Monday, 6 October 2008

Apocalypse Where Or When? An Alchemical Reading.

Andy Sharp

The phrase “immanentize the eschaton” made popular by Robert Anton Wilson, in his The Illuminatus! Trilogy is thought to be derived from Gnostic ontology. The Gnostics espoused immanence in opposition to the fear ridden literalism of Christianity’s imminence. Following through this logic, the end of the world is accessible at any single point in time, in other words it is a psycho-spatial realm not a temporal event.

If we accept this hypothesis, then we are able to trace some interesting correlates in transpersonal and archetypal psychology, psychiatry, alchemy and the careers of eschatologically driven visionary artists.

This short essay is an attempt to read the motif of immanence into the alchemist Fulcanelli’s exegesis of the Cyclic Cross at Hendaye.

The final infamous “inserted” chapter in Fulcanelli’s “Le Mystere Des Cathedrales” is a spectacularly hypertrophied discussion of a seemingly humble stone cross in Hendaye, a small frontier town in the Pyrenees. Fulcanelli makes the astounding assertion that the “Hendaye cross shows by the decoration of its pedestal that it is the strangest monument of primitive millenarism, the rarest symbolical translation of chiliasm”. Chiliasm, the doctrine of belief in the millennium was part of the esoteric tradition of the ancient hermetic philosophy. Fulcanelli then goes onto cunningly deconstruct a phrase on the transverse arm of the cross. The phrase is spread over two parallels of raised letters in the following sequence:

OCRUXAVES

PESUNICA

The common interpretation of O CRUX AVE SPE UNICA (O Cross they only hope),

Fulcanelli proposes, is by intention of the stone mason actually a cipher (using a cryptic form of cabalism and word play – ‘the language of the birds’) for the phrase

Il est écrit que la vie se réfugie en un seul espace (It is written that life takes refuge in a single space), and that,

As for the geographical location of this Promised Land, from which the élite will take part in the return of the golden age, it is up to us to find it.”

From an hermetic perspective, the “point” represents, the golden age, the point is where there is no time. The marriage of opposites raises its mischievous alchemical head as Fulcanelli states it is our mission to find the point. Of course, such a place cannot be found by a linear hunt because it exists outside time, it can only be accessed in a single moment. The hermeticist sets himself this impossible task. Fulcanelli’s prophecy of the coming of the nuclear age and that alchemy had been aware of the dangers of atomic theory for centuries is clearly evident in his concern that man would literally attempt to search for this ‘golden age’, by splitting the atom. The alchemists already had the knowledge of accessing no-time, of the consequences of creating the chain-reaction, manifesting the apocalypse, but chose to “KEEP SILENT”.

This becomes more explicit in Fulcanelli’s rendering of the acronym INRI, carved on another arm of the cross,

the inscription INRI, exoterically translated as Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews), but which gives to the cross its secret meaning: Igne Natura Renovatur Integra (By fire nature is renewed whole). For it is by fire and in fire that our hemisphere will soon be tried. And just as, by means of fire, gold is separated from impure metals, so, Scripture says, the good will be separated from the wicked on the great Day of Judgment.”

Here we see direct a correlation between the alchemical process and the apocalypse. It is by the literalisation of the hermetic tradition, in the material world that “our hemisphere will soon be tried” by fire. So the conundrum arises. Is Fulcanelli really a literal believer in the imminence of the apocalypse, with his use of the word “soon”? But that is to forget that the Fulcanelli’s work is not “about” alchemy it is alchemy. His punning, volatile cabala, explosions of meaning, ideational (as ‘fire’) chain- reactions from nonsense and absurdity is the alchemy of chiliasm: at once an instruction guide for circulation “between” the four ages and a warning of the perils of literalising and abusing this esoteric doctrine.


The would-be fear mongers with the current KaliYuga of the ‘Credit Crunch’ (The Age of Iron – in alchemical parlance, and related to the Hindu age of misery, misfortune and decrepitude by Fulcanelli), are also aware of exploiting this formula as a means of social control: that the apocalypse does exist as a real time event.

Fulcanelli shows how the Bible is infused with what are essentially pages from an alchemical lab book. In Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision for example,

And I looked, and behold… a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself and brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures…. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.’”

In final summary, he quotes St. Matthew’s gospel and shows by his poetic cabala that Matthew is ‘the doctrine of science’.

The age of iron has no other seal than that of Death. Its heiroglyph is the skeleton, bearing: the attributes of Saturn: the empty hour-glass, symbol of time run out, and the scythe, reproduced in the figure seven, which is the number of transformation, or destruction, of annihilation.

So, we see that with the empty hour-glass, there is no time, in the Age of Iron. If we are not in time, then we are in a place curiously similar the notion of dreams as revealed by James Hillman in Dreams and the Underworld. We enter the apocalypse as we enter a dream, through sleep, as immanent as Hypnos whose brother was Thanatos. But, the Age of Iron is also a rich alembic of images revealing truth and essences without codification and dogma, standing outside time. In other words it is but a dream of death.

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