Can we copy the Alchemists? (Alchemy 17 Interlude)

The question is always asked in discussions of alchemy with students: given what the alchemists describe, can we duplicate their experiments?

Rarely yes, mostly no.

The first hinderance is that no one says what the starting material is. Some hint at dirt, some start with copper or other base metal, some start with silver and a little gold hoping to get all gold at the end. To our ears this makes no sense, starting with different materials, using the same sequence of procedures to always get gold. But remember, these were Aristrotelians and believed that matter was transmutable. If the properties you need to change are ALL part of the procedure, why would it matter what properties were there at the beginning? This is, I think, one of the core beliefs of the alchemists, one I have never seen explicitly stated in ancient or modern sources.

The best-known lab for duplicating alchemy is that of Lawrence Principe at John Hopkins. He worked very hard to duplicate a sequence of experiments from very late alchemy, where the author was at pains to make everything plain and obvious. What Prof. Principe found was that when replicated using glassware the experiment did not go the same. But when using what we know to be the original iron pans then the experiment does go the same way as described. 

Prof. Principe found that most of the colors described in these reactions come from iron which dissolved into the reactants. The use of iron pans and implements for very high-temperature reactions was common, as glass cannot stand high temperatures and clay cracks. Now we use very thin porcelain for the job.

Lawrence M. Principe, The Secrets of Alchemy, 2013, University of Chicago Press.


Stephanos of Alexandria (Alchemy 16)

Stephanos of Alexandria wasn't really from nor lived in Alexandria. He was from Constantinople, in Byzantium (now Turkey). He only studied at Alexandria. He was a public speaker, and dabbled in alchemy. He taught Plato, Aristotle, mathematics, astronomy (probably based on Ptolemy's Amalgest alone) and music. The combination of mathematics and music means he was reading Pythagoras.

Stephanos' book The Great and Sacred Art of the Making of Gold is pure Hellenistic alchemy of Alexandria in it's fullness. Nine lectures, probably meant for oral delivery, is more rhapsody on the glory and beauty of Nature than instructions. Subsequent lectures are a little more practical, but stray to dying and philosophizing.

The following is F. Sherwood Taylor's translation as found in as “The Alchemical Works of Stephanos of Alexandria. Part I,” Ambix 1,1 (May 1937): 116–39. It is from 610 to 641 A.D.

Lecture 1, with the Help of God.

Having praised God the cause of all good things and the King of all, and his only begotten Son resplendent before the ages together with the Holy Spirit, and having earnestly intreated for ourselves the illumination of the knowledge of Him, we will begin to gather the fairest fruits of the work in hand, of this very treatise, and we trust to track down the truth. Now from a true theory of nature1 our problem must be set out. O nature superior to nature conquering the natures, O nature become superior to itself, well regulated, transcending and surpassing the natures, O nature one and the same yielding and fulfilling the All, O union completed and separation united, O identical and nowise alien nature, supplying the All from itself, O matter immaterial holding matter fast, O nature conquering and rejoicing in nature, O heavenly nature making the spiritual existence to shine forth, O bodiless body, making bodies bodiless, O course of the moon illuminating the whole order of the universe, O most generic species and most specific genus, O nature truly superior to nature conquering the natures, tell what sort of nature thou art – that which with affection receives itself from itself again, verily that which yields sulphur without fire and has the fire-resisting power, the archetype of many names and name of many forms, the experienced nature and the unfolding, the many-coloured painted rainbow, that which discloses from itself the All, O nature itself and displaying its nature from no other nature, O like bringing to light from its like a thing of like nature, O sea becoming as the ocean drawing up as vapour its many-coloured pearls, O conjunction of the tetrasomia adorned upon the surface, O inscription of the threefold triad and completion of the universal seal, body of magnesia by which the whole mystery is brought about, O golden-roofed stream of heaven, and silver-crested spirit sent forth from the sea, O thou that hast the silver-breasted garment and providest the liquid golden curls, O fair exercise of the wisest intellects, O wise all-creative power of men most holy, O sea inscrutable by uninitiated men, O ignorance seized on beforehand by vainglorious men, O smoky kindling of disdainful mankind, O uncovered light of pious men, O countenance contemplated by virtuous men, O sweetly breathing flower of practical philosophers, O perfect preparation of a single species, O work of wisdom, having a beauty composed of intellect, O thou that flashest such a beam, from a single being upon all, O moon drawing a light from the light of the sun, O single nature itself and no other nature, rejoicing and rejoiced over, mastering and mastered, saved and saviour, what have you in common with the multitude of material things, since one thing is natural and is a single nature conquering the All? Of what kind art thou, tell me, of what kind? To you who are of good understanding I dedicate this great gift, to you who are clothed with virtue, who are adorned with respect to theoretical practice and settled in practical theory. Of what kind, show us, thou who hast indicated beforehand that we should have such a gift. Of what nature, I shall tell and will not hide. I confess the grace of the giving of light from above, which is given to us by the lights of the father. Hear ye as intelligences like to the angels. Put away the material theory so that ye may be deemed worthy to see with your intellectual eyes the hidden mystery. For there is need of a single natural 〈thing〉 and of one nature conquering the all. Of such a kind, now clearly to be told you, that the nature rejoices in the nature and the nature masters the nature and the nature conquers the nature. For it rejoices on account of the nature being its own, and it masters it because it has kinship with it, and, superior to nature, it conquers the nature when the corporeal operation of the process shall fulfil the initiation into the mysteries. For when the incorruptible body shall be released from death, and when it shall transform the fulfilment which has become spiritual, then superior to nature it is as a marvellous spirit; then it masters the body moved (by it), then it rejoices as over its own habitation, then it conquers that which in disembodied fashion haunts the whole which is engendered of the whole, that is admirable above nature. Which I say to you is the comprehensive magnesia.4 Who will not wonder at the coral of gold perfected from thee? From thee the whole mystery is fully brought to perfection, thou alone shalt have no fear of the knowledge of the same, on thee will be spread the radiant eastern cloud; thou shalt carry in thyself as a guest the multiform images of Aphrodite, the cupbearer again serving the fire-throwing bearer of coals (then carrying such a brightness from afar, in bridal fashion you veil the same, you receive the undefiled mystery of nature). I will show moreover also the lustre of thy nature, I will begin to indicate thy multiform images. For then he, who intelligently interweaves thee that hast fire within thee, rekindles the fiery thing. For looking on thy many-coloured visions I shall be powerless as I circle round its beauties. For thy radiant pearl blinds the sight of my eye. Thy phengites5 rekindling astounds all my vision, thy shining radiance gladdens all my heart, O nature truly superior to nature, conquering the natures. Thou, the whole, art the one nature. The same by which the whole becomes the work. For by an odd number thy all-cosmos is systematized. For then thou shalt understand in what respects thou shalt look ahead, then thou shalt discover in what things shall be thy ambit, then thou shalt stop the struggles of the place, then thou shalt disclose the kingly purple, which also thou shalt bring with thee by the help of thy maiden. Then will not be the recent labour but a couch canopied with gold, then not a multiform ability but an all-wise sagacity, then no deprivation of virtuous men is found, but a fruition of perfect men is displayed. For such is the measure of it found in the odd number.

Thus those full of virtue will discover thee; hear ye who are lovers of wisdom and know the mighty deeds of the all-ruling God. For he it is that furnishes all wisdom, unapproachable light of houses, light which illumines each man as he comes into the world. For we are nothing apart from his Supreme Divinity; altogether nothing is the gift which is sought, in respect of his blessedness. Approach, O lovers of virtue, to that immaterial desire. Learn how sweet is the light of God. Unworthy are the things which are now wondered at, in respect of that happy lot. Alone we are made friends with him by love, and we receive from him the wisdom springing forth as an abyss from the abyss, that we may be enabled by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to gush forth rivers of living water; so that wondering at such wisdom of the demiurge we may praise his great kindness towards us. Why should we marvel at the species Chrysocorallos? We should wonder rather at the infinite Beauty. So also I will fulfil your desire, that you may be made worthy to love such a One 〈and〉 with hymnody to discourse of the more than good goodness of God.

Second Lecture of the same Stephanos with the Help of God.

The multitude of numbers compounded together has its existence from one atom and natural monad; this, which itself exerts a mutual condition, comprehends and rules over the infinite as emanating from itself. For the monad is so called from its remaining immutable and unmoved. For it displays a circular and spherical contemplation of numbers like to itself, I speak of a completion of the five numbers and of the six. For from these they come round again to themselves. And every side of a rectangle generated from the same length has kinship to its like that it may restore a perfect fulfilment. For the sixtieth part of every great quantity and of fractions, taking origin from it 〈the monad〉 and returning again to it, being contracted together, complete the natural monad. The symbol of every circular sphere is the centre, likewise of every triangle and plane and solid figure set out by lines; let this same be thought of.

Also of the musical learning, both the lowest strings and that next the first, whether of four strings or upon the third ratio, that which is before it must be the antecedent and that after it the consequent, by which we preserve the binding together of the proportions and of the whole scale of harmony as a result of such musical learning.

For they who pluck the strings say that Orpheus made melody with rhythmical sounds so that the symphony should re-echo the co-ordinated movement of the elements and the sounding melody should be harmoniously perfected. For from the one instrument the whole composition takes its origin, whence also the organization of the articulate body is ordered in the bones and joints and parts and nerves, and by the plectrum of the air, given forth in the fashion of a moving instrument, a voice is sent forth to the One which is joined to its essence and which conquers and organizes it by its own life: the very mode and blending of the air. For of two extreme qualities there is found one mediator and conciliator which preserves the qualities of both on account of its resemblance and close kinship to them. And also the movement of the pole being spherical and stable, the light of the hemisphere which is above the earth, arising from the line dividing the mundane and the diaphanous pole, also radiates forth the fires of the sunlight 〈derived〉 from that which supplies it to all things. For from it not only do the stars partake of the order of the light, but also the appearance of the moon, giving out rays derived from the light, displays its nightly allotted torchbearing. And you shall have all such things to speak of singly, as derived from one of them, and as the essence of the very first returned again; they preserve the things of the nature and fulfil the contemplation. But were there time enough to consider our discourse in the progress of a proem, (I would speak of) that which falls from the moon’s waning, how it is found, how it is treated, and how it has an unburnt nature. O wisdom of teaching of such a preparation, displaying the work, O moon clad in white and vehemently shining abroad whiteness, let us learn what is the lunar radiance that we may not miss what is doubtful. For the same is the whitening snow, the brilliant eye of whiteness, the bridal procession-robe of the management of the process, the stainless chiton, the mind-constructed beauty of fair form, the whitest composition of the perfection, the coagulated milk of fulfilment, the Moon-froth of the sea of dawn; the magnesia of Lydia, the Italian stibnite, the pyrites of Achæa, that of Albania,8 the many-named matter of the good work, that which lulls the All to sleep, that which bears the One which is the All, that which fulfils the wondrous work . . . Speak, tell to us the secrets of the work [of ‘the marvellous making of gold’]. ‘After the cleaning of the copper’, and how is one to clean the copper yet bearing all its ios?9 How? I will tell you the accurate meaning of the phrase – Aphrodite walking through a cloud. ‘After the cleaning of the copper’, that is a trituration10 well managed, a consideration well taught beforehand; ‘After the attenuation of the copper’, that is a finer condition of trituration, he also speaks of the blackness placed upon it and following upon these for the purpose of the later whitening; then is the solid yellowing. For when it shall spurn the blackness of the wrinkled crust, it is transformed to whiteness; then the moon of shining light shall send forth the rays; then 〈one comes〉 to the later whitening, when you shall see the white compound. For when the full of the moon appears, then the full moon discloses its light. Then solid is the yellowing. What is this? Say. The whiteness perceived. And how do you render the white yellow? Ye wisest of men, over-pass the reasoning, this answer is a secret, a mystic speech and consideration. I will tell you the hidden mystery, whence it is proclaimed above you. ‘After the cleaning of the copper and its later attenuation and the blackening for the later whitening, then is the solid yellowing.’ When you see the whitening taking place within it, recognize the concealed yellowing, then know the whitening as being yellow; then also being white, it becomes yellow by the hidden yellowness, by possessing the depths of its heart, by having the corporeal possession of the whiteness of the silver and, unutterably, the pervading whiteness in it. ‘Then is the solid yellowing.’ What is this? That which has become white, it is the yellow. For the same white appears in the colour, but the yellow nature overrules it. ‘Nothing is left remaining, nothing is left behind except the vapour and the raising of the water’. Consider the most ancient one.11 Do you not see what the wise man has declared? Thus he speaks in riddles as completely as possible. Thus he declares, as a teacher demonstrates everything, saying ‘nothing is left remaining, nothing is lacking, except the vapour and the raising of the water’. Having shown in this the preparation of the whole, rendering all in few words, that ye may not overwhelm the moving things with much matter, that ye may not think about saffron of Cilicia and the plant of anagallis, and the Pontic rhubarb12 for themselves, and of other juices, gall of quadrupeds and certain beasts, of stones and of destructive minerals, things that are dissimilar to the perfection-making, single and one nature, that men wandering shall not be led away from the truth, in order that in a natural existence they shall not seek for a non-existent tendency. What else? The most eminent man and counsellor of all virtue turns them around and draws them to the view of truth, that you may not, as I said (take note of) material furnaces and apparatus of glasses, alembics, various flasks, kerotakides13 and sublimates. And those who are occupied with such things in vain, the burden of weariness is declared by them. But see how the All is fulfilled in the phrase. ‘Nothing is left remaining, nothing is lacking save the vapour and the raising of the water.’ What kind of vapour? Say. What is the vapour and what is the work brought to perfection by it? Show us most clearly the way in which we may recognize the power of the word. And on this matter the philosopher says: ‘the vapour is the work of the composition of the whole’, that which shines brightly through the divine water, that which makes the trituration naturally, that which appears in the course of the method, and is apprehended intellectually. The vapour is the unfolding of the work, the level manifestation, the thread bought with silver, the air-displaying voyage, the Celtic nard, the Atlantic sea, the Britannic metal,14 the ocean garlanding the world, the unmeasured abyss, the sphere-shaped universe, the heavenly body, that which encompasses and embraces the all, the despised species, the longed-for contemplation, the sought-for spectacle, the one whole and whole one, the holy whitening of the whole worthy work, the whole preparation, the one work of wisdom, the conclusion of the fulfilment, that which is triturated and well managed, the perfectly fulfilled. ‘For nothing is left remaining except the vapour and the raising of the water.’ Having been wisely led on the path with respect to the way of the vapour, I will pursue my speech upon the raising of the water. What then is this which has been brought in? What is this raising of the water? Tell us, O guide: fulfil the gifts of thy grace. Enlighten our dim-sighted eyes, make plain the articulate substance of your doctrine, what is this raising of the water? And he is not silent on this matter: he says, the unmixed beauty does not receive into itself matter. The immaterial being, it is a single composition, the good thing of a myriad names. For being of a single essence, it is reduced into itself. Around it, it extinguishes the single ray. He does not wholly put in the moistening juices. For he did not perceive the loss, the life of the liquids. For he rejects the flowings of the water. For how is one to see the motion of that which does not shake off these things? Nothing is able to be filled full of it, unless first the ambient waters are drained dry from it. It is therefore needful that it should be swimming on the water, if it be not itself watery; that it may not be taught, that it may not be able, 〈to vanish〉 from us, that it may remain moist in a moist being. But we remove from it the embrace of the waters that we may see the great comeliness of its beauty. How shall we push it back from the participation with the waters? How shall we separate it, that there may easily be a raising of the water? There is need of panoply and courage. Who is man enough for this? Who is able to dry up the overflowing stream of waters? Who is to be found for the contest? Who is ready for service? There is found a purgation of the matter, so that we may clearly see the beauty of the cloud. The same is the practical gentle coction by means of sulphur. For just as the washing with water is in the mind, so also is the purification of the All by sulphur. For washing with the divine (sulphurous) waters now and managing the process fairly, we purify it again by fire and sulphur, that the body of the moon (or silver) may be revealed, that they may see the cloud the gift of the sun. O unspoken mysteries of a wise God, O rich gifts to those who have loved the Lord, O depth of wealth and wisdom and gnosis of the mysteries. If the present things are such marvels and extraordinary, from what source are everlasting things which no mi nd is able to explain? If the material work is displayed thus to us by some unspeakable discourse, from what source are thy undefiled good and unfading beauties, which no one is capable of perceiving? I hymn and adore and glorify thee, triad superior to being, more than good and more than god. Who can speak forth to hymn thy marvels, that they may be glorified? All thy works, O Lord, thou hast made in wisdom.

The Alchemy Reader (pp. 54-60). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Hermes Trismegistus (Alchemy 15)

No name is better known in alchemy than Hermes Trismegistus. His name is Hermes. Trismegistus is a title: "thrice magnificent," skilled in alchemy, astrology and natural magic. He has been described as being the Egyptian god Thoth (god of wisdom), as the Greek god Hermes (Mercury to the Romans), as living when Moses did, as a proto-Christian, or concurrent with Atlas, Promethius, Orpheus, or Noah.

He wasn't real. He was made up, by whom and when we don't know. The early church fathers took his writings seriously and quote him.

The renaissance took him seriously when the original Greek documents came over from Constantinople in 1453.

I think this was written about 200 to 400 A.D. 

The Corpus Hermeticum, the totality of all Hermes wrote, goes into many Gnostic aspects of spiritual life: astrology, alchemy, sympatheric magic, talismans, and invocations.

Most famous of the Corpus is the Tablula Smaragdina, the Emerald Tablet. It is supposed to have been written on an emerald, and contains in concise form all one needs to know about creating the philosopher's stone. It did not come from Egypt or written in primordial times; it contains Platonic, neoplatonic, Gnostic and Stoic ideas. It was probably written in Alexandria or near a satellite library. This translation came from a twelfth-century Latin translation of an Arabic translation of the original Greek, rendered into English by Robert Steele and Dorothea Waley Singer (Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine [London] 21 (1928): 486)

True it is, without falsehood, certain and most true.

That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of one thing.

And as all things were by contemplation of one, so all things arose from this one thing by a single act of adaptation.

The father thereof is the Sun, the mother the Moon.

The wind carried it in its womb, the earth is the nurse thereof.

It is the father of all works of wonder throughout the whole world.

The power thereof is perfect.

If it be cast on to earth, it will separate the element of earth from that of fire, the subtle from the gross.

With great sagacity it doth ascend gently from earth to heaven.

Again it doth descend to earth, and uniteth in itself the force from things superior and things inferior.

Thus thou wilt possess the glory of the brightness of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly far from thee.

This thing is the strong fortitude of all strength, for it overcometh every subtle thing and doth penetrate every solid substance.

Thus was this world created.

Hence will there be marvellous adaptations achieved, of which the manner is this.

For this reason I am called Hermes Trismegistus, because I hold three parts of the wisdom of the whole world.

That which I had to say about the operation of Sol is completed.

It isn't much of a recipe. Not even a good description of any process we know. But it did occupy the thoughts of most alchemists.

The other documents of the Corpus are more Gnostic. Here is a PDF,

Corpus_Hermeticum_-_Nag_Hammadi.pdf (1.33 mb)

written by G.R.S. Mead, who tried single-handedly to get Gnosticism going again, so the translation is suspect. This is the first part of the Corpus:

I. Poemandres, the Shepherd of Men

1. It chanced once on a time my mind was meditating on the things that are, my thought was raised to a great height, the senses of my body being held back - just as men who are weighed down with sleep after a fill of food, or from fatigue of body.
Methought a Being more than vast, in size beyond all bounds, called out my name and saith: What wouldst thou hear and see, and what hast thou in mind to learn and know?
2. And I do say: Who art thou?
He saith: I am Man-Shepherd (Poemandres), Mind of all-masterhood; I know what thou desirest and I'm with thee everywhere.
3. [And] I reply: I long to learn the things that are, and comprehend their nature, and know God. This is, I said, what I desire to hear.
He answered back to me: Hold in thy mind all thou wouldst know, and I will teach thee.
4. E'en with these words His aspect changed, and straightway, in the twinkling of an eye, all things were opened to me, and I see a Vision limitless, all things turned into Light - sweet, joyous [Light]. And I became transported as I gazed.
But in a little while Darkness came settling down on part [of it], awesome and gloomy, coiling in sinuous folds, so that methought it like unto a snake.
And then the Darkness changed into some sort of a Moist Nature, tossed about beyond all power of words, belching out smoke as from a fire, and groaning forth a wailing sound that beggars all description.
[And] after that an outcry inarticulate came forth from it, as though it were a Voice of Fire.
5. [Thereon] out of the Light [...] a Holy Word (Logos) descended on that Nature. And upwards to the height from the Moist Nature leaped forth pure Fire; light was it, swift and active too.
The Air, too, being light, followed after the Fire; from out of the Earth-and-Water rising up to Fire so that it seemed to hang therefrom.
But Earth-and-Water stayed so mingled with each other, that Earth from Water no one could discern. Yet were they moved to hear by reason of the Spirit-Word (Logos) pervading them.
6. Then saith to me Man-Shepherd: Didst understand this Vision what it means?
Nay; that shall I know, said I.
That Light, He said, am I, thy God, Mind, prior to Moist Nature which appeared from Darkness; the Light-Word (Logos) [that appeared] from Mind is Son of God.
What then? - say I.
Know that what sees in thee and hears is the Lord's Word (Logos); but Mind is Father-God. Not separate are they the one from other; just in their union [rather] is it Life consists.
Thanks be to Thee, I said.
So, understand the Light [He answered], and make friends with it.
7. And speaking thus He gazed for long into my eyes, so that I trembled at the look of him.
But when He raised His head, I see in Mind the Light, [but] now in Powers no man could number, and Cosmos grown beyond all bounds, and that the Fire was compassed round about by a most mighty Power, and [now] subdued had come unto a stand.
And when I saw these things I understood by reason of Man-Shepherd's Word (Logos).
8. But as I was in great astonishment, He saith to me again: Thou didst behold in Mind the Archetypal Form whose being is before beginning without end. Thus spake to me Man-Shepherd.
And I say: Whence then have Nature's elements their being?
To this He answer gives: From Will of God. [Nature] received the Word (Logos), and gazing upon the Cosmos Beautiful did copy it, making herself into a cosmos, by means of her own elements and by the births of souls.
9. And God-the-Mind, being male and female both, as Light and Life subsisting, brought forth another Mind to give things form, who, God as he was of Fire and Spirit, formed Seven Rulers who enclose the cosmos that the sense perceives. Men call their ruling Fate.
10. Straightway from out the downward elements God's Reason (Logos) leaped up to Nature's pure formation, and was at-oned with the Formative Mind; for it was co-essential with it. And Nature's downward elements were thus left reason-less, so as to be pure matter.
11. Then the Formative Mind ([at-oned] with Reason), he who surrounds the spheres and spins them with his whorl, set turning his formations, and let them turn from a beginning boundless unto an endless end. For that the circulation of these [spheres] begins where it doth end, as Mind doth will.
And from the downward elements Nature brought forth lives reason-less; for He did not extend the Reason (Logos) [to them]. The Air brought forth things winged; the Water things that swim, and Earth-and-Water one from another parted, as Mind willed. And from her bosom Earth produced what lives she had, four-footed things and reptiles, beasts wild and tame.
12. But All-Father Mind, being Life and Light, did bring forth Man co-equal to Himself, with whom He fell in love, as being His own child; for he was beautiful beyond compare, the Image of his Sire. In very truth, God fell in love with his own Form; and on him did bestow all of His own formations.
13. And when he gazed upon what the Enformer had created in the Father, [Man] too wished to enform; and [so] assent was given him by the Father.
Changing his state to the formative sphere, in that he was to have his whole authority, he gazed upon his Brother's creatures. They fell in love with him, and gave him each a share of his own ordering.
And after that he had well learned their essence and had become a sharer in their nature, he had a mind to break right through the Boundary of their spheres, and to subdue the might of that which pressed upon the Fire.
14. So he who hath the whole authority o'er [all] the mortals in the cosmos and o'er its lives irrational, bent his face downwards through the Harmony,
breaking right through its strength, and showed to downward Nature God's fair form.
And when she saw that Form of beauty which can never satiate, and him who [now] possessed within himself each single energy of [all seven] Rulers as well as God's own Form, she smiled with love; for 'twas as though she'd seen the image of Man's fairest form upon her Water, his shadow on her Earth.
He in turn beholding the form like to himself, existing in her, in her Water, loved it and willed to live in it; and with the will came act, and [so] he vivified the form devoid of reason.
And Nature took the object of her love and wound herself completely around him, and they were intermingled, for they were lovers.
15. And this is why beyond all creatures on the earth man is twofold; mortal because of body, but because of the essential man immortal.
Though deathless and possessed of sway o'er all, yet doth he suffer as a mortal doth, subject to Fate.
Thus though above the Harmony, within the Harmony he hath become a slave. Though male-female, as from a Father male-female, and though he's sleepless from a sleepless [Sire], yet is he overcome [by sleep].
16. Thereon [I say: Teach on], O Mind of me, for I myself as well am amorous of the Word (Logos).
The Shepherd said: This is the mystery kept hid until this day.
Nature embraced by Man brought forth a wonder, oh so wonderful. For as he had the nature of the Concord of the Seven, who, as I said to thee, [were made] of Fire and Spirit - Nature delayed not, but immediately brought forth seven "men", in correspondence with the natures of the Seven, male-female and moving in the air.
Thereon [I said]: O Shepherd, ..., for now I'm filled with great desire and long to hear; do not run off.
The Shepherd said: Keep silence, for not as yet have I unrolled for thee the first discourse (logoi).
Lo! I am still, I said.
17. In such wise than, as I have said, the generation of these seven came to pass. Earth was as woman, her Water filled with longing; ripeness she took from Fire, spirit from Aether. Nature thus brought forth frames to suit the form of Man.
And Man from Light and Life changed into soul and mind - from Life to soul, from Light to mind.
And thus continued all the sense-world's parts until the period of their end and new beginnings.
18. Now listen to the rest of the discourse (Logos) which thou dost long to hear.
The period being ended, the bond that bound them all was loosened by God's Will. For all the animals being male-female, at the same time with Man were loosed apart; some became partly male, some in like fashion [partly] female. And straightway God spake by His Holy Word (Logos):
"Increase ye in increasing, and multiply in multitude, ye creatures and creations all; and man that hath Mind in him, let him learn to know that he himself is deathless, and that the cause of death is love, though Love is all."
19. When He said this, His Forethought did by means of Fate and Harmony effect their couplings and their generations founded. And so all things were multiplied according to their kind.
And he who thus hath learned to know himself, hath reached that Good which doth transcend abundance; but he who through a love that leads astray, expends his love upon his body - he stays in Darkness wandering, and suffering through his senses things of Death.
20. What is the so great fault, said I, the ignorant commit, that they should be deprived of deathlessness?
Thou seem'st, He said, O thou, not to have given heed to what thou heardest. Did I not bid thee think?
Yea do I think, and I remember, and therefore give Thee thanks.
If thou didst think [thereon], [said He], tell me: Why do they merit death who are in Death?
It is because the gloomy Darkness is the root and base of the material frame; from it came the Moist Nature; from this the body in the sense-world was composed; and from this [body] Death doth the Water drain.
21. Right was thy thought, O thou! But how doth "he who knows himself, go unto Him", as God's Word (Logos) hath declared?
And I reply: the Father of the universals doth consist of Light and Life, from Him Man was born.
Thou sayest well, [thus] speaking. Light and Life is Father-God, and from Him Man was born.
If then thou learnest that thou art thyself of Life and Light, and that thou [happen'st] to be out of them, thou shalt return again to Life. Thus did Man-Shepherd speak.
But tell me further, Mind of me, I cried, how shall I come to Life again...for God doth say: "The man who hath Mind in him, let him learn to know that he himself [is deathless]."
22. Have not all men then Mind?
Thou sayest well, O thou, thus speaking. I, Mind, myself am present with holy men and good, the pure and merciful, men who live piously.
[To such] my presence doth become an aid, and straightway they gain gnosis of all things, and win the Father's love by their pure lives, and give Him thanks, invoking on Him blessings, and chanting hymns, intent on Him with ardent love.
And ere they give up the body unto its proper death, they turn them with disgust from its sensations, from knowledge of what things they operate. Nay, it is I, the Mind, that will not let the operations which befall the body, work to their [natural] end. For being door-keeper I'll close up [all] the entrances, and cut the mental actions off which base and evil energies induce.
23. But to the Mind-less ones, the wicked and depraved, the envious and covetous, and those who mured do and love impiety, I am far off, yielding my place to the Avenging Daimon, who sharpening the fire, tormenteth him and addeth fire to fire upon him, and rusheth upon him through his senses, thus rendering him readier for transgressions of the law, so that he meets with greater torment; nor doth he ever cease to have desire for appetites inordinate, insatiately striving in the dark.
24. Well hast thou taught me all, as I desired, O Mind. And now, pray, tell me further of the nature of the Way Above as now it is [for me].
To this Man-Shepherd said: When the material body is to be dissolved, first thou surrenderest the body by itself unto the work of change, and thus the form thou hadst doth vanish, and thou surrenderest thy way of life, void of its energy, unto the Daimon. The body's senses next pass back into their sources, becoming separate, and resurrect as energies; and passion and desire withdraw unto that nature which is void of reason.
25. And thus it is that man doth speed his way thereafter upwards through the Harmony.
To the first zone he gives the Energy of Growth and Waning; unto the second [zone], Device of Evils [now] de-energized; unto the third, the Guile of the Desires de-energized; unto the fourth, his Domineering Arrogance, [also] de-energized; unto the fifth, unholy Daring and the Rashness of Audacity, de-
energized; unto the sixth, Striving for Wealth by evil means, deprived of its aggrandizement; and to the seventh zone, Ensnaring Falsehood, de-energized.
26. And then, with all the energisings of the harmony stript from him, clothed in his proper Power, he cometh to that Nature which belongs unto the Eighth, and there with those-that-are hymneth the Father.
They who are there welcome his coming there with joy; and he, made like to them that sojourn there, doth further hear the Powers who are above the Nature that belongs unto the Eighth, singing their songs of praise to God in language of their own.
And then they, in a band, go to the Father home; of their own selves they make surrender of themselves to Powers, and [thus] becoming Powers they are in God. This the good end for those who have gained Gnosis - to be made one with God.
Why shouldst thou then delay? Must it not be, since thou hast all received, that thou shouldst to the worthy point the way, in order that through thee the race of mortal kind may by [thy] God be saved?
27. This when He'd said, Man-Shepherd mingled with the Powers.
But I, with thanks and belssings unto the Father of the universal [Powers], was freed, full of the power he had poured into me, and full of what He'd taught me of the nature of the All and of the loftiest Vision.
And I began to preach unto men the Beauty of Devotion and of Gnosis:
O ye people, earth-born folk, ye who have given yourselves to drunkenness and sleep and ignorance of God, be sober now, cease from your surfeit, cease to be glamoured by irrational sleep!
28. And when they heard, they came with one accord. Whereon I say:
Ye earth-born folk, why have ye given yourselves up to Death, while yet ye have the power of sharing Deathlessness? Repent, O ye, who walk with Error arm in arm and make of Ignorance the sharer of your board; get ye out from the light of Darkness, and take your part in Deathlessness, forsake Destruction!
29. And some of them with jests upon their lips departed [from me], abandoning themselves unto the Way of Death; others entreated to be taught, casting themselves before my feet.
But I made them arise, and I became a leader of the Race towards home, teaching the words (logoi), how and in what way they shall be saved. I sowed in them the words (logoi) of wisdom; of Deathless Water were they given to drink.
And when even was come and all sun's beams began to set, I bade them all give thanks to God. And when they had brought to an end the giving of their thanks, each man returned to his own resting place.
30. But I recorded in my heart Man-Shepherd's benefaction, and with my every hope fulfilled more than rejoiced. For body's sleep became the soul's awakening, and closing of the eyes - true vision, pregnant with Good my silence, and the utterance of my word (logos) begetting of good things.
All this befell me from my Mind, that is Man-Shepherd, Word (Logos) of all masterhood, by whom being God-inspired I came unto the Plain of Truth. Wherefore with all my soul and strength thanksgiving give I unto Father-God.
31. Holy art Thou, O God, the universals' Father.
Holy art Thou, O God, whose Will perfects itself by means of its own Powers.
Holy art Thou, O God, who willeth to be known and art known by Thine own.
Holy art Thou,who didst by Word (Logos) make to consist the things that are.
Holy art Thou, of whom All-nature hath been made an image.
Holy art Thou, whose Form Nature hath never made.
Holy art Thou, more powerful than all power.
Holy art Thou, transcending all pre-eminence.
Holy Thou art, Thou better than all praise.
Accept my reason's offerings pure, from soul and heart for aye stretched up to Thee, O Thou unutterable, unspeakable, Whose Name naught but the Silence can express.
32. Give ear to me who pray that I may ne'er of Gnosis fail, [Gnosis] which is our common being's nature; and fill me with Thy Power, and with this Grace [of Thine], that I may give the Light to those in ignorance of the Race, my Brethren, and Thy Sons.
For this cause I believe, and I bear witness; I go to Life and Light. Blessed art Thou, O Father. Thy Man would holy be as Thou art holy, e'en as Thou gave him Thy full authority [to be].

Egyptian Religion

The Egyptian religion according to Hermes is this:

  • One God above all
  • One demigod who created all in disobedience to God
  • 36 Decans (each covering ten degrees of the zodiac circle) who rule 40-minute intervals of each day associated with the 12 zodiac constellations plus 24 more in between
  • Seven govenors, the seven planets
  • God creates man, then man creates Gods (statues) and animates them using spells, enchantments, offerings and service, invocations and rites
  • Talisman are objects imbued with power from certain Decans to moderate the negative effects from planets and other Decans, as directed by an astrologer

Church Fathers

Hermes is mentioned by several of the early Catholic Church fathers:

  • Lacantius though Hermes was contemporary with Moses or was before him, was an Egyptian, and was a non-Christian prophet who predicted Christianity.
  • Augustine thought Hermes was real, later than Moses, was a pagan and clever, but was deluded by the philosophy of the world.

Gnosticism (Alchemy 14 Interlude)

Gnosticism was a religious way of life, originating in Israel and Egypt just after the time of Christ. It's a blend of Christianity, platonic and Egyptian religions that could only have blended in Alexandria. It seems to have spread widely south of the Hebrew lands  into north Egypt.

Gnosticism is difficult to define because it was never a religion with fixed dogma; it was about a process, and that was ill-defined. 

There seems to be two broadly different approaches to the wisdom (the "gnosis") that is required to get back to the divine realm. But that requires an understanding of how the Alexandrians viewed the cosmos.

The cosmos of Gnosticism is very Aristotelian. Here are the shells of the universe, starting with the Divine on the outside:

  • God/the Divine always existed. He created the Son to admire Him and contemplate Him. The Son created some spirit-like aspect of us to admire them both.
  • The Demiurge is not divine, but has some aspect of being less than perfect. The demiurge created all the spheres which lie inside the realm of the divine. The demiurge is the Prime Mover, rotating stellar sphere from the outside once per day.
  • The sphere of the stars contains the visible universe. It is black, with small holes through which the divine realms shine. The holes allow us to pass down into mortality. The stars contain the twelve punishments affixed to mortality. As we descend we fix our punishment. As we ascend any un-repented sin must be purged or we cannot make it back through the holes unless we suffer that punishment. But if we have left all the vices behind, and through the atonement of Jesus, we can avoid the punishment and pass through the starry sphere to heaven.
  • The spheres of the planets, or "wanderers," are crystalline, transparent shells with one hole in each, the planet. Each planet represents a vice of the world. As we descend we circle around to each planetary disk and pass through, gaining the vice associated with each:
    • Saturn imparts avarice and greed
    • Jupiter imparts gluttony
    • Mars imparts anger
    • The sun gives us pride
    • Venus gives us lust
    • Mercury gives us envy and lies
    • The moon imparts sloth to our souls.
  • Descending, we pass through the spheres of fire, air, water then earth to complete the cosmos. [Note that when Aristotle meets the Catholic church in the hands of Thomas Aquinus, hell gets put into the center of earth.]
  • Once mortal, we possess the punishments and vices we picked up during our descent.

All mortals descend from the divine, accepting the punishments and vices as we pass through the stars, and through each of the planets. What vices and punishments did we get? Tell your birthday to an astrologer and they can tell you which constellation you passed through, and where the planets were as you passed through each of them to get to earth. Then you'll know which vices are troubling you the most, and the astrologer can then help you time important events and tell you how to create talisman, eat foods, and pray to specific gods that will help undo the vices you inherited on your passage down. Our goal is to pass back up to gain the divine realm. How we do that depends on which of the two broad categories of Gnosticism we believe.

The two broad interpretations of Gnosticism are optimistic gnosis and pessimistic gnosis. They differ in how you go about getting back into the divine. 

  • Optimistic Gnosis assumes we are all good, but unlearned and not yet wise. The wisdom comes through contemplating the world and all things in it, since it was all created by the demiurge who was created by a denizen of the divine realm. Sensations, arts, creatures, all studied so that you can understand the whole of creation and thus understand God (this is the sought-for gnosis) because you will be like God. This is a sort of pantheism, everything is part of God.
  • Pessimistic Gnosis holds that the world is all evil, and you must free yourselves from mortality, vices, and punishments by getting rid of each vice and punishments. Once free, you can them pass back up through the planetary spheres because they no longer have influence over you. Freedom comes through a sort of self denial.

Both styles of Gnosticism require reflecting on the world. Pessimistic Gnosticism requires understanding evil, optimistic Gnosticism requires understanding God. In practice each Gnostic had part of each.

In the early alchemical writings, particularly the Corpus Hermeticum, Gnostisism plays a big role. Here are my notes from Pimander, Book One of the Corpus:

  • Verse 1 of the Corpus is a statement that the writer desires gnosis.
  • v. 4 states that divine=light, world=darkness
  • v. 5 has the Word (logos) separating fire and air from water and earth (similar to Genesis)
  • v. 6 holds that Mind=Light=God, Word=Son, elements=Dark
  • v. 7 teaches the divine realm extends to the Beyond
  • v. 8 has elements coming from the Word=Son who created the earth
  • v. 9 God=Mind created the planets and stars to enclose the sensible cosmos
  • v. 10 the Atonement of the Son allows him to re-enter the divine
  • v. 11 the Son atones with Reason (the demiurge) to reunite with the divine

The best understanding of Gnosticism I've read is Francis Yates Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 1964, Routledge Press.

The Visions of Alchemy (Alchemy 13)

There were many types of alchemy. The most entertaining are the wildly-descriptive allegories, and one of the best and earliest is the vision of Zosimos of Panopolis. Writing to his sister or student  Theosebia around 300 A.D. he describes the alchemical experience from a very personal point of view, as though he is more interested in what alchemy is doing to him than what he is doing with alchemy.

Of all the early alchemists, Zosimos has the best claim to being a real person. We have other accounts of his public speaking and letters to Theosobia from Alexandria.

Zosimos provides the earliest definition of what alchemy is: "the composition of waters, movement, growth, embodying and disembodying, drawing the spirits from bodies and bonding the spirits within bodies." This is a core Platonic belief that all matter is prima materia with the Aristotelian belief that it is the properties which change that modifies matter, and that by pulling out the properties (the spirit of matter) and refining it, then putting it back into the prima materia, transmutation if effected.

He believed that the process of alchemy has a high purpose, to perfect humans. The alchemist is working with the soul of matter as a priest works with the souls of men. In his work Concerning the true Book of Sophe, the Egyptian, and of the Divine Master of the Hebrews and the Sabaoth Powers, Zosimos wrote:

There are two sciences and two wisdoms, that of the Egyptians [ie. Cleopatra] and that of the Hebrews [ie. Mary the Jewess], which latter is confirmed by divine justice. The science and wisdom of the most excellent dominate the one and the other. Both originate in olden times. Their origin is without a king, autonomous and immaterial; it is not concerned with material and corruptible bodies, it operates, without submitting to strange influences, supported by prayer and divine grace.

The symbol of chemistry is drawn from the creation by its adepts, who cleanse and save the divine soul bound in the elements, and who free the divine spirit from its mixture with the flesh.

As the sun is, so to speak, a flower of the fire and (simultaneously) the heavenly sun, the right eye of the world, so copper when it blooms—that is when it takes the color of gold, through purification—becomes a terrestrial sun, which is king of the earth, as the sun is king of heaven.

He was a Gnostic (see Alchemy 14 Interlude) and wrote (using a very modernized vocabulary of 1818): 

The ancient and divine writings say that the angels became enamoured of women; and, descending, taught them all the works of nature. From them, therefore, is the first tradition, chema, concerning these arts; for they called this book chema and hence the science of chemistry takes its name.


He believed that alchemy and the related arts were taught to humanity by the dark angels who came to earth and took human wives. This is one of three accounts that put these arts as god-given. The tales of Hermes Trismegistus (Alchemy 15) and of Pandora are the other two. 

We can't even begin to duplicate the process he is describing, but who cares: it's so much fun to read!

The translation from Of Virtue, Lessons 1 - 3 is from F. Sherwood Taylor, “The Visions of Zosimos,” Ambix 1,1 (May 1937): 88–92

Lesson 1.
The composition of waters, the movement, growth, removal, and restitution of corporeal nature, the separation of the spirit from the body, and the fixation of the spirit on the body are not due to foreign natures, but to one single nature reacting on itself, a single species, such as the hard bodies of metals and the moist juices of plants.

And in this system, single and of many colours, is comprised a research, multiple and varied, subordinated to lunar influences and to the measure of time, which rule the end and the increase according to which the nature transforms itself.

Saying these things I went to sleep, and I saw a sacrificing priest standing before me at the top of an altar in the form of a bowl.2 This altar had 15 steps leading up to it. Then the priest stood up and I heard a voice from above saying to me, ‘I have accomplished the descent of the 15 steps of darkness and the ascent of the steps of light and it is he who sacrifices, that renews me, casting away the coarseness of the body; and being consecrated priest by necessity, I become a spirit.’ And having heard the voice of him who stood on the bowl-shaped altar, I questioned him, wishing to find out who he was. He answered me in a weak voice, saying ‘I am Ion, the priest of the sanctuary, and I have survived intolerable violence. For one came headlong in the morning, dismembering me with a sword, and tearing me asunder according to the rigour of harmony. And flaying my head with the sword which he held fast, he mingled my bones with my flesh and burned them in the fire of the treatment, until I learnt by the transformation of the body to become a spirit.’

And while yet he spoke these words to me, and I forced him to speak of it, his eyes became as blood and he vomited up all his flesh. And I saw him as a mutilated little image of a man, tearing himself with his own teeth and falling away.

And being afraid I awoke and thought ‘Is this not the situation of the waters?’ I believed that I had understood it well, and I fell asleep anew. And I saw the same altar in the form of a bowl and at the top the water bubbling, and many people in it endlessly. And there was no one outside the altar whom I could ask. I then went up towards the altar to view the spectacle. And I saw a little man, a barber, whitened by years, who said to me ‘What are you looking at?’ I answered him that I marvelled at the boiling of the water and the men, burnt yet living. And he answered me saying ‘It is the place of the exercise called preserving (embalming). For those men who wish to obtain virtue come hither and become spirits, fleeing from the body.’ Therefore I said to him ‘Are you a spirit?’ And he answered and said ‘A spirit and a guardian of spirits.’ And while he told us these things, and while the boiling increased and the people wailed, I saw a man of copper having in his hand a writing tablet of lead. And he spoke aloud, looking at the tablet, ‘I counsel those under punishment to calm themselves, and each to take in his hand a leaden writing tablet and to write with their own hands. I counsel them to keep their faces upwards and their mouths open until your grapes be grown.’ The act followed the word and the master of the house said to me, ‘You have seen. You have stretched your neck on high and you have seen what is done.’ And I said that I saw, and I said to myself, ‘This man of copper you have seen is the sacrificing priest and the sacrifice, and he that vomited out his own flesh. And authority over this water and the men under punishment was given to him.’

And having had this vision I awoke again and I said to myself ‘What is the occasion of this vision? Is not this the white and yellow water, boiling, divine (sulphurous)?’ And I found that I understood it well. And I said that it was fair to speak and fair to listen, and fair to give and fair to receive, and fair to be poor and fair to be rich. For how does the nature learn to give and to receive? The copper man gives and the watery stone receives; the metal gives and the plant receives; the stars give and the flowers receive; the sky gives and the earth receives; the thunderclaps give the fire that darts from them.

For all things are interwoven and separate afresh, and all things are mingled and all things combine, all things are mixed and all unmixed, all things are moistened and all things dried and all things flower and blossom in the altar shaped like a bowl. For each, it is by method, by measure and weight of the 4 elements, that the interlacing and dissociation of all is accomplished. No bond can be made without method. It is a natural method, breathing in and breathing out, keeping the arrangements of the method, increasing or decreasing them. When all things, in a word, come to harmony by division and union, without the methods being neglected in any way, the nature is transformed. For the nature being turned upon itself is transformed; and it is the nature and the bond of the virtue of the whole world.

And that I may not write many things to you, my friend, build a temple of one stone, like ceruse in appearance, like alabaster, like marble of Proconnesus, having neither beginning nor end in its construction. Let it have within it a spring of pure water glittering like the sun. Notice on which side is the entry of the temple and, taking your sword in hand, so seek for the entry. For narrow is the place at which the temple opens. A serpent lies before the entry guarding the temple; seize him and sacrifice him. Skin him and, taking his flesh and bones, separate his parts; then reuniting the members with the bones at the entry of the temple, make of them a stepping stone, mount thereon, and enter. You will find there what you seek. For the priest, the man of copper, whom you see seated in the spring and gathering his colour, do not regard him as a man of copper; for he has changed the colour of his nature and become a man of silver. If you wish, after a little time you will have him as a man of gold.

Lesson 2.
Again I wished to ascend the seven steps and to look upon the seven punishments, and, as it happened, on only one of the days did I effect an ascent. Retracing my steps I then went up many times. And then on returning I could not find the way and fell into deep discouragement, not seeing how to get out, and fell asleep.

And I saw in my sleep a little man, a barber, clad in a red robe and royal dress, standing outside the place of the punishments, and he said to me ‘Man, what are you doing?’ And I said to him ‘I stand here because, having missed every road, I find myself at a loss.’ And he said to me ‘Follow me.’ And I went out and followed him. And being near to the place of the punishments, I saw the little barber who was leading me cast into the place of punishment, and all his body was consumed by fire.

On seeing this I fled and trembled with fear, and awoke and said to myself ‘What is it that I have seen?’ And again I reasoned, and perceiving that the little barber is the man of copper clothed in red raiment, I said ‘I have understood well; this is the man of copper; one must first cast him into the place of punishment.’ Again my soul desired to ascend the third step also. And again I went along the road, and as I came near to the punishment again I lost my way, losing sight of the path, wandering in despair. And again in the same way I saw a white-haired old man of such whiteness as to dazzle the eyes. His name was Agathodæmon,4 and the white old man turned and looked on me for a full hour. And I asked of him ‘Show me the right way.’ But he did not turn towards me, but hastened to follow the right route. And going and coming thence, he quickly gained the altar. As I went up to the altar, I saw the whitened old man and he was cast into the punishment. O gods of heavenly natures! Immediately he was embraced entirely by the flames. What a terrible story, my brother! For from the great strength of the punishment his eyes became full of blood. And I asked him, saying, ‘Why do you lie there?’ But he opened his mouth and said to me ‘I am the man of lead and I am undergoing intolerable violence.’ And so I awoke in great fear and I sought in me the reason of this fact. I reflected and said ‘I clearly understand that thus one must cast out the lead, and indeed the vision is one of the combination of liquids.’

Lesson 3.
And again I saw the same divine and sacred bowl-shaped altar, and I saw a priest clothed in white celebrating those fearful mysteries, and I said “Who is this?’ And, answering, he said to me ‘This is the priest of the Sanctuary. He wishes to put blood into the bodies, to make clear the eyes, and to raise up the dead.’

And so, falling again, I fell asleep another little while, and while I mounted the fourth step I saw, coming from the East, one who had in his hand a sword. And I saw another behind him, bearing a round white shining object beautiful to behold, of which the name was the meridian of the Sun, and as I drew near to the place of punishments, he that bore the sword told me ‘Cut off his head and sacrifice his meat and his muscles by parts, to the end that his flesh may first be boiled according to method and that he may then undergo the punishment.’ And so, awaking again, I said ‘Well do I understand that these things concern the liquids of the art of the metals.’ And again he that bore the sword said ‘You have fulfilled the seven steps beneath.’ And the other said at the same time as the casting out of the lead by all liquids, ‘The work is completed.’

The Alchemy Reader (pp. 50-53). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Carl Jung, mid-20th-century phychologist, studied alchemy as a possible source of a universal symbolism of dreams. He was very interested in the Visions of Zosimos.

One of Zosimos' texts is about a sequence of dreams related to Alchemy, and presents the proto-science as a much more religious experience. In his dream he first comes to an altar and meets Ion, who calls himself "the priest of inner sanctuaries, and I submit myself to an unendurable torment." Ion then fights and impales Zosimos with a sword, dismembering him "in accordance with the rule of harmony" (referring to the division into four bodies, natures, or elements). He takes the pieces of Zosimos to the altar, and "burned (them) upon the fire of the art, till I perceived by the transformation of the body that I had become spirit." From there, Ion cries blood, and horribly melts into "the opposite of himself, into a mutilated anthroparion"—which Carl Jung perceived as the first concept of the homunculus in alchemical literature.

Zosimos wakes up, asks himself, "Is not this the composition of the waters?" and returns to sleep, beginning the visions again—he constantly wakes up, ponders to himself and returns to sleep during these visions. Returning to the same altar, Zosimos finds a man being boiled alive, yet still alive, who says to him, "The sight that you see is the entrance, and the exit, and the transformation ... Those who seek to obtain the art (or moral perfection) enter here, and become spirits by escaping from the body"—which can be regarded as human distillation; just as how distilled water purifies it, distilling the body purifies it as well. He then sees a Brazen Man (another homunculus, as Jung believed any man described as being metal is perceived as being a homunculus), a Leaden Man (an "agathodaemon" and also a homunculus, but see also Agathodaemon the alchemist). Zosimos also dreams of a "place of punishments" where all who enter immediately burst into flames and submit themselves to an "unendurable torment."

Jung believed these visions to be a sort of Alchemical allegory, with the tormented homunculi personifying transmutations—burning or boiling themselves to become something else. The central image of the visions are the Sacrificial Act, which each Homunculus endures. In alchemy the dyophysite nature is constantly emphasized, two principles balancing one another, active and passive, masculine and feminine, which constitute the eternal cycle of birth and death. This is also illustrated in the figure of the uroboros, the dragon that bites its own tail (and which appears earliest in the Chrysopoeia). Self-devouring is the same as self-destruction, but the unison of the dragon's tail and mouth was also thought of as self-fertilization. Hence the text of "Tractatus Avicennae" mentions "the dragon slays itself, weds itself, impregnates itself." In the visions, circular thinking appears in the sacrificial priest's identity with his victim and in the idea that the homunculus into whom Ion is changed devours himself—he spews fourth his own flesh and rends himself with his own teeth. The homunculus therefore stands for the uroboros, which devours itself and gives birth to self. Since the homonculus represents the transformation of Ion, it follows that Ion, the uroboros, and the sacrificer are essentially the same.

Wikipedia - Zosimos of Panololis

The "little man of copper" will become a rather important secret of alchemy, the generation of life in the form of a little human, the homunculus, formed from sperm only. Not until the 1600's will anyone (Paracelsus) attempt to describe the process in writing.

It might be coincidence that the priest is named "Ion," which will later be the name of the things formed in solution when a salt dissolves in water.

Another book of Zosimos, the Book of Pictures, I have never seen nor read. We don't have the original, nor even know if the original book had pictures in it; we only have Arabic versions of the text. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

This book is divided into 13 chapters, each of them being introduced by a separate image. Two chapters contain a whole series of images, which - according to Zosimos’ statements - are meant to be pondered upon in order to better understand his teaching.

The whole text gives a lively dialogue between an alchemical couple: i.e. Zosimos and his female student Theosebeia, revolving about Zosimos' teaching. It reports Theosebeia's complaining about unclear statements of Zosimos as well as Zosimos' anger about her inability to understand his statements. At first sight, the dialogue deals with question upon how to understand statements of alchemical philosophers like Agathodaimon, Democritos, Isis, Moses, Maria [the Jewess], Ostanes, as well as with questions about technical aspects of the alchemical work. But again and again, Zosimos emphasises that he does not talk about the substances and processes as such, as matter, but that they have to be understood symbolically. Zosimos describes the alchemical work by means of a series of images and says to Theosebeia: "What I wrote and told you, and with the picture I made for you with me in it, I gave you what you need to know, and this should be enough for you." He also states, that these images depict his own innerpsychic process of transformation.

Zosimos' teaching is based on the one hand on his own dream visions, reported in the text. Another source for his teaching was his suffering of a passionate love relationship to Theosebeia, being not allowed to be simply lived out physically. This led him to understand the alchemical work as psychic transformation, enabling the adept to hold and contain the fire of attraction. Correspondingly, Zosimos drew symbolic images of his own death and resurrection as explanation for Theosebeia. Following Abt, the book can be regarded as the earliest historical description of an alchemical work based on a psychic transformation.“ And it “is a testimony of the painstaking quest to understand not only the problem but also the meaning of attraction, repulsion and ultimate reconciliation between the outer male and female as well as the inner fire and water” a process that “is described […] with basic substances, mirroring the very elemental, collective character of this process.”

In this book, we find fragments of writings from „The Sulfurs“, which are ascribed to Zosimos and from his “Letters to Theosebeia”. In the course of the dialogue, those fragments seem to be interrupted by Theosebeia's questions and by further explanations. By this, Zosimos’ teaching is presented in an easier and more understandable way, as Abt holds.

With regard to content and style, there are similarities between both books, "the Book of Pictures" and the "Book of Keys".

Up to now, only one single Arabic manuscript of the "Book of Pictures" is extant. In the fourth part of the "Book of the Rank of the Sage (Rutbat al-Ḥakīm) its author Maslama al-Qurțubī (formerly wrongly assigned to Maslama al-Magriti) quotes extensively from the “Book of Pictures”. He is the first author quoting it, but using another Greek original than the one published in 2015 than the version published 2015 (CALA III, by Th. Abt) and has influenced several alchemists like the early Arabic alchemist Ibn Umail, the "Kitab al-Habib" (Book of the Friend/Lover; including a dialogue between a so-called Rusam and Theosebeia) and the alchemist "Hermes of Dendera", author of "Risalat as-Sirr" (Epistle of the Secret; including a similar dialogue between Hermes Budasir und Amnutasiya). Other traits of Latin symbolic alchemy, like the traditional division of the work in 12 parts or the representation of inner and outer relationship between adept and soror mystica (e.g. in "Rosarium Philosophorum" and in "Mutus Liber") can be traced back to this book and seem to be influcend by it. Fragments of the text of the "Book of Pictures" can be found in "Rosarium Philosophorum" and "Artis Auriferae". (e.g. titled "Tractatus Rosini ad Euticiam" (="Treatise of Rosinus to Euticia").

The Book of Pictures itself is influenced by Ancient Egyptian thinking, its iconography showing relations to pharaonic iconography and having motifs paralleling Egyptian books of the underworld like Amduat, which was known until Greek-Roman times. Regarding the inner and outer relationship between man and woman or between psychic male and female aspects, the "Book of Pictures" forms a cultural bridge between pharaonic thoughts and European medieval alchemy.

We know about Mary the Jewess only through the writings of Zosimos. We have none of her original writings.

The Earliest Chemistry (Alchemy 12)

Two papyri were discovered in Thebes, in Egypt from about 300 A.D. They were part of a trove of papyri, but two stood out: the Leyden Papyrus X ("ten"), and the Stockholm Papyrus, named for the museums housing them. Both are collections of chemical recipes.

These are written as clear, simple, and methodical. They say what the recipe will do. There are uncertainties, like measurement, and exactly what substance to use, and how long the steps are to take.

And there is clearly fraud being attempted here. Some appearances are intended to deceive by making base metals look like gold.

The Leyden Papurus X has 111 recipes, and the Stockholm Papyrus has 154, are probably written by the same author and are in koine Greek.

See Earle Radcliffe Caley, “The Leyden Papyrus X: An English Translation with Brief Notes,” Journal of Chemical Education 3,10 (Oct. 1926): 1149–66, and “The Stockholm Papyrus: An English Translation with Brief Notes,” Journal of Chemical Education 4,8 (Aug. 1927): 979–1002. My notes are in [brackets.]

From Leyden Papyrus X

8. Manufacture of Asem.[alloy to imitate gold or silver]
Take soft tin in small pieces, purified four times; take 4 parts of it and 3 parts of pure white copper and 1 part of asem. Melt, and after the casting, clean several times and make with it whatever you wish to. It will be asem of the first quality, which will deceive even the artisans.

15. The coloration of Gold.
To color gold to render it fit for usage. Misy,[iron sulfate + copper sulfate] salt, and vinegar accruing from the purification of gold; mix it all and throw in the vessel (which contains it) the gold described in the preceding preparation; let it remain some time, (and then) having drawn (the gold) from the vessel, heat it upon the coals; then again throw it in the vessel which contains the above-mentioned preparation; do this several times until it becomes fit for use.

25. Gold Polish.
For treating gold, otherwise called, purifying gold and rendering it brilliant: Misy, 4 parts; alum, 4 parts; salt, 4 parts. Pulverize with water. And having coated the gold (with it), place it in an earthenware vessel deposited in a furnace and luted with clay, (and heat) until the above-named substances have become molten, then withdraw it and scour carefully.

34. A Procedure for Writing in Letters of Gold.
To write in letters of gold, take some mercury, pour it in a suitable vessel, and add to it some gold in leaves; when the gold appears dissolved in the mercury, agitate sharply; add a little gum, 1 grain for example, and, (after) letting stand, write in the letters of gold.

38. For Giving to Objects of Copper the Appearance of Gold. And neither touch nor rubbing against the touchstone[black silica stone which shows the color of gold or silver rubbed on it] will detect them, but they can serve especially for (the manufacture of) a ring of fine appearance. Here is the preparation for this. Gold and lead are ground to a fine powder like flour, 2 parts of lead for 1 of gold, then having mixed, they are incorporated with gum, and one coats the ring with this mixture; then it is heated. One repeats this several times until the object has taken the color. It is difficult to detect (the fraud), because rubbing gives the mark of a gold object, and the heat consumes the lead but not the gold.

43. Testing of Gold.
If you wish to test the purity of gold, remelt it and heat it: if it is pure it will keep its color after heating and remain like a piece of money. If it becomes white, it contains silver; if it becomes rougher and harder some copper and tin; if it blackens and softens, lead.

87. Doubling of Gold.
For augmenting the weight of gold. Melt (it) with a fourth part of cadmia, and it will become heavier and harder.

95. The Preparation of Purple [dye].
Break into small pieces stone of Phrygia; put it to boiling, and having immersed the wool, leave it until it cools. Then throwing in the vessel a mina[unit of weight in Greece and Egypt] of seaweed, put it to boiling and throw in it (again) a mina of seaweed. Let it boil and throw the wool into it, and letting cool, wash in sea water . . . [the stone of Phrygia is roasted before being broken] . . . until the purple coloration appears.

96. Dyeing with Purple (Two Methods).
Grind lime with water and let it stand over night. Having decanted, deposit the wool in the liquid for a day; take it out (and) dry it; having sprinkled the alkanet[red dye from the root of Alkanna tinctoria] with some vinegar, put it to boiling and throw the wool in it and it will come out dyed in purple . . . alkanet boiled with water and natron produces the purple color. Then dry the wool, and dye it as follows: Boil the seaweed with water and when it has been exhausted, throw in the water an imperceptible quantity of copperas, in order to develop the purple, and then plunge the wool in it, and it will be dyed. If there is too much copperas, it becomes darker.

From the Stockholm Papyrus

1. Manufacture of Silver.
Plunge Cyprian copper, which is well worked and shingled[beaten with a hammer to expel impurities] for use, into dyer’s vinegar and alum and let soak for three days. Then for every mina of copper mix in 6 drachmas each of earth of Chios, salt of Cappadocia and lamellose alum, and cast. Cast skillfully, however, and it will prove to be regular silver. Place in it not more than 20 drachmas of good, unfalsified, proof silver, which the whole mixture retains and (this) will make it imperishable.

18. Manufacture of a Pearl.
Take and grind an easily pulverized stone such as window mica. Take gum tragacanth and let it soften for ten days in cow’s milk. When it has become soft, dissolve it until it becomes as thick as glue. Melt Tyrian wax; add to this, in addition, the white of egg. The mercury should amount to 2 parts and the stone 3 parts, but all remaining substances 1 part apiece. Mix (the ground mica and the molten wax) and knead the mixture with mercury. Soften the paste in the gum solution and the contents of the hen’s egg. Mix all of the liquids in this way with the paste. Then make the pearl that you intend to, according to a pattern. The paste very shortly turns to stone. Make deep round impressions and bore through it while it is moist. Let the pearl thus solidify and polish it highly. If managed properly it will excel the natural.

101. Cold Dyeing of Purple Which is Done in the True Way.
Keep this as a secret matter because the purple has an extremely beautiful luster. Take scum of woad[blue dye from Isatis tinctoria] from the dyer, and a sufficient portion of foreign alkanet of about the same weight as the scum – the scum is very light – and triturate it in the mortar. Thus dissolve the alkanet by grinding in the scum and it will give off its essence. Then take the brilliant color prepared by the dyer – if from kermes[red dye from the small beetle Kermes ilices] it is better, or else from kirmnos – heat, and put this liquor into half of the scum in the mortar. Then put the wool in and color it unmordanted[without the agent to fix the color to the wool] and you will find it beyond all description.

The Alchemy Reader (pp. 46-49). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

We have not replicated these recipes. 

The Dialog of Cleopatra and the Philosophers (Alchemy 11)

There were three women alchemists early on, all famous. Mary Prophetess (or Maria the Jewess, among other names) was reported to be a gifted artificer of lab equipment, among them the hot water bath, or bain marie. Theosobia received letters from her brother Zosimos (whom we will meet later) on the subject of alchemy told in obfuscating allegory. 

Here we meet Cleopatra. Not the Cleopatra of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, lover of Marc Anthony, but the alchemist Cleopatra. Again, she might not have been a real person, but a representative used in a dialog.

The dialog is with a group of sycophantic philosophers, followers of Cleopatra. It comes from F. Sherwood Taylor’s The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry (London: William Heinemann, 1951), 57–9, and is based on Berthelot’s French translation in his Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs, one of the great translation efforts of science.

Then Cleopatra said to the philosophers. “Look at the nature of plants, whence they come. For some come down from the mountains and grow out of the earth, and some grow up from the valleys and some come from the plains. But look how they develop, for it is at certain seasons and days that you must gather them, and you take them from the islands of the sea, and from the most lofty place. And look at the air which ministers to them and the nourishment circling around them, that they perish not nor die. Look at the divine water which gives them drink and the air that governs them after they have been given a body in a single being.”

Ostanes and those with him answered Cleopatra. “In thee is concealed a strange and terrible mystery. Enlighten us, casting your light upon the elements. Tell us how the highest descends to the lowest and how the lowest rises to the highest, and how that which is in the midst approaches the highest and is united to it, and what is the element which accomplishes these things. And tell us how the blessed waters visit the corpses lying in Hades fettered and afflicted in darkness and how the medicine of Life reaches them and rouses them as if wakened by their possessors from sleep; and how the new waters, both brought forth on the bier and coming after the light penetrate them at the beginning of their prostration and how a cloud supports them and how the cloud supporting the waters rises from the sea.”

And the philosophers, considering what had been revealed to them, rejoyced.

Cleopatra said to them. “The waters, when they come, awake the bodies and the spirits which are imprisoned and weak. For they again undergo oppression and are enclosed in Hades, and yet in a little while they grow and rise up and put on divers glorious colors like the flowers in springtime and the spring itself rejoices and is glad at the beauty that they wear.3 For I tell this to you who are wise: when you take plants, elements, and stones from their places, they appear to you to be mature. But they are not mature until the fire has tested them. When they are clothed in the glory from the fire and shining color thereof, then rather will appear their hidden glory, their sought-for beauty, being transformed to the divine state of fusion. For they are nourished in the fire and the embryo grows little by little nourished in its mother’s womb, and when the appointed month approaches is not restrained from issuing forth. Such is the procedure of this worthy art. The waves and surges one after another in Hades wound them in the tomb where they lie. When the tomb is opened they issue from Hades as the babe from the womb.”

The Alchemy Reader (pp. 44-45). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

The death and resurrection motif used here are probably disguising a process which is described later by the Arabic alchemists of the spirit of a substance rising up in sublimation where it is perfected, then recombined with the "corpse" or non-sublimated substance (prima materia), so that the perfected spirit will then create a more gold-like material.

References to the womb and to birth are analogous to the creation of the philosophers stone in a flask.

References to colors will be a near-constant theme in alchemy. The changing form one color to the next was accepted as proof that the material has changed its nature and has become a different element or metal.

It surprises me how fully developed alchemy seems to be even at this very early date.

A note on translations from the Greek (Alchemy 10 Interlude)

After Alexander, all trade was done in Koine Greek ("common" or "shared" Greek, pronounced "coin-ay"). It was the language of trade into the medieval times, lasting at least 900 years (the Byzantine empire used it until they were sacked by the Arabs in 1453). All the New Testament texts were first written in this language, the language used to communicate with the world. Koine Greek is not a sophisticated language, and in writing less so than in speaking. For example, "blue" and "sky" are the same word. Writing in Koine Greek takes many shortcuts, and only context can tell you the correct interpretation. But most cultural idioms are lost to us and so is the context, and we have a very difficult time making out what some passages mean. 

Papyrus 46, one of the earliest New Testament documents, 175 - 225 A.D. No punctuation, no paragraphs, no spaces; just a wall of letters:

An example is here:


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

So when reading these English translations from Koine, take them with a grain of salt. We are familiar with exactness in writing in English and it's easy to pass on the surety of meaning to English translations where that surety never existed in the original.

Map of where Koine Greek was spoken. Dark blue is where the Greeks lived; light blue is water:

The Beginning of Alchemy: Psuedo-Democritus (Alchemy 09)

The first writings we have on Alchemy are recipes. A little obscure philosophy, mostly instructions. This is dated first of second centuries A.D. but it could be as late as 400 A.D. Martelli puts this at 60 A.D. [Martelli, Matteo, The Four Books of Pseudo-Democritus (Maney Publishing: Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry, 2013)]

It portends to be the Greek Democritus speaking, but we know it isn't. The author is Greek. There is a blend of mysticism ( aka magic) and philosophy here that puts it almost certainly in Alexandria. But already alchemy is developed much further than we generally think it would be. It is this early development which fascinates me, and is my only real proof that the ideas in the Timaeus and the Meteorology were widely spread through out the Mediterranean area well before 100 A.D. Only familiarity with those two books would make alchemy easy to adopt. It's my guess that these books were spread by Alexander's army or the traders who followed.

The following text is a nearly complete version of the translation by Robert B. Steele that appeared in Chemical News, 61 (1890): 88–125; a number of Steele’s notes have been incorporated in the annotations. Steel is convinced that this is very early first century. I'm not convinced. Steele's comments are in [square brackets,] mine are in {curly braces.}


Nature rejoices with Nature; Nature conquers Nature; Nature restrains Nature.” We (his disciples) greatly wondered at how briefly he had bound up the whole science. I come into Egypt, bearing the treatises of nature, that thou mayest cast off confused and superfluous matter.

1. Copper is Whitened with Mercury-Amalgam or Arsenic, and is then Coloured Golden by Electrum or Powdered Gold. Taking mercury, thrust it into the body of magnesia,[Any white body, steatite or soapstone. In later alchemical writing, magnesia has a broad range of meanings, including the quintessence or an ingredient of the philosopher’s stone.] or into the body of Italian antimony, or of unfired sulphur, or of silver spume,[Argentiferous litharge] or of quick lime, or to alum from Melos, or to arsenic, or as thou knowest, and throw in white earth of Venus, and thou shalt have clear Venus; then throw in yellow Luna,[Venus and Luna stand for copper and silver, respectively] and thou shalt have gold, and it will be chrysocoral[“gold solder” or chrysocolla, a name given to a specific mineral or minerals in ancient times] reduced into a body. Yellow arsenic also makes the same, and prepared sandarach,[red arsenic sulphide, or realgar] and well bruised cinnabar,{mercury sulfide, very easy to smelt} but quicksilver {mercury} alone makes brass shining; for nature conquers nature.

2. Sulphide of Silver is Treated with Sulphides of Lead or Antimony, and the Resulting Alloy is Coloured Golden. Treat silver marcasite, which is also called siderites, and do what is usual that it may be melted. It melts with yellow or white litharge, or in Italian antimony, and cleanse it with lead (not simply, say I, lest thou err, but with that from Scissile,[alum schist from Sicily] and our black litharge), or as thou knowest; and heat, and throw it made yellow to the material, and it becomes coloured; for nature rejoices with nature.

3. Copper Pyrites is Roasted and Treated with Salt and Alloyed with Silver or Gold to Form Gold-Coloured Alloys. Treat pyrites till it becomes incombustible, casting off darkness, but treat with brine, or fresh urine, or sea water, or oxymel, or as thou knowest, until it becomes as an incombustible shaving of gold; and as it becomes so, mix with it unfired sulphur, or yellow alum, or Attic ochre, or what thou knowest, and add to luna for sol, and to sol for auriconchylium;[sol represents gold; auriconchylium is gold in powder, coquille d’or] for nature conquers nature.

4. Claudian Metal is Rendered Yellow by Sulphur or Arsenic, and Alloyed on Gold or Silver. Taking claudianum,[a metal, named from its manufacturer. An alloy of tin and lead, with copper, zinc, &c.] thou shalt make a marble, as of custom, until it becomes yellow. Thou shalt not render the stone yellow, I say, but that which is useful of the stone. Thou shalt yellow it with alum burnt with sulphur, or with arsenic, or sandarach, or lime, or that thou knowest, and if thou apply it to luna thou makest sol,[gold] but if to sol thou makest auriconchylium; for victorious nature restrains nature.

5. Silver or Bronze are Treated with an Amalgam of Iron to Produce Gold or Electrum. Make cinnabar white by oil, or vinegar, or honey, or brine, or alum, then yellow by misy, or sory, or chalcanth,[misy: a mixture of iron and copper sulphate; sory: basic sulphate of iron; chalcanth: copperas or ferrous sulphate] or live sulphur, or that thou knowest, and add to luna and it will be sol if thou colourest golden, or to bronze for electrum. Nature rejoices with nature.

6. A Yellow Golden Varnish for Metals. Whiten, I say, copper, cadmia, or zonytes, as of custom, afterwards make it yellow. But you will yellow it with the bile of a calf, or terebinth,[the tree that serves as the source of turpentine or – most likely in this context – the resin itself] or castor oil, or radish oil, or yolks of eggs, which can render it yellow, and add to luna, for it will be gold for gold; for nature conquers nature.

7. The Treatment of Silver by Superficial Sulphidation to Render it Gold Coloured. Treat androdamas[arsenical pyrites; from its silvery lustre used with silver] with bitter wine, or sea water, or acid brine, which things can attack its nature, melt with Chalcidonian antimony, and treat it again with sea water, or brine, or acid brine; wash until the blackness of the antimony goes away, heat or roast it until it begins to grow yellow, and thou shalt treat with untouched divine water, and lay it on silver, and when thou addest live sulphur thou makest chrysosomium into golden liquid; for nature conquers nature. This is the stone called chrysites.[a mixture of silver and lead, which becomes yellow on heating]

8. An Alloy of Copper and Lead is Formed, which is turned Yellow. Taking white earth from ceruse, I say, or from the scoriæ of silver, or of Italian antimony, or of magnesia, or even of white litharge, whiten it with sea water, or acid brine, or with water from the air under the dew, I say, and the sun, that it, when dissolved, may become white as ceruse. Heat then this in the furnace, and add to it the flowers of copper,[small black scales of oxide of copper, which separate on cooling] or scraped rust of copper, worked up by art, I say, or burnt bronze sufficiently corroded, or chalcites, or cyanum;[chalcites is copper pyrites; cyanum is blue carbonate of copper or Azurite] then it becomes compact and solid, but it becomes so easily. This is molybdochalium.[an alloy of copper and lead] Test it therefore, whether it has cast off its blackness, but if not, blame not the bronze, but rather thyself, since thou hast not conducted the operation rightly; therefore thou shalt brighten it, and dissolve it, and add what is necessary to yellow it, and roast till it begins to grow yellow, and throw it into all bodies; for bronze colours every body where it is shining and yellow; for nature conquers nature.

9. Copper and Silver are made Yellow by Sulphate of Iron; with a Process of Cementation.[the process by which one solid is made to penetrate and combine with another at high temperature without liquefaction taking place] Rub up sory and chalcanth with unfired sulphur; but sory is, as leprous cyanus, always found in misy, they call it green chalcanth. Roast it, therefore, in the middle of coals for three days, until it becomes a red drug, and throw it into Venus, or Luna made by us, and it will be Sol. Place this, cut up in sheets, in vinegar, and chalcanth, and misy, and alum, and sal cappadociæ,[a variety of sal gemma or rock salt] and red nitre, or as thou knowest, for three, or five, or six days, until it becomes a rust, and it tinges; for chalcanth makes sol a rust. Nature rejoices with nature.

10. An Alloy of Gold is Heated by Superficial Cementation. Treat Macedonian chrysocolla, which is like the rust of bronze, by dissolving it in the urine of a young girl until it entirely changes; for the nature is hidden within. When, therefore, it is changed, dip it into castor oil, often heating it, and tinging it, afterwards roast with alum, first dissolving with misy or unfired sulphur; render it yellow, and colour the whole body of gold.

11. O! NATURES, Governors of natures! O! natures, how great, conquering natures with their changes! O! natures above Nature, delighting natures! Therefore these are great natures; no others are more excellent among tinctures than these natures; none are like, none are greater, all these take effect as solutions. You therefore, O! wise men, I plainly understand are not ignorant, but rather wonder, since ye know the power of nature, but the young men are much in error, and will not put faith in what is written, since they are ignorant of matter, not noticing that physicians where they wish to prepare a useful drug, do not set about making it inconsiderately, but first test it, whether it is warming, and how much cold, or humid, or other substance necessary, joined with it will make a medium temperament. They, on the other hand, boldly and inconsiderately desiring to prepare that valuable medicine and ending of all diseases, do not learn that they are running into danger. As they consider that we speak in fables and not mystically, they display no diligence in inquiring into the species of things. For example, if this is cleansing, but that unimportant; and if this is fitted to receive a colour, but that to prepare (for receiving it); and if this tinges the surface, or if the tincture gives off an odour from the surface, or vanishes from the interior of the metallic body; or if this resists fire, but that mixed with anything enables it to resist fire. For example, if salt cleanses the surface of Jove[Jove represents tin, Venus copper] it cleanses its interior parts; and if the exterior part contracts rust after the cleansing, the interior parts do so also; and if mercury whitens and cleanses the surface of Venus, it whitens also the interior; and if it leaves the exterior, it leaves the interior also. If the young men had been skilled in this kind of knowledge, applying their minds judiciously to the actions of substances, they would have suffered less loss; they know not the antipathies of nature, that one species may change ten, as a drop of oil stains much purple, and a little sulphur burns many things. Let these things be said, therefore, of medicines, and of the extent to which what is written may be relied on.

12. A Gold Varnish for Silver. Let us deal with liquids in their turn. Taking Pontic rhubarb, rub it up in bitter Aminean wine[in ancient alchemical treatises, substances frequently bear the names of their places of origin, as in the references to rhubarb and wine in this passage and the crocus of Cilicia below] to the consistency of wax, and take a thin piece of Luna to make Sol, the pieces of which may be a full nail in breadth, that thou mayest use the drug again and again; place it in an empty vessel, which, luting on all sides, gently heat from beneath until the middle (of the leaf) is reached. Then place the leaf in the remainder of the drug, and complete the action with the aforesaid wine, as long as the liquid appears thick. In this, throw at once the uncooled leaf, and allow it to absorb, then take it and place it in a crucible; and thou shalt find Sol. But if the rhubarb be dried with age, mix it with equal parts of celandine, preparing it, as of custom, for celandine has a relationship to rhubarb. Nature rejoices with nature.

13. Another Gold Varnish. Take crocus of Cilicia, and leave it with the crocus flower, and the aforesaid juice of the vine, and thou shalt have a liquor, as is accustomed to be done. Colour silver, cut into leaves, until it seems shining to thee. But if the leaf be bronze it will be better, but first cleanse the bronze, as customary. Then taking two parts of the herb aristolochia,[a type of shrub, one species of which is the Common Birthwort] and double of crocus, and celandine, make it of the consistency of wax, and anointing the sheet, do as before, and wonder, since the crocus of Cilicia has the same effect as mercury, as also cassia with cinnamon. Nature conquers nature.

14. Another Gold Varnish. Taking our lead made shining by Chian earth,[earth obtained from the Aegean island of Chios, used as “an astringent and a cosmetic”] and pyrites, and alum, burn with chaff, and melt into pyrites; and rub up crocus and cnicum, and the flower œcumenicus with the sharpest vinegar, and make a liquid, as of custom, and dip the lead into it, and allow it to absorb it, and thou shalt find Sol but let the composition have a little unburnt sulphur; for nature conquers nature.

15. This is the plan of Hepammenes, which he showed to the priests of Egypt, and it remains to the times of these philosophers, the matter of the Chrysopeia.[gold-making; the art of transmutation] Nor should ye wonder if one thing performs a mystery of this kind. Do ye not see that many drugs can with difficulty, even in the progress of time, heal up wounds produced by iron, but human excrement succeeds in no long interval of time; and many drugs employed for burns produce often no good, and most in no way diminish the pain, but lime alone, when rightly prepared, drives out the ailment; and if various cures are tried for ophthalmia,[inflammation of the eye] they generally increase it, but the plant buckthorn, used to all sickness of this kind, cures perfectly. Vain and unsuitable matter should therefore be despised, but things be used according to their natures. Now therefore learn from these also, that no one has ever been successful without the aforesaid natures. But if nothing can be done without these, why do we desire a forest of many things; what is our need of the concourse of many species for the work, when one surpasses all? Let us now see the composition of the species from which silver can be made.


16. The Surface of a Copper Alloy is Whitened by an Arsenical Compound. Fix quicksilver from arsenic, or sandarach, or that thou knowest, as of custom, and mix Venus with iron treated with sulphur, and it will be whitened; but whitened magnesia is also excellent, and sublimed arsenic, and calcined cadmia, unfired sandarach, whitened pyrites, and ceruse roasted with sulphur. Thou dissolvest iron by throwing into magnesia, or the half of sulphur, or a little of loadstone, since that has affinity with iron. Nature rejoices with nature.

17. A Composition for Amalgamating the Surface of Alloys. Taking the aforesaid vapour, heat it with castor or radish oil, mixing with a little alum; then taking tin, purge it with sulphur, as of custom, or marchasite, or what is known to thee, and throw it into the vapour, mixing the whole. Roast, covered with coals, and thou shalt see this medicine formed, like to white lead, which whitens all (metallic) bodies, but by anointing. Mix with it Chian earth, or Asterites, or Aphroselinum,[asterites is arsenical pyrites (identical with androdamas); aphroselinum is selenite, sulphate of lime] or that thou knowest, since Aphroselinum associated with mercury whitens all (metallic) bodies. Nature conquers nature.

18. The Same Applied to Orichalium Alloy. Take white magnesia; thou shalt whiten it with brine and alum, in sea-water, or citron juice, or with the smoke of sulphur; for the fume of sulphur, when it is white, whitens all things. But others say that the fume of cobathia[arsenical fumes of furnaces] whitens it. Mix with it, after whitening, equal parts of lye, that it may become white enough. Taking of whitish bronze, of orichalium, I say, 4 ounces, place it in a crucible, placing under it little by little 1 ounce of previously purged tin, agitating until the substances unite; it will be frangible. Throw on, therefore, the half of white medicine, and it will be the chief; for whitened magnesia does not render bodies fragile, or allow the blackness of bronze to come forth. Nature restrains nature . . .

24. Another Tincture of Amalgamation. Take 1 ounce of arsenic, and half an ounce of nitre, and 2 ounces of the cortex of the tender little leaves of Persea,[“A sacred fruit-bearing tree of Egypt and Persia”] and half (an ounce) of salt, and 1 ounce of mulberry juice, and equal parts of scissile, rub with vinegar, or urine, or of unslaked lime of urine, until a liquid is formed. Immerse in this glowing leaves of Venus growing black, and thou takest away the blackness. Nature conquers nature. Thou hast all things which are required for gold and silver, nothing is left out, nothing is wanting, except the elevation of the vapour and of water.[suggesting the process of distillation] But these I have omitted of purpose, seeing that I have dealt with them freely in my other writings. In this writing farewell.

The Alchemy Reader (pp. 38-43). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

The phrase, used many time, "or as thou knoweth," is enlightening. It means to use whatever you know will work. And how can there be so many reagents to accomplish the process? The author must be a follower of Aristotle, where altering the properties on one substance to become a different one. This is not chemistry in any form. This is the manipulation of found ores and metals to change the appearance. One would think that surely the difference could be easily seen; but these are philosophers following Plato, and they know that what is reasoned out is more true than what they observe. How they communicated that to the person buying the "gold" I have no idea. This is probably also the beginning of charlatanism in alchemy.

Many of these materials are obtained via the trade routes, and the locations where they are mined is mentioned. We have none of these mines any more, which makes the attempt at duplicating these "experiments" difficult or impossible. Some minerals named are unknown to us; we don't know what they are.

Crysopoeia: a Greek word meaning the making of gold by transmutation. This early gold-making was a central goal of alchemy, but not why you'd think. Alchemists were not trying to get rich. They are trying to perfect a philosophy proposed by Aristotle: that Nature makes gold in the interior of the earth from fumes of differing hotness and wetness, and so can we, but with sufficient skill we can do it faster. But only by following the example set by Nature.

“Nature rejoices with Nature; Nature conquers Nature; Nature restrains Nature.” This is another central concept of alchemy. We can only follow Nature's path; forcing ingredients to make gold would be fruitless, because it could not them be real gold.

Also here is the first discussion of the healing properties of some substances created. Medicine will be a constant in alchemy, and a central aspect of alchemy in 1600 AD.