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Roland Edighoffer’s Aries[1] book reviews

by Nadya Chishty Mujahid

Any student of Western Esotericism who is committed to engaging in a serious study of the field, must familiarize himself or herself with the work of the internationally renowned French scholar of Rosicrucianism, Roland Edighoffer (Professor Emeritus, University of Paris III, New Sorbonne). Originally (along with Antoine Faivre and Pierre Deghaye) one of the chief editors of the French journal of Western Esotericism, ARIES, and later an editor of the Dutch Aries, Dr. Edighoffer has been markedly instrumental in charting the course of Western Esotericism studies over a span of over three decades. Below, four of his more recent book reviews have been translated into English, primarily for the benefit of Anglophone scholars who have recently entered this fascinating and complex domain of academe. The reviews provide a tantalizing glimpse into the work of an academic whose confident and well-informed writing is enhanced by his sound knowledge of a variety of topics ranging from the literary to the historical. One hopes that these translations will encourage young students to acquire the reading skills in French that will enable them to appreciate the depth and complexity of the author’s more comprehensive writings.

Robert Vanloo, L’Utopie Rose-Croix du XVIIe siècle à nos jours, Dervy: Paris, 2001. 429 pp. ISBN 2-84454-107-0.

In this work, following Frans Wittemans, Sedir, Max Heindel, Pierre Montloin, Jean Pierre Bayard, Christopher McIntosh and many other authors, Robert Vanloo presents a description of the different avatars in the Rosicrucian myth from the seventeenth century to the present day. The author positions himself to study the solutions—to political and social problems that arose during that time—put forward by the emergence of each Rosicrucian movement over the course of history, and to detect, if possible, an ideological continuity that transcends the simple reference to the name: Rose Cross. The first portion of this study encompasses the seventeenth century and the period termed “The Enlightenment,” and the second (less extensive) portion describes the theories of the Rosicrucian movements from the nineteenth century up until the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Robert Vanloo considers the Rosicrucian myth as the culmination of all past endeavors which, since Jean Hus, had aimed to liberate the European nations from the hold of the Holy See. Thus, his historical analysis begins with the period concerning the Grand Western Schism of the fourteenth century, then the Augsburg Peace, and the Swabian Agreement (drafted by Johann Valentin Andreae’s grandfather). Within the political domain, the author goes back to the time of Louis IV of Bavaria, made emperor in 1314, and his successor Charles IV, who died in 1378. Naturally, these dates bring to mind the legend of Christian Rosenkreutz. On reaching the beginning of the seventeenth century, the author appears to merge, to some degree, the Wurtemberg line with the Palatinate one.

This confusion may be explained, to some extent, by his interpretation (in the wake of Frances A. Yates) of the genesis of the first Rosicrucians. In her text titled The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, Yates explains her reasoning on page 221: “As a historian, I have attempted to open long closed doors through which the Rosicrucian currents of thought once travelled.” According to her, one of these “doors” is the acceptance of the Bohemian crown by the Calvinist Prince-Elector Frederic V Palatinate, who was married in 1613 to the daughter of King James I of Great Britain. Moreover, the Englishman, John Dee, author of the Monas Hieroglyphica (reproduced at the beginning of the account of the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz) had gone on a diplomatic mission to Prague, termed by Yates as being “a Mecca for those interested in esoteric and scientific studies.” Proceeding beyond Frances Yates, Robert Vanloo recounts the defeat of Winterkönig (the Winter King) at the battle of Montagne Blanche (White Mountain) in 1620, and the weakening of the Evangelical Union in which the Hesse-Cassel landgrave (where the first Rosicrucian manifestos were published) had played a determining role.

After having woven together this politico-religious background, Vanloo provides a brief analysis of the first Rosicrucian writings. Apparently he did not have access to the original editions because their description contains several errors. Undoubtedly misled by the title of the Fama Fraternitatis, he presents it as an “anonymous Latin writing” when all the first editions of this manifesto are in German (with the exception of a Dutch translation that appeared in 1615, after the Frankfurt edition published by Johann Berner). Elsewhere, Vanloo mentions, as an original edition, the Latin text of the Confessio Fraternitatis published in 1615 at Cassel by Wilhelm Wessel which follows the Secretioris Philosophiae Consideratio brevis of Philippus a Gabella. However, the selfsame editor had previously published (during the same year, 1615), in one volume, the Fama Fraternitatis and the Confession latine “welche vorhin in Druck noch nie ausgangen” (i.e. never printed before), accompanied by its German translation.

Vanloo describes—in detail—the abovementioned Frankfurt edition created by Johann Berner which contains, besides the Fama, the German Confessio, the Responsio of Adam Haselmeyer, several missives addressed to the authors of the manifestos, and a letter, among others, of a certain IBP Medicus (not IMP). However, Vanloo has neglected to mention the “Response” of a philosopher who signed himself C.H.C, and asked to be admitted into the Brotherhood. This text follows the Frankfurt edition and the Danzig edition (which is a reproduction of it), and can be found within the volume published at Cassel in 1616, which contains over a hundred pages of new epistolae addressed to the Rosicrucians. Finally the 1617 edition, that appeared anew through Johann Bringer and Johann Berner would have merited a description to the extent that it contains, along with the text of the Fama and of the Confessio Fraternitatis, a commentary on Julianus de Campis, and Georg Molther’s account of his encounter with a mysterious representative of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood at Wetzlar.

Concerning the Chemical Wedding, Vanloo notes, with reason, that it possesses nothing alchemical but its exterior form, and that the essential message of this novel—conceived by the very young Johann Valentin Andreae around 1605—was the regeneration of Christian society. The prophecy of the “Lion of Septentrion” (attributed to Paracelsus, but dated from 1549) is one of its sources, as is the Naometria de Studion, that Vanloo both analyzes and faithfully reproduces in a number of illustrations (in the manner of Christopher McIntosh). Note in this regard that Johann Valentin Andreae in his Mythologia christiana, published in 1619, presents Studion, Weigel, Sperber, Khunrath, Guillaume Postel, and many others as insolitae eruditionis homines (men of unusual erudition), the same title that the Venetian Jacopo Brocardo (the momentary merging of his strange destiny with that of Français Segur-Pardeillan was described by François Secret) evokes, bestowed on him as well by Vanloo.

The astronomical reference to the birth of the Fama Fraternitatis leads the author to mention the Fama Syderea Nova by Faulhaber (1618). It is regrettable that, at this point, he does not cite Kepler’s De stella nova in pede Serpentarii (Prague 1606), whose influence on the authors of the Rosicrucian myth is extremely marked, as is that of the Sidereus Nuncius of Galileo (Venice 1610), and Kepler’s response: Dissertatio cum nuntio sidereo ad mortales misso a Galiléo Galilei (Prague 1610).

Regarding Michael Maier, Vanloo accurately determines that his role in the Rosicrucian affair still remains undefined. Recounting that, according to Christopher McIntosh, Maier’s interest in the Rosicrucians “does not shed new light on the confraternity itself,” Vanloo—only after alluding to the English doctor Robert Fludd’s enthusiasm for this brotherhood—poses the question that underlies and unifies his work, and comprises its title: “Can one speak of a Utopia concerning the Rosicrucian project or not?” (p. 181). Naturally he is provided with the opportunity to analyze Andreae’s Christianopolis, and is compelled to acknowledge that “we are now fairly distanced from the manifestos’ content and original purpose.” Therefore, he acknowledges the choice of Tobias Heβ and Abraham Hölzel to reform the content of the first manifestos.

Having reached this point in his study, the author is obliged to state that the defeat of Montagne Blanche (White Mountain) in 1620 permitted an opposition to Austria that a large number of Lutherans would not stand for, particularly in Wurtemberg, and thus he observes that the dissemination of the manifestos responded “to political imperatives that were not necessarily supported by Andreae” (p. 189), who had certainly manifested some solidarity for the strict morality of Genevan Calvinists, but did not partake in the conflicts that arose out of the Thirty Year War.

One should keep in mind that most Lutheran princes did not participate in the military adventure of Frederic Palatine, and that the Prince-Elector of Saxony, although Protestant, sided with the Emperor. Regardless, the war still resulted in casualties on all sides: of the approximately 400,000 inhabitants that Wurtenberg counted on the eve of the conflict, only 60,000 survived it, and Andreae has left us the account of the sack of the city of Calw in 1634 (of which he was the doyen).

In actuality, the numerous satirical or edifying works written by him, beginning with the conception of the Rosicrucian myth, essentially had, for their goal: 1. a mockery of the Holy Roman Empire, and 2. to balance the strictness of Lutheran orthodoxy, through the lived enactment of Christianity: which has been termed la nouvelle piété (depicted, among others, by Johann Arndt, Andreae, Kepler, and Comenius), and which would pave the way towards the Pietist Movement, notably the Pia Desideria of Jakob Spener (1635-1705). One regrets that Vanloo, who judiciously cites the “pansophy” of Comenius, has not related Ariadne’s clew to some origins of Rosicrucian thought—that is to say the concordance between the Bible and Nature.

During the seventeenth century, the Rosicrucian Brotherhood was simply a literary myth. It was only during the following century that there were to arise, under this denomination, various societies to which Vanloo devotes the last section of the first part of his book. He obviously mentions Sincerus Renatus and the Real or Make-Believe Order of the “Gold- und Rosenkreuzer” (Gold and Rosy Cross), then Fictuld and Aureum Vellus (The Golden Fleece), apparently without consulting Antoine Faivre’s text titled Toison d’Or et Alchimie (The Golden Fleece and Alchemy). In the chapter devoted to the Bavarian Illuminati, the author naturally makes note of René Le Forestier’s study, dating from 1914, of which a reprint appeared in 1974, then in 2001, but makes no mention of Eberhard Weis’ study, published in 1989 by Helmut Reinalter in a collective work titled Aufklärung und Geheimgesellschaften. Amongst the names of the eighteenth-century individuals who were to play a role in furthering Rosicrucian thought, one is somewhat surprised at not finding that of the renowned Pietist Friedrich Christoph Oetinger, considered by some to be the mentor of the Rosicrucians of that time. On the other hand, the connections of Cagliostro, St. Germain, and St. Martin, to the Rosicrucians, appear to be well taken. As for Joseph de Maistre, his being firmly situated beyond the Alps had certainly placed him on one particular side of a myth born out of the Reformation.

In the second portion of his text, Vanloo commences by establishing the diversified proliferation—from the nineteenth century onwards—of Rosicrucian ideology into varying interpretations; he analyzes the myths of an invisible world order and finally envisages the utopian perspectives at the threshold of the twenty-first century.

La Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (The Rosicrucian Society in England, SRIA), founded in 1865, soon published a review titled The Rosicrucian and supported the founding of the Order of the Golden Dawn. With respect to this, Vanloo naturally mentions Lord Bulwer-Lytton and his novel Zanoni, as well as Madame Blavatsky—whose marvelous life he recounts. She was Russian, Franz Hartmann (author of the novel Une aventure chez les Rose-Croix[2]) was German, and Annie Besant was of Irish background. One appreciates the author’s interest in this visionary—author of a book that would predict the constitution of a “United States of Europe.” Another famous member of the Golden Dawn, the mountaineer Aleister Crowley, would create (emulating Rabelais) a new Thelema Abbey; but Vanloo notes that the sexual orgies organized by Crowley, along with his fascist leanings, would no longer remain harmonious with the true Rosicrucian ideal. If Péladan was tempted to Catholicize it, Rudolf Steiner in return had, through his Anthroposophy, transcended the confessional limits and emerged with an ecumenical Christianity of a Rosicrucian nature. One regrets that Vanloo did not, in this case, cite the recent studies of Gerhard Wehr on Rudolf Steiner.

The political ideal of Annie Besant would reappear with Jollivet-Castelot, for, in one issue of the journal La Rose & Croix (1929), this propagandist (of what he termed “Spiritualist Communism”) also proposed the creation of a United States of Europe. This idea would reappear in the Synarchie project, expounded upon (around 1880) by St. Yves d’Alveydre, of whom Papus—one of the Masters of the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose Cross—was a disciple. Vanloo describes the influence of Papus over Czar Nicholas II and makes note of his relations with the Savoy mesmerist Philippe Nizier, whose control over the czar appears to have been comparable to that of Rasputin. In fact, Papus and Nizier were influenced by the work of St. Yves d’Alveydre, whose ideas undoubtedly led, at the close of World War I, towards a better reconstruction of Europe. However, in describing the utopian world of Agartha, this great dreamer had conceived an unrealizable myth. This mysterious Tibetan realm had fired the respective imaginations of René Guénon, Madame Blavatsky, and Annie Besant. Was it possible to believe that the last representatives of the Rose Cross had sought refuge in Tibet, home of an occult brotherhood named the Grand White Lodge, governed by a “king of the world”? According to Annie Besant, the Theosophical Society bore its message, and the New Age had rekindled the belief in an invisible world order. Vanloo recounts that the AMORC had desired to relate this idea of an occult world order to the Rosicrucian myth.

Towards the end of this weighty catalogue of global utopias, Vanloo asks himself (with good reason), which of these ideas could correspond to the Rosicrucian concept of the preceding centuries. His response makes reference to the global organizations already presented in his work titled Les Rose-Croix du Nouveau Monde: the Universal Federation of Initiatic Societies and Orders, started in 1934 by Sâr Hieronymous, and his concurrent Universal Federation of Orders, Societies, and Initiatic Fraternities. The first was not devoid of complicity with fascism, whereas the second—in a manifesto termed the “Second Fama Fraternitatis” would affirm itself to be “apolitical, without regard to race or colour.” One of its activists, Constant Chevillon, was assassinated by the militia in 1944.

In point of fact, the different present-day organizations that purport to be “Rosicrucian” distance themselves fairly markedly from the ideology concerning the myth born during the seventeenth century. The original manifestos were bearers of a Hermetic and “alchemical” message, in keeping with the essential conciliation between spirit and matter, to unify the Son of the Microcosm with the Son of the Macrocosm. By contrast, current Rosicrucian doctrines, AMORC, or “Lectorium Rosicrucianum,” do not adhere uniquely to revealed religions, but rely on a gnosis encompassing the entire cosmos and announcing the New Age of Aquarius, which—in the cosmic cycle—follows the Age of Pisces (the latter commenced with the birth of Christ).

Vanloo dedicates the culmination of his study to the dawn of the twenty-first century where New Age adepts and Rosicrucian associations propose an Ersatz of traditional religions and, simultaneously, the myth of a secret planetary force that would address the belief in an occult conspiracy. Among other things, the author refers to numerous Internet sites depicting “the action of this new and subtle game between the paranoid and the enlightened” (p. 361).

In sum, Vanloo’s text makes for agreeable reading, and is packed with numerous, albeit somewhat heterogenous, references. That he describes the utopian visions of certain esoteric groups over the course of four centuries is hardly a matter of dispute. The term “Rose Cross” or “Rosicrucian” displays remarkable versatility here, and the author affirms this himself in the final points of his text where he speaks of the “derivatives” which “can do nothing but situate themselves outside of the framework of true Rosicrucianism.”

Roland Edighoffer

Aries 3:1 (2003), Koninklijke Brill NV, pp. 101-106

Trans. Kathryn LaFevers Evans and Nadya Chishty-Mujahid.

Pierre Gordon, Les Vierges Noires. L’origine et le sens des contes de fées. Mélusine. Introduction by Philippe Subrini. Paris: Signatura 2003. 125 pp. ISBN 2-915369-00-3.

Arma Artis, in 1993, had published a wonderful work, in a limited edition, titled EVA AVE, in which the author, Henri Giriat, commented on the representation of the Black Madonna on the stained-glass windows of Our Lady of Mézières. Ten years prior to this, the same publisher had collected, under the general title of Essais (Essays), three studies by Pierre Gordon, one of which was devoted to the Black Madonnas. In 2003, under a triplicate publication licence, Signatura had the felicitous idea of reissuing this text, accompanied, as in 1983, by Pierre Gordon’s studies on the origin and meaning of fairy tales, as well as by the text Mélusine.

Fulcanelli, in his celebrated Mystère des cathédrales (Mystery of Cathedrals), had, as far back as 1922, provided a considered interpretation of Black Madonnas, as, according to him, Christianity had incorporated the tradition of an ancient cult of Isis: “Isidi, seu Virgini ex qua filius proditurus est” (Paris, Jean-Jacques Pauvert, reissued 1964, p. 75). Of course, Fulcanelli has referred to the Chartres Cathedral and the well-known statue of Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre[3], but he also mentions other Black Madonnas, at Puy, Marseilles, Rocamadour, Vichy, Quimper, as well as Paris (in the caves of the Observatory). In his turn, Pierre Gordon describes the Black Madonnas of Marseilles, and of Vichy, and also mentions some other places where the Virgo paritura was venerated. The name Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre explains the adjective “black”: these Virgins were venerated in the darkness of crypts, thus simultaneously evoking, within these depths, one’s own death, and the womb from which a newborn was to emerge. That comprised the entire mystery of stirb und werde, of “dying and living,” mentioned by Goethe in his famous poem titled Selige Sehnsucht (“Beatific Yearning”).

Pierre Gordon’s study, L’origine et le sens des contes de fées (The Origin and Meaning of Fairy Tales), which follows the text on the Black Madonnas, concerns itself with the tradition of nuptial taboos. The author commences with a biblical citation from the Book of Tobias (which is in his version of the Vulgate), that quotes the angel’s advice to young married couples, that they must spend the first three nights in continence and prayer. Consequently, their union would find itself being made holy, and the taboo against nudity removed. In some other stories, the taboo concerns an illusion, which transforms the union with an animal (bear, wolf, horse, serpent, etc.), thereby rendering it sacrosanct. An example of a taboo transgressed by a wife is provided, in Pierre Gordon’s text, by the legend of Lohengrin, Parsifal’s son, the hero of the legend of the Chevalier au Cygne (Swan Knight), which is found at the end of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, a very long poem consisting of 25,000 lines. The Duchess of Brabant had refused the proposals of numerous noble suitors, until Lohengrin, hailing from Montsalvat, the wondrous kingdom of the Grail, arrived at Anvers in an opulent barge drawn by a swan. The duchess was enticed by this mysterious man who imposed only one condition on her—that she was never to ask who he is. She had children by him, but one day, she gave in to curiosity, provoking Lohengrin’s inevitable return to the Grail kingdom. We know that the myth of the Swan Knight, revived by Conrad of Wurzburg in the thirteenth century, provided Richard Wagner with the subject of Lohengrin, presented for the first time at Weimar in 1850, with Liszt as conductor.

An excellent example of a male-related counterpart concerning a taboo imposed by a woman, is found in the story of Mélusine, to whom Pierre Gordon dedicates numerous pages. On holy days, Mélusine’s female body is characterized by a serpent’s tail, and one finds that her husband Raymond’s curiosity about her leads to the banishment of this creature, when, one (holy) Saturday, he discovers this anomaly.

Fairies engage with the supernatural, as did Jacob, who, as the Bible tells us, became lame due to his combat with the angel (Genesis 32, pp. 25-33). The physical disability is a mark of initiation. And if fairies in legend often degrade themselves by sorcery, the author ascertains that some amongst them continue to survive in the form of Christian saints.

One recollects here, the ambivalence of the sacred, well clarified by Roger Caillois in his book L’homme et le sacré (Man and the Sacred): “The sacred,” he writes, “manifests itself almost exclusively by means of prohibitions. It defines itself as the “contained” the “separated”; it is externalized from that which is common, protected by prohibitions destined to deflect all that attempts to breach the order of its world, all that threatens it, and ferments unrest within it.” (Gallimard 1950, p. 127). One finds an excellent and well-placed illustration of this definition in the fairy tales analysed by Pierre Gordon in the present collection on the Black Madonnas, the origin and meaning of fairy tales, and Mélusine. We are beholden to Signatura for having freshly placed these beautiful texts at the disposal of readers.

Roland Edighoffer

Aries 4:2 (2004), Koninklijke Brill NV, pp. 237-239.

Trans. Nadya Chishty-Mujahid.

Ed. Ira Dworkin.

Reinhard Breymayer, Eine unbekannte Koranerklärung in der Bibliothek von Goethes Vater: “Elias mit dem Alcoran Mahomeds”. Über das wiedergefundne Werk des Radikalpietisten Johann Daniel Müller aus Wissenbach (Nassau). Ein Fundbericht, Tübingen: Noûs-Verlag Thomas Leon Heck 2004. 32 pp. ISBN 3 924249 43 1.

Renowned researcher Reinhard Breymayer (University of Tübingen) renders an account, in this brief work, of his collaboration with the Russian expert Eugene Benyaminovich Beshenkovsky, Professor Emeritus at New York’s Columbia University, who is working towards a reconstruction of the library of the Muscovite publisher Nikolaj Ivanovich Novikov (1744-1818). A Rosicrucian and Pietist, Novikov had published, inter alia, a Russian translation of Friedrich Oetinger’s Biblisches und emblematisches Wörterbuch (1776). Thanks to E.B.Beshenkovsky, some versions of the text Elias mit dem Alcoran Mahomeds, were able to be rediscovered at the National Library of Aarhus, Denmark, as well as the National Library of Moscow (formerly Lenin Library)—on whose unearthing Reinhard Breymayer comments in the present study.

Under the assumed name “Elias,” which apparently alludes to the myth of Elias Artista (Elias Artist), supreme master of the Ars Magna, lies concealed the radical Pietist Johann Daniel Muller (1716 - +/- 1785), musician, and a distant relative, by marriage, of Goethe, whose father used to own, in his important library, the work titled Elias mit dem Alcoran Mahomeds. In 1794, the library of Goethe’s father was auctioned, and the catalogue makes note of this book, that Reinhard Breymayer has retrieved in March 2004, along with the mention of two other examples in the index of Berlin’s Staatsbibliothek.

J.D.Muller did not possess a knowledge of Arabic; he had read a German translation of the Koran that Salomo Schweigger had fashioned after an Italian translation of the original text. The appellation of “Elias” conveys the impression that the Pietist intended to give to his interpretation of the Koran. He presents himself as the true prophet Elias, whose return was anticipated (Matthew 17:11; Mark 9:12), and he claims to be the only one to have plumbed the profound depths of the Bible and Koran.

J.D.Muller’s work appeared in 1772. Now it is interesting to observe that Goethe, in the same year, had read Francfortois Megerlin’s German translation of the Koran, and that he was familiar with the Latin translation, published by the Jesuit Maracci in 1698. Goethe had also read the Histoire de la vie de Mahomet, législateur de l’Arabie (History of the Life of Mahomet, Legislator of Arabia) published in 1773 by the Frenchman François Henri Turpin. Inspired by these readings, he had copied a certain number of Koranic verses, and he would write the Chant de Mahomet (Song of Mahomet) published in the same year, 1773, in the Musenalmanach of Gottingen.

In addition to the verification that Goethe’s father’s library possessed the curious commentary on the Koran signed “Elias,” one is indebted to R. Breymayer for having discovered, with the aid of a Russian researcher, some examples of this work attributed to the Pietist musician J.D.Muller, to whom he has already devoted no less than ten different studies, and whose influence on Oetinger and Philipp Matthäus Hahn he has notably underscored, in 1984, in the journal Pietismus und Neuzeit. Antoine Faivre has also demonstrated the significance of this enigmatic author in his article published by the journal Aries (2:2 [2002] and vol. 3:1 [2003]).

Of his own accord, R. Breymayer has limited his study to the discovery of some copies of the book Elias mit dem Alcoran Mahomeds. However, the sub-title of this book: “In der Offenbarung Jesu Christi. Zur Versammlung aller Völker in einen einigen Glauben an den einigen Gott. Der da ist der Vater aller Menschen Kinder” along with these readings, cannot help but awaken the reader’s desire to have access to a re-edited version of the 396 pages of this work.

Roland Edighoffer

Aries 5:1 (2005), Koninklijke Brill NV, pp. 134-136.

Trans. Nadya Chishty-Mujahid.

Ed. Medrie Purdham.

Ralph Liedtke, Das romantische Paradigma der Chemie: Friedrich von Hardenbergs Naturphilosophie zwischen Empirie und alchemistischer Spekulation, Paderborn: Mentis Verlag 2003. 396 pp. ISBN 3-89785-287-X.

“The Romantic paradigm of chemistry”: the title of Ralph Liedtke’s work devoted to “Friedrich von Hardenberg’s philosophy of nature”—von Hardenberg is better known by the pseudonym ‘Novalis’ (1772-1801)—immediately presents a fundamental problem of the period, given that Lavoisier had published his Traité élémentaire de chimie (Basic Treatise of Chemistry) in 1789. In his introduction, the author specifies that of those who opposed Lavoisier, Novalis remained an adept at speculative alchemy, whose mission was to penetrate the secrets of nature and the mind, and to extrapolate a new philosophy from them.

In order to properly position Novalis’ thought, Liedtke begins by noting, with reason, that the traditional alchemical practice of “solve and coagula” would augment itself during the seventeenth century with an analytical consideration. He mentions—too briefly, in my opinion—Paracelsus (for whom the alchemist’s task was to transform the world in order to lead him towards the highest state of perfection), and he then explores the difference, established by Georg Ernst Stahl around 1720, between experimental and rational chemistry. At the end of the eighteenth century, two beliefs existed concurrently—the first: a sound chemical theory based on Stahl’s ideas concerning combustion and Lavoisier’s doctrine of oxidation, the second: that of the philosophy of nature.

Regarding that which concerns Novalis, the author underscores that he had resolutely chosen a third route by remaining attached to traditional alchemical concepts, to their symbols and myths, though the numerous and often brief fragments left by him do not reveal a coherent doctrine but rather “ein ‘chemisches’ Ideengemisch” (according to Ralph Liedtke’s expression, p. 103); the author also speaks of Novalis’ speculations about an “almost metachemical sky of philosophies” (p. 133), which does not surprise him since “chemistry” and poetry were two motivations for the Romantic mind. According to the author, the actual essence of Novalis’ thought essentially consists of three points: the first part, the tie between man and technique, between theory and practice; the second, the idea that reasoning by analogy is the most efficient and rapid form of discursive reasoning; and finally, the passage from Western rationality to a new mode of thought that Novalis terms a “chemistry of reason.”

The influence of Franz von Baader on Novalis naturally appears here. Eugène Susini, in his thesis on the former author, notes that, according to Baader, “reason proceeds chemically in the same way that nature, in its chemical operations, proceeds rationally,” and he adds “this idea of universal chemistry led Baader towards a structure of the universe…all natural transformation is only produced by means of the chemical path” (Franz von Baader et le romantisme mystique, Paris, 1942, t. 1, p. 238). According to Novalis, chemistry generates, by a dynamic suited to matter, a natural light (lumen naturale) inaccessible to human vision, and the poet describes this occultation using the metaphor of the veil of Isis—goddess of nature—who thus masks her nudity. The mysterious path by means of which one may discover this mystery concealed within nature, could therefore only be, for Novalis, the mystique of “not-knowing,” so that “the psycho-argonaut engaged with this subliminal area would risk being drawn into the whirlwind of nothingness leading towards damnation, where special safety can only come from a Messiah” (Novalis, Physikalische, philosophiche und chemische Aufsätze, p. 35, cited by Liedtke, p. 317).

Considering the awareness of the paradox existing between chemistry and reasoning by means of analogy, Novalis privileged the “poetisation of science,” more suited, according to him, to penetrating the secrets of nature than a purely quantitative knowledge. It was in this capacity that Novalis could speak of a “moralization of the universe and sciences” with a metaphysical connotation, to see metachemically.

Ralph Liedtke completes his careful and documented analysis of Novalis by the publication of numerous German daily press excerpts, dated between 1796 and 1802, devoted to alchemical mysteries. In an article that appeared on 3 September, 1802 (that is, little more than a year after Novalis’ death), the journal Westfälischer Anzieger retraces the history of science from Euclid and Pythagoras, and mentions the progress made in the domain of chemistry since Priestley and Lavoisier, but also makes note of the survival of the alchemical myth.

In Hymns to the Night, Novalis wrote: “Death leads to wedlock.” It is to this supreme alchemy that the image which decorates the cover of Ralph Liedtke’s work appears to allude—it represents one of the flasks illustrating different operations of the “Grand Work,” to know the ‘Purgatio,’ of which the alchemist Bartholomaus Korndoffer (who lived in the sixteenth century) underscored the importance: “Because it is in there that the greatest mystery resides” (cf. Schatzkammer der Alchymie, Graz 1976, p. 779). The flight of the white dove symbolizes the purification that leads to alchemical regeneration. The Theatrum chemicum of 1661 affirms that the dual (divine and human) nature of Christ relates to this matter, termed “rotundum,” towards which flies a spirit, a white dove (cf. C. G. Jung, Zur Psychologie westlicher und östlicher Religion, Olten 1973, S. 99 f.). In the story of The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, the hero saves a dove pursued by a black bird, and this noble act foreshadows the marvelous adventures that are going to befall him. Thus, it is regrettable that Ralph Liedtke mentions Johann Valentin Andreae only briefly. In a work published in 1947, entitled Novalis et la pensée mystique (Novalis and Mystical Thought), Maurice Besset noted the meeting between Henry of Ofterdingen and Zulima, originating from Arabia, and he surmised that “this foreign theme, which played a major role in the writing of the story, is of an occultist origin: it is actually frequent in the etiquettes with which, since the Rose-Cross writings, the adepts cover their doctrines” (Besset, Paris, Aubier 1947, p. 167).

One may conclude by saying that, when viewed through Ralph Liedtke’s work, Novalis’ work comes across as a paradigm of creative thought that experimental chemistry has enhanced for numerous German Romantics such as Schelling, Eschenmayer or Baader. According to Novalis, poetry has a heuristic function that enables one to lift Isis’ veil and thereby discover the ultimate secrets of nature.

Roland Edighoffer

Aries 7:2 (2007), Koninklijke Brill NV, pp. 242-243.

Trans. Nadya Chishty-Mujahid.

Ed. Roland Edighoffer.

[1] The publication of these English translations of the original French book reviews from Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism (http://www.brill.nl/arie), has been made possible by the gracious permission of Koninklijke Brill NV.

[2] An Adventure with the Rosicrucians; German title: Unter den Adepten und Rosenkreuzern.

[3] Sous-terre: subterranean.