CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

londonThe 2008 International Conference
Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and 'the New Spirituality'

An International Conference organized by INFORM and CESNUR in association with ISORECEA at the London School of Economics, 16-20th April 2008

French Alchemical Groups of the late 20th Century: a comparative essay

by José M. Anes  (FCSH/UNL)

A paper presented at the 2008 International Conference, London, UK. Preliminary version. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.
NOTE: this text and power-point where presented in the London 2008 CESNUR (and INFORM) Conference held in May in LSE and they are the preliminary and partial notes – not yet revised - of a further Ph. D. socio-anthropological work to present soon (later this year) at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of the “Universidade Nova de Lisboa”, in Lisbon, Portugal.



- Types of Alchemy:

- Physical/Laboratorial (ex.: these groups here studied)

- Spiritual or psycho-spiritual (ex.: Jung)

- Inner (“Internal”)/physiological (ex.: sexual, tantric or hermetic)


Alchemical groups? Which type of Alchemy they practice?

- Laboratorial Alchemy! Working with plants, minerals and metals following the ancient treatises of the ancient masters.

- Which groups?

            These are introductory questions for our approach to this comparative study of the french alchemical groups of the late 20th Century. In fact if we consult a bookshop (physically or in the Internet) we can see a lot of books with titles or subjects around themes like “spiritual alchemy”, “psychological alchemy”, “alchemy of hapiness”, “alchemy of success”, alchemy of finances”, etc.. But, at the same time we can find some books about “plant alchemy”, “essences” and even about “mineral alchemy”. We can say – in a qualitative basis - that in the anglo-saxon world for a long time (let us say in the last 20 years) the books of the first cathegory were more frequent and those of the second type were more present in France – the “home” of laboratorial alchemy.
The “spiritual alchemy” is present in the Alternative Spiritualities of the New Age and it is accepted by the spiritual modernity as a psychological strategy for harmony and happiness, using the names of the old Alchemy as symbols and allegories. The “laboratorial alchemy” constitute a challenge to the modern science as it assumes that the transmutations (though theoreticaly possible) are practically possible in the conditions of an alchemical laboratory.
Why people – sometimes with scientific knowledge and with technical carrers – beleive in “philosopher’s stone”, “alchemical transmutations”, “long life elixirs”, etc. We could present the following explanations:

These (and those presented infra) are socio-anthropological questions that I will try to answer in another (and more developed work) to publish until the end of this year.
It is important to remember a usual myth of these groups, whch is common to a certain hermeticism – for instance that of Renaissance, in Florence – and a certain esoteric iluminism – for example, the one of the XVIIth century, where the antiquarian Elias Ashmole and Isaac Newton, among others, were in a quest for the prisca sapientia -, that behind our knowledge and our philosophy and religion lays a forgotten wisdon that it is necesary to recover. We can say that in these groups we observe – in a popular version – the same quest for an ancient knowledge, specially the forgotten “science” (or Art, as they call) of transmutations that they consider that the actual science does not possess.
But in fact, though some could think that the laboratorial alchemy is just an ancient chemical bricolage, in fact it is founded in spiritual cosmological concepts and in an atitude towards Nature, very similar to the modern paganist revival even when it is expressed by a christian or cabalistic langague. As the (old and new) alchemists say the laboratory is the place where they pray and work (ora et labora!) – and where the materials, and the alchemists, will be spiritualized, at the same time as the spirit will be corporified, which is in fact the central alchemical (spiritual) myth or (physico-chemical) utopia. One could say that alchemy is na artificial “nature religion” as it claims to help nature to evolve and reach perfection.
The question of knowing if the modern alchemist “works” more than “prays” is very interesting and will be treated in onother work. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that there could be a psychological and spiritual effect of alchemical literature and imagery on the alchemist, who reads often and meditates over the meaning of the alchemical treatises – this is the claiming of Fulcanelli and Canseliet’s school: besides the secrets of alchemical practice (materials, instruments, operations), there are the initiatic secrets which can only be comunicated by symbols. The power of symbols is central in alchemy, specially in laboratorial alchemy, because the names the alchemist gives to the materials are not the “normal” or scientific ones, such as mercury and antimonium sulfides, iron, destillations, sublimations, etc., but the (poetic) sacred symbolic names, such as “lion”, “serpent”, “dragons”, “eagles”, “doves of Diana”, etc.. In spite of the rethoric strategies used by alchemists, symbolization – and criative (or active) imagination - is indeed central to the psycho-spiritual and initiatic aspects of alchemy.

            It is important to note two different kinds of influences for the historical appearance of these alchemical groups:

The groups FS and SN claim to folow the Fulcanelli alchemical procedures (the “dry way”, based on antimony): FS adopting also the lernings of an eastern european alchemist N., that teached Solazaref in the “via brevis” (using the thunder), and SN following also the teachings of Fulcanelli’s disciple, Eugène Canseliet (which was not followed by Solazaref). LPN will follow the german spagyrists and alchemist, like Alexandre von Bernus (which book Alchimie et Médicine weas published in France in 1955 (trad. of the german’s 1948 edition) – and also the german cabalists lik Knorr von Rosenreuth; it is important to note that in the last years LPN followed also the “dry way” with the “sublimations” (that the Betty Dobs book on Newton’s Alchemy reveals). Finally, FARC folowed the “humid way” (with cinabrium).

It is important to note that laboratorial alchemy appeared in the second halkf of the 20th century in other countries, besides Germany (with Alexander von Bernus and the Laboratories SOLUNA): in the USA, with german alchemist Frater Albertus (Albert Reidel) – see his book The Alchemist of the Rocky Mountains – and its Paracelsus Society (with the magazine Parachemistry), in Scotland with Adam McLean with Hermetic Journal – with both spiritual and laboratorial alchemy - and later with his home page Alchemy, and also in Spain (Simon H.) and Portugal (Rubellus Petrinus), among others. 


Let us see now summarize some events that mark the reappearence of the laboratorial alchemy in France (books, organizations, etc.)

Historical sketch of french alchemy in the 2nd half of the XXth Century

- 1957: 2nd edition of Fulcanelli’s Les Mystères des Cathédrales (1st. ed., 1926)
- 1960: 2nd edition of Fulcanelli’s Les Demeures Philosophales (1st ed., 1930)
- 1961: Dictionnaire de Philosophie Alchimique, Kamala-Jnana (Roger Caro)
- 1964: Alchimie, Eugène Canseliet (who wrote the prefaces to both Fulcanelli’s books); 3rd. Ed. of Le Mystère des Cathédrales
- 1968: Tout le Grand Oeuvre photographié, Roger Caro.
-  1970 - La Legenda des F.A.R.C.,  Roger Caro.
- 1971– Creation of the Frères Aînés de la Rose-Croix – F.A.R.C., by Roger Caro (1911-1992), in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer.
- 1972 - L’Alchimie expliquée sur ses textes classiques, de E. Canseliet (new edition in 1980).      
- 1977 – Founded in Grenoble, by Jean Laplace, the magazine “of alchemical studies”, La Tourbe des Philosophes, which in 1979 will be published by Bernard Renaud de la Faverie, also owner of the bookshop La Table d’Émeraude (25, rue de la Huchette,  Quai Saint Michel).
- 1979 - Creation of the Association Les Philosophes de la Nature (LPN), in Malesherbes, directed by Jean Dubuis which seld correspondence courses on Spagiry (48 fasc./4 years) and on Mineral Alchemy (84 fasc./ 8 years), among others (Cabala also) and organized open week-end seminars (theory and practice) on Spagiry and Alchemy in France and abroad (Portugal, E.U.A, etc.).
1980 - Les fondements de l’alchimie de Newton, Betty Dobbs.
1982- Laboratoire alchimique de Atorène. E. Canseliet dies in Savignies in April.
-  On the nº. 17 of the magazine La Tourbe des Philosophes (1981/82), appeared na article/annoucement intitled Du matériel céramique pour la voie sèche et la voie humide, signed by Pierre d’Houches (artistic/alchemical name of a ceramist from Auvergne which soon will call himself Solazaref).
- Published, in December, the nº.1 of the magazine Le Petit Philosophe de la Nature, internal bulletin of the Association Les Philosophes de la Nature (first in Malesherbes and after in La Garenne Colombes), headed by Jean Dubuis, with about 1000 members (maximum) in several countries. This magazine reached its nº. 127, in 1995.

(2 photos of  LPN: Jean Dubuis with two portuguese alchemists, an LPN’s member working with the furnace/athanor in the “dry way”)

1983 - Other five articles by Piere d’Houches, on the same magazine (La tourbe des Philosophes. Booklet L’Obédience conventuelle alchimique à l’aube du Xxe. Siècle, de Solaref. Probable start of the “Filiation Solazaref”.
1984 - Introitus ad philosophorum lapidem de Solazaref. 1st. nmber (premier cahier: octobre 1984), of the magazine Tempête Chymique, face à l’Athanor, aujourd’hui: une série limitée de cahiers d’alchimie – Une réponse traditionelle concrète aux questions de ce temps, by the “Assemblée des Philosophes sous l’obédience de l’Art Bref , in fact, “Filiation Solazaref” (published by the Librairie “La Légende Dorée”, Riom) 1985- Apocalypse: révélations alchimiques de Jean de Clairefontaine (of the FARC school)
-L’Assation Philosophique en Voie sèche de Solazaref, ed. “Aux Amoureux de science”, Theilède, Combronde. Nº. 2 (deuxième cahier: Carême 1985) of Tempête Chymique, “Assemblée des Philosophes”/ “Filiation Solazaref, Riom.
- La Vérité Interdite, éléments d’initiation à la connaissance alchimique traditionelle¸premier opuscule: Les Prolégomènes, Solazaref, Aux Amoureux de Science, Teilhède, Combronde.
1986 - Deuxième opuscule: Alchimie, science et religion suivi de conseils pour les navigants, de La vérité interdite, éléments d’initiation à la connaissance alchimique traditionelle, Solazaref, “Aux Amoureux de Science, Theilède, Combronde.
- Seminars of Spagyry and Alchemy, in Molières, head-quarters of the Association Spagy-Nature, directed by Patrick Rivière, which continues until today. (A
1987- Les Philosophes de la Nature, suspends its activities in France (but continues in  USA), due to a conflict between Jean Dubuis and Marc-Gérald Cibard.         
1988 - Les Bûchers du Xxe. Siècle,  Solazaref, “Aux Amoureux de Science”, Theilède.
- Alchimie et Spagyrie, du grand Oeuvre à la Médicine de Paracelse, Patrick Rivière, and La Médicine de Paracelse, of the same author.
Du nettoyage des Écuries d’Augias, Tome II ou Le Combat des Adeptes, Solazaref, “Éditions aux Amoureux de Science”, Teilhède.
1990 – Starts the publication of Somme Hermétique (1990-1991) by Solazaref, “Aux Amoureux de Science”: Tome III, De l’esprit universel Vol.I: Vitriolum, Vol.II: Alkaest.

1991– Somme Hermétique Tome IV, De natura metallorum, Vol. 1: Petites opérations minérales et voies alchimiques (première partie), and the vol 1: Le feux du ciel de Somme Hermétique Tome VI: Ars brevis, both by Solazaref.
1992- Deuxième partie de Petites opérations minérales & Voies alchimiques (Somme Hermétique Tome IV – De Natura Metallorum), and Somme Hermétique Tome V – De Natura Vegetalorum, Volume 1 – Petites opérations végétales , première partie et deuxième partie, by Solazaref.
- In February, 2.e Forum de la Tradition Occidentale - Alchimie, organized by Jacques d’Arés and the magazine Atlantis, in the Mairie de Vincennes, which hosted na exhibition of “operative alchemy” by Les Compagnons du Feu (Jean Laplace, Bernard Renaud de la Faverie, etc.) – problable its only public activity.
- Conference by Solazaref, Sacred Metallurgy: Materials for the Third Millenium, wich took place in the “Auditoriuum Dag Hammarskjold, in the United Nations, New Iork, on the 13th May, 1993 – the entire tilte was: Metallurgie sacrée: Apport de la vision Alchimique Centre-Européenne (Celte) en vue d’une possible élaboration des matériaux du Troisième Millénaire. This conferemce was published in june of the same year, in the Éditions Aux Amoureux de Science, Teilhède.
- Conference by Jean Dubuis and spagyric-alchemical seminar of the Association Les Philosophes de la Nature, in August 1993, both in Sintra (Portugal).
1994- Nºs. 1 and 2 of Escapade Alchimique – bulletin de liaison de la Filiation Solazaref.
- The Alchemist,  Paulo Coelho, published in France.
- Exhibitions of Alchemy in Florence (Italy) and in Mafra (Portugal), organized by the Filiation Solazaref. A Filiation Solazaref.
- Anouncement, in the Autumn Equinox 1994, of the end of “exterior” activities of the “Filiation Solazaref” and at the same time a summary of  FS’s activities is made: “partially published the Somme Hermétique”, “trips, exhibitiuons around Europe, mainly in Paris, Bruxels, Ravena, Carcassonne, Mafra, Florence, Tomar,…, and also in Prague and Transilvania”, “partial rebuilding of the headquarters of FS in the Castle of Serviat, demeure des philosophes de notre congrègation”, etc. .
1995 – Letter of the “Filiation Solazaref”, denouncing a dissidence around the Éditions “Aux Amoureux de Science” and also the Éditions Janvier.
- Bible, Science et Alchimie, by Roger Caro, with a preface by his son Daniel Caro, Éditions du Sphinx, Ganges.
1998    - Starts the Internet page Contrepoints, about Alchemy, by Archimed Diffusion and Johan Dreue; it is to note that another internet page on Alchemy exists since the middle 90’s: that one of Adam McLean (spiritual and laboratorial alchemies) who had directed and published since the 80’s a magazine, The Hermetic Journal.
1999/2000 - 1st. Number (October, 1999) of the magazine, L’Alchimie, Arcadis Éditions, Amiens, directed by Pierre-Alexandre Nicolas and Karine Nicolas-Alcalay. The numbers 2  (January-March, 2000) and 3 (April-June, 2000). Article by and about alchemists like Jean d’Ambre, J.-P. Percheron and the portuguese Rubellus Petrinus, Patrick Rivière, Fabrice Bardeau andJean Deleuvre
1999 -  Finis Gloriae Mundi, atributed to Fulcanelli, with a preface by Jacques d’Arés, published in Londion by Liber Mirabilis.
1999/2000 - Le Grand Oeuvre alchimique de Eyrenée Filalète et Basile Valentin,  Rubellus Petrinus (french trad. of the portuguese ed. of 1997, Hugin ed.), Arcadis éd. , Amiens.

            We can resume in the following Table some features of these french alchemical groups, concerning the date of creation, the leader, the magazine, correspondence courses and books:


                                               LPN                       FS                        SN              FARC


Created in                          1979                        1983                       1986       1961, 1968/71


Finished                     1987 (in France)            1994                         -                     -


Periodic publication    Le Petit Philosophe    La Tempête              -                     -


Correspondence courses   Spagyry                         -                      Alchemy          (*)


Books and booklets               1  LPN               several by              several by    several by
                                                                            Solazaref              P. Rivière     R. Caro

(*) instructions by questions and ansewrs


 These groups adopt, besides alchemy and spagiry, some other esoteric doctrines. We easily see that there is no “pure” alchemical doctrine in none of them, instead we have a kind of initiatic “bricolage”:

                                               LPN                  FS                   SN                 FARC                   

Esoteric doctrines               

                        Spagyry            +                        +                     +                      +

                        Alchemy            +                       +                      +                      +

                        Cabal(Qabal)     +              

                        Christianism                               + (1rst)             +                      +

                        Neo-paganism                             + (2nd)

                        Rosicrucianism   (+)                                                                     +

                        Knights Templar                                                  +                      +
                        Gnostic Church                                                                                +

                        Gurdjief                                         +

 If we use the indo-european “trifunctional tripartition” (cf. Georges Dumézil), we can establish a connection between these groups and the three levels of initiation ans symbolism – and we observe that all of them are “craft” (that is why they assume to practice “operative alchemy”), one (Filiation Solazaref) atays mainly in the field of chivalry and one is particularly priestly (FARC with its church ENA – Église de la Nouvelle Alliance):

Table 5

                                                           LPN              FS              SN                   FARC

Symbolism       Craft                            +                   +                  +                      +

Chivalry                                            ++

                          Piesthood                     +                   +                   +                     + +                  


            We must note that exists in several traditions a spirituality of the craft and this could be the only characteristic of these groups. Nevertheless they feel – because the modern man has difficulties to follow only a craft sprituality? - need to complement the alchemical doctrine and initiation by other other esoteric “spiritual” theories and practices (Qabala, Gurdjief, etc.).  


In the article entitled “Esotericism in New Religious Movements” (Chapter 19 of The Oxford Hanbook of New Religious Movements, edited by James R. Lewis, Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 445-465), Olav Hammer discusses the definitions of Esotericism and divides them in two main cathegories:

the “historical” one, like that of Western Esotericism due to Antoine Faivre (which  includes Gnosis, Hermeticism, Alchemy, Cabala, Magic, Theosophy, etc.) that has certain doctrinal characteristics, the four principal ones: the idea of correspondences, the mediating symbolic imagination, the living nature, and the (personal) experience of transmutation, and two assessories: concordance and transmission;

the “typological” concept of Esotericism, stressed by Hammer as a “multitiered access to knowledge”and that is related to the structure and function of esoteric religions and NMR, (“myths, rituals, religious objects, social formations, discursive practices and sociopsychological mechanisms”) and considers “the correlation of typological esotericism and five such characteristics: social formation, rituals, purported objectives, cognitive style and relations to mainstream society” (Hammer, op. cit., p. 449).

As he says “there are “Western Esoteric” currents that are not esoteric in the typological sense of the world”, “and on the other hand many of the esoteric typological currents are not “Western esoteric” in Faivre’s sense. As to Alchemy, if we consider only its theory and practice, I think it is useful to see it on the historical perspective of Faivre’s Western Esotericism, but as to Alchemical groups inserted in a specific society and culture it is necesary to have also the Olav Hammer’s approach of typological esotericism – stressing more the sociological and anthropological perspectives and also taking acount that:

the alchemical myth is the Philosophers Stone;

the laboratorial alchemy is a rite;

the “discursive practices and sociopsychological mechanisms” are the “persuasions” and “rethoric strategies”;

the alchemical religious objects are the materials (minerals, etc.) and instruments (athanors, etc.) – which are a kind of the alchemical current’s and group’s totems;

I will use both approaches, the first one (historical) we have already treated in the first part of this communication and the second one being presented (in a very brief manner – it will be developed soon) in the followig lines and tables.

This first Table uses the typology (towards the world) proposed by Roy Wallis in his book Elementary Forms of New Religious Life:

                                                             LPN                FS                 SN                  FARC


                        World affirming                                                                                  (*)

                        World acommodating    +                                         +                       +

                        World Renouncing                                 + +                  


(*) Roger Caro, ENA’s patriarch, as asked the Vatican’s recognition of his church

            As to the charismatic characteristics of their leaders, we have:

LPN                    FS                  SN                 FARC         (Jean Dubuis)    (Sozaref)     (P. Rivière)     (R. Caro)

         Charismatic leaders

                                               Yes                                  ++                                              +

                                                No      +                                                    +


(Jean Dubuis worked in IBM; Solazaref is a scientist and a ceramist; Patrick Rivière is an historian and a writer; Roger Caro was a writer and a bishop of his church)

It is important to detect if there are some violent characteristics in these groups:
                                                                       LPN             FS             SN          FARC
            Violence (at least rethoric)                     +

Non-violent                                          +                                   +                +

            As sometimes violence is related to millenarian apocalyptism, we have the following table:

                                                           LPN             FS              SN             FARC

Millenarism                                                 +                 +
            Apocalyptism                                              ++

            An important feature of these groups is the question of internal hierarchy:

                                                           LPN              FS                SN           FARC

            Hyerarchical                                               + +                                   +(ENA)

            Non-hyerarchical                       +                                     + (CHRCHM)

            Related to hierarchy and the structure of the group is the way they communicate their theory and practice:

                                                                       LPN             FS             SN                FARC

Correspondence courses                               +                                     +                   +

Week-end seminars                                     +                                        +                   

Life in community                                                                +                                        (*)

 Finally, to end this very short presentation of such a large subject, it may be interesting to point some characteristics that will put these alchemical groups in face of some modern spiritual themes present in New Age currents – see Wouter H. Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture – Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Some of the alchemical groups here studied reject firmly New Age and modern spiritualities and religions, but we can see that at least one of them (LPN) can be included in New Age spiritualities.

                                                           LPN              FS                   SN              FARC

            Science affirming                    +                  +                      +

            New science                              +     

            Parapsycology                           +

            Alternative Therapies                +                +                        +                  

            Non- alchemical    “                   +
                                               (electronic instrument*)
                                                 (* alpha brain waves)

            And even the strongly anti-New Age, NRM group, FS, presents certain characteristics of spiritual “bricolage” that we find in some New Age currents

                               LPN                FS               SN                FARC

NMR                           +                                     +

AS                                +                                     +

New Age                 +             

Anti-New age                       +++              +                      ++  

            So, instead of rejecting the Christipher Partridge classification of alchemy as a type of NMR and AS including both Western Esotericism and New Age (see below) we must accept it as it depends on the group. We also accept fully the other (less controversial) classifications proposed by J. Gordon Melton (“ancient wisdom”) and David Barret (“esoteric and neo-pagan”):

Laboratorial alchemy  and  typologies of   NMR/AS

Antient wisdom (Gordon J. Melton, in “The Cult Experience”)

Esoteric and neo-pagan (David Barret in “The New Believers”)

Western Esotericism and the Traditions of the New Age (Christopher Partridge, in “Encyclopedia of New Religions”)

Summary: To study laboratorial alchemical groups it is suitable to use the two definitions of esotericism, the historical approach of Antoine Faivre (“Western esotericism”), and that of Olav Hammer, a synchonic approach that stresses the structural and functional characteristics of these esoteric alchemical goups. I shall present soon, later this year, a more detailed and developed work about these french groups of the last quarter of the 20th century.


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