The Mirror of Nicolas Flamel
I believe those words describe exactly what Nicolas Flamel discovered in the mysterious book of which he gazed upon.
The story of Nicolas Flamel dates back to the 1300’s and recounts a fabulous tale of determination and devotion to a man’s search for wisdom and understanding. First known as a quiet, small bookshop owner along the streets of Paris, Flamel, later in his life, became known as a charitable, esteemed man with wealth beyond most.
Both he, and his wife Pernelle, became dedicated to the helping of others. They gave their later acquired riches to the founding of hospitals and those in need; instead of expanding their own status. The change of wealth from a meager bookseller to one which allowed generous giving of gifts is said to have resulted from the knowledge realized from a mysterious book.
The book first appeared to Flamel in a dream. It was held by an angelic being who stated, “Look well at this book, Nicolas. At first you will understand nothing in it, neither you nor any other man. But one day you will see in it that which no other man will be able to see.”
Sometime after, as the story goes, the book was offered to him by an unknown man who came into his bookstore. Nicolas immediately recognized the ancient looking tome from his dream, and bought it. Filled with symbols, images, and writings he could not understand (like the dream predicted), Nicolas eagerly sought to discern its hidden meaning. After years and years of looking at the puzzling pages, and journeying far and back, he finally learned the secret.
The full account of the story can be read on the alchemylab website entitled; Nicolas Flamel. Basically, the story is of the mystifying book and how it initiated the legend of Flamel. It is believed the book contained the secret to the Philosopher’s Stone. Flamel is thought to have succeeded in using this for the turning of lead to gold a few times in his life. The first of which, was claimed to be accomplished on January 17th at noon. The belief in this transformative power, discovered by Flamel, gains support by there being proof of his existence, and his sudden added and sharing of riches.
This story was related in the introduction of the Maranatha puzzle. The section, which included the tale, ended by saying that although the book of Flamel’s was lost, the secret within, wasn’t. The solving of the Maranatha puzzle challenged readers to find the same secret within its puzzle book.
This is actually quite fascinating, if you think about it. Here, a totally different book, claimed to hold the same secret of a lost other. Could it?
In older times there was a genre of books written to offer knowledge on various topics called Speculum Literature or Mirrors. They were created to educate readers on a whole array of subject matters. Some of the most widely known are those from the middle ages; like the Mirrors for Princes which reflected how a prince should behave, rule, and act. Other titles include Mirror of Alchemy, Mirror of Human Salvation, and The Great Mirror. All endeavored to teach.
The word Mirror comes from the Latin word mirari for ‘to wonder at.’ Could it be said the book of Flamel was a Mirror of Self? A mystical form of Speculum Literature? It’s interesting to note that Francis Bacon is known to have said ‘Wonder is the seed of knowledge.’
To be given a book which defies understanding upon initial glance would cause wonder and initiate the quest for wisdom. It can definitely be said the book did that.
The Angel in Flamel’s tale said, “Look well at this book, Nicolas. At first you will understand nothing in it, neither you nor any other man. But one day you will see in it that which no other man will be able to see.” To know what ‘no other man will’? Sounds as if he was being informed he would come to ‘know thyself’. ‘No other man will’ ever be able to see what you yourself may see in the ‘mirror’. To know thyself is considered one of the most highest and significant forms of wisdom. It is also the least known.
The book caused Flamel to wonder, study, research, and explore the unknown. It was after his exploration, journey and finding of a teacher, that he was able to gain understanding. Like Proverbs 4:5-7 encourages, ‘get wisdom, get understanding’, Flamel did so. He was determined to discover what was hidden within. Only then, only after years of seeking did he comprehend. He saw what no other man could see. He learned the meaning of what was written.
There is another intriguing aspect of the story. To know thyself is to know what’s on your heart.
In Hebrews 8:10, the Lord declares, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.”
Did Flamel come to discern the meaning and writing of his heart? Did this ‘book’ reflect and reveal a Truth found in every man’s heart; but of one, which only he, himself, could see; like the Angel in the story states?
Curiously, Nicolas and Pernelle were also claimed to have gained longevity of life. Proverbs 3:1-4 states:
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart; for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”
Nicolas obtained knowledge. The benefits of wisdom, as stated in Proverbs, are the same benefits Flamel’s legend expresses he received. Although many stories claim he gained immortality, his life was ‘prolonged’. He had prosperity and his name and life is respected.
Flamel’s legend can be taken allegorically. In the book, On Becoming an Alchemist by Catherine MacCoun, she refers to the story and states, “If you can uncover the hidden meaning of the various components; the beloved wife, the clueless scholars, the pilgrimage, the cemetery, the blood of the innocents, and so forth, you will be able to discern some sort of spiritual path leading to a result that is described metaphorically as ‘gold.’”
Symbolic journeys are often found within stories. Following and realizing them yourself, like a Labyrinth, creates the sensations and wisdom often given in initiation rites. As the book of Flamel’s has never been found, one cannot confirm what all it may have held. Although descriptions and portrayals of it exist, the entirety remains a mystery. What it truly revealed to Flamel is unknown.
It may have worked on many levels; both a spiritual, inner changing of lead to gold and an actual, outward change of base metals. The internal transformation is believed by some to precede the other.
What is clear, though, is Flamel’s life was dramatically changed by his perseverance to understand the secret writing. Whether it was a ‘mirror’ or not, is for each of us to decide. As the beginning quote of; “Books are mirrors, you only see in them what you already have inside you,” seems to want a person to question, ‘What writing is already inside you?’
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