Turba Philosophorum: The 2008 International Alchemy Conference


by Dennis William Hauck


Drawn by a participant at the 2008 Alchemy ConferenceThe Turba Philosophorum ("Assembly of the Alchemical Philosophers") is an influential twelfth-century Latin manuscript that brought together the best thinkers and the key concepts of the alchemical tradition in a single volume. The International Alchemy Conference carries on that tradition by bringing together some of the world's leading alchemists and exploring the many paths that alchemy has taken in the modern world.


I got some welcome help putting on last year's conference when Duane Saari volunteered to take over as master of ceremonies. Duane is a master networker with his own alchemical consulting company and really helped keep things moving smoothly. Duane opened the conference on Friday evening with a fascinating presentation exploring Isaac Newton’s love of alchemy and how the principles of the Great Work were the basis of some of his revolutionary work in science.


I followed with a lecture on the Materia Prima (First Matter), the essential yet mysterious ingredient necessary to all transmutations. Nothing was more important to alchemist’s work than this spiritized essence, which, by means of the Secret Fire, they believed could be extracted from any substance and actually rendered tangible and visible, and I described some of my experiences seeking to isolate it in the lab during my apprenticeship in Vienna.


Laboratory demonstrations were once again part of the activities. A demonstration of alchemical distillation of plant essences were given by Gary Stadler, who handed out hydrosols from his distiller to all members of the audience. And chemistry professor Dr. Kevin Dunn performed live chemical experiments that amazed everyone. Robert Allen Bartlett, who worked with Frater Albertus at Paralab, opened the Saturday session with an in-depth look at one of the most important parts of the work with metals, the preparation of the metal acetates. Robert also held a two-day workshop on spagyrics in which he revealed some of the laboratory techniques alchemists used to isolate the living essences of plants.


My workshop on spiritual alchemy turned out to be a little embarrassing, however. I usually hand out alchemical trinkets to help participants remember the lessons of the workshop. This year I had ordered little "fragranti" meditation stones from India. These are lightweight flour-gypsum concoctions that are inscribed with symbols, baked until hard, and then sprayed with rose oil. But when I opened the box I found 50 "flagranti," which are the short leather 7-tailed whips used by the flagellant sect in India for self-punishment. Well, I figured I would hand out the whips anyway -- as a symbol of ego self-control. Unfortunately, during the rest of the conference, whenever one of my students would see me in a restaurant or casino, they would start waving their whips at me. I am sure all the tourists thought I was some sort of Las Vegas S&M king.   


A much more appropriate excursion into Indian alchemy was given by Dr. Pradheep Chhalliyil, a highly respected biochemist whose presentation on the connection between the inner work in Vedic alchemy and the physical transformation sought by the alchemist was one of the conference's most inspiring lectures. Another inspiring presentation was given by spiritual alchemist Gudni Gudnason and Theresa Ibis, who discussed the alchemy of the creation of the universe as presented in the Kabbalah.


The creation of the inner universe of the psyche was discussed by Jungian psychologist Dr. Thom Cavalli. Using examples from his own practice, Dr. Cavalli showed how hidden alchemical principles are at work on all levels of our being. Dr. René Lawson showed how the ancient art of storytelling can connect us to the those same alchemical principles to provide insight and power in our lives. Dr. Bruce Fisher also focused on the inner work with his exploration of Theurgy, which is the attainment of divine consciousness by developing and invoking our own higher divine faculties of abstract thought and intuition.


Hermeticist John Michael Greer explored the ancient alchemical healing system of the Four Elements, and author JJ Semple talked of his how the life force is elevated and enhanced in the Taoist alchemist's Golden Flower meditation and the Circulation of the Light. Alchemist Art Kunkin discussed his research into how to attain immortality using alchemical methods in meditation as well as in the lab.


The astrological aspects of alchemy were covered by Andrew Minkin, who showed how to combine mathematical chaos theory with astrology to enable better interpretations of stellar energies, and Timothy Wilkerson, who demonstrated how to do a basic astrology chart in relation to alchemical laboratory work.


Alchemical artists were also represented at the conference. Dr. Michael Pearce brought several pieces of artwork showing profound alchemical symbology, and a demonstration of alchemical music in the tradition of Pythagoras was performed by Phil Campbell and Annie Aronson of the Hobbyhorse band. Las Vegas magician Jeff McBride and the Alchemical Ritual Theatre Company helped keep the energy flowing and once again performed a powerful closing ceremony that touched all those present.


The real power of any assemblage of creative people is the networking and exchange of ideas that goes on. Many present took home new ideas and seeds of transformation in their personal, social, and working lives. With the third year of the International Alchemy Conference, the conference itself undergoes a transformation as it moves from Las Vegas to the Los Angeles Convention Center. We are expanding the venue to allow for much larger audiences and more room for lectures, workshops, and vendors. The change will give us a larger vessel in which to perform the Great Work in which we are all part of the chemistry. See you next year!

- this article first appeared in the Alchemy Journal - www.AlchemyJournal.com