The enduring mystique of Mother Goose stories and fairy tales provides fertile ground for the author’s thesis that these stories contain a code containing the alchemical lore that was driven underground by the Church and the Inquisition. (The book was originally published in French in 2013 and has been translated by Jon Graham of Inner Traditions.)

Roger spends time moving meticulously from story to story sifting through keys and codes. He describes many examples of initiatory steps, stages of development, and the final transformative developments that are akin to the steps taken to create the Philosopher’s Stone. The book contains six chapters. The author introduces his topic and thesis in the first chapter. Chapters 2 through 5 investigate how the stories contain clues to subsequent steps of alchemical processes. Chapter 6 shows how happy endings are the equivalent of achieving the Philosopher’s Stone. The struggling couple is finally united, married, and live happily ever after.

Ties between fairy tales and both Freemasonry and alchemy are explored. The author begins with the Raw Stone, the first step in an alchemical transformation. The characters of fairy tales often begin in a raw, uncultivated state. Sometimes the character is considered stupid, is a youngest son, a poor man’s son, or an unwanted daughter. These characters depart on quests, leaving home to seek a thing or person necessary to development. Sometimes the quest involves a challenge that, if fulfilled, promises a royal marriage.

The most interesting section is Chapter 4: V.I.T.R.I.O.L., Or the Door of the Temple. In this chapter the author shows how fairy tale characters are compelled to look beneath the surface, descend to the depths, and go beyond conventional appearances to seek the unique matter that becomes the basis of transformation. This step in the process involves danger, losses and personal tragedies. There are several examples of stories where the lead character is compelled to go underground, into a deep well or cave. In other cases, there is an impenetrable forest. The following chapter presents an investigation of the processes that take place once the lead character has reached the point of greatest challenge. End matter includes end notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Roger cites details from many stories in each chapter. This book will be fascinating to people interested in alchemical and Masonic lore hidden in plain sight. “The Initiatory Path” is a nice addition to Inner Tradition’s growing collection of books on scholarly metaphysical studies translated from French to English. 

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Author: Bernard Roger
Inner Traditions, 2015
308 pg, $19.95 pb