Briefly Noted: ‘Le Mystère des Cathédrales’

With yesterday’s catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame of Paris, I couldn’t help but think of Victor Hugo’s comment in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) that “The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.”

Tourists, Catholics and other Christians, mystics of all faiths, architects, and especially the French nation have used many superlatives to describe the beauty and importance of this cathedral. And yet, the church is more than it seems. It is, as the pseudonymous author Fucanelli wrote in the original version of The Mystery of the Cathedrals, a veritable hermetic textbook in living stone to the alchemical process.

Most people probably view the hermetic symbols as the flourishes of Gothic architecture. However, for students of chemical or spiritual alchemy, the is much to learn from those symbols as well as from The Mystery of the Cathedrals (1926) and its sequel Dwellings of the Philosophers (1929). Modern-day students will find a great deal of help in the work of Carl Jung and others who view alchemy as more than trying to turn lead into gold but as a spiritual/psychological means of becoming wholly one’s divine self.

I have been studying this book since the 1971 English (U.K – Neville Spearman edition) came out and grasp only a fraction of it. As Wikipedia says of the two books, “The books are written in a cryptic and erudite manner, replete with Latin and Greek puns, alchemical symbolism, double entendres, and lectures on and in Argot and Cant, all of which serve to keep casual readers ignorant.”

From the Publisher (The cover shown here comes from a reprint edition.)

In 1926 the fabled alchemist Fulcanelli left his remarkable manuscript concerning the Hermetic Study of Gothic Cathedral Construction with a student. He then disappeared. The book decodes the symbology found upon and within the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe which have openly displayed the secrets of alchemy for 700 years.

From the Book

“The gothic cathedral, that sanctuary of Tradition, Science and Art, should not be regarded as a work dedicated solely to the glory of Christianity, but rather as a vast concretion of ideas, of tendencies, of popular beliefs; a perfect whole, to which we can refer without fear, whenever we would penetrate the religious, secular, philosophic or social thoughts of our ancestors.”

Amazon Reader Review

Wikipedia Photo of 2019 fire

Seminal work by the mysterious master French alchemist Fulcanelli. Companion to his other book “The Dwellings of the Philosophers.” The author explores in depth secrets contained within the Gothic cathedrals of France. He reveals a number of secrets, providing crucial clues into the occult work of the alchemists, contained in these massive repositories of knowledge preserved in stone. Warning: this is not a work for the uninitiated or those unfamiliar with alchemy. In order to understand this book, one must have at the very least knowledge of Gothic art and architecture as well as an understanding of the rudiments of alchemy. This is necessary in order for Fulcanelli’s work to make any sense to the reader. I would recommend Loius Charpentier’s “Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral” and Tobias Churton’s “The Golden Builders” to familiarize oneself with the subject matter before diving headlong into Fulcanelli’s masterpiece.

I agree with the reviewer’s suggestions about reading several other books first before attempting this one. Also, you’ll find an interesting commentary of Mysteries of the Cathedrals included in Jay Widner and Vincent Bridges book The Mysteries of the Great Cross of Hendaye” Alchemy and the End of Time.

In spite of the difficulties, Mysteries of the Cathedrals is time well spent.





Briefly noted: ‘Red Sulfur’ by Robert Bosnak

Man is a thinker.redsulfur
 He is that what he thinks.
When he thinks fire
he is fire.
When he thinks war,
he will create war.
Everything depends
if his entire imagination
will be an entire sun,
that is, that he will imagine himself completely
that what he wants.
— Paracelsus

Red Sulphur: The Greatest Mystery in Alchemy [Kindle Edition], by Robert Bosnak, Red Sulphur Publications (December 8, 2014), 508pp

As I read this book, I cannot help but think of author Katherine Neville (The Eight, The Fire) who popularized the magical saga long before Dan Brown took the form to even larger audiences. I also cannot help but note that Robert Bosnak is a long-time Jungian analyst with widely-read nonfiction books to his credit who has studied alchemy for years. Jung was also a student of alchemy, seeing it as widely applicable to the understanding and development of the self. The heritage behind Red Sulphur brings great promise to this novel.

From the Publisher: It is 1666, the Year of the Beast, seen by many as the moment the Devil will appear on earth.

Science is in ascendance, crowding out other systems of thought. The ancient art of alchemy is in retreat. No one has been able to make the Philosophers’ Stone for over a hundred years, but many of the best minds of the age are still in a desperate search for it. Stories vividly abound how alchemists of yore had created a powerful stone of sorcery, rejuvenating all it touches — turning decrepit old lead into precious fresh gold. A universal medicine known to the alchemists by its true name: Red Sulphur.

From the Novel’s Epigraph: “This saga is based on the last verified historical reports by credible withesses about a mysterious transmutation. It follows the lives of a great alchemist and the two extraordinary women he loves. The last in the world in possession of the miraculous Red Sulphur, the source of all creative powers, they are pursued by dark forces and powerful world leaders. This is a visionary tale spanning two generations in the last days when magic was strong. It is the story of the final embers of the long gone days when the Magi could still do what we, children of science, hold to be impossible.”

Editorial Reviewer Comment: “A book both compelling and haunting. Robert Bosnak’s saga Red Sulphur traces the history of the split between alchemy and science in a tale of lust, greed and abiding passion.” – Penny Busetto:


From the author’s Amazon Page: “ROBERT BOSNAK grew up in Holland, trained in Switzerland, and has studied alchemy for over 40 years. He is a noted Jungian psychoanalyst specialized in dreaming with a practice in Los Angeles, and is the author and editor of 7 books of non-fiction in the fields of dreams, health, and creative imagination. His bestselling A Little Course in Dreams was translated into a dozen languages. He developed a method called ’embodied imagination’ used widely in psychotherapy and applied worldwide to a variety of creative endeavors. The Red Sulphur saga is his first published work of fiction. He lives in the mountains of Santa Barbara.”

You have to be an alchemist, a Jungian or a mystic to love this book. That’s the beauty of it as a saga. You don’t need footnotes; instead, you need simply to love a story. The story might change you in ways you don’t expect, but then reading always has that kind of power over those who resonate with the characters, plots and themes.


Seeker for promo 1Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels including “The Seeker.”

Review: ‘Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology’

Alchemy : An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology (Studies in Jungian Psychology)Alchemy : An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology by Marie-Louise von Franz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The late Marie-Louise von Franz (1915 -1998) was a Jungian analyst and colleague/student of Carl Jung. She is widely known for her penetrating treatises about seeker’s journey motifs, alchemical texts and fairy tales as well as an accessible biography of Jung.

Here again, her insights are profound and broad in scope. The book, published in 1980, is composed of lectures she presented in Zurich in 1959. The lectures contain excerpts from European, Arabic and Greek alchemical texts along with her explanation of the symbolism they contain. Her focus here is the relationship between alchemical process and Jungian analysis as discovered through an examination of the chosen texts.

The difficulty in the book comes not so much from the fact that the lecturers were intended for serious students of Jungian psychology rather than those outside the field, but from the format itself. First, it scatters terms and symbols throughout the book depending on where they appeared in one of the excerpted fragments. This is counter-intuitive to readers expecting an organized, one-to-one comparison of alchemical steps with the individuation process in or out of a therapy setting. This would make the book a true introduction as its subtitle implies.

Second, in as much as the lectures focus on what was to be found in the texts rather than on an orderly presentation of alchemy and individuation, the book suffers by dedicating more space to the excerpts than an introduction requires. That is, the text fragments are less interesting, informative and succinctly on point than von Franz’s material. One wishes for more of von Franz and less of the ancients here.

That said, readers who are familiar with Jungian psychology, inner alchemy and related philosophies will experience many “Eureka Moments” as the meaning behind long-puzzling symbols, archetypes, drawings, and processes suddenly clicks into place. Outside of the decision to use a series of already-completed lectures rather writing an introductory work from scratch, the information and insight found here are exceptional.

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A seeker's journey story.