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Red mercury as scam and symbol

Friday, November 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — CJ Chivers, nuclear nonsense, faux chemistry, and the alchemical imagination, with hat-tip to Cheryl Rofer ]

CJ Chivers, conflict journalist extraordinaire and author of a book about the Kalashnikov assault rifle, The Gun, today posted a remarkable account of what he terms The Doomsday Scam, with the subtitle “For decades, aspiring bomb makers — including ISIS — have desperately tried to get their hands on a lethal substance called red mercury. There’s a reason that they never have.”

A taste:

The Islamic State, he said, was shopping for red mercury.

Abu Omar knew what this meant. Red mercury — precious and rare, exceptionally dangerous and exorbitantly expensive, its properties unmatched by any compound known to science — was the stuff of doomsday daydreams. According to well-traveled tales of its potency, when detonated in combination with conventional high explosives, red mercury could create the city-flattening blast of a nuclear bomb. In another application, a famous nuclear scientist once suggested it could be used as a component in a neutron bomb small enough to fit in a sandwich-size paper bag.


To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world. This is all the more remarkable given the broad agreement among nonproliferation specialists that red mercury, at least as a chemical compound with explosive pop, does not exist.

Indeed, there’s a sidebar in Chivers’ post which sums the topic up nicely:

The shadowy weaponeer’s little helper, red mercury was the unobtainium of the post-Soviet world.

There’s much more, of course — with red mercury rumored to be found in old Singer sewing machines, which briefly raised the price of such machines in Saudi Arabia a thousandfold to $50,000 — and the whole extraordinary piece is more than worthy of your attention. It is also about a concrete, if counter-factual, reading of the term “red mercury.”

Cinnabar, aka mercury sulphide, anyone?


A centuries-old debate concerning alchemy has concerned the literal and metaphorical interpretations of alchemical texts.

Scholars up to and including Isaac Newton theorized about and practiced alchemy in their aptly named lab-oratories, at a time when literal and metaphorical “readings” were much less easily considered separately than is the case today. Alchemy was then for a while widely ridiculed as proto- and indeed pseudo-science — a tendency still prevalent in many circles today. And more recently, alchemy has been explored by Carl Jung and followers (and his predecessor, Silberer) as a field of imaginative, metaphorical inquiry illuminating spirituality, psychology and literature.

  • BJT Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy
  • BJT Dobbs, The Janus Faces of Genius
  • Herbert Silberer, Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism
  • CG Jung, Psychology and Alchemy
  • CG Jung, Alchemical Studies
  • CG Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis
  • Marie-Louise von Franz, Aurora Consurgens
  • Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy
  • Jung’s reading of alchemical texts is a symbolic reading — in accordance with the principle “the stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone” (Psalm 118.22, cf Acts 411), he has taken precisely those materials in the alchemical tradition which modern chemistry rejected as ridiculous, and reclaimed them as symbolic, richly metaphorical expressions of psychological truth.


    It is in that spirit that I turned from Chivers’ fascinating treatment of “red mercury” as an allegedly physical, albeit spurious, substance, with its intriguing narratives of scams from the Cold War to the present day and IS, to take a look at what I might find via a brief search in the Jungian literature. I say “quick” because I have neither the appropriate library nor the time for a more intensive search, but here’s what little I found:

    There’s a “red mercury” reference in Stanton Marlan, The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness, on p. 22:

    The idea is that the raw solar energy must darken and undergo a mortificatio process that reduces it to its prime matter. Only then can the creative energies produce a purified product. In this image the sperm of gold refers not to the ordinary seminal fluid of man but rather to “a semi-material principle,” or aura seminales, the fertile potentiality that prepares the Sun for the sacred marriage with his counterpart, darkness, which is thought to produce a philosophical child or stone and is nourished by the mercurial blood that flows from the wounding encounter of the Lion and the Sun. The blood — called red mercury — is considered a great solvent.

    Marlan then gives us what is effectively a translation of the paragraph above into contemporary therapeutic language:

    Psychologically, there is nourishment in wounding. When psychological blood flows, it can dissolve hardened defenses. This then can be the beginning of true productivity. In dreams the imagery of blood often connotes moments when real feeling and change are possible. The theme of the wound can also suggest a hidden innocence, which is also a subject of mortification. The green color of the lion, which is referred to as “green gold,” suggests something that is immature, unripe, or innocent, as well as growth and fertility. The alchemist imagined this innocence, sometimes called virgin’s milk, as a primary condition, something without Earth and not yet blackened. Typical virgin-milk fantasies are often maintained emotionally in otherwise intellectually sophisticated and developed people.


    And then there’s what Jung would term synchronicity..

  • CG Jung & Wolfgang Pauli, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche
  • In my twitter stream within 3 minutes of my posting my first tweet re Chivers’ piece, & before I’d tweeted my follow up, I ran across this tweet containing the phrase “Drawing Blood will eat the sun”:

    Drawing Blood will eat the sun — just how synchronistically alchemical can Molly Crabapple and Twitter get?

    Sunday surprise: sinkholes

    Sunday, October 4th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — and including a 1936 German illustration of the hollow earth ]

    Bryan Alexander on his Infocult blog notes a fascinating symmetry as More sinkholes open up under countries on opposite ends of the Earth — one in England and the other in Australia. The implication that our devouring planet may at last be preparing a Journey to the Centre of the Earth he leaves to his reader’s imagination..

    SPEC DQ sinkhole

    BTW, “opposite ends of the Earth” is a delightful phrase, reminiscent of John Donne‘s “the round earth’s imagin’d corners” — kudos, Bryan!


    And while we’re on the topic of the centre or center of the earth, one of my favorite “finds” as a book-crawler was this gem from Frankfurt, 1936:

    Johannes Lang Die Hohlwelttheorie

    Highly compatible with Nazi occultism, nicht wahr?

    And this more recent piece, showing the location of the hidden Buddhist city of “Shambala”, completes the picture:


    Maybe our Journey to the Center of the Earth will provide us with some occult Infocult material, eh, Bryan?

    New Book: Relentless Strike by Sean Naylor

    Thursday, September 24th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command by Sean Naylor

    I just received a courtesy review copy of Relentless Strike from John at St. Martin’s Press

    Increasingly viewed as a “must read” book in the defense community, Relentless Strike is also extremely controversial among its target audience because Naylor’s dissection of the rise of JSOC reveals operational details, TTP and names to a degree that many current and former “operators” view as too granular while others welcome the confirmation and credit of JSOC triumphs that would normally be shrouded in secrecy. David Axe of War is Boring opines that Naylor, an award winning journalist and author, “ …may know more about commandos than any other reporter on the planet” while Jack Murphy of SOFREP has a full interview of Sean Naylor here.

    Flipping open to a page at random, I find discussion of a special operator attacked in Lebanon while under unofficial cover during circumstances that remain classified. Foiling an attempt to kidnap him, despite suffering a gunshot wound, the operator covered his tracks, eluded further detection and crossed several international borders before receiving medical care. This gives you some indication of the kind of book that is Relentless Strike.

    Full review when I finish reading, but I suspect many readers of ZP will pick up a copy on their own.

    Image via Elkus

    Saturday, September 19th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a comparative mapping of time and eternity? ]

    From my POV, this image is superb:

    Adam Elkus Chess image

    It demonstrates both the experience of the human chess player, who cannot in general play by a “brute force” method since the tree of choices exceeds his neuronal capacity, and the rational experience of the brute force method, illuminated in the case of a problem small enough in scale for artful representation.

    And part of what’s interesting — wonderful — here is the fact that the chess board is graphically far less beautiful, I dare to say, than the representation of the corresponding tree of choices.

    And it reminds me of nothing so much as Mark Lombardi‘s fine art “conspiracy” graphs, like this one:

    lombardi graph

    — taken from Lombardi’s book, Global Networks, in which the artist draws the networks of influence surrounding eg oil and war in the Middle East — and which I’m sure can be found with a little effort for less than the $234.63 atvwhich Amazon currently offers a used paperback copy.


    With thanks to Adam Elkus for pointing me to this concise icon of the Garden of Forking Paths.

    New Books

    Monday, September 7th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]


    The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop and the Gods of New York by Michael Muhammed Knight

    Ideal by Ayn Rand

    The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith

    Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to Public Schools by Diane Ravitch

    An eclectic combination, to be sure.

    I am mostly finished with Reign of Error and The Five Percenters. The former is a devastating and methodically documented critique by historian and former Bush I administration official Diane Ravitch of a crony capitalist network’s effort to hijack public education and its revenues under the guise of reform. The latter is a friendly journalistic history of the often feared and widely misunderstood Five Percent Nation, which split away, at times violently, from the better known Nation of Islam of Elijah Muhammed and Louis Farrakhan. Knight’s objectivity is somewhat suspect here as he himself became a rare white Muslim Five Percenter (a.k.a. “Azrael Wisdom“) and apologist, but his closeness to the group’s insiders cannot be denied.

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