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Exploring alchemy in the early 20th century, part 2

The BPH holds the complete though short-lived runs of two alchemical periodicals published in England and in Germany within a few decades of each other: the Journal of the Alchemical Society (1913-15) and the Alchemistische Blätter (1927/28-30).


The Alchemistische Blätter. Erstes deutsches Fachblatt für alle Gebiete der Alchemie, (1)
was first published in 1927 as a monthly magazine for the ‘hermetic sciences past and present’. It also advertized itself on the cover as the organ of ‘various alchemical societies, lodges and schools’ – which societies, lodges and schools remained undisclosed, but the Alchemistische Blätter were apparently the domain of spagyrical alchemists and alchemical theosophists, as is evident from the book advertisements, presenting the Kleines mystisch-magisches Bilderbüchlein für fleissiger übende A.B.C. Schüler der Fraternität vom Rosenkreutz, edited by Heinrich Tränker (2), or the modern alchemist Max Retschlag’s Von der Urmaterie zum Urkraft-Elixier (Der Weg zum wahren Stein). The second issue featured an advertisement for Hermetic medicine produced in the spagyrical laboratory of Oskar Weiss in Karslruhe .(3) Other spagyrical advertisements concerned publications from the ‘Deutsches Verlagshaus für Naturopathie’ or elixirs by the ‘famous occultist and alchemist’ Franz Buchmann-Naga, (4) who was praised as ‘Theophrastus Paracelsus Redivivus’.

Cover of the Alchemistische Blätter, 1927

Advertisement for the Geheime Figuren, 1927

Modern Germans and historical Britons
Unlike the British Journal of the Alchemical Society, which was mainly dedicated to historical research of alchemy, the objective of the Alchemistische Blätter was rather to focus on the ‘overwhelming significance of alchemical thought for the thorough reformation of economy, culture and life’ – in a sense recalling the ‘Allgemeine Reformation’ of the Rosicrucian Manifestos. Interestingly, a new publication of the 18th-century compendium Die geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer was announced on the back cover of the first three issues. (5) This edition, which does not appear to have found enough subscribers for publication, was offered to the public by Otto Wilhelm Barth, editor and publisher of the Alchemistische Blätter (6). O.W. Barth, the son of a Leipzig bookseller, had founded a publishing house in Munich in 1924 together with Fritz Werle (1899-1977), formerly an editor for the Wolkenwanderer Verlag in Leipzig. Three years earlier, Barth had been one of the co-founders of the Lotus-Gesellschaft, instituted by Heinrich Tränker in Munich in 1921. (7)

In the programmatic address to the reader, Barth announced that the periodical was to be divided into sections, relating to: 1) exact, scientific alchemy, 2) philosophical aspects of alchemy (Hermetic philosophy) and 3) mystical alchemy. The focus, however, was decidedly on the latter two approaches. Other areas of investigation would include alchemical symbolism and allegory, alchemical astrology, alchemical kabbalah and alchemical magic. The first issue opened with the text of the Tabula smaragdina; another Hermetic contribution was ‘Poimandres’, the first treatise of the Corpus Hermeticum, which was printed in instalments in the first three issues of the Alchemistische Blätter. The text was based on the German translation of the Corpus Hermeticum, first published in 1706 as Erkäntnüss der Natur; the edition used was the more readily available 19th-century edition Hermetis Trismegisti Einleitung in’s höchste Wissen: von Erkenntnis der Natur und des darin sich offenbarenden grossen Gottes, published by J. Scheible in Stuttgart in 1855. (8)

The French alchemical connection part 2
The first issue also contained a contribution on transmutational experiments by François Jollivet Castelot, president of the Alchemical Society in France. The text had been translated by ‘Tartaros’. In March 1928, Otto Wilhelm Barth announced the foundation of the ‘Alchemical Society of Germany’, with two initial seats, one in Berlin and one in Hamburg. The Berlin group, which allegedly included physicists, chemists and spagyrists, also announced it would set up a laboratory. Results of experiments would be communicated in the future issues of the Alchemistische Blätter, but no such reports are to be found. The Alchemical Society of Germany was incidentally followed the next year by a ‘Spagyrical Society’, founded in Berlin on 11 October 1929. The latter Society’s objective was to follow the spagyrical method of Carl Friedrich Zimpel (1800-1878), an ardent student of Paracelsus and Glauber. Nothing more is known of the fortunes of both the Alchemistische Gesellschaft and the Spagyrische Gesellschaft. Another new Society announced and warmly recommended in the second volume of the Alchemistische Blätter was more successful: the Paracelsus-Gesellschaft, which still exists today.

Tp. Alchemistische Blätter, 1927

Basilius Valentinus, Twelve Keys,
in Alchemistische Blätter, 1927

A motley crew
Apart from Jollivet Castelot, other major contributions, printed in instalments, included an essay on the ‘Quinta essentia’ by ‘Elias Artista’, being an excerpt from a work on alchemy in the perspective of the Hermetische Bruderschaft des Lichts (9); Karl von Eckartshausen’s Chemische Versuche über die Radikal-auflösung der Körper besonders der Metalle (10); and Basilius Valentinus’ Zwölf Schlüssel, reprinted with the twelve engravings. (11)The Austrian occult author Franz Spunda (1890-1963) contributed a brief article on the Porta magica in Rome. (12)The occult author Ferdinand Maack (1861-1930) was interviewed in the first volume on the subject of ‘biological thought in mathematics’.(13)Ernst Darmstaedter, author of Die Alchemie des Geber (1922) and one of the founders of the Paracelsus-Gesellschaft, contributed on ‘Paracelsus und das aurum potabile’ in the same issue. Darmstaedter was one of the few historical scholars contributing to the Alchemistische Blätter; the majority of the modern authors being, like Jollivet Castelot or Maack, ‘adepts’ of some sort. Another scholar one would not expect to find in the Alchemistische Blätter was Gershom Scholem, whose ‘Alchemie und Kabbala. Ein Kapitel aus der Geschichte der Mystik’ was reprinted in the first volume. (14) Scholem’s essay was published in full, including his initial humorously disparaging remark about the confusion wrought upon the term ‘Kabbalah’ on the part of occultists like Papus and Éliphas Lévi, whose works must have been savoured in the circles of the Alchemistische Blätter. (15) How Scholem’s article came to appear in the Alchemistische Blätter is unknown, but Scholem did refer to the inclusion of his article in a letter to his mother of 8 November 1928. Speaking of a probable reprint of one of his essays by his brother Reinhold, who continued father Scholem’s printing-house in Berlin, he writes:

Und liegt sie in einer so schönen und stattlichen Form vor, so kann ich … sie eventuell auch an den Utopia-Menschen und ähnliche verkaufen, wie Alchemie und Kabbala.(16)

New departure?
The first volume of the Alchemistische Blätter appeared in the years 1927-1928 in a folio-format; the second volume appeared in 1930 in a quarto-format and in a rather more sober lay-out. Barth did not offer any explanation why the periodical had not appeared in 1929. The full title now read: Archiv für alchemistische Forschung (Alchemistische Blätter II. Jahrgang). Back issues of the first volume were still to be obtained from Barth. The new-styled periodical was to appear in six bi-monthly issues, but apparently only two issues appeared, and the second one consisted of only one quire of sixteen pages (two of which were reserved for Maack’s obituary).

Another new departure manifested itself in the second issue of the Archiv für alchemistische Forschung, which according to the title-page was now asscoiated with the Zeitschrift für Weltdynamismus, the official organ of the ‘Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft “Das kommende Deutschland”’. Otto Wilhelm Barth was again the editor of this periodical, which was bound in with the second issue of the Archiv. (17)‘Das kommende Deutschland’ had been founded by ‘Johannes Täufer’ (ps.) in Berlin on 11 March 1930, as was noted in the Zeitschrift für Weltdynamismus, p. 15, to inform the German public of the possibilities offered by ‘biotechnics’, a revolutionary universal energy. Täufer was also the author of ‘Vril’. Die kosmische Urkraft, published in 1930 by the Astrologischer Verlag Wilhelm Becker. The mythic primal force of ‘vril’ had been the subject of a novel by Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873), The Coming Race (1870s). (18)‘Vril’ as a primal force was enthusiastically embraced by various occult and ariosophic circles, and ‘Das kommende Deutschland’ was no exception. In his inaugural address, Täufer appealed to

all people of good will desirous of breaking away from the existing untenable economical and ethical conditions … the new technique (‘Bio-technik’) offers mankind total control of nature. The primal force cannot be compared to any of the currently known energies, as it represents the force of all forces with which we are now working in the field of technology. (p. 16)

Täufer also instituted a college of further education for biotechnics (‘Volkshochschule für Biotechnik’), which opened its doors in Berlin on 25 March 1930.

The new departure did not lead anywhere: no further issues are known to have appeared of the Zeitschrift für Weltdynamismus, and Barth’s Alchemistische Blätter, too, discontinued publication.

Contents of the Alchemistische Blätter:

Vol. 1, nr. 1
Tabula smaragdina hermetis, p. 3
F. Jollivet Castelot, Der heutige Zustand der Alchemie I, pp. 4-5
Elias Artista, Quinta Essentia I, pp. 6-10
Alfred Müller, Alchemie, pp. 10-11
Karl von Eckartshausen, Chemische Versuche I, pp. 12-14
Hermetis Trismegisti Pömander I, pp. 14-16

Vol. 1 (1927), nr. 2
F. Jollivet Castelot, Der heutige Zustand der Alchemie II, pp. 18-21
E. Darmstaedter, Vorstufen der Alchemie, pp. 22-24
Elias Artista, Quinta Essentia II, pp. 24-26
Sincerus, Ex alchemia practica I, pp. 26-27
Oskar Weiss, Eine Transmutation nach Paracelsus, pp. 28-29
Karl von Eckartshausen, Chemische Versuche II, pp. 29-30
Hermetis Trismegisti Pömander II, pp. 30-31

Vol. 1 (1927), nr. 3
Franz Spunda, Die Porta magica in Rom, pp. 34-35
Alfred Müller, Sendschreiben an Herrn Dr. Franz Spunda, pp. 35-38
Elias Artista, Quinta Essentia III, pp. 38-40
Sincerus, Ex alchemia practica II, pp. 41-42
Karl von Eckartshausen, Chemische Versuche III, pp. 42-45
Hermetis Trismegisti Pömander III, pp. 45-46
Alfred Müller, Darstellung der Quint-Essenz I, pp. 46-47
Review section, p. 48

Vol. 1 (1927), nrs. 4-6
Zwölf Schlüssel Fratris Basilii Valentini, pp. 50-65
Ferdinand Maack, Über biologisches Denken in der Mathematik, pp. 65-70
Studien eines dänischen Chemikers und Alchemisten über die Möglichkeit von Transmutationen pp. 71-73
Ernst Darmstaedter, Paracelsus und das Aurum potabile, pp. 73-75
Alfred Müller, Darstellung der Quint-Essenz II, pp. 76-77
Auszug aus Briefen mitarbeitender Naturforscher (with a note by Recnartus, i.e. Heinrich Tränker), p. 79

Vol. 1 (1928), nr. 7
Alfred Müller, Eine kurze Anleitung über die Bereitung des Universalsteines, pp. 81-83
Carl Friedrich, Über alchemistische Forschungen, pp. 83-85
Oswald Wirth, Über die Hermetische Heilkunde, pp. 85-88
Review section, p. 88

Vol. 1 (1928), nrs. 8-9
Gerhard Scholem, Alchemie und Kabbala I, pp. 89-92
F. Jollivet Castelot, Die Herstellung von Gold auf chemischem Wege, pp. 92-96
Alfred Müller, Eine kurze Anleitung über die Bereitung des Universalsteines, pp. 96-101
Albert Herba, Krankheit und Zahl, pp. 101-102
C. Beckensteiner, Studien über Elektrizität, pp. 102-104

Vol. 1 (1928), nrs. 10-12
Karl Wiedmann, Rationale Metamorphose, pp. 105-108
Karl von Eckartshausen, Chemische Versuche IV, pp. 109-111
Alfred Müller, Ein Alchymistischer Test, pp. 111-115
Albert Herba, Werk und Zahl, pp. 115-119
Franz Spunda, Des Stein des Weisen (extract from his novel Baphomet), pp. 119-121
Gerhard Scholem, Alchemie und Kabbalah, pp. 122-137
Review Section, pp. 138-140

Vol. 2 (1930), nr. 1
Karl von Eckartshausen, Ueber die Möglichkeit der Existenz der Metalltinkturen (= Chemische Versuche V), pp. 1-5
Konrad Wiedmann, Das philosophische Werk nachen den 12 Schlüsseln des Basilius Valentinus, pp. 6-9
F.H., Die ‘prima materia’, p. 9
Albert Herba, Hermetischer Pfad, pp. 10-20
Albert Herba, ‘Alchemistisches Lexcion’, pp. 21-22
Ernst Hentges, Ein moderner Alchemist: François Jollivet Castelot, pp. 23-29
Review section, pp. 30-32

Vol. 2 (1930), nr. 2
Obituaries Ferdinand Maack, pp. 33-35
F.H., Alchemie, pp. 35-36
Albert Herba, ‘Alchemistisches Lexcion’, pp. 36-38
Konrad Wiedmann, Kritische Beleuchtung der ‘Abhandlung über den Stein der Weisen’ von thomas von Aquino, pp. 38-40
August Strindberg, Das Seufzen der Steine, p. 40
Karl von Eckartshausen, Ueber die Möglichkeit der Existenz der Metalltinkturen (= Chemische Versuche VI), pp. 41-44
Alfred Müller, Gespräch eines Meisters der hermetischen Kunst mit seinen Schülern über das Universal und die Partikulare, pp. 44-48
Review section, p. 48

Cis van Heertum



1 Hermann Speckmann discussed the contents of the Alchemistische Blätter in Hermes. Informationsheft der Forschungskreis Alchemie 17 (2000) and 21 (2000).

2 One of the two copies of the Alchemistische Blätter in the BPH belonged to Heinrich Tränker (1880-1956), the founder of various occult societies, amongst which the Ordo Templis Orientalis. Tränker edited and published various (modern) Rosicrucian texts, including that of the 17th-century alchemical author Daniel Stolcius.

3 Oskar Weiss was entered in the Karslruhe address books as a magnetopath under the address Tullastraße 72 for the years 1926-1942. In the years 1926-1927, when Weiss advertised in the Alchemistische Blätter, there is an additional entry in the address book for Tullastraße 72, which now also housed a ‘Naturheilinstitut’, an institute for natural medicine. I am grateful to Ms Angelika Sauer of the Stadtarchiv Karlsruhe for the above information. Weiss also contributed an article on Paracelsian transmutation for the Alchemistische Blätter.

4 Franz Buchmann-Naga is the author of Schlüssel zu den 72 Gottesnamen der Kabbala, Leipzig 1925, re-issued in 1955 in an augmented edition as Schlüssel zu den 72 Gottesnamen der Kabbala. Praxis der kabbalistischen Invokation. Talismannische Theomagie.

5 There is no bibliographical record of this edition, which was also to include the publication of the ‘as yet unpublished parts 4-9 with 12 coloured plates’. Interested readers were requested to subscribe to the edition. The advertisement announcing the Geheime Figuren is also printed on the back cover of the following two issues.

6 The first issues of the Alchemistische Blätter were published by ‘Tartaros’ in Berlin. Tartaros was in fact O.W. Barth, who enclosed an information sheet in the March 1928 issue of the Alchemistische Blätter announcing that the publisher (i.e. Barth) was now the sole proprietor of the periodical.

7 Frick, Licht und Finsternis, II, p. 309.

8 For Aletophilus’ edition of 1706, see Lamoen 67.

9 ‘Aus dem unveröffentlichten Werk: Das “Grosse Werk” der Alchemie in der Beleuchtung der “Hermetischen Bruderschaft des Lichts”, von Elias Artista’.

10 Instalments of the Chimische Versuche über die Radicalauflösung der Körper, first published in Regensburg in 1801 (Faivre 97) were printed in both volumes of the Alchemistische Blätter. When the periodical was discontinued, in 1930, the first 65 (of 96) pages of Eckartshausen’s Chimische Versuche had been reprinted.

11 The engraving for the tenth key is printed upside down, which was irritably noted in pencil in the margin of the BPH copy once owned by Heinrich Tränker. The engravings were based on the Latin edition of Basilius’ Twelve keys (Practica cum duodecim clavibus et appendice), first printed in Michael Maier’s Tripus aureus (Frankfurt 1618, pp. 27-65) and reprinted in Musaeum Hermeticum reformatum et amplificatum (Frankfurt 1678, pp. 393-425). The second volume of the Alchemistische Blätter contained a ‘thorough explanation’ of the Twelve keys by Konrad Wiedmann.

12 This article had already appeared before, in another periodical with a similar title: Magische Blätter, published in Leipzig (first volume 1920). The periodical published a lot of the work of Bo-Yin-Ra (ps. of Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken). Spunda’s article appeared in the 4th volume (1923), pp. 17-19. Four years later, Alfred Müller wrote a lengthy reply to Spunda’s account of the Porta magica in the Alchemistische Blätter.

13 Ferdinand Maack’s death in 1930 was commemorated in a few obituaries in the second volume of the Alchemistische Blätter (Band II, Heft 2). One was signed by George Porges of the ‘xenologische Gesellschaft’ in Hamburg – Maack called himself a ‘xenologist’, as well as a ‘Rhodostaurologist’ – he had published an edition of Johann Valentin Andreae’s Chymische Hochzeit in 1913 (Geheime Wissenschaften 1).

14 First published in the Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums (MGWJ) 69 (1925), pp. 13-30 and 95-110. The article was reprinted without the ‘Nachbemerkung’, which appeared in the MGWJ 69 (1925), pp. 371-374. The reprint of Scholem’s article in the Alchemistische Blätter was not included in the bibliography of Scholem’s published writings in Studies in mysticism and religion presented to Gershom G. Scholem, eds. E.E. Urbach, R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, Ch. Wirszubski, Jerusalem 1967.

15 ‘ Insbesondere haben noch im 19. Jahrhundert die französischen Theosophen der martinistischen Schule (Eliphas Lévy, Papus und viele andere) das Menschenmögliche an allgemeiner Konfusion aller okkulten Disziplinen mit der “sainte Kabbale” geleistet’, note 1 of the article. The first issues of the Alchemistische Blätter also announced the pending publication of the Kabbalistische Blätter, being the first German periodical in the field of Kabbalah and kabbalistic magic. Apparently this periodical never saw the light of day.

16 Betty Scholem-Gershom Scholem. Mutter und Sohn im Briefwechsel 1917-1946, ed. Itta Shedletzky, Munich 1989, letter 113. The Jerusalem National and University Library, which holds the Scholem archive, does not have any correspondence between Barth and Scholem.

17 The Zeitschrift für Weltdynamismus contained 16 pages. Bound around it were 8 pages of another new periodical, Verinnerlichung, printed on green paper.

18 Translated into German by Günther Wachsmuth as Vril oder eine Menscheit der Zukunft and published by Der kommende Tag Verlag in Stutgart in 1922. Vril was popular in occult circles: the founder of one of the modern Rosicrucian societies, Max Heindel (ps. Of C.L.F. Grasshoff) extolled the qualities of Bulwer Lytton’s novel in his pamphlet ‘The coming force – Vril! Or what?’ (Rosicrucian Christianity series 19), Seattle 1909.


The Journal of the Alchemical Society. Edited by Stanley H. Redgrove, London, H.K. Lewis, 1913-1915.
Alchemistische Blätter. Erstes deutsches Fachblatt für alle Gebiete der Alchemie. Monatschrift für das Gesamtgebiet der Hermetichen Wissenschaft in alter und neuer Zeit. Organ verschiedener Alchemistischer Gesellschaften, Logen, Schulen. Berlin, Otto Wilhelm Barth, 1927-28 and 1930

Faivre = Antoine Faivre, Eckartshausen et la théosophie chrétienne, Paris 1969
Frick= Karl R.H. Frick, Licht und Finsternis. Gnostisch-theosophische und freimaurerisch-okkulte Geheimgesellschaften bis an die Wende zum 20. Jahrhundert, 2 vols, Graz 1975-78
Lamoen = Frank van Lamoen, Hermes Trismegistus. Pater philosophorum. Tekstgeschiedenis van het Corpus Hermeticum, Amsterdam 1990.