November 05, 2010

A "TEB" magical formula... for the here & now (?!).

“Cooking and distillation takes place in the cauldron; below, blazes the roaming flame. Afore goes the White Tiger leading the way; following comes the Grey Dragon.
The fluttering Chu-niao [Scarlet Bird] flies the five colours. Encountering ensnaring nets, it is helplessly and immovably pressed down, and cries with pathos like a child after its mother.
Willy-nilly it is put into the cauldron of hot fluid to the detriment of its feathers. Before half of time has passed, Dragons appear with rapidity and in great number.
The five dazzling colours change incessantly. Turbulently boils the fluid in the ting [furnace]. One after another they appear to form an array as irregular as dog’s teeth. Stalagmites which are like midwinter icicles are spat out horizontally and vertically. Rocky heights of no apparent regularity make their appearance, supporting one another.
When yin [negativeness] and yang [positiveness] are properly matched, tranquility prevails.”

This is a magical formula taken from the old Tsan-tung-chi, a Chinese alchemical text written in about the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. (it is quoted in the famous "Alchemy" by E. G. Holmyard, published in 1957) as a description of the embroidered pattern on a mandarin's robe.

A more recent quotation of it is included on another alchemical book edited by Neil Powell (titled "Alchemy, the Ancient Science", printed in 1976). He  explaines: "One of the main differences was that, in place of the four elements defined by Aristotle, the Chinese designated five: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. In addition, they recognized the principles of yang and yin instead of Jabir's theory of sulfur and mercury. According to the Book of Tao, written by the sage Lao-tzu about 550 B.C., all the energy of the Universe can be divided into the two forms of yang - which is active, masculine, fiery - and yin - which is passive, feminine, and watery. Immortality is a masculine quality, and gold and jade, which are almost pure yang, preserve bodies from corruption. "If there is gold and jade in the nine apertures of the corpse, it will preserve the body from putrefaction," wrote the alchemist Ko Hung in the 4th century A.D. Princes and lords were buried with boxes of jade for this reason. The Chinese also related the Macrocosm of the Universe to the human body in the Microcosm of the world. For example, they identified the heart with the essence of fire, the liver with the essence of wood, the lungs with the essence of metal, the stomach with the essence of earth, and the kidneys with the essence of water. Like Western alchemy, Chinese alchemy is filled with symbols" (you can get a free download of this book in the Net at

The same formula is printed on a beautiful TEB poster for the legendary concert played at the Purcell Room (London) on April 21th, 1969 by the great line-up with Glen Sweeney, Paul Minns, Ben Cartland and Richard Coff with some of the tracks of the forthcoming "Alchemy" album. Interesting to note the time scheduled for the playing (7.30-10.30 p.m., three hours of "alchemical" music...?!).

Maybe anyone has got a recording of the concert...?

no©2010 Luca Ferrari


  1. A search on Google reveals the source of the text to be 'Alchemy' by E.J.Holmyard (1957?) - still available from Dover books.

  2. Great discovery, Sean! I'll do some more research about it...