©1999 Vincent Bridges
An examination of the pattern revealed by the first nine chapters in part one of Mystery of the Cathedrals, by Vincent Bridges, co-author of A Monument to the End of Time: alchemy, fulcanelli and the great cross. The first section of Fulcanelli’s masterpiece shows the sword of wisdom, built from language and experience, is extracted from the stone of the wise, whose five components could all be found, at one time, in Notre-Dame de Paris, the Philosopher’s Church.
The Lightning Flash and the Pommel of the Sword
“The strongest impression of my early youth I was seven years old — an impression of which I still retain a vivid memory, was the emotion aroused in my young heart by the sight of a gothic cathedral.” The opening words of Fulcanelli’s masterpiece, Le Mystere des Cathedrals, places us firmly in the personal. Fulcanelli, from the very first sentence of the book, strikes us as a real person with a message to communicate. “I was immediately enraptured by it. I was in ecstasy, struck with wonder, unable to tear myself away…”
Here is passion, the beginning of a lifelong involvement, an attempt to get to the heart of “the magic of such splendor.” It never faded, Fulcanelli tells us: “I have never acquired a defense against a sort of rapture when faced with those beautiful picture books erected in our closes and raising to heaven their pages of sculptured stone.”
And so, in his third paragraph, Fulcanelli clearly tells the reader the reason for his work. “In what language, by what means, could I express my admiration? How could I show my gratitude to those silent masterpieces, those masters without words and without voice?” How better indeed than to write a volume explicating, for those who could read the symbolism, the great teachings contained in those “pages of sculptured stone?”
But of course, as Fulcanelli immediately reminds us, they are not without words or voice. “If those stone books have their sculptured letters — their phrases in bas-relief and their thoughts in pointed arches — nevertheless they speak also through the imperishable spirit which breathes from their pages.” This imperishable spirit makes them clearer than their younger brothers, manuscripts and printed books, because “it is simple in expression, naive and picturesque in interpretation; a sense purged of subtleties, of allusions, of literary ambiguities.”
It is this Voice of the Imperishable Spirit, Fulcanelli suggests, which speaks “the gothic of the stones.” He links this emotive “language” to the grand theme of music by suggesting that even Gregorian chants can “but add to the emotions which the cathedral itself has already aroused.”
At the very beginning of the book then, Fulcanelli is slyly informing us that he has personally experienced the Voice of that Imperishable Spirit which gives its auditor the ability to understand “the gothic of the stones.” He knows, in the ancient sense of gnosis, the secret behind the symbolism. Here in fact we are reminded of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s insistence, in Parzival, that the mystery of the Grail, the lapis exillis, could only be understood by one who had learned his “ABC’s without the aid of Black Magic.” The language of this mystery can only be interpreted by those who have had the initiatory and illuminatory experience.
From this subtle declaration of intent, Fulcanelli moves on to a bold statement on the value of the gothic cathedral “as a vast concretion of ideas” in which the “religious, secular, philosophical or social thoughts of our ancestors” can be read. He develops this idea by showing how the sacred and the profane mingled in the civic uses of the cathedrals, from guild rituals to funerals to commodity markets.
In this shift, we sense a slight-of-hand trick taking place under our very eyes. With dizzying suddenness, we have changed our focus from the nature and meaning of language and initiation to the practical details of a laboratory for their explication. The cathedral we are told is “an original work of incomparable harmony; but not one, it seems, concerned entirely with religious observance.” Fulcanelli assures us that along with “the fervent inspiration, born of a strong faith” there exists “an almost pagan spirit.” This allows the cathedrals to express “the thousand and one preoccupations of the great heart of the people” in a way that reveals “the declaration of its conscience, its will, the reflection of its thought at its most complex, abstract, essential and autocratic.”
There is something almost morphogenic in this declaration, as if the cathedrals were a chrysalis for the larvae form of humanity. The carapace of Christianity is necessary, in this view, to mold a collective cosmological and religious framework within which a deeper, and older, understanding of the mysteries can be allowed to grow and evolve. As if to demonstrate the point more clearly, Fulcanelli ends his first chapter with a long description of the ancient hermetic processional fairs, such as the Feast of Fools and the Feast of the Donkey.
These two feasts, celebrated in the fall and in the spring, marked the link-pins of the ancient pagan year, Samhain and Beltane, which fall traditionally on the cusp of Scorpio/Sagittarius and Taurus/Gemini, the pole or pillar of galactic alignment from center to edge of the galaxy. Fulcanelli’s choice of these two examples can’t be considered as mere coincidence.
Indeed, it is at this point that Fulcanelli lapses into a symbolic language. Where before he has been vague but understandable, he now begins to use symbolism to both hide and, to those who know, reveal his meaning. Here, at the very beginning and in common idiom, Fulcanelli presents us with the secret, but, before “the authority of the disguised science” is recognized, many other images will have to be sorted through. The ecstatic cries of the “feast day of feast days” do mark the progress of the triumphal chariot of Bacchus with its male and female centaurs, however what is signified by these ritual celebrations remains obscure until the key to the mystery is revealed.
This is also true, to an even greater degree, for the Feast of the Donkey. This ancient celebration of the Christ-bearer whose hooves trod the streets of Jerusalem is filled with hermetic overtones, and Fulcanelli points us toward the suggestive meanings of sabot, hoof or top, and its association with the cabalists and the Epiphany cake. At the same time, Fulcanelli confuses the issue by throwing in references to other feasts and celebrations, some of which are seemingly unrelated. However, as we will see, even Fulcanelli’s digressions are not without meaning.
Such is the content of Fulcanelli’s first chapter, a pithy twelve paragraphs of pure mystification. Boiled down it says that the gothic cathedrals are an expression of an imperishable spirit, a voice which spoke to the author from an early age. Listening to that voice allowed the author to understand “the Tradition, Science and Art” from their stone pages, that is to learn the “ABC’s” of the secret language. But, we are given to understand, the cathedrals were also the stage and setting for other more obscure ceremonies, ones that had “a hermetic meaning, often a very precise one.” Fulcanelli ends by drawing our attention to the fall and spring feasts and their symbolic attributions.
The cathedrals, Fulcanelli seems to be suggesting, were laboratories for the evolution of the human spirit, the elevation of the soul by the unification of heaven and earth, and that even the churchmen themselves didn’t quite understand this function. What makes this assertion even more remarkable is the feeling Fulcanelli conveys of actual experience. He leaves the reader convinced that he has indeed seen these festivals, at least in his mind’s eye, and has for sure spent many hours meditating on the “fervent inspiration” of its design.
This crowning experience, this gnosis, is the starting point of a flash of illumination that Fulcanelli will use to reveal the essential pattern at the core of the alchemical Tree of the Life. To the cabalist, the lightning flash, the creative sequence of the unfolding Light, reveals the underlying structure of reality. In the same way, Fulcanelli uses his experience of the cathedrals, his gnosis, to reveal the core pattern at the heart of the mystery. In the symbolic cabala, this lightning flash becomes the flaming sword which protects the Garden of Eden from human rehabitation. In Fulcanelli’s hands, the image becomes the sword in the stone, the alchemical extraction of knowledge from the stone of the wise which initiates the Golden Age here on earth.
The pattern emerges clearly in the first three chapters. Following the lightning flash, if the first chapter is the point of light, then chapter two is the light’s expansion into the world of space/time. And so in that chapter, Fulcanelli tells us of the medical school and the Saturday meetings of alchemists at “the little Porte-Rouge,” clues to those who knew and made use of the cathedrals’ secrets. He quotes Victor Hugo to direct us — if we haven’t made the connection before — to his works, particularly The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. (The whole of Book Three and Chapter Two of Book Five should be read as a prologue to Fulcanelli’s work.) Chapter two concludes with another glimpse of Fulcanelli’s motivation. “Indeed I shall consider myself satisfied and amply rewarded if I have been able to awaken the curiosity of the reader, to hold the attention of the shrewd observer and to show to lovers of the occult that it is not impossible even now to rediscover the meaning of the secrets hidden under the petrified exterior of this wondrous book of magic.”
Chapter three of MotC, whose subject is the secret language, has been examined in depth in A Monument to the End of Time.As we noted, this is the key chapter to understanding the rest of the book. Together with the first two chapters, it completes the supernatural triad at the top of the Tree of Life. We can also think of the triad as the pommel of a sword whose blade is the extension of the idea through the stone of symbolism into the reality of Notre-Dame, the philosopher’s church.
To pull the sword from the stone, it is necessary to grip, or grasp, the ideas supplied by the handle or pommel. The first three stages of the lightning flash form a pattern from which the rest of its path unfolds. Fulcanelli combines these ideas with his subject, the cathedrals, in such a way as to compel us to look deeper and closer at the symbols expressed within those cathedrals. In the remaining chapters of part one of Le Mystere des Cathedrals, Fulcanelli suggests that the symbolic components of those “books in stone” are five-fold and that they form, within themselves, the key to the mystery.
The Five-Sided Stone of the Wise
The lightning flash zags across the abyss as it passes from Binah to Hesed, from Understanding to Mercy. Thus the flash creates its own reflection, and the reflection of the upper three stages in the sequence, as it travels down toward matter. Fulcanelli follows this pattern and his fourth chapter focuses on the literal symbolism of the cross as the basic plan for all gothic churches. The shift from theoretical discussions of the language of the birds to the literality of a cathedral’s ground plan is sharp enough to suggest the pathless spark of transmission from Binah to Hesed, while the subject of chapter four, the cross, directs our attention to life itself.
According to Fulcanelli, all gothic churches, with rare exceptions, are laid out in the form of a Latin cross, which he tells us “is the alchemical hieroglyph of the crucible,” since crucible and cross are derived from the same Latin root. And here, Fulcanelli begins to play his symbolic shell game. “It is indeed in the crucible that the first matter suffers the Passion, like Christ himself.”
Unless we understand the need to connect the cross to the idea of Mercy as conveyed by the fourth sephiroth or stage in the unfolding sequence, we will not quite follow Fulcanelli’s sudden shifts of tone and meaning. His Christian take is somewhat surprising here until we realize that it is the “mercy” brought by the experience of the cross that he is trying to convey. The Passover lamb roasted on a cross of transformation makes a good literal symbol of God’s mercy. But Fulcanelli of course is taking the obvious one step further.
“Remember too, my brother alchemists, that the cross bears the imprint of the three nails used to sacrifice the Christ-body,” Fulcanelli reminds us, like a carnival barker pointing to the pea. As we will discover, much later in our inquiry, these three nails are the anchor points of the three axis of the galaxy, the clue to understanding the true ancient nature of the cross.
After shuffling with St. Augustine and the Paschal lamb, Fulcanelli comes to the point. “The cross is a very ancient symbol, used in all ages, in all religions, by all peoples, and one would be wrong to consider it as a special emblem of Christianity.” Here’s the pitch: can you find the pea of truth under all the Christian special pleading?
He gives us a hint. “We say further that the ground plan of the great religious buildings of the Middle Ages, by the addition of a semi-circular or elliptical apse joined to the choir, assumes the shape of the Egyptian hieratic sign of the crux ansata, the anhk, which signifies universal life hidden in matter.” He points to an example of this from the crypts of St. Honore at Arles, a sarcophocus lid from the first century that echoes the rose cross anhks of the Coptic Museum in Cairo.
To make sure we grasp his point, he adds that the anhk is also the sign of Venus in astrology and copper in alchemy. Traditionally, this anhk sign is the only form of the cross to contain the complete Tree of Life. The first six sephiroth, from Kether to Tiphareth, form the loop, Hod and Netzach are the cross arms, while Yesod and Malkuth complete the lower arm. Fulcanelli emphasizes the completeness and ubiquity of this process and then begins to shuffle metaphors once more.
The cross metamorphizes into a stone. “It is thus that the ground plan of a Christian building reveals to us the qualities of the first matter, and its preparation by the sign of the cross, which points the way for the alchemist to obtain the first stone — the corner stone of the philosopher’s Great Work.” Fulcanelli raises the stakes by telling us that “on this stone… Jesus built his church,” and by insisting that the medieval Freemasons did the same symbolically, giving the undressed, rough stone the image of the devil.
Fulcanelli tells us that once just such a “hieroglyph” could be found within Notre-Dame de Paris. This “figure of the devil,” called Master Peter of the Corner, was located at the corner of the choir rail, under the rood screen and this smudged and blackened stone was used by the congregation to snuff their candles. Fulcanelli instructs us that this stone which “was intended to represent the first matter of the work, personified under the aspect of Lucifer (the morning star), was the symbol of our corner stone, the headstone of the corner.” He cites a 17th century reference about the stone the builder rejected and then directs us to the very first specific image from Notre-Dame mentioned in the book, a bas-relief of Jesus blessing an oddly shaped stone in the arch of an absidal chapel on the north side of the cathedral.
Somehow the cross, the anhk, became a stone, and not just any stone, but the rejected stone which became the headstone of the corner, the support on which Jesus built his church. And somehow this is “the first matter,” “the First Stone,” the corner stone of the alchemical Great Work? Just how does a tree — the anhk contains the entire Tree of Life and the cross is a component of the World Tree — become a stone?
Herein are revealed great mysteries, to echo our occult carnival barker. Fulcanelli has presented us with the first part of a conundrum, the unraveling of which will take us into deep waters indeed.
The answer seems to lie with the ancient myths of the World Tree, at whose feet, in many if not most of the very ancient myths, there can be found a stone or cube that is somehow plugging up the torrent of the deluge. Giorgio de Santilla and Hertha von Dechend uncovered this motif as part of their epic examination of the transmission of precessional information through the medium of mythology in Hamlet’s Mill. Their scholarship suggests a connection between the Ark, which in Summerian myth is a perfect cube, and the foundation stone which stops the flood. In another version of the ancient Summerian Noah/Utnapishtim myths, there is no ark at all, just a cubic stone with a pillar on top that stretches from earth to heaven and plugs the entrance to the watery abyss.
This idea is also found in Jewish mythology. The Eben Shetiyyaah, the foundation stone uncovered by King David on Mt. Zion, was thought to cap the watery abyss beneath the Holy of Holies. The idea of a stone, the white altar of tradition, holding back the flood of chaos and catastrophe survived within Christianity. In addition to Fulcanelli’s Master Peter of the Corner, similar images are found in Russian and Germanic prayers, where the fire blackened stone, Christ’s throne and the habitation of the Devil, symbolized the entrance to hell, whose fires are safely contained by its bulk. A German prayer, quoted in Hamlet’s Mill seems even more explicit. “In Christ’s Garden, there is a well, in the well there is a stone, under the stone lies a golden scorpion.”
The first of our five symbolic components, the stone from which the sword of wisdom is extracted, is the cross/stone of space/time itself, the Cube of Space formed from the three axis of the galaxy. Fulcanelli seems to understand this in a way that is even more comprehensive than that of Santilla and Dechend’s scholarship. And with that deep and ancient understanding, Fulcanelli is pointing us toward the truth about the alchemical and transformative nature of Christianity.
The Tree can also become a stone when the lightning flash from which it is formed strikes the ground. These Zebedee stones, so-called from the sons of thunder, John and James, in the New Testament, are crystalizations of a subtle energy, electricity, lightning, grounded into matter. Along with meteorites, these thunderstones have always been considered sacred, as in the Ka’aba of Mecca and the benbens of Heliopolis.
In many ways, Fulcanelli validates our reading of his pattern with this chapter, so filled with cubes and fours, just as one would expect from the fourth sephiroth. (Kether, as a zero point has no dimensions. Chokmah, as two or a line has one, while Binah, three, a plane surface, has two dimensions. Only with Hesed, four, do we arrive at three dimensions, hence the cube.) The chapter also points to the overall pattern of the stone or cube formed by the middle five chapters of this first section, reinforcing our supposition about the sword and the stone design. Fulcanelli is forcing the reader to look for deeper patterns of meaning within ideas that are themselves almost bottomless. At the end of this chapter, we may not know exactly what the First Matter of the alchemist truly is, but we do know that it is far more comprehensive, and down right cosmic, than we could otherwise have imagined.
Such is the genius of Fulcanelli.
In chapter five of part one, Fulcanelli turns from the ground plan to the floor itself. And here we find our second component, the labyrinth.
Continuing the lightning flash from one side of the Tree to the other, we jump from Hesed to Geburah, from Mercy to Strength. Again, the discussion in this chapter, while it focuses on the labyrinth, circles around the attributions of Geburah — strength, power, Mars, iron and so on. On the surface, it seems that the labyrinth has little to do with ideas of strength and power. And yet, as we dig deeper into Fulcanelli’s clues, we find that the metaphor is very apt indeed.
Fulcanelli tells us that church labyrinths were placed at the intersection of the nave and the transcept, and gives us a list of the remaining labyrinths. He notes the golden rising sun motif at the center of Amiens in former days, then turns to Chartres. Here he emphasizes the similarity between Le Lieue, league, and Le Lieu, place, leaving open the suggestion of far travel in one place, and moves on to the former center illustration of Theseus and the Minotaur. This, he assures us is “yet another proof of the infiltration of pagan themes into Christian iconography and consequently of an evident mytho-hermetic meaning.”
Fine, says the reader, but what meaning?
Fulcanelli side steps this by declaring that the whole issue is moot because “it is not a matter of establishing any connection between these images and those famous constructions of antiquity, the labyrinths of Greece and Rome.” Why not?
The theme of the Minotaur fits rather well into the concept of Geburah, strength and power, so outright avoidance isn’t the answer. It must be that Fulcanelli wants us to focus on a specific kind of labyrinth, not just the broader myths associated with the concept. It is not just Geburah, but one specific aspect of Geburah, the thread of strength that leads to the rising sun, to which Fulcanelli draws our attention.
He does this by quoting Berthelot’s Grand Encyclopedia on the Labyrinth of Solomon, “a cabalistic figure found at the head of certain alchemical manuscripts and is part of the magic tradition associated with the name of Solomon.” This magic image is nothing other than the ancient seven-turn, nine-stone maze known to humanity in one form or another for thousands of years. Fulcanelli declares that this labyrinth is “emblematic of the whole labour of the Work,” and, after a long linguistic digression on the meaning of spiders and Ariadne’s thread, openly admits that this form of the labyrinth is a version of the philosopher’s stone.
The effect of this rather unexpected explication is stunning, both for its directness and its unusually specific focus. Just what is it about this labyrinth that could lead Fulcanelli to make such a pronouncement?
For one thing, the classical seven-turn labyrinth is mankind’s oldest complex symbol. We have specific examples that are more than six thousand years old, and if we accept that the Greek meander is one form of the classic labyrinth, then examples can be found that are almost ten thousand years old. Perhaps the best single volume work on the labyrinth, Sig Lonegren’s Labyrinths: Ancient Myths and Modern Uses, suggests that the original use of all labyrinth forms was as a kind of space/time location tool.
Lonegren bases this assumption on the sacred geometry of the Cretan “Labrys,” the axe-headed symbol of the Goddess. By using this pattern, which depends on determining true north and designing the width of the axe head to match the latitude of your location, it is possible to lay out a design that is correctly aligned to the local lunar and solar year. Of course, this can be done without the addition of the curving and interconnecting lines, which is what makes the labrys a labyrinth.
These inter-connecting paths are meant to be walked, to be experienced as that long journey in one place, in other words a metaphor for the soul’s quest for meaning. The golden dawn at the center of the Amiens labyrinth is exactly the point. By walking the pattern that orients you, literally, it is possible to glimpse the rise of the inner sun.
Following the thread of Ariadne into the maze and then returning, we are re-enacting the soul’s journey through death and resurrection. Fulcanelli instructs us that the thread of meaning which navigates the complex fields of the universal “lodestone,” the rising sun behind or beyond our sun, is the architecture of Temple of Solomon, an esoteric reference to the planetary six-pointed star found in the center of the Tree of Life. The philosopher’s stone, by implication is formed of these seven planetary components.
Fulcanelli highlights five of the seven, Jupiter, Mars, The Sun, Venus and Mercury, as the stone from which the sword is drawn. Saturn of course is the gnosis expressed collectively by the first three chapters, the handle of the sword, while the Moon is represented by the section on Notre-Dame, the sword’s point. Each of these inner five are given, by Fulcanelli, very specific images related both to the quality of the sephiroth and the gothic tradition of the cathedrals. The cross and cube of Hesed transposed into the headstone of the corner is obvious compared to why a labyrinth should represent Geburah.
Yet, sacred geometry is the answer. Each of the planetary qualities, from Saturn to the Moon, can be given a structural and mathematical form by constructing squares based on their numerical lightning flash order, so that three, Binah, is Saturn and forms a three by three square. Within this, it is possible to arrange the first nine numbers (3 x 3 = 9) in a pattern so that each line, horizontal, vertical and diagonal adds up to 15.
Magic squares can be formed for each successive number; four, or Jupiter is formed of the first 16 numbers and adds up to 34 in all directions, and so on. There are many different theories about magic squares, all of which are fascinating and insightful to the mystical mathematician as well as the magician, but Fulcanelli is directing us toward how the magic square constructs to the labyrinth.
One of the mathematical theories about magic squares concerns the mirror symmetry of their odd/even patterning. Even numbered magic squares, Jupiter, the Sun, and Mercury, 4, 6 and 8, exhibit hemispherical symmetry where each side is a reflection of the other, while the odd squares, Saturn, Mars, Venus and the Moon, 3, 5, 7, and 9, exhibit radial symmetry which is reflected outward from a central point.
From this we note that the odd numbered squares all have central crosses of odd numbers and alternating odd/even numbers in the corners. This pattern of radial symmetry allows us to use the odd numbered magic squares as templates for the classical labyrinths.
Saturn, which in Fulcanelli is the sum of the first three sephiroth, is here a classical three-circuit labyrinth. Jupiter of course is an even numbered symmetrical cube, so that it is Mars, attributed to Geburah, that forms the exact seven circuit labyrinth indicated by Fulcanelli. (To see how this works, take a magic square and lightly color in the even numbers. Then, if you have an odd numbered square, go either to the right or left connecting odd numbers to even numbers around the outside of the square. This will form the basic labyrinth pattern.)
The magic square of Mars contains the first 25 numbers arranged so that every direction adds up to 65. This number is indicative of both light and Adonai, the Lord, in Hebrew. This suggests that the Mars square is somehow a master pattern of light, which when translated into the classical seven-turn, nine-stone labyrinth becomes the interactive architecture of Solomon’s Temple or even more exactly, the philosopher’s stone.
On the Tree of Life, the path from Geburah, or Mars, to Tiphareth, the Sun, lies through the Sphinx, the sign of Leo, the Hebrew letter Teth and the Tarot Trump Strength. This turn toward the light, which is the subject of Fulcanelli’s next chapter, follows the thread to the center, the rising sun. But before we move on, we need to look again at Fulcanelli’s planetary pattern.
Fulcanelli drops the simplest labyrinth square, that of Saturn, and the most complex and enfolded of the magic square dimensional patterns, that of the Moon, to focus on Jupiter, a cube, Mars, a seven labyrinth, the Sun, a hyper-cube, Venus, the eleven labyrinth, and Mercury, a hyper-octahedron. While these hyper-symmetry patterns are revealing of an even deeper structural organization, their planetary attributions suggests an actual pattern in the sky, that of a rising sun with Jupiter and Mars above the horizon, and Mercury and Venus below.
When we see these symbols again, on the Cyclic Cross of Hendaye, we will find not only the obvious synchronicity of the appropriate alignment of planets, but the possible meaning of the transformation which they symbolize. We will also find that the complex geometry of the labyrinth contains the secret of time itself, the ancient technique of celestial projection and orientation symbolized by the eight-rayed star of Isis/Mary. But that is far beyond the level of initiation that Fulcanelli has planned for the reader at this point.
Indeed, at this point, it is enough if the reader grasps the potential importance of the labyrinth and its connections to Mars, the thread of Ariadne toward the rising sun of Tiphareth, and the sacred geometry of the philosopher’s stone. Having made this as clear as we can, let us turn, with Fulcanelli, toward the wondrous light of the rose windows.
“All churches,” Fulcanelli reminds us, “have their apse turned toward the south-east, their front towards the north-west, while the transepts, forming the arms of the cross, are directed to the north-east and the south-west. That is the invariable orientation, intended in such a fashion that the faithful and profane, entering the church by the west, walk straight to the sanctuary facing the direction in which the sun rises, i.e. the Orient, Palestine, the cradle of Christianity. They leave the shadows and walk toward the light.”
In this simple and elegant paragraph, Fulcanelli connects us with the labyrinth discussed in the last chapter, which is oriented according to the same principle, as well as the ancient tradition of temple orientation that extends from the Egyptians to such modern Rosecrucian groups as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Indeed, a study of the surviving rituals of this late 19th and early 20th century magical order provides many curious nuggets of the secret tradition. While it is not surprising that a magical order would base its temple space on the orientation of the gothic cathedrals, what is surprising is that Fulcanelli knows the underlying geometric reasons why both of these “temples” are indeed sacred.
To glimpse this level, it is necessary to return for a moment to our evolving magic square pattern. We noted that the sun’s square, an even numbered one, could be considered as a hyper-cube, or fourth dimensional cube.
Its mirror symmetry allows one to fold it through the third dimension and form a cube within a cube of 16 vertices, 32 edges, 24 faces and 8 4D cells. These numbers, as we noted in A Monument to the End of Time, are important to Fulcanelli’s explication of the sun as shown on the Cyclic Cross of Hendaye. A temple based on this hidden geometry would therefore partake of the mystical activity of the sun itself, that of radiating light or illumination.
Fulcanelli then directs our attention to the play of light through the rose windows of the cathedrals, telling us that “the Work unfolds in a circular progression.” This progression Fulcanelli associates with the wheel of fire, both physical and psychic. He quotes a 17th century alchemical poem which restates the aphorisms of the Emerald Tablet by advocating the middle way, then declares that “the rose alone represents the action of the fire and its duration,” telling us that this “is why the medieval decorators sought in their rose windows to translate the movement of matter, stirred up by the elementary fire” into a temporal organization of light.
This image of the wheel of the year as a wheel of light describes the meaning of Tiphareth, which is attributed to the sun, quite well. Fulcanelli emphasizes this by drawing our attention again to the star of Solomon, the philosopher’s stone at the heart of the Tree of Life. He directs us to a collection of six petaled rose windows, ending with “the splendid blue rose of the Sainte-Chapelle,” and then suggests that, “since this sign (the six-pointed star) is of the greatest interest to the alchemist,” it would be wise to examine in detail the star motif. And so, leaving “to the reader the task of making useful comparisons” and “picking out the positive truth,” Fulcanelli turns to the fourth component, the star.
Instead of the clarity and simplicity of the last chapter, Fulcanelli builds his seventh chapter, attributed to Netzach, Victory, out of a series of quotes or descriptions from ancient sources of the Star of Deliverance, our fourth component of the stone of the wise. (For the mathematically curious, please note that 7 + 4 = 11, the number of turns in a labyrinth formed from the magic square of Venus, the planet attributed to this sephiroth.) Fulcanelli suggested, at the end of the last chapter, that this star was the one that signaled the Savior’s birth but that it is up to the reader to figure out why it has been given this position and attribution.
And so, we are presented with the second half of the great conundrum started in chapter four. There we saw how a Tree could become a Stone, and now in this chapter we will glimpse how that Stone becomes a Star. But the answer to the conundrum is not easy to unravel, even with Fulcanelli’s help.
For starters, he gives us thirteen different glimpses of the star motif, as well as one bogus reference of modern origin just to see if we are paying attention. The quotations run from Varro’s retelling of the Aeneid to Witkowski’s description of a stained glass window in the old church of St. Jean at Rouen, and seem to suggest a subject much broader than the Star of Bethelem.
Here are the motifs in the order in which Fulcanelli presents them:
1) Varro – The Star of Venus leads Aeneas to the Land of Grafted Gold, allotted to him by destiny.
2) Gnostic Book of Seth – A people far to the east have a Writing which tells of the star and the birth of Child, and prescribes the offerings which should be taken to him at the appropriate time. This prediction was passed from one generation of wise men to the next, who became over time the twelve Magi. Once a generation they gathered in a cave on Mount Victory where they meditated for three days, waiting on the sign. When it came, it took the form of a small child holding a cross and the instructions to depart for Judea. The rest is in the Bible.
3) Unknown author, Apocryphal fragment – Here, the journey lasts thirteen days and the closer the Magi came to Bethelem the more the star looked like an eagle with a cross above it.
4) Julius Africanus – The scene is a Persian temple built by Cyrus the Great where a star descends to announce the birth of a child, the Beginning and the End, at which all the statues fall down with their faces to the ground as if worshiping the star. The Magi interpret this sign and advise the King to send ambassadors. Bacchus, or Dionysius, (of all the gods!) appears and predicts that this new god will drive out the false gods. The Magi depart, and, guided by the star, find Mary and the Child. They have a portrait painted of them which bears the inscription “To Jupiter Mithra (The Sun God, Dei Helios) to the Great God, to King Jesus, the Persian Empire makes this dedication.”
5) St. Ignatius – He tells us that the light of this star outshone all others in the sky and that the sun, moon and stars formed a choir around this star.
6) Huginus a Barma – This is an 18th century alchemist who echoes St. Ignatius by suggesting that the “real earth” of the prima materia should be impregnated “with the rays of the sun, the moon and the other stars.”
7) Chalcidius – A 4th century Gnostic who apparently taught Egyptian star magic. He comments on Ahc, the Egyptian star of bad fortune, then moves onto the Star of Destiny and the Chaldean astronomers.
8) Diodorus of Tarsus – A Greek post-Pythagorean philosopher of the 2nd century who was influenced by Philo and the Hebrew Kabbalist, he suggest that the star wasn’t a real stellar body, but a formation of “urano-diurnal force” which assumed the shape of a star to announce the birth of the Savior.
9) Luke II, 8-14 – The angel and the shepherd verses familiar to us from our childhood Christmas stories.
10) Matthew, II, 1-2, 7-11 – The familiar gifts of the Magi story.
11) Number, XXIII, 8, XXIV, 17 – The famous Star out of Jacob verses from Baalam the prophet of Mesopotamia, land of the Chaldeans.
12) Triptych of the Virgin at Larmor – The central panel shows the Virgin surrounded by the sun, moon and a nimbus of stars, while holding a large eight-rayed star in her right hand, suggests, as Fulcanelli says, the stella maris of the Catholic hymn.
13) Witkowski’s description of a lost stained glass at Rouen shows us a stellar conception attended by the planetary deities.
Now, let us do as Fulcanelli directs, and make useful comparisons that will allow us to pick out the positive truth.
1) The Star of Venus tells us that we have the correct sephiroth, and the Land of Grafted Gold suggests exile and lost homeland themes.
2) Mount Victory again points to the correct attribution, while the story of the Magi introduces the number twelve and, by extension, thirteen when the sign is given. From the Last Supper to the Round Table, this pattern will repeat time after time.
3) The apocryphal fragment echoes the thirteen and points to the star as being in the old constellation of Scorpio, symbolized as an eagle with a cross as the stinger of the current scorpion.
4) Dei Helios is really the Great Sun, or the sun behind the sun which was seen to control the Great Year of the precession, while Dionysius points to the shamanic roots of Christianity as an ecstatic mystery religion. The image of Mary and child is also suggestive of Isis and Horus, whose cult was contemporary to that of Dionysius.
5) In this snippet, Isis is clearly identified as the center of the galaxy, with the sun and moon and stars forming a choir around her.
6) This alchemical quote suggests the closeness in process between that of the center of the galaxy and the very basis of alchemy.
7) Chalcidius suggests that the same Star of Destiny can be either good or bad, as the Egyptians knew.
8) Diodorus seems to be saying that this stellar sign is not quite what we would think of as a star, but some form of periodic subtle energy outburst.
9) Here’s the good news behind the Gnostic incarnation of Jesus. Matter can be redeemed by an infusion of divine glory, symbolized by the babe born at the cusp of Leo and Virgo.
10) Our familiar story of the Three Kings of the orient, the wise men of the east whose astronomical observations led them to the birth of the savior.
11) Baalam’s prediction of the Star of Jacob and the scepter out of Israel is very interesting as it is the first messianic prediction in the Old Testament. Baalam of course is not a Hebrew, but a priest or Magi of the god Baal, the god most high, the old dragon constellation coiled around the still point of the universe, the north ecliptic pole.
12) The Virgin identified with Mary, Isis and the star of the sea.
13) A glimpse of a tantric or alchemical procedure for creating a star child.
Having found our nuggets of positive truth, what can we make of Fulcanelli’s message in this chapter?
An ancient group of astronomical adepts, the Magi, watched the skies for the sign, which seems to be a new star-like eruption of light in the region of Scorpio’s cross-like tail, near or at the center of our galaxy. When the sign comes, the Magi travel to acknowledge the Savior and find Mother Isis/Mary and her Child. They acknowledge her as the center of the galaxy and her child as the source of the new light, known in the past only to the magi and the shaman. This new light is linked to the alchemcial process and the tantric star-child in particular, while a hint is given that the whole secret can be found in the ancient astronomies of Egypt, Caanan and Mesopotamia.
The quotations also suggest an esoteric thirteen sign zodiac, one that is oriented toward the center of the galaxy between Scorpio and Sagittarius. This gives us a distinctly different, and quite ancient, view of the universe, echoes of which remain in modern superstitions such as the unlucky Friday, Venus’ day, the 13th. This chapter is Fulcanelli’s clearest example yet of the initiatory quality inherent in his presentation of the material. By forcing the reader to think and sort through the star myths, Fulcanelli is pushing the reader into an altered state of awareness. Suddenly, the universe looks quite different, older and more significant.
And, the careful reader will note, we are far from what is normally considered alchemy. The next chapter, taking us deeper into the prima materia, only reinforces this sense of strangeness. Alchemy, as Fulcanelli reveals it to us, is very far indeed from the vain lab work of the puffers.
“Just as the human soul has its hidden recesses, so the cathedral has its secret passages.” Fulcanelli guides us through the crypts, from the same Greek root as Venus and copper, of the cathedrals to the secret hiding place of Isis, the Black Virgin. He quotes the “learned Pierre Dujols” that this Black Virgin is an “astronomical theogany,” the Mother of the Gods, the Great Idea, as the stone at Die informs us, and then states that the esoteric meaning of the Black Virgin could not be better defined.
Some have seen in this a clever tip of the hat from pseudonym to real person, or from teacher to student, but however we read the personalities, the meaning is clear. The Black Virgin is a symbol of an ancient “astronomical theogany,” most likely the one explored above.
In hermetic symbolism, Fulcanelli informs us, this theogany is “the virgin earth, which the artist must choose as the subject of his Great Work.” He quotes an unreferenced text on the “black substance,” one of the few occasions when Fulcanelli does something so unscholarly, and then hurries on to a list of the surviving Black Virgins.
Since Ean Begg’s masterly work on the subject covers all of the Black Virgins listed by Fulcanelli, we will merely refer the reader to his work. Fulcanelli lists seven famous Black Virgins, two at Chartres, one at Puy, one, illustrated, from St Victor’s in Marseilles, one each at Rocamadour and Vichy, and one at Quimper. He then mentions the Black Virgin seen by Camille Flammarion in the crypt of the Observatory, and called Our Lady Underground, in order to round out his eight.
Fulcanelli then shifts to the very ancient statues of Isis mentioned by Witkowski and formerly found at Metz and Lyons. From there, he launches into an examination of the “cult of Isis, the Egyptian Ceres.” This he equates, with no more reference than a quote from Herodotus, to the hermetic sciences. He divides the order into four degrees that are suggestive on many levels. Fulcanelli however, seems to be using insider information here, information whose source, probably because of an oath, he can not reveal. He wants us to note the egg, “the symbol of the world,” and the four degrees, the sun, moon, Mercury and hierophant, and tries in the next paragraph to give us some glimpse of their meaning.
In many, many ways, this is the most important single paragraph in Fulcanelli’s entire book. He begins by directing us back to the stone at Die which labeled Isis as the mother of the gods, whom he identifies with Rhea or Cybele. From there, he takes us to a village church in the Carmargue where until 1610 a bas-relief featuring Cybele and with an inscription reading Matri Deum could be seen. Then he jumps to Phrygia where the Goddess was worshiped as a black stone which fell from heaven, echoing the lapis exillis of Wolfram’s Parzival. He tells us that she was also worshiped seated between two lions, holding a key as if to draw back her veil with it. These images, piled on top of the other images in this chapter and so far in the first section, compel us to look at the whole subject of esotericism, hermeticism, Christianity and religion in general in a wholly unique light.
In these five symbols, the cross, the labyrinth, the wheel of the year, the star of deliverance and the Black Virgin, Fulcanelli has given us a description of the stone of the wise and posed us a powerful conundrum: How does a tree become a stone, and then a star?
Following the clues he gave us, we have found a surprising answer. Alchemy, the sword in the stone and the tree of life, all have to do with universal or cosmological forces whose origins seem to be in the patterns of the heavens themselves. Fulcanelli is leading us into ever deeper symbolic waters while very subtlely building a solid ground of understanding beneath us. In this first section, he is laying the metaphysical underpinning on which he will erect, in the rest of the book, his edifice of gothic understanding. This will become even clearer as we turn to the last chapter in the section, which represents the ninth sephiroth, Yesod or Foundation, attributed to the Moon. For Fulcanelli, the foundation of his metaphysical system is the gothic church, the exemplar of which is the Philosopher’s Church, Notre-Dame de Paris.
And for those of you waiting for Fulcanelli to make explicit the connection between the Black Virgin and the sephiroth Hod, splendor, or the planet Mercury, you may relax. Fulcanelli cites eight Black Virgins and mentions Mercury in his discussion of the mysteries of Ceres, just to let us know that he hasn’t forgotten his pattern, but he never otherwise makes the connection apparent.
However, if we remember that in Egyptian myth, Isis learned magic from Thoth/Hermes, the Egyptian Mercury, then the connection becomes the information itself, the secret language of the Magi. As we explore Fulcanelli’s evolving pattern on the Tree of Life, we will see this meaning for Hod become even clearer. In this usage, Fulcanelli will examine the nature of the philosophic mercury and its role in the formation of the first matter. But that is still to come, and for now Fulcanelli is content to have us focused on Isis as we turn to the church of Our Lady.
The Foundation of the Stone: Notre-Dame de Paris
Fulcanelli opens the last chapter of his first section by telling us that “having disposed of these preliminaries,” he will now turn to a hermetic examination of one specific cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris. However, he warns us that his task will be difficult, because, unlike the medieval students of the Art, the modern hermeticist must deal with the ravages of both time and vandalism.
This is a complex chapter, in which the motif is clearly the foundation of the church, in several different meanings of the word, from the 11 step foundation on which the church was built to the foundation of its gothic art in the spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Mixed in with this subtle foundational imagery is Fulcanelli’s nod to the whole sword in the stone pattern along with an examination of two statues that no longer grace the cathedral front.
The first of these stood above the fountain in the Parvis de Notre-Dame, the street in front of the cathedral. Fulcanelli describes it as “a tall narrow stone statue holding a book in one hand and a snake in the other.” He quotes the inscription on the now lost statue: “You, who are thirsty, come hither: if by chance the fountain fails/ The Goddess has, by degrees, prepared the everlasting water.” He also tells us that the common people called it Mr. Grey or the fasting man.
Fulcanelli turns to Amedee de Ponthieu, a 19th century folklore scholar, to explain the meaning of this fountain. This is odd, because as Fulcanelli admits, Amedee is no hermeticist. However, the good folklorist collected the very ancient insights that Fulcanelli needed to convey. He tells us that the statue was called the son of Apollo, Phoebigenus, as well as the Master Peter, the stone of power. Amedee lists the various identities proposed for the statue, including Esculapius, Hermes, Archambaud, the mayor of the Palace in Merovingian times, Guillame de Paris, the master mason of Notre-Dame, and even Christ and St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris.
Amedee also informs us that the statue was removed when the square was enlarged in 1748. The interesting point is that Fulcanelli does not tell us his source for the inscription on the fountain. Amedee seems not to have mentioned it, since none of his suggestions are goddesses. So, we are left with the small mystery of how did Fulcanelli know of the inscription? From small mysteries such as this, we will find that the larger mystery of Fulcanelli himself can be unraveled. However, when that mystery is resolved, we will find that “Fulcanelli” has left us with even larger questions, even greater mysteries, yet to be answered.
From the statue and the fountain, Fulcanelli turns to another lost figure, that of St. Christopher which stood with its back to the first pillar on the right as you entered the nave until its destruction in 1781. He tells us of other St. Christophers removed around the same time, and suggests that the ones that remain do so only because they are either a fresco or a part of the wall. He concludes that behind such acts “there must obviously have been powerful motives.”
Fulcanelli speculates that this reason could have been related to the statue’s hermetic symbolism. He reveals the primitive name of St. Christopher, Offerus with its echoes of Orpheus the Gnostic Greek Christ, and then goes on to tell us that this Christopher, he who carries Christ to the masses, is also Chrysopher, the gold bearing one to the hermeticist. And then Fulcanelli adds a few sentences in Green Language code that goes to the heart of the matter.
“From this one can better understand the extreme importance of the symbol of St. Christopher. It is the hieroglyph of the solar sulphur (Jesus), of the nascent gold, raised on the mercurial waters and then carried, by the proper energy of this Mercury, to the degree of power possessed by the Elixir.”
In these lines, we will find by the end of our quest that Fulcanelli has not only explained the secret of the alchemical transformation, but also pointed in very direct language at the true meaning and history of Christianity. The key of course is the meaning and origin of the St. Christopher myth. Fulcanelli will return to this topic later in the book, when we see that the St. Christopher myth is actually part of a much larger, galactic scale in fact, cosmological myth. For now though, Fulcanelli gives us one more spin on the St. Christopher motif.
He draws our attention to an ancient statue at Rocamadour in Brittany, a St. Christopher high on the St. Michel heights guarding an old chest out of which protrudes a broken sword chained to the rock. He tells us that this an example of all the ancient sword in the stone myths, validating our design supposition while expanding the concept to include all sorts of rod and stone motifs, from Moses to Atalanta the Amazon’s javelin. They are all “the same hieroglyph of this hidden matter of the Philosophers, whose nature is indicated by St. Christopher and the result by the iron-bound chest.”
Fulcanelli ends the chapter with an attack on the Renaissance, and Francis I in particular, while looking back with longing on the splendor of the Middle Ages. “From the twelfth to the fifteenth century, there was poverty of media, but a wealth of expression; from the sixteenth century onwards, art has shown beauty of form, but mediocrity of invention.” He instructs us that Renaissance art exalts the senses and the ego, while in gothic art “the actual execution remains subordinate to the idea; in Renaissance art it dominates and obliterates the idea.”
And, to Fulcanelli, this split is the cause of all the artistic and political chaos which has since been the lot of mankind. In these paragraphs, however, we will find that there is more than just a romantic theory of art. There is also the germ of a clue to the political upheavals that produced the Renaissance. But that is a subject for later. For now, let us agree with Fulcanelli that the world is indeed impoverished by the loss of such wisdom and skill, such understanding and execution, as once was lavished on the gothic cathedrals.