The Hermes Paradigm – Book One: First Principles, Rubaphilos Salfluĕre.
Salamander and Sons: Muang, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2009. 165 pages. $26.95 USD.
review by J.S. Kupperman
Rubaphilos Salfluĕre’s The Hermes Paradigm is a three part series on laboratory and spiritual alchemy. This first book, as the title perhaps suggests, deals with the history and theory, the first principles of any field one might endeavor to study. While overall book was interesting to say the least, I found much of the content to be quite problematic. That I have previously read and very much enjoyed previous books from this publisher makes the current review all the more difficult.
Though divided into fifteen chapters the book really has two parts, history and theory, even though there is a great deal of jumping back and forth between these. The history section is the larger of the two and, ultimately, the least worthwhile portion to actually read. Taking what appears to be a page from 19th century occultism Salfluĕre’s history is filled with alternative or at the very least unverifiable history. Wherever there is a discrepancy between the author’s view of history and that which can or has been demonstrated by scholars the reader is told that it is, of course the author’s which is in reality true. The evidence to support this lamentably frequent claim is a secret “underground current.” It is one that it seems only the author has access to, one which the reader must simply accept to be true.
So, through this method we learn that the content Emerald Tablet, of paramount importance in alchemy at least since the time of Paracelsus, is in fact four or five thousand years old. We learn that Hermes Trismegistus was probably an actual, ancient person (whereas the Egyptian god Djehuti or Thoth was essentially a Jungian archetype, and understood as such by the Egyptian preisthood) and that alchemy is the oldest of all esoteric sciences. Ever.
A second theme to the history portions, which will be repeated in the theory areas as well, is a constant attack against what is termed “pop-occultism,” which is just about any bit of occultism you’ve ever heard of publically. Pop-occultism never gets it right and is always missing what should make it a useful esoteric and magical system. Which his, of course is. At this point we’ll have to take the author’s word on that, as this book is concerned only with theory, not practice. The irony of this is that Salfluĕre tells us that pop-occultism frequently makes use of the secret tradition argument and that we should be wary of such things, even as he uses the same justification. How should we know the difference between Salfluĕre’s “underground current” and pop-occultism? The Salfluĕre paraphrases the Gospel of Mark on this one: by their fruits you shall know them. Again, we’ll have to wait until the other books to see the fruits of Salfluĕre’s work.
The theory parts of the book are somewhat better, though frequently arrogant in both tone and content. The main parts of theory are in the beginning and end of the book, essentially surrounding the history sections. Again we will meet with the ever present secret tradition. Unlike the history, there are definitely elements of Salfluĕre’s theory that are quite good and useful. Unfortunately, they are almost never particularly original. For instance there was nothing, outside of the author’s re-writing of history, that I was not familiar with before reading this book. And I am neither an alchemist nor, so far as I am aware, privy to his underground current. Where there are original-seeming elements this is be due the author’s unique and privileged perspective, or sometimes his bias, as when the Jewishness of kabbalah is dismissed as “rotting under centuries of religious and political garbage” (p. 129), with the real qabalah being of ancient, and of course secret, Babylonian and Egyptian origin.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this is his interpretation, or perhaps re-interpretation, of hermetism, which is based almost entirely on a neo-Jungian reading of the Emerald Tablet. It is perhaps important to note here that Salfluĕre has training as a neo-Jungian therapist. Initiation itself is described as a deep psychological process. What is lacking in the author’s hermetic paradigm is a great deal of what can be identified as hermetic. The entirety of the Corpus Hermeticum is relegated to the trash bin (in a footnote, nevertheless) because it is argued to be “of highly questionable origin and content” (p. 110). Argued by whom and how effectivelyis something we are never told, and this kind of argument also makes frequent appearance in the text. Some piece of history or theory will be rejected because some anonymous scholar, we are told, does not agree with it. This is an interesting tacit to make given the non-existent evidence used to demonstrate the ancientness of the Emerald Tablet.
It is really the final section of The Hermes Paradigm that is perhaps of most interest and value. Here Salfluĕre gives his own interpretation of the Emerald Table, which he was re-written from various historical sources and combined with his own training and outlook. Again, many of the interpretations are Jungian in nature and the author never misses an opportunity to attack the so-called pop-occultisms of the world.
This first book of The Hermes Paradigm is filled with seeming inconsistencies. We are told that the author will provide empirical evidence for all of his claims, but never does so. We are told he has access to the underground stream but we are never told how to differentiate his claims to this from all the others. There is a constant haranguing of pop-occultism while at the same time there are multiple quotations from A.E. Waite, the Kybalion (authored by pop-occultist Paul Foster Case, amongst others), and other figures from the pop-occult world. In fact, there is very little presented here that cannot be found in some pop-occult text and nothing discussed appears to pre-date the occult revival of the 19th century in any significant way. And, most importantly, we are told that what is contained in this book has never been revealed before to the world at large, and yet I, a non-alchemist, knew of all the theories, the consumption of alchemical elixirs and the general ideology presented therein already.
As a stand-alone book on alchemy I would have a hard time recommending this text to anyone but someone with advanced understanding of modern alchemical and ceremonial magical practices. For that reader some of the theory sections do present a useful summary of modern esoteric approaches. However, I would feel far more comfortable recommending either of the other two alchemy books previously published by Salamander and Sons, both of which I find to be far superior to this present book. That being said, without the two subsequent books in this series it is difficult to tell how important the information, and biases, presented in this book are. So, at this time, I would recommend a wait and see attitude. After all, by their fruits you shall know them.