But who was Fulcanelli?
In 1926, an obscure book was published in Paris called “Le Mystère des Cathédrales” (The Mystery of the Cathedrals), in a print run of just 300 copies. The now fabled volume was said to reveal, for those who read it with the right eyes, the art of transmutation. The author’s name was given on the title page simply as Fulcanelli.
Some said Fulcanelli didn’t exist, that the book was a hoax, and that he was just an invention of its illustrator, Jean-Julien Champagne – the artist was a notorious prankster – or his friend Eugène Canseliet, who wrote the book’s preface, and who claimed to have arranged its publication at Fulcanelli’s personal request.
In 1930, a second book by Fulcanelli appeared, in a print run of 500 copies, entitled “Les Demeures Philosophales” (The Dwellings of the Philosophers), again with a preface by Canseliet and illustrated by Champagne. Canseliet said he destroyed the manuscript of a planned third book, “Finis Gloriae Mundi” (The End of Worldly Glory) on Fulcanelli’s instructions.
Champagne, who makes a brief appearance in “The Secret Fire”, died horribly of gangrene poisoning, in 1932. Canseliet, who dropped tantalizing, sometimes conflicting clues as to Fulcanelli’s true identity in many books and articles over the ensuing decades, saying the alchemist was a prominent citizen who moved in high social circles, never revealed his ultimate secret, and died in 1982.
Fulcanelli’s books, which claim that the secrets of the alchemical Great Work of transmutation are hidden in plain sight, in carvings ornamenting certain medieval buildings such as Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, have been reissued several times, and continue to sell. To see images of the extremely rare 1926 first edition of “The Mystery of the Cathedrals”, click here.
Many theories as to the true identity of Fulcanelli have been put forward, though none agree. Frank Zappa even entitled one of his guitar solos “But Who Was Fulcanelli?”. To hear an excerpt, click here.
In the fictional world of “The Secret Fire”, I make my own interpretation of some of the real-world clues, hints and evidence available.
(Picture credit: Portrait of Jean-Julien Champagne, by Eugene Canseliet. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Jean_Julien_Champagne.JPG)
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