An alchemical installation by Michael Pearce
KWAN FONG GALLERY
California Lutheran University
20th September 2008 – 24th October 2008.
Opening reception 7pm Saturday 20th September.
Alchemical philosophy is grounded in the idea that the matter from which the universe was created can be restored through a process of combining the four elements air, earth, fire and water together into a stone, the philosopher’s stone. (Harry Potter’s sorcerer’s stone) It’s commonly thought that the alchemists were obsessed with creating gold from base matter, and in a sense they were, but only insofar as gold is a symbol of the prima materia, the first material. Their spiritual quest to find the prima materia of creation was far more important than the preparation of mere gold, because according to the philosophy of Pythagoras the stuff of which the universe is made must be the material of God himself, so alchemy can be seen as the quest to find God by understanding the phenomena of the universe, a quest that has continued to this day as we endeavor to decipher the creation in our explorations at Universities and Colleges worldwide. In a sense the student body and faculty of CLU are all alchemists.
Renaissance alchemists used symbols to describe what they were doing in a particularly obscure coding of their process. It’s understandable that they should choose to do so in an age that saw men like poor, innocent Giordano Bruno rewarded for their achievements in science by being burned alive; many were lost to a vindictive inquisition that sought to keep the church’s grip upon the truth despite all the evidence that the world was not as it seemed. The weird symbols alchemists used worked in much the same way as the periodic table, offering a system for them to communicate their ideas to one another in a way that could only mislead the un-initiated. Because their symbols are mysterious the unscrupulous vendors of dubious cults have used them to scare their victims with paranoid accusations of Satanism and witchcraft. Such things simply have no place in historical alchemy.
It may seem strange, but Renaissance alchemists were universally devout and deeply spiritual, writing about God at great length. Martin Luther admired alchemy, saying:
Â “The science of alchemy I like well, and, indeed, `tis the philosophy of the ancients. I like it not only for the profits it brings in melting metals, in decocting preparing, extracting, and distilling herbs, roots; I like it also for the sake of the allegory and secret signification, which is exceedingly fine, touching the resurrection of the dead at the last day. For, as in a furnace the fire extracts and separates from a substance the other portions, and carries upward the spirit, the life, the sap, the strength, while the unclean matter, the dregs, remain at the bottom, like a dead and worthless carcass; even so God, at the day of judgment, will separate all things through fire, the righteous from the ungodly. The Christians and righteous shall ascend upward into heaven, and there live everlastingly, but the wicked and the ungodly, as the dross and filth, shall remain in hell, and there be damned.”
Table Talk, DCCLX.
When Luther’s revolution came, alchemists sought refuge in Protestantism and are repeatedly discovered amongst the reforming leaders of Britain, Germany and Holland. In Elizabethan England men like Fludd and Dee risked their lives to promote and encourage the interests of scientific research. These men are deeply associated with the origins of the mysterious Rosicrucian order and the beginning of Freemasonry, followed by men like Ashmole and Newton, who were both pre-occupied by alchemy, forming their natural philosophy from the alchemical works of their predecessors and establishing the Invisible College and the Royal Society. Newton wrote half a million words about alchemy!Â