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.’

 

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 …

Amsterdam’s Witches

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Witch Burning, 1555

Relatively few witches were tried and burned in the Netherlands. One explanation for this low number is that the Netherlands was more or less economically stable. Therefore the figure of the witch was not needed as a scapegoat blamed for bad fortune. One of the last women burned at the stake in Amsterdam was Meyn Cornelis in 1555. Cornelis said to have suffered from visions of ghostly women pestering her. Moreover, in her verdict it is noted that she admitted to sleeping with the devil and that she tried to bewitch her neighbour’s cows. This assertion was sadly, as most of the more outrageously sounding confessions, obtained under torture. The specifics of Cornelis’ trial are written down in a book of judgement which can be found today in the Amsterdam City Archives.

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The Book of Judgement

In 1571 Anneken Hendriks was burnt at a stake in Amsterdam, not so much as a witch, but dangerously close. She was an Anabaptist, who were heavily persecuted at the time because of their belief in adult baptism. Bertrayed by her good Catholic neighbor and later tortured by rack and strappado, inventive tools of the Spanish Inquisition, she still refused to divulge any of the names of her fellow Anabaptists.

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Strappado, the Tool of the Spanish Inquisition

But she was more talkative on the way to her burning, warning her neighbor of the sin of following in Judas’ steps, for which her executors stuffed her mouth with gunpowder.

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Anneken Hendriks Burning at the Stake in Amsterdam

 

AMSTERDAM’S ALCHEMISTS

UNDER THE SIGN OF SALAMANDER

Magic mushrooms and marijuana are far from being tSalamander_from_The_Story_of_Alchemy_and_the_Beginnings_of_Chemistry (1)he strangest products Amsterdam shops have ever offered. Back in the XVII century instead of mushroom-shaped signs (signifying the location of a smart-shop), or a leaf of weed (which almost all coffee-shops have somewhere in their design), the shops of alchemists were identified by the sign of a salamander, dancing in the fire. Sailors and missionaries rushed to these shops in order to procure alchemically made potions.

ANTIMONY

Iatrochemistry was the name of a subdivision of alchemy, whImage_Parool_blog1ose main preoccupation was medicine. The iatrochemist distilled metals with the purpose of creating a miracle drug, which would cure people of all diseases. Antimony was considered a miracle metal and was extremely popular among the Alchemists of Amsterdam. With the right recipe (and a magical cup, of course) one could make a miracle drink. And even though poisonings were much more frequent than miraculous healings, the metal remained a popular cure throughout the XVII century.

ELIAS THE ARTIST

Of all Amsterdam’s Alchemists of the XVII century (and there were quite a few), only one managed to producHelios-copy-for-websitee gold. Or so he claimed. His name was Johann Friedrich Schweitzer (1625 – 1709). Needless to say, this happened not without the intrusion of the Supernatural, in the face, as it was common those days, of a “Mysterious Stranger“. He was known, to the few Chosen Ones, of course, as Elias the Artist (from Helios – the sun), a legendary alchemist of supreme skill, a semi-god, the Messiah, whose coming would transform the land. On a December night of 1666, Elias the Artist himself paid a visit to Schweitzer’s lab. There, he handed the alchemist the missing ingredient, a tiny bit of the Philosopher’s Stone.

JOHANN RUDOLF GLAUBER

The coming of Elias the Master was also awaited by another prominent alchemist of the XVII century, German-Dutch Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604 – 1670). The scientists remember him even today for his discovery of sodium sulfate, which is called after him “Glauber’s salt“. Elias, however, never showed up. After a severe fall from a carriage in 1666, and in a state of health seriously undermined by all sorts of poisonings known to man Glauber died. He is buried in Westerkerk.