Etienne Claviere

Duchanteau and Claviere followed only the vulgar path of alchemy.  For the true initiates, the making of gold is only a mask, which hides much more precious treasures than the yellow metal:  the perfection of a soul which is purifying itself, the triumph of truth and virtue, therefore an ABSOLUTE, of which gold is only the symbol…

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Our two alchemists are the children of a century where science and techniques are appearing, the century of scepticism, of Voltaire and of Diderot, where Reason – in appearance – triumphs.  But at the same time as they are rejecting religion, they are enthusiastically welcoming the marvellous, as long as it presents itself in new clothes.  The XVIIIth Century is also the century of occultism, the social and political role of which is becoming immense, as Valery says.  The century in which Cagliostro and the immortal Count of Saint-Germain triumph, while the Masonic Lodges – there are 500 of them in France in 1771, 154 of them in Paris – exalt the taste for symbolic thought and curiosity for the magical arts and the hermetic sciences.  Helvetius, Voltaire, Chamfort, Condorcet, Franklin, the flower of French thought is there, and elsewhere, in England and Scotland, where Free Masonry was born, its development is even more prodigious.  It is not surprising therefore that Claviere is able to be both a Revolutionary banker and a convinced alchemist.

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The Philaletes was a secret society which proposed, like others, to reform the social man in depth.  It was founded by German occultists whose role is essential in the formation of the European initiatic societies.  It was a branch of the Rose-Croix, whose success across the Rhine is also considerable at this time.  Goethe, the greatest German writer, is Rose-Croix, and just for good measure, he adheres in 1783, with his friend the philosopher Herder, to the sect of the Illuminated in Bavaria…

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Duchanteau and Claviere belonged to the Lodge of the United Friends.

This craze can be explained by the fact that all of these associations are really “sounding boards” for the new ideas.  Each can finally claim freedom of speech within the fraternity.  Each can also rub shoulders with the hermetism masters and with the alchemists that are welcomed into these places.  These are in fact the first enclaves of liberty after centuries of absolutism, and the bourgeois, like the great minds and the enlightened princes, attached themselves to them because it was there that what would be the constitutional regime was already being outlined…

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It is true that, because of the failure of the Churches and the established powers, in which there is no longer belief, the marvellous also comes galloping back…  Magicians, cabalists and pseudo-alchemists, whose fantsmagoria are very much appreciated by marquises, are slithering everywhere.  Feminine Lodges are also founded, “The Order of the Honey Flies”, that of the “Nymphs and Chevaliers of the Rose” whose adepts parody the men and indulge in dissipation with them, before going to vibrate against Mesmer’s Baquet.  But the taste for the irrational does not explain everything.  These societies are also Opposition powers, where the debating of ideas will lead to political action.  Therefore, they need money.  The rich, nobles or commoners, are particularly well received and rewarded with grand grades and titles, among others:  “Great Chosen One of the Holy Vault”, “Sublime Mason of the 14th Degree”, “Great Pontiff of the Celestial Jerusalem” or “Sovereign Prince of the White and Black Eagle”.

In Germany, a certain Samuel Richter founds an occult society which receives the mission of preparing the philosophical stone.  Its circles spread everywhere and group real and false scholars who make, on demand, golden fleece and extracts of eau de jouvence [youth water].  The most cultured men of Europe believe in it, and Kaiser Frederic-Wilhelm of Prussia, himself, wants to be received as “Rose-Croix d’Or”.  “Ormesus Magnus” is the title created for him, and three minds, those of Leibnitz, Marcus-Aurelius and the Grand Elector come to collect him at the brotherhood’s doors.  In this climate, it is understandable that our two “alchemists” were able to indulge in such shocking deviations…

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Nicolas Flamel

Only a physiologist could decide whether Duchanteau’s prowesses are possible.  What is true is that the proximity of gold has always provoked an incredible exaltation among men.  Not only by cupidity.  But because it was the first metal known to men – even though they could not make tools or weapons with it – also because it is the metal that is the most difficult to exploit and it is inalterable, it is charged, from the beginning, with a primordial symbolic value.  From one end of the planet to the other and throughout History, it has always been synonymous of perfection and, in the Occident, as in the Vedic texts of India, it is also the sign of immortality.  Chinese Ho Hung assures that the Elixir, pure matter or Philosophical Stone, can “cure” ordinary metals and transform them into gold.  The alchemists of the Occident included Man in this “maturation” which they compared to a medicine which, making the impureties of the metal disappear, is also able to wash away those of the body and prevent its decline.  “The Philosophical Stone heals all illnesses” proclaims the great alchemist Arnold de Villanova.  And Thomas d’Aquin, who believes in alchemy, and Roger Bacon who affirms that it is able to prolong life by several centuries, along with Nicolas Flamel, who doubtless succeeded in performing the transmutation, are inspired by Aristotle, for whom physical bodies all issue from one fundamental substance which over time has taken different forms or qualities.  It is possible, assures the philosopher who inspired all the scientific thought of the Occident, to go back from any body whatsoever to this “primary matter”, to start from any metal, to arrive, after refining, at the final transmutation…  Thesis which has singularly modern accents.

This unity of matter, reposing on the union of contraries:  water-fire, sulphur-mercury, and the differenciation of its components, water, air, fire, earth, has been fully rehabilitated by nuclear physics…

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Emblem of the work on the philosophical stone performed by alchemists.

Alchemy is still alive today, just like yesterday…  There are those who pursue the Great Work inside sophisticated laboratories, and whom we call hyperchemists, like Tiffereau and Jollivet-Castellot.  Those are only attached to the chemical nature of the transmutation, founding the most serious hopes on the spontaneous transmutations of radioactive bodies and the modification of the atom by the bombardment of particles…

Then there are the others, who also exist, Eugene Canselier, disciple of the mysterious Fulcanelei, who was doubtless a direct descendant of the Valois, Armand Barbauld, maker of philosphers and poets, who perpetuates the alchemical ideal by endlessly recounting to himself the Golden Legend, of a soul that refines and embellishes itself.

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Making gold is not impossible.  To succeed, Man must first refine himself.

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