Alchemical Texts, Alchemy, Alchemy Books, Aleister Crowley, Art, Brother Crowley: A Correspondence, Brother Curwen, David Curwen, Eric John Holmyard, Esoteric, Frank Sherwood Taylor, Graham Knight, Henrik Bogdan, In Pursuit of Gold, Kenneth Grant, Lapidus, Neville Armstrong, Occult, Ordo Templi Orientis, Paintng, Salamander and Sons, Stephen Skinner, Tantric, The Pass-Keys to Alchemy, The Teitan Press, Tony Matthews, Yoga
By late 2009, the identity of Lapidus had already been disclosed – albeit rather discretely – in one of the more than 800 tables included in Stephen Skinner’s 2006 Tabularum Magicarum (or The Complete Magician’s Tables), where the pseudonym Lapidus was followed in brackets by the name David Curwen.
Although opinions regarding both Lapidus and his In Pursuit of Gold have varied widely since 1976, interest in both has remained, and during 2011 a revised, expanded and in some instances corrected edition of In Pursuit of Gold was published by Salamander and Sons. In his foreword to this second edition, Stephen Skinner elaborates upon his role in bringing In Pursuit of Gold to print, details the various others involved – including Neville Armstrong (then managing director of Neville Spearman Limited) and Stephen’s close friend Graham Knight – and shares his impressions of David Curwen, the man behind the Lapidus nom de plume. Stephen also describes how, in due course, he met David Curwen’s grandson, Tony Matthews.
A writer, editor and local historian, Tony Matthews contributed an extensive biographical essay entitled ‘Lapidus Unveiled’ towards the second edition of In Pursuit of Gold. Tony elucidates upon the man he knew as his grandfather, not only regarding his “lifetime of involvement in esoteric activities, including the study and practice of alchemy” and the origins of the name Lapidus, but also his Lithuanian Jewish family roots, early life, military service, and business pursuits, and the interconnectedness of these areas to his esoteric aspirations. From his birth as David Cohen at 8:00 p.m. on 10 April 1893 in the East End of London, one of eight children in all, and the youngest of four sons, to his death at a nursing home at Hemel Hempsted on 30 December 1984, aged 91, the life story of David Curwen is a fascinating one.
When the esoteric aspects of Curwen’s life are also considered – including his “close personal contact with the theosophists and occult thinkers of the early 20th century; with Indian gurus pursuing insight on higher planes; with Aleister Crowley and his Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.); with the inner secrets of Freemasonry, and finally with the works of the great alchemists since the Middle Ages” – his life story becomes not only fascinating, but utterly compelling. Those interested in Curwen’s correspondence with the Great Beast 666 – including their discussions on “alchemy, yoga and the tantric practices on which [Curwen] was an authority,” and Crowley’s incessant pressing upon Curwen for money – are referred to the excellent Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley: A Correspondence, edited and with an introduction by Henrik Bogdan, and with a foreword by Tony Matthews, published by The Teitan Press during 2010. The book also examines David Curwen’s influence upon Kenneth Grant, via his ongoing advice to Grant regarding tantric practices.
The second edition of In Pursuit of Gold also includes facsimiles of correspondence between David Curwen and the renowned alchemical historians Frank Sherwood Taylor (1897-1956) and Eric John Holmyard (1891-1959). At the time of the correspondence, during the 1950s, Taylor was then “director of the Science Museum in London and a founder of the Society for the Study of Alchemy and Early Chemistry.” A translator of Arabic and Latin texts, Holmyard was then chairman of the Society, and his “scholarly writings included accounts of the history of alchemy in relation to Islamic science.”
Also featured in the second edition of In Pursuit of Gold are numerous oil paintings by Curwen who “saw painting as a suitable medium for expressing his occult and spiritual ideas … from the 1950s until the early 1970s he painted many works in oil, sometimes giving a face to the unseen forces he believed to be directing the destinies of mankind.” Of his grandfather’s paintings Tony Matthews writes:
He portrayed the transmigration of souls in several works, seen variously from the perspectives of the contented and the despairing, from those seeking lost ones at séances and those struggling to hold back the inevitable march of time. He painted living worlds and dead ones, in one work contrasting life on Earth with the lifelessness of the Moon, revolving eternally in the cosmos. They were distinctly disturbing works, certainly not to everyone’s taste, but they reflected David’s own tortured soul and lifelong insecurity.
The address of David Curwen’s – or perhaps that should be Lapidus’ – laboratory in London is also disclosed in the second edition of In Pursuit of Gold.
And so, we finally come to The Pass-Keys to Alchemy. More posts will follow on this ‘lost’ book of Lapidus … found after 30 years!