TO SOME ENGLISH reading students it may seem as if the Fama Fraternitatis actually is prohibiting us alchemists to reach our ultimate goal in the Great Work, which is to experience the ultimate effect of the Philosopher’s Stone – that of Immortality.
A certain sentence in the Fama may be inferred to mean that immortality is not an object that is allowed or proper for a Rosicrucian to pursue. Or does it mean this? Let us explore this subject further. The full sentence in the English version of the Fama Fraternitatis reads regarding the Rosicrucian brethren:
After such a most laudable sort they did spend their lives, but although they were free from all diseases and pain, yet, notwithstanding, they could not live and pass their time appointed of God.But most of us know that the Fama Fraternitatis wasn’t written in English. In fact Thomas Vaughan (Eugenius Philalethes) translated the text from it original German in 1652. The first published edition in 1614 presented the text in German. One year later there was published a latin text. There is no evidence that can prove to us for sure in which language the original text was actually written, but it is commonly agreed that the German text is authoritative and comes closer to the original intent and meaning of the original writer than does the later English translation. Now, the original German reads:
...und wiewohl ihre Leiber aller Kranckheit und Schmertzen befreyet waren, köndten doch die Seelen den bestimpten puncten der Auflösung nicht überschreiten.According to my dear German friend and brother Rene Nagual (Frater L.e.N.e.) it translates as:
…and although their bodies were freed from sickness and pain, their souls could not trespass CERTAIN points of dissolution.Suddenly there is no reference to any “God” who appoints any time to the Rosicrucian brethren, as is suggested in Vaughan’s rendition of the text. Instead we see in that German sentence a reference to the Soul (Seele). We also see a point that cannot be trespassed, which leads to “dissolution” (Auflösung).
I believe the word “Auflösung” is the key here. In my German–Swedish dictionary it states that this word does translate to “dissolution” but also to “restoration”. That means that the Souls of the brethren “could not trespass certain points of restoration”. For me it has strong alchemical connotations which obviously escaped Vaughan’s eyes. For me it says that the Rosicrucian brethren, although they prolonged their physical life, didn’t succeed in creating their Solar Bodies, which means that their souls couldn’t reach that final redemption and restoration which would grant them conscious immortality.
Whatever finer meanings we may extract from that German sentence, it clearly is a fact that it does not prohibit against exceeding any natural life span as set down by God Almighty. It seems that the English translator (that is Thomas Vaughan) was steeped in a puritan protestant Christian world view which coloured his translation, which is strange considering he was an alchemist. What may be inferred from the accounts of the deaths of the various brethren, that follows the quoted sentence, is that they didn’t complete the Great Work during their life span; the time simply wasn’t enough for them to succeed in the alchemical processes, which requires many decades to be completed. Perhaps this is a reference to old age being a hinderence in the Great Work?
Now some readers may react against this emphasis on the physical and carnal body. Doesn’t the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega claim that immortality is reached at the point of physical death, in which the consciousness is projected into the Solar Body? Yes, it does. But we mustn’t forget that the Fama is an allegorical story, and allegorical stories tend to become very concrete in their descriptions. Thus any reference of not being allowed to exceed a natural life span can be seen as a critique against the alchemical quest for immortality.
Thus the allegorical Fama in its English version may be seen as a prohibition against Alchemy and its goal of immortality in whatever form. We must remember that in the old alchemical lore there has often been claims of Adepts that could bee encountered several centuries after their physical birth. The Comte de St. Germain is the most reknown example, but also Nicolas Flamel and even Fulcanelli. But as it turns out, the Fama has never prohibited anything of that kind, that is in its original version. Instead it (in that sentence under consideration) in fact addresses the development of the soul instead of any limits to the physical body.
My conclusion. The actual Fama Fraternitatis doesn’t prohibit physical immortality. It rather says that the Rosicrucian brethren didn’t acchieve immortality after their deaths because they didn’t reach to a state of restoration of their souls.
Addendum 21/11 – 2011
I must add to the above, for clarification purposes, that in my German–Swedish dictionary from 1962 it says that the word “Auflösung” may be translated into “restoration” if used in a musical context. That is, if used as a musical term the word “Auflösung” may also be translated into “restoration”. However, we know that mystics and esotericists of the late renaissance quite often used music and musical terms as a methaphor to describe esoteric concepts, for example in the works of Robert Fludd. We cannot exlude the possibility of that word in that sentence being used in this context.
However “dissolution” is probably the original meaning of the word being used by the original author, as suggested by my German friend. Again, in a alchemical context dissolution refers to the process of rendering a solid matter liquid – the solution of the Prima Materia. This is a necessary preliminary stage in the Great Work which opens up the Matter, and constitutes a part of the Solve (“solution” or “separation”) phase, to create the Philosopher’s Stone.
It is interesting then to find in my old dictionary that the word “Auflösung” may be translated into “solution” as well in a more general definition of the term, contrasted to the narrow as suggested in the musical context. Thus the above German sentence may be translated as:
…and although their bodies were freed from sickness and pain, their souls could not trespass certain points of solution.There clearly must be a common etymology between the words “solution” and “solve”. Furthermore there is definitely a shared etymology and meaning between dissolution, solution and resolution, all words that may be translated from the German “Auflösung”.
So what we see here may be a reference to the (re)solving of a problem. In the context of the sentence it may refer to a resolution or the resolving of a problem contained in the soul. And we know that Internal Alchemy concerns the work of creating an Immortal Soul, through the medium of the base elements contained in the physical body used as building blocks in this transmutation process.
Thus the old German text, when it is placing that sentence in the context of the mortality of the brethren, may allude to a meaning that concerns the brethren experiencing ordinary mortality because their souls hasn’t been prepared enough in the alchemical process. We know that Rosicrucians were also alchemists so it must be asserted that the Fama was written by an author who knew his alchemy and its peculiar terminology – that is if we believe that the Fama Fraternitatis is a genuine Rosicrucian text (which I personally as a traditionalist do).
Addendum 13/03 – 2014
Since writing this blog yours truly is no longer affiliated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Outer Order of the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha Omega® (H.O.G.D./A+O®). However, my general view on this subject stays firmly unchanged, as expressed in the above written text, and what I have authored previously on the Gyllene Gryningen blog still represents my overall opinion. Any practices referred to in reference to the H.O.G.D./A+O® also apply to the Order that I am currently affiliated with, namely the Hermetiska Orden av Den Gryende Morgonrodnaden (“Hermetic Order of the Nascent Aurora”) or H∴O∴G∴M+R.