0ne becomes two, two becomes three, and by means of the third and fourth achieves unity; thus two are but one.26

This utterance of Mary was popular and repeated in several sources with which Vaughan was familiar, including the Turba Philosophorum, a seminal alchemical tract of the tenth century C.E., originally in Arabic but published in Latin translation in 1572. The Turba is notable for several reasons, the first of which is that it insists that all created beings (in heaven and on earth) partake of the four elements—air, earth, fire and water—but describes this philosophy within an Islamic framework. The second reason is that the Turba contains some Indian elements, especially the story of a woman who kills a dragon who eats her by hiding poison in her own body. The Indian connection to Western alchemy is, of course, a primary thesis of this study.

The introductory section of the Turba references Hermes in the context of a gathering (turba) of philosophers who will discuss the fine points of the alchemical process. As such the Turba is firmly within the Hermetic stream. The philosophers in the gathering, or assembly, are Greek themselves: Empedocles, Pythagoras, Anaximander, Anaxagoras, Xenophanes, etc., which makes the fact that the Turba is translated from an Arabic original all the more interesting.

The Arabic and Farsi speaking region of the Middle East, Near East and Central Asia was a major transit point for goods and information coming from India and China across the Silk Route. With the advent of the Islamic caliphates that stretched from Arabia and the Levant,

across North Africa and into Europe as far as the French border with Spain, there was a shift from pre-Islamic, pagan philosophies to more acceptable Islamic varieties. However, the Islamic leaders understood the value of learning of all types—from chemistry and alchemy to astronomy, astrology, metallurgy, and esoteric disciplines—so it is no surprise that a text involving a meeting of Greek philosophers should have been written originally in Arabic. Indeed, as Joseph Needham has pointed out in his monumental study of Chinese science and civilization, it is likely that even the Emerald Tablet itself had its origins in China before it was adopted by Islamic philosophers and translated into Arabic, an issue to which we will return.

The magical arts were also of intense interest to Arab and Persian commentators and philosophers. In fact, the tradition of European ceremonial magic has its roots in a notorious Arab language text known as the Picatrix. This volume is considered the basis and inspiration for Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy. The Picatrix is occupied with the same basic cosmological system and the all-important doctrine of correspondences, showing how plants, minerals, gems, perfumes, colors, etc. and parts of the human body have their corresponding qualities in the planets and stars of the macrocosm. It also contains instructions for summoning spiritual forces through acts of ritual magic, which in turn influenced the same material in Agrippa. Its original title was Ghayat al-Hakim, the “Goal of the Wise.” It appeared sometime around the eleventh century C.E. in Arabic, and was later translated into Spanish in the thirteenth century and then into Latin where it became an important source for Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, and from there circulated widely in Hermetic and esoteric circles in Europe, where a copy eventually made its way to the library of Elias Ashmole, a founder of the Royal Society and an alchemist as well.

The Picatrix quotes Hermes as an authority as well as Plato, and makes references to Indian astrology and occultism. The astrological and magical arts of the Chaldeans, Nabateans, and the Sabians are also included so as a syncretic work it has a lot in common with other Hermetic literature.27 It is also an indication that Indian esotericism was making itself known in European and Middle Eastern circles

centuries before the Vaughans began their own alchemical work during the seventeenth century.

There is thus a strong magical element in Vaughan’s worldview and, we may assume, in his methodology. Agrippa’s work is almost entirely concerned with the same material as the Picatrix—which is celestial magic and the creation of talismanic figures, identification of which materials have resonance with which planets and stars, etc. Both works are devoted to understanding the degree to which the microcosmic world—including human beings, animals, and the rest of Creation—is a mirror of the macrocosmic world, and how one may exploit the deep connection between all phenomena, all experience that this relationship implies. There is a basic, invisible force present and at work in the world and in the cosmos; it is this force that must be discovered by the magician and the alchemist. As it is behind all created elements it can be found in all created elements to different and varying degrees.

But why do we think that Love is a magician? Because the whole power of magic consists in love. The work of magic is the attraction of one thing by another …

—Marsilio Ficino, De Amore, VI, 10

We have claimed in our treatise De naturali magia that all bonds are either reduced to the bond of love, depend on the bond of love, or are based on the bond of love.

—Giordano Bruno, De vinculis in genere

That Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499)—the translator of the works of Plato and the Corpus Hermeticum from Greek into Latin, and thus a major proponent of Neoplatonism and Hermetism—considered this force to be Love, and that Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) concurred, is a matter of record. This Love, this attraction, this “magnet” of Vaughan, the “Mystery of Union” as he calls it, is both eros and amor. It is the vinculum, the magic “bond” of Bruno through which the magician can perform miracles. In this way Vaughan was considered by Waite to be a magician as well as an alchemist. Vaughan’s writings can certainly be perceived that way, as elaborations of the magical theories to be found in Agrippa and Trithemius, which were themselves based on the Platonic notions of Ficino.

The character of Love, however, was never clearly or consistently defined except that it should somehow be elevated to a desire for the

divine. Ficino, who struggled with homoerotic love, eventually became ordained a Catholic priest. Ironically, Bruno—also an ordained priest

—was heterosexual and eventually condemned to execution for his occult and heretical beliefs by the same Church. Both of these men realized the power of love in general, and of its sensual, erotic nature in particular which was a force that could destroy a man as much as elevate him.

The emphasis in both writers is on the male half of the equation; there was a great deal of ambiguity in their conceptions of the role and character of women: with Ficino basically ignoring them and Bruno conflicted about his own desires, denigrating the “common woman” and seeking instead to worship an idealized female and to burn with unrequited lust in the process, a state he considered enobling. It should be noted that many magical rituals prescribe a certain period of chastity for the magician prior to the ceremony, and that celibacy in the sense of a consciously-controlled sexuality was considered to be a source of occult power.

Ficino wrote his De amore (“0n Love”) as a lengthy meditation on the nature of love, lust, desire, and beauty. Bruno wrote his famous De gli heroici furori (“The Heroic Frenzies”) on the same subject, albeit from a different perspective. Both men were Neoplatonists, occultists, astrologers, and Hermeticists. Both men understood love—and especially its unruly companion, eros—as the key to understanding Creation and, by extension, magic.

Ficino’s student—Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494)— took the Neoplatonism of his teacher even further and included the Kabbalah as well as what was known of Islamic cosmology, astrology, and mysticism in his worldview. He aggressively defended the occult arts to the point where he had to flee to France to avoid prosecution by the Church. Coming under the sway of the puritanical Dominican friar Savonarola, he began to study to become a monk but he was eventually poisoned by political enemies and died in Florence where his eulogy was delivered by his teacher, Ficino. He never repudiated his earlier interest in occultism, however, even though he made what accommodations he could to the Church’s demands that he excise certain statements considered heretical.

This back-tracking by some of the most influential occult thinkers of the Renaissance due to Church suppression found its further expression in Agrippa himself. Toward the end of his life, he distanced himself from magic and his reputation as a magician but it was a futile gesture for the name of Agrippa has come down to us as synonymous with occultism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, and ceremonial magic. All of these influences were felt by Agrippa, and his work in turn influenced Bruno.

The stream of Arab, Jewish, and Asian currents that flowed through the Neoplatonic theories of the Renaissance magicians and astrologers developed into a tidal wave of Hermetic thought and practice, involving everything from astrology and alchemy to numerology, Kabbalah, medicine, and ceremonial magic. What is generally perceived as a European phenomenon has its roots in the Near East and Asia.

Perspectives on sexuality in regions not dominated by the Church were quite different from those experienced in Europe. The repudiation of sexuality except for purposes of procreation was alien to populations in China, India, and Central Asia which nevertheless saw in the sexual impulse a force of tremendous spiritual power. India, as an example, celebrated sexuality: in its Tantric scriptures, in its idols, its temple architecture, its ancient sacred literature. Creation was attributed to an act of copulation between a male and a female deity. Lingam and yoni devices—representing the phallus of Shiva and the vagina of Shakti, respectively—were (and are) everywhere in evidence, used for many different ritual purposes including fertility.

This was not sex for the sake of physical gratification, but human sexuality perceived to be the outer manifestation of an inner reality. Sex, as something familiar to everyone, was simply a convenient means of explaining these deeper issues. It would be a mistake to consider sexuality as a metaphor, however. Sexuality was considered to be operating on more than one plane simultaneously, so that human sexuality had a divine or sacred counterpart.

An objection to the late-nineteenth and twentieth century approach to alchemical literature from the point of view of the depth psychology of C.G. Jung was recently voiced by Lawrence M. Principe.28 He claimed, and rightly, that the lack of a cultural context for alchemical

literature coupled with ignorance of chemical concepts inclined some readers to the conclusion that the alchemists were talking about deep spiritual matters, when in reality their use of sexual metaphor and analogy for chemical processes was pedestrian and had nothing at all to do with deeper issues. Just as we speak of “male” and “female” connectors that are respectively convex and concave, the sexual allusions in alchemy—so goes this argument—are equally utilitarian and have nothing to do with actual human sexuality. There can be little doubt that many alchemical authors were doing just that, using sexual metaphors as a kind of shorthand, but to draw the conclusion that all alchemy is based on mundane chemical operations without a spiritual or at least a psychological counterpart is equally erroneous.

Anyone who has worked with tools in any of the technical fields knows that terms like “male” and “female” are applied to a wide variety of artifacts for the sake of convenience. Therefore a plug is male and the connector or socket into which it is inserted is female. There is no deeper meaning implied or intended; but to an alchemist of a particular stripe, the almost universal application of terms like this to mundane objects is a clue to something deeper, something prevalent in the very fact of nature and how human beings manage Creation. Whereas a plumber or a craftsman may not be aware of such “hidden intercourses,” it is the occupation of the natural philosopher—the alchemist, the magician—to draw more profound inferences from these phenomena. That is not to say that the scientific approach to alchemical literature is to be derided or abandoned, far from it; but when we approach the literature of a Thomas Vaughan, or the Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, as examples, it becomes clear that we are not speaking about “normal” chemical processes. Those alchemists who were involved in separating the elements, purifying them, and creating new compounds used the same language as those who were interpreting these same processes on a different level, in a different semantic field although sharing the same terminology.

What, then, of the historical antecedents of European alchemy, those practices and their corresponding literature discovered in India and China? We encounter the same bifurcation of intent. The Chinese approach to “external” alchemy and “internal” alchemy is just such a

case in point. There were two alchemies. 0ne was properly directed towards the manipulation of material substances to derive the elixir vitae: a medicine that would cure all sickness and lead to a prolonged life. The other had a similar objective, but was performed using ritual, observance of the movements of the stars and planets, etc. with the alchemical apparatus transferred from the laboratory to the human anatomy and especially the nervous system. It was an interiorization of the external alchemical process, which would imply there was more going on with alchemy than the manipulation of metals. In a way, we can speak of alchemy as “speculative chemistry” in the same way we speak of “speculative Freemasonry” to distinguish the secret society phenomenon from its seemingly more mundane origins as a guild of builders and bricklayers. Both are based on materialist concerns but use these technologies as representative of other—spiritual, esoteric— purposes.

This confusion, however, is to be expected of a discipline that falls under the aegis of Hermes, the God of Liminality and Boundaries. Hermes is not only a god of wisdom, writing, communication, and magic but of the ways in which these abilities may be abused. The reflex of communication is misdirection and disinformation. Magic may be used to enoble, but it can also be used to enslave. As for writing, well, the German proverb has it that “paper is patient.” 0ne can writes lies as easily as truth; often much easier.

Hermes is a Trickster as well as a psychopomp. Mercury—Hermes’s Roman counterpart and planetary incarnation—had a reputation for cunning, trickery, and thievery. As a god of the boundaries that exist in nature and in human society, Mercury traveled back and forth over them with ease, no respecter of class, status or differences. What belonged to one side, now belonged to the other. As a god of poetry and eloquence, Mercury’s silver tongue could charm the birds from the trees … or the money from your purse. In modern terms, Mercury is an advertising guru; a speechwriter; a hacker. As a guide to the underworld, Mercury is a psychopomp.