I chose to start by recommending two books to start going deep into this field. It’s been quite a few years since I started studying metal and his context. First I did it just for the purpose of enriching my blacksmith job, then, when my journey took a spiritual turn, I did it to further understand the richness and the value of what I was doing.
Now, I’ve gathered a lot of notions, but what about those who just start? So here is the answer.
First Book: Mircea Eliade – The Forge and the Crucible
This book, published in 1956, is a great starting point that sum up what I will deal about. It explores mainly two different worlds: that of the Smiths, and that of Alchemists.
They are linked worlds. In the beginning, metallurgists worked only native copper and gold, found in surfacing ores. Later with the discover of bronze; we passed from the crucible to the furnace, from a family dimension to an industrial one. Smelting and smithing became prerogative of technical chaste who preserved their secret recipes and techniques. In this development, metalworking became filled with myths derived from the suggestive context of the work.
Like the miner who dig in the deepest recesses of Earth or the meteorites falling from the sky. From the blasting heat and flames that pervade the forge to the ringing of metal on the anvil. To The blackness of soot and vapors and the hissing sounds of tempering. All this created a vivid imagery and a magical aura that somehow persists even today.
Alchemy rose from this mythical and mystical context, even though differently. Chinese alchemy stemmed from the teaching of Taoism. Indian alchemy was related with yogic and tantra practices. Western alchemy rose from the metallurgical practices of Ptolemaic Egypt.
Alchemy gave another direction to the mystical side of metallurgy. Still, as the author shows, there are many parallels between these arts beside their geographical distance, and one wonder if they had any early influence or contact on each other.
A warning about the books
When dealing with these first books, remember that Eliade wrote it in 1956, and some conception are a bit outdated. While the information and traditions reported are very precious, there is an excess of generalization and comparison. Every tradition has its own uniqueness. Parallels allows for further examination and to fill absence with possible solutions, but as the second book states, there has to be utter caution in this.
This book is about two traditions that were compared too lightly by Eliade and other authors: the African and the ancient Greek traditions. This book focus on two archetypal figure, related to metallurgy in a cultural and practical way. The Greek “metallurgical” Daimones, such as Idaian Dactyloi, Telchines, Kouretes, Korybantes and Kabeiroi, and the African smelters, with their mystical, magical and religious practices. Both are complex figures. They are rich in meaning and context and the author makes an excellent job in providing enough explanation to understand these figures.
The “metallurgical” Daimones are elusive. We have few evidence of them and this book is precious because it sum up notions scattered in XIX-XX century catalogs of art history and archaeology. About the African Smelters I found fascinating how they stand in two different field. That of scientific and technical expertise, and that of spirituality and mysticism. That was one of the main sparks who gave me the idea of opening this space. It offered me a major breakthrough in thinking how lost traditions of metallurgy in the Mediterranean could be.
I hope you have fun with these two books to start with: and for any question, feel free to use the comments section or email me.
As the metal, so the body.