Since the dawn of time man has battled to transcend and over come the very factor that defines our human condition.

The inevitability of death.

All philosophy and religion, at base level, are an attempt to come to terms with our built in design-error. What medieval Christians tried to rationalize as ‘original sin’ or ‘part of God’s plan’ is understood by modern physicists as the simple law of thermo-dynamics or entropy - the tendency of energy to dissipate rather than accumulate, empires to fall, hair to turn gray, and our loved ones and every other creature that has graced the face of this earth to suffer and die.

Throughout the centuries, countless scientists, healers and philosophers have taken up the quest for the secret of immortality. During the dark ages, these efforts found expression in the secret science of alchemy. Known as ‘adepts’, they sought through the physical and spiritual rigours of the ‘great work’ to attain the ‘philosopher’s stone’ – a substance capable of transforming the subatomic structure of matter, of enriching or ‘ennobling’ the common elements of the periodic table, transmuting lead into gold and producing the elusive ‘Elixir of Life’.

The dark art of alchemy faltered in the wake of the age of enlightenment and its modern practitioners characterized as cranks, charlatans and snake oil salesmen. While this may hold true when it comes to some of the wilder claims put forward over the years, there is one exception to the rule. One case that refuses to be explained away quite so easily…

In the early 1920’s, rumors began to circulate amongst the various members of a tightly knit Parisian occult and alchemical community that a ‘Master Alchemist’ had arisen from their numbers. A celebrated chemist and physicist who had succeeded in obtaining the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ and had demonstrated it’s properties in a series of experiments at a laboratory owned and equipped by the Paris Gas Board. The ‘Master Alchemist’ was said to be an elderly, independently wealthy, member of the French Academy of Sciences and possibly of aristocratic lineage. Even armed with this extraordinary evidence, his identity continued to be shrouded in secrecy and skeptics questioned the very fact of his existence.

The beginnings of the story appear in 1919 when Editions Georges Cres in Paris published a strange, semi-autobiographical book by wealthy socialite, Irene Hillel-Erlanger, ‘Voyages en Kaleidoscope’ ( A Voyage though the Kaleidoscope ), in which she described her relationship with the assistant to a brilliant inventor who had come up with a device called the ‘thermometer of Vulcan and Helios’ which enabled the inventor to uncover the hidden nature of the universe, the underlying structure of solid matter. The book included a diagram of the mysterious thermometer and was dedicated to the chemist Louise Barbe, who was a practicing alchemist and first wife to the Director of the Laboratories of the College of France, Dr. Voronoff, whose work is still republished today. His research on longevity included the grafting of monkey testicles onto humans and he was known to have done more than 500 grafts, the recipients included several ‘well-known, political and literary personalities'.

Covers of Voyages in Kaleidoscope by Irene Hillel-Erlanger, the thermometer of "Vulcan and Helios"

Irene Hillel-Erlanger came from a prominent family of bankers. It was rumored that her father secretly funded one of Dr. Voronoff’s former associates, a lecturer at the Consevatoire National des Arts and Metiers, a real life counterpart to the character described in her book whose ground-breaking research was on the verge of turning everything we thought we knew about the physical universe on its head. She hinted that the secret of eternal life was within their grasp, yet within a year of the book’s publication both Hillel-Erlanger and Barbe were dead.
Barbe died first after allegedly drinking ‘potable gold’ in a failed alchemical experiment and Irene passed a few months later after having eaten poisoned oysters at the party given in honor of the book’s publication. Within a week, all copies of her book were confiscated and pulped. The contents would have been lost forever had not a few advance copies already found their way to the booksellers on the banks of the Seine, its continued existence a secret for decades to all, save a few collectors of rare esoterica. There has been speculation that both of the women were deliberately poisoned for divulging high caliber alchemical secrets - specifically, the ‘temperature scale of the Great Work’ which is encoded in a diagram of the ‘thermometer of Vulcan and Helios’ in ‘Voyages en Kaleidoscope’, and which some believe may have endangered the activities of a shadowy international ‘financial trust’.

Irene Hillel-Erlanger and son, illustrations from "Voyages in Kaleidoscope"

In the autumn of 1926, the first hard evidence of the ‘Master Alchemist’s’ reality surfaced in the form of a remarkable book. ‘Le Mystere des Catherdrals’ ( The Mystery of the Cathedrals ) published in limited edition ( 300 copies ) by Jean Schemit of 45 Rue Lafitte. The thesis was subtitled, ‘An esoteric interpretation of the hermetic symbols of the Great Work’. It contained 36 illustrations by the artist Jean Julien Champagne, an associate of Irene Hillel-Erlanger, Louise Barbe and Dr. Voronoff. Champagne was a well known figure in the small circle of cabbalists, hermeticists, and magicians whom congregated around Pierre Dujols’ occult bookshop, the ‘Libraire du Merveilleux’ ( Library of the Marvelous ), at 76 Rue de Rennes. The preface of the book had been written by Eugene Canseliet, but the text itself was credited to ‘Fulcanelli’, a pseudonym derived from the phonetic equivalent of ‘Vulcan’ - the weaponsmith of the Grecian Sun God ‘Helios’.

Cover of "Mystery of the Cathedrals" and the initiatory "Ladder of Correspondence"

‘Mystery of the Cathedrals’ was the first part of a promised trilogy. The book interprets the symbolism of the masonry of various gothic cathedrals as encoded instructions of alchemical secrets, a concept only hinted at by previous writers of the esoteric genre. The complex punning text is densely coded and displayed a profound knowledge of subatomic structure, while simultaneously arguing that gothic art and architecture was a ‘secret language’ or ‘argot’. ‘Argot’ is defined as a language peculiar to all individuals who wish to communicate their thoughts without being understood by outsiders. Fulcanelli related this idea to the legend of the Argo - the vessel that bore the precious cargo of the ‘Golden Fleece’ in the same manner as the coded architecture of the great gothic cathedrals carried within it  a hidden science, a ‘self-censoring secret’, communicable only to the ‘elect’. According to Fulcanelli, this symbolic code was the ‘language of the birds’, the mythic common language spoken by King Solomon and the philosopher Tiresias who was said to have ‘lived seven, eight, or nine ages of man’ and been ‘both man and woman’.

Eugene Canesliet, the ‘Master Alchemist’s principal disciple, claimed that Fulcanelli had demonstrated the properties of the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ in 1922 and had given his acolyte  a small quantity of alchemical ‘powder of projection’ which had permitted him to transmute 4 ounces of lead into gold. This experiment took place at the Gasworks of Sarcelles before two witnesses; the artist Jean Julien Champagne and a young chemist, Gaston Sauvage.

Fulcanelli’s identity remained a mystery, although there were no shortage of suspects that haunted the corridors of the ‘Libraire du Merveilleux’, or gathered in the smoky recesses of the ‘Cabaret du Chat Noir’- the alchemist’s home away from home in the pre-war years. The intriguing ‘Black Cat Club’ is aptly described in ‘Dwellings of the Philosophers’, Fulcanelli’s second book. “How many knew of the esoteric and political center that was concealed there, of the international masonry that was hidden behind the signboard of the artistic cabaret? On the one hand, the talent of fervent, idealistic youth made up of carefree, blind aesthetes in search of glory and incapable of suspicion; on the other hand, the confidence of a mysterious science mixed with obscure diplomacy - a dual-faced picture deliberately exhibited in a medieval frame…”

The Caberet of the Chat Noir

The second volume of Fulcanelli’s trilogy, ‘Les Demures Philosophales’ ( The Dwellings of the Philosophers) appeared in November 1929. Those who waited for the third book and final key waited in vain. According to Canseliet, his ‘Master’ had finally penetrated the ‘secrets of secrets’ and having become illuminated or mystically transfigured by the experience, had promptly disappeared. “Name, family, native land, all the illusions, all the errors, all the vanities fall to dust…My Master knew this. He disappeared when the fatal hour struck, when the Sign was accomplished…”

Before pulling his vanishing act, Fulcanelli requested that the third book of his trilogy be returned to him unpublished, having apparently come to realize the information it contained was too dangerous to be placed before the public. Only a top sheet and a table of contents remained, found later amongst Canseliet’s papers. Entitled ‘Finis Gloraie Mundi’ ( The End of the Glory of the World ), the book concerned itself with potentially apocalyptic anomalies in the earth’s magnetic fields. Under the right circumstances he would seem to have argued those same anomalies offered mankind its sole hope for survival – a veritable ‘refuge from the apocalypse’.

In 1937, eight years before the first atom bomb tests, the physicist Jacques Bergier claimed to have met a highly knowledgeable man at the Paris Gas Board laboratory who asked him pass on a message to Dr. Andre Helbronner, the noted scientist for whom he worked at the time. The message warned that scientists were on the brink of being able to manipulate nuclear energy and the dangers involved with their new discovery. The mysterious man claimed that alchemists of bygone civilizations had attained the same deadly knowledge and destroyed themselves in the process. Bergier remained convinced, until his death in 1978, that his visitor had been Fulcanelli himself.
As a result of Bergier’s testimony the American Office for Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA, opened a file on ‘Fulcanelli, searching for him after the war, acting on a brief to round up anyone in Europe with prior knowledge of nuclear physics in order to prevent their defection to hostile powers. The file remains active to this day…

To what extent the intelligence community were successful in their quest is open to debate, but they surely had their work cut out, sifting through the multitude of suspects who had tried  to lay claim to the ‘Master Alchemist’s’ work, the most infamous being Jean Julien Champagne, the book’s impoverished illustrator. Champagne was a noted braggart, practical joker and inventor of the bizarre screw-propelled sleigh, who tried on several occasions to pass himself off as the missing alchemist, mainly to extort money from Dr. Voronoff and others. Champagne died in the winter of 1932 after a very painful illness that some believe was caused by radiation poising, but was more likely caused by his legendary appetite for absinthe and Pernod. His body began to decompose while he was still alive, apparently consumed by galloping gangrene.

Eugene Canseliet and Jean Julien Champagne

Eugene Canseliet nursed his dying friend through his final hours. Even with increased pressure from the CIA and numerous journalists, as Fulcanelli’s fame spread, Canseliet remained true to his promise to protect his ‘Master’s’ identity, insisting that he was not only still alive, but had succeeded in reversing the biological clock and was aging backwards. In a letter to American filmmaker, Walter Lang, who wrote the introduction to the first English translation of ‘Mystery of the Cathedrals’, Canseliet maintained that when he first worked with Fulcanelli, “the Master was already a very old man but he carried his eighty years lightly. Thirty years later I was to see him again…and he appeared a man of fifty…”

His final encounter with the immortal alchemist came in 1966, when he was summoned to a mansion in the hills outside of Madrid. To Canseliet’s surprise, his hosts affected the costume and mannerisms of a bygone era. He was amazed to learn of the existence of alchemical books that he had no knowledge of and forgotten formulas that his hosts had in their possession. “As for Fulcanelli alive, he certainly is…Time does not matter…A young lady approached me wearing the ‘Collar of the Golden Fleece’…She warmly nodded as I was sure that it was Fulcanelli who whispered, “Do you recognize me?        To which I replied, “Yes”. But how can such certainties be conveyed?”

Eugene Canseliet died peacefully on April 17, 1982, but the myth complex surrounding the ‘Fulcanelli Phenomenon’ continued to grow, inspiring an eclectic body of novels, comic books, and movies ranging from Umberto Eco’s ‘FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM’ (1988) to Dario Argento’s ‘INFERNO’ (1980), Michelle Soavi’s ‘LA CHIESA’ (1989), and Guillermo del Toro’s ‘CHRONOS’ (1993).  

In the 90’s, Canseliet’s pupil and confidante, Patrick Riviere, began to shed some light on the man behind the myth. The telltale clue was a tiny thermometer-like gadget known as a calorimeter (from the Latin word calor- meaning heat). Personal inspection of the present day calorimeter reveals that there is a little, blue, plastic button, embossed with a rising sun motif – the symbol of the Sun God Helios and the logo of the device’s manufacturer, a subsidiary of GAZ, France’s state administered gas supplier.

"Fulcanelli's Identity Revealed" by Patrick Riviere, calorimeter patented by Jules Violle

Helios Energy Partners is involved with ‘energy auditing’ as well as the production, distribution and installation of various calorimeters. All based on the original prototype patented by the eminent French physicist Jules Gabriel Violle. Born in Langres, in 1841, Violle achieved fame through his work on solar radiation and the establishment of the unit of luminosity that bears his name: the Violle. The first gothic cathedral that he would have seen would have been in his hometown and several references to Langres appear in ‘Mystery of the Cathedrals’.

Violle played a dual role as both a member of the Academy of Sciences and a high ranking Freemason, his fraternal name having been ‘Frere Chevalier Heliopolis‘. His research into radiation, the solar constant, and atmospheric absorption precisely mirrors some of the material in Fulcanelli’s second book, ‘The Dwellings of the Philosophers’.

Logo Helios Energy Partners, eminent physicist Jules Violle

As early as 1885, Violle’s implementation of a wide-span device: a 70 cm-diameter u-shaped pipe, some 13 kilometres long enabled him to measure the speed of sound and to determine the shape of the acoustic wave, as well as the way it evolved during propagation. His continuing efforts to measure subatomic energy exchanges lead to his invention of a device used for measuring the heat of chemical reactions or physical changes as well as heat capacity.  Violle’s prototype calorimeter was developed in a laboratory owned and administered by the Paris Gas Board and its design not only immediately brings to mind the ‘thermometer of Vulcan and Helios’ described in Irene Erlanger’s ill-fated book and accompanying diagram, but is the direct ancestor of the large barrel calorimeter that lies at the heart of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland - the most powerful atom-smasher ever built.

CERN Switzerland

The controversial experiment, which went on-line on August 28, is designed to reveal more about "dark matter," antimatter and possibly hidden dimensions of space and time by re-creating the conditions of the “big bang”. Each particle traveling through the Large Hadron Collider creates a kind of shock wave in space-time. When two such waves come into contact the outcome could be spectacular. Under the right conditions, colliding gravitational waves might be capable of ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe - A theory which was dubbed ‘wormhole’ by Kip Thorne in 1988. ‘Wormholes’ make it theoretically possible to travel in time by ‘closing the loop’, like taking a tunnel through a hill instead of going over it. This is the same technology by which mankind hopes to someday reach the stars and any potentially habitable worlds that surround them.

In a live transmission from the Super Collider’s control room broadcast on the B.B.C’s Radio Four on the morning of August 28, 2008, a CERN CEO explicitly described the project as the “present day equivalent of the great cathedrals of the dark ages.” Any lingering doubts about the ‘Master Alchemist’s’ true identity can be laid to rest by an examination of the acronyms used to define the atom smasher’s component parts.

Heart of the "Super Collider"

The main booster is known as PHOENIX. The large calorimeter is referred as DELPHI after the Greek oracle who foretold the future, and enshrined at its very heart is HELIOS - the High Energy Lepton and Ion Spectrometer. It is easy enough to see the octagonal barrel calorimeter as a sort of high tabernacle, a modern day ark that houses at its core a divine spark of a different order - the project’s principle laser commonly known to the mass media as ‘VULCAN’.

Technically, Jules Violle died quietly of old age at his home in Fixin in 1923, but there are certain inconsistencies like the fact that his death certificate was never officially signed by the local coroner. On paper, Violle is still officially alive even if this proves to be a simple bureaucratic error. There are, however, those who believe that the immortal ‘Master’ lives on, aging backwards and changing gender along the way as Canseliet implied to become an ‘alchemical hermaphrodite’ overseeing the administration of a shadowy empire from the boardroom at Helios Energy Partners or from a secret laboratory somewhere in Northern Spain. If so, she will be celebrating her 167th birthday this November…