Alchemy symbols. Historical artwork of alchemy symbols and their explanation, taken from an 18th- century German publication. The chemicals shown are potassium nitrate (salpeter), copper (koper), ammonium chloride (salarmonacum), allaun verlecht (a metal alloy), sodium choride (salcomunis), mercury (queck silber) and sulphur (sulphur). Alchemy was the pseudo-scientific predecessor to chemistry, which among other ideas is best known for its practitioners’ hunt for the Philosopher’s Stone, which would impart eternal life and the ability to turn base metals into gold.


Ms. # 2400, Bibliotheque de Troyes, France. Adapted from Manly P. HALL: The Most Holy Trinosophia of the Comte de St. Germain (Philosophical Research Society, 1963)


It is in the retreat of criminals in the dungeons of the Inquisition that your friend writes these lines which are to serve for your instruction. At the thought of the inestimable advantages which this document of friendship will procure for you, the horrors of a long and little deserved captivity seem to be mitigated… It gives me pleasure to think that while surrounded by guards and encumbered by chains, a slave may still be able to raise his friend above the mighty, the monarchs who rule this place of exile.”

This section presents the ancient beliefs and practices, some dating from the earliest times. Some of the beliefs and activities still exist though not in their original form.

The following articles are presented:


Alchemical process, summarized
Argent vive
Chemical wedding
Chinese alchemy
Cock and Hen
Doubling According to Moses
Emerald Tablet, The
Fifth element
First Matter
Flying Slave
Imperfect metals
Islamic alchemy
King Sol
Lady’s mantle
Opus alchymicum
Pagan Vision of Alchemy
Philosopher’s Stone
Philosophical lead
Philosophical mercury
Philosophical salt
Philosophical sulphur
Philosophical tree
Prima materia
Queen Luna
Recipes, The
Virgin’s milk
White Elixir

Man has ever been overawed by the majesty of the stars; yet he has not failed to notice that the movements of these bodies are apparently capricious. The moon has always been to him a type of mutability; only in the sun has he seemed to find a settled resting-point. Now, when we remember that in the alchemical scheme of things the material earth and material heavens, the intellectual, the moral, and the spiritual world were regarded as one great whole, the parts of which were continuously acting and reacting on each other, we cannot wonder that the alchemist should regard special phenomena which he observed in his laboratory, or special forms of matter which he examined, as being more directly than other phenomena or other forms of matter, under the influence of the heavenly bodies. This connection became gradually more apparent to the student of alchemy, until at last it was fixed in the language and the symbols which he employed.

Thus the sun (Sol) was represented by a circle, which likewise became the symbol for gold, as being the most perfect metal. The moon (Luna) was ever changing; she was represented by a half-circle, which also symbolized the pale metal silver.

Copper and iron were regarded as belonging to the same class of metals as gold, but their less perfect nature was denoted by the sign + or ↑. Tin and lead belonged to the lunar class, but like copper they were supposed to be imperfect metals. Mercury was at once solar and lunar in its properties.

These suppositions were summed up in such alchemical symbols as are represented here.

- Heroes of Science, by M. M. Pattison Muir

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e'er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, To Him we shall return.

– Rumi, “I Died as a Mineral”, as translated in The Mystics of Islam (1914) edited by Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, p. 125
Variant translation: Originally, you were clay. From being mineral, you became vegetable. From vegetable, you became animal, and from animal, man. During these periods man did not know where he was going, but he was being taken on a long journey nonetheless. And you have to go through a hundred different worlds yet.
As quoted in Multimind (1986) by Robert Ornstein

Based on the “Ancient Chaos” emblem in The Crowning of Nature, art by Samuel Scarborough.

The Crowning of Nature describes the emblem as follows:

Chaos is the first beginning of the first created from an Uncreated Being, this God omnipotent created in the beginning, but before the work of the days it was without shape and also confused. But afterwards all the most sound Philosophers nominated that Essence, the Mother and the first matter of the world, for Hilon, and Nature, in whose bosom innumerable forms lay hid, which the Omnipotent Builder, that great Spagirus, appointed in his time to break forth, for he had first included a spirit in that Undigested Matter, Chaos, who some hath affirmed out to be called the Soul of the World, some the Form of Forms, others the Proximate Instrument of the Creator. By the benefit of this spirit so included, there is at length by the most free will of God, providing for and overlooking all things, a separation is made of the waters from the waters, by which they were divided. But it is very remarkable, that at the separation of the Chaos, there was a just division, no deperdition, but every particle of the same being full of spirit and life, they are fit for that to which they were ordained, waxing strong and vegitating.

Hence the admirable strength of things, may by the sons of men be drawn forth and become a true metamorphosis, if they artificially search and handle them according to the nature of the Chemical Art, for the true Philosophers have considered of no other Mystery than Nature itself, and a possibility of Nature, which Natural simplicity may indeed suffice those that rely on it, for Nature doth work most of all from its aptness of its own virtue and beginning, as it doth demonstrate, only needing a little help of Art.

With the Cabalists this Chaos is twofold, to wit, Intelligibles and Visables, the one proceeding from the immediate decree of God, the other is reported or declared to proceed immediately from the execution of the same decree.

Know further, that the point you see in the White, is put for the centre of the Earth, the whiteness doth signify the Earth itself, the crooked like signifies the flowing water, which in its own place would cover the Earth, but by the decree of the most bountiful Creator, it encompasses some part only. The white circle beset with little black spots, signifies the Air, as the sevenfold little points of a golden colour denotes Fire.

These things being thus expounded and declared, the next consideration shall be of the seven Planets punctually compassing the Chaos. The first of these is Saturn, and therefore is placed in the ascendant, but he contains all the other planets, as the others do the rest, but in a diverse order. From hence it is known that all things are in all things, according to the true philosophical intention. But himself is feminine and melancholy, feminine and phlegmatic and sanguine, masculine and sanguine, feminine and phlegmatic, lastly the feminine and melancholy.

… …. .. … ….…….…. .. .. … ….….

Adam McLean gives a short and simple commentary on the emblem in which he says:

The series opens with the figure named CHAOS, which shows the seven Planetary archetypical forces, which together with the four elements depicted in the centre, are the primal substances and forces out of which the work of the alchemical process proceeds. Thus this illustration indicates the foundation of the Great Work.

Johann Daniel Mylius

Ioannis Danielis Mylii Vetterani Hassi M.C. Opus medico–chymicum: continens tres tractatus siue Basilicas: quorum prior inscribitur Basilica medica: secundus Basilica chymica: tettius Basilica philosophica. Francofurti: Apud Lucam Iennis, 1618–1630.

Volume three of Mylius’s Opus Medico–Chymicum which he wrote while still a medical student. This treatise is about Paracelsian medicine, which was highly controversial.

Model of an alchemical laboratory

An Alchemical Laboratory c.1540 by Tom McRae

This reconstruction is really quite small being scratch built to a scale of 1/12th. Vessels are mainly made from FIMO and the solid looking walls and flagstones are actually just painted card. The model is electrified with candles and athenor fire flickering. Dried snakes hang from the left hand side of the front beam while at left hand wall remains of a spillage can be seen beside the bench. A rat lies poisoned in the spillage, reminding us of the toxic conditions in which those pioneers worked. A great press can be seen at the left of the back wall and the Athenor is built at the centre with the bellows to its right. Vessels stand on shelves around the athenor for heating at different temperature gradients. To the left of the front shelf can be seen The Pelican with its akimbo tubes for spirit production. On the floor in front of the bellows stands a cauldron of decomposing organic material, best not to enquire too closely. A large pentacle has been drawn in the centre of the floor with candles at each point. Within the circle a mortar like altar is used to hold mixtures which “Other Powers” are invoked to charge with occult powers. A ritual sword leans on the altar used to close the circle when the Practitioner started working.