A Prelude to chemistry

Read, J. (1939) 2nd Ed. A Prelude to chemistry, G. Bell & Sons Ltd. Reprinted by lithography in Great Britain by Jarrold & Sons Ltd, Norwich

Ch 1. An Outline of Alchemy

p XXI “The more science enters into our lives, the more it must be “humanised”, and there is no better way to humanise it than to study it history.”
The author takes some time to explain his motives for examining the history of chemistry - and science in relation to chemistry - as essential to understanding the science. Note even the quotes with the opening chapter on p1. This aligns with Jung's explanation in CW5 §2-3 about how psychology has studied the psyche to explain the past, but he would like to look in his work to the past to explain the psyche of today. This goes nicely with John Read.

p2 “…that the alchemists had surprised some secret of cellular life which, carried into the metallurgic field, produced effect unknown now. …It is not then from alchemy, as often stated , that modern chemistry derives, but actually from the erratic work of the Puffers.'”
This is interesting, this point of view. On the same page the author states that Hermetism or Alchemy
“….was in its primary intention and office the philosophic and exact science of the regeneration of the human soul…Secondarily and incidentally …”was the gold making part.
So we see that the view on Alchemy was that perhaps the puffers carry the bad name of alchemy today and that the Alchemists, or Hermetics, were primarily concerned with the human soul.

On why its called alchemy. The 'dark country' refers to Egypt from the hieroglyph name for egypt. See p4 and footnote 9.
p4 “…so that later this 'art of the dark country' became known to Islam as al Kehm, and through Islam to the Western world as alchemy.”

p5 “Hermes is regarded as the Greek equivalent of the ibis-headed moon-god, Thoth, who, in turn, has sometimes been identified with the deified Athothis of 3400 B.C., or with Imhotep, both of whom excelled in the art of healing.”

p5 “Occasionally he {Hermes} is pictured as a new-born babe. He was sometimes regarded as the god of fertility, and as a patron of music. The sacred number 4 was assigned to him.”

Interesting info on p6-7 on difference between Chinese and western originated alchemy, and discussion of the origins - did alchemy start in China and go west, or did it start in Egypt and go east?
p7 “Indeed the present translation [ Pao-p'u-tzû ] supplies new evidence of the fundamental dissimilarity between the aims of the Chinese alchemists who sought to make real gold and silver artificially and those of the Alexandrian and Byzantine chemists who strove to tincture the base metals to the appearance of the noble ones .'”

p8-9 “Unluckily, the neo-Platonists regarded matter as the principle of unreality or evil, from which the disciple should attempt to detach himself, while the Gnostics cared little for the phenomena of the sensible world, being much more anxious to attain to a knowledge of the invisible cosmos.”

p10 “All bodies were held to be composed of the four elements in different proportions. As a corollary, one body could be changed, or transmuted, into another by altering the proportions of the elements present; further, this supposed transmutation was correlated with the idea of a prima materia, or primordial matter, from which all things came and to which they all reverted.”

Caloric = hypothetical imponderable fluid responsible for the combustibility of a substance. The alchemists simply named it as an Element and referred to it as “Fire”.

p11 “Thus, the theory of the four elements entered into the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, and many other alchemical ideas were drawn from the same source. Notably, the idea of matter playing the rôle of a passive recipient upon which qualities may be imposed, thus giving rise to metals and other 'forms' of matter, is derived from Plato's Timaeus. Or again, the alchemists held that metals pass through a cycle of growth, culminating in the perfection of gold, and that in these changes art can assist Nature: this belief is clearly related to Aristotle's dictum that Nature strives towards perfection, and less directly to Plato's earlier pronouncement that nothing exists which is not good.”

p11-12 “Hopkins22 stresses the influence upon alchemy of four fundamental beliefs which were also widely held in ancient Greece.

  1. Hylozoism: all Nature is like man, alive and sensitive.
  2. That the great universe of sun and stars, the “macrocosm”, is guided by the same laws which obtain on the earth, [and for] the “microcosm” [of man's body].
  3. Astrology: the stars influence and foretell the course of events on this earth.
  4. Animism: any event apparently spontaneous is really due to some personality - fairy, wood spirit, hob goblin, etc.”

22A. J. Hopkins, Alchemy Child of Greek Philosophy, New York, 1934, p. 28.

p12 “…Particular importance is ascribed by Hopkins, Davis, and others to the belief, expressed in various ways, in a mediator acting between God and man.”

So we have the four elements and their qualities/properties, the prima materia, the four beliefs in alchemy, and the mediator between God and man.

p12 “The theory and practice of alchemy were strongly influenced for more than a thousand years by a belief in the existence of a potent transmuting agent, which ultimately came to be regarded as a universal medicine (p. 121). This is referred to in the writings of Western alchemists under many names, suck as the Philosopher's Stone, the Elixir Vitae, the Grand Magisterium, Magistery, or Elixir; and Red Tincture. Alchemical reasoning was mainly deductive reasoning, based upon two a priori assumptions:

  1. the unity of matter and
  2. the existence of the Philosopher's Stone.”

p13 “The descriptions of the perfect Stone, or Elixir, were many and various. In some of them it was depicted as a heavy, glittering powder, which melted without producing smoke. The powder was red or white, in accordance with its power of converting the base metals into gold or silver when 'projected' upon them.”

See page 14 for a proposed explanation behind 'multiplication' by means of the Philosopher's Stone or Tincture.

Mary the Jewess, inventor of the Kerotakis

p16 “In developing his colour theory, Hopkins29 suggests that the two 'spirits', mercury and sulphur, were the two substances most commonly used in the kerotakis, and herein he discerns the germ of the later mercury-sulphur theory of metals. Sulphur was at the same time the spirit of gold, by reason of its colour, and the spirit of fire, because of its combustibility. Further, gold, being convertible into a 'water' by fusion, contained the spirit of liquidity [Mercury]. Thus, gold consisted of the opposed elements, fire and water, or, in a later sense, of the two 'spirits', sulphur and mercury.”
29A. J. Hopkins, Alchemy Child of Greek Philosophy, New York, 1934, p. 115.

p16 “The preparation of the brilliant red sulphide of mercury (known in Nature as cinnabar), by the union of sublimed sulphur and mercury in the kerotakis, therefore held a peculiar significance in the eyes of the Graeco-Egyptian alchemists. …the sequence of colours begins to change in alchemistic literature from black, white, yellow, violet to black, white (yellow), red.”

noun ( pl. entelechies )
the realisation of potential.
• the supposed vital principle that guides the development and functioning of an organism or other system or organisation.
ORIGIN late Middle English: via late Latin from Greek entelekheia (used by Aristotle), from en- ‘within’ + telos ‘end, perfection’ + ekhein ‘be in a certain state.’

p16 “Finally, according to this theory, the apotheosis of colour was reached in the Philosopher's Stone, 'the alchemistic form of Aristotle's entelechy, the final cause which can reproduce itself. For a complete analogy with Aristotle's philosophy, it was necessary that the alchemistic theory should conceive the Philosopher's Stone as the grand finale of the system.'”

Phlogiston = a substance supposed by 18th-century chemists to exist in all combustible bodies, and to be released in combustion.

p18-19 Interesting comment on the combination (of mercury & sulphur) theories between Muslim and Alexandrian (Greek) alchemists. The latter considered the 'tincturing spirits' mercury and sulphur endowed with a kinetic property which in operation led to transmutation. Whereas the Muslim writers focused on the quality composition (as by different combinations of mercury and sulphur).

p19 “In ancient India the Hindus held that the metals were born of the union of Hara (Shiva) and Parvati (the consort of Hara) through the help of Agni, the god of fire. Mercury was associated with the semen of Hara, sulphur with Agni, and earth (or crucible [metals are made in the earth]) with Parvati.”

p20 “… Chinese alchemy is based upon the two fundamental ideas of the Five Elements ( Wu-hsing ) and the Two Contraries ( Yin-Yang ). The five elements are:

  • water (Mercury)
  • fire (Mars)
  • wood (Jupiter)
  • gold (or metal) (Venus)
  • earth (Saturn)

“The original conception of the Yin-Yang dates back to about the sixth century B.C.
Yin = feminine, negative, heavy, and earthy. Moon. mercury
Yang = masculine, positive, light, and fiery. Sun. sulphur
Yang donates and Yin receives, say Wei Po-yang. While, according to Ch'ang-ch'un, Yang and the sky are masculine and their element is fire, whereas Yin and the earth are feminine and their element is water. Ch'ang-sh'un adds that Yin, the imperfect, can quench Yang, the perfect, wherefore it behoves the Taoist to lead a careful life.”

p21 ”…Also, like Osiris and Isis, the Sun-god and Moon-goddess of ancient Egypt, these principles of the Sun and Moon were held to give rise to all things by their conjunction or interaction.“

p23 ”…alchemy was a branch of a comprehensive philosophical system. According to this view, the experimental attempts of the adepts to transmute metals were carried out with the aim of adducing a material proof of their system: on the one hand were ranged the sheep, the elect fraternity of alchemical cognoscenti; on the other stood the goats, the worldly-minded seekers after gold = 'souffleurs', or 'puffers'.“

Middle Ages = 5th century to 15th century. Starting post 476 after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and precedes the early Modern era, c. 1453 (fall of Constantinople to the Turks). Comprising the Classic and Medieval periods.

p24 ”Roger Bacon wrote as follows in his speculum Alchemiae 43:…but I must tel you, that nature alwaies intendeth and striveth to the perfection of Gold: but many accidents coming between, change the mettalls. …For according to the puritie and impuritie of the two aforesaid principles, Argent-vive, [Mercury] and Sulphur, pure and impure mettalls are ingendred.'“

p25 “The mercury and sulphur of this theory were not held to be identical with the common substances bearing these names. It was already known to Geber that under experimental conditions these two substances gave rise to the 'red stone' known in nature as cinnabar (i.e. mercuric sulphide), and not to metals. The names stood rather for combinations of properties or qualities: for example, sulphur was sometimes held to typify visible properties, such as colour, while mercury represented invisible or occult properties, such as fusibility.

p26 “Thus, the 'mercury of the philosophers' - the essence or soul of the metals, divested of the gross physical properties represented by earth, air, fire, and water - was often identified with the prima materia of the Ionian philosophers. Strip a metal of these qualities, and it yields the one primitive matter; impose the appropriate new qualities upon the primitive matter, and the desired new substance is attained.”

p26-27 “Later, the original sulphur-mercury theory was extended by the addition of slat (or 'magnesia') as the third member of the so-called tria prima, or three 'hypostatical principles'. This system is commonly represented by a triangle in alchemical symbolism. Salt represented materially the principle of uninflammability and fixidity, and mystically the body of man.
A definite association of mercury = spirit, sulphur = soul, and salt = body was made by Paracelsus46 in the following words: 'Know, then, that all the seven metals are born from a threefold matter, namely, Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt, but with distinct and peculiar colourings…Mercury is the spirit, Sulphur is the soul, and Salt is the body …the soul, which indeed is Sulphur …unites those two contraries, the body and the spirit, and changes them into one essence.'”

Mercury : Metallicity, fusibility, volatility. Volatile and unchangedin the fire. Spirit. Water. Vapour.
Sulphur : Inflammability. Volatile and changed in the fire. Soul. Air. Smoke.
Salt : Uninflammability and fixidity. Found in the ashes. Body. Earth.

“According to Paracelsus,48 who first gave a tangible form to the theory of the tria prima, 'The three principles…from which all things are born and generated' are 'phlegma, fat, and ash. The phlegma is Mercurius, the fat is Sulphur, and the ash is Salt. For that which smokes and evaporates over the fire [e.g. in the burning of wood] is Mercury; what flames and is burnt is Sulphur; and all ash is Salt.' Basil Valentine49 gives a similar example: 'If a rectified Aqua vitœ be lighted, then Mercury and the vegetable Sulphur separateth, that Sulphur burns bright, being a meer fire, the tender Mercury betakes himself to his wings and flieth to his Chaos.'”

To be included page>aker:alchemy#Seven planetary metals

p28 “Another illustration in the book [ Book of Lambspring ] depicts a deer and a unicorn in a forest, and the accompanying interpretation states that 'in the Body [the forest] there is Soul [the deer] and Spirit [the unicorn] …he that knows how to tame and master them by Art, to couple them together, and to lead them in and out of the forest, may ustly be called a Master, for we rightly judge that he has attained the golden flesh.”

See p28 for another synthetic view of the alchemical theory of Mercury, Salt, Sulphur.

I like this …

p28-29 “Pseudo-alchemy reached its zenith between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries…. Poisson52 has termed the most nebulous scientific heritage of the Middle Ages: 'Scholasticism with its infinitely subtle argumentation, Theology with its ambiguous phraseology, Astrology so vast and so complicated, are only child's play in comparison with Alchemy'.”

p30 “In 1520, Paracelsus' contemporary reformer, Luther, symbolised the freeing of religion from the trammels of orthodoxy and tyrannic authority by burning the papal bull at Wittenberg; five years later, Paracelsus' public burning of the works of Galen and Avicenna before the burghers and physicians of Basel constituted a similar gesture in the realms of medicine and alchemy.”

iatro- = relating to physician or to medical treatment. Hence, iatro-chemistry grew from Paracelsus, as opposed to the more metallurgical path of Alchemy.

p30 “Lacrox54 …Alchemy, ceasing to be experimental and becoming merely psychological, was abandoned to the study of a few fanatical adherents, and finally disappeared altogether from the enlarged domain of positive science. [c. 16th century]

p32 “Although formally banished from the stage [By Robert Boyle's The Sceptical Chymist ] , the four Aristotelian 'elements' [Earth, Air, Fire, Water] and the three hypostatical principles [Mercury, Sulphur, Salt] still dominated from behind the scenes that period [c. 1661 (Boyle's Sceptical Chymist ) and 1789 (Lavoisier's Traité Élémentaire de Chimie ) ] of transition from alchemy to chemistry which is call the era of phlogiston.”

p33 “How many chemists realise that phlogiston was a direct descendant of Osiris (p. 21), the Sun-god of ancient Egypt!”

Alchemy timeline

Taken from the book and then annotated

Ch 2. The literature of Alchemy

An interesting reference to Thoth and writing that I came across…
At the end of his dialogue Phaedrus, Plato tells the story of Thoth and Tammuz. The Egyptian god Thoth, founder of the arts, is the inventor, amongst other things, of writing. He takes his inventions to Tammuz the king of the gods, expecting to be congratulated on his work. Tammuz does indeed praise him for some of his inventions, but he rejects others. With regard to writing, however, the kind scolds him roundly for having done the exact opposite of what he had set out to do, namely to banish forgetfulness. With writing, men would lose their memory since they would rely on texts set down in inanimate characters.

Socrates, who relates the story, sides with Tammuz. A written text, he declares, is an orphan, a fatherless speech with none to defend it. You cannot ask it for further explanation as you would a speaker and it is even more defenceless in that it has been placed in the hands of all and sundry. “Once it has been committed to paper, a discourse journeys as the wind blows it, falling willy-nilly into the hands of those who are knowledgeable in such matters and those whom it does not concern at all. Furthermore, it has no means of knowing to whom it should or should not be addressed.”

p36 “Probably the oldest writing extant of alchemical interest is the Papyrus Ebers, which was found in a tomb at Thebes about 1862. …Through the earlier labours of Thomas Young and Champollion on hieroglyphical rendering of the related Demotic script of the Rosetta Stone, it became possible for later investigators to work the meaning of the Papyrus Ebers… It dates from about 1550 B.C. …but Ebers mistakenly claimed it as one of the 'Hermetic Books' of ancient Egypt, the authorship of which was ascribed to Hermes or Thoth. …the magic number 4, which was adopted later by the Pythagoreans, occurs repeatedly in the Papyrus.”

p40 “The pseudo-Democritus is interested primarily in the production of imitative gold and silver …Both this writer and Synesius comprehend such processes under the name of 'the Divine Art', thereby suggestin a close connection between alchemy and religion in ancient Egypt.
The most important of these authors is Zosimos of Panopolis, who evinces a philosophic interest in the current technical processes. He also refers to Cleopatra, Mary the Jewess, and other writers, real or imaginary, and describes the still and the kerotakis.”

p40-41 The formula of the Crab …“This formula, which was reported to embody the secret of transmutation, was probably a cipher used by Egyptian craftsmen engaged in making imitative gold (p.154). …The third symbol means verdigris ('rust of copper');
the crab (4th symbol?) is the symbol of fixation;
a reference to the philosopher's egg (p.149) has been extracted from the tenth symbol …”

p41 “In due course, translations from the Greek were supplemented by the indigenous writings of such Muslim savants as Geber ('the greatest chemist of Islam'), Rhazes ('the Persian Boyle'), and Avicenna ('the Aristotle of the Arabians').”

p43 “Thus, a mass of falsely ascribed literature confers exceptional difficulty upon the study of this imperfectly known period [mediaeval philosophers and alchemists] in history of chemistry (cf. p.56) It is not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that firm ground is reached again in the writings of Paracelsus and the later iatro-chemists…”

p44 “Mrs D. W. Singer has pointed out, 'Arabic alchemy was the main external factor in moulding Latin alchemy.'”

p46 “The writing of alchemical manuscripts persisted long after the invention of printing, partly because of the importance of colour in the pictorial representations (cf.p.92.)”

The Sum of Perfection Summa Perfectionis

p47 “As an example of an early printed work on alchemy, we may select the Summa Perfectionis ('Sum of Perfection' [c. 1530] ), a publication which has been called 'the main chemical text-book of mediaeval Chritendom'. This, with certain associated Latin treatises of which no Arabic originals are known, has always appeared under the name of Geber (the Arabian Jabir).”

  • p49 'Nature perfects metals in a thousand years; but how can you in your artifice of transmutation, live a thousand years, seeing that you are scarcely able to extend your life to an hundred?' answer is made: 'What Nature cannot perfect in a very long space of time, that we compleat in a short space by our artifice: for art can in many things supply the defect of Nature'.
  • p49 In discussing the composition of metals, the writer modifies the sulphur-mercury theory by introducing three natural principles of metals under the names sulphur, arsenick, and argent-vive cf. p24 (= mercury) . The allusion to sulphur as 'a fatness of the earth' is suggestive of the later statement of Paracelsus that ' the life of metalls is a secret fatnesse, which they have received from sulphur'. Arsenick 'needs not be otherwise defined than sulphur', save that it is a tincture of whiteness instead of redness. Argent-vive, or mercury, 'is a viscous water in the bowels of earth …It is also (as some say) the matter of metals with sulphur.'
  • Sublimation is accounted the most important operation” it is defined as 'the elevation of a dry thing by fire, with adherency to its vessel'.

p50 has a good (brief) run down of the various alchemical operations, sublimation, descension, Distillation, Calcination, coagulation, solution, fixation, ceration.

The Emerald Table of Hermes

The Emerald Tablet Cf. Hermeticism

p52 “The Precepts of Hermes were known also as the Emerald Tablet of Hermes, or the Smaragdine Table ( Tabula Smaragdina ). According to an oft-repeated legend, the original emerald slab, upon which the precepts were said to have been inscribed in Phoenician characters, was discovered in the tomb of Hermes by Alexander the Great…”

p53 ”…its legendary and romantic discovery; the original language, for it is known in Latin only… [i.e. post 1150 on when translations from Arabic to Latin started…prior to the Islamic era the scripts would have been Greek or other Graeco-Egyptian language, hence the highlight of Phoenician above]
Reading a little further though…
“The Table thus dates from at least four hundred years before Albertus [Albertus Magnus was c. 1300, so roughly 800 sometime? ] …'and probably twelve hundred [so potentially 100 A.D.] ; its existence in a Greek form is rendred in the highest degree probable, and it must be acknowledged that in the Tabula we have one of the oldest alchemical fragments known'.”

p54 for the Precepts of Hermes

  1. I speak not fictitious things, but that which is certain and true.
  2. What is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like that which is below, to accomplish the miracles of one thing.
  3. And as all things were produced by the one word of one Being, so all things were produced from this one thing by adaptation.
  4. Its father is the sun, its mother the moon; the wind carries it in its belly, its nurse is the earth.
  5. It is the father of perfection throughout the world.
  6. The power is vigorous if it be changed into earth.
  7. Separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, acting prudently and with judgment.
  8. Ascend with the greatest sagacity [i.e. not with drugs ;) ..although thats an option :) ] from the earth to heaven, and then again descend to earth, and unite together the powers of things superior and thing inferior. Thus you will obtain the glory of the whole world, and obscurity will fly far away from you.
  9. This has more fortitude than fortitude itself'' because it conquers every subtle thing and can penetrate every solid.
  10. Thus was the world formed.
  11. Hence proceed wonders, which are here established.
  12. Therefore I am called Hermes Trismegistos, having three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.
  13. That which I had to say concerning the operation of the sun is completed.

The new pearl of great price

p55 “In the year 1546 there was published at Venice an elegant duodecimo volume in Latin, under the title Pretiosa Margarita Novella, or 'The New Pearl of Great Price'. …with the sanction of Pope Paul II and the Venetian Senate.”

p56 “The New Pearl is a version of an introduction to alchemy written by Petrus Bonus of Pola in 1330… It consists mainly of quotations from earlier works, and thus affords a valuable guide to the influence of the older alchemists on fourteenth-century alchemy.”

p56 “First among about twenty authors cited in the New Pearl stands the pseudo-Rhazes (cf. p17), with seventy references; the second place is shared by the Sum of Perfection and the Turba Philosophorum, wach with thirty references. In devoting equal attention to two works so radically different in character, Petrus Bonus appears to have held the balance between the undoubted value of the Sum and the venerable authority of the Turba.”

p58 “This book contains some remarkable allegorical woodcuts. One of them offers an emblematic illustration of the four elements of Aristotle, in which earth = bear, water = dragon, air = bird, fire = angel.
Fourteen other woodcuts delineate an allegorical exposition of the various stages in the process of transmutation. A crowned king (gold) is apprached by his son (mercury) and his five servants (silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead), who beseech him to change them into kings also (Fig 6. p57). …whereupon he [the king] is killed by Mercury. …The final woodcut shows a royal flush of crowned kings, from which, however, there is an unexplained absentee - possibly lead…”

I just really like this image and its text between p56 & 57.

Matals planets and zodic signs

The figures of Abraham the Jew

Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418) cf. Plate 7

A description of the image below and more on pp.61

Nicolas Fammel

This image below is similar to plate 5, but not the same. It could be from a version of Philosophorum Praeclara Monita ('The most renowned maxims of philosophers') cf. p47 & 63, or probably something later. I've chosen this version 'cause it is the only colour one I could find that goes 'ok' with the text in the book as a reference.

[Plate 7 II ~ Plate 5 ] “The white and red flowers of this picture represent the white and red stages of the Great Work, the red one being identical with Ben Jonson's 'flower of the sun, the perfect ruby, which he calls elixir'. The dragon is sophic mercury; the griffin, a combination of lion and eagle, that is, of the fixed and the volatile.
[Plate 7 I] The old man with the scythe, representing Saturn or Kronos (p. 91), cutting off the feet of Mercury, signifies the fixing of mercury. The adepts identified sophic mercury with the 'essence' of silver (p.25). Now when silver is cupelled with lead, its original impurities sink into the material of the cupel, and the residual silver becomes 'fixed', or unalterable. Thus the pure 'essence' of silver, or of quicksilver (regarded as a baser form of silver), has been obtained: Saturn has cut off the feet of ordinary mercury, or quicksilver, and rendered it immobile.
[Plate 7 III] The fountain of heavy water is the Hermetic stream, symbolic of sophic mercury (p.99).
[Plate 7 IV] …Infants' blood signified merely the mineral spirit of metals, 'principally in the Sunne, Moone , and Mercury ', that is, in gold, silver, and mercury.
[Plate 7 in the centre ] 'He that would see the manner of my arrivall [after his pilgrimage to Spain and met Master Canches] , and the joy of Perrenelle [his wife], let him look upon us two, in this City of Paris , … my selfe giving thankes at the feet of Saint James of Gallicia , and Perrenelle at the feet of St John , whom shee had so often called upon.'

p67 ”…but whatever the facts may have been, the story of Nicolas Flamel and his devoted Perrenelle will go down through the ages as one of the most romantic episodes in the history of alchemy.“

The splendour of the sun

cf. Transformation Of The Psyche

p68 “Thus, the following cryptic remark of Senior is quoted: 'Our Fire is a Water. If you can give a Fire to a Fire and Mercury to Mercury, then you know enough.'“
See comments above for p10, and quote from p16. Fire and water exist in together, so Water is a Fire too.

p68 “Much emphasis is laid upon the colours which are said to appear in the preparation of the Stone. It is pointed out, for example, that 'Miraldus, the Philosopher, says in the Turba: It turns black twice, yellow twice, and red twice….the principal colours are black, white and red; between these many other appear'.”
cF this with the Splendor Solis commentary where yellow seems to have come in before the red, and after white. Also, just a note, that it was Maria the Jewess (reputed to) who first described the black.

The practical tradition in alchemy

There is discussion here about the artisan elements and knowledge as transfered through the centuries, and particularly through the Islamic period. The discovery of gun powder for e.g. c. 1242 (claimed) by Roger Bacon, or though more commonly ascribed to a monk, Berthold Schwarz a century later. Interesting comment on the practical details of the elements like sulphur… p75 “The explanation runs as follows: 'If thou wilt try whether sulphur be good or not, take a lump of sulphur in thine hand and lift it to thine ears. If the sulphur crackle …then it is good. …but if the sulphur keep silent and crackle not, then it is not good. …'”

Some info about De Re Metallica by George Bauer (Agricola), first published in Basel 1556. The author wrote another book… p79 “Thus, in 1549, he published at Basel a little book entitled De Animantibus Subterraneis. This deals with animals displaying subterraneous proclivities, and contains an unsuspecting reference to those hardy flies of Aristotle which were said to breed and flourish only in smelting furnaces! The same quint publication contains an account of the fabled kobolds, or underground gnomes, of the mines. …”

Alchemical Literature of the seventeenth century

p80 “Of all periods, the seventeenth century is the richest in alchemical writings. Although it can now be see that alchemy was then on the wane, this century produced a surprising efflorescence of treatises expounding and defending alchemical doctrines, detailing marvellous transmutations, and emphasising the allegorical, mystical, and spiritual aspects of alchemy.”

p81 “The beginning of the seventeenth century was marked also by the appearance of a remarkable series of treatises ascribed to Basil Valentine (Chapter V), whom alchemical tradition assigned to the fifteenth century, before the advent of Paracelsus. …”

p81 ”…the Amphitheatrum Sapientiae AEternae ('Amphitheatre of eternal wisdom') of Heinrich Khunrath, printed at Hanau in 1609, is the most remarkable work of this devotee of theosophy and the wider occultism. … His alchemy is spiritual rather than material.”

There is some explanation about the style of Khunrath that follows, and then there is a comment about the alchemical Citadel I think worth noting as it may hint at other images/txts where a similar theme may have been used… p82-83 “The Alchemical Citadel is represented in a large double plate as a fortress guarded by a moat and surrounded by a maze of twenty-one sections. Of these, only one lends access across the moat; the other twenty carry inscriptions showing the false activities of worldly-minded alchemists - for example, the attempt to transmute ordinary mercury. The successful adept must be endowed with a knowledge of the material of the Great Wrok' also with faith, silence, purity of heart, and prayerfulness. After passing through the gate surmounted by the hieroglyph of philosophic mercury, he traverses the seven angles of the citadel, representing the chief operations of the Great Work (p.136), such as… and even upon reaching the Petra Philosophalis, or Philosophers Stone, he finds that it is held in custody by a formidable dragon.”

Tetragrammatron = Name of the God of Israel, YHWH

See image below, and cF with Plate 11 in the book.

p83 “Here, proceeding from 'what is above' to 'that which is below', we obtain a comprehensive view of 'miracles of one thing'.
Frist comes the celestial world with the Tetragrammaton surrounded by angels.
Next appears the planetary and zodiacal world.
This is followed by the terrestrial world, in the centre of which appears the Garden of Alchemy fully planted with the trees of the seven metals, the three principles …
Below, on the left, is man, carrying the symbol of Sol, or sophic sulphur, the masculine principle;
on the right, woman, with the symbol of Luna, or sophic mercury, the feminine principle; the woman stands in the Hermetic stream* (see p63) , and holds in her right hand a bunch of grapes, significant of fertility. Both these principles take part in the alchemical operation, and are linked to the macrocosm by chains - 'bound by gold chains about the feet of God'.48 The creation of the world, the generation of metals, and the reproduction of man are held to be fundamentally similar.”
*The horned figure facing Luna is suggestive of the metamorphosis of Actaeon into a stag, at the sight of Diana (Luna) bathing (in the Hermetic stream)

Microcosm Macrocosm

p84 “At the bottom of the picture, the phoenix (left) is associated with two globes symbolising fire and air, and the eagle (right) with the two other globes representing water and earth. The double-bodied lion is a symbol of the blending of the 'two sulphurs' (p221), and the surmounting figure is possibly the Elder (p156); the representations of fire behind one body (left) and the Hermetic stream behind the other (right) are again indicative of sophic sulphur and sophic mercury.”

I wonder if the lion standing with the man and the stag with the woman represent the feminine element in man and the masculine element in woman respectively. I think of the lion as the sophic mercury perhaps in the man, the Sapientiae, the mercurial anima. The stag in the woman as the animus energy. ??

There continues a brief discussion of plate 12

Symbols, Emblems, and Cryptic Expression

p85 “The Summa Perfectionis is an alchemical treatise distinguished by the clarity of its expression and the practical utility of much of its matter. …At the other extreme stand the purely mystical works; Splendor Solis, etc.”

p88 “The early mythological symbols formed the beginnings of an extensive symbolic system which ultimately embraced not only the numerous attributes of Divinity but also the still more numerous manifestations of Nature.”

Ankh or crux ansata ('cross with handle') = key of life

p89-90 “Gold and silver = Sol and Luna,
iron and copper = Mars and Venus,
lead and quicksilver = Saturn and Mercury
are frequently treated in alchemy as pairs of opposites.
Gold and silver commonly, and iron and copper occasionally, represent the male and female principles in exoteric alchemy; also lead, the dull and heavy metal, associated with the slow-moving Saturn (Kronos) and sometimes symbolised by a wooden-legged man with a scythe, is often regarded as the antithesis of quicksilver, associated with Mercury (Hermes). Thus, one of the Figures of Abraham the Jew (p63) symbolises the 'fixing' of the quicksilver by means of lead.”

p90 - Alchemical Hieroglyphics. From the Last Will and Testament of Basil Valentine, London, 1671

Microcosm Macrocosm

p92 ”' For they being lovers of Wisdome more than Worldy Wealth, drove at higher and more Excellent Operations: And certainly He to whom the whole Course of Nature lyes open, rejoyceth not so much that he can make Gold and Silver … as that he sees the Heavens open, the Angells of God Ascending and Descending, and that his own Name is fairely written in the Book of life.' Elias Ashmole.“

p92 “The emblems of alchemy are often very quaint and picturesque, especially as many of them conform to a system of colours suggestive of the principles of heraldry. They include:

  • the red king = sophic sulphur, or gold
  • the white queen = sophic mercury, or silver
  • the ascending dove or swan = the white sublimate [Chemistry (of a solid substance) change directly into vapor when heated, typically forming a solid deposit again on cooling.]
  • the grey wolf = antimony (a brittle silvery-white metalloid.)
  • the black crow = black or putrefying matter
  • the toad = earthy matter
  • winged and wingless lions = mercury and sulphur

cF here the winged and wingless dragon = mercury and sulphur respectively…

p92 “Mercury is our doorkeeper, our balm, our honey, oil, urine, may-dew, mother, egg, secret furnace, oven, true fire, venomous Dragon, Theriac, ardent wine, Green Lion, Bird of Hermes, Goose of Hermogenes, two-edged sword in the hand of the Cherub that guards the Tree of Life, etc.”
cF page 104 below where the two-edged sword is used to cut the philosophers egg.

Hylozoistic conceptions in alchemy

Hylozoism = the doctrine that all matter has life.

p94 “In particular, the alchemists sought to apply to the inanimate world the principles of growth and reproduction which impressed them so much in the world of plants and animals.”

p94 “The conception of the growth of metals called for a metallic seed, and the search for the seed of gold was inextricably intertwined with the quest of the Philosopher's Stone: the seed of gold, or 'chrysosperm', was said to be 'lodged in all metals'. The perfect seed would produce gold; … 'Sow your fold in white earth made of leaves', runs the injunction attached to an alchemical drawing of 1618, illustrating this conception (Plate 14). In extending the supposed analogy, the mistaken idea that a plant seed must putrefy, or die, before it can germinate was transferred to the supposed seed of metals: thus alchemical literature abounds in references to the 'putrefaction', 'mortification', and 'killing' of metals or their seeds, followed by 'revivification' or 'resurrection'. …“
Although I see this rational explanation to the alchemical process, I'm not sure I buy into it as the entire explanation for the phase of putrefaction. He goes on…“Basil Valentine held that animals, vegetables, minerals, and metals all 'have their original seed from God …. if any of these … be brought to a farther propagation and augmentation, it must be reduced to its first seed and prima materia'”

Alchemy and astrology

p96 “An astral origin of the metals is indicated by Thomas Norton66 in the following words:

For cause efficient of Mettalls finde ye shall
Only to be the vertue Minerall,
Which in everie Erth is not found,
But in certaine places of eligible ground;
INto which place the Heavenly Spheare,
Sendeth his beames directly everie yeare.
And as the matters there disposed be
Such Mettalls thereof formed shall you see.

I like that :)

This is interesting and relates to Paracelsus' thinking too regarding nature and her signatures, i.e. the 'mark' left that identifies something in nature…like our signature really… p96-97 “The alchemists attached great importance to the doctrine of signatures,… In an interesting disquisition upon this species of cipher, by means of which Nature was held to convey valuable information to man, Ashmole wrote as follows: 'As for the use of such Characters, Letters, Words, Figures, etc. Formed or Insculped upon any Matter we make use of, we are led to it by the president of Nature, who Stampes most notable and marvelous Figures upon Plants, Roots, Seeds, Fruits, nay even upon rude Stones, Flints, and other inferior Bodies.
'Nor are these remarkable Signatures made and described by Chaunce, … and by how much the more the Matter whereupon such Impressions are made, is sutable to the Qualities of those Stars whose Characters it is signed with :…”

p99 “The familiar alchemical emblem of the 'tree of life' of the seven metals, or the tree of 'universal matter', illustrates the idea of astrological influence in a similar way, the fruit of this tree consisting of symbols representing the metals and their tutelary planets (Fig 17, p269). Sun-trees and moon-trees are often depicted, (plate 16), and occasionally the metals and planets are portrayed as flowers (p210), the sun and moon being rose and lily respectively.”

p100 “Ashmole adds that in these 'Elections' [of when to start the philosophical work] the 'calculatory part' belongs to astronomy and the 'judiciary' to astrology.” :)

p100 “Two points of astrological significance:

  • The constellation of the Dragon, owing to its situation at the pole of the Zodiacal circle, was endowed with a peculiar astrological potency. 'The Celestial Dragon is placed over the Universe like a king upon a throne', wrote the Cabbalist in the Book of Creation. This central symbol of the sky was an image of power and energy, and perhaps also time. The adoption of the dragon as the symbol of mercury (p107) …
  • To the Moon also, the celestial symbol of the feminine principle, was attributed special astrological powers, because of tidal and physiological periodicities…”

Masculine and Feminine principles

p101 “Thus, in the heyday of Western alchemy, Norton refers in the Ordinall of Alchimy to 'the faire White Woman married to the Ruddy Man', and Ripley also writes of 'the Red Man and hys Wyte Wyfe '.
Flamel states more explicitly: 'In this second operation, …two natures conjoyned and married together, the Masculine and the Foeminine …which is the Androgyne, or Hermaphrodite of the Ancients, which they have also called otherwise, the head of the Crow, or natures converted '.”

p102 ”…used by the alchemists to denote man and wife: …'milk and cream', the wife being the cream.”

p102 ”…King and Queen, or Sol and Luna …denoted gold and silver in exoteric alchemy; but in esoteric literature… terms usually stood for sophic sulphur and sophic mercury respectively - or for 'our sulphur' and 'our mercury',…
The best source of sophic sulphur was commonly held to be gold; … For this reason, both gold and sulphur - of the sophic kind - were identified by the adepts with the masculine principle and represented by the symbol of Sol, which had always been associated with ordinary gold .
Again, the feminine principle, sophic mercury , was linked with silver, … the exoteric symbol of Luna was therefore transferred by the adepts to denote sophic mercury .”

p102 “Sulphur was said to bestow, and mercury to receive, …” Mercury, the volatile, non-changeable substance, Sulphur, the volatile changeable. As the messenger Mercury would receive - thats a good way to remember it, Sulphur, the Sun, Gold would give.

p103 ” Sophic sulphur was called: Sol, king, male, brother, Osiris, lion, toad, wingless dragon, natural fire, fixed principle, seal of Hermes, red mercury, incombustible oil, etc.
Sophic mercury was called: Luna, queen, female, sister, Isis (also Latona …), serpent, eagle, winged dragon, humid radical, celestial water, rain of the sages, volatile principle, wax for Hermes' seal white mercury, menstruum, bath of the king, etc.“

p103 “Sometimes the masculine and feminine principles, or alternatively the two principles of the sulphur-mercury theory, were called the two sulphurs, sometimes also the two mercuries. …. A particularly intriguing association was that of the cat with Luna, or sophic mercury, because the pupil of a cat's eye was said to expand when the moon was waxing and to contrat when it was waning .”

p104 “The Philosopher's Egg …this was an oval glass vessel with a neck capable of being 'hermetically sealed'; it was also known as Hermes' Vase, or the Hermetic Vase. …the egg was regarded …as a symbol of creation; the Greeks …alchemical point of view by envisaging it as a container of the four elements.
…'There is a bird in the world, higher than all, the egg whereof to look for, be thy only care. [I like this, the idea of where the egg comes from …a bird :) ] A yellowish white surrounds the soft yolk; aim at the carefully, as is the custom, with the fiery sword; let Mars [iron] lend his aid to Vulcan [fire], and thence the chick arising will be conqueror of iron and fire.'“
cF p92 above where Mercury is named the 'two edged sword'.

p105 ”…the two-headed eagle and the lion represent Wind and Earth, and the interlinked star with seven points symbolises the seven metals of earth corresponding to the seven planets in the firmament. …The initial letters of the Latin words form an acrostic …”

The Religious element

p106 “To take an outstanding example, …the importance which was attached in alchemy to the serpent. … It is said that the original form - the Caduceus - attributed to Thoth, was a cross, symbolising the four elements proceeding from a common centre. The central stem of the alchemical caduceus was sometimes held to consist of 'gold of the philosophers' and the two serpents were said to represent either the male and female or the fixed and volatile principles.”

p107 “The serpent, or dragon, in mythology as also in alchemy, was susceptible of numerous interpretations. 'More subtil than any beast of the field', it was symbolical of divine wisdom;
also of power and creative energy;
of time and eternity;
of life, immortality, and regeneration.
Moreover, the serpent was used as a solar emblem,
a phallic emblem,
and an emblem of the earth;
sometimes also it symbolised the hermaphroditic principle.
In some cosmogonies, with the egg, the symbol of fertility, we find the serpent, the creature of fertile chthonian gods.
Further, it is of interest that the Sun-god and Moon-goddess, or Great Father and Great Mother were figured not only as lion and lioness, bull and cow, etc., but also as male and female serpent.
…the dragon or serpent is often used as a generative or sexual symbol.
Sometimes male and female serpents or dragons are pictured as devouring or destroying each other, thereby giving rise to a glorified dragon… the same symbol may also denote putrefaction. (p138)”

p108 “In ancient Egypt, a serpent biting its tail was a symbol of eternity, or of the universe. …the Ouroboros ('Tail eater') serpent, occurs on ancient Egyptian papyri dating back as far as the sixteenth century B.C.”

Σ p108 ”…How could God be far away and all powerful and yet near to man and sympathetic? …the Alexandrian Jews in imagining a mediator as agent of God and yet close to man …Their imagined intermediary they called “Sophia” (or Logos) or Wisdom, who bridges the chasm between God and man.
Davis, writing in a similar vein, remarks that ' from earliest times the mind of man has grasped tangible and formulated intangible Nature by means of two opposite qualities and a third by which the opposites are mediated, reconciled and included. The notion of the Trinity, Father = active, Son = passive and Godhead = spirit …antedates history.“
I like this first bit by Davis, taken from Annals of Medical History c.1924 …the intermediary bringing the opposites together.

Σ p109 “If we wish to know man, we must consider him as active subject (What does he think of himself?), as passive object (What do his fellows think of him?), and, thirdly, the man as he really is.
The philosophy of Hegel is but a reiterated insistence upon the three - the Thing, its Own Other, and the Thing-in-itself.
If we wish to think of God, we are obliged to think of Him as Active Power (= Soul / God the father), as passive object, that is, as that which possesses passivity and undergoes the Passion (= Body / Christ), and thirdly as the Spirit which determines and terminates the action (= Spirit / the Holy Spirit).” We are of course missing the female principle.

Σ p110 ”…George Ripley (1415 - 1490), canon of Bridlington, in the prologue to his popular work, The Compound of Alchymie …conteining twelve Gates: 'O Unity in the substance, and Trinity in the Godhead …As thou didst make all things out of one chaos, so let me be skilled to evolve our microcosm out of one substance in its three aspect of Magnesia, Sulphur, and Mercury.'“
I find this interesting, as all things from one chaos, the microcosm = us, out of one substance containing three, i.e. the one substance is like the Godhead as in the Godhead is also a trinity. He starts with 'O Unity in the substance', so 'oneness'?…or what, or is it the substance that the substance is a unity like the Godhead is a Unity but a trinity?
“Ripley thus pictures the Stone as a triune microcosm (cf. p133)…“
So the stone is the substance?…I don't think so, the 'one substance' is the Stone, yes, but the microcosm is us…evolved out ('to evolve our microcosm out ') the one substance, i.e. we may evolve ourselves from the 'one substance' that is both a Unity and trinity, like the Godhead, i.e. we are like the Godhead, only incomplete (Nature) that may be evolved by the Art.

p110 ”…how the blessed Stone 'Fro Heven wase sende downe to Solomon '. Its three constituents are likened to the gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, which the three Magi brought to Bethlehem…”

p110-111 ”…Sol and Luna enclosed in a Hermetic Vase; under the animating influence of a breath from heaven, the Philosopher's Stone is formed from these ingredients…“
In this image then the transformative element is the breath of God.

Σ p112 “The writer of Gloria Mundi ('The Glory of the World') likens the Stone to the biblical 'stone which the builders rejected', in the following remarkable passage:96 'The Stone is cast away and rejected by all. Indeed it is the Stone which the builders os Solomon disallowed. But if it be prepared in the right way, it is a pearl without price, and, indeed, the earthly antitype of Christ, the heavenly Corner Stone. As Christ was rejected and despised in this world ….and nevertheless was more precious than heave and earth; so it is with our Stone among earthly things.'
Gloria Mundi refers the ultimate origin of alchemy to God;…”

p114 “Alchemical symbols and emblems were often endowed with a twofold significance…”

p115 ”…writes Waite, 'Maier represents the Mass as a work of the hidden science and the sanctuary of its Mysteries, which are those of the Philosopher's Stone. It is said also (1) that in the Sacrament of the Altar are concealed the most profound secrets of spiritual Alchemy; (2) …the Great Work is the birth of the Philosopher's Stone in the Sacred Nativity; (3) ..Sublimation is the Divine Life and Passion; (4) …the black state represents the death on Calvary; (5) …perfection of the Red state corresponds to the resurrection …and Divine Life thereafter.'
…Redgrove's correlation of the three main colour stages…black stage = 'the dark night of the soul', the white to 'the morning light of a new intelligence', red = 'the contemplative life of love.'“

Ch 3. The Philosopher's Stone

Origin and Nature of the Quest

p118 “In its fullest aspect, the quest was dominated by a singularly noble ideal, for it was imperfect man's search after perfection.”

p119 “It is not known where or when the idea of the Philosopher's Stone originated. …but it is remarkable that the belief in a transmuting process was common to the Occidental and Oriental civilisations (p6). …the Stone is closely allied with the profound belief in magic… it is also in keeping with the early theories of the constitution of matter and with the mystical beliefs concerning the regeneration of man.
The fundamental idea of the Philosopher's Stone was expressed by Arnold of Villanova in the following terms:

'That there abides in nature a certain pure matter, which, being discovered and brought by art to perfection, converts to itself proportionally all imperfect bodies that it touches'.

p120 ”…alchemical doctrine of the unity of all things…was a heritage from the Ionian philosophers, who held that all bodies possess a common basis in the prima materia, or single primordial matter: even the four elements of Aristotle were held to be inter-convertible. (p10)”

Galena = lead sulphide looks like lead, but does not behave like it. If you heat it up, sulphureous fumes are released, and lead results. Why not therefore with other metals or more heating could not more sulphur be extracted to make gold? :)

The Elixir of Life

p121 “…medicine of metals as the medicine of man also. The Philosopher's Stone, under such names as the Elixir of Life, or Grand Elixir, was depicted as a panacea for all human ills, capable also of restoring youthfulness and prolonging life.”

Other Virtues of the Stone

Basically, the Stone or Elixir could do pretty much anything; soften glass, change stones to precious stones, help trees/plants grow, assist in magic, find people, feed people, understand animals…etc.

The Alkahest

Alkahest (= hypothetical universal solvent sought by alchemists)

p126 “…had the power of converting all bodies into their liquid primary matter. This idea appears to derive from Paracelsus, who coined the word alkahest from the German allgeist , or 'all-spirit'.”
Worth noting here the solvent was held to not damage whatever it was dissolving, unlike other corrosive acids which were in their effects like fire, instead of the 'vivifying' fire of the sages.

p126-127 “'The chymists destroy', stated, in effect, the esoteric fraternity, 'we build; they burn with fire, we with water ; they kill, we resuscitate; they wash with water, we with fire '.”

Designations and descriptions of the stone

p127 “Although sometimes described as a liquid, it is more often mentioned as a powder, which, according to its white or red colour, is able to transmute base metals into silver or gold. …sometimes it was called the powder of projection.”

What a curious little book this must have been, and also sold at the Church door :) Also, cf Plate I-3 in Transformation of the Psyche …the guy with the helmet.
p127-128 “There is a rare little book19…which contains a list of more than 170 synonyms [for the Stone]. Among these are:
brasse of Philosophers
virgins milke
a high man with a Sallet [helmet]
the shaddow of the Sun
a crowne overcomming a cloud
the bark of the Sea
the water of Sulphur
the spittle of Lune
blacker than black
dry water
the lesse world…“
19 The names of the Philosopher's Stone, Collected by William Gratacolle. Translated into English By the Paines and Care of H. P. London, Printed by Thomas Harper, and are to be sold by John Collins , in Little Brittain , near the Church door, 1652

p128 It was also called ”… our Basaliske …Diadem of our head …the Salamander by the fire living … the Metalline Menstruall
Serpent's Brother
Universal Medicine
Yolk of the Egg
…Serpent eating his Tail
…Bath of Fountain of the King
…and Blood of the Salamander.”

p129 “Basil Valentine depicted it as 'composed out of one = prima materia , two = the two fold mercurial substance, three = tria prima , four = the four elements, and five = quintessence [in classical and medieval philosophy a fifth substance in addition to the four elements, thought to compose the heavenly bodies and to be latent in all things.] (p208).”

Preparation of the Stone

p130 “A less complete series of operations led, it was supposed, to the Simple Magistery, or Little Work: this was regarded as a White Stone which transmuted the base metals only as far as silver. In the Great Work, Grand Magistery, or Work of the Sages, yielding the Red Stone, full perfection was reached in all respects. Nature could not attain this end without Art, nor could Art encompass it without Nature.”

p131 “The Great Work and Little Work were often symbolised by the sun-tree and moon-tree respectively; the materia prima of the Stone was represented in various ways, sometimes by a star, sometimes by the interlaced triangles of Solomon's seal - the sign of 'fiery water' and the symbol of wisdom.”
Water water
Fire fire

Preparation of the Stone

p133 “The acids used in these processes … they were usually symbolised as lions or other animals swallowing the sun and moon, or devouring serpents (Plate 38ii).”

p133 “In still another conception of transmutation, sophic sulphur, or the seed of gold, seems to have been identified with the Stone, which when sown (p94) in a suitable menstruum, such as sophic mercury [cf p103 above for name of sophic mercury = menstruum] , was capable of converting it wholly into gold, thereby leading to a 'multiplication' of the seed.
Thus, both the preparation of the Stone and its application as a transmuting agent could be regarded, … as essentially the union of masculine and feminine principles.”

p134 “Occasionally the Stone was called the Royal Child. 'Its farther is the sun, its mother the moon; the wind carries it in its belly, its nurse is the earth', fourth precept of Hermes.”

p134 “Alchemical writings on the Stone are concerned largely with accounts of the 'primitive materials'. These were not always identified with gold, silver, and quicksilver… Some alchemists depicted the existence of a universal primitive matter, known as the Bird of Hermes , which was supposed t…to rove continuously from heaven to earth, and earth to heaven. Further, the imaginary Adamic earth , 'red earth', or 'virgin earth', was said - like the Stone itself - to be of universal occurrence; so that the secret of its identity had to be preserved by the esoteric brotherhood. 'When attained… the preparation of the Stone is only a labour fit for women, or child's play .' ….but Trismosin likens philosophical sublimation to 'Woman's Work, which consists in cooking and roasting until it is done'.”
In reference to woman's work, cf Splendor Solis, in Transformation of the Psyche, Series 3, plate 2 = Children at play & Series 3, plate 3 = Woman Washing . This reference seems too appropriate. Once the 'universal primitive matter' has been worked over in the Hermetic Vase = Philosophers Egg (checking out the colours), then the work to prepare the stone from the material is like to woman's work or child's play….very interesting. If this be the case, I wonder if the Series 3, plate 1 = Dark Sun is this material, this 'Adamic earth? …looking at the plate of the dark sun, with its golden rays, I wonder if the dark earth is illuminated by the sun as shown by the golden rays, the masculine work…then on to woman's work?

Individual Processes of the Great Work

So there was the preparation of the Proximate materials - then there was the multiple processes exacted in the sealed Hermetic Vase - the Great Work proper. These were nominally represented by the signs of the Zodiac - 12 processes.

p137 “Norton, in one of his unprinted manuscripts, gave a scheme of fourteen processes, arranged in the form of a so-called 'philosophic tree'. Paracelsus accepted the number of processes as seven. It was even held, by singularly optimistic adepts, that the Stone could be prepared from a single material, in a single vessel, at a single operation.”

p137 “ Distillation , however, was sometimes subdivided into ascension, or sublimation, and descension , or condensation; the separate processes were symbolised by a bird flying upwards or downwards , and the combined process be two birds opposing each other. … The adepts were not consistent in their use of terms; … they attached a mystical significance to materials, colours, processes, and apparatus of the Great Work.”

p138 “The alchemists were particularly impressed by the phenomenon of sublimation. The deposition of crystals in the cool upper part of a vessel containing heated solid material in its lower part was likened by them to the upward flight of swans, doves, and other birds . The process was sometimes called 'exaltation', or 'elevation', and when repeated many times it was supposed to furnish the 'quintessence' of the material concerned.”

p138 “ Putrefaction , or mortification , was held to be necessary in order to enable the supposed seed of gold to germinate (p202), or to give 'another manner of being' to the material of the Work.” This makes me think of the Jungian theme of the necessary chthonic journey, most often by the hero to 'germinate' the seed of rebirth that should follow.

p139 “The process of conjunction was variously defined as the union, or marriage, of male and female, …lion and serpent, toad and eagle, the two dragons, etc.”

Just reading pp.139 …it is interesting that the form, consistency and structure, behaviour, condition etc. of the material was more important in some respects than the material itself. Almost as though if they found a material that behaved in a certain way, then it was suitable…kind of like, if it acts like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. This even makes me think of the witch hunts of the middle-ages, all very 'perception' based. Perhaps these descriptions and formulas in the alchemical context were the exoteric puffers, and not the real adepts in things.

p140 “'It is incorrect to say that the alchemists seek to make gold', wrote Pernety. 'The first aim of the true philosophers is to find a remedy for the ills which afflict human nature; the second is to discover a ferment, which, when mixed with imperfect metals, is able to show that they contain gold, which, before the projection, was enclosed in them, in company with heterogeneous particles…”

p140-141 “It was a fundamental tenet of alchemical doctrine that when the Stone, or 'powder of projection', had once been made, it could be increased indefinitely in amount…. The Stone was also likened by other writers to a flint which could give fire to all and sundry without getting any smaller through it. …The general idea seems indeed to have been that the Stone could be multiplied by dissolving it in mercury, or in sophic mercury.”

p142 It is interesting here the discussion of projection and multiplication …the attitude seems to either be, the Stone is so pure and potent that it could transmute due to its purity. Then there is the view that it was like a spark (as mentioned on page 141) that could start a fire repeatedly in the sense that the matter being transmuted had the potential in it, but needed the spark to make it so. As mentioned on this page, the idea of enzymes comes into mind here. What is clear though is that the idea of projection was on different levels: the Stone once acquired being inexhaustible, the Stone being so pure as to transmute metals to gold, like a dye or tincture (but therefore, exhaustible at some point).

The role of fire

p143 “Fire …Emblematically, it is denoted by various cutting or wounding implements, such as scissors, sword, lance, scythe, arrow, or hammer. It is symbolised by Vulcan, or Hephaestus, the god of fire, who, having been born lame, is often depicted as a man with a wooden leg. A similar symbol is used for Saturn, or Kronos (lead), but in this case the man is aged and carries a scythe, or sickle, and sometimes an hour-glass (p.62).”

p143-144 “…much capital is made of a secret and mysterious Fire of the Sages …described as a celestial fire, creative in effect, and quite distinct from common or 'elemental' fire, which is characterised as brutal and destructive.
Fire (or heat) was graded in regimens, or degrees, corresponding usually to different temperatures. Fire of the first degree was sometimes defined as equal to that of a brooding hen. …According to another scale, the Sun in Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius indicated the first, second, and third grades of the Fire (cg Plat 23i). … In general, three species of fire were recognised, namely: celestial [the most pure from the sun] , subterraneous, and culinary.”

p144 “'…the Philosophers in their books have chiefly put two fires, a dry, and a moyst; for the dry fire, they call it the common fire, of any manner of thing combustible that will burne: but the moist fire they call the hot, venter Equinus , which may be Englished, the Horse belly ; but rather it is Horse dung, wherein remaining moystness, there doth remain heat.'”

The sequence of colours

p145 “The supposed connection between the degree of heat and the progress of the Great Work was naturally linked up also with colour changes.”

p146 The Furnace was also called the Philosophers Dunghill …for the moist fire, see p144 above.

p146 “The principal colours were said to develop in the order,
black: earth and black bile,
white = water and phlegm,
citrine = air and yellow bile,
and red = fire and blood
- that is, with the four elements and the four humours .
Basil Valentine and others denoted the black, white, rainbow, and red colours by symbolic representations of the crow (or raven), swan, peacock, and phoenix, respectively.

p147 Black = signify complete purtrefaction and solution, complete conjunction.
white = partial fixation
red = its complete fixation and perfection.

p147 “Sometimes the stages of the Work denoted by the appearance of characteristic colours were known as regimens : such were the regimen of Sature (black), the regimen of the Moon (white), the regimen of Venus (green and purple) [the peacock too for these multicoloured stages] , the regimen of Mars (rainbow), and the regimen of the Sun (red or golden). These regimens were sometimes represented by flowers.”

The vase of Hermes

p148-149 ”…the forms of vessels used in the practical operations were supposed to exert a mystical influence upon the character of the product. The form of the 'double pelican', for example (Fig 12), was mystically connected with the process of conjunction. Air, water, and earth were recognised by certain adepts as the vessels in which Nature conducted her operations.

p150 “Since the vessel was 'hermetically sealed' in the operation of the Great Work, it was sometimes called the House of Glass, or Prison of the King. The 'little mountains' was another term applied to the Vase and its containing furnace; the 'white herb growing on the little mountains' was thus the white stage of the magistery.”
Called the 'little mountain - although I don't think it has direct reference as I think the mountain has symbolical links to a furnace underneath the earth, and the Trimosin precept of the earth being the mother (the wind being the belly) - cf digging for gold plate in Transformation of the Psyche.

Influence of the stars

Duration of the Great Work

p153 “Some of the adepts likened their Work to the creation of the world in seven days; for this reason, and also because of an imagined mystical relationship with the seven metals (Lead = Saturn, Mercury = Mercury, Tin = Jupiter, Iron = Mars, Copper = Venus, Silver = Moon, Gold = Sun) and the seven planets, they adopted a scheme of seven operations occupying seven days.
Such hasty methods, however, found no favour among the majority of the cognoscenti…”

Basically - there was no real consensus on the time it took!

Enigmas of the Stone

p156 Here is discussed some of the plates from the Mutus Liber (= silent book), or in French, the Livre Muet . There are some really interesting plates here.

p157 “In the fourth plat (plate 25) the scene is laid in a field, in which the adept and his wife are wringing dew out of a cloth, seemingly under a heavenly influence and subject to the astrological control of the Sun in Aries and the Moon in Taurus. This proceeding is reminiscent of a passage in a contemporary work by Salmon, which opens with the direction: 'Gather Dew in the Month of May, with a clean white Linnen Cloth spread upon the Grass'.
cf Here the 'woman washing' plate from the Spendor Solis .
When this filtered May-dew is digested for fourteen days in horse-dung [cf p144 above with reference to the horse dung = moist fire] , and then distilled… and prepare 'an Elixir of a wonderful virtue in Transmuting of Metals'.* Dew was sometimes identified with the Spiritus Mundi, or 'spirit of the world', a hypothetical spirit or material which the alchemists endowed with many marvellous properties, including the power of dissolving gold.”
* According to another account, May-dew, when distilled with the aqua fortis, mixed with sublimated mercury, and putrefied for a month in warm horse-dung ( fimus equinis ) [cf p144 above] , was said to yield the wonder-working 'virgin's milk' (lac virginis)

Discussing the plates from the Mutus Liber
p157-158 “The sixth plate illustrates more distilling operations, and a flower - possibly the Sanguis Agni Sanguis = Blood/Red, Agni = I think it would mean plant, or some sort of flora. is shown in the still, indicating the appearance of a crucial colour …”

p158 “Moreover, in two of the drawings the Elder seems to be biting the infant's hand. Since 'infant's blood' was an expression for the 'mineral spirit of metals', and the sometimes represented sophic sulphur, this curious detail may signify the conjunction of sophic sulphur and sophic mercury. Or, it may represent Saturn (Kronos) swallowing his offspring (p243) : in this way, lead, symbolised by Saturn, may be pictured as undergoing transmutation into gold through the intervention of the 'infant's blood'.”

p159 “The next three plates evidently symbolise multiplication of the Stone which is achieved in the tenth plate.”

Mythology and the Stone

p160 The author incorrectly highlights an anomali between plates 6 and 10 where he says the bow is held by a man in plate 6 - this is not correct. What is interesting though is the bow string in plate 10 is slack compared to the bow in plate 6 - the bow has been used.

p160-161 “Much later in the history of alchemy, Michael Maier (p234) emphasised the supposed connection between alchemy and mythology… Thus, some of the adepts, with considerable justification, compared the operations of the Great Work with the labours of Hercules; further, the alleged misguided efforts of the 'puffers' were ironically correlated with the unending task of Sisyphus.”

Theres more here about Latona (Leto), Apollo = sophic sulphur, and Artemis and the python/serpent = sophic mercury (p162) …interesting reading.

The end of the quest

p164 “'If thou strivest to find the Grand Arcanum, ah, cease!' runs an Italian inscription on an old alchemical engraving (Plate 29). 'Thou wouldest but lose time and trouble. T a better use dot the Art reserve itself, which is wont to be mistress and leader to the others.'”

Ch 4. The golden tripod

p169 “The full title is: ' Golden Tripod ', or, Three Choice Chemical Tracts, namely: That of Basilius Valentinus, a Monk of the Benedictine Order; called Practica, with twelve Keys and Appendix; The Creded Mihi [Believe me], or Ordinal, of Thomas Norton, an English Sage; The testament of a certain Cremer, Abbot of Westminster. Edited by Michael Maier.' …The engraving on the title-page shows the Triumvirate in a laboratory, gazing at a Hermetic Vase which stands upon a Tripod; the mystic vessel is being heated on a furnace stoked by Vulcan. …Cremerus in the middle, Norton himself on the left, Basil, lo, is seen on the right.”

What is the Golden Tripod ( Tripus Aureus ) = John Cremer, Norton and Basil Valentine
p169 “In order to obtain a first-hand idea of the Hermetic Art, and to assimilate something of the aims, modes of thought, and methods of expression of the 'alchemical Artists;, one cannot do better than linger for a while beside one of these masterpieces of a bygone age. Perhaps the most attractive and illuminating of all this purpose is The Golden Tripod

The Hermetic museum

Musaeum Hermeticum cover page

Musaeum Hermeticum cover page

p167 “These two editions of the Musaeum Hermeticum have a handsome title-page design (plate 30) … Sol and Luna are associated according to a common convention (plate 13) with the zodiacal symbols of the Lion and Crab, and Mercury bears the caduceus. Minerva (Athena), the goddess of wisdom, with helmet, golden staff, and shield bearing an image of Medusa's head, is associated in the engraving with the owl, which was sacred to her in Greek mythology. The phoenix symbolises renewal, and the pelican nourishing its young is a figure of revivification (p183).”

Seal of Solomon

p167-168 “…'fiery water'. This last symbol is a six pointed star, consisting of two interlacing triangles; it may be analysed as a combination of the two symbols of fire and water, or of the four symbols of earth, air, fire, and water. The design sometimes represents 'universal matter', sometimes the materia prima of the Stone, and it has also been called the seal of Solomon, or the symbol of wisdom.”

Three Nurslings of the Wealthy Art

Cremer's 'Testament'

This part is interesting for its mention about Juniper wood…
p172 “…At a later stage of the work, a distilling vessel is plunged 'into a wooden box, containing glowing coals of juniper wood [which was reputed to give a lasting fire] and oak, and a twentieth part of iron filings. …”

p173 “When the mixture [used in the Great Work] is still black it is called the Black Raven. As it turns white, it is named the Virgin's Milk, or the Bone of the Whale. In its red stage, it is the Red Lion. When it is blue, it is called the Blue Lion. When it is all colours, the Sages name it Rainbow.”

Norton's 'Ordinall of Alchimy'

acrostic = a poem, word puzzle, or other composition in which certain letters in each line form a word or words.
There is an interesting footnote in this section about Sir Isaac Newton and his interest in Alchemy. The Ordinall can be found in Ashmole's Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum.

This is interesting I think…
p176 “In a delightfully naïve reference to the fourth capital letter concerned in this cipher, Ashmole remarks: 'The great Letter T. set in pa 6. wherein the Gryphon is cut, should have been placed the first Letter of the Line : But this mistake was comitted in my absence …for giving the Gryphons hinder Feete , those cloven ones of a Hogg , instead of the ungued pawes of a Lyon ' “
This can be seen in the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum by Ashmole.

p176-177 A 'philosopher's month' = Forty days.

p179 ”…divide your material in equal parts, says Norton, 'with subtill balance and not with Eye'. The elements are to be combined arithmetically and also musically (p. 247), because the harmonies of music resemble the proportions of alchemy; they must also be combined under the proper astrological influences.”

Ch 5. The Mighty King

The mystery of Basilius (Basil Valentine)

p184 “The name Basil Valentine, the 'mighty king' or 'valiant king', has the true alchemical ring, suggestive of the nomenclature of the Philosopher's Stone itself, and it may well have been the pseudonym of an alchemist of the fifteenth century. …”

p186 “Certain admirers of this legendary alchemist have even sought to assign to him some of the credit for the discovery of oxygen, by identifying his 'spirit of mercury' with the gas, or 'air', which is expelled from the red calx of mercury (mercuric oxide) by heat. 'It is the Principle to work Metals,' writes Basil of this spirit, 'being made a spiritual Essence, which is a meer Air, and flyeth to and fro without Wings, and is a moving Wind, which after its expulsion out of its habitation by Vulcan [fire], is driven into its Chaos , into which it entreth again …by this Spirit of Mercury all Metals may be, if need requireth, dissolved, opened, and without any corrosive reduced or resolved into their first Matter. This Spirit reneweth both Men and Beast, like the Eagle; consumeth whatsoever is bad, and produceth a great Age to a long life.'”

The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony

The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony

p190 “'It is I, Antimony, that speak to you. In me you find mercury, sulphur, and salt, the three great principles of health. Mercury is in the regulus, sulphur in the red colour, and salt in the black earth which remains. …”

In quoting The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony there is a detailed description process. I have no idea if this image relates at all to this text, but it seems to me to be fitting .
p191 “…If you have performed the fusion properly - which is the point of greatest importance - you will have a beautiful star of a brilliant white. The Star is as distinct as if a draughtsman had made it with a pair of compasses.' ”

Taken from p61 of Secretioris Naturae Secretorum Scrutinium Chymicum

The Last Will and Testament

The Last Will and Testament of Basil Valentine

…from footnote 20, '…let it shoot [crystallise]…' - I like that as something to visualise.

p195 “He goes on to describe the oil as 'that true fluid Gold of Philosophers, which nature drove together from the three principles, wherein is found a spirit, soul, and body, and is that philosophick Gold [p159 of The Last Will and Testament ] saving one, which is its dissolution, during the fire, and not subject to any corruptibleness, else it flyeth away with Body and Soul, for neither water nor earth can do it any hurt, because it receiveth its first birth and beginning from a heavenly water, which in due time is poured down upon the earth. In these together driven goldish waters lieth hid that true bird and Eagle , the King with his heavenly Splendor together with its clarified Salt .'”

The Twelve Keys

The Twelve Keys

p200 Quoting from The twelve keys manuscript “If you would operate by means of our bodies, take a fierce grey wolf, which, though on account of its name it be subject to the sway of warlike Mars (Iron ♂), is by birth the offspring of ancient Saturn (Lead dominated by ♄ = the body.), and is found in the valleys and mountains of the world, where he roams about savage with hunger. Cast to him the body of the King ( = Gold, the sun? ☉ ☼ …or Sophic Sulphur), and when he has devoured it, burn him entirely to ashes in a great fire. By this process the King will be liberated; and when it has been performed thrice the Lion has overcome the wolf, who will find nothing more to devour in him. Thus our Body has been rendered fit for the first stage of our work.' ”

p201 “The alchemical wolf in general represents a corrosive or 'bitting' agent, sometimes an acid. In this case, the grey wolf is clearly antimony, which was known to alchemists as lupus metallorum, or 'wolf of the metals', because it 'devoured', or united with, all the known metals except gold. On account of its use in purifying molten gold …antimony was also called balneun regis, the 'bath of the King'. Moreover, its 'appetite' for metals was likened to the mythological appetite of Saturn for infants (p243): antimony was therefore sometimes called 'the sacred lead', or 'lead of the philosophers'.33
33These and other fanciful alchemical names assigned to antimony - such as 'the red lion', 'the fiery dragon', 'the fiery Satan', 'the son of Satan', and 'the ultimate judge', - are given by …

p201 “Although there is no mythological authority for showing Saturn with a wooden leg, the Ancient of Days in the picture is Saturn, or lead. Saturn takes over the mythology of Kronos, who is often represented as an old man holding a curved implement shaped like a scythe or sickle. The wooden leg probably symbolises the slow movement of Saturn through the sky. Vulcan, the fire-god, was shown with a wooden leg for another reason (p.143). (Being born lame)

p202 “The three flowers held by the Queen symbolise the triple purification of the King, and her fan of peacock's feathers is allusive to the appearance of the colours in the later processes of the Great Work. (p. 145). The emblem is thus a pictorial expression of the application of the sulphur-mercury theory in the earlier stages of the preparation of the Philosopher's Stone.”


p202 “Basilius used the common alchemical allegory of death, followed by resurrection, to represent steps in the preparation of the Stone and the ennobling of the baser metals (p138).putrefaction of all things before birth, including grain, seeds, and humans and animals.

p203 ”…Adam …God breathed into him a living spirit. Then the earth was quickened into motion. In the earth was salt, that is, the Body; the air that was breathed into it was mercury, or the Spirit, and this air imparted to him a genuine and temperate heat, which was sulphur, or fire. Then Adam moved, and by his power of motion shewed that there has been infused into him a life-giving spirit. …Water was incorporated with the earth. Thus living man is an harmonious mixture of the four elements.' Think Microcosm - Macrocosm here with the earth and 'living' man. As man had the spirit blown into him by God, to the earth had mercury put into it…and so the analogies go.

p203 “The emblem indicates that the material of the Great Work dies, putrefies, or blackens, in the Philosopher's Egg, but later undergoes revivification, albification, or whitening. The crows denote putrefaction; and the angel sounding the last trump is symbolic of the resurrection of man, thus also the revivification of metals. …As always I find in these images, it is important to keep a theme of chronological events into the single image, both the death and revivification are depicted here.


p204 “'Saturn, who is called the greatest of the planets, is the least useful in our Magistery. Nevertheless, it is the chief Key (cf here emblem for key VIII and the guys shooting at the target with the key above it. Just and observation. of the whole Art, howbeit set in the lowest and meanest place. Although …it has risen to the loftiest height …its feathers must be clipped, and itself brought down to the lowest place, from whence it may once more be raised by putrefaction, and the quickening caused by putrefaction, by which the black is changed to white, and the white to red, until the glorious colour of the triumphant King has been attained. …The transmutation is begun, continued, and completed with Mercury, sulphur, and salt.'
Further explanation continues on this page although I'm not convinced about the description…there is a lot of activity in this emblem, a rotation even and I'm not sure how to approach it….”


p205 “…Basilius himself, assuming that the would-be adept has now 'achieved the Stone', introduces the emblem by remarking that 'he that possesses this tincture, by the grace of Almighty God, and is unacquainted with its uses, might as well not have it at all. …
'When the Medicine and the Stone of all the Sages has been perfectly prepared out of the true virgin's milk (p157), take one part of it to three parts of the best gold purged and refined with antimony, ….”

p206 “The open allusion to antimony in this Key serves as a connecting link between Basilius of the Chariot and Basilius of the Keys. The Twelfth Key indicates that the Stone must be incorporated with gold before it can be used in projection for the production of new gold. Just as the lion of the emblem changes the serpent into its own substance by devouring it, so the Stone or powder of projection - often known as the Red Lion - changes imperfect metals into its own substance, that is, gold.”

p207-208 “An Appendix following the Twelfth Key is introduced by an emblem which must be regarded as an alchemical multum in parvo = 'much in little', since it contains a compressed synthetic expression of the Great Work. … The emblem here concerned … (shown below from p25 of Viridarium Chymicum )

…has nothing to do with distillation. The enclosing square represents the four elements; the triangle and the three crowned serpents stand for the tria prima - sophic sulphur, mercury, and salt. The two intersecting circles suggest the dual influence which Basilius defines earlier (p197) as 'celestial influence' and 'astral properties', but which is often more simply regarded as a conjunction of the masculine and feminine principles; the same idea is conveyed by the hermaphroditic 'Rebis', or 'Two-Thing' (p134). One of these circles encloses the dragon's paws and the other his wings, thereby signifying, it may be, the fixed and volatile, or even the elements of earth and air. (cf p31 of Viridarium Chymicum or p192 of Symbola Aureae Mensae Duodecim Nationum - image below. It makes me think of the toad = earth matter / sophic sulphur, connected with the eagle = air/spirit, sophic mercury. Although it looks like a rat to me in the picture.) The dragon is the proximate material of the Stone (p131); the large circle symbolises universal matter; when attached to a stem, or tube, as in this emblem, it delineates the Philosopher's Egg.
…But now the Stone is composed out of one, two, three, four, and five. Out of five - that is, the quintessence of its own substance [the Aristotelian quinta essentia, or 'fifth essence']. Out of four, by which we must understand the four elements. Out of three, and these are the three principles of all things. Out of two, for the mercurial substance is twofold. Out of one, and this is the first essence of everything which emanated from the primal fiat of creation.'”

Plate 2ii Avicenna the Arabian, taken from Symbola Aureae Mensae Duodecim Nationum also to be found p31 of Viridarium Chymicum

p210 “…The second, which is reproduced below (Plate 39) from a seventeenth-century French engraving, shows the cubic Stone in the midst of seven flowers representing the heavenly bodies.” Interesting comment worth noting about the flowers representing the planets - this is interesting when you think of the flowered decorations of the illustrations of the Splendor Solis

p211 “…indicates that the Work must be begun when the Sun is in the sign of the Ram, and that its consummation must be reached in the Bull, 'when the fortieth dawn returns'. (p271)” Here again, another interesting comment when you consider Image four from Mutus Liber where the sun is in the sign of the Ram, and also, when you consider the woodcut book, The Planets and their Children then referenced in Transformation of the Psyche when discussing the Splendor Solis, the diddy for Sol says, 'In the Ram I rule and reign. But in the Maid I fail, I wane'.

Ch 6. A Musical Alchemist

Libavius on Enigmas of the Stone

p215 - An Emblem of Heinrich Kuhdorfer, taken from Commentariorum Alchymiae ('Handbook of Alchemy') by Andreas Libavius, (1606)

(A) A small charcoal fire under the glass
(B) This space is filled by a winged serpent …wearing a crown like the fabulous basilisk. …It is of horrible appearance, green in colour, with grey or ashy tail.
(C) An eagle with saffron feet and beak, …many-coloured plumage…some feathers being white, others black, green, yellow, as in a picture of a peacock's tail, or the rainbow.
(D) …a black crow.
(E) …a red rose in a silver field
(F) A white rose in a red filed.
(G) A mainden's head, silver, representing the Moon
(H) A lion's head, gold, representing the sun.
(I) One red rose on a silver field.
(K) A saffron coloured candle
(L) Three gold stars on a silver field
(M) Six dark blue stars on a golden field = p217 “'…are thought to typify the same number of parts of the mercury; the three red or dolden ones, the same number of portions of the body to be dissolved.'“
(N) A white or silver candle; may also be saffron colour
(O) Three white roses on a red field
(P) A king holding red or blood coloured lilies in his hand.
(Q) The king's wife or mother holding white or silver lilies.
(R) A silver candle
(S) A red candle
(T) A plate of a crown, gold
(V) Candles in an apple.
(X) Gold and silver lilies

'What each of these means is not easy to say, for their applications are different, and there is also occasional variety in the Work itself. … There is some more explanation here about each bit.

Plate 40

A similar emblem from the same book that is nice to compare.

In reference to Plate 40…there is a further explanation of the letters in this image, I've written some of the interesting ones here…
(C) A four-headed dragon, breathing forth, upwards towards the globe, four stages of fire: from one mouth there must come as it were air; from the second, thin smoke; from the third, smoke with fire; from the fourth, pure fire.
(G) A three-headed silver eagle, two heads drooping and as it were water or the mercurial liquid, into the place of the sea (marked H).
The explanation goes on and is worth reading. The general image seems to depict the three stage process from the one egg divided by a number of processes, then to the two eggs connected by the swan, then to the union in the egg at the top above which is the phoenix, and the multiplication shown by a number of birds flying away.

p220, Fig 16 - The Bath of the Philosophers

p219-220 “The double-bodied lion represents the two principles, sulphur and mercury, sometimes called 'the two sulphurs', or 'the two mercuries'. The bath of the Philosophers, shown at the top, is described by Artephius as 'the most pleasant faire, and cleere Fountaine, prepared onely for the King & Queen, whom it knoweth very well, and they know it; for it drawes them to it selfe, …Let therefore the spirit of our living water, be with great wit and subtilty fixed with the Sunne and the Moone, becase they being turned into the nature of water, doe dye, & seeme like unto the dead; …”

p221 ”(A) A double (-bodied) lion with one head, whereby is signified the first matter of the stone, from double mercury, which is leonine. The head spews out green water, that is, the mercury of the philosophers, engendered of both. This is also called the green lion.
(B) Lions, on both sides, as if on the stair of Solomon, five in all, to signify five metals from one root, and the leonine, and roasted mercury. These can pass into sun and moon: the lions on the right tend to the sun, those on the left to the moon; and this is seen in the operation by the succession of powers and permutation. It is not without a secret significance that the top lion is looking down at the lower ones, etc.“

p221 “This emblem may be interpreted as follows. Before entering the Bath or Fountain of the Philosophers, the King and Queen divest themselves of their garments. In a like manner, gold and silver are divested of their impurities in the preparation of sophic sulphur and sophic mercury (p132). The Bath of the Philosophers, like the First Key of Basil Valentine (p202), is thus a symbol of the purification of gold ans silver, for the purposes of the Great Work.”

The twelve chosen Heroes of Chymistry

Symbola Aureae Mensae Duodecim Nationum See title page of this book for the twelve medaillons showing the twelve heros.

p222 “These are, in order:
Hermes the Egyptian
Maria the Jewess
Democritus the Grecian
Morienus the Roman
Avicenna the Arabian
Albertus Magnus the German
Arnoldus Villanovanus the Frenchman
Thomas Aquinas the Italian
Raymond Lully the Spaniard
Roger Bacon the Englishman
Melchior Cibiensis the Hungarian
and Anonymous Sendivogius the Pole.”
No Paracelsus, or Ashmole, or Flammel.

Atalanta Fleeing

p243 “Wherefore Rhazes in his Epistle says The Stone is triangular in essence, square in quality.” This is in reference to the thirty-ninth emblem from Atalanta Fugiens that shows - would you believe - the Oedipus myth. However, Maier, instead of accepting Oedipus' answer to the Sphynx's riddle gives an 'alchemical explanation' with the symbols shown on the forehead amidst the different scenes of the play.

p243 “He brings in also the story of Kronos (Saturn), who swallowed his offspring, with the exception of Zeus (Jupiter), for whom Rhea substituted a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. This tough morsel, known in Latin writings as Abadir, was - needless to say - the Philosopher's Stone. This stone is being shown spewed up by Saturn in Emblem XII

p244-245 “The Stone was often regarded by the alchemists as a 'child of fire', and Maier symbolises this idea in a plate entitled: 'As the Salamander lives by fire, so doth the Stone'. Emblem 29 in Atalanta Fugiens According to the epigram, 'the Stone does not reject the fierce burning of the flames, for it was born in constant fire. The Salamander, being cold, quenches the heat and comes forth free; but the Stone is hot, and therefore heat, being like it, agrees with it.'”

p245 “Be Nature thy guide, and do thou follow closely after her gladly; thou dost wander unless she herself is they travelling-companion. Let Reason help thee like a staff, let Experiment strengthen thine eyes, to see that which is situate afar off. Let Reading be the lamp shining in the darkness, that thou mayst foresee and avoid the heaps of facts and of words.35
35The accompanying emblem is closely reproduced in the bottom medallion of the title-page of the Musaeum Hermeticum (1625) - see plate 30.

Alchemy and music

p247-248 ”…for the Pythagoreans had discovered that definite numerical relationships exist between the notes of musical scales. Thus, the numerical theory of the Cosmos led the Greeks to attach particular importance to music. Doubtless, in some form or other, music was almost coeval with speech; but it is to Greek music that mediaeval and modern forms must be traced.
Alchemy derived its mystical relationships of a numerical kind partly from the doctrines of the Pythagoreans and partly from those of cabbalism. According to the latter system, words could be represented by numbers. Thus, gold had the value 192, or (1x2x3x4) 8; moreover, the name of gold, the king of the mineral world, stood in a mystical relationship to the four-lettered Tetragrammaton, or Name of the Lord, the King of the spiritual world. …The summation of these numbers, in the tetractinal operation of Pythagoras, led to the fundamental number ten (1+2+3+4 = 10), which played so important a part in the cabbalistic theory of the creation. The number ten, derived in a similar way (p208), was assigned also to the Philosopher's Stone.”

Ch 7. The Gardens of Hermes

In reference to p41 of Viridarium Chymicum
p259 “In his epigram dealing with Maier's illustration of the vegetable kingdom, Stolcius outlines his ideal alchemical garden. 'As a garden grows green with excellent herbs and plants,' he says, 'so this our garden presents a many-coloured spectacle. On this side is the iris, the vine, lunary and moly, corn-harvests, and thy flower, oh blushing rose, the fruits of the Hesperides, the mulberry and runaway Daphne, also the golden bough, the myrtle, olive and saffron.”
This makes me think of the decorative flora and fauna border in the illustrations of the Spendor Solis, cf Transformation of the Psyche. Splendor Solis is c16th century, so a little before 1624 of Viridarium Chymicum.
“Each of these items has a definite alchemical significance.
The iris is reminiscent of the rainbow colours of the Great Work (p146);
the vine is a symbol of fruitfulness;
lunary is the potent signature-herb of Luna (p98);
moly is the magic herb with black root and white flower given by Hermes to Ulysses as a counter-charm against the spells of Circe - 'hard for mortal men to dig, howbeit with the gods all things are possible';
the corn-harvest, particularly wheat, represents cibation (p139) (The process or operation of feeding the contents of the crucible with fresh material.) , and also the vital principle (p95);
the rose is Ben Jonson's 'flower of the sun, the perfect ruby, which he calls elixir';
the golden apples of the Hesperides and the golden bough are symbolical of the gold-making powers of the Stone;
mulberry ministers to the mysterious transmuting powers of the silk-worm;
the myrtle is a symbol of immortality;
the olive is sacred to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom;
saffron typifies the power of dyeing or tingeing, which was associated with the Philosopher's Stone (p206).
Runaway Daphne is the laurel, because Daphne ran away from Apollo (Phoebus) and turned into a laurel-bush; in alchemy, Phoebus and Daphne sometimes represent the fixed and volatile principles, sometimes the masculine and feminine, as exemplified in an old English poem contained in Elias Ashmole's collection (p163).”

The Emblems of (Johann Daniel) Mylius

p264 “In the course of his remarks upon the foregoing operations, Mylius lays down four degrees of heat; 'the first , slow and mild, as of the flesh or the embryo; the second, moderate and temperate, as of the sun in June; the third, great and strong, as of a calcining fire; the fourth, burning and vehement, as of fusion. … Hence learn the four degrees of our toil …they are the Ram, the Crab, the Scales, and Capricorn [the signs of the four seasons, the two equinoxes (23 March, 23 September) and two solstices (20 June, 21 December)].'”

p265 “Thus, the pelican nourishing its young by thrusting its red bill into its own breast is used as a symbol of revivification …”

p266 “The property acquired by these mythological waters, (The Bath or Fountain of the Philosophers)of imparting a bisexual nature to those who bathed in them, was supposed to be shared by sophic mercury, and the stage of the Great Work attained after the alchmeical process of conjunction was sometimes called Hermaphroditus, Rebis, or Androgyne.”

'Azoth': a Riddle of the Philosophers

p268 “Mylius' Epilogue consists of a repetition of Azoth,33 …“
33The word 'Azoth' was endowed with a cabbalistic significance by alchemists, as it contains the first and last letters, Aleph and Thau of the Hebrews, Alpha and Omega of the Greeks, and A and Z of the Romans. …In the literature of the Philosopher's Stone it was often used as a synonym for sophic mercury. …

The Little Garden of Hermes

p274 “Then will the crowned one bring forth thence the sceptre to all, even Hermogenes ; this will be the goal of the work.' …“
Of Hermogenes, check out 2 Timothy 1v15. Mercury-born, at one time Paul's fellow-labourer in Asia Minor, who, however, afterwards abandoned him, along with one Phygellus, probably on account of the perils by which they were beset (2 Timothy 1:15).

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