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Alchemy in Carniola: short description
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Andraz Zvab
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 Posted: Fri Feb 13th, 2015 02:34 pm
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I wish to present some data regarding alchemy in Krain (Carniola).

From 16th century onwards Carniola was part of lower Austria (Austria Inferior) and as such a part of Habsburg Empire.  A mine of quicksilver in Idrija (Ydria) ensured the presence of alchemy in the region. Not only the mine: Carniola as part of Habsburg empire took share in alchemistic efforts of Middle Europe in the time of baroque (second part of 16th , 17th and 18th century).

I shall begin with historical sources for the study of alchemy in the region. One of primary sources is Joannes Veichardt Valvasor (1641 - 1693), who wrote his famous and extensive Die Ehre des Herzogtums Krain (“The Glory of Duchy Carniola”). The historian Schönleben (1618 - 1681) mentions alchemy as well. However, the primary sources are the most important: alchemistic texts themselves. About the present-day historians I would mention Roudolf Werner Soukup, whose works are very valuable source for study of alchemy in Habsburg Empire. I would mention also numerous articles of dr. Stanislav Juznic. He is historian of science but he has written about the alchemy in the region extensively.  

The alchemy in the region begins with Barbara von Cilli (1390 - 1451), wife of Emperor Sigismund I., very educated and debauched woman as well. But her efforts are part of medieval alchemy in the strict sense; here I am more interested in baroque alchemy.

There is no doubt that the capital of alchemists from Carniola was Strmol castle. From early 17th century onwards the owners of the castle were family Ruessenstein. Henrik Konrad baron von Ruessenstein was eager alchemist; he wrote alchemistic tract Dialogus, in quo auri et argenti conficiendi nova exponitur ratio. This very little known tract is kept in Franciscan monastery in Ljubljana. The same monastery keeps some alchemical writings of Henrik Konrad' son, Alexander. Henrik Konrad was a great benefactor: he built a church, dedicated to Virgin Mary which is situated in the very center of Ljubljana. Henrik Konrad died in 1668. His son was even a more eager alchemist than his father: his alchemistic enterprise had cost him the very castle itself which he must have given to his relatives as a refund for his debts.

Valvasor wrote about Strmol castle extensively. Even in his time the castle was regarded as something special. He notes the presence of spirits of the past owners. The chapel in the castle was reputed to be so sacred that two possessed persons get back their spiritual health. In the hill behind the castle gold ore was found. That was something special for Carniola which is not rich in gold mine deposits.

In the year of 1613 on the Strmol castle  Joannes Frederic von Rain was born. He was/is the most famous of all the Carniolan alchemists so I’ll write a bit more about him.  In fact he deserves a special article which I’ll write in a nearby future.   

In the late 17th century the alchemy became a part of the colourful baroque culture and – especially in the Habsburg empire – apart of the presentation of Habsburg court. The intensive interest of the Habsburgs for the occult sciences and especially for alchemy is well known. All the Emperors were this or that way involved in the occult. Rudolf II. was perhaps the most well-known case but the same was true for other emperors from the day of Maximillian I. onwards. In the 17th century Ferdinand III. and Leopold I. cherished the interest for alchemy. On the court of Leopold I. numerous alchemists were active: from the ex-augustinian monk Wenzel Seiler through the alchemist-economist Johann Joachim Becher to the adventurer and impostor Domenico Caetano, self-styled “Count Ruggiero” not to mention Joannes de Monte Snyders. These are the circumstances of the formation of alchemical thought of Joannes Frederic von Rain.

Joannes Frederic von Rain weas married and had six children. However his main interest was reserved for alchemy. He wrote numerous alchemical works which are kept in Austrian national library (Österreichische National-Bibliothek). But perhaps most well-known is a short book entitled Preaservativum Universale Naturale: A natura et arte depromptum in omni morborum genere est  Lapis Philosophorum, cujus possibilitas, realitas, existentia et preparatio, quantum licet, is solus sit unicus morborum debellator Hercules. The book was published in 1680 at the Ljubljana’s bookseller Joannes Baptista Mayr and dedicated to the Emperor Leopold I. The book was partly a polemic towards a Chech doctor and alchemist Jacobus Joannes Wenceslaus Dobrzensky de Nigro Ponte who in his short tract with the same title Praeservativum Universale Naturale, published in 1679 expressed doubt in Lapis Philosophorum. But partly it is an independent tract about alchemy and the method of preparation of Lapis Philosophorum.

The work of Joannes Frederic von Rain is – among the others – interesting because of his exposition of so-called "political alchemy".  He writes that the negation of Lapis Philosophorum is an insult towards his Emperor’s Majesty. The Stone is a proof of the Emperor’s might and negation of the Stone is a negation of Emperor’s power. That is not something completely unique: the political implications are present also in other alchemical texts, for example in Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit (15th century) and in the well-known Sophic Hydrolith (early 17th century).

Alchemy in Carniola survived up to 18h century, especially in Idrija (Ydria). However this tract is concerned mainly with baroque alchemy in Carniola.  In the future I will write a bit more exhaustively about the work of Joannes Frederic von Rain and about 18th century alchemy in Carniola as well.

With best wishes to everyone,

Andraz Zvab               

Andraz Zvab
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 Posted: Sat Feb 14th, 2015 05:28 pm
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In the previous post I promised to give a short description of Joannes Frederic von Rain alchemical work entitled Praeservativum Universale Naturale. A natura et arte depromptum in omni morborum genere, est Lapis Philosophporum cujus possiblitas, realitas, existentia & praeparatio, quantum licet, qoudq; is solus sit unicus morborum debellator Hercules.

I am strong proponent of necessity of study alchemical texts, ideas and authors in their own historical, intellectual and cultural context. I am convinced that insistence on so called “grand narrative” – be it Jungian, theosophic, esoteric or some other does not make favour to the proper understanding of western alchemical tradition. The same is true for the equations with tantric tradition although serious comparison on its own terms is no doubt welcome. For this reason I begin with short explanation of historical context of the Praeservativum Universale Naturale /.../.

Alchemy in Carniola had a strong tradition, mainly (but not exclusively!) connected to Strmol castle and its owners what I explained in previous article. Late 17th century was dominated by the rule of Habsburg Emperor Leopold I. who – as did his predecessors – cherished strong interest in alchemy. Alchemy was part of presentation of Habsburg Court and Leopold I. was a patron of many alchemists. Some of them were sheer impostors, like Domenico Caetano, self-styled Count Ruggiero or ex-Augustinian monk Wenzel Seiler. Others might have been ranking as adepts. Johann Joachim Becher was not only an alchemist: he was also quite successful economist and proponent of new methods of resources management. One shall not forget the enigmatic alchemist Johannes de Monte Snyders.

One of the features of the late baroque alchemy was public transmutations. In the time when alchemy was slowly losing its sacred power these were mark and a proof at the same time of alchemy’s might and truthfulness. They were many of them. I shall mention one in 1648 in Prague in front of Emperor Ferdinand III made by one Johann Konrad Richthausen. Some of the successful transmutations had been made by Monte Snyders. Also Wenzel Seiler in 1677 boasted with successful transmutations. However there were many others. The medals, most notoriously one from 1648 are ever-lasting mark of these transmutations.

Considering the Habsburg’s interest for occult and especially alchemy it is no wonder that many nobles were interested in the art as well. Libraries and collections of books are perhaps the best indication of nobles’ alchemical interest. That is true also for the nobles for the Carniola. Some of them, most notably already mentioned Johannes Veichardt Valvasor (1641 – 1693) and Duke Wolf Engelbert von Auersperg (1610 – 1673) collected great libraries which have had collections of occult and alchemical literature as well.

Joannes Frederic von Rain (1613 - ?) was noble from Carniola. He was part of lower nobility and his family was in possession of Strmol castle until it was sold to family Ruessenstein who were eager practitioners of alchemy as well. Joannes Frederic von Rain dwelled in Ljubljana; he was married, had six children and was a member of city council.

In the year of 1679 Chech doctor and alchemist Jacobus Joannes Wenceslaus Dobrzensky de Nigro Ponte, follower of famous scholar and medicine doctor Jan Marcus Marci published a very short tract entitled Praeservativum Universale Naturale. The tract was not an alchemical at all; it was, in fact, a discussion regarding transmission of contagious illnesses through human saliva; and universal protection (hence the title!) is to stay away from infected saliva. The tract, however bizarre as it is, shows insight into baroque scholar discussions. In the tract Dobrzensky expressed strong doubt into the Lapis Philosophorum and in the art of alchemy.

The text provoked Joannes Frederic von Rain to write a response. It was partly a polemic towards Dobrzensky but mainly it was independent alchemical book where Rain espoused his own theory of preparation of the Lapis Philosophorum. The book was edited in 1680 at Ljubljana’s bookseller Joannes Baptista Mayr and dedicated to Emperor Leopold I. and his wife Empress Eleonora.

(In Mayr’s bookseller’s catalogue from 1678 one finds quite a collection of alchemical literature, including Theatrum Chymicum !)

The book has 113 pages and consists of three parts. On the front page is beautiful alchemistic-cabbalistic emblem, quite typical for baroque alchemy. It shows an angel on the cross, keeping one caduceus in each hand and having a sun with sixteen (sic!) rays on the place of the heart. In the middle of the sun is a symbol which shows a circle and an arrow pointing upwards. The angel stands on a globe, encircled with line, probably symbol for salt of the wise.

First part of the book is entitled Quid sentiendum de nomine, material and praeparatione liquoris Alcaest, & vtrum hic Vices Merc. Philosophorum in via humida subire possit? (What is to be thought about the preparation of liquor Alcahest, and about the possibility of reaching Mercury of the wise through the humid way?). It consists of 25 pages. The second tract is concerned with preparation of Aurum potabile and is very short. Third and the longest part of the book consist of 83 pages. It is Rain’s unique exposition of his own alchemical doctrine and praxis.

In the first part Rain equates Alcahest with Mercurium Philosophorum. For the preparation of the Stone, two principles are needed: Mercury of the wise and Sulphur of the wise. They correspond to female and male principle in nature. Mercury of the wise is obtained from virgin quicksilver (from Idrija in Carniola) which has to be essentially and accidentally purged, presumably with antimony. Rain had great respect for writings of Basil Valentine (i.e. Johann Thölde) and he quotes him quite often. Sulphur of the wise is obtained from gold and again purged with antimony. After that, both principles are putt in hermetic vessel which has to be hermetically sealed. The composition passes over different stages, most notably black, green and blue, white and red. The white color is mark of pure white sulphur and the acquisition of Lapis albus; the red color is mark of the noble red sulphur and consummation of philosophic work. Rain puts great significance to the fire. He says it can only be revealed through God’s Mercy or by some other adept.

The second tract is entitled Quid sentiendum de auro potabili, & vtrum per liquorem Alkahest fieri possit? (What is to be thought about liquid gold and about the possibility of its preparation with liquor Alcahest?) It is very short, five pages approximately. The author is convinced that Aurum potabile is identical to the Stone. In fact,itis Stone itself in the liquid state which is more appropriate for the cure of various illnesses. The rest of the short tract consists of some practical alchemical recipes. Rain strongly relies on thought of Raimundus Lullus whom he quotes often.

The third and longest part is Rain’s independent exposition of his doctrine and praxis. Firstly he enumerates proofs for real existence of Lapis Philosophorum. He enumerates the examples of successful transmutation, quotes the evidences of Joannes Baptista van Helmont etc. Then he comes forward with his main thesis. The negation of the Lapis Philosophorum is – according to Rain - an insult of his Emperor’s Majesty. Lapis Philosophorum is namely a mark of His Majesty might and power and to negate it is to negate the same might and the same power itself. On the page 50 he even wrote: Hoc unico remedio Austria cunctis dominaberis terris (With this unique medicine Austria will rule over all lands). As I wrote in previous article, political implications are not something completely unique in historiography of alchemy. They are present in the Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit (15th century) in Sophic Hydrolith (early 17th century) and perhaps somewhere else too. It shows the richness of alchemical thought and diversity of its cultural implications. So called “political alchemy” can be interpreted in many ways. Amongst other interpretations I espouse the ancient notion of King’s or Emperor’s power which must be spiritual as well. As such the ruler is entitled to the Lapis Philosophorum.

Joannes Frederic von Rain was an adherent of mythological alchemy which was present in the works of Michael Maier, Augustine Joseph-Pernety and some other alchemists as well. He interprets ancient myths, most notably the myth about Golden Fleece, Virgil’s Aeneid and the fable of sphinx as allegories of alchemical theory and work. For example: the answer to the sphinx riddle is man who walks by four, two and three feet. The same is true for the Stone: it consists of four elements (earth, water, air and fire), of two principles (sulphur and mercury) and of three parts (corpus, anima and spiritus).

The work Praeservativum Universale Naturale /.../ is heavily laden with quotes of other alchemical writers. Rain must have been well read and well versed in alchemical lore. From the seriousness of the book is evident that he was no impostor but sincere devotee of the art of alchemy. He dedicated his book to Emperor Leopold I. and his wife, Empress Eleonora. The Emperor kept Joannes Frederic von Rain in favour: he even gave him small financial support to continue his alchemical studies.

In this article which is a bit long I have tried to present Joannes Frederic von Rain’s work entitled Praeservativum Universale Naturale. Presently I am still doing on translation of the text from Latin to Slovenian. I know that alchemistic tradition of my country is very little known and with my modest efforts I try to correct this absence.

With best wishes,

Andraz Zvab

Paul Ferguson
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 Posted: Sun Feb 15th, 2015 09:59 am
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Absolutely fascinating. It shows just how much remains to be explored. Thank you.

Andraz Zvab
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 Posted: Tue Feb 17th, 2015 04:56 am
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The book itself is digitalized and can be found on Slovenian digital library: http://www.dlib.si/

Here I post the alchemical emblem from the front page of the book. It was made by engraver Peter Mungerstorff on Johann Veichardt Valvasor's castle, Bogenšperk.

Attached Image (viewed 522 times):

Praeservativum Universale Naturale.jpg

Last edited on Tue Feb 17th, 2015 05:13 am by Andraz Zvab

Paul Ferguson
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 Posted: Tue Feb 17th, 2015 01:28 pm
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I tried to post the precise URL but it comes up with a smiley face because it contains a consecutive : and D which comes out as :D

Is there any way of turning smileys off?

Last edited on Tue Feb 17th, 2015 01:41 pm by Paul Ferguson

Andraz Zvab
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 Posted: Tue Feb 17th, 2015 06:57 pm
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I tried to post the full link and encountered the same problem. I don't know how to neutralize the smileys. Perhaps Adam knows the solution. Otherwise go on digital library of Slovenia and type Praeservativum Universale Naturale.


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