“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it?” To misappropriate a quote from In Bruges. Almost a year ago, the beloved Sheila and myself took a trip to Prague. It was very beautiful – the Christmas trees were all out and the market was in full swing. If you’ve never been to Prague, just go. It’s like a fairytale of a middle European city. But I had ulterior motives. I am partway through my Alchemical Tour of Europe. Several years ago, I became very interested in alchemy (prompted by Jung’s work on it) , and I decided to tour alchemical spots. The thread to this is mainly Edward Kelly and John Dee’s travels and travails in the 16th Century.
Their collaboration began in London in the early 1580s. Dee was a mathematician and magician and famously astrological adviser to Queen Elizabeth I of England. But Dee was hungry to speak to angels and learn the secrets of the Universe. There is much to know about all of this, and I’m not going to tell you. Google is your friend, if you’re interested, but many reading this will already know. Edward Talbot later Kelley was a world apart from the intellectual and credulous Dee. Kelley was Dee’s seer, who looked into Dee’s shewstone and reported back what the spirits showed and said to him. This is documented in A True and Faithful Relation and It has been said that Kelley was a charlatan. Kelley and Dee are supposed to have found a red powder at Glastonbury, that famous sacred site in England. They used this red powder to turn base metal into gold. Of course, Jung says this is a metaphor for the transformation of the Ego into the Self, but most people believed that the transformation of lead into gold was the thing in itself. The good people of Mortlake, now a suburb of London, turned on Dee and burned his house. It may also that he fell out of political favour. In any case, they took up with a Polish nobleman and moved to Krakow where they contacted angels and began to transcribe the language of the angels, named after the Biblical Book of Enoch – Enochian. When that fell apart, they were on the run again and fled to the capital of the alchemists at that time – Prague. There were visits from angels and the angels even told Kelley to tell Dee to have their wives in common. Dee returned to England, leaving Kelley who was apparently thrown from one of the castle towers. They were always throwing people out of windows in Prague of course.
I’ve been to Krakow before and am going again at the end of November. My previous alchemical trip was to Heidelburg, which I will write up. I have yet to go to Chartres, to follow Fulcanelli and his Le Mystère des Cathédrales, though I will.
So, this is what happened. One day we took a tram up to the castle on the far side. It was a cold winter’s day and we walked up through some suburban streets past sinister looking military facilties with lots of cameras. We visited the castle and the Golden Alley where the alchemists had been housed. Then we walked through the old town. Later we went to the Strahov Monastery on the Petrin Hills. I wanted to go there because in 2000 I played Vampire the Masquerade – Redemption where the monastery is a nest of vampires and the Petrin Hills and woods are full of the bloodsuckers. The place was strangely quiet and it was possible to kid oneself that they were there asleep, merely waiting for night to fall. We walked back through the woods, getting strangely lost. We visited a mirror maze up near the Camera Obscura tower at the top of the hills and then came across the strangest little house where there was free wine and odd men with beards and long hair were very kind to us. Very kind. Too kind. One guy reminded me of Mr Tumnus. His house was like that.
We went to the nicely done Museum of Alchemists, in what was supposed to be Kelley’s house after Dee went home. There’s even a pub there called Pub Kellyxir (get it?). Which reminds me of that song Drink the Elixir by Salad.
Just imagine walking down those cobbled streets with those magical houses. The air is cold and you stop to get a cinammon pastry from one of the shops. The Christmas lights are twinkling and people walk by, their breath coming in clouds. You just need a beer. So you get one. And everything is even better and suffused with that warm, fluffy beer haze. That’s a kind of alchemy, though not the one I went to Prague for.
We also visited Dee and Kelley’s house, known as the Faust House because it is said that Faust, who like didn’t even exist, had lived there and made his famous pact with the Old Lad, Prince of the Air there. There is a blue light that is supposed to mysteriously emanate from the cellar of the Faust House, but I never saw it. Nearby are great Czech pubs serving lovely dark beer (did I mention the beer?).
So, did I find what I was looking for in those lovely streets? Yes and no. Prague is a Box of Delights. As for finding the True Gold, the Elixir of Life, the Stone of the Alchemists – well as the Irish say – if you go to Rome but don’t take Jesus with you, you won’t find him there.
Ain’t that the truth. And then there’s Bruges…