What holds the world together at its core …

Georg von Welling, Tractatus Mago-Cabbalistico Chymicus et Theosophicus

Published in 1729 in Sulzburg

It appears to be mysterious, this Tractatus mago-cabbalistico-chymicus et theosophicus written by a “lover of the eternal truth”. It deals with the origin, the nature and the characteristics of salt. But that is not everything. The Tractatus goes far beyond its topic. It talks about the origin of all beings, about the location of paradise, about the creation and preservation of the visible world and, finally, about the future transformation into an eternal unification with God, that is to say, it talks about what holds the world together at its core. At least that is how Goethe described it, who studied this Tractatus carefully for his play Faust.

If you imagine the author of this book as a crippled little man sitting in his witch’s kitchen next to pots filled with bubbling liquids in order to find the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of immortality or, even better, gold, you are totally wrong. Georg von Welling (1655-1727) earned his money as a mining engineer. At the latest since 1705 he worked as a mining executive in Hasserode, which was rich in silver. In 1717 he assumed the executive directorship of all mines of the Duchy of Württemberg.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Alchemist. Copper engraving 1558.

That is to say, Welling had both feet on the ground. And yet he wondered who might have created the miracles that he saw in the mines. The indications that the enlightened sciences provided were not enough for him. (By the way, the theories of those days would not convince us either.) Welling interpreted nature as a reflection of God’s creation. He put it into words – probably most of all for himself – in his Tractatus about salt, which he based on the traditional knowledge of alchemy. He was a brilliant author. His thoughts were conclusive and fuelled a movement that opposed the rationalism of the age of Enlightenment with a mystical conception of the world: Theosophy.

One of its most passionate admirers was Samuel Richter, a religious man who was part of a countermovement to the Reformation (a so-called “swarming spirit”). Somehow, he met Georg von Welling, got his hands on the manuscript and published it in 1719 against the will of the author. It was a huge success! However, not for Welling.

The book hit the zeitgeist. It made it possible for pious people to combine the facts that the modern sciences revealed about nature with God’s creation. The book described the possibility of a mystical unification with God through the perception of nature. Even if some Enlightenment thinkers depreciated Welling’s book as a collection of absurd fantasies, it was read with enthusiasm by many others. In 1729 a second edition of his Tractatus was published, and that is the book we have here.

Is it true that Welling was advised to give up his job after his book became known in Württemberg? We do not know that. What we know is that Welling went to Pforzheim in 1720, where his sons made it possible for him to get in contact with the Margrave of Baden. The latter was interested in alchemy. In 1721 Welling was hired, but only a few years later he changed his job and went to Ansbach. He did not stay there long either.

At the age of nearly 70, Georg von Welling moved to Bockenheim, where he is said to have continued his alchemical studies. At this age, perhaps he would have preferred to receive the regular salary of a well-paid mining engineer. However, the success of his publication had apparently made it impossible for him to pursue this career.

That is why he would have probably been indifferent about the fact that the Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross continued to use his book long after his death in 1727 as an important textbook.

 

If you want to see for yourself what Georg Welling wrote, take a look at the entire manuscript on the website of the Bavarian State Library.

Exactly one century after the Tractatus, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s book “The mines of Falun” was published, which also interpreted the world of the underground in a romantic rather than in a scientific way. The novella is still worth reading.

If you want to know how silver was mined at Welling’s time, take a look at the German clip „Bergbaugepräge“, which gives an insight into this craft using modern photographs of coins and medals.