The History of Alchemy in America

The History of Alchemy in America

Copyright 1996 Mark Stavish, All Rights Reserved.


While alchemy has strained the credulity and pocketbooks of many Europeans since its general appearance in the 16th and 17th centuries, it has also held a fascination for a fair number of prominent and not so prominent Americans as well.

Most of us are familiar with the writings of Thomas Vaughn, Paracelsus, Bacstrom, and dozens of other authorities on the Royal Art, yet it was from colonial America, that one of the most famous and mysterious Alchemists arose —  Philalethes.  It is among the apocalyptic Pietists of Pennsylvania, said to have been Rosicrucians fleeing the religious wars of Central Europe, that we also find hints of laboratory alchemy being practiced in their wooden, gothic structured cloister in Ephrata, on the Pennsylvania frontier.  Even late in the “Golden Game”, the 18th century that is, the illustrious, even then ivy covered, halls of Harvard were teaching their students the theory of the transmutation of metals.  And the Governor of Connecticut and Massachusetts dabbled with quicksilver now and again as well.

Even with the death of New England's last known practicing alchemists in the third decade of the 19th century, the torch did not completely die out.   Less than one hundred years later, H.S. Lewis, Imperator of the fledgling American organization, the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosea Crucis (AMORC), claiming European recognition and authority for its activities, is reported to have preformed a public transmutation of zinc into gold.  By the mid 1940's this same organization, using its newly formed Rose+Croix University, situated in the lush valley of San Jose, California, would be the only known location where the public study of laboratory alchemy was taking place.  With a little bit of help from a major corporation or two as well.  While this re-birth of laboratory alchemy was short lived, out if it came the now famous Paracelsus Research Society, founded by “Frater Albertus”, a new series of AMORC classes in the mid to late '80's, and the latest addition to American alchemical studies, the Philosophers of Nature.

The Philalethes Period

The 17th century world view of America was of a magical land, filled literally and figuratively with gold.  It was from this world, not that of an old and rugged Europe, that one of the most mysterious and renowned of alchemical figures emerged, one who is often called the last of the great alchemists, Eirenaeus Philalethes, better known as, the Cosmopolitan.  His first work The Marrow of Alchemy, Part One, appeared in London in 1654.  It was published by E. Brewster, with the manuscript and publication being printed in English;  Part Two was published the following year.  Because George Starkey edited the first edition of The Marrow of Alchemy, it has been suggested that he was its author, along with the remainder of the 16 groups of alchemical publications attributed to “The Citizen of the World”.

Philalethes is often translated as “Lover of Truth” and is the latinization of the Greek original. According to one of the publishers of Philalethes, William Cooper, “…[Philalethes] is acknowledged by all hands to be an Englishman, and an Adept and supposed to be yet living, and traveling, and about the age of 55 years, but his name is not certainly known.”  This appeared in Cooper's advertisement for Ripley Reviv'd in 1678.  In total, Cooper published ten of the sixteen major titles written by the mysterious adept.  Beyond being a prolific writer and of philanthropic attitude and activities, what helped make the mystery even more of a lasting legend, is that Philalethes is said to have achieved the Philosopher's Stone in 1645, at the age of twenty-three![i]

So then, back to the question:  who was Philalethes?  Well, traditionally, two names have been put forward as being closely associated, and even identified with our Adept:  Robert Child and George Starkey.  As for Child, little evidence is given to back up the claim, and possibly even evidence to the contrary.  With Starkey, the situation is different.[ii]

While much of the evidence is circumstantial, it comes from contemporaries of both men.  Care is given to distinguish between those works on alchemy by Starkey himself, and those whom he attributes to his mysterious New England Adept, the Cosmopolitan.  However, as Jantz suggests in his article, “America's First Cosmopolitan”, could Starkey have written the Cosmopolitan works while in a heightened state of consciousness?  Where they the result of his own transcendental awareness as part of the alchemical process?  While such is only speculation, what cannot be denied is that Philalethes is an American original, an adept in the now classical alchemical tradition, even being referred to as the “American Philosopher” on the second title page of the Amsterdam edition (1678) of his second group of works, Enarratio Methodica.

So then, was Starkey actually Philatheles?  If we accept the evidence, then probably yes.  In the anagram of two of the principle characters in Vade Mecum, the name of the pupil, Philoponus, and his mentor, Agricola Rhomaeus, we discover that in Latin, Agricola become Georgios in Greek, and the Greek Rhomaeus becomes Stark, or Strong, in Anglo-Saxon[iii].

Does it matter?  Probably not, except to historians of esoterica, and other people with too much time on their hands.  For practical alchemists all that is of importance is the practicality of the information supplied.  Whether or not there was a person behind the persona of the Cosmopolitan is as important as asking the same of his more modern European counterpart Fulcannelli.[iv]  At some point the personality must die, so that the Light may shine unobstructed, this is a fundamental tenet in esoteric teachings.  Maybe in the end, Starkey actually was, and became, the Citizen of the World.

But Starkey wasn't alone in his search for the Philosopher's Stone.  Among his contemporaries was Christian Lodowick of Newport, Rhode Island.  This former Quaker, mystic, physician, musician, and mathematician was also an alchemist;  This is not surprising, as Newport was a major trading post, being honored with not only a large Quaker congregation, but also the oldest continually operating synagogue (Turo) in the United States, and one of the oldest Masonic lodges as well.  Lodowick was an important philologist, with in particular his English-German dictionary and grammar becoming standard throughout most of the 18th century.

Several famous New Englander's returned to Europe, among them Thomas Tillman.  Tillman made contact with a group of German Anabaptists in England and eventually went to the Continent with them.  Jantz proposes that Tillman's poetic influence may have eventually  returned to America through the writings of Conrad Beissel and the Ephrata Cloister.  This is not unrealistic, as members of the Cloister went as far north as Rhode Island in search of contacts and converts, a group who was for a while deeply involved in laboratory alchemy.

However, it is John Winthrop the Younger (1606-1676), founder and first governor of Connecticut, who made major contributions to alchemy, if only through his literary donations.  During his second tour of Europe Winthrop visited the poet John Rist, while in Constantinople in 1642.  The visit was at the urging of the French ambassador, for the expressed intention of increasing Winthrop's knowledge of practical alchemy.[v]

Even with this semi-constant flow of ideas, trade, and people between the colonies and Europe, the chemical discoveries of the 18th century did not spell the end of alchemy in New England as they had across the sea.  The Philosopher's Stone was still actively being pursued in New England until the third decade of the of the last century[vi]. With at least a half-dozen researchers being known throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts, most of them being graduates of Yale or Harvard.

Among them was Samuel Danforth, born at Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1696, and graduated from Harvard College in 1715.  Among the texts used during his stay at Harvard was included the curious manuscript Compendium Physicae by Charles Morton.  Morton, a Puritan, received his M.A. from Oxford in 1652, and emigrated to Massachusetts in 1686.  His Compendium was a strange blend of the science of the period with Aristotle.  A lengthy section was devoted to the “Artifice of Gold by Alchymy” or “the finding of the Phylosophers stone” , even stating, “Some have done it, such are cal'd the Adepti”.  He listed among them, Lully, Paracelsus, and his disciple, van Helmont.

Danforth began his alchemical library as early as 1721, and achieved remarkable success in his life, serving 34 years as a judge and chief justice in Massachusetts.  He had a reputation as an adept prior to being publicly ridiculed in the press in 1754 for his alchemical studies.  In 1773 he wrote to his long-time friend Benjamin Franklin offering to send him a piece of the Philosopher's Stone.  It is important to note, that while Franklin himself had no known interest in laboratory alchemy, he knew several active practitioners, as well as the leading members of the Ephrata and Fairmount Park Communes.  He served not only as a focal point for American esoteric activities, but was also a major connection to English and French esoteric societies as well.

With his death in 1777, his son, Samuel Danforth, Jr. inherited his books.  However professional pressures of his medical and scientific careers forced him to donate his father's books to the Boston Athaenum in 1812.  The books are signed by both Danforths, and are heavily annotated, showing more than three-quarters of a century of study.  Among the twenty-one volumes were the much standard works to be expected, as well as Philalethes' Secrets Reveal'd (London, 1699).

However, the most distinguished supporter of alchemy was probably Reverend Ezra Stiles.  Born at New Haven, Connecticut in 1721, he graduated from Yale in 1746, served as tutor until 1755, and was president of Yale from 1778 to 1795.  In 1775 he accepted the position of minister to the Second Congregational Church of Newport, Rhode Island.  Stiles was also a friend of Benjamin Franklin.  While he made remarks concerning “the Rosacrucian Philosophy” that interested his contemporaries, Stiles himself disavowed any knowledge of practical alchemy or ever having witnessed any aspects of it.  Yet shortly after his disavowal of such knowledge, Stiles participated in several experiments of his own.  Stiles even repeated the legends of Governor John Winthrop, Jr. which recounted him as an “Adept” who performed alchemical operations each year at his mine near East Haddam, Connecticut along with his associate Gosuinus Erkelens.

The Later Colonial Period:  Ephrata and the End in New England

With the advent of religious liberty in colonial Pennsylvania and religious wars in Central Europe, it is little wonder that so many Germans came to the New World in the 17th century.  William Penn openly recruited many, and others simply went on their own, and among them were the Pietists.  These quasi-mystical, semi-magical, often secretive, and usually apocalyptic groups settled in two main communities in Pennsylvania:  the Wissahickon Valley, in present day Fairmount Park (Germantown), Philadelphia, and farther west in Ephrata.  It is to the latter group that we turn our attention, for it is there, in Ephrata, that we have some of the clearest information regarding the extent and degree of Rosicrucian and alchemical practices of these communal mystics.  While the degree, if any, of these Anabaptist Pietists being influenced by Rosicrucian philosophy has been debated, they definitely were influenced by hermeticism in general, and for at least a period, experimented with practical alchemy.

According to E.G. Alderfer, in his work, The Ephrata Commune: An Early American Counterculture, Conrad Beissel was born in 1691, in the strategically located town of Eberback, on the Neckar River, in the political domain of the Electoral Palatinate.  The day given is usually March first.  Conrad was incredibly magnetic, and despite his pale, frail, and thin appearance, women swooned in his presence.  His reputation and rumors of his magic grew.  By twenty-five he was initiated into the “Ancient Mystic Order of Rosea Crucis”[vii] and may have even attained its highest rank.  He was familiar with the writings of Beohme, Paracelsus, and kabbalah.  Utopian, mystical, and secret societies abounded, and their was much cross fertilization of ideas and membership.

However, it is on the Pennsylvania frontier in the first half of the 18th century that his fame and mission grew, as chief teacher-pastor (Leher) of the utopian community of Ephrata.  Here, far away from civilization, at least for a while, Beissel and his followers established a community comprised of three orders: celibate male (the Brotherhood of Zion), celibate female (Sister of the Rose of Sharon), and married lay congregation.  However, as with all utopian plans, all was not well in this little patch of Eden.  Power struggles were somewhat constant, with only the power of Beissel's charisma to unite them.  The Brotherhood of Zion, under the leadership of the Eckerling brothers - Israel, Samuel, Gabriel, and Emanuel, leaned more in the direction of theurgy than mystical union.  According to Julius Sachse,[viii] the principle advocate of a Rosicrucian connection at Ephrata, the brethren in the Berghaus (main prayer and living quarters) passed their days in quiet speculations, but the Eckerling's advocated what more closely resembled “ 'strict observance' of the Egyptian cult of mystic Freemasonry.”

Sachse further states:

“The speculations and mystic teachings of Beissel and (Peter) Miller were nothing else than the Rosicrucian doctrine pure and undefiled, while the Zionitsche Bruderschaft or “Brotherhood of Zion”, of whom Gabriel Eckerling was first “Perfect Master” or prior, was an institution with an entirely different tendency…in fact, it was one of the numerous rites of mystic Freemasonry practiced during the last century (18th).  The professed object and aims of the members of the Zionic Brotherhood was to obtain physical and moral regeneration.

Yet, despite distrust and suspicion, and even charges of being crypto-catholics, Beissel permitted the formation of a chapter and chapter house for the Brotherhood of Zion.  The building was raised in May of 1738, was occupied under great ritual solemnity five moths later, and building was completed in 1743.  It was three stories high, with the first floor being used partially for storage, the second floor being the sleeping temple area, circular in shape with no windows, and the third floor being 18 feet square and the main temple area, with a window in each of the cardinal directions.  It was here in this building, that the members of the Brotherhood, up to thirteen at a time, for 40 days, enacted their secret rites of spiritual rejuvenation, but only after physical rejuvenation had been completed.

It was the these rites of physical rejuvenation that employed alchemical medicines.

Beginning on the full moon in May, a 40 day seclusion began, which included fasting, prayer, and the drinking of rain water (collected in May), and laxatives.  On the 17th day, several ounces of blood were removed and a few white drops of an unknown substance given to the participating neophyte.  Six drops were to be taken in the evening, and six in the morning, increasing two drops per day until the 32nd day of seclusion.  At sunrise on the 33rd day, more blood was removed, and the first grains of the materia prima was given.

The effects of the 'grain of elixir' was instant loss of the powers of speech and recognition, with convulsions and heavy sweating.  After these subsided, the bedding was changed, and a broth made of lean beef and a variety of herbs was given.  On the second day, a grain was added to the broth repeating the above symptoms, and upon which “a delirious fever set in which ended with a complete loss or shedding of the skin, hair and teeth of the subject.”  On the 35th day a bath of prescribed temperature was given, and on the following day, the 3rd and last grain of the materia prima was given in a goblet of wine.  The effects of the final dose were much more mild, resulting in a deep sleep during which the skin, hair, and teeth reappeared.  On awakening from this ordeal, an herbal bath was give, and an ordinary bath (with saltpeter added) on the 38th day.  On the following  day (the 39th) ten drops of the elixir of life were given in two spoonfuls of red wine.  This final dose was known as the 'grand master's elixir' or balsam.  On the 40th and final day, the initiate was said to have been reborn into primordial innocence and capable of living 5,557 years with the grace of God before being called back to the heavenly lodge.  The process however, had to be repeated every forty years in the month of May if this were to happen.

Unfortunately, we know neither the contents of the elixir or the herbs administered as bath or broth for this ceremony.  It is also very likely that such a recipe or listing may be sitting somewhere, written in Old German, or even frakture script, in a local historical society somewhere in Eastern Pennsylvania, with no one being able to read it, or know the meaning of its contents otherwise.

We are also at a loss for any idea as to who may have survived the ordeal.  However, the effects of the recipe sound strikingly similar to those given in Paracelsus' writings regarding the Melissa Ens, a potent spagyric medicine said to convey long life and rejuvenation.[ix]

We know at least one recruit, from the Shenandoah, Jakob Martin, set up an alchemical laboratory at Ephrata.  He attempted to transmute gold for the establishment of the New Jerusalem, as if gold were needed for such a task.  While Martin's efforts were in vain, his close friend Ezekiel Sangmeister, leader of an anti-Beissel faction, claimed that his friend and founder of Universalism, George de Benneville, possessed a large supply of the gold tincture.  However, this appears to be near the decline of the Commune, and any real knowledge of practical alchemy may have left with the departure of the Eckerling brothers.  The Brotherhood of Zion was reconstituted as the Brotherhood of Bethania, and any trace of Eckerling influence was removed from Ephrata before the first half of the 18th century was over.

The AMORC Period: Round One

Soon after its founding in 1915 in New York City, the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC, known simply as AMORC, found itself in a variety of 'authenticity struggles' that would last until the present day.  Behind AMORC's growth and longevity, something many other organizations have publicly and privately envied, was its claim to being the only authentic, authorized Rosicrucian body operating in America.  This claim to being the only one and true Rosicrucian body attracted not only disillusioned seekers from other organizations, but also attracted new members who felt comfort and security in the idea of belonging to an organization that had not only 'traditional' roots in antiquity, but historical ones as well.  Fancy charters from Europe, stories of ancient initiations and the trials of seeking out the 'secret chiefs' or “Unknown Superiors” of the Order's High Council in France added to the mystery and the attraction.  Yet, none of this would have been possible if it weren't for the keen and brilliant mind of the organizations founder, first Grand Master, and ultimately Imperator (Emperor), Harvey Spencer Lewis.

Born in Frenchtown, N.J. on November 25, 1883, Harvey Lewis developed the talents early in life that would serve him as the single most important force in modern Rosicrucianism.  Writing, painting, public speaking, and a sense for the 'positive spin' helped him develop an early and lucrative career in advertising.  Then after a series of experiences, he abandoned his career in search of the Rosicrucian Order in Europe, allegedly going to Toulouse, France[x],  where his contacts were made.  While much is debated about the degree and genuiness of these contacts, it is clear that he believed that they were genuine, and as such were the moving force behind his organization.  After a false start in 1909, AMORC finally got off the ground in 1915, and by 1917, had several Grand Lodges established in the United States, along with other smaller bodies, where members would receive the teachings and initiations in a strictly oral format.  However, Harvey's love for the advertising world never left him, and he developed and promoted AMORC like a it was next best thing to sliced white bread.  Adopting a Masonic style lodge pattern and initiations from the 17th century Gold-and Rosy- Cross (of twelve degrees, not ten), and similar to that used by the Golden Dawn (Neophyte, Zelator, Practicus, etc.)[xi], he single handily mainstreamed esotericism and Rosicrucianism for the American public.  With emphasis on practicality, not abstract metaphysics or obtuse rituals, AMORC's membership grew.  But that wasn't all that sold AMORC, for Harvey and AMORC were one and the same.  Harvey Lewis had a keenly developed psychic sense, and was at the forefront of proving that what he was selling, the teachings of AMORC, worked.  To this end, he decided that it was time for the 'Big Show', and announced in 1916, that he was going to publicly transmute a base metal into gold using alchemical means.  An article describing the event was written by Harvey Spencer Lewis, using a nom de plum, and appeared in the organizations magazine, “The American Rosae Crucis”, in July of that year.  In summary, the article states the following:

On Thursday night, June 22, 1916, “a demonstration of the ancient art, or science, of transmutation” was given to the officers and councilors of the Supreme Grand Lodge in New York City.  Stating that this was the first time that such a convocation was held in America, and very well could be the last for some time to come, it was permissible for each Grand Master to demonstrate once in their lifetime and term of office the process of transmutation.

It further stated, that all of the laws necessary for such an accomplishment were clearly stated and explained in the first four degrees of the Order.  In preparation, fifteen members of the Fourth degree drew at random a week earlier cards upon which were written the ingredients each was to individually bring and that all of the ingredients were non-toxic, with the exception of the nitric acid used to test the metal at the end of the demonstration, and easily obtainable.  Each was to pledge secrecy, and that they were not to unite with the others the total of the ingredients on their own for at least three years after the death of the Grand Master General, Harvey Spencer Lewis.

Dressed in regalia, but devoid of ritual, the procedure began after a brief introduction on the history and theory of alchemy.  In an attempt at objectivity, the article states that, “In order to meet the demand for one outside and disinterested witness, a representative of the New York World's editorial department was invited.”

The critical phase of the transmutation took exactly 'sixteen minutes' and resulted in second and third degree burns to Lewis' hands. Examinations were made on zinc placed in the crucible to show that it was the matching half to the piece that was not used.  The World's representative was invited to examine the pieces as well, and to place his initial on them before the operation began, to insure that no slight of hand was involved.  The article further states that half of the metal was sent to “the Supreme Council of the Order in France along with an official report” as well as the admonishment of the unnamed journalist that while the experiment was fantastic, he is in no position to judge whether an actual change took place.  The transmuted piece of zinc and its unaffected matching half were left on display and observed by “Newspapermen, editors and several scientists (who) have examined them and gone away greatly perplexed.”[xii]

Unfortunately, much of the information in this article is hardly objective or even verifiable.  While the article has been reprinted several times, no photograph of the 'gold' produced, or replies from the French Supreme Council, or even of the implied news article from the New York World, have been produced along with it.  If this had been all there was to AMORC's modern Rosicrucian alchemical legacy, it would have been written off as a failed publicity stunt, and ended up as a footnote in the development of American alchemy.

Despite the obvious questions regarding the article's validity, and complete historical accuracy, it was reprinted by AMORC in the March 1942 edition of the “Rosicrucian Digest”, the organizations magazine having changed its name sometime in the early 1930's.  This edition also included a footnote at the end of the article which advertised the availability of a 'home alchemy course' complete with herbs, glassware, even a small oven![xiii]  It also mentioned the 'extensive alchemical course given at Rose+Croix University' which brings us to the second phase of AMORC's alchemy period.

Richard and Isabella Ingalese:  The Nicholas and Perenelle of California[xiv]

The East Coast wasn't the only place of alchemical transmutations in the first half of the this century.  The land of the ”Gold Rush,“ California, is home to America's own immortal alchemical couple.  In the vein of Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel, these two American originals are reputed to have achieved “The Stone” and live on to this day.  Left mostly to oral lore and legend, the story of the Ingaleses first appeared in print in the November 1928 issue of Occult Review, and later was mentioned in a sidebar on “Alchemy” in the encyclopedia, Man, Myth, and Magic, in 1970.

Their early years are unremarkable with the couple marrying in 1898.  Richard was a lawyer specializing in corporate and mining law, and Isabella was a full time psychic, teacher, and healer.  They lived in several locations across the country, until settling in Los Angels around 1912.

In the 1928 article, the author, Barbara McKenzie, interviews Isabella regarding how she and her husband became interested in alchemy.  With the approach of advancing age, Mrs. Ingalese states, she and her Richard sought to discover the Philosopher's Stone so that they might ”..perhaps add another score of working years to man's so-called allotted span.“ Despite the many blinds and false routes given to alchemical work, the coupled pursued their work guided by Mrs. Ingalese's psychic gifts.

In a pamphlet written by Richard, he describes their original goal as the creation of Oil of Gold, but instead chose to work with copper because of the cheaper price.

After six years of work, two mortgages, several explosions, and two asphyxiations later, Richard states that in 1917, they were able to produce the White Stone of the Philosophers.  McKenzie was offered a sample of the White Powder, but readily accepted a sample of the Red Stone.  It is not clear why she accepted one and refuse the other, however, she records her experiences as follows:

” was little more - on my tongue, saying it must lie there and not be swallowed.  I immediately noticed an intense bitterness, which is said to be the gold, but other metals I could not detect.  In two or three seconds it had been absorbed or dispersed, so that not even a flavor remained in my mouth.“

Continuing their search for the Red Stone from 1917 to 1920, the Ingaleses felt they had achieved success and shared their results with members of their ”renewal club,“ possibly made up of investors who supported their alchemical research.  At the time of their discovery and potentizing of the Red Stone, Robert was 66 and Isabella 54 years of age.  Richard states that they did not respond as well as others to the curative powers of the Stone.   However, the usual claims of virility, fertility, and incurables being cured, are reported.  Ms. McKenzie notes that she was unable to verify any of the Inglases claims in this regard.  Richard is quoted as noting that they were familiar with other alchemists who were over 600, 400, and 200 years old.  All looking and acting as if they were ”about 40 years of age.“  The most remarkable part of the story however, is Richard's matter of fact description of the resurrection of the wife of a prominent physician who had been dead for thirty minutes.

“Half an hour had elapsed and her body was growing cold.  A dose of the dissolved White Stone was placed into the mouth of the corpse without perceptible results.  Fifteen minutes later a second dose was administered and the heart commenced to pulsate weakly.  Fifteen minutes later a third dose was given and soon the woman opened her eyes.  In the course of a few weeks the woman became convalescent, after which she lived seven years.”

As for the methods they used, Isabella states that they followed the methods of Paracelsus, particularly Waite's edition of The Alchemical and Hermetic Writings of Paracelsus, but no further details were forthcoming.  Several books were written by the couple, but are very difficult to obtain.

While stories of their longevity survived them, it is quite clear that the Ingaleses died in 1934, Isabella in May and Richard in October.  Extensive debts were piled against their property, which included 440 acres of land in San Diego.  The property was awarded to the plaintiff to satisfy the suit, and surprisingly, the property was acquired by a New Thought group in 1940, being operated as spiritual center continuously ever since.

It would be nice to believe that Isabella and Richard are still alive and that their deaths had been faked, but evidence it to the contrary.  Unlike their alchemical predecessors,  the age of bureaucracies was catching up with them.  Death certificates on file in Los Angeles are full of details prior to and immediately following their deaths, as well as the causes.   Maybe this should be a lesson to would be seekers of immortality, that even if death can be escaped, or at least delayed, you still need to have a Social Security Number.

The AMORC Period:  Round Two

In the first part of the 1940's, AMORC's librarian and later Dean of the Order's Rose+Croix University (RCU), Orval Graves, proposed a series of classes on practical laboratory alchemy.  In those early classes, the techniques of Paracelsus were generally followed, artificial stones were created, and students would often take turns staying up throughout the night, to regulate the heat of the furnaces for the herbal work.  A great sense of harmony prevailed.  Yet, not all of the results were purely spiritual.  According to Russell B. House, F.R.C., and (at the time of his writing) member of AMORC's International Research Counsel, Frater Graves produced for him, at their meeting in June of 1989, several artificial stones alchemically manufactured during those early classes.  Among the collection was included a large artificial diamond grown by the late French Rosicrucian alchemist F.  Jollivet-Castelot.   Castelot was among the leading practical alchemists in Europe at the turn of the century.  He was  past President of the Alchemical Society of France  ( Societe Alchemique de France) and editor of its journal, La Rose+Croix  (The Rose+Cross).[xv]  A photograph of Castelot in his laboratory has been repeatedly reproduced by AMORC in the front of its Rosicrucian Manual for its members.[xvi] 

Of those gems produced during the RCU days of the '40's, one topaz was declared by a gemologist to be among the finest he had ever seen.  In addition, Dr. A Whaley, a member of the RCU faculty at that time, reproduced what was then current government research on the manufacture of synthetic precious stones, including diamonds.  Aside from esoteric chemistry, the students of these classes also had a little help from exoteric chemistry as well.  The DuPont company sent some samples of its synthetic stones, and even revealed 'tricks of the trade'.  The B&J Star Company of San Francisco lent a hand; however, not all of its methods could be reproduced, as the furnaces at RCU were not powerful enough.

During this time several articles appeared, and since have been reprinted, in The Rosicrucian Digest regarding alchemy.  Several by Orval Graves offer considerable insight into the purifying nature of fire and its esoteric implications.[xvii]  As well as several article from a Hungarian rosicrucian, Victor Scherbak of Budapest, which dealt with the mythological origins of alchemy, its relationship to Altantas, Lemuria, and the creation stories in Genesis.[xviii]   

How many students, all members of the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC that practiced alchemy at RCU is not easily known, however, at least two of its alumni would re-emerge later on: George Fenzke, and Dr. Albert Richard Riedel, better known by his pseudonym,  “Frater Albertus”.[xix]

Frater Albertus

While AMORC had done much to re-vivify the study of laboratory alchemy in twentieth century America, it was one of its students that would make it accessible to more than just the members of one, albeit large, esoteric fraternity.  Dr. Albert Riedel, remembered by Frater Graves as “a little too complicated for the rest of us” went on to publish at least nine books, two of which have become almost standard reading:  The Alchemist's Handbook, and The Seven Rays of the QBL.

It was in 1960 that his first title appeared, under the pseudonym “Albertus Spagyricus, F.R.C.” which included the “Alchemical Manifesto 1960” declaring the opening of the Paracelus Research Society.  The use of the initials “F.R.C.” after his name not only designates a general rosicrucian connection, but also may have been an allusion to his having attained a particular status within the grade system of AMORC.  At the Paracelus Research Society (PRS) Frater Albertus conducted classes on plant, mineral, metallic, and animal alchemy.  In the beginning , classes lasted for three two-week sessions, and were later expanded for a period of seven years, under the Latin the titles of Prima, Secunda, etc..  Albertus' specialty was spagyrics, along with antimony based on the alchemical text, Triumphal Chariot of Antimony.  In addition, Qabalah, and specialized applications of astrology were taught.  Among his students were his former classmate at RCU, George Fenzke, Hans Nintzel[xx] who was sent there by Israel Regardie (who also studied with Albertus), and Art Kunkin,[xxi] editor and founder of the L.A. Free Press, and inheritor of Regardie's library.

For over a quarter of a century, Albertus initiated hundreds of students into the modern practices of alchemy.  Over 600 by one estimate attended his classes.   Yet, in 1984, when he died, the Paracelsus Research Society was left without a successor, Albertus never planned for one.  His dream of an alchemical university never materialized, although some of his students attempted it.   After a brief period as the Parcelsus College, it finally closed its doors.

AMORC: Round Three

By 1988, the need for a new laboratory alchemical movement was growing.  Many of the former students of Fr. Albertus were also current or former members of AMORC, as well as students of the Golden Dawn.  It was at this time, that the administrators of RCUI approached Jack Glass to teach a new two-week class on alchemy in San Jose, California.   In addition to being a member of AMORC, Glass brought with him over thirty years of experience in alchemy, fourteen of them with Albertus.  George Fenske, Albertus' old classmate, co-taught the class as well.[xxii]

The first class debuted in June of 1989 and had over 40 students enrolled.  Unfortunately, less than a year after the fires of the ovens were re-kindled, Frater Fenzke passed through transition in April of 1990.  In an attempt to fill the void left by his passing, Glass asked Russell B. House to co-instruct the program.  The course was originally designed to last for three years, with each class lasting for two weeks for eight hours per day.  Plant, mineral, and metallic work were taught, with each class building on the work of the previous one.  Originally, the classes were to be open only to those members of AMORC who had attained its Illuminati section, or beyond its Ninth Degree.  This was later dropped and they were made available to any AMORC member who had completed the previous class, and was in the Fourth Degree or beyond.  In 1991 the classes were shortened to one week each year.

Alchemy I covered the basics of plant preparation, as well as history and theory.  Herbal elixers, tinctures, and methods of producing the 'plant stone' were examined and experimented with.  The second year of the program consisted of Alchemy II or the mineral kingdom.  Here tinctures were prepared with the toxic semi-metal antimony, along with oil of sulphur and tartar preparations.  The curriculum for year three included the preparation of oils or “Sulphurs” for the seven planetary metals, and illusive Philosophic Mercury.

The program was so successful that a two-day intensive for RCUI extension campuses was developed with enough information to allow students to begin their own explorations into the world of plant work, or the Lesser Circulation.  This program of activity was conducted by both Glass and House until 1993.  After a brief period of inactivity, the program was re-instituted, and at the time of this writing is being taught by a former student of George Fenske.

Alden, LPN, and The Philosophers of Nature

After the demise of PRS, Parcelsus College was not the only one trying to keep alchemy alive.  Scott Wilber, an AMORC member and PRS alumni, founded Alden Research.  Presumably taking its name from H. Spencer Lewis's esoteric name “Alden”, it attempted to verify early alchemical experiments to see if they matched chemical experiences.

An associate of Wilber's, in 1985 heard from Hans Nintzel about a French alchemical organization called “Les Philosopes de le Nature” (LPN) founded by Jean Dubius in 1979.[xxiii]  Dubuis actually began his alchemical studies with one of the alchemical kits supplied by AMORC, and in addition was a former high ranking member of the AMORC in France and the Traditional Martinist Order (TMO).  Dubuis derived some of his early work from research done by Albertus and PRS, and acknowledges a debt to Albertus for connecting alchemy and kabbalah.   At the time, LPN was the only school of its kind offering a complete course of plant and mineral alchemical studies, along with kabbalah, and general esoteric studies.  It required no oaths of secrecy from its members, only that they respect the copyright and ownership of the materials they received.  All true initiation was seen as being strictly a personal and interior thing, not something conveyable by external means.

After making contact with LPN in France, arrangements were made for the lessons to be sent to the United States for translation into English.  Initial funds for the project were supplied by Bill van Doren who had completed seven years of alchemical study with Albertus in PRS.  However, it was made clear by Dubuis, that neither LPN nor he would accept any money for the lessons, they were given freely to the United States with no strings attached.  This was his gift to esoteric students here, and in other English speaking countries that would derive benefit from the subsequent translations.

In 1986 LPN-USA was officially founded, and in 1994 changed its name to The Philosophers of Nature (PON) to show its independent status from the French parent organization.


So how many alchemists are there in the United States?

There is no way to really tell.  While several hundred have been trained by AMORC and LPN/PON classes and seminars, and 600 or more by Albertus, many of them overlap.  According to Samuel Weiser Publications[xxiv], Frater Albertus' Alchemist's Handbook is in its fifth edition, making a total of 12,500 copies in print.   How many copies of Manfred Junius's Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy  have been published is unknown, but could easily equal Albertus.  So, does that mean that there are over 12,000 or 13,000 practical alchemists in America?  Probably not.  It would be surprising if over five percent of that total number actually continue laboratory work on a regular basis.

However, we do know, that alchemy is still alive, and very well in America.  AMORC continues its summer courses in San Jose, with an occasional off-site seminar; PON distributes lessons and holds yearly week long seminars and weekend workshops, and many of the PRS alumni quietly go about their business of teaching what they have learned, the old fashioned way.  Even the Internet has a Website by Adam McLean complete with an alchemical course ready for the downloading; along with PON's site offering sample courses for the esoterically curious.

Maybe Albertus' predictions of a new Golden Age of Alchemy, with scientist and layman working alike is right on target.[xxv]

So, as we enter the 21st century, the future for alchemy at least, looks bright.  Maybe with this many people grinding, boiling, and macerating into the lonely hours of the morning, somebody will actually find the Philosopher's Stone.  If they do, hopefully they'll break their pledge of secrecy and share it with me!

[i] Alchemical Works: Eirenaeus Philalethes Compiled, ed. S. Merrow Broddle, CINNABAR, P.O. Box 1930, Boulder, CO.  80306-1930.  P. xix.

[ii] ”America's First Cosmopolitan“ by Harold Jantz.  Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 84 (1972), p.9.

[iii] Ibid.  p.21.

[iv] The Fulcanelli Phenomenon by Kenneth Rayner Johnson.  Neville Spearman Ltd., Sudbury, Suffolk, England.  1980.

[v] ”The Alchemical Library of John Winthrop, Jr. (1606-76) and his descendants in Colonial America“ by R.S. Wilkinson.  Ambix 10 (1962), p.135.

[vi] ”New England's Last Alchemists“ by Ronald Sterne Wilkinson.  Ambix 10 (1973) p. 128.

[vii] The term “Ancient Mystic Order of Rosea Crucis” is used here by Alderfer and does not originate with its more popular use by AMORC of similar name.  It may even have been used by a Swiss group prior to the twentieth century.

[viii] The German Baptists of Provincial Pennsylvania, by Julius Sachse.  1898.

[ix] The Complete Writings of Paracelsus, ed. A.E. Waite,    p.

[x] Rosicrucian Questions and Answers with Complete History of the Rosicrucian Order by H.Spencer Lewis, F.R.C.  Supreme Grand Lodge of AMORC, San Jose, California.  1984.  P. 16 photograph, p. 178.

[xi] The Rosicrucian Manual,  Lovett Printing Co., Charleston, W.V., 1928; and Supreme Grand Lodge AMORC, San Jose, Calif., 1975.

[xii] An article published in the March 1926 edition of The Mystic Triangle states: ”When a demonstration of the transmutation process was made officially by our Order in New York City a number of years ago, a piece of zinc was so changed in its nature that it looked like gold and stood the acid test of gold; in other words it would have served the same purpose as gold.  But the transmuted piece of metal did not weight the same as gold would weigh, and therefore in that regard it was not gold& .is no reason for us believe that all artificial or transmuted gold must have the same weight as gold, which as impurities not existing in the other& .the& zinc weighed less, apparently after it had been transmuted& than before.“ (p. 27)  A similar statement is made by Frater Albertus, in The Alchemist of the Rocky Mountains, page 123.  However, here the gold is lighter by a mere fraction of its original weight, making it still almost three times heavier than zinc.

[xiii] A second kit was later offered, without  the oven and of lesser quality in some respects.  At some point in the 1980's this was discontinued, and all that became available to members was a 22 page lecture on basic water distillation techniques.  The copy I have has no date or copyright, and may date back to the original alchemy classes during the 1940's.

[xiv] The following account of the Ingalese is summarized from Tim Scott's article, “Did They Confect the Philosophers Stone?  An Updated Report on 20th Century Testimony,” The Stone, July 1996.  Pgs.1-6.

[xv] The Alchemists by M. Caron and S. Hutin. Translated from French by Helen R. Lane.  Grove Press, Inc.  New York, New York.  1961.  P. 95.

[xvi] An article appeared in the August 1926 edition of The Mystic Triangle describing the chemical recipe used by Castelot to artificially make gold.  However, at the end of his letter he states, “Undoubtedly, there was a loss of gold in the experiment just as occurred in all my anterior attempts; because we know that arsenic, antimony and tellurium carry away gold during their fusion and volitilization.” (p.130)

[xvii] ”Fiery Philosophy“ by Orval Graves.  The Rosicrucian Digest, October 1944, pgs. 273-278, 287.

[xviii] “The Mystic Path of Alchemy” , Dec.  1947;  ”Ancient Traditions of Hermeticism“ , Sept. and Oct. 1948.

[xix] Albertus attempted a transmutation of gold while attending RCUI in 1942 an 1943 but “partially” failed.  Alchemical Laboratory Bulletin, Second Quarter, 1963.

[xx] ”Alchemy is Alive and Well“ by Hans Nintzel, GNOSIS, No. 8, Summer 1988.  Also, interview with the author, September 1994 (3rd Annual LPN Seminar, St. Charles, Illinois) and January 1995 (Dallas, Texas).

[xxi]  ”Practical Alchemy and Physical Immortality, An Interview with Art Kunkin“ by Christopher Farmer. Ibid.

[xxii] ”Alchemy the Living Tradition“ by Russell B. House, F.R.C., I.R.C., The Rosicrucian Digest, vol. 69, no. 3.  Fall 1991.  Also, interview and personal correspondence with the author, 1995 and 1996.

[xxiii] Interview with Bill van Doren, 5th Annual Philosophers of Nature Seminar,  Silver Springs, Co., May 27-31, 1996.

[xxiv] Telephone conversation with Samuel Weiser, Publications, York Beach, Maine.  Spring, 1996.

Special thanks to Russell B.House, current vice-president of the Philosopher's of Nature (PON-USA),who without his freely sharing of his extensive experience, insights and articles regarding the world of modern alchemy, this article would be considerably less than it is.

Thanks to Myra Marsh, Librarian of the Rosicrucian Research Library, Rosicrucian Park, San Jose, California, for sending me Canseliet's recipe for making gold!  

[xxv] Albertus, Alchemist of the Rocky Mountains. P. 123.