The first part of the title was sparked by reading a blog on Antonio Neri which mentioned schools of alchemy, and of course I started to wonder how much evidence there was for the transmission methods of alchemy. The second part is something I’ve been wondering about for a while.
So of course I started reading, and the answer is of course, yes, there’s plenty of evidence if you accept what the alchemists themselves wrote.
Which is a bit of a problem, insofar as their texts were written for so many different reasons and audiences and in most cases we just do not have other evidence of any use. The earliest alchemical text, the Physika et Mystika contains a story about the transmission of alchemical knowledge, but even there the story is complicated. The master dies suddenly, seemingly without transmitting the final secret to his son or his disciples. Eventually they have a feast in a temple in his honour, and during it a column splits open to reveal some books and these turn out to have the useful information and the saying “Nature delights in nature, nature conquers nature, nature masters nature.”
So books are important, but so also is initiation in a father – son relationship.
Another reason for looking at this topic is that modern esotericists have a similarly complex relationship to knowledge transmission, and some like to harp on about the initiatory part and how they learnt the secret from a master, others are clearly working from texts, and it is interesting to see whether or not their practise is much different from that of 600 years ago. I can’t find much information about the varying transmission routes in historical periods either, at least not gathered together in one place. So, on with the findings: