An Interview with Vladislav Zadrobilek
An Interview with Vladislav Zadrobilek
The conference on alchemy accompanied a number of other events commemorating 1997 as the 500th anniversary of the reign of Rudolf II. The Rudolfian era enjoyed the living presence of John Dee, Edward Kelley, Sendivogious, Michael Mair, Hinrich Kurnrath, Martin Ruland (Sr and Jr), Sebald Schwarzer and dozens of other adepts and deceivers. The Opus Magnum exhibit featured prominently among events celebrated during Prague's "Year of Rudolf II". Located in the gothic "House of the Stone Bell" in Old Town Square this event provided a multimedia alchemical initiation experience wherein participants proceeded through four floors using a spiral staircase to experience phases of the great work. Zadrobilek played a key role in organizing this exhibit which displayed obscure books and artifacts. He edited a large format quality bilingual volume monumentalizing this exhibit entitled, OPUS MAGNUM: The Book of Sacred Geometry, Alchemy, Magic, Astrology, The Kabbala, and Secret Societies of Bohemia.
J.C. Can you tell me about your personal background?
J.C. In this country, the original homeland of Budwieser and Pilsner where
beer culture achieves an unprecedented reverence you abstain from alcohol
and practice vegetarianism. Is this part of your hermetic practice?
J.C. Last summer during the conference many foreign authorities came here to
Prague, the silicon valley of alchemy to tell Czech people about
Hermeticism. Was this an awkward situation for some adept Czechs?
J.C. Did alchemy originally come to Prague with the Knights Templars?
J.C. Prague seems to be a textbook of alchemy written in the houses and
streets of the "Royal Route", the coronation path leading up to the hilltop
castle and cathedral. Strategic features near the origin of this route
include the house at 34 Celetna Street known as "At the Black Mother of God"
where the famous statue of the Black Virgin is displayed just opposite the
former headquarters of the Templar order.
J.C. The French historian Rene Alleau has proposed that the richly
decorated Renaissance house, "At the Minute #3" also known as "At the White
Lion" where Frans Kafka once lived on the Royal Route just off Old Town
Square contains alchemical symbols relevant to the magnum opus. He compares
them to Fulcanelli's explication of encrypted decorations at the Lallement
mansion at Bouges in France. Is this an exaggeration?
J.C. A steady stream of pilgrims come to the Czech Republic from Italy,
Spain and Latin America to visit the church of Our Lady of Victory, the home
of the "Infant of Prague". This miraculous statue of the Little King holds
world class cult status. Are any of the symbols associated with this church
relevant to alchemical practice?
J.C. I was intrigued to see enormous stone monuments depicting the
fourteen Stations of the Cross in the park on Petrin Hill. The passion of
Christ constitutes a viable model for the great ordeal of matter. It
provides a perfect system of meditation. Do contemporary Czechs use these
symbols for their contemplative work or is the cabalistic Tree of Life a
more popular system here?
J.C. Do you have any favorite alchemical texts?
J.C. Your personal contribution to the Opus Magnum catalogue included a
commentary on the extraordinary Czech alchemical text, Symbola
Chiroglyphica. Does the actual practice of this process have any similarity
to the laboratory process suggested by The Hermetic Triumph also known as
The Ancient War of the Knights? In this regard is it possible for any two
alchemists to elaborate the stone exactly the same way?
J.C. What is the purpose of Alchemy?
J.C. The Opus Magnum exhibit and book which you edited constitute a major
accomplishment in the annals of Czech hermeticism. Do you have any plans for
similar projects in the future?
J.C. I'd like to thank you not only for making time for me here today but also for your life's work of keeping the dream alive. Thank you Vladislav Zadrobilek.
This interview was conducted April 19th, 1998 at the Prague home of Vladislav Zadrobilek located a stone's throw from his Trigon bookstore located at: Umelecka 2, 170 00 Praha 7. Grateful thanks to Michal Pober for arranging this interview and to Peter Buga'r for serving as interpreter-translator. Grateful thanks also to my soror mystica, my beloved Miss Natalie Collins who served as a constant inspiration during this pilgrimage.
Note: A number of interactive CDs on historic aspects of Bohemia have recently become available. Of particular interest are (1) Bird of Paradise, which features Michael Mair's Atalanta Fugens (2) Prague: The Royal Route and (3) Legends of Prague. Selected items will be reviewed in an upcoming issue of The Stone.
The bookdealer, Todd Pratum presently offers, Rudolf II and Prague, edited by Eliska Fucikova (1997) co-published by Prague Castle Administration, Thames and Hudson and Skira, 392 p. This is a catalogue of the general Prague exhibition of which the Opus Magnum exhibit was a part. Todd Pratum will offer the Opus Magnum catalogue in the Fall of 1998.
OPUS MAGNUM: The Book of Sacred Geometry, Alchemy, Magic, Astrology, Kabbala and Secret Societies of Bohemia, edited by Vladislav Zadrobilek, Trigon (1997) bilingual (Czech-English) 328 p.(This book accompanied an exhibit by the same name held during Prague's 1997 celebration of the "Year of Rudolf II".)
D.Z. Bor On the Threshold of Nobility
This quote heralds the opening text of Opus Magnum, a bold and brilliant exploration of Bohemian alchemy. The premiere chapter describes a geological cataclysm which occurred more than 100 million years ago when an enormous meteor formed "The Prague Impact Crater" 200 by 300 kilometers in size. Green vitreous meteoric fragments known as moldivite or semiprecious valtavine rich in iron hydroxides still abound in this region. The text goes on to detail how the layout of Old Town Prague follows the design of Jerusalem and how many of its churches were constructed at strategic locations in accordance with the laws of sacred geometry to affect a mystic enchantment. A penetrating analysis of cathedral architecture and the art of master stone masons crowns this opening chapter on the sacred space of Bohemia.
A probing inquiry into alchemy's Gnostic, Hermetic and Presocratic roots examines the philosophy behind the practice. One reads on the subject of Heraclitian Fire from which everything comes and returns to:
A section on doctrine presents alchemical fundamentals with an intriguing twist. Salt appears as the central mediator between mercury and sulfur in a rotating mandala scheme. This contrasts with the more familiar less dynamic linear hierarchy that situates mercury between sulfur and salt. The bullet point format of the text describing this model calls to mind an abbreviated version of Paracelsus' Alchemical Catechism.
An exhaustive historical survey presents details on the men and events that shaped mystic Bohemia. A growing tradition achieved its highest level during the reign of Rudolf II. He sponsored over 200 court alchemists and inspired competitiveness among nobles to promote the royal art. The contemporary hermeticist, Dr. Benedict Janes contributed a chapter outlining the more recent history of Martinism, Freemasonry and related secret societies. Dr. Janes, one of the founders of the organization, Universalia, presents compelling details on the presence of the perennial philosophy which has survived Nazi persecution, Communist repression and even the crowds of hedonistic tourists that today run rampant through the sacred streets of Prague.
The unique feature of Opus Magnum entails never before published illustrations from several classic Czech alchemical tomes. Foremost among these rank Symbola Chirogyphica which bears vague resemblance to The Hermaphroditic Marriage of the Sun and the Moon, Sabaoth, a highly original German manuscript and two idiosyncratic Czech versions of The Rosarium Philosophorum. Outstanding commentaries to John Dee's Hieroglyphic Monad, The Keys of Solomon grimoires and the VIth and VIIth Books of Moses add yet more value to this volume.
Chapters on Doctor Faust in Prague, Kabbala, the Golem myth, astrological aspects of Prague and the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross attend to the myriad peripheral aspects of alchemy. Valiant scholarship attempts to distill the reality behind these myths. For example inflated stories about the magician, Zito, who performed in the court of Charles IVth transplanted themselves upon Dr. Faust. The legend of the Golem monster created by the Polish Rabbi, Eliahu Baalshem of Chem migrated to the great Kabbalist mystic, Rabbi Low, of Prague. The well known myth about revelations from the illuminated tomb of Father Rosenkreutz, at the heart of Rosicrusian tradition, may be an incarnation of the older myth wherein Apollonius of Tyana discovers the Emerald Tablet in the tomb of Hermes. One recalls the belief that both the Emerald Tablet and the Holy Grail were carved out of the gem fallen from the crown of Lucifer. Yet another echo of this initiatory egregory comes from 17th century England where a peasant discovered a deep illuminated crypt inhabited by a sage. The location of this happening became known as "the grave of the Rosicrucian".
Are these myths related to contemporary folklore that describe how the pagan prophetess princess, Libuse, sleeps with her army of knights in catacombs beneath Vysehrad, Prague's hilltop fortress, quietly waiting for Bohemia's hour of need? This too appears as a modern metamorphosis of older Czech legends connected to St. Wenceslas, Mt. Blanik and the castle fortress Melnik. Like the green glassy meteorites strewn about the Bohemian landscape these myths resonate with the alchemical admonition from the acrostic, VITRIOL. Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem translates to: "Visit the interior of the earth by rectification you will find the hidden stone".
The editor stresses in the introduction the novel nature of the illustrations and the highly original text. These erudite articles as ingenious as they are only serve as footnotes to numerous never before published pictures that bear the full force of the revelation. One can take any given page of this book, meditate for hours and be driven to rapture by the infectious intensity of its insights.
During the summer of 1997 over 70'000 people visited the Opus Magnum exhibit at the House of the Stone Bell in Prague's Old Town Square. Such popularity testifies to the value of the material monumentalized in this book. Destined to become a collector's item only a few copies remain of the original 2000 printed. It takes its place next to Roob's recent Hermetic Museum, Fabricus's Alchemy: The Royal Art and Klossowski de Rola's Golden Game but offers the unique Bohemian vision.