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Archive through April 23, 2002

Sepulchritude Forum » The Absinthe Forum Archive thru June 2002 » Archive Thru April 2002 » Alchemy's failing? » Archive through April 23, 2002 « Previous Next »

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Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 4:18 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

quilts? what happened to building birdhouses? how decadent we've become...
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 3:39 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


I also saw "Pushing hands", though I don't recall the bowl episode.

I said that I caught a salt shaker, not that I am the next Bruce Lee.

My next post is going to be about quilts. Would that be uncontroversial enough?
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 2:59 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Dr. O,

My ass. I saw Ang Lee's PUSHING HANDS too. Actually, it was a bowl of food, not a salt shaker. Next you'll tell us about how 50 police officers couldn't arrest you because they couldn't move you from where you stood...


Oh you gullible boy. You really bought into that shaved head, "vow of poverty" shtick? Two words: 'tourist money'.

Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 2:56 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

It's funny to watch goth people pretend to do Tai Chi in a club and to The Sisters of Mercy. Bet some old Tai Chi master is rolling over in his grave.
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 2:47 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

A personal anectdote.

Some years ago I was doing T'ai Chi like a religion. 1 to 1 1/2 hours a day. And veeery slowly, taking 1 hour to do the Yang style Long Form.

One day I was at the table with friends. I was talking to someone on my left, and gesticulating, in typical Italian fashion. My right hand tipped a salt shaker that was near the edge of the table. And instantly, without even looking, I caught the salt shaker in the air.

My reflexes have always been dreadful. I'm hopeless at ping-pong.

I looked at that salt shaker for a moment wondering: Did I actually do this?

To this day, it is for me a mystery how a slow form can improve one's reflexes.
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 2:15 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

They were monks, not soldiers. Doing very physically demanding regimens of meditation.

So they needed to work out and Gung Fu was developed.

Most people would not be in a monastary with a shaved head and a bowl and a vow of poverty, either.

Eh, mister cynical blowtorch wielding guy?

Nice to see you again BTW.
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 1:20 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

"There is creditiable evidence that Gung Fu was developed as an aid to meditation- that is, a physical activity to help promote the search for enlightenment."

Yes, but I think you have it backwards. I suspect enlightenment was mostly sought in order to better kick ass. I tend to think that people are mostly greedy, selfish and stupid, no matter what era or culture they are in. I can't see people thinking "Gosh, I really want to do good and be enlightened and at one with the universe, so I'll do this Gung Fu thing... Wait! What's this? You mean I can kick people's asses and take their stuff too? Who'da thunk it?"

Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 12:56 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

"That would be a good idea is we could assume that there are both (1) something new (2) and some with a spiritually blank slate. "

Herein lies a basic difference in our outlooks- I find it is possible to use nearly any activity, any type of effort, to effect the great work.

So essentially, anything that has no developed spiritual side- this would exclude eastern martial arts, and of course alchemy- is a blank slate. It needs only a system to be developed.

I'm not about to do it though- I'm happy with the path I'm on. But in your paper, I noticed a great deal of frustration with the fact that achemy is viewed as claptrap and what is viewed as Truth, the science of today, is morally dead and the spiritual equivalent of Cheetos. If a new, easier to access system were developed, you might have a lot more luck giving the West back it's soul.

One could transfer the spriritual principle- which in the end is no more (to me anyway) tied to the Mercury or Sulphur than the kicks and punches are tied to the spiritual side of Karate.

You would need to find an experienced master in Alchemy, who was an expert perhaps in the activity you chose.

The 'sacred geometry' for me is not so rigid- but then I am not hermetic. To me, all roads lead to- and away from- enlightenment.

"Originally, Tai Chi Chuan (trans. "Supreme Ultimate Boxing") was all about kicking ass, as were all forms of Chinese Gung Fu."

There is creditiable evidence that Gung Fu was developed as an aid to meditation- that is, a physical activity to help promote the search for enlightenment.

Kicking asses was, and is, a side effect, a bonus. Just like making useful chemicals is a side effect of alchemy.
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 9:53 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

By the way we should not think of asian martial art as something used only by little 5' asians. Back in college I knew a huge bear of a karateka who won second or third (can't remember) place in a national japan championship.

This guy was a 250-300 ib monster...a monster who could scratch his head with his toes and breake the table with his small finger but still a huge guy. By the way he was very nice and peacefull, like a big teddy bear.

It was the kind of guy who don't even need to fight to win a battle. Just his stare was usually enough (at the time he was a bouncer, now he probably run some martial art school...)
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 9:46 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Judging from what we can see in those stupid "Ultimate fighting championship" it's not.
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 8:53 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

There's an old and true saying: There are no martial arts, but martial artists. A good boxer would kick a bad karateka's butt anytime. And viceversa.

It was interesting to watch kickboxing professional matches. They can either kick or punch. The fact is that their stance is that of boxing and actually the rules demand that they throw so many kicks per round.

Could it be that boxing is the most effective martial art?
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 7:18 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Bruce Lees book, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do has alot of interesting points in it. Bruce Lee reinvented Martial Arts fighting. His style wasnt really a style but a combination from different fighting arts around the world. A big Martial Arts buffet. He took what he wanted and didnt bother with the rest. There were no limits and it was whatever worked for you in the street in a fight. No fixed positions, no forms or katas.. He had thousands of books in his library and from what I've read he was a south paw that admired Ali. So much in fact he would watch Ali's fights through a mirror to study how he boxed if he were in a southpaw position. He was really dedicated to being the ultimate martial artist.
Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2002 - 4:10 am:   Edit PostPrint Post


I am well aware of the martial background of T'ai Chi. The Chinese classics on the subject are quite clear on that.

But I was talking about something different. Martial arts give you the ability to turn an enemy into a pulp, but that's not their objective.

A gun would be far more effective, as the Boxer rebellion in China proved.

Martial arts are a Way, and the ultimate victory is not having to fight at all.
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 6:20 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

"Alchemy was about turning some base metal into gold as much as T'ai Chi Chuan is about turning an enemy into pulp."

You might want to brush up on your martial arts history. The new-age, airy-fairy version of Tai Chi for health and fitness is a relatively new permutation. Originally, Tai Chi Chuan (trans. "Supreme Ultimate Boxing") was all about kicking ass, as were all forms of Chinese Gung Fu.

What many people don't get is that in the orginal, historical Chinese context, all those martial arts were the equivalent of military combat training today. Hand-to-hand fighting with and without various weapons was the means of conducting war, on large and small scales. The much touted relaxed motion involved in Tai Chi was incorporated because it was quick, efficient, and effective way to punch, kick, and throw an enemy... or at least that would be what you believed if you threw your lot in with them.

Unfortunately, the important parts of Chinese martial arts have generally not been preserved through the generations due to a lack of trust between teachers and students, clanishness/xenophobia, and no real cultural mechanism to ensure faithful transmission of key teachings. Hence, the Tai Chi and Gung Fu that you see around you in the US today usually bears little resemblance to the original. Plus, from my POV, some of them seem to be based upon questionable premises, like basing techniques on the imitation of a bug or animal, instead of physics and trial-and-error.

Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 5:09 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

"that puts a better light on things"

I hope so...alchemy tends to be like high level mathematics in that outside of the system explinations on how things are and how they work tend to make little or no sense. Alchemy is often purposly like this, it is another language even when in plain english.

- J
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 5:07 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Thanks J- that puts a better light on things...
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 4:54 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

It is unclear where these associations begin. I would argue that depending on the methods used for transmutation the aforesaid elements take on different forms. For instance mercury is an occult principle if distilled, but if sublimed becomes a fixed principle. So it depends heavily on method and principle hermeneutic. Fixed, volatile, occult, and hermaphroditic natures are very school oriented, my particular school places mercury as a volatile spiritous element (I put it in the distillation period in the sign of Virgo).

As to when it is certainly something of Hermetic origin, but I would have to look it up to be sure.

Warning. Do not, Do not, do not distill mercury. I tried this (was chasing the green lion myself) when I was around 14 and the vessel broke, and if you do an x-ray on me the lungs look like a clear night, full of stars. If I get any form of lung illness it instantly turns to Pneumonia.

- J
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 4:39 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

J- just while on the topic (but off topic for absinthe)- I have often noticed that two sets of correspondence are often apparant when certain authors discuss the three principles:
some equate Sulphur- Spirit; Mercury- Soul, while others, most notably Paracelsus, equate Sulphur- Soul and Spirit-Mercury.

Have you any knowledge or insight as to when and how this has arisen?
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 4:30 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

verily verily
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 4:29 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

For those keen to learn a bit more about alchemy, the best website you can go to is

Run by Adam McLean, a truly knowledgeable gentleman of the hermetic and alchemical arts - I did his online course on alchemical symbolism a few years back which I can highly recommend.
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 2:48 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Well, the problem is many sided. First define alchemy.

Alchemy is many things to many people. It is both chemistry, sophistry, physics, metaphysics, and religious.

Also when you say alchemy when are you talking about. Are you talking about the alchemy of pre-Greek Hermeticists, Greek soluticions, Roman chemists, Chinese magicians, Arabic chemists, Medieval "Alchymysts", "English Skyptical Chymists", or quantuam chemists, all in some way can be defined in alchemical terms.

Alchemy is a religion, with a long and varied traditions all over the world. It is like talking about monotheism and trying to make sense of any claims you make about monotheism.

So yes, the alchemists did sell out in the middle ages to patrons, but their aims were clear from the beginning. Men like Edward Kelly (of John Dee fame), Thomas Norton, Thomas Robinson, etc were all "chasing the green lion" and they made no qualms about it. On the other hand Newton, Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus and the like were doing something similar overly, but distinctly different.

I am just not sure if it is possible, and certainly not helpful, to talk about alchemy without some reference to time and school (or alchemist). What was going on in the middle ages even was so varied that many schools left texts that are totally unreadable do to the nature of their work, and some read like modern chemistry manuals.

"Why not strike out on a new direction? Take some new thing, some spiritually blank slate, and draw upon it the runes showing the way."

That would be a good idea is we could assume that there are both (1) something new (2) and some with a spiritually blank slate. I am just very weary of both unilaterally accepting any tradition, and at the same time even more weary of unilaterally rejecting any tradition. Things all work into the "mystical shape of the Godhead" to borrow a phrase of Gershom Scholem and to think we can work outside of that sacred geometry is blasphemous.

As for talking about alchemy, I love the subject and am doing serious work with it on a large scale, but between school etc I don't have much time. My paper does a pretty nice job of laying out a major motif in my studies but it is certainly limited by space.
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 2:25 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

searching for the 'philosophers stone'...
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 2:16 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Methinks Rabid and Artemis are into something.

Alchemy was about turning some base metal into gold as much as T'ai Chi Chuan is about turning an enemy into pulp.
Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 1:48 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

I was under the impression that Alchemy (the process of turning base material into gold) was merely a cover story for the true aim of Alchemy (the "great work", or, turning yourself into a spiritually enlightened being), and that the cover story was made necessary by the Church frowning upon anybody pursuing the latter practice to the extent of punishing or killing them for it. And that some misguided souls actually thought Alchemy was really about turning base material into gold and pursued it accordingly.

Posted on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 12:36 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

I'm posting this here cause I think it might generate some good discussion...

But it is specifically to Justin- I read your paper, and thanks again, it rewled.

I think the great failing of alchemy- and perhaps it's saddest legacy- was in pandering to patrons. Don't get me wrong, I understand the bills must be paid.

But so many of the alchemists must have been trying to make gold for the boss- that is, the wrong reason, that the spiritual side of it fell to ruin, rotted by materialism of the basest sort.

Which led to the discrediting of the entire discipline, as those who are on a path to enlightenment would see only vain little men trying to strike it rich. And the idiots who would beg a few greenbacks from God, when he was offering truth- well, they didn't get their gold either, did they?

Am I right, or is my ass talking nonsense again?

I also wanted to toss this idea at you: The method alchemy uses to achieve the great work is, essentially, a linking of a physical activity to the spiritual.

Yet nearly any activity can, properly done, be turned to this- fighting and tea come to mind. In Japanese.

But nobody is doing anything Western like this right now. There are your straight-up thelemics, your odd alchemist here and there...

Why not strike out on a new direction? Take some new thing, some spiritually blank slate, and draw upon it the runes showing the way.

Robotics, AI perhaps?

Too sleepy right now to come up with any but the most obvious, but ye gods- the possiblities...

Actually, it might not be a good idea to have it have any major practical applications. It's quite tempting- it's cool to learn something otherwise applicable at the same time.

But again, did that screw the alchemists?

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