The Amulet of Cassiel

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This is an ancient Hebrew amulet bearing the name of Cassiel, one of the major angels of Kabbalah. It is used to drive away one’s enemies. The words on the charm are written with the blood of a bird and then tied to the foot of a dove. The dove is then set to flight, taking one’s enemy with it. Should the bird refuse to fly, it is a sign that one’s enemies won’t depart either.

Traces of this amulet can be found on a house in Amsterdam, known today as ‘the Bloodstained House’ (‘Het Huis met de Bloedvlekken’).

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In the 17th century its facade was covered with Kabbalistic symbols by its owner, Coenraad van Beuningen, a diplomat, former mayor of Amsterdam, and now a half-crazy mystic.

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The symbols are said to have been drawn in blood, most likely that of the owner, and they are still visible today!

Or did the former diplomat use the blood of a bird, just as the ancient ritual prescribed it?

And who were the dreadful enemies, whom he thus attempted to drive away?

The Golden Sand

Johann Joachim Becher was yet another alchemist, who was very active in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Originally from Germany, he had established his office in Amsterdam, where in 1679 he published his major work, presenting three of his inventions.

Later Becher set up his company in Haarlem, where with the help of his newest inventions attempted to produce gold from sea sand. All attempts failed, however, and Becher quickly became the object of ridicule, so much that even a play was written featuring a fraudulent German alchemist by the name of Goudschalk (meaning ‘gold jester’), who strongly resembled Becher.

‘The Converted Alchemist’ was not an extraordinary play, yet it preserved the attitude quickly forming in the wake of the 18th century, when the alchemists were no longer treated as potential miracle and gold-makers. They had enough time to back up their claims, and having failed to produce gold, they were now being treated with scorn.

The House with Gnomes

‘Huis met de Kabouters’ is home to two gnomes, who are both quite extraordinarily tall – they stand 2 and a half meters!

Local legend says every midnight the ball switches from the hands of one gnome to the other. Others say it happens only on New Year’s Eve, and still others argue it happens only once in a few years, on the 29th of February.

It is unknown why there are gnomes on the facade of this building, but some guess they toss a ball for a reason: the man who commissioned the building was called Van Ballegooijen, and “Ballegooijen” literally means “ball toss”.

Alchemical Perpetuum Mobile

Jacob de Graeff (1571-1638) was an Amsterdam mayor and alchemist, who had based his alchemy lab in his house on Herengracht. Together with his friend Pieter Hooft (1575-1636) they built a perpetual motion machine, which was later exhibited by Cornelius Drebbel (1572-1633) at the English court. Drebbel was an alchemist and inventor himself, remembered most notably for the invention of the first navigable submarine in 1620.

First demonstrated in late 1604, the fame of the Perpetuum Mobile spread rapidly. It combined two features, first, a self-winding astronomical almanac showing the date and the phases of the moon, and second, a cylindrical ring in which water moved endlessly to and fro.

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For Drebbel and De Graeff alike the principles of alchemy were essential in the development of the perpetuum mobile. They saw the machine in mystical or alchemical terms, and their mindset was greatly influenced by the Rosicrucian tendency of anticipating the new times of great radical changes in both scientific methods and social structure. The instrument’s secret, as Drebbel himself put it, was ‘the fiery spirit of the air’. Perhaps the glass cylinder was filled not with mere air, but with oxygen produced by heating saltpetre, or nitre, which Drebbel was convinced held the secret to chemical transformations of many kinds. All of this points to the fact that while today alchemy is widely considered a pseudo-science at best, back in the 17 century it was still at the cutting edge of scientific revolution and innovation.

Above is the earliest schematic depiction of the wonder and below is an excerpt from a letter of an eyewitness:

A gentleman being Dutch born, and dwelling at Ipswitch, hath made a continual motion of this bigness and size as near as I could guess: the work is this, a ball or round globe, ever standing without moving, and upon the north and south sides a dial, within like unto clock or some dial, both which moving and shewing the courses of the heavens, round about the east and west parts doth a ring or hollow trunke of christall stand, and that without moving, and the same filled to his halfe with fayre water, which without any inforcement, that can be perceived, doth ebb and flow with the Seas in every part of the world. My self stayed so longe that I sawe it ascend up the trunk a good height and left the lower compasse of the ringe empty. The man is very religious, and of an exceeding good repute of the inhabitants, and himself to me affirmed upon his faith, that it should so evermore, without any more help of man for hundreds of years, if it were not broken …

Abraxas

Abraxas has long become a household name for both Amsterdammers and the city’s numerous visitors. Especially those interested in blends and aromas of local greenery. Abraxas is easily among the city’s coziest and atmospheric coffee-shops. But what’s in a name?

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In a great majority of instances the name Abraxas is associated with a singular composite figure, having Chimera-like appearance somewhat resembling a basilisk. He appears on the amulets with the head of a cock or of a lion, the body of a man, and his legs are serpents which terminate in scorpions. In his right hand he grasps a club, or a flail, and in his left is a round or oval shield. Some claim that Abraxas is a form of the Adam Kadmon of the Kabbalists and the Primal Man whom God made in His own image. If so, we definitely went far astray from the original image!

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A vast number of engraved stones are in existence, to which the name “Abraxas-stones” has long been given. The subjects are mythological, and chiefly grotesque, with various inscriptions, in which ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ often occurs, alone or with other words. The meaning of the inscriptions is seldom intelligible: but some of the gems are amulets; and the same may be the case with nearly all.

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Finally, it is uncertain whether the mythological Abraxas has any relationship to marijuana, which is being sold under his patronage. But it is quite likely that psychedelic substances and various mind-altering drugs have long been used by mystics and initiates into secret societies and cults. For example, numerous scholars have proposed that the power of the Eleusinian Mysteries (the most famous of the secret rites of the ancient Greece) came from the special drink called kykeon. The initiates, sensitized by the beverage and prepared by preceding ceremonies, may have been propelled by the effects of a powerful psychoactive potion into revelatory mind states with profound spiritual and intellectual ramifications.

The Golden Hand

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Of the many gable stones found in Amsterdam, the Golden Hand stands out, at least as far as our “mystical” pursuits go. In addition to the straightforward symbolism of wealth and material well-being, the hand also has profound alchemical connotations.

As was just mentioned, most citizens used the golden hand to symbolize the wealth being accumulated, just like in the picture above, where the Golden Hand marks a former pakhuis (a Dutch warehouse), where the goods were stored.

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Others used the hand as a pun on their names. The Hansma’s were a brewery family, who practiced the profession for almost 200 years. The name Hansma, also written as Hantsma, would also explain why they opted for a hand in the production of the gable stone.

It could also be used to signify the ‘golden hands’ of a particular craftsman, or to commemorate your dear ones, as in the example of this next gable stone, where the palm is used for the initials of the family members and the loved ones.

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But we also shouldn’t forget about Amsterdam’s Alchemists, for whom the golden hand had a very special meaning too.

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Johann Isaac Hollandus was a Flemish alchemist of the 16 and 17 centuries. He produced various manuscripts on alchemy, one of which was on the topic of ‘the golden hand’, also known as the Hand of the Philosophers, the Hand of the Mysteries, or the Hand of the Master Mason.

The first printed edition of Hollandus’ “the Philosopher’s Hand” appeared in 1677 in German. Before that, however, and in fact even much later into the 19 and even 20 centuries alchemists continued to hand copy alchemical works when the printing press was long available. It remains somewhat of a puzzle why they did so, but it sure adds another layer to the deep symbolism of the Golden Hand, for it is golden not only because the alchemist strove to transmute lead into gold, but also because the hand was used to preserve the secret knowledge. Perhaps, some even thought that the diligent copying of the manuscript by hand made the secret knowledge more accessible to the one copying it. However, most likely, it had to do with secrecy and the attempt to conceal the secrets of the craft from competitors.

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As put by Hollandus himself: “This is the Hand of the Philosophers with their dear secret signs, with which the old sages united with each other and took secret oaths. Nobody can understand this hand with its secret signs, unless he becomes first a juror of the philosophers, (one who swore loyalty to a philosopher), and has loyally served them in the Art Alchemia.”

And as such the hand holds the keys to divinity, and is used as a secret sign of an alchemist’s oath, but also as an invitation to discover the ‘great secrets.’

 

HOW TO MEET AN ANGEL?

Easy! Just go on a walk through the streets of Amsterdam, albeit slightly off the beaten path, and you will see this amazing work of the famous Russian artist Ilja Kabakov.

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Located on the roof of a psychiatric clinic, the sculpture immediately sparked off debates. Doesn’t it provoke suicide in the already unstable patients? Not really, thinks the artist. It symbolizes the patient leaving the clinic, ready to embrace his Guardian Angel.

The sight is interesting for another reason: in the XVII century it was just beyond the newly built city walls, which appeared there as a result of a massive city expansion. And it was precisely on this spot, where the ‘mad house’ was built.

Not so long ago, Kabakov presented another piece of art, which again had to do with angels:

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As you can see, this is a crime scene, and the angel is the victim. Who knows, maybe it is the same angel, for whom the patient on the roof of the clinic is waiting? Well, if so, the patient needs to be told that the angel is not coming …

Meeting an angel seems to be an important topic for Kabakov. He comes back to it again and again:

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In this fuller installation of “How to meet an angel” Kabakov shows that not only the ladder, but the angel too, are within the man himself, and it is all in his power to make the ascent and meet the caged angel, who, according to Kabakov, has always been inside.
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Silent Crowds On Kalverstraat

 

The plaque on Kalverstraat was placed in 2001 in memory of the Miracle of Amsterdam and Heilige Stede (Holy Place).

Every day the eyes of shoppers are focused on the windows in the main shopping street, Kalverstraat. Once a year, this is not the case during the Silent Procession. Then thousands of eyes do not watch the window of Kalverstraat 87, but the lantern andon the plaque above the storefront. The plaque was placed in 2001 in memory of the Miracle of Amsterdam and Heilige Stede (Holy Place).
On the night of March 15 to 16 is the 671st anniversary of the Miracle of Amsterdam which took place on this address in Kalverstraat. A dying man, bearing the last rites, threw up a wafer, which was thrown into the fire, but the wafer did not burn. The wafer was taken to the Old Church, but it miraculously returned to Kalverstraat. This was repeated once more. The Amsterdam Miracle was born.

Detail of the miracle of the Heilige Stede, the miracle of the undigested wafer – 1505-1518 by Jacob Cornelisz. Oostsanen at Amsterdam Museum

The miracle of the wafer was led to start a chapel, the Chapel of the Heilige Stede. It was inaugurated already in 1347. A stream of pilgrims came, there were two processions annually and the small chapel was continuously expanded and enlarged over time. The wafer continued, according to tradition, preserved its miraculous power. When the chapel fell victim to the city fires of 1421 and 1452, the wafer remained undamaged.
Amsterdam remained a pilgrimage town until 1578 and the Chapel Heilige Stede stood amids the religious life. In that year, however, the old Catholic faith was pushed aside and the city council chose for Protestantism. Monasteries were confiscated, churches were stripped of their saints, altars and decorations. The Chapel Heilige Stede was renamed Nieuwezijds Chapel (New Side Chapel) and continued in use as a Protestant church until 1908. Then the curtain fell. The old building was demolished to the last stone in its place came a new chapel. They only preserved the floor with its old gravestones.
The use for Protestant services and the eventual demolition of the chapel did not mean that the people forgot the Miracle. In 1881, on the initiative of a few individuals, people walked in silence the medieval sacrament processions. Within a few years this initiative had grown into a rapidly growing movement known as the Company of the Silent Procession. Every year in March, the company organizes the Silent Procession with thousands of Catholic pilgrims from the Netherlands to Amsterdam. This Saturday night, March12 to 13, they silently commemorate the Miracle of Amsterdam.

Silent Procession in 2012 with the lantern on Kalverstraat

Source: Silent Crowds On Kalverstraat

The Third Eye

Around 1635 in Amsterdam Rene Descartes wrote about the pineal gland. Located in the brain in the middle of the forehead just above the eyes, Descartes believed this ‘third eye’ to be the ‘principal seat of the soul’.

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‘H’ marks the pineal gland. Diagram found in Descartes’ “Treaty of Man”.

Roughly 300 years later, in 1965, Amsterdam medical student and a Provo Bart Huges drilled a small hole in the middle of his forehead. Thus releasing brain pressure, Huges believed this trepanation would ‘enhance brain functionality’ and ‘expand consciousness’ resulting in a ‘permanent high’.
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Bart Huges just after his self-trepanation.

Join us to find more about Amsterdam’s mystics, occultists, and esotericists on our Amsterdam Mystic Walk! 

The Philosopher’s Stone on Koningsplein

Not so long ago, sometime in the fall of 2015, an interesting performance took place on Koningsplein, one of the central squares of Amsterdam. A man dressed in what seemed to be a Beetlejuice outfit, with the help of several accomplices, proceeded to draw a geometric symbol right on the pavement, which soon revealed itself to be the geometrical representation of the Philosopher’s Stone. The Alchemist’s attempt to create the elusive substance capable of transmuting base metals into more noble ones, most notably gold, was equalled to a geometer’s riddle of ‘squaring the circle’, a challenge of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle by using only a finite number of steps with compass and straightedge. In 1882 the task was proven impossible. So was the alchemist’s attempt to transmute metals. Or was it? Some alchemists have claimed they achieved success, others continue the pursuit even today. Perhaps, by drawing the symbol of the Philosopher’s Stone this modern alchemist let us know that he too found the secret …