Citing two mentions in Genesis of the creation of animals—the first in Genesis 1:20 where God says “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life,” etc., and the second in Genesis 2:19 which says that the beasts were formed “out of the ground”— Vaughan says that Genesis implies an identity between the water and the earth, and that this refers not to the visible water and earth as we understand it, but to something else entirely:
This substance then is both earth and water, yet neither of them in their common complexions. But it is a thick water and a subtle earth. In plain terms it is a slimy, spermatic, viscous mass, impregnated with all powers, celestial and terrestrial. This is the true Damascene earth, out
of which God made man.24
At the risk of over-stating the obvious, Vaughan is once again referring to his spermatic mass and repeating that it has all powers both celestial and terrestrial. This certainly refers to human sperm as well as to his “philosophical” sperm, for human sperm is able to generate another human being (terrestrial) which has a spiritual counterpart in its soul (celestial). His reference to “Damascene earth” has, for once, stumped our A. E. Waite who, in a footnote to this phrase, states “I do not remember any earth, literal or symbolical,
which is designated under this name in the texts of alchemy.” Actually, there is a tradition in the Middle East that Adam was formed out of the red earth of what was known as the Damascene field: a stretch of land to the west of Hebron (in what is now the much-embattled West Bank). This was referenced in 1587 by an Italian priest, Giovanni Zuallardo, in his Il Devotissimo Viaggio di Gerusalemme and mentioned in several other places since then. This is reinforced by the very name of Adam itself, which in Hebrew can be written ha-adam, meaning “the red” as he was formed from adama, the “red earth.” This is Vaughan’s reference, of course, and is replete with other possible meanings and relevance since red is the color of the menstruum of the alchemists while white is the color of the seminal fluid. The forming of the clay involved both the red earth and water and the spirit of the Creator, which resulted in the manufacture of Adam. There is also the alchemical image of the “red man” and the “white wife” which refer to alchemical sulfur and mercury in some cases and whose marriage results in the discovery of the Stone. In other alchemical texts “red man” refers to alchemical gold itself. Thus for Vaughan the “Damascene earth” is yet another signifier of the alchemical elements.
He goes further on the same page by describing the famous scene in Exodus 32:20 in which Moses—outraged that his people have made a golden calf to worship—has the calf burned in a fire, the gold reduced to a powder, and then given to the Jews to drink. Vaughan rightly wonders how Moses was able to render the gold of the calf into a fine powder and identifies the gold as aurum potabile, or “drinkable gold,” which is a well-known alchemical product, the Elixir Vitae, and does not refer to actual physical gold.
Vaughan goes on to explain the basic concepts of the Sepher Yetzirah (but without citing that text by name) regarding the signification of the Mother letters of the Hebrew alphabet and their correspondence to three elements: Aleph to Air, Mem to Water, and Shin to Fire. He uses this as a springboard to discuss the basic “unity of spirit and doctrine there is amongst all the Children of Wisdom”25 and how the Kabbalah represents only what is an ancient wisdom common to the wise of all cultures.
This is the point where he begins to discuss the mystery of Jacob’s Ladder, the “greatest mystery in the Kabbalah.”26 As we have already
discussed this—and the ensuing reference to the Mors Osculi or Death of the Kiss—we will not revisit the argument here save to remind the reader that this is where Vaughan begins to show his understanding of the hieros gamos—the sacred union between male and female elements in Nature, in people, and in alchemy—that recapitulates the sacred union between humans and the Divine. It is precisely in this place that he segues into a long discussion of French alchemist Nicholas Flamel and the putative Book of Abraham the Jew which supposedly revealed the secrets of alchemy to Flamel and contributed to his worldly success. He quotes a significant portion of the Book, including a description of the Slaughter of the Innocents—a common alchemical motif—and then abruptly stops. There seems to be no point to this digression at all, except for one salient fact: Flamel’s famous wife and alchemical partner, Perenelle, is not mentioned at all.
Adam without Eve, and now Nicholas without Perenelle. 0ne may say that the silence in this case is somewhat deafening. For a man who arguably would go on to become a seventeenth century avatar of the fourteenth century Nicholas Flamel, these omissions do seem somewhat suggestive.
From Flamel, he then swerves to a discussion of China and of the presence of Christian missionaries in that country as early as 636 C.E. who erected a stone monument with a cross in the Chinese village of “Sanxuen” in Shaanxi Province. This is most likely a reference to the famous Nestorian tablet that was discovered in Xi’an (mistaken as “Sanxuen”) which was erected in 781 C.E. but only discovered in 1625, which accords with Vaughan’s story. Vaughan’s reference to the leader of these early Christians as “0lo Puen” is clearly a reference to Alopen, about whom little is known except that he was a bishop from Persia who indeed did bring Christianity to China as early as the seventh century. In the context of this work on Magic, though, it is difficult to understand the digression to a discussion of Christianity in China especially as he now pivots once again, this time to an exposition of Egyptology.
Vaughan gets most if not all of his knowledge of Egyptian religion from Athanasius Kircher, which means that most if not all of it is in error. What is of value to us, however, is the interpretation Vaughan
gives to this information. as it reveals his own alchemical process and beliefs.
Before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 and its decipherment twenty years later, it was impossible to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics. Many fanciful ideas arose concerning the supposed mystical meanings of the enigmatic figures. Vaughan does not attempt anything like a comprehensive interpretation of hieroglyphics but does focus on the creation myth of the “egg of Ptah.” For Vaughan, this story has elements which he finds resonate with his alchemical concept of all of creation emanating from an initial state of chaos, and the example of the egg is one to which he will return later on in the Coelum Terrae.
He uses the image of the egg—a circle bisected by a winged, hawk- headed serpent—as symbolic of an infinite God, containing within itself Ptah (the Egyptian god of Creation) and the “chaos out of which all things were made.”27 According to Vaughan’s understanding, the egg contains all things as potentialities or images, the bottom half of which represents a watery chaos. The body of the serpent indicates heat and fire, the wings indicate air and volatility, etc. In other words, Vaughan sees in Egyptian religion—as he does in the Bible, the Kabbalah, Hermetism, etc.—validation of his alchemical philosophy. It becomes clear that his intention in Magia Adamica is to prove the universalist position that all religion and all magic derive from a singular source which for the Abrahamic faiths is Adam; and moreover he can find in the spiritual components of other faiths clarification and extension of those that obtain in his own practice. He claims that the Egyptian mysteries derive from the Jewish ones and that even Pythagoras and Plato knew the Torah in Greek translation, and from the Greeks the Romans eventually derived their wisdom.
Thus ends the treatise Magia Adamica. As noted above, this book is bound together with Coelum Terrae which Vaughan considered the second part of Magia. Rudrum’s edition runs Coelum Terrae immediately after Magia Adamica without a title, subtitle or break, although Waite treats them as two separate texts.
After satisfying himself that he has fully explained the origins of Magic in the line of Adam through Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah to Egyptian religion, and from there to all the mysteries of the ancient world, he continues by promising to explain in clear terms two fundamental aspects of alchemy: the “subject of this Art and the mother of all things” and that “natural Medicine which is generated out of this one thing.”28 This work is entitled Coelum Terrae which is Latin for “Heaven and Earth,” and is perhaps a key to deciphering his intentions. The very first line of Genesis—so important to alchemist and Kabbalist alike—is “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Indeed, the whole of Coelum Terrae is focused on Creation because without knowing or understanding how everything was made it is virtually impossible to identify the First Matter of the alchemists.
It remains to be seen whether Vaughan can explain anything in clear terms, however, and it should be admitted at the outset that for all the energetic insistence of this text—this constant driving home of his theme in paragraph after paragraph—that it still will require some prodigious effort to unravel and decode his message.
He opens with a quote from a Kabbalistic source that he does not identify, but which is worth repeating here: “The building of the Sanctuary which is here below is framed according to that of the Sanctuary which is above.”29 Aside from the obvious similarity to the axiom of the Emerald Tablet, there is another resonance of which Vaughan would not have been aware and that is the text discovered at Qumran known as the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice. 0ne of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, it was only revealed in 1947 and not translated until much later. It contains many references to the Temple in Jerusalem but as the Qumranites were known to have been estranged from that Temple they created a ritual in which they invoked the Temple’s celestial counterpart. Thus, a “Sanctuary below” and a “Sanctuary above.” The similarity between the text of Qumran and later texts of Jewish mysticism—in particular the ascent literature known as Hekhalot and Merkavah—has been described more fully in another place30 and will not be repeated here except to note the
correspondence between what Vaughan is saying in Coelum Terrae in an alchemical context and the ascent and descent of the soul in the Hekhalot literature.
Vaughan goes on:
Here we have two worlds, visible and invisible, and two universal Natures, visible and invisible, out of which both those worlds proceeded. The passive universal Nature was made in the image of the active universal one, and the conformity of both worlds or Sanctuaries consists in the original conformity of their principles.31
There is nothing new here for those of us who have been following so far. The language has changed a little as well as the framing of the concept in terms of “Sanctuaries” but we are still discussing the basic identity of “above” and “below” which is, of course, fundamental to alchemy as well as magic. However, he tries to clarify the concept by developing some new terminology.
He writes of a “Universal Patient” and a “Universal Agent.” The Patient is the passive universal Nature which was created by the Universal Agent. Vaughan identifies the Patient as the First Matter of the alchemists with the implication that the Agent is God.
At this point the whole discussion becomes more obscure and complex, for the Twilight Language of alchemy has now returned with a vengeance. He throws so many descriptive nouns and adjectives at the reader that rather than clarify his subject he only succeeds in enshrouding it further. This, plus his careless abuse of pronouns, makes our work a little harder but not impossible.
Vaughan implies in this text that he has seen the First Matter and has worked with it. He first quotes Capnion on the subject, who admits that language is not equal to the task of describing what it is, except to emphasize that it is “incorruptible, immutable, constant, one and the same for ever, and always existent.”32 Vaughan then goes on in his own words to describe this First Matter. Like all alchemists, he is reduced to fumbling for an appropriate vocabulary for something that changes its appearance constantly yet remains somehow essentially the same. It is:
… the first, visible, tangible substance that ever God made: it is white in appearance and Paracelsus gives you the reason why: “All things”—saith he—“when they first proceed from
God are white, but He colours them afterwards according to His pleasure.”33
In the alchemical laboratory this substance—which Vaughan now calls “the chaos”—is blood-red “because the Central Sulfur is stirred up and discovered by the Philosophical Fire.” That was the first preparation. In the second preparation, “it is exceeding white and transparent like the heavens. It is in truth somewhat like common quicksilver, but of a celestial, transcendent brightness, for there is nothing upon earth like it.” 34
To confuse matters even further, Vaughan insists that this substance “is no animal, no vegetable, no mineral, neither is she extracted out of animals, vegetables or minerals, but she is pre-existent to them all, for she is the mother of them. She yields to nothing but love, for her end
is generation and that was never yet performed by violence. He that knows how to wanton and toy with her, the same shall receive all her treasures.”35
This seems curious at face value. The First Matter is something basic to everything in Creation, which pre-exists Creation, and which is the impulse behind all generation. 0nce again, Vaughan recapitulates his insistence on “love” as the means of approaching the First Matter. His insistence that the substance is neither animal nor vegetable nor mineral may reflect more his own limitation of understanding the composition of the First Matter rather than an accurate or literal characterization, for this substance clearly has color, brightness, and a certain corporeality. However, we may say that light itself also satisfies these conditions and this idea may take us somewhat further along towards discovering the First Matter.36 Light does pre-exist all animals, vegetables, and minerals especially in terms of Genesis, the prime alchemical text, where light is created on the first day of Creation and the animals, vegetables and minerals not until the third day. Light cannot be extracted from them but was a pre- requisite for their existence if Genesis is to be believed.
We should be cautious, however, and not jump to conclusions that may be premature. Vaughan has much more to say on this subject, and his terminology ranges from the purely chemical to the biological to the spiritually abstract, which is suggestive of our own line of inquiry