MAY 2014, E.V.


Hunting for hard to find books is something that I truly enjoy. For over a quarter of a century I have spent countless hours scouring the dusty shelves in second-hand shops, and enduring the noisy crowds at stalls of huge antiquarian expos. Whether sifting through old cardboard boxes for obscure ephemera under the watchful gaze of irritable vendors, or straining my eyesight while searching the massive databases of the premier on-line booksellers on my home computer, the challenge to find an elusive title can be extremely time consuming. And though at times it is frustrating, I constantly remind myself that if it were that easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. Yes, patience is certainly required, as is perseverance; especially if one’s particular niche interest happens to rare books of a decidedly esoteric nature.

Due to their arcane subject matter, books dealing with the occult were usually printed in small runs to begin with. Add to this that many were either jealously locked way in private collections, or deliberately destroyed by those biased against their generally perceived ‘dark’ content, the chance of finding a first edition copy becomes increasingly more difficult over the years. Now, it is one thing to try and locate a book that is considered to be scarce. Even more challenging is if the book is thought to be virtually unobtainable. But what about a book that is believed by many bibliophiles to be “non-existent.” Such was the case with a certain title that I had become obsessed with tracking down… until I recently saw one listed in the on-line catalog of a Parisian bookseller.

The book is entitled Voyages en Kaleidoscope, published by Georges Cres of Paris in 1919. To give you some idea about how rare this book actually is, when I first read about it in a book called The Fulcanelli Phenomenon (1980) by Kenneth Rayner Johnson, when referring to the book’s “anonymous author”, he repeatedly uses the word “he” when, in fact, the name written on the cover of Voyages en Kaleidoscope is that of a woman named Irene Hillel-Erlanger. In Johnson’s excellent investigation of the mysterious French alchemist Fulcanelli, according to one insider of the Parisian esoteric subculture, only two copies of ‘Voyages’ are known to exist – both in the private collections of contemporary occultists. As to why only such a small number of copies have survived, in this case, narrow-minded churchly types might not be to blame, but, rather, a dynastic cartel of international gold dealers or, more likely, someone with similar esoteric preoccupations to the book’s celebrated author.

As I wrote in the anthology series Darklore (see Darklore, Volume 6 – “Elusive Fulcanelli and the Hermetic Magistery”), Voyages en Kaleidoscope first appears to be a flashy romance novel of sorts, written in the style of the avant-garde Dadaist movement by a wealthy socialite. However, it’s vibrant, surreal prose is believed by “those with eyes to see” to actually be a cleverly disguised alchemical tract.

Along with certain thinly veiled passages in ten precious pages that supposedly constitute evidence of a genuine alchemical transmutation, also considered to be far too revealing is the book’s only illustration – a curious thermometer designed by the master painter Van Dongen – that quite openly displays the all important temperature scale necessary to confect the Philosopher’s Stone.

Be that is it may, in truth, while all eyes are on the book’s brilliant inventor, monsieur Joel Joze, and his two love interests (representing the dual exoteric-esoteric aspect of alchemy?), one should really pay close attention to the master’s faithful assistant, Gilly, who is described by the author as being “The salt of the earth.” This phrase holds the key to that which contains the pure potential of the alchemical quest of manipulating the universal prime matter – an indestructible, non-local medium from which all things are ‘descended’ - the mastery of which puts one in a privileged position with regards to the very fabric of space-time. Like the vibrant hodge-podge of the little book itself, the idea is to make the non-observable OBSERVABLE (or to bring about existence from ‘nothing.’)’This transcendental physical ‘khemistry’ is achieved in the reality of ‘Voyages’ by a marvelous kaleidoscope that offers others a unique perception of the unusual properties of matter that are normally hidden from mankind. These exotic states of matter bring to mind the alchemical axiom, “As Above, So Below.”

While some have claimed that the enigmatic alchemist Fulcanelli (author of the remarkable Hermetic treatice, Le Mystere des Cathedrals, 1926) ascribed great importance to Voyages en Kaleidoscope, others maintain that it rather cryptically divulges the adept’s true identity, as well as the methods that he employed in attaining the treasured Stone of the Philosophers. As I pointed out in my Darklore essay, the vowels in the pseudonym “Fulcanelli” indicate the correct color sequence of the Great Work, though I did not elaborate further about any spectrographical properties encoded in the stained glass of medieval cathedrals. Likewise, I left it up to readers to consider if the nom de plume, Fulcanelli, also offers telling hints about a coded analogue with an intra-Mercurial planet known as Vulcan? If such is the case, and the Vulcan of mythology corresponds to an Egyptian glyph for a secret ‘element’ (possibly related to ‘philosophic’ black sulphate of mercury), we might be closer to an understanding of alchemical operations performed on what is known as the “primary scission”, or at least on certain derivations from the initial substrate, which is the veiled theme of Irene Hillel-Erlanger’s suppressed ‘novel.’

In attempting to unmask Fulcanelli in my Darklore piece, my best guess was the bohemian artist Jean-Julien Champagne (1877-1932) - an aficionado of alchemical literature and member of the secret society known as “The Brothers of Heliopolis” – who plagiarized the work on the cathedral symbolism involving an antropocosmic reality from the Hermeticist and godfather of “New Egyptology”, R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz (1887-1961). Champagne, who spent much of his life perpetrating the Fulcanelli legend, was known to travel in the same Parisian esoteric circles as the author of ‘Voyages’ until she contracted food poisoning (ostensibly) from tainted oysters that she ate during a celebratory soiree for the book’s publication. Days later she died.

Before the book was released to the public, nearly all copies were confiscated by persons unknown and quickly destroyed. Fortunately, a few did survive, being advance copies that were given to a handful of booksellers on the banks of the river Seine.

Adding to suspicions of foul play by secret hands that deemed the work to be too revealing was that the young female chemist (alchemist?) to whom it was dedicated to, Louise Barbe, died in 1920 after supposedly ingesting a lethal dose of potable gold. Interestingly enough, Barbe was the voluptuous model used by Champagne in his most famous painting, “Le Vaisseau du Grand Oeuvre” (Vessel of the Great Work), which is both evocative and loaded with alchemical symbolism. Perhaps the initials of the ‘fictitious’ inventor of the “travel kaleidoscope”, Joel Joze, offer an additional clue?

The attempted suppression of Voyages en Kaleidoscope by those with their own hidden agenda was certainly not the first time that almost the entire edition of a work containing the mysteries of antiquity was destroyed before being made readily available to the public. One such example is A Suggestive Inquiry Into Hermetic Mystery (1850), written by a young woman named Mary Anne Atwood (1817-1910). Although her scholarly father originally supported the book, for reasons unknown, he abruptly had a change of heart, burning almost every copy in a lawn bonfire. Copies that had been sent to libraries were later removed by the book’s authoress, with those that found their way to the stalls of local booksellers purchased for large sums, only to later be set to flames. Precious few survived. (Note: those who would like to read the 1918 facsimile reissue of this book should give particular notice to its appendix entitled, “Table Talk and Memorabilia.”

Now that I have provided you with some background on the book, after finding it in the catalogue of the Parisian book dealer, I (rather enthusiastically) phoned Danny (Carey) and informed him that I had managed to locate one of the few first edition copies. Although the asking price was much less than I thought it might be should one ever turn up – considering it as priceless and a museum piece – it was still well out of my price range. Not so for Danny, who jumped on the opportunity to own it. With the spiritual imprint of its jazzy exterior now locked away in his vault, it would appear to be safe from any desirous or grudging alchemists out there. I don’t eat oysters and rarely imbibe of potable gold, so any would-be assassin will have to come up with something else to silence me from any future commentary of the narrative written by those who prize nonsense.

Besides, those who are interested in reading Voyages en Kaleidoscope for themselves should be able to obtain one of the soft cover facsimile reissues, such as the one issued by Editions de la table d’Emeraude (1984), and more recently by editions Allia (both of which contain the illustration of the Van Dongen thermometer with its puzzling scrawls). If, however, you are hoping to travel in some inter-dimensional mode, you will have to brush up on your French, as none of the reprints have yet been translated into English. And if you plan on using an on-line language translator, hopefully you can find one that also translates Argot (langue verte, or green tongue) into English! To read more about the intriguing Fulcanelli connection with Voyages, you can purchase a copy of Darklore, Volume 6 (DailyGrail Publishing, 2011) rather easily from Amazon on the e-landscape.



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