In my previous blog post, I examined a selection of the texts in the Bibliotheca Hermetica series, a recent addition to our catalogue. In this post, I wish to take a wider view of alchemy, and how the material connects people of different time periods. History is inherent to each manuscript, not only detailing the provenance and creation of each work, but also how the content shaped the lives of the people who read it. In this way, the collection of alchemical texts in the UL is a rich fabric of interwoven connections and textual interpretations, which spans centuries of academic understanding, creating almost a visual mind-map of human curiosity and giving the impetus to discover and learn more.
One particular example of how ideas interconnect across time, is Carl Jung, the Swiss 20th century psychiatrist, and The Secret of the Golden Flower (9840.b.17). Although psychology and alchemy may appear to be vastly different fields of enquiry, Jung’s approach to his specialism had a lot in common with the historical alchemists he researched. Like them, he was concerned with the unification of opposites, focusing primarily on the conscious and the unconscious, a theme he noted in a variety of Eastern archetypical images. Jung’s concept of individuation is also reminiscent of Western alchemical practices. In differentiating the self into conscious and unconscious elements, Jung was applying to psychology techniques which alchemists had applied to early approaches to natural science. Continue reading