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The Allegory of Merlin

In the alchemical tradition we find a number of allegories which involve the transformation of a King, the Duenech and Merlini allegories being among the earliest. I recently uncovered an English translation of the Allegory of Merlin in a 17th century manuscript in the British Library (MS Sloane 3506, f.74-75), which sparked off my interest in the piece so I have decided to include it here. The allegory (minus the ‘Merlin' title) exists in a 14-15th century manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris (MS. Lat. 14005), and it was published as 'Merlini-Allegoria, profundissimum Philosophici Lapidis Arcanum perfecte continens', in the alchemical compendium Artis Auriferiae, I, 420-424, Basel, 1593). The association with the Celtic ‘Merlin' figure is obscure and there are no internal references (nor indeed any links with the Merlin mythos), which might explain why this name is associated with the allegory. It shows the death and resurrection of the King. The King drinks a special water which kills him, and through drying off this water a transmutation occurs and the King is brought back to life in a more energetic form. This allegory has obvious links with the Duenech allegory (which was published in the vast alchemical compendium, Theatrum Chemicum III, p.756-757, Ursel, 1602).

Allegory of Merlin

A King intending to conquer a mighty people prepared himself against them for war, and when he would get upon a horseback, he commanded one of his soldiers to give him a cup of water which he mightily loved.

The soldier answered and said, "My lord, what is this water you ask for?"

And the King said, "The water which I long for is a water which I love, and also the water loves me above all things".

Then considering, he went and brought it, and the King getting it drunk, drank again till all his members were filled, and all his veins inflamed, and he was much discoloured.

Then the soldier spoke to him, "My lord, see the horse here and if you please get upon his back".

However the king answered, "I can not".

But the soldier said "For what reason can you not".

And he answered, "I find myself heavy, and my head aches, and I fancy all my members divide themselves from one another. Therefore I command you that you do bring me into a light chamber, which must be in a warm and dry place, then I shall sweat and the water will be dried in me, and also I will be freed from it".

And they did as he commanded them, and the time being over they opened the chamber and found him most dead. But his relations went presently to the Alexandrine and Egyptian physicians, and brought them to him and told them what had happened to the King. When they had seen him, they said that without doubt he might be delivered from it.

Then they asked "Who is the Master among you?"

And the Alexandrines answered "We if you please".

But the Egyptians said "We are Masters if you please and we will be it, for we are more ancient than you, also we seem to be younger".

To which the Alexandrines consented.

Then the said Masters did take the King and cut him in very small pieces, grinding these. Then they did mix them with their moistening medicines a little, then they put him also prepared into his chamber in a warm temperate place as before for a day and a night. When this was done, they did take him half-dead, but having yet a little life, and seeing this the King's relations said, "Ach the King is dead".

To which the physicians answered, "He is not dead, do not make a noise as he sleeps".

Now they did take him again and washed him with sweet waters so often till the least of the medicinal waters went off. Then they mixed him again with new medicine and put him again in his place as before, and when they did take him out they found him quite dead.

Then his relations did exclaim, "The King is dead".

To which the physicians did answer "We killed him for the reason that after his resurrection and the Day of Judgement he may become stronger and more powerful in this world as he was before".

When the relations did hear this, they fancied they were impostors, and then taking from them their medicines they forced them to leave the kingdom. When this was over, they deliberated together what should be done with the dead poisoned body, and they concluded that they should bury him that his stink might bring no damage.

When the Alexandrine physicians did hear this, they came and said, "Do not bury him, for if you please, we will make him better and more powerful than before".

The relations began to scorn them saying, "Will you impose on us also as the others have done? And if you do not perfect what you promise you shall not evade our hands".

To which the physicians consented, and they did take the dead king, as the others hath left him and grinding him they washed him well till nothing remained of the others medicines, then they did dry him. Then they did take of salt armoniac one part, and two parts of Alexandrine Nitre. This they did mix with the powder of the dead King. Then they did make a paste of it with linseed oil, and put it into a chamber, made like a perforated crucible, and under the hole they put another clean crucible. There they left him for one hour, then they covered it with fire blowing till all was melted into the other crucible, descending through the hole. Then the King, also brought from dead to life, cried out "Where are the enemies. Let them know that I will kill them, if they do not obey me immediately".

When they heard this they came before him saying "My Lord, we are ready to obey all your commandments", and from that hour all kings and neighbours did fear him, and when they would see his wonders, they put one ounce of washed mercury into a crucible and projected upon it as much as a grain of linseed of his hairs, nails or blood. When they blowed gently the coals, then they left him to cool, and they found a stone which I know. Of this stone they projected a little upon purified Saturn and presently its form was altered as I know of which afterwards. They put one part upon ten of Venus and it would be all of one goodness and colour. And by another way they did take the said stone powdered and mixed him with salt and Sol as before, and melted him and projected the said dissolved salts into goat's cream, and then it grows good for all things.

Brother, keep secret this treatise for it is of an importance amongst the fools, and no importance amongst wise men, and this is the Royal way of three days, for they will have but little labour and great lucre. Let us glorify the Most High Creator who has taught his faithful Servant to transmute accidences into substances, also that they may bring to action these powers which lay hidden in divers things.

If you have problems understanding these alchemical texts, Adam McLean now provides a study course entitled How to read alchemical texts : a guide for the perplexed.
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