Infinite Fire Webinar I – The Alchemy of the Amphitheatrum 11

With the Infinite Fire Webinar Series, the Ritman Library and the Center for the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (GHF) of the University of Amsterdam have joined forces and are planting the seed for a Scholarly Hermetic Circle. As we announced at the beginning of September, in the coming year we will broadcast a series of 9 webinars in a format of 3 x 3 featuring three experts connected to the GHF, who will elaborate on their academic passions in relation to the library’s treasures.

Titlepage of Khunrath, Heinrich (1608/1609), 'Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae', Magdeburg, Hanau.

Today, the first webinar is online featuring dr. Peter J. Forshaw, who shares his knowledge on Heinrich Khunrath or dr. Henricus Khunrath as he was called, who was a physician and Hermetic alchemist. In the webinar a focus is put on Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae – The Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom (originally published in 1595), which has traditionally been considered to be a strange mix of Christianity and magic. Peter elaborates on the alchemical symbolism of 4 circular and 5 rectangular engravings integrated in the Amphitheatrum. A famous plate is the Tabula Smaragdina or The Emerald Tablet, to be considered one of the main inspirational works for alchemists, Hermetic philosophers and Rosicrucians. Aldous Huxley even mentions the Tablet contains an in-depth summary of what he calls the ‘Perennial Philosophy’, a timeless science of soul that keeps on surviving through the ages.

Tabula Smaragdina in Khunrath, Heinrich (1608/1609), 'Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae', Magdeburg, Hanau.

The Tabula Samaragdina has been found in the Jabirian corpus, the works credited to the ‘polymath’ Abu Mūsā Jābir ibn Hayyān. This Arabic version, is the oldest extant copy and is probably based on a Greek original. The Alexandrian origin of the Tabula is very likely as well and suggested by Hermes Trismegistus as also by the meaning of its name: The Work of the Sun. As one legend tells, the text was originally carved by Hermes on tablets of emerald and placed in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. The Tabula Smaragdina is a poetic and cryptic text and according to alchemists it reveals the secret of the primordial substance and its transmutations. Discover more about this cryptic text and other engravings in Khunraths’s Amphiteatrum in the first Infinite Fire webinar hosted by dr. Peter J. Forshaw.

Dr. P. J. Forshaw has published several works on Heinrich Khunrath, for more information have a look at:

Secondly, Peter is the editor-in-chief of Aries – The Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism, which appears twice a year and is published by Royal E.J. Brill academic publishers.

Bibliography of Infinite Fire Webinar I. – Alchemy in the Amphitheatrum:

Stay tuned for the second Infinite Fire webinar of dr. P. J. Forshaw on Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens (1618) to be expected in November.

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11 thoughts on “Infinite Fire Webinar I – The Alchemy of the Amphitheatrum

  • Tom Allen

    This was fantastic! I am very much looking forward to the next segment on Michael Maier.

    Many thanks for your time, effort and expertise in producing these and making them available. Keep up the great work!

  • Alyssa

    do you have any books on prastigeus and what about this book by Khunrath im very interested in it though i dont have the book and dont know how to translate it im interested on what alchemical practices does it teach in the book is it about medical or soul transfer humunculi ressurection what>? and also chiromance if you have this book or know anything about the knowledge it withold’s id be very pleased to know

  • Peter Forshaw Post author

    Hello, Alyssa,
    Since you’re citing a website connected with the works of Johann Weyer, I guess you’re asking about his De praestigiis daemonum. Have you looked at the translation Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: Johann Weyer, “De praestigiis daemonum” (SUNY Center for Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies: Binghamton, NY, 1991)? If you can’t get your hands on a copy of that, you could look at Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), that was influenced by Weyer’s work and can be downloaded for free from
    The book you mention by Khunrath is actually by a contemporary, Oswald Croll, who praises Khunrath’s Amphitheatre in the book you show, the Basilica Chymica. If you’re interested in more about Khunrath, you can join as an independent scholar and download some of my articles there. If you’d like to know more about Croll, then I’d suggest downloading a partial English translation called “Philosophy Reformed and Improved” (1657), that you can find for free on Google Books:
    Croll’s ideas on alchemy are very influenced by Hermetic philosophy and the ideas of Paracelsus. He writes a lot about medical uses of alchemy, but does have some interest in magic and cabala too. Another of his works is all about the Signatures in nature and how the appearance of something (plant, animal, etc) reveals its inner nature and use, for example, in medicine. He’s also very interested in the whole theory of the relations between the macrocosm and microcosm. He doesn’t write about Soul Transfer, at least not with those words, but I’d need to know more what you mean by that. If you mean reincarnation, transmigration, metempsychosis, then, no, at least not to my knowledge. To be honest, I can’t recall if he discusses homunculi. For that, you might like to check out William Newman’s Promethean Ambitions, especially Chapter 4.
    I know a bit about chiromancy, but would never claim to be an expert. Unfortunately, I only know material in Latin and German. I can send you the references, if that’s any help. You can download an early German version of Indagine, dating from 1629, on Google Books. It contains a lot of interesting diagrams of hands in relation to palmistry, with explanations of what all the different hand shapes, lines, marks and so forth mean. This is related to astrology and you’ll also see some early engravings of the different planets on their celestial chariots, for example Venus sitting on a chariot with two wheels visible, representing the astrological signs Taurus and Venus, both of which have Venus as their ruler, as I imagine you already know. The Chariot is pulled by two Doves, the birds of Venus and Cupid is there shooting his arrows of love into the sky. Even if you don’t read German, it’s still worth downloading to look at the pictures and discuss with your friends what you think they mean. I hope that’s at least a bit of a useful answer. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like any further suggestions. All best wishes, Peter

  • Alyssa

    yes im very interested in De praestigiis daemonum&Agrippa’s books,Thank’s ill look into that,hmm i guess that’s not the book iv been looking for then,probly Da praestigiis daemonum,hmm that would make sense if only natural medicine would be considered real medicine in the medicine world these days that the doc prescribes instead of man made drugs that destroy your body,
    Well im interested in these books because well i dont know how to start off to say this but i believe in past lives cuse theres some things you just cant explain when you have strong memories since you were born before the brain is even fully developed & your saying thing’s since you could talk 2or3yrs smells you recognize and you tell your parents i remember this you smell like this yet you are have not yet learned what this scent comes from and so on and so forth saying these memories to your parents when you are an infant about your old parents and they say we are your parents and i say no my other parents quit strange anyways im a firm believer in past lives and iv had plenty myself & i will be 100%honest with you,i remember some incidents in my most important life that was so long ago and i remember alot of thing’s my house my sanctuary id say with dark wooded bookshelf hard wood floor that carpet the chair i would read my books in my desk ,i guess that would be called the study room or the laboratory the other room with another similar bookshelf hardwoodfloor that carpet the fireplace and that earn on top of it,Im just trying to remember more cuse i dont remember everything memories seem to come back to me the older,wiser i get i remeber three very important books i would always read and take with me if i were to go help someone with alchemy this thick paged big brown book,wide thick paged small red book,& iv found some that look very similar to the red one but i dont know what type of alchemy information the book has cuse i know what type of alchemist i was the type of alchemy i performed but everything i learned from my own experience and these books that im trying to find so i can remember more of who my soul really is, i remember going to a house again the house did not look like the houses these days it was made out of wood logs from trees it looked like this man with black hair and like an officer there was 2other people a man and a women the man is the one who asked me for help he was lying on his back on a bed dead and i remember holding his hand as i performed alchemy with my other draining the life force out of this crystal i was holding in my hand that brought him back to life but then the same day he was killed again i saw it >:'( by someone on a horse that shot one of those stick things with coal lit on fire or something on the tip of it had fire on it,so the truth of this is equivalent exchange(sacrificing) to save a life with alchemy you have to lose one as well or something of equal value,that’s just the way it is with the cirlce of death, im just trying to find information on these books maybe they will help me remember more cuse i cant remember anything i cant preform alchemy today in this life,i just want to remember and know if you can help me id be very appreciative.

  • Peter Forshaw Post author

    Hi Alyssa, Okay first a response about the alchemy. I’d encourage you to read a new book by a friend of mine, Lawrence Principe. It’s called “The Secrets of Alchemy” and is a very good scholarly introduction to the history of alchemy. I’m generalising a bit, but basically the most significant type of alchemy practised upto the 16th century was Chrysopoeia or Gold-Making, concerned with transmuting metals like lead, tin, iron and copper into silver and gold. In the sixteenth century a Swiss alchemist, Paracelsus, argued that it was far more important to use alchemy for perfecting substances to make chemical medicines. This included using poisonous substances, like metals, e.g., mercury. He and his followers, including Oswald Croll, attempted to remove the deadly parts of the material but retain the useful bits in order to heal diseases that were commonly believed to be incurable, for example, leprosy. This Iatrochemistry or Chemical Medicine was a real challenge to the existing medical establishment. I’ve never read or heard of anyone from that period using crystals in the way you describe. I’ve known crystal healers nowadays, but have never read in a book or manuscript of anyone doing that in the past. We do know that Paracelsus and others used crystals for scrying, in order to communicate with spirits, but that’s a different thing.
    As for the past life experiences, I can only draw on knowledge from when I studied Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism that believe in reincarnation. Because I do research into medieval and early modern Europe I’m dealing with people who are mostly Christian and so don’t believe in past lives. Some do know the stories about Pythagoras and his accounts of past existences, but they don’t seem to apply that to their own life. You definitely see a growth of interest in this theme with the birth of the Theosophical Society at the end of the 19th century, but that’s outside my period of research.
    I have no idea if chiromancy has anything to do with positioning your hands on chakra points. ‘Chiro’ means hand, so that relates to Chiropractice, but ‘mancy’ is from the Greek for divination, like oneiromancy means dream-divination, hydromancy, divination by water, and so on. Chiromancy is palmistry, something that is also practiced in India, so perhaps there you’ll discover links with chakras, but not again in the period of history that I study. It would be interesting to know if anyone at that time wrote about chakras in the West. I have no idea.
    Ah, I’m pleased that I chose the example of Venus, then, for a Taurus 🙂
    Vesalius is a fascinating man and the book is incredible. It was published the same year as Copernicus’s book about the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. I always like to think that Vesalius provided a new road-map to the human body, the microcosm, at the same time as Copernicus provided one for the heavens (i.e., the higher part of the macrocosm). Vesalius’s engravings are amazing, aren’t they? Pretty gruesome at times, but fascinating.
    Sorry not to be more help about the past lives. If you are really into that you might like to look at a book I read absolute years ago, Roger Woolger’s “Other Lives, Other Selves”. Here’s a link to Roger’s website:
    Okay, time for me to get on with typing up notes for a paper I’m giving on Astral Magic and the medieval Picatrix!
    All best wishes, Peter

  • Vara Sue Tamminga

    I am reviewing these again in preparation for your new series. I am so overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge and languages and literature required to “read” these works or pictures. Also, as a professor of poetry, both medieval and modern, I ponder the alchemist and cabbalist tradition of using words to create pictures. I have just been studying the Gospel of John as well and this process of using THE WORD to create a world, or picture of a world is profound. So that our words are to be seen as entrances to cosmic realms perhaps, as doorways into the universe of the soul, a bridge between this physical world and other spiritual realms which we enter only through inner prayer. I think of Rilke on the battlement of Duino castle in a storm hearing the voice of an angel speaking the lines of his great poem, Duino Elegies which ends with the family of Laments who guide the souls of young soldiers killed in WWI into the next world. So poetry and wisdom books like these are literally gateways into the angelic realms as are our dreams which also speak in the language of pictures and story rather than just letters and sentences.
    “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This Christ like work of incarnation, of giving the Divine Spirit a body, a human shape and life story, is this our task? We so often try to find a doorway out of this world into the angelic realms of wider knowledge and power. But perhaps our assignment is to follow Christ meaning to incarnate God’s wisdom, power, and love into this world as Jesus did, as the WORD does by connecting the inner infinite reality with the finite, physical world. These picture which you have shown us here physically incarnate their wisdom. Perhaps we as scholars, magi, disciples of Christ are to be doorways for access between the dimensions of the universe. I have been gazing at William Blake’s etching of Jacob’s ladder this week which shows angels descending and ascending along a spiral highway between Heaven and Earth. When we look at a great work of art or listen to great music or dwell in great architecture aren’t we standing in a doorway, incarnating the heavenly into the finite and all the more so in a painting of Rembrandt and Vermeer where we see common ordinary people graced with profound love. Joseph Brodsky, a modern Russian poet said, “Love is essentially an attitude maintained by the infinite toward the finite. The reversal constitutes either faith or poetry.” As I watched this lecture Peter and gazed at these pictures as you interpreted them for us aren’t I gazing into the infinite, isn’t this “education” a form of prayer as you feed our souls? So when Christ asks us, “Feed my sheep” or “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25. Peter aren’t your lectures feeding my soul, healing my sickness, freeing my soul from the prison of ignorance? When we educate others with wisdom we are Disciples of Christ. I like Auden’s tribute to Yeats when Yeats died in January, 1939:

    Follow, poet, follow right
    To the bottom of the night,
    With your unconstraining voice
    Still persuade us to rejoice;

    With the farming of a verse
    Make a vineyard of the curse,
    Sing of human unsuccess
    In a rapture of distress;

    In the deserts of the heart
    Let the healing fountain start,
    In the prison of his days
    Teach the free man how to praise.

    – See more at: