|| Date: 21-01-19 || Back to index ||
|| Tag: book-summary ||
|| Author: Mircea Eliade ||

The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structure of Alchemy

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M mentions how important it is to understand that meteorites were thought of as“gifts from the sky”. It is very easy to think that since they fell from a place so remote and far away, it was the literal dwelling place of the Gods and legends, the place that shamans went to during a trance.

So, material from there was considered holy and charged with power immediately. I believe the author used the words “Kratophanie” to signify a holy object, charged with sacredness.

Kaaba in Mecca is a holy meteorite. The Aztec knives were holy and they’re more valuable than gold. When Cortez asked the Aztec chiefs where did they get it from, they just pointed up.

In ancient Sumeria, the words An.bar signify Iron. It is the two pictograms of Sky and Fire merged. M mentions that the earliest recorded accounts of Metallurgy came from Asiatic Chinese origins, which the Sumerians took and were taught how to build furnaces, as early as 1200 B.C.

Mythology in the Iron Age

This is not a point relating to metals but it is good to talk about it.

There was a shift in the history of Religions from thinking that the world was created from a Mana or a Macranthrope being that created the world ex nihilo and between the world being created from a Hierogamy and a blood sacrifice.

So, the world moved from creation to procreation myths.

This age of metal and metallurgy is affected heavily by these blood sacrifice and procreation myths.

M didn’t speak about why the shift happened like that. It’s interesting to think about what these procreation myths represent: creation is still occurring but with the added concept of sacrifice. A blood sacrifice is offering what a person who was already indoctrinated in the rites and concepts of the society to a person who was not. This offering (blood, in this case) carries with it a sacred power (AKA: a Kratophanie).

An example of this is the marriage of Tiamet, a Macranthrope, with Apsu, to create the world. Marduk needed to sacrifice Tiamet’s blood to create life and humans.

Kronos married Rhea, which brought forth Zeus, who fashioned humans from the blood of Titans.

Talking more about blood sacrifices: primitive people thought of blood as a life force, not as a disgusting, virus-ridden, substance. So, a blood sacrifice of a woman’s blood or a cannibalistic act is easily explained under this light to be a prayer to the vegetation gods to grow the sprouts and crops in the next seasons.

– pg 36

the world sexualized

M is mentioning the entire world of vegetation and else has been sexualized. Arabs call the hard iron by Male and soft iron by Female. Bakitara folk in Uganda classified the red and soft ores they found underground as female and the black and hard ones they found above ground as male. Even Jewelers still gendrify a precious stone as male or female by its brilliance.

Another interesting aspect is that the primitive folk of Mesopotamia were able to have an objective look at vegetation: which is how grafting techniques of date trees were invented. M does mention that those techniques were not thought of as agricultural techniques but as ‘rituals’ to be executed properly, else no vegetation would occur. There was an interesting one for the grafting of lemons to be as tiny as olives: the seeds should be carried by a very beautiful maiden that has sexual intercourse with a man who’s married or one that it would be shameful to do that with him. This implies that an unusual vegetation technique requires unusual sexual intercourse.

– pg 41

The sacred rivers of Mesopotamia were supposed to have their origins as the vagina of earth. The source of river and water is usually tied to a maternal picture: in Sumerian, the word “Buru” meant both river and vagina.

Terra Mater & Petra Genitrix

M in this chapter wants to highlight that for a long time Man thought of stones as the source of life and that they are the direct product of mother Earth.

Many myths in different geographical locations stress that man is born from stone.

More myths also talk about the maturation of stones in the Belly of the earth.

Gold is the final and perfect form of nature’s maturation. “We must look at other metals as freaks and bastards of nature since, if she were uninterrupted, nature would always aim to produce gold as its perfect design”, said a Western alchemist.

The alchemist’s job is to accelerate nature’s progress, from trying to reach her goal within hundreds or thousands of centuries to a faster rate of acceleration that can achieve her goals in his lifetime.

Metallurgy is similar: it aims to accelerate the process of making metals “up to a single moment”. “What Nature did in the beginning, we can do equally well by following nature’s processes. What nature does in centuries, we can help her do in a single moment, given proper circumstances. We will make metals like we make bread”.

Rites and Mysteries in Metallurgy

It was no joke that metallurgy and mining changed the rites and myths of mostly all people who encountered it by a huge factor. Sinking a mine or hunting for gold ores was always coupled with a ritual involving chanting, fasting, abstinence, and offerings to different gods, usually to the gods that told the tribes about those ores. One case in Africa where a blacksmith was using wood for his furnace and an old and venerable man told him that he can find better material for his furnace in that mine. The material was coal and the man was a spirit from God.

Tribes in Malaya where they follow Mohammediasm – a unity of Islam and prior religions, mostly totemism– used to believe that gold ores were protected by Dewa – Gods of the old religions – and if they bring the name of Allah to those mines, the gold would hide and they’d never find it.

The same tribes also thought that Tin was a living creature that can move and repopulate and disappear if it so wishes.

There was also an element of human sacrifice to the furnace before the merging of two ores to create a new one. M explained that the process of merging two ores is like a sexual union of male and female. This union requires a human force to “animate” it, which is why life needs to be transferred from one location to another to conduct this process and give it life.

Human Sacrifices to the furnace

In most myths, iron and metallurgy became a blight to the tribe rather than a blessing. Most Indian myths about metallurgy revolve around a trickster God that is seeking revenge on humans, and he fulfilled it by tricking them to enter their own live furnaces.

M explained this by mentioning that the Iron Age was characterized by impoverishment and constant wars, which is how it left a bad imprint on the material and the craft.

Mastery of Fire

The alchemist, like the Smith and the Potter before him, are masters of transmutations of material from one form to another. The first potter that discovered they can harden a substance by exposing it to fire must’ve felt the intoxication of the demiurge; he shaped a thing from a different form to another. This is, by the definition of the word, magic.

Shamans, magicians, medicine men, and other scholars of the sacred are known to be masters of fire. In a few primitive tribes, it was thought that the elder women had a fire burning in their genital organs, which gave them resistance to extreme cold conditions. This, as M noted, remnants of the matriarchal society.

Chinese Alchemy

M says the history of Chinese Alchemy started with a philosopher called Tsou Yan, the creator of the yin-yang ideology. Most of the Chinese alchemical thought tried to preserve and work with Taoist and neo-Taoist thoughts.

The job of an alchemist is to accelerate the process of time and repurpose an element into another use. For example, turn elements into their purest form: Gold. Or, make pills of immortality, many of which were promised to emperors by their alchemists.

The more I read, the weirder it gets. There was an alchemical technique to produce cinnabar in the human body, which will be used to either make gold or achieve immortality, where one person would suspend himself upside down until the ’secret caverns of the sperm reach his brain, which would boil and make Cinnabar since it was believed that sperm is one element of Cinnabar.

Moreover, there was an alchemist who had a diet of Cinnabar, plus honey, and mentioned that if they were dried under the sun to be the shape of pills, and one takes 10 pills per year, they can restore white hair to black, decaying teeth, and increase the life span.

Most of those techniques refer to a person as a combination of elements, and if you combine specific elements together, they would produce a specific reaction.

Note N: On Jung

So, Jung found that the symbols of alchemy and hermetic traditions resemble that of the unconscious’s journey to self-discovery and individuation.

Alchemy and Initiation

Arcana Artis

All things began with the Primordial watery chaos and would end in that. It takes the shape of black water, that encompasses and envelops one.

This is a thought many alchemists had: forms start and end in water.

M mentioned that the ultimate goal of the alchemist was to not only develop the philosopher stone or elixir of immortality but it is to become that creation: honing their lives and intellect and thoughts to a sharp tip to make sure that they have the Gold standard of their work, so that they can make the gold material: the best material.

M starts to speak about the philosopher’s stone. It is said by Georg von Welling that Alchemy is not the study of turning metal to God, but it is the study of understanding nature that is coming from God and God in nature. The philosopher’s stone is said to be the “reconciliation of opposites”, put into words. It is also said to be a toy to children and people pass by it every day without noticing it. The idea here is that it is a “hierophany”: a ‘base thing’ that is charged with a sacred power endowed to it by those who believe. on that point, The philosopher stone has writings on it that a regular man would never understand, but a learned and initiated man would read it and live by its words.

The life of an alchemist is one of revere of nature and true respect and understanding of its job. An alchemist thought that his work with fire and the transmutation of the matter was not going against nature, but helping it reach its goal, given enough time. So, the alchemist’s job and goal were to substitute Time with his retorts, labs, and fire.

Modern science is alchemy, stripped away from all nature’s hierophanies. Modern alchemy is based on the same experimental approach that alchemy started with but on an industrial scale, using machinery and workers that are dedicated to this case. One can say, as M does, that the alchemy is still alive and we’re living in its golden age: the age where we not only bypassed time to aid nature but, in many cases, bypassed nature itself to create Uranium and enrich it to an industrial level.

Such things were the dreams of the alchemist, but modern science got there in a way that completely bypassed Homo Faber: the idea that one would reach the perfection of self through the perfection of work and matter, AKA the creation of the ultimate transmuting agent: the philosopher’s stone.

Eulogy to the Primitive world

The demiurgic dreams of the metallurgists. Smith’s and alchemists came realized to the modern man by literally putting them in the rearview mirror and driving towards secularization of work.

In primitive societies, man sanctified Time by inventing hierophanies and loading them with energy. Man would do the work entailed to him against Nature while having the element of Time on his side. He entered the liturgical dimension and did magnificent work.

This could not proceed since we needed to grow and get more. The rituals and traditions were replaced with manual and secularized work, where the output is much greater but time is slower. To accelerate time, man actually replaced it. The price of this acceleration is that he now feels the entire weight of time on him.