“I did not climb up into the Godhead, neither can so mean a man as I am do it; but the Godhead climbed up in me, and revealed such to me out of His love, which otherwise I would have had to leave it quite alone in my half-dead fleshly birth.”
(Jacob Boehme, Aurora, VIII, 7)
Four years prior to the birth of John Bunyan, a shoemaker named Jacob Boehme died in the village of Goerlitz, Germany. Throughout his adult life Boehme had supported his wife and children by laboring at a rough and dingy workbench. But he was more than a cobbler; for as Alexander Whyte observes, “While working with his hands, Jacob Boehme’s whole life was spent in the deepest and the most original thought; in piercing visions of God and of nature; in prayer, in praise, and in love to God and man.”
Under the spell of Paracelsus, Boehme had in his youth taken a keen interest in alchemy. But in his maturer years, disillusioned with what he came to regard as the groundless claims of the science of transformation, he began increasingly to attach a spiritual and eternal significance to its conceptual framework. In the process his outlook altered radically; yet when speaking of this profound inward change, he naturally reverted to the language he knew best – the argot of the old spagyric art.
There was a difference, however. For now when he referred to the Philosopher’s Stone, Boehme no longer envisioned a magical catalyst possessing the power to turn one substance into another. Instead, he understood the Stone as an image of the New Birth. And so it happened that Jacob Boehme, shoemaker and alchemist, abandoned his efforts to transform lead into gold and exchanged them for a quest to be transformed in the inner man.
In the story of The Sword of Paracelsus, Morgan’s father, John Izaak, finds himself compelled to follow a similar quest. This part of the tale is, admittedly, wrapped in shadow. Yet as it unfolds, one thing becomes sufficiently clear: it is largely under the influence of Jacob Boehme that Izaak has set out upon his journey – inspired, we may imagine, by passages like the following:
“The eternal fire is magical, and a spirit, and dies not. It is the same fire as a dying, yet there is no dying, but an entrance into another source, that is, out of a painful desire into a love-desire …”
(The Signature of All Things)
“For man’s happiness consists in this, that he has in him a true desire after God; for out of the desire springs the love. And the love tinctures the death and darkness, that it is again capable of the divine sunshine.”
“He that will not seek thereby a new man born in God, and apply himself diligently thereto, let him not meddle with my writings. I have not written anything for such a seeker, and also he shall not be able to apprehend our meaning fundamentally though he strives never so much about it, unless he enters into the resignation in Christ. For the way is childlike, plain and easy.”
“Awaken in me the fire of Your great love. Ignite it, O Lord, so that my soul and mind may see these evil beasts and kill them by means of proper, true repentance and Your power.”
(The Way to Christ)
“If love dwelt not in trouble, it could have nothing to love.”
(The Supersensual Life)
This is the true alchemy as Jacob Boehme — and John Izaak — understood it.