In 2006, I went on a visit to the Black Forest in Germany. There were many reasons for going to the part of Germany, but one of them was certainly to visit Heidelberg as part of my on and off alchemical tour of Europe. I had been reading Frances Yeat’s The Rosicrucian Enlightenment a pdf of which is to be found here.
Of course Heidelberg was famous for its University, and still is, and all those Prussians with ceremonial scars from duelling with the Schläger. The town is simply wonderful – there is a bridge over the river Neckar and the streets run parallel to the river, full of cafes and gift shops. There is also the Hexenturm – the witches’ tower where there is a sign commemorating the unfortunates burned as witches during the witch hunts of Europe from the 15th to 18th Centuries
Heidelberg Castle, one of the most important Renaissance buildings north of the Alps, lies mainly in ruins. Romantic in red sandstone above the river, you can get a funicular railway up the steep slope.
It doesn’t begin with, but it concerns, Frederick the Fifth, Elector Palatine, King of Bohemia, Prince of Heidelberg. He married Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England, 6th of Scotland. They lived together in Heidelberg and set up a very alchemical friendly court.
Here astrologers gathered, Tarot readers and angel talkers
They set up alchemical laboratories in Heidelberg Castle, that stands in partial ruins on the top of the hill overlooking the town and the River Neckar. Though now bare of such things, the castle garden was once home to a zoo of autonomata who moved and danced by the power of water. There was an organ which played by the power of water and clockwork birds who piped the songs of cuckoos and nightingales. There were even speaking statues. The garden grew so famous it was even called The Eighth Wonder of the World.
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
Elizabeth reigned there as Electoress of Palatine until 1619 when she and her husband moved to Prague to set themselves up (briefly) as The Emperor and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, and thus spark the 30 Years War.
The castle is also home to the world’s largest wine barrel and from the photo I took, you can see the room was full of orbs – spirits of specks of dust? Who can say? People have an opinion…
The castle was partly destroyed by a lightning bolt in 1537. In 1688 the French invaded Heidelberg and laid siege to the castle. They captured the castle and when the retreated set fire to it and blew up the Fat Tower. It has been mainly ruins ever since, though some was rebuilt.
Alchemy was seen as a primitive type of chemistry – the name seems to come from Al Khem – the Black in Arabic and refer to the land of Egypt, which was always a breeding ground for magic. Then Carl Jung found it as his link between the magic of the old world and modern times. His view is that unconscious processes work in us, bring up images and themes from the great storehouse. These images occur in dream, in art and in psychosis but they are in some sense a message. They symbolise that which we cannot understand. Jung felt that the alchemists who prayed over their alembics may or may not have known they were working on the transmutation of the Soul. The transmutation of the Ego into the Self, of the human into the divine. He thought it worked too.
Any maybe some of the alchemists at Heidelberg turned lead into gold. And kept quiet about it.