Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 17, Vol. 2. Autumnal Equinox 2009
Rosicrucian Alchemical Manuscript On the Philosophers Stone Containing
the Three Magisteriums of the Art, attributed to Edward Kelley
1592-97, from an unpublished handwritten notebook of Frederick
Hockley’s, circa 1860. Hell Fire Club Books, 2008. 82
pages, handbound ltd. ed. of 500 copies. £65.00.
FacsimileFrederick Hockley/Golden DawnAlchemical Manuscript, transcribed
in 1833 by Frederick Hockley from an original 1797 inner order
manuscript attributed to Sigismund. Hell Fire Club Books, 2008. 24
pages, handbound ltd. ed. of 120 copies. £44.00
review by Teresa Burns
Each of these fascinating but obscure hand-bound publications has been created to duplicate Frederick Hockley’s “original copies” as much as possible, and certainly much of the price reflects the high-quality hand binding in leather and paper. Binding books by hand is rapidly becoming another lost art, and to this writer’s knowledge the Hell Fire Book Club and Waning Moon Publications are the only two occult publishing houses which hand bind their own limited edition productions.
Both of these facsimiles reproduce 19th century copies of manuscripts made by “Rosicrucian seer” Frederick Hockley, the well-known collector of alchemical and occult manuscripts whose library and correspondence almost certainly influenced the original Order of the Golden Dawn, and whose collection included the most complete Dee-and-Kelley style scrying set-up of his age.
Of course, having two such reproductions of Hockley’s handwritten copy of earlier purported manuscripts both delights and puzzles, but for the historian of manuscripts there’s another plus: the reproduction of his handwriting obviates the need to rely on the typesetter to decide (and possibly, as often happens, decide wrong) how to transcribe some of the harder-to-decipher symbols; or to decide whether to write the symbol for “philosophic mercury” or “green oleum,” or even Saturn as Hockley does; to use more conventional symbols; and/or to add in their own explanation. Reproducing these manuscripts (especially the first one) into a printed typeface would either result in mistakes, require explanations much longer than the manuscripts themselves, or both.
The originals no longer exist; in fact, we have no way of knowing the probability that they ever did, unless we can make sense of the arcane texts and place them into a tradition that has only started to be pieced back together in the public eye. This reviewer will make no such research attempt here!
Together, these publications might well be considered “advanced” and “beginner” “inner order” work in physical alchemy and for that reason alone their obtuseness and obscurity have set off enough e-group discussion to make the original Hell Fire Club members proud. Much of the discussion has concerned whether the manuscripts are “real” or not and how one could or should find out: a complaint both valid and humorous. If and when anyone finds an authenticable hand-written manuscript by 412-years-dead alchemist Sir Edward Kelley, it would be one of the alchemical discoveries of the century, and totally incomprehensible to all but a select few. (In fact, that’s just the case with the manuscripts uncovered recently in the Royal Library in Copenhagen which include the 1589 poem of Kelley’s mentioned below, as well as documents making references this writer and others take to refer to an alchemical circle around Kelley and John Dee. Most don’t question that these are real documents; but what they mean is another question entirely.)
Of course, if one did find such a manuscript that also purported to explain the process of turning lead into gold and was at the same time comprehensible, then it could not possibly be real: the little writing of Kelley’s we have was opaque in its own time, at least to those outside of his and John Dee’s alchemical circle.
Without any of the usual methods of authentication, one must decide based on the material in the text if the notebooks copied over 150 years ago by Frederick Hockley could likely be based on authentic earlier work, and that demands significant knowledge of a tradition never in the public eye, usually transmitted anonymously and/or with vows of secrecy, and whose original contexts have just in the past few decades begun to be re-understood.
With these manuscripts, like so many in the western tradition including many discussed in this journal, we have a copy of a copy that is itself sometimes a copy. (For instance, see Vincent Bridges’ Magick, Dee’s Rosie Crucian Secrets and the Byrom Collection: Fragmentation and Transmission in the 18th century, or my discussion of the issues concerning the copying and retitling of a poem attributed to Edward Kelley.)
The first and to this reader most interesting of the Hockley manuscripts, A Facsimile Rosicrucian Alchemical Manuscript On the Philosophers Stone, opens with the declaration that it was compiled during the time when “Emperor Rudolf II was shamefully deceived, by a certain Kallnuss [whom we take to be Kelley], guided by his Physician and Alchimist Sennert, the deceit being detected by Hundler,” and resulting in “Kallnuss” being put in prison. It is, therefore, the more questionable of the two but to this writer the most interesting. “Hundler” in the opening is curious—is this Jiri Hunckler, the court official Kelley shot in a duel, which was the event leading to his imprisonment? (That information was not widely available to non-Czech or German speakers until recent years.) Is “Sennert” alchemist Daniel Sennert, more associated with Wittenberg than Prague? Some of the alchemists referred to, notably “Isaacus Hollandus” (Isaac Holland) and “Basilicus Valentinus” (Basil Valentine) match the same group frequently referred to in the Copenhagen manuscripts mentioned above, and in Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum. Of course that could be but coincidence.
The second document, labeled FacsimileFrederick Hockley/Golden DawnAlchemical Manuscriptis placed by the publishers within the western mystery tradition’s “legend of a secret alchemical tradition within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn [that] has persisted, [. . .] from the earliest days members were devoted to the practise of a physical and spiritual alchemy that had its roots in the earliest Rosicrucian Societies.” It records Sigismund Bacstrum’s alchemical experiments recorded and performed as part of his work in the Philosophus grade of the Mauritanian Rosicrucian society of the Comte du Chazal and is filled with old-style astrological horoscopes for the times of different operations, and detailed observations of the results of different stages of these experiments. For example, he records the appearance of residues left on the surfaces of his equipment in minute detail which though tedious is much more easily comprehensible than what “Kallnuss” or Kelley means in his description of how to prepare the “Red Elixir.”
Following this, we’re given the copy of the admission of the same Dr. Bacstrom into the Society of Rosa Crucie, including a lengthy and detailed oath whose many “I do hereby promise. . .” statements bear a marked similarity to the vow administered a member of the Golden Dawn upon their initiation to the grade of Adeptus Minor in the R.R.et A.C. However, while the modern Golden Dawn seems to not focus at all on physical alchemy beyond a few references in their knowledge lectures, its clear that Hockley (and those whose manuscripts he purportedly copied here, Kallnuss/Edward Kelley and Sigismund Bacstrum) did.
The manuscript by Hockley/Bacstrum explored the “simpler” physical alchemy processes that the outer order Golden Dawn now downplays or ignores entirely, while the one by Hockley/”Kallnuss” purports to show how someone, perhaps Edward Kelley, “deceived” Emperor Rudolf II with the advanced techniques of that art.
I doubt that anyone will learn how to make the Philosopher’s Stone from either of these limited edition publications, but if they are truly what they are presented to be, they constitute two critical links in the transmission of the underground current of physical alchemy. Regardless, this reviewer considers these two volumes a significant addition to the library of any serious student, practitioner, or historian of the alchemical arts.