Alchemists,

we shall give some examples from the works

of those savants that we have so far considered.

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Next up, Paracelsus…

“… It is necessary to state clearly what this Art comprises, what is its subject, and what its peculiarities.

First and chiefly, the principal subject of this Art is fire, which always exists in one and the same property and mode of operation, nor can it receive its life from anything else.

It possesses, therefore, a state and power, common to all fires which lie hidden in secret, of vivifying…

Just as the sun heats all things in the world both occult and apparent, but receives light from no other source, the ‘fire in the furnace’ may be compared to the sun. It heats the furnace and the vessels just as the sun lights the visible planets.

As nothing can be produced in this world without the sun, so also in this Art nothing can be produced without this simple fire. No operation can be completed without it.

It is the Great Arcanum of the Art!

It embraces all things which are comprised therein, neither can it be comprehended in anything else.

It abides in itself and needs nothing, but all others which stand in need of this can get fruition of it and have life from it, which is why, first of all, we have undertaken that this shall be made clear…”

Concerning the Spirits of the Planets

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It leads also, presumably, this fire, away from the Tower of Babel!

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The Alchemist: Last Judgement…

File:Gargoyles, Notre-Dame, Paris (3584514985).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

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Perhaps, taking his cue from what little was left of the Mediaeval originals,

Viollet-le-Duc incorporated and emphasised horns, and claws, and talons,

and tusks, and fangs, and beaks, and raised heckles, in his grotesques.

Even the feathers of the birds resembled scales, or chain-mail.

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Gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral - Album on Imgur

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Nature for the denizens of the two towers, which between them

encompassed the directions of West, North and South,

appeared to be red in tooth and claw,

with little or no desire to transcend that state.

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As monsters of the human mind, presumably,

this state also applied to the collective psyche,

and was, perhaps, forever exemplified by the

 inhabitants of Paris who moved through the streets below,

and over whom the grotesques so rapaciously brooded.

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Nevertheless, the monsters became objects

of deep and prolonged fascination for both Parisians

and those who came from much farther afield

to climb the spiral-stairwells, and gawp.

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File:Gargoyle, Notre Dame, Paris, France, about 1870.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

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Many of the fantastical beasts had captured prey,

and feasted, ravenously, some of them fought,

others appeared to be in the process of hunting.

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This is quite deliberate and contrasts with the Angel of the East

which sounds its heavenly horn to announce the Last Judgement.

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Parution du second volume de la biographie de Fulcanelli | Toison d'Or

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Behind Gabriel, arrayed along the length of the base of the harmonious spire,

pointing the way of ascent, stand the apostles, upright, and serene.

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But wait, what of the Christ Spirit?

Should not it too have been there?

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Folded Victory: Gargoyles at Notre-Dame de Paris | Gargoyles, De paris, Lion sculpture

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Oh, but it was…

It was one of the grotesques!

The Alchemist: ‘A Violet Duke’?…

Eugène Viollet-le-Duc - Wikipedia

Architect in the guise of Thomas-the-Apostle.

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If our Alchemist was pulling his beard,

it would be because he and the grotesques surrounding him

on the tower balustrades of Notre-Dame, Paris,

were not actually mediaeval statuary at all,

but nineteenth-century restorations.

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Charged with the task of renovation, in eighteen-hundred-and-forty-four,

Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, found only the stumps

of claws and talons on the tower corners

but with the help of a body of stonemasons

he set about re-envisioning the cathedral’s mediaeval past…

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File:Gargoyles and chimeras 1, Notre-Dame de Paris 2011.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

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They did a pretty good job!

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If our Alchemist was tugging at his beard,

it was doubtless because

he was not an alchemist at all,

but the wandering jew, Ahaservus,

as some have made claim, doomed to wander

the annals of time forever in search of his messiah…

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Gargoyle Notre Dame - Free photo on Pixabay

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But, well, really, our ‘Violet Duke’

had put enough occult blinds in his work

to obscure the Christ Spirit itself,

though that was far from his intent…

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And if our Alchemist was stroking his beard?

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If he was stroking his beard he too would be

contemplating the prospect of statuary which

had been spread out before him but apparently

just out of both reach and gaze of scrutiny.

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Notre-Dame de Paris - Wikipedia

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The restoration undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc

included a reconstruction of the cathedral’s central spire

which had been dismantled in seventeen-hundred-and-ninety-two,

and repair of the angelic horn-blower which topped the apex of the nave.

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The spire he made octagonal and along four of its edges,

he placed copper-statues

of the Evangelists, and the Twelve Apostles.

Instead of Judas Iscariot, though, he included a self-portrait,

in the guise of Thomas-the-Apostle.

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Unlike all the other figures who faced outwards

and looked far and wide to the horizons of Paris

Viollet-le-Duc faced the spire and looked up to the heavens.

Except, he appeared to have his eyes closed,

and raised an uncertain hand to his forehead in a gesture of concern.

Was he straining to hear something indistinct from above?

Had he just been struck by an omission of extreme importance?

Or was this merely Thomas-the-Apostle in the throes of his doubt?

The Alchemist…

L'Alchimie de Notre Dame de Paris – La Nuit / La Nuit

A drawing by Julien Champagne.

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Why would the Mediaeval Stonemasons sculpt figures

on the top of their buildings which no one can see from the ground?

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Like some church towers, it was possible to scale

the towers of Notre Dame, Paris, and acquire a closer view

of the sculpted forms which inhabited its roofscape.

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Should this endeavour be approached in a symbolic frame of mind,

it might be useful to regard the spiral staircase which led there,

as a series of right-angles arranged around a lineal ascent,

and to take note of how many steps were required to reach the top.

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Any work of alchemy

unfolds in a series of steps,

or processes…

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The steps themselves might be regarded

as achievements or ‘crowns’ upon the Royal Way.

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And when one reached the top?

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Of the figures on the square-sided towers

only one was nominally human.

There is no doubt, therefore, that we would

be meant to identify with him…

Julien Champagne’s illustration, above,

is a masterful representation.

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Our ‘inner’ alchemist for such as he been designated,

primarily because of his Phrygian Hat, or ‘liberty cap’,

his liberia, was nevertheless a curious figure.

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Did he stroke, tug at, or pull his beard?

All three of these actions have different connotations.

Did he strain forward to see, or call out to, or even warn,

someone below, who was ascending to reach his position?

From a different perspective his mouth can be seen to gape wide.

Was that person, if person there was, ascending to save or release him?

Or merely to question him about the strange company he kept?

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File:Chimera of Notre-Dame de Paris.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

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All the other figures that peered from the parapets

of the towers alongside the Alchemist were what might be termed

grotesques, they were certainly not gargoyles,

for gargoyles are water-channels of which these figures have none.

Most of them also appeared

to be displaying a predatory or demonic nature.

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File:Gargoyles of Notre Dame.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

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Ever vigilant over the movements of humanity,

in the busy metropolis beneath them, some of them fed…

The Alchemists: Fulcanelli…

Parution du second volume de la biographie de Fulcanelli | Toison d'Or

This skyscape no longer exists due to renovation and the recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris.

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‘There are deeper secrets in stone than in iron.’

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It is not to everyone’s taste.

Some respected proponents of the Western Mystery Tradition profess

to not caring very much for it all.

Although, I strongly suspect that their ‘not caring’ is a euphemism for non-understanding.

It is a mystery certainly.

But one all but impossible to ignore if you are engaged upon

a search for meaning in life.

What were they about, these savants?

At odds with the mainstream yet courted by kings.

Their published claims regarded by most as gibberish.

That term itself a reference to Geber, one of the most illustrious of their ilk.

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We have already briefly considered, Newton, today regarded as a ‘man of science’

but at heart a seeker after the secret fire,

and Paracelsus, nowadays regarded as a quack doctor

but in fact an early practitioner of both Homeopathy and Mesmerism,

and today, we shall take a look at Fulcanelli…

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But already we run into difficulties.

For one thing, we do not know what Fulcanelli looks like,

or indeed, if he exists, or even if he ever existed at all!

He is purported to be the author of two books:

The Mystery of the Cathedrals and Dwellings of the Philosophers.

Both are classics of esoteric science.

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‘…Cathedrals’ sets out to explain the ‘books written in stone’,

which are the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe,

and really, who could do such a thing without being involved in some way

in their construction or design?

For the most part, these art-works of stone were designed

and constructed during the Middle Ages.

The book was written in the nineteen twenties,

and is not the work of a young man.

As late as Nineteen-Seventy-Eight adepts were claiming

to have spoken with Fulcanelli in Florence!

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Perhaps the claims of the Alchemists are not entirely without foundation?

His name means, ‘Little Volcano’ or ‘Mini-Vulcan’.

Could we translate this as ‘The Gentle Flame’?

It would be nice to think that we could…

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Let us then take our flame and apply it to the following question:

Why would the Mediaeval Stonemasons sculpt figures

on the top of their buildings which no one can see from the ground?

Interlude ~ Before the Stones

The trouble with writing about somewhere like Stonehenge… somewhere that almost everyone recognises and feels they know something … is that most of us know nothing at all apart from the familiar form of the circle and trilithons.

We just accept that this is an ancient monument, built by people who were maybe not quite as savage as we generally think, for some strange ritual purpose… probably to do with the stars or planets. Or it was built by the Druids? And all the stones came from Wales… And that really is about all most of us know…and most of that is wrong or at least, woefully incomplete.

Stonehenge… the first part of the name is thought to come from the old word for ‘hanging stones’… or ‘stones suspended in air’. The ‘henge’ refers to an outer and circular earthen embankment with an internal ditch, such as the one around the great circle of Avebury, where we had been earlier that afternoon. At Stonehenge, however, the ditch is outside the embankment; just one of many of the anomalies of this site that make it quite unique. Time, feet and erosion have taken their toll on the henge, but the ditch and banks, overlooked by most, can still be seen on the outer edge of the monument field.

Then there are the misconceptions about its timeline… for the circle was built in phases on a site already held and made sacred by the many burials it contained. And then there is the sheer scale of the site… because you simply cannot ignore the number of other archaeological features that cluster around the circle, rippling out across the wider landscape to include many miles and the mindboggling possibility that the vast sites around both Stonehenge and Avebury were designed to work together. And, even when you stand within the circle, it looks something of a jumble to begin with until you begin teasing apart the layers of history. So where do you begin?

Showing just the major monuments immediately around Stonehenge. Image: © Martin J. F. Fowler

At Blick Mead, about a mile from the circle of Stonehenge, is a freshwater spring that neither fails nor freezes all year round. Not only would this water source have made the area useful for both people and animals… it was also a magical spot. And its magic remains to this day, suggesting a second reason why our ancestors chose to settle here. The water of the spring contains a rare algae, turning stones that have been in the water red within an hour or so of being exposed to air. Not surprising, then, that ten thousand years ago, towards the end of the Mesolithic period, when the hunter-gatherer culture of the Middle Stone Age was beginning to settle in one place instead of always following the herds, a settlement should have been built at Blick Mead.

We know from other sites across the country, such as Star Carr in North Yorkshire, that there was a sense of magic and ritual within the human community at that time. The ground conditions at Star Carr preserved unusual amounts of organic material, including a number of headdresses… antler frontlets, made from the horned skulls of red deer, artworks and ornaments. Some of these had been deliberately broken, which implies either gratitude or a sacrifice to some higher power. Which in turn suggests that reverence and spiritual beliefs were well-formed and ingrained.

Unsophisticated caveman?

We know too from sites such as Warren Field in Aberdeenshire, that these Mesolithic peoples were capable of constructing complex sites. Warren Field also dates back ten thousand years and its pits and a midwinter alignment within the landscape constitute an accurate lunar calendar.

The fact that these three sites alone, Stonehenge, Star Carr and Warren Field, are spread end to end across our country, tells us that there was more travel and interaction between areas and tribal groups than we might at first have thought… and thus a sharing of knowledge and techniques was possible that would rapidly disseminate ideas.

Studies run by the University of Buckingham conclude that the settlement at Blick Mead shaped Salisbury Plain to their needs over the course of several thousand years. Six thousand years ago, the trees were cleared across the Plain. A causewayed enclosure was built at Robin Hood’s Ball near Amesbury, just a few miles walk across the Plain. Long barrows began to appear too… and there are well over three hundred known barrows within just a two mile radius of the circle at Stonehenge… around eight hundred in all.

Timeline of major landscape features around Stonehenge.

Not every body warranted a barrow burial, but many of those who were so buried were interred with rich and beautiful things. This gives an idea if the importance of the area in spiritual or ancestral terms. As each of the ancestors were lain in earth, perhaps their spirits added to the cumulative wisdom of the land and its people. Perhaps the presence of the dead rendered the living fit for the priesthood. Perhaps, after millennia of association, it was from the community at Blick Mead that the idea sprang to raise a forest of stone beneath the stars…

Anatomy of Evil?…

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We commenced our survey of St Michael and St George,

many months ago now, by querying the notion that,

according to a number of well-known esotericists, in 1879

a great victory of light over darkness had been achieved.

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One of these eminent esotericist even went as far as to suggest

that the age of the ‘Kali Yuga’ had ended in this year.

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Notwithstanding the inadvisability of mixing

eastern and western esoteric traditions in this way,

not to mention, cosmic and historical time frames,

subsequent historical events tend to contradict this assertion,

and perhaps even suggest the complete opposite.

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Visions, dreams, and icons are always, and for all time,

open to interpretation, and re-interpretation,

or at least, in a free democracy, they always should be.

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Toeing a particular party line may seem expedient

at one time or another

but is usually antithetical to any notions of ultimate truth.

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So, what do we do when we are accosted by a vision

of St Michael in the form of a stained glass window

in Skipton Church?

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We head off to Cornwall, of course…

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The genesis and development of this theme is covered

in a series of nine of our books which commences with, The Initiate…