Features & Columns
Alchemy Garden Opens in San Jose
Approximately 30 esotericists and others from the general public found themselves at Rosicrucian Park last Sunday—the Winter Solstice—to dedicate a new Alchemy Garden. Dakotah Bertsch, of Central Coast Wilds in Santa Cruz, designed the garden and managed its installation by the Wilds team.
After the ceremony, Rosicrucians in attendance gushed with enthusiasm at Bertsch's efforts, thanking him for transforming a relatively barren splotch of the park into four mystical gardens, representing the four alchemical elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. At the center of the garden, embedded in the ground between the four planters, is the symbol for the quintessence, the mystical fifth element of alchemy.
Leading alchemist Dennis Hauck served as a consultant for the plants now being grown in the garden, since he is also curating a new alchemy exhibit that opens next year on the Summer Solstice. Hauck is also involved in efforts to design a new alchemy museum on the ground of Rosicrucian Park, which is still in the works.
For the uninitiated, the ancient alchemists claimed to search for ways of converting base metals into gold, and their laboratory-based terminology contributed to the development of modern chemistry, although for centuries people have argued over the degree to which the alchemical process was mental, physical, spiritual, psychological or all of the above. Were the alchemists literally trying to convert lead into gold, or was it an allegory for personal growth? The debate rages on.
In any case, the Renaissance-era Rosicrucians were among those who first articulated the mental aspects of alchemy and the transpersonal components of the process. In the 20th century, Carl Gustav Jung embroidered the same threads, bringing alchemical symbolism and terminology into the practice of dream analysis and psychology, exploring how it relates to everyone's own inner journey. In the 1930s, just after the Rosicrucians set up their world headquarters in San Jose, they built an alchemical school of sorts. Much of the original facility still exists, although it hasn't been open to the public in decades. The installation of a new alchemy garden with alchemical herbs is the next step in a long process that will eventually lead to the reopening of the classroom.
The garden itself features four raised planters representing each of the four elements. They're formed in the shape of the symbol that represents that garden's element. Each planter contains herbs associated with the respective element, for eventual use in the alchemy laboratory. The garden's borders are filled with tumbled recycled glass the color of each element: blue for water, white for air, red for fire and an amber color representing the earth. The borders are uplit by LEDs underneath the recycled glass, illuminating them with dramatic effect once the sun goes down.
Rosicrucian Grand Master Julie Scott led the dedication ceremony, which included a group meditation and incantation of vowel sounds related to the alchemical elements. Following the meditation, the group proceeded to each of the four sections of the garden, where an adept then stood inside the respective section and recited passages related to the respective element.
Scott also mentioned that over the last 10 years, the Rosicrucian Order has been involved in specific initiatives to reduce its massive water bills at the park. After removal of several patches of lawn that required mammoth amounts of watering, the Order earned enough credits so that the rebates from the water company paid for the entire Alchemy Garden. Now that's sustainability. Leave it to the esotericists to come up with strategies for landscape renewal. Just as the Rosicrucians travel on paths of inner-renewal, they also apply those techniques to their outer landscape.
As of now, what used to be a barren section of the park with overgrown olive trees is now a mystical garden containing hidden symbols. And it flows nicely into the fountain area, with ankh-like pathways spiraling through the garden that almost look like they were designed according to ancient Egyptian principles. A few Rosicrucians in attendance even pointed this out, asking Dakotah Bertsch, the gardener, if he designed the paths that way on purpose.
"It was just a coincidence," he said.