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Alchemy and its 'golden' legacy

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Alchemy and its 'golden' legacy
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Summersett, Stephen Brent
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Denver, CO
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University of Colorado Denver
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v, 105 leaves : ; 29 cm

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Alchemy -- History ( lcsh )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 102-104).
Thesis:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, History.
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Department of History
Statement of Responsibility:
by Stephen Brent Summersett.

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Full Text
ALCHEMY AND ITS 'GOLDEN' LEGACY
By
Stephen Brent Summersett
B.A., University of Denver, 1985
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
History
1995


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Stephen Brent Summersett
has been approved
by

S Ol S'
Date


Summersett, Stephen Brent (M.A., History)
Alchemy and Its 'Golden' Legacy
Thesis directed by Professor Frederick S. Allen
ABSTRACT
The historical study of alchemy has produced a large
number of works which attempt to explain the popularity
this exotic and fascinating topic achieved. These varied
texts trace alchemy from its earliest origins to the apex
of its influence in Early Modern Europe, and finally its
demise as the Scientific Revolution rendered its
procedures invalid, while recounting the progress and
impact it had on European intellectual and scientific
development. This thesis is intended as a survey and
synthesis of a number of the most influential and
important of these works and attempts to accurately
recount the major themes and ideas set forth by the
distinguished authors. Alchemy had a major impact on the
development of chemistry and medicine through the work
and writings of individuals such as Paracelsus, and its
philosophical tenets embodied the evolving intellectual
and social environment that characterized the Renaissance
iii


and Reformation.
Even with alchemy's death at the hands
of science, the symbols, ideas, and values which it
contained continued to have value and retained
significance in such diverse fields as literature and
psychology. By studying this 'pseudo-science', important
information on the scientific development of Early Modern
Europe can be gathered, as well as invaluable insight
into the intellectual climate which fostered this
remarkable period in history.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
Signed
iv


CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION........................................ 1
Notes.......................................... 7
CHAPTER
1. ORIGINS OF ALCHEMY AND THE ARABIC INFLUENCE...... 8
Notes.......................................... 23
2. ALCHEMY IN LATE MEDIEVAL AND EARLY RENAISSANCE
EUROPE........................................... 27
Notes.......................................... 44
3. SPIRITUAL ALCHEMY IN RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION
EUROPE........................................... 47
Notes.......................................... 58
4. PHYSICAL ALCHEMY FROM PARACELSUS TO LAVOISIER... 61
Notes.......................................... 79
5. THE LEGEND OF FAUST AND THE WORK OF CARL JUNG:
ALCHEMY'S SURVIVAL IN LITERATURE AND PSYCHOLOGY. 83
Notes.......................................... 95
CONCLUSION- THE 'GOLDEN' LEGACY OF ALCHEMY.......... 98
Notes.......................................... 101
BIBLIOGRAPHY........................................ 102
RECOMMENDED SELECTIONS FROM THE BIBLIOGRAPHY........ 105
v


INTRODUCTION
In a dingy and crowded laboratory, a multitude of
glass vials, beakers, and tubes stretches at profusely
inopportune angles as a harried older man scurries about
tending an enormous number of flames. From a raging
bonfire he scurries to adjust a deftly pinpointed blue
flame that heats a strangely colored concoction in an odd
glass beaker. Metal flashes and sparkles, reflecting from
small piles seemingly dumped in haphazard fashion
throughout the eerily lit workplace. The density and
variety of smells are almost overwhelming, a smoky musk
mingling with an acidic aroma that assaults the tongue.
Amid this sensory maelstrom, the alchemist pauses
momentarily, checks a colorfully illustrated volume, and
mumbles as he scratches his notes onto a yellowed
journal. The almost indecipherable words speak of
complex ratios of mercury, sulphur, and salt; of
philosopher's stones and metallic oxides; and of Mighty
Saturn and Venus. The alchemist, with an air of
exasperated patience, checks his tarnished pocket-watch
1


and returns to his vigilance, ever hopeful that this
time, this one time, success will favor him. His
calculations perfect, his measurements and timing exact,
and his spirit worthy, he seeks to be rewarded with the
ultimate prize, as his carefully guarded horde of lead,
the most base of metals, will be transmuted to the
perfection of gold.
Such a fanciful myth of alchemy has existed since
its origins. Yet, as with most myths, valuable truth can
be strained from the mire of human imagination and mis-
information. There can be no doubt of the historical
influence wielded by the thousands of driven adepts and
greedy charlatans. This has been well documented in many
works appealing to both scholastic and general audiences.
Yet,
there has always been something of an historical
problem in the very existence of alchemy. Its
evident appeal to generation after generation of
adepts is inaccessible to the modern critical
intellect, and most books on the subject do little
to elucidate the grounds of the fascination it once
exerted, even though its relations to innumerable
scientific, technical, religious and philosophical
currents have been carefully explored.
This work will approach this multi-faceted field from
both angles, providing an informative recapitulation of
the remarkable influence that alchemy and alchemists have
2


had on such diverse fields as psychology, chemistry,
medicine, and literature as well as striving to capture
the mysterious essence of a philosophy and lifestyle
termed, "a magical gnosis,"3 and "the beginning of an
empirical science."3
"Frenzied alchemy held the world in its grip for
seventeen centuries and more of recorded history."^
During those centuries, mankind's progress was mirrored
by his progress in the search to change base metals into
gold, to revitalize and purify the human spirit, and to
understand and catalogue the changing world around him.
Call it pseudo-science, magical rite, or philosophical
endeavor, alchemy was "both practical and religious,
teaching men techniques to ensure health, wealth, and
longevity and providing comforting explanations for man's
place in the universe."5 In a most fundamental way,
alchemy represented man's ultimate desire, immortality.
Replete with symbolism, characterized by obscure
language, and rewarding a unique mixture of inspiration
and patience, alchemy strove to cloak man's basic fear of
death with his fascination with the unknown. Striving to
both understand and exert control on his universe, the
alchemist must first accomplish this daunting task on
3


himself. He must analyze and purify himself, readying
the receptacle for the required knowledge to attain this
obsessive goal. The search for immortality was actually
the search for an incorruptible part of man which could
survive death, a part of the human being which could be
saved from the inescapable end. "Thus the search for
immortality, for the eternal in man, is to be found at
the very beginning of alchemy."6
Yet along the way the ride was both beautiful and
rewarding, both to the individual alchemists and to the
world which sustained them. Science, art, and philosophy
benefited as alchemists sought these ends through
meticulous preparation, backbreaking labor, and inspired
guesswork. "Hope and theory were so inextricably
entwined in alchemy that they stood and fell together."7
The consummate culmination of their trials, a thrice
achieved victory, and a measure of accomplishment rarely
claimed by any one adept,
presented a threefold aspect; the alchemists sought
the stone of wisdom, for by gaining that they gained
the control of wealth; they sought the universal
panacea, for that would give them the power of
enjoying wealth and life; they sought the soul of
the world, for thereby they could hold communion
with spiritual existences, and enjoy the fruition of
spiritual life.
This fulfillment did not simply involve the alchemist and
4


his work, but required a new and more complex desire to
see and understand all of reality. The alchemist, other
than being just a mere manipulator of metals, sought a
complete scheme of things in which "God, the angels, man,
animals, and the lifeless world all took their place, in
which the origin of the world, its purpose, and end were
to be clearly visible."^
Alchemists discovered such advanced chemical
techniques as distillation, filtration, and
crystallization as well as providing and perfecting a
large number of utensils and equipment still in use in
modern laboratories. They distinguished and named such
1 fl
important reagents as the mineral acids and alcoholxu and
elements like antimony, arsenic, bismuth, and phosphorous
were unearthed. Many of the common chemicals we use
today were discovered in those early days including
alum, borax, cream of tartar, ether, fulminating gold,
Plaster of Paris, red lead, iron and silver salts and
heavy barium sulphide.*1 Alchemy and noted alchemists
inspired and influenced literary works such as Faust,
Goethe's telling of the moving story of a man's obsessive
search for knowledge and his willingness to deal with the
devil to achieve his desires, as well as providing rich
5


symbolic and contextual material for artistic
interpretation. In later centuries, the complexity of
these symbolic relationships stimulated intense
discussion and controversy in the growing field of
psychology. Today's scholars grapple to integrate the
relationship and relative importance of alchemy and other
"Hermetic" fields with ever-growing research on
intellectual, social, and scientific development in early
modern Europe. Thus, "alchemy provides a rich source for
charting the historical development of these discoveries
and for investigating their influences on culture."^
6


NOTES
1. Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter, The Foundations of Newton's
Alchemy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975, p.
26.
2. O'Keefe, Daniel Lawrence, Stolen Lightning: The Social
Theory of Magic, New York: Continuum Publishing Co.,
1982, p. 527.
3. Von Franz, Marie-Louise, Alchemy- An Introduction to
the Symbolism and the Psychology, Toronto: Inner City
Books, 1980, p. 26.
4. Jaffe, Bernard, Crucibles, The Story of Chemistry,
Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1957, p. 15.
5. Coudert, Allison, Alchemy: The Philosopher's Stone,
Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1980, pgs. 12-
13.
6. Von Franz, pgs. 93-94.
7. Coudert, p. 17.
8. Redgrove, H. Stanley, Alchemy: Ancient and Modern, New
Hyde Park, NY: University Books, Inc., 1969, p. 10.
9. Taylor, F. Sherwood, The Alchemists, New York:
Maraboro Books Corp., 1992, p. 178.
10. Ibid, p. 181.
11. Jaffe, Crucibles, ed. published by Dover
Publications, Inc., New York, 1976, p. 12.
12. Coudert, p. 159.
7


CHAPTER 1
ORIGINS OF ALCHEMY AND THE ARABIC INFLUENCE
There is little doubt that alchemy originated in the
Egyptian city of Alexandria in the first or second
century AD.1 It was here that "alchemy had its origin in
the attempt to apply, in a certain manner, the principals
of Mysticism to the things of the physical plane."2
While alchemy was primarily interested in physical
phenomena, the transmutation of baser metal into gold, it
was also "allied with philosophy and religion from its
beginnings."0 When the "thought models of Greek
philosophy met with the experimental practices of
Egyptian traditions"4 in this cosmopolitan city, a
strange science began to emerge.
The essential desire of all alchemists was quite
simple, "to discover the elixir or 'philosopher's stone,'
which can transmute lead or other base metals into gold
and silver."^ A small portion of this stone, when
applied to correctly prepared baser metals, would
8


transmute the sample into the desired valuable commodity.
If ingested, the philosopher's stone would cure illness
and provide a form of immortality to its user. Thus the
"philosopher's stone is a symbol for the permanence and
perfection which man has always sought and never found.
From the very beginning, this esoteric knowledge was
a closely guarded secret, intended only for initiates and
worthy seekers of knowledge, and the initial members were
probably members of the Egyptian priesthood or foreign
scholars chosen by the cult.7 In this Egyptian melting
pot of "Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Persian and Chaldean
Q
philosophies, sciences, religions and superstitions,"0
forbidden knowledge originally taught to humans by Fallen
Angels or by Isis, the Egyptian goddess,5 emerged into
relative popularity.
Alchemical theory and practice is a strange mixture
of philosophy and practical knowledge. Jewish symbolism
is evident,10 as well as Persian influences,11 but the
primary doctrine seems to be a unique blend of Gnostic
thought, which provided "much of the esoteric, or
11
spiritual side of Western alchemy," and the practicality
of Neoplatonism and Stoicism. The essence of
Neoplatonism,
9


is an effort to reconcile Aristotelianism with
Platonism through an appeal to a still higher
unifying principle than is found in either of the
two, namely, an Ultimate First Principle that is
both transcendent and immanent in all nature,
undefinable and knowable, self-sufficient and
creative throughout the universe without an act of
will.13
Other influential philosophical dialectic include the
"principles most clearly and authoritatively stated by
Aristotle."1* This is succinctly summed up in the idea
"that all matter is reducible to four elements (earth,
air, fire, and water), which are further reducible to
'prime matter'".13
This prime material was present in all things in
varying ratios. Thus all matter could be manipulated to
reform in composition. The purity and value of gold had
been well-known and established. Its monetary and
artistic value made it the most precious of metals. In
gold, "the alchemist saw a picture of the regenerate man
resplendent with spiritual beauty, overcoming all
temptations and proof against evil."13 These inherent
psychological ideas are evident even in early alchemical
documents, though it was not until the Renaissance that
alchemy was almost cleaved into two separate and distinct
halves, one dealing strictly with the physical processes
and one with the spiritual aspects. For the early
10


alchemists, the two sides were inextricably entwined.
"The process was, in fact, a symbol of what the age was
seeking, what was found alike in Christianity and the
mystery-religions- death and resurrection."1'
The early alchemists were already accomplished in
the art of metalworking and their manuscripts make this
abundantly clear.
The Greek alchemists name about eighty different
pieces of apparatus. Furnaces, lamps, water baths,
ash baths, dung-beds, reverberatory furnaces,
scorifying pans, crucibles, dishes, beakers, jars,
flasks, phials, pestles and mortars, filters,
strainers, ladles, stirring rods, stills,
sublimatories, all make their first appearance as
laboratory apparatus in their works and most have
persisted in somewhat modified forms to the present
day.18
When this knowledge encountered the mysticism of
Gnosticism and the logic of Neoplatonism, alchemy
reassigned value to the worker, not just the outcome.
Ever rich in symbolism, these early alchemical
manuscripts are also replete with references to the
spiritual and emotional value of metals, and in
particular, gold. According to the alchemists, in the
metals, "there is the 'body1 or outward form and
properties, 'metalline soul' or spirit, and finally, the
all-pervading essences of all metals."18
This definitional scheme is derivatory of
11


Neoplatonic sources, and the debt of alchemy to Greek
philosophy can be extrapolated even farther. Further
study of early texts makes it obvious that "alchemists
accepted Aristotle's notion that everything in nature
strives for perfection."^ Thus, alchemy as a collection
of "esoteric and theoretical knowledge is but a variant
of the more fundamental Neoplatonic metaphysics, along
with the incorporation of the Aristotelian element
theory."^ All matter, no matter what form, is made of
the same material, is desirous of obtaining a new and
higher form, and can be manipulated by a knowledgeable
and worthy alchemist to achieve this new state. By an
acceptable and logical analogy, man himself was in the
same circumstance, seeking both perfection and salvation.
This salvation, as noted by the Plotinus, the founder of
Neoplatonism, "is not from above, it is from within; and
it is not free- it is very expensive and rarely
achieved.Thus the early alchemist combined the
technical expertise of the craftsman with the knowledge
and insight of the scholar. He needed these qualities in
abundance, for early alchemy, by itself, is "tremendously
dark and complex, and the texts very difficult to read,
so that an enormous kind of technical background of
12


knowledge is needed if you wish to penetrate into this
field."22 These factors combined to limit the
dispersement of alchemy to the general public.
However, this was not the only reason for alchemy's
secret nature. From its origins, we continually meet
throughout the history of alchemy the motif of the great
secret which can not be scientifically or socially told
or imparted from one person to another. "In the history
of alchemy and chemistry this has always been regarded as
a trick to make the whole thing appear important and
mysterious, and to veil secrets."2^ Yet practicality, as
always, played its role in keeping the alchemical
secrets, for knowledge of alloys, metals, and other
metallic knowledge was profitable, and was probably kept
secret "for the very banal, financial reason of keeping
the upper hand.
Yet what exactly was this mysterious and potentially
profitable process? How does an adept transmute baser
metals into gold or create the philosopher's stone? A
careful examination of the early alchemical writings
provides little exact information, but readily
establishes the complex symbolism and tenuous nature of
the terminology, procedures, and results of these early
13


chemists. While the earliest alchemical work in
existence is probably the Physica et Mystics of
Democritus,^ perhaps the most famous is the Emerald
Tablet, attributed to the "Gnostic savior Hermes
Trismegistus, or 'thrice-great Hermes'." This mystical
author, who has 36 thousand 'original' works attributed
no
to him is often considered the founder of alchemy,
while the Emerald Tablet is without a doubt,
one of the best known tracts in all of alchemy. Of
indeterminate but great antiquity, it was long
supposed to encapsulate in its mysterious phrases
all the occult wisdom of the ancients regarding
divine actions in the creation of the world and
regarding the alchemist's actions in the great work
of alchemy, which was of course widely considered to
be a little replication of divine creativity. 9
While there is still debate on the age of the
in
Emerald Tablet. there can be little doubt that it
"contributed mightily to the blend of Gnostic mysticism
and laboratory chemistry which came to characterize much
of Western Alchemy.For this reason, I have reprinted
it here:
The Words of the Secret Things of Hermes
Trismegistus
1. True, without deceit, certain and most true.
2. What is below, is like what is above, and what is
above is like that which is below, for the
performing of the marvels of the one thing.
3. And as all things were from one thing, by the
14


mediation of one thing: so all things were born of
this one thing, by adaptation.
4. Its father is the Sun, its mother is the Moon;
the wind carried it in its belly; its nurse is the
Earth.
5. This is the father of all perfection of the whole
world.
6. Its power is integral, if it be turned into
earth.
7. You shall separate the earth from the fire, the
subtle from the gross, smoothly and with great
cleverness.
8. It ascends from the earth into the heaven, and
again descends into the earth and receives the
powers of the superiors and inferiors. So thus you
will have the glory of the whole world. So shall
all obscurity flee from thee.
9. This is the strong fortitude of all fortitude:
because it will overcome every subtle thing and
penetrate every solid.
10. Thus was the earth created.
11. Hence will there be marvelous adaptations, of
which this is the means.
12. And so I am called Hermes Trismegistus, having
three parts of the Philosophy of the whole world.
13. What I have said concerning the operation of the
Sun is finished. 2
This fascinating document exemplifies the symbolic
nature of alchemy as well as the nebulous language in
which it was conveyed. The second statement can be taken
as the credo of all alchemists, the philosophical and
physical reasoning which justified all attempts at
transmutation. It was further refined as time went on and
was eventually referred to as the macrocosm-microcosm
analogy. The remaining precepts stress the symbolic
nature of the quest, the inescapable fact that all matter
15


was formed from one 'prime matter' and the inestimable
power of refining and using this material, and the trials
and tribulations inherent in seeking this great prize.
It is obvious that early alchemists engaged in a kind of
"symbolic thinking far removed from our own scientific
analysis of the world around us. Practical chemistry was
only a small part of this profound intellectual and
spiritual adventure. "JJ
For an adventure it was, a perilous journey into the
"causal chain of descent from God to matter."^ Again the
duality of the alchemical process is apparent, for in
striving to initiate and control the purification, or
'salvation', of matter, the spirituality and growth of
the alchemist himself is of paramount importance. The
Neoplatonic roots of alchemy are evident as both goals
can be understood in context of Plotinus' writings on
salvation, which is
essentially a technique involving three processes:
(1) catharsis, or the purification of the soul
through morality, (2) dialectics, or the practice of
the discipline of philosophy; and (3) illumination,
or enlightenment (vonois)- a state of ecstasy
wherein the soul finally comes into direct
communication with that part of the One that is
already within it.
Thus, in order to be successful, both the alchemist and
his work must pass through a series of stages or trials
16


before attaining the desired goal, be it spiritual
salvation or successful transmutation. This line of
thinking was revolutionary, the concept "of being able to
conquer nature through natural processes."38 unthought of
previously. Yet it was inevitable, given the underlying
macrocosm-microcosm philosophy, which appointed "God as
the master alchemist, who created the world by
separating, distilling and congealing the elements of
chaos."37
The blending of Gnostic thought with Christian
ideals was initially quite smooth, for both are
"concerned with salvation and redemption and describe
experiences of regeneration in terms of death and
rebirth."38 In later years, as will become evident, there
would be a number of repercussions concerning the Gnostic
and Neoplatonic philosophies underlying alchemy and its
relationship with both the Catholic and Reformation
churches. However, no such difficulties existed as yet,
for Europe was unaware of this new art. Yet its
potential was readily apparent. Here was a novel system
that
linked God, man, and matter in one scheme; it
showed all nature as God's handiwork, modelled by
the seed of God's light within everything, energized
by the continuous flow of influence from heaven to
17


earth. It opened to man the possibility of knowing
nature by the cultivation of his powers, instead of
merely chronicling her external changes; it promised
him the understanding, not so much of the reasons
for phenomena, as of the life principle that lay
behind them. 9
This vast potential was as yet untapped on either a
spiritual or material level. Historical events conspired
to end the magnificence of the Egyptian city of
Alexandria and its vast repository of knowledge. From
the sixth to the twelfth centuries, while Europe lost
almost all knowledge of Greek philosophy and science, the
legacy of alchemy was carried and advanced by another
culture, the Arabs.
The history of alchemy in Europe owes much to the
Arabic world. While Europe was languishing in the early
medieval period and little progress was being made in the
scientific arenas, the Muslim civilization was spreading
throughout the Middle East and into southern Europe. An
enlightened society, the Arabs were interested in both
preserving Greek and Roman knowledge and in advancing
philosophy and science to new heights, including alchemy.
The Arabic influence on alchemy was "considerable,
keeping its importance at least up to the days of
Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas."^
The transmission and preservation of alchemical
18


knowledge by the Arabs was accomplished in the many
Moslem centers of learning including Baghdad, Damascus,
Cordoba, and Toledo. In this task the Arabs owed much to
the Nestorian Christians, who had preserved Greek
philosophical, medical and scientific writings. The
"enlightened Caliphs of Baghdad used these Christian
scholars to translate into Arabic the works of Aristotle,
Euclid, Archimedes, Hippocrates, Galen, and other
Greeks."** However, they developed and refined a large
amount of knowledge on their own. By the twelfth
century, the chemical knowledge of the Moslem world was
"quite considerable"*3 and they had produced some very
influential philosophers and alchemist, including Jabir
ibn Hayyan, considered by many experts as the "Arabic
author who most influenced Western alchemy."*3
Jabir's primary contribution to alchemy was his
introduction of the sulphur-mercury theory on the
composition of metals, which quickly became a primary
component of Western alchemy. Jabir and his
contemporaries were accomplished laboratory workers,
possessing stores of chemical knowledge unknown in Europe
at the time, "whose pharmacy and metallurgy consisted
only of simplest poundings, strainings, boilings, and
19


meltings."44 They knew the "preparation of sal ammoniac,
ammonia, the mineral acids, and borax."45 Jabir's works
describe the preparation of nitro-hydrochloric acid, also
know as aqua-regia48, and the "earliest known recipe for
the preparation of nitric acid appears in Jabir's The
Chest of Wisdom.1,47 The knowledge of acids and their
uses are "perhaps the most single piece of chemical
information that these books contain"48 for this knowledge
"marked an important step in the development of chemistry
because once acids were introduced into the laboratory a
great number of hitherto unknown chemical reactions were
possible."48 Included in this knowledge were methods of
testing metals to discover if they were genuine gold, a
process noted as the "beginning of analysis."88
Not only did the Arabs contribute mightily to the
practical and physical knowledge of alchemy, they also
originated a large amount of the nomenclature. In fact,
"the word alchemy itself comes from the Egyptian khemeia
with the Arabic article al; and it literally means 'the
science of the black earth', or prime matter."54 Other
examples include al-kuhl, or alcohol; al-iksir, or
elixir; and al-tannur, or athanor, a furnace.4 There are
more examples, for "many English alchemical terms are
20


simply transliterations from the Arabic, which were first
converted into Latin and then anglicized.1,55
A complete summation of the Arabic legacy is
difficult "because so many of their works are still
unstudied, and in no field of the history of science is
research more urgently needed."5^ Another problem faced
is one frequently encountered in alchemical historical
research. It is the question of authenticity of both
author and date of publication. However, there can be
little doubt that alchemy "was already an old and
established doctrine with an august and venerable past,"55
when it is first discovered by Europeans.
This knowledge was primarily transmitted to Medieval
Europe through the Moorish conquest of Spain in the
eleventh century. When the Europeans learned of the
impressive knowledge available in Moorish Spain, they
flocked there seeking this unknown commodity, as well as
seeking to convert the infidels. Archbishop Raymond
(1126-51) of Toledo established a college of translators,
and it was there that the first alchemical text was
translated from Arabic into Latin.56 The translator,
Robert of Chester, accomplished this task in 1148.57
Soon many other manuscripts were translated and
21


Europeans were soon entranced with this mysterious
knowledge and "alchemy swept like a fever over
thirteenth-century Europe, and it remained for at least
three centuries the chief preoccupation of those inclined
to the discovery of nature's secrets."58 Soon alchemy's
influence would equally its popularity, as its practice
and philosophy would merge into the growing intellectual
stream of late medieval Europe.
22


NOTES
1. Stillman, John Maxson, The Story of Alchemy and Early
Chemistry. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1960, p.
137.
2. Redgrove, p. 8.
3. Coudert. p. 81.
4. Von Franz, p. 80.
5. Kieckhefer, Richard, Magic in the Middle Ages,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 134.
6. Coudert, p. 194.
7. Stillman, p. 138.
8. Ibid.
9. Von Franz, pgs. 39-63.
10. Ibid, p. 79, although no exact information on the
nature of this symbolism is provided.
11. Yates, Frances, A., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic
Tradition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,
1964, p. 3. For more information, see Yates on
Zoroaster, index, p. 466.
12. Coudert, p. 26.
13. Harris, R. Baine, The Significance of Neoplatonism,
Norfolk, VA: International Society for Neoplatonic
Studies, 1976, p. 8.
14. Kieckhefer, p. 134.
15. Ibid.
16. Redgrove, p. 11.
23


17. Taylor, p. 54.
18. Ibid, p. 46.
19. Redgrove, p. 15.
20. Coudert, p. 20.
21. McGuire, J.E., "Neoplatonism and Active Principles:
Newton and the Corpus Hermeticum," in Hermeticism and the
Scientific Revolution, Los Angeles: The William Andrews
Clark Memorial Library, 1977, p. 141, footnote #84.
22. Harris, p. 6.
23. Von Franz, p. 13.
24. Ibid, p. 67.
25. Ibid.
26. Stillman, p. 154.
27. Coudert, p. 27.
28. Ibid.
29. Dobbs, B.J.T., "Newton's Commentary on the Emerald
Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus: Its Scientific and
Theological Significance," in Hermeticism and the
Renaissance, eds. Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus,
Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1988,
p. 183.
30. Coudert, p. 28.
31. Ibid. There is also a rich history of alchemy in the
Far East, with its own unique flavor and nature.
However, it is beyond the scope of this paper and
deserves its own careful study. I have chosen to
concentrate on the origins, practices, and influences of
alchemy in Europe.
32. I have used the translation quoted in Taylor's, The
Alchemists, pgs. 77-78. Also see Coudert, p. 28 and
Sadoul, Jacques, Alchemists and Gold, trans. Olga
Sieveking, New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1972, pgs. 25-
26. 24


33. Coudert, p. 34.
34. Taylor, p. 168.
35. Harris, p. 6.
36. Taylor, p. 12.
37. Coudert, p. ,80.
38. Ibid, pqs. 29-30.
39. Taylor, p. 170.
40. Sadoul, p. 27.
41. Coudert, p, , 30.
42. Taylor, p. 79.
43. Coudert, p. . 31.
44. Taylor, p. 45. Ibid. 79.
46. Sadoul, p. 27.
47. Coudert, p. . 34.
48. Taylor, p. o 00
49. Coudert, p. . 34.
50. Taylor, p. o 00
51. Sadoul, p. C" CM
52. For more examples see Coudert, p. 31.
53. Coudert, p. 31, quoting from E.J. Holmyard, Alchemy,
Penguin, 1968 (originally published 1957), p. 110.
54. Taylor, p. 79.
55. Ibid, p. 35.
56. Ibid.
25


57. Kieckhefer, p. 133, although there seem to be some
dissenting opinions. See Coudert, p. 31, footnote #1 for
more information on this controversy.
58. Taylor, p. 86.
26


CHAPTER 2
ALCHEMY IN LATE MEDIEVAL AND EARLY RENAISSANCE EUROPE
At a time of rediscovery and new attitudes in Europe
in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, new, non-
religious intellectual activity was beginning to
germinate. Scientific inquiry became acceptable and
universities were organized to accommodate the new thirst
for knowledge and learning. The Arabic writings were in
great demand, especially scientific ones, as Western
Europe knew "scarcely anything of medicine, its astronomy
and mathematics were rudimentary, chemistry and physics
scarcely existed at all."* Into this intellectual vacuum
appeared the early alchemical works, translated into
Latin and filled with fascinating potential and maddening
mystery.
It took a special individual to become involved in
alchemical pursuits during this period. The early texts
were fragmentary and confusing at best and could be
27


almost unfathomable in worst case scenarios. Until the
seventeenth century almost all the alchemical books
produced in the West were written in Latin. So
considerable education was necessary just to read the
texts. The early alchemists was fortunate to even own an
original text, most primarily made due with copies that
they managed to acquire from others. Education was not
enough, for starting a laboratory, obtaining and
maintaining the equipment, and having the time and labor
force to monitor this expensive undertaking were
formidable obstacles. Many of the early European
alchemists were members of the Catholic Church,
possessing both the time and capital to begin these
experiments.
Even if these difficulties were overcome, success
was still not a sure thing. "A firm grasp of natural
philosophy, technical skill, and a flair for organization
were essential attributes for anyone wishing to take up
alchemy, but they were not enough by themselves."3 The
texts were "obscure and mixed with a great deal of
unnecessary jargon,"4 as evidenced by the Emerald Tablet.
They also had instructions for the aspiring alchemist.
One text, the Aurora Consurgens. insisted that the

28


alchemist must be "healthy, humble, holy, chaste,
virtuous, faithful, hopeful, charitable, good, patient,
temperate, understanding, and obedient."5 With such a
long list of requirements, it is easy to understand why
the pursuit of alchemy was a daunting task, and this
isn't even accounting for the difficulties inherent in
the actual texts themselves.
Alchemy, as noted, is replete with symbolism and
analogy. Planets symbolized certain elements and
celestial alignment was considered a crucial factor in
many alchemical operations, for "like every other branch
of science and learning up to the seventeenth century,
alchemy was profoundly influenced by astrology."5 Thus
the actual process whereby the stone could be created
remained locked behind numerous semantic and practical
barriers. The Medieval practitioners continued the
traditions established by the original Greek and Egyptian
alchemists. Their original texts are also richly adorned
with symbolism and obtuse language. For this new breed
of adept, the symbolic nature of alchemical understanding
reflected both his daily life and the age-old secretive
nature of alchemy. To the men of the Middle Ages, the
important things in life were "his relations with God and
29


his neighbor- religion and human relationships- and the
alchemical process became intelligible to him when
n
expressed in those terms."
One of the earliest European alchemists, Albertus
Magnus, canonized by the Catholic Church in twentieth
century, provides a good example of this symbolic
language juxtaposed into more mundane expression. This
section is reprinted from one of his five disputed
alchemical texts.
The first herb comes under Saturn and is called
offodilius. Its extract is excellent for alleviating
and curing diseases of the kidneys and of the legs.
It may also be given to those with bladder trouble.
A small quality of the root, boiled and carried
wrapped in a white cloth will relieve persons
possessed by devils or who suffer from melancholy
madness. Moreover, this same root will exorcise
evil spirits from a house.
According to Sadoul, this medicinal prescription
involving a herb is in fact a complicated code describing
a stage in the search for the stone, or what he refers to
as the "Master Work. Saturn refers to lead and the
rest of the text is symbolic of the various chemical
processes through which the lead will pass.
Not only was Magnus and the other nouveau alchemists
mimicking the intentional obscurity of the ancients, but
they were also responding to a new threat to alchemical
30


research, the Catholic Church. While many early
alchemists were churchmen, as previously noted, most were
secretive in their activities. In this age of
superstition and religious mania, it was not wise to be
known as an alchemist. "Your neighbors, who were
commonly unlearned men, took you for a wizard, a
conjurer. Your ecclesiastical superior might think you
were occupying your time unprofitably.
The optimistic nature of alchemy, with its ideas of
perfection achievable through hard work and proper
spiritual growth, all without the direct interaction of
the church, as well as its Gnostic and Neoplatonic
origins and ideas, "was bound to clash with the Christian
emphasis on original sin and man's fallen nature.This
conflict would continue to intensify and eventually reach
a crisis during the time of the Reformation. Until that
crucial period however,
they were enough curious, greedy or mystically-
minded churchmen to keep the art flourishing within
the Church, even if underground. Although alchemy
teetered on the edge of heresy, and sometimes fell
headlong into it, it was protected to a great extent
by the very obscurity of its literature and
symbolism, which could always be explained away as
harmless, if misplaced, allegory. 2
Despite all these obstacles to success, there are
numerous accounts of alchemists accomplishing their goals
31


of producing the philosopher's stone and transmuting
baser metals into gold. Their validity was open to
question. Such famous and influential figures as
Albertus Magnus, mentioned earlier, the Dominican Vincent
of Beauvais, Roger Bacon, and Thomas Aquinas believed in
the principle of transmutation, and each reputedly
produced texts on alchemy and alchemical theory. J In
fact, "alchemy rested on what was thought to be sound
philosophy and accurate observation. Transmutation was a
fact of routine observation, which only fools could
deny.
The bad reputation suffered by alchemy and
alchemists may rest on that observation. Research has
provided many "accounts of charlatans and spurious adepts
who, with a deluge of glib words but with only a drop of
truth, turned alchemy into one of the greatest frauds in
history."15 The combination of dubious and relatively
inaccessible methods for testing the purity and
composition of metals and a naive and incredulous public
provided an ideal situation for the confidence man.15
Even the dedicated alchemist could not always be sure of
the purity of his creation. Although the introduction of
nitric acid into the chemical arena did provide a more
32


accurate test for the presence of gold, as discussed
earlier, such chemical knowledge was relatively unknown
to the general public. The prevalent tests used at the
time were the test of the touchstone and the test by
fire, yet neither is particularly accurate by today's
standards. Even by including the last test, the
measurement of specific gravity, the layman is still not
provided an accurate, established method usable to
determine the worth of his 'treasure'.1' For an alchemist
to believe he had prepared gold, he would have to make "a
metal which closely resembled gold in colour and
hardness, which was of high density, and which was little
affected by atmospheric action."*
It was relatively easy to obtain or create a
substance which fit this description and could be passed
off as gold, a fact which no doubt contributed to the
various stories of successful transmutations.
Numerous alloys have the appearance of gold or
silver, but no precious metals in their composition.
An alloy of copper and arsenic, for instance, which
contains as little as 2 per cent arsenic, has a
beautiful gold color; with a slightly higher
proportion of arsenic (4.6 per cent) the alloy is
transformed into a silver-looking metal. 9
Even the most dedicated and conscientious alchemist could
readily believe that real gold had been produced if he
33


believed he had followed the complicated series of steps
correctly, an assumption most alchemists were desirous of
making.
Thus both the aspiring and desperate alchemist and
the gullible local lord could easily be convinced they
had witnessed a miracle. This scam was so prevalent that
"there were times in Europe when so much counterfeit gold
was in circulation that the finances of different
countries were in danger."^ These devious practices were
eventually noted in both the contemporary literature and
the effected governments. "The unsavory characterization
of the alchemist in medieval literature knows no better
example than Chaucer's 'Canon Yeoman's Tale' (c. 1390),"^
or Ben Jonson's Alchemist. and the con games which could
be worked were "so simple and attractive that papal bulls
and civil laws had to be enacted against the so-called
Multipliers of Metals."^
While it may seem as if the earliest European
alchemists made little or no contribution to scientific
or cultural progress, apart from acquiring a reputation
for unsavory and untrustworthy behavior, this is not the
case. Although "no one of them contributed anything of
importance either of facts or theories to the knowledge
34


no
of their predecessors," they were
assisting in distributing and popularizing among the
educated classes the theories and facts of chemistry
as then understood, a service which ultimately,
though not immediately, was to help lay the
foundation of a more productive interest in chemical
thought.24
Their work produced practical results as well. Various
alchemists of the era, either by design or as an offshoot
of their experimentation, invented or helped to refine
the use of numerous substances or crafts. Accomplishments
included in this impressive list are the first discovery
and use of alcohol, a new way to refine sugar,
improvements on gunpowder and other fire-producing
material, and advancements in pottery, glass-making,
painter's pigments, and gilding metal.25 Thus the early
alchemists not only "provided the launching pad for
chemistry,"25 but made discoveries which benefitted
everyday life.
As alchemy entered into the last centuries before
the Renaissance, it was slowly undergoing a change, as
were the alchemists themselves. The prevailing
conditions in Europe seemed to portend immense growth and
advancement in alchemical research.
Considering the intellectual awakening of the
thirteenth century, and the revival of interest in
the natural sciences, as shown in the works of the
35


encyclopedists and other writers, and the influence
of the universities, it would seem reasonable to
anticipate that the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries should have exhibited a marked advance in
chemical thought and theory. 7
Yet this is not the case, especially in alchemy. While
alchemical research and writing continued to proliferate,
little actual progress was made. No new theories were
advanced, and while tales of success transmutations
continued to be voiced, their authenticity continues to
be in question. The names of these successful adepts are
still some of the most recognizable in alchemy and their
stories are a tantalizing blend of fact and fiction. One
of the most famous is that of Nicholas Flamel, a Parisian
born around 1330. His story was originally printed in
French in 1612 and translated into English later.2
In this tale we have many of the classic elements
found in alchemical research: the mysterious and
indecipherable text, years of frustrating work and
failure, the unexpected encounter with a knowledgeable
and helpful stranger, more toil and trouble, and finally,
success, leading to financial security and philanthropy.25
Yet in some ways it remains unique, even seen in the
light of modern historical research. Flamel's identity
and his residence in the appropriate house in Paris have

36


been established, and along with a marble tablet from his
tombstone, now in residence in the Musee de Cluny, seem
to validate a least part of his story. This tablet
records that Nicolas Flamel, formerly a scrivener,
left to the church (of St-Jacques-la-Boucherie)
certain rents and houses that he had bought in his
lifetime and had made gifts to various churches and
hospitals in Paris. The tomb is carved in low
relief with figures of Christ, of St Peter and St
Paul, and between these figures representations of
the sun and the moon, which, with the inscriptions
on the archway, attest his connection with alchemy. u
Even with this evidence available, opinions of how Flamel
acquired his sudden and surprising wealth vary. Sadoul
claims that "this story has provided us with the first
51
definite proof," while Redgrove maintains that "it seems
more likely that Flamel's riches resulted from his
business as a scrivener and from moneylending."J* Taylor
believes that after this amount of time nothing very
convincing can be said on the subject, although he says
"it is certain that the history of Flamel was a great
source of belief in alchemy, both in the fifteenth
century and again in the seventeenth, after the narrative
had been printed."3'*
The credibility of Flamel's success notwithstanding,
the legend of his success, as well as that of other
famous alchemists of the era such as Basil Valentine3* and
37


Bernard Trevisan35, definitely influenced the popularity
of alchemy, causing many to take up the art and to write
texts on their efforts. The majority of these efforts
are not memorable and it is difficult to attribute the
works to their authors. "This period was prolific in
alchemical writings by many anonymous and pseudonymous
persons whose dates and personalities are more or less
vague and doubtful."00 This period also saw the
continuation of the practice of attributing works to
famous personages and more well-known alchemists, making
identification of the actual author an almost impossible
task.
These new works also continued to highlight and
accentuate the symbolic nature of alchemy. The authors
"delighted in making every process of their work, every
colour, every substance, and every piece of equipment a
sign of something else,'1,3' furthering their reputation as
qp
"masters of metaphor."00 Perhaps this massive use of
symbolism was necessary to the alchemists of the era, in
it they found "a way of understanding chemical change, of
on
taking it into a mental scheme. Whatever the reason,
the practical applications cloaked in symbolism by these
writers led nowhere. In all the works of all these
38


writers, there is almost nothing that advances to any
viable extent "the knowledge of chemical fact or thought,
however they may have appealed to those who cultivated
the philosophy of alchemy as such."4
Though this increased emphasis on the symbolic and
spiritual nature of alchemy would produce a dramatic
change in the following centuries, the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries produced little advancement in
alchemy, or chemistry as it came to be called as well.
Once again, this might be due to mysterious and often
negative reputation of alchemy, or perhaps the ever-
increasing number of potential subjects available to the
inquisitive and intellectual man. Whatever the reason,
it may readily be conceived that the conditions in
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were not such
as to make the field of chemical activities, other
than the technical arts, attractive to men of
scholarly inclinations nor to enlist the services of
really able men. On the other hand a great number
of men of mediocre ability were attracted by the
very mystery and obscurity of the forbidden science
to dabble in it, and others, who saw their
opportunity to profit by the reputation of wonder
workers, found in the popular belief in the reality
of these mystical arts a fertile soil for their
operations.41
Thus alchemy remained almost in limbo, making few
advancements of either a practical or philosophical
nature. This stalemate was about to be shattered
39


however, as Europe entered the sixteenth century, a
period often characterized as the "height of alchemy in
the Western world."42
As alchemy entered into the sixteenth century, it
was forced to accommodate the new atmosphere which
engulfed Europe and its ever-growing population.
Religious unrest, humanistic tendencies, and technical
advances intertwined with a new interest in the origins
and symbolic meanings of this ancient science to alter
both its goals and procedures. It reached its apex in
popularity and influence, yet suffered a split which
ultimately would lead to its demise as a viable and
realistic mode of thought. The continuing growth of the
university system throughout Europe, over thirty being
erected in the fifteenth century alone43, had major
repercussions on alchemical study. While study of the
natural sciences were not yet included in the official
curriculum, "the thoughts and experiences of men were
widening and gradually also the problems of natural
sciences were finding their way into university
thought."44 Increasingly, the laboratory was becoming a
more important place, as observation and experimentation
replaced mere contemplation as acceptable ways of
40


explaining and interpreting the universe. The
availability of alchemical literature was also
increasing. The invention of movable type and the
advantages therein would make "accessible to a vastly
larger public in the form of printed books and pamphlets,
material hitherto only accessible in laboriously and
expensively copied manuscripts."45 The capture of
Constantinople by the Turks in 1454 also made more
alchemical knowledge and literature available, as the
Byzantine Empire had been a storehouse for much of the
ancient Greek and Egyptian alchemical legacy.45
By the sixteenth century, "religious tensions
probably served to increase interest in the natural
soteriological functions of alchemy, further enlarging
its attraction.1,47 The unrest and desire for religious
reform which would ultimately manifest itself in the
Protestant Reformation infected alchemy as well. As the
censorship of the ecclesiastical authority was
relaxed, a multitude of alchemical writings which
had circulated surreptitiously were printed and
circulated freely. The secrecy and mystery which
had surrounded them in the past gave them an
interest and importance which most of them would
doubtless never have received except for the
previous censorship.48
More popular than ever, alchemy also provided new
religious insights based upon ancient principles, very
41


appealing in an age of uncertainty and dissatisfaction
with the current religious climate. According to Jung,
alchemy helps to compensate for the single-sidedness of
Christian spiritualization; and he believed it was an
underlying movement "which is not anti-Christian but
completes it by bringing the opposites nearer together,
by bringing physical life and such things more into the
field of observation and attention."^ The inherent
conflict between alchemy and Christianity also influenced
alchemical development, as not all who regarded alchemy
as a new spiritual base sought to reform existing
Christianity. Some were drawn by its Gnostic and
Neoplatonic origins, as Renaissance thought began to
revalue the philosophies of the ancients.
As the sixteenth century progressed, those
interested in the new practical emphasis on alchemical
operations and observation, inherent in alchemy since its
origins, would begin to clash and ultimately split from
those who sought answers in its symbolic and quasi-
religious nature. Until this time, "alchemy had always
been composed of two inextricable parts: (1) a secret
knowledge or understanding and (2) the labor at the
furnace."5** That was no longer the case, as the
42


microcosm-macrocosm analogy now served two purposes.
Some alchemists pursued the "renewal and glorification of
matter, guiding themselves by this analogy, others the
renewal and glorification of man, using the same
analogy."51 Thus it is that we find alchemy to be "at
once a craft and a creed."52 Now there was spiritual
alchemy, a part of Hermeticism or Hermetic philosophy,
and practical alchemy, which would ultimately evolve into
chemistry.
43


NOTES
1. Taylor, p. 82.
2. Coudert, p. 61.
3. Ibid, p. 60
4. Taylor, p. 93.
5. Coudert, p. 00
6. Ibid, p. 60
7. Taylor, p. 121.
8. Sadoul, pgs . 61-
9. Ibid, p. 62
10. Taylor, p. 88.
11. Coudert, p. 104.
12. Ibid, p. 106.
13. The controversy surrounding St. Thomas Aquinas is
particularly fascinating. Like others in his era, he was
no doubt acquainted with alchemy and yet, according to
Taylor, "mentions it only incidentally"(p. 84). Yet Von
Franz sets forth a theory in pages 177-205 of her work
that he definitely authored at least one text during his
"death struggle"(p. 242).
14. Coudert, p. 204.
15. Jaffe, p. 16.
16. Various schemes to scam those interested in alchemy
are detailed more thoroughly in Kieckhefer, p. 139, and
Taylor, p. 91.
44


17. For more information on these tests, see Taylor, p.
34.
18. Taylor, p. 34.
19. Coudert, p. 199.
20. Ibid, p. 66.
21. Debus, Allen G., The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian
Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries, Vol. 1, New York: Science History
Publications, 1977, p. 14.
22. Taylor, p. 91.
23. Stillman, p. 272.
24. Ibid, p. 256.
25. For more complete information on this topic, see
Stillman, Chapter V, "The Chemical Knowledge of the
Middle Ages," pgs. 184-230.
26. Coudert, p. 82.
27. Stillman, p. 273.
28. Taylor, p. 125.
29. For a more complete version of Flamel's tale, see
Taylor, pgs. 125-132, or Sadoul, pgs. 73-84.
30. Taylor, p. 133.
31. Sadoul, p. 84.
32. Redgrove, p. 52.
33. Taylor, p. 133.
34. For more on Valentine, see Redgrove, pgs. 52-53, or
Sadoul, pgs. 85-87.
35. For more information on this alchemist, whom Sadoul
calls Bernard of Treviso, see Redgrove, pgs. 54-55, or
Sadoul, pgs. 87-95.
45


36. Stillman, p. 296.
37. Coudert, p. 113.
38. Ibid, p. 61.
39. Taylor, p. 121.
40. Stillman, p. 297.
41. Ibid, p. 275.
42. Coudert, p. 196.
43. Stillman, p. 300.
44. Ibid.
45. Ibid, p. 301.
46. Ibid.
47. Dobbs, Foundations, p. 42.
48. Stillman, p. 301.
49. Von Franz, p. 260.
50. Dobbs, Foundations, p. 27.
51. Taylor, p. 115.
52. Ibid.
46


CHAPTER 3
SPIRITUAL ALCHEMY IN RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION EUROPE
The high point of European spiritual alchemy, or
personal alchemy concerned with man's philosophical
search for spiritual perfection, occurred during the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and coincided with
the "breakdown of religious orthodoxy and social
organization during the Renaissance."* Spiritual alchemy
helped to fill the religious needs of "an age adrift on a
sea of conflicting idealogies."2 This quest was also
affected by the ever-growing separation between science
and religion philosophy. The new scientific method,
greatly influenced by practical alchemy and discussed in
the next section, added to the spiritual unease and
provided further impetus to find answers to mysteries of
life.
Therefore,
not only was there a dissatisfaction with the new
science, which was seen not to be a philosophy of
nature as a whole, and which consequently awakened a
desire for such a philosophy, but there was also a
47


wish for an explanation of the world in which the
surviving beliefs in the 'Hermetic' sciences -
alchemy, astrology, and natural magic should find
a rational justification. The result was a defence
of these beliefs by explaining them and making them
appear rational in the light of a spiritual natural
philosophy, the Hermetic. -
To some, there persisted a strong belief in the
possibility "that embedded in the accretions of
alchemical literature lay important truths expressed in
symbolic form."^
These answers could be found by careful examination
of the various Hermetic literature, of which alchemical
writings were one example. The term 'Hermetic', which
came to represent these efforts and the literature
associated with them, refers to Hermes Trismegistus, a
"mythical name associated with a certain class of gnostic
philosophical revelations or with magical treatises and
recipes,"5 such as the Emerald Tablet. To many of his
followers in the Renaissance era, he was an actual
person, "an Egyptian priest who had lived in times of
remote antiquity and who had himself written all these
works,"5 a theory thoroughly disproved by modern
research. The Hermetic literature can be divided into
two branches, "one dealing with philosophy and the other
with alchemical, astrological, and magical literature and
48


these two branches can not be kept entirely separate."7
This study will focus primarily on the alchemical impact
of Hermeticism, for "the Hermetic science par excellence
is alchemy."8
It is in spiritual alchemy that the distinction
between magic and alchemy as science or pseudo-science
begins to be examined, for in reading the Hermes
Trismegistus, the reader walks the line between "magic
and religion, magic and science, magic and art or poetry
or music. It was in those elusive realms that the man of
the Renaissance dwelt."9 Not only does Hermeticism in
the Renaissance become "a religion, a cult without
temples or liturgy, followed in the mind alone, a
religious philosophy or philosophical religion containing
a gnosis,"*8 but it also reasserts the importance of
magic in European culture. In fact, "it is probable
that Hermes Trismegistus is the most important figure in
the Renaissance revival of magic."*1
It is important to redefine the term 'magic' as it
will be used in this examination of alchemy. While the
reputation of alchemy firmly places it in the realm of
science and there can be little doubt as to the
contributions it made to this field, it can be safely
49


maintained that in this period of time it was considered
to be a magical process. The obscurity and complexity
of the literature, the secrecy of its initiates, and the
relatively rare rate of success led the general public to
label it as magic, for "magic should be used to refer to
those things which society as a whole considers magical
and not those qualified as such by a single segment of
society only."*3 This revival of magic is concurrent with
Renaissance ideas about the purity and quality of the
thought of the ancient philosophers and teachers. They
believed the
cyclic view of time as a perpetual movement from
pristine golden ages of purity and truth through
successive brazen and iron ages still held sway and
the search for truth was thus of necessity a search
for the early, the ancient, the original gold from
which the baser metals of the present and the
immediate past were corrupt degenerations. 3
This emergence of alchemy as a magical and spiritual
pursuit can be readily understood given the nature of the
art. The enormous amount and complexity of the symbolism
and its underlying sympathetic definitions and beliefs
are more easily understood if they are submerged into a
magical system. This sympathetic belief system** is again
due to alchemy's Neoplatonic origins. According to its
founder, Plotinus, "beings on Earth are linked with each
50


other and with the heavenly bodies in an intricate living
network of influences."*5 Thus we are constantly subject
to the "tug of magical influences from everywhere in the
cosmos. When people discover these forces they can
employ them for their purposes."15
Thus not only does failure become more readily
explainable by quick reference to the symbolic nature of
the experience and not just faulty procedure, but the
more mystical elements such as astrology and Cabalism can
be introduced into the equation for success, which also
grows in stature as the adept can now claim the powers of
the magician. In fact, with spiritual alchemy the
"technical elements were reduced to a minimum and magic
became the dominant partner; they depended on magic to
such an extent that they seemed to have grown from it."17
This Renaissance re-emergence of magic has been well
documented, and we have to think of Renaissance magic as
"both in continuity with mediaeval magic and also the
transformation of that tradition into something new."18
The ancient and medieval conceptions of magic were in
some ways replaced. Renaissance magic, which was a
"reformed and learned magic and always disclaimed any
connection with the old ignorant, evil or black magic,
51


was often an adjunct of an esteemed Renaissance
philosopher."^ No longer did the magician or 'magus', as
he came to be called, have to quiver in fear of
discovery. The melding of magic and philosophy brought
it into mainstream intellectual thought and invested it
with both prestige and power.
A new breed of man was inventing himself, the magus
or "occult philosopher."^ These men were a complex
combination of intellectual, philosopher, scientist, and
alchemists. They believed that man "is superior to the
stars if he lives in the power of superior wisdom.
Such a man, "being master over heaven and earth, by means
of his will, is a magus, and magic is not sorcery but
supreme wisdom."33 In this endeavor, alchemy was
important because it made the adept "more 'perfect'
because it brings his will into harmony with the
universe."33 Examples of these men include Denis
Zacchaire (1519-1556), John Dee (1526-1608),1 Edward Kelly
(1555-1597), Robert Fludd (1574-1637), and Michael
Sendivogius (1566-1646).3^
The debate over the importance and influence of
these Renaissance magicians continues. Some experts
claim these later alchemists and magicians were "simply
52


mystics, others credulous fanatics, some simply
charlatans and confidence operators."25 Others point to
the importance of their own work28 and their influence on
such scientific luminaries as Newton. Yates'
influential work maintains that
the real function of the Renaissance Magus in the
relation to the modern period (or so I see it), is
that he changed the will. It was now dignified and
important for man to operate; it was also religious
and not contrary to the will of God that man, the
great miracle, should exert his powers. 8
Yet conflict was inevitable. The combination of
alchemy's magical investiture and philosophical origins
made it a target for various religious authorities.
The philosophical roots of alchemy once again
reinforce its unique position in Hermetic theory. Its
juxtaposition of magic and religion led to its separation
from practical alchemy and its conflict with the Catholic
and Protestant Churches. "Neoplatonism was the pagan
magical synthesis; gnosticism was the Christian
rationalization of magic."28 The conflict arose not only
from its association with magic, which the medieval
church had frowned upon as noted previously, but from its
Gnostic ideals. For Gnostics, man is a spark of divinity
who finds himself in the world of base matter. "He has
forgotten temporarily his divine nature but can be made
53


to realize it again through the experience of gnosis."JU
This type of spiritual transmutation would obviously
appeal to those whose religious moorings were in turmoil,
for theoretically this transmutation was a process which
"transformed the individual from an ordinary mortal
immersed in the physical world to a superior being fully
01
conscious of the mystery of life and death.This
process, as outlined in Hermetic theory and using
spiritual alchemy "as a path to mystical union" is both
religious and magical. In it, the alchemist becomes God,
so as to better understand God. This union is best
described in one of the Hermetic dialogues, in which the
universal mind (or Nous), explains the transmutation
00
power of man to become God,
See what power, what swiftness you possess. It is
so that you must conceive of God; all that is, he
contains within himself like thoughts, the world,
himself, the All. Therefore unless you make
yourself equal to God, you cannot understand God:
for the like is not intelligible save to the like.
Make yourself grow to a greatness beyond measure, by
a bound free yourself from the body; raise yourself
above all time, become Eternity; then you will
understand God. Believe that nothing is impossible
to you, think yourself immortal and capable of
understanding all, all arts all sciences, the nature
of every living being. Mount higher than the
highest height; descend lower than the lowest depth.
Draw into yourself all sensations of everything
created, fire and water, dry and moist, imagining
that you are everywhere, on earth, in the sky, that
you are not yet born, in the maternal womb,
54


adolescent, old, dead, beyond death. If you embrace
in your thought all things at once, times, places,
substances, qualities, you may understand God. 4
Transmutation could be accomplished not by physical
alchemy and its endless repetition of chemical processes,
but by philosophical introspection on the symbolic and
magical nature of alchemical texts. This new Renaissance
magic was based on the revival of the Cabbala. The
Cabbala was a "transcendental philosophy of nature,
supposed to have originated among Hebrew Alexandrian
neoplationists, and was in the first instance a mystical
interpretation of the scriptures."^ Cabbala, maintains
the magical power of numbers, words, and signs and the
"possibility through the knowledge of this power to
foresee and influence future events. It recognized the
power of amulets, magic formulae, conjurations of spirits
and other supernatural agencies.Thus it is through
the revival of the Hermetic tradition and its union with
a revitalized interest in medieval and ancient magic that
spiritual alchemy begins to re-evaluate itself and its
symbolism, searching for its possibilities.
Spiritual alchemy lost its importance and relevancy
as advances in scientific theory and understanding as
well as new philosophical ideals made it a less
55


attractive and comprehensive alternative. Yet it did
leave a significant legacy. The revitalization of
magical theory and practice and its establishment as a
somewhat acceptable method of seeking knowledge would
have repercussions in both the scientific and literary
worlds. The legend of the Magus would profoundly
influence literature, culminating in the classic tales of
Dr. Faustus, on which more will be said later. The
marriage of magic to science, embodied in alchemy, would
produce invaluable results as magic retained it appeal as
"a useful spiritual exercise, and it was also recognized
as of value for medicine and relevant to scientific
explanation.1,37 This would eventually culminate in the
death of alchemy, as alchemy itself transmuted into
chemistry and disproved the very tenets of its existence.
Along the way, both chemistry and medicine were changed
forever, as we shall discover in the next chapter.
Finally, the transmutation of alchemy became a
symbol of reform.
Magical science, imbued with alchemical symbols and
the concept of transmutation, once again powerfully
expressed the dream of transformation, not only of
matter, but of man, society, the world, and
ultimately the dream of a Paradise regained on
earth. Along these lines, magic in a very
fundamental way could be united with the visions of
freedom of the Enlightenment and of later
56


revolutionary ideologies.3
This alchemical symbolism of reform would merge into the
new scientific revolution occurring throughout Europe,
which strangely enough sought to accomplish that reform
without mystical and occult explanations.
Yet it seems unlikely that it could have occurred
without the revival of Hermeticism. This revival infused
new ideas and concepts into the volatile mix of the
European intellectual and scientific community. Armed
with the strange allies of magic and science, they sought
to understand and explain the world in a new way. Yates
is correct when she states that the revival of the cult
of Hermes, "and the Neoplatonism and Cabalism associated
with him, may have played during his period of glorious
ascendance over the mind of western man a strangely
important role in the shaping of human destiny."03
57


NOTES
1. Coudert, p. 83.
2. Ibid.
3. Taylor, p. 167.
4. Webster, Charles, From Paracelsus To Newton: Magic and
the Making of Modern Science. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1982, p. 10.
5. Yates, p. 6.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid, p. 44.
8. Ibid, p. 150.
9. Ibid, p. 455.
10. Ibid, p. 5.
11. Ibid, p. 18.
12. Mauss, Marcel, A General Theory of Magic, trans.
Robert Brain, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1972, p. 18.
13. Yates, p. 1.
14. For more information on the relationship between
sympathetic magic and alchemy, see Mauss, pgs. 97-104.
15. Kieckhefer, pgs. 26-27.
16. Ibid.
17. Mauss, p. 19.
58


18. Yates, p. 81.
19. Ibid, p. 17.
20. Stillman, p. 368.
21. Pachter, Henry M., Paracelsus; Magic into Science.
New York: Collier Books, 1961, p. 74.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid. p. 78.
24. partial list from Stillman, p. 368.
25. Stillman, p. 368.
26. See Debus, Allen G. and Robert P. Multhauf,
"Renaissance Chemistry and the Work of Robert Fludd," in
Alchemy and Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century. Los
Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1966.
27. See Dobbs 1 Foundation and "Newton's Commentary".
28. Yates, p. 156.
29. O'Keefe, P. 535.
30. Coudert, P- 103.
31. Ibid, p. 96
32. O'Keefe, P- 527.
33. Coudert, P- 103.
34. Coudert, pgs. 103-104, in which she credits Corpus
Hermeticum, texte etabli par A.D. Nock et traduit par J-J
Festiugiere, Paris, 1945, i, pp. 147ff. Translated and
paraphrased in Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the
Hermetic Tradition. London, 1964, p. 32.
35. Stillman, p. 367.
36. Ibid.
37. Webster, p. 10.
59


38. Johannisson, Karin, "Magic, Science, and
Institutionalization in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth
Centuries," in Hermeticism and the Renaissance, p. 259.
39. Yates, p. 156.
60


CHAPTER 4
PHYSICAL ALCHEMY FROM PARACELSUS TO LAVOISIER
Alchemists had come to believe that all matter was
composed of sulphur and mercury in differing proportions
and that these proportions, if manipulated correctly by a
knowledgeable adept, could change one substance into
another. Their curiosity about matter and its forms led
to the development of many processes now commonly used in
chemical laboratories, such as distillation and
calcination. As noted previously, the alchemist's quest
for knowledge was predicated upon experimentation and
extreme attention to detail. "He concentrated attention
on the form, colour, and odour of the matter and watched
intently all that occurred,"* although he did not attempt
to explain these changes in a chemical manner, instead
cloaking them in symbolism. As the Scientific Revolution
dawned, alchemists were already at the forefront, as the
"art of distillation supplied 'experience'; the tradition
of alchemical speculation provided 'reasoning'; two
61


preconditions for systematic research."L
Yet until recently, the alchemical impact on this
scientific reorientation has been neglected.
Today we normally associate the scientific
revolution primarily with mechanical analogies and
atomism, the use of mathematical abstraction, the
developing experimental method, and above all, an
avoidance of mysticism and occult explanations. The
chemical and medical developments of the period
seldom play a major part in these presentations.
These two disciplines are deeply intertwined, as medicine
evolved from chemistry, which grew from alchemy. Perhaps
the most influential alchemist of all time was a man who
never succeeded in the art, yet his writings greatly
impacted upon the development of chemistry and the
refinement of medicine. He was Aureolos Theophrastus
Bombastus von Hoehenheim, or as he is more commonly
known, Paracelsus. The name means "better that Celsus"
and is in reference to the ancient Roman encyclopedist.*
He has been called the "Luther of Medicine"5 and is
reputed to be the first to use the word chemistry.5
Characterized as a "strange mixture of honest,- fitful,
fearless crusader, and mystic, cowardly seeker after
gold,"7 Paracelsus believed that "without alchemy none
0
could be a physician," and that "chemistry was the key
to the universe, which would disclose the secrets of
62


theology, physics and medicine."9
Paracelsus' ideas and writings shook the medical
community to its foundations and his later followers were
some of the most influential chemists of all time,
including Johann Baptista van Helmont, called the "most
prominent chemist of the first half of the seventeenth
century."10 He not only impacted science, but psychology
as well for the "descriptive method, which began with
him, liberated psychology from the tutelage of
theology.m11 Finally, he has been linked with the
development of the Faust legend, immortalized in a large
number of plays, stories, and even music.
Quite a list of accomplishments for a man who never
achieved the alchemist's goal of transmutation and lived
the life of a wandering physician, however, Paracelsus
"is not remembered for his achievements, but for his
fight against orthodoxy."12 He was "at heart a medieval
'magus,' despite his great contributions to the progress
of science,"13 and with his alchemical background
Paracelsus "combined Neoplatonism, Hermeticism and
alchemy into a heady mixture of revolutionary ideas.
"Behind the emergence of modern science there was a
new direction of the will towards the world, its marvels,
63


and mysterious workings, a new longing and determination
to understand those workings and to operate with them."15
Born in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, in 1493, Theophrastus
von Hoehenheim typified this new scientific thinking.
Son of doctor, he was an only child when his family moved
to a mining region, which provided him with invaluable
experience in mining chemistry and early alchemical
training. He spent hours pondering the thought of
transmutation or dreaming of the Philosopher's stone. He
seems to have followed his father into medicine, and
although he never received an official degree,15 he served
from as an army surgeon in the Danish wars, conflicts in
the Netherlands, and in the Neapolitan wars from 1518
until his return in 1525, at the age of 32.'
Disillusioned with his conventional university
experiences and the various medical theories taught
1 ft
there10, Paracelsus turned again to his love of magic as
an answer to his dilemmas. He studied with the Abbot of
Sponheim, Johannes Heidenburg of Tritheim, also called
Trithemius, a famous alchemist. Trithemius was also an
expert in Cabala, various occult sciences, as well as a
respected historian, connoisseur of art and poetry and
ethics teacher. In short, he characterized the strange
64


combination of magician and scientist which came to known
as a magus, as previously discussed. Combining his new
knowledge with his childhood study, Paracelsus' interest
and knowledge of alchemy became an important component in
his psychological and intellectual view of the world.
Forever changed by these novel experiences as well
as his practical career, Paracelsus now began to assume
some of the personality traits which would mark his
writings and lectures.
He was by that time a man of marked individuality,
great self-confidence, strongly influenced by the
spirit of revolt from traditional authority
characteristic of the period of the Revolution, and
imbued with the mission to free the practice of
medicine from the dominance of the traditional
doctrines of Galen and Avicenna, and to further the
founding of medicine upon independent observation
and experience. And to chemistry he looked as an
important factor in the new development of medical
procedures.19
He began to travel extensively, and in his "passionate
search for truth, Paracelsus did not hesitate to mingle
with gypsies, conjures, charlatans, sorcerers, robbers,
bandits, convicts, refugees from the law- all manner of
rogues and honest men."20 He was seeking both medical
knowledge and to both see and better understand mankind
and his environment, for he believed "man and the cosmos
were analogies which were inseparably linked. The study
65


of man the microcosm was unthinkable without an
appreciation of his place in the physical and spiritual
macrocosm. "*A
This supreme confidence in both the value and
validity of the ancient alchemist's microcosm-macrocosm
analogy was no doubt garnered from his alchemical studies
and would form the cornerstone of his chemical and
medical thinking. With it he revolutionized medicine and
forever altered the course of chemistry, for "out of the
magic correspondences between the macrocosmos and the
microcosmos, Paracelsus derives the metabolism between
the two. Man and the Universe are related chemically."^
Conventional thought held that the all matter in the
universe was composed of a ratio of sulphur and mercury,
the old alchemical formula. To this theory Paracelsus
added another element, salt. This triumvirate of
creation would dominate "chemical thought and philosophy
until the rise of the theory of phlogiston."^ This
theory would finally be destroyed by Lavoisier in the
eighteenth century and will be discussed later.
Paracelsus' other practical chemical advancement was the
transmission of a recipe for laudanum to Europe, a
discovery he reputedly obtained from a magus in
66


Constantinople in 1521.^ However, Paracelsus' primary
influence on the development of chemistry as a vital and
viable science came not from his laboratory work, which
was almost nonexistent, nor his chemical writings, which
contain mostly common knowledge, but on the new attitude
which he espoused. He took the traditional alchemical
pursuits, that of transmutation and the search for the
Philosopher's Stone, and made them acceptable and even
desirable for the burgeoning group of chemists. With his
unique background and spiritual views on the macrocosm-
microcosm relationship, "he possessed a breadth of view
as to the field of chemistry and its possibilities."25 It
was in the development of medicine that this vision would
be realized, for Paracelsus believed that in the
combination of alchemy and chemistry it would be possible
to develop specific medicines to cure specific diseases.
This revolutionary idea, germinated in his early
alchemical beliefs, grew to fruition nourished in his
contempt for conventional philosophy and wisdom and
produced fundamental changes in medicine.
"For Paracelsus the role of the physician was
properly compared to that of the true natural magician."25
This magus conceived of "Nature as a self-consistent,
67


self-constituted whole, governed by all-pervading laws
which apply to the human body as they apply to inanimate
nature."22 If correctly trained and properly motivated,
the "godly magus may concentrate in himself celestial
virtues which are the hidden powers in nature."28
Unfortunately according to Paracelsus, despite the close
connection between medicine and alchemy which had existed
in Western Europe since the thirteenth century", the
proper training and understanding of medicine and its
effect on the human body was non-existent. This was the
primary battle of Paracelsus' career, an exhaustive and
bitter fight to improve and update medical knowledge
while integrating alchemical/chemical practices into
medicine.
"The first major confrontation of the Scientific
Revolution was between Paracelsus and Galen, rather than
between Copernicus and Ptolemy."28 Despite all the
progress of the Renaissance, medicine in the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries was still firmly grounded in
its ancient roots. The primary authorities were
Hippocrates, Avicenna, and the master Roman physician,
Galen, and "superstition, mysticism and false theories
*31
were the cornerstones of its structure."J1 Galenic
68


medicine was predicated upon the concept of the four
humors: blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile. Disease
was due to a change it the proportions of these fluids,
"these being related by metaphysical analogy to the four
Platonic-Aristotelian qualities, cold and warm, dry and
moist.Yet "Galenic medicine had failed in the
treatment of the diseases that were the scourge of
33
sixteenth-century Europe.
Into this miasma of failure and chaos came
Paracelsus, a "revolutionist with the imagination of a
poet and the fearlessness of a crusader."^ With his
emphasis on observation and his strong background in
alchemical theory and practice, he disregarded
traditional thinking in favor of a new medicine which was
based on the combination of chemistry and alchemy.
Drawing on his experience in metallic alchemy, he re-
oriented the pursuit for the Philosopher's Stone to
include the search for specific chemical cures for
specific maladies. Paracelsus "started the investigation
of the use of metallic compounds in medicine and thereby
gave a new impulse to the chemical worker whose energies
had previously been confined to the well-worked but not
over-profitable fields of alchemy."^5 This radical
69


concept was particularly appealing to the new men of
science, for applying alchemical theories and practices
to medicine "represented the application of analytical
skills to a vehicle of truth bearing kinship to both
revelation and nature."36
Paracelsus1 revolutionary ideas were not initially
well-received, for they challenged not only traditional
medical knowledge and practice, but the educational
grounding upon which medicine rested. By dismissing both
the Aristotelian system of elements and the system of
deductive logic upon which Galenic medicine was based,
Paracelsus helped initiate a new mode of thinking. This
new thinking, refined and carried forward by later
followers of Paracelsus, sometimes called "Hermetic
humanists"37 or simply Paracelsians, was predicated upon
the alchemical heritage of observation and practical
experimentation, and signalled the initial prominence of
supporters who called for "a new and unprejudiced
investigation of nature."J0 The Paracelsians would
eventually overwhelm and replace the Galenic school of
thought, but not without a tremendous struggle which
would last for over a century. The extreme opposition
engendered by the proponents of Paracelsus was "a measure
70


of his success in sabotaging efforts at permanently
establishing the authority of Galen in the field of
medicine. ",5, Thus by "turning alchemy away from its
preoccupation with gold-making, Paracelsus and his
followers transformed it into a universal science of
matter concerned with every aspect of material change."*0
The Paracelsian influence on chemistry was not
complete. The next major chemist influenced by
Paracelsus was Jan Baptista van Helmont (1580-1644). He
carried on the Paracelsian tradition during his lifetime
and is generally credited with inventing the term 'gas',
used in connection with carbon dioxide.** He was a noted
experimental chemist of his era and "his chemical
theories exerted a powerful influence on the chemists of
his century. No chemist is cited more frequently nor
with higher respect."*3 Yet he, as well as Paracelsus,
firmly believed in transmutation. Nor were they alone,
for despite the growing influence of mechanistic
philosophy and atomist theory, there was a marked
increase in the publication of alchemical texts in the
seventeenth century. "Several chemists who contributed
to the expansion of chemical knowledge still held belief
in the reality of the transmutation of metals."*3
71


Here is encountered one of the many paradoxes
inherent in the slow decline of alchemy. The very men
whose work led to the dissolution of alchemy as a science
were convinced of its validity. Robert Boyle (1626-
1691), credited "with being the first chemist to study
chemistry for its own sake, and not as an accessory to
medicine or any chemical art,"** and first to accurately
define an element*5, also continued to attempt
transmutation. Herman Boerhaave (1664-1734)*, considered
the "first great rational chemist"*7 and a "thorough-going
experimentalist and careful empiricist"* still believed
in transmutation.
This continued popularity of alchemy seems to have
stemmed both from the spiritual aspects which still
remained in vogue, as well as the association of alchemy
in both its spiritual and physical forms with the idea of
reform, "reform of man, reform of human knowledge, of
society itself."*9 This concept of reform gathered many
disciples during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early
eighteenth centuries, providing the modern researcher
with another paradox. The very cornerstone of
Paracelsian science is the repudiation of ancient
knowledge and the reliance on personal observation. Yet
72


even after his work had stimulated such a wave of
scientific experimentation, the popularity of alchemical
texts, especially those of the ancients, rose to new
heights, as such authors as Avicenna, Albertus Magnus,
Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Hermes Trismegistus were
published and republished.50 Reportedly successful adepts
such as Nicholas Flamel, Issac of Holland, Bernard
Trevisan.and Dennis Zachaire were considered to have
"considerable merit."51
This identification of the Hermetic sciences with
reform seems to have reached its peak with the
Rosicrucian movement, an "organization of mystics devoted
to alchemy, cabalism, and theosophy,"5^ which strongly
believed in almost a complete oligarichal reform of
society based upon intellectual advances. Although the
Rosicrucians were likely based upon a few isolated
manuscripts with little actual applicability, it shows
the power of the reform ideals which had seized Europe,
many based upon alchemical texts. The idea of
transmutation held its appeal despite the advancing
scientific evidence against its validity. Alchemy "could
never quite be killed out right by point-by-point
empirical refutations, and its most basic assumption
73


remained subtly appealing: matter should have a unity
behind all its apparent diversity."53 As long as physical
alchemy still remained as a viable pursuit, although it
became seen as a less scientific endeavor, the social
analogy retained great power and desirability.
Despite this growing scientific evidence, the search
for the philosopher's stone seems to have been pursued
with as much vigor during the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries as in the past two centuries. The appeal of
alchemy still drew some of the greatest minds of the era,
men such as Issac Newton and Antoine Lavoisier, whose
work finally laid to rest the dreams of alchemists and
firmly implanted chemistry as a true science. Both these
giants and others "viewed Paracelsus and van Helmont not
only as originators of a medical system but also as
alchemists of the highest order and discoverers of the
true universal medicine."5* The proof of this continuing
popularity can be found in tracing the growing number of
reviews of alchemical literature published in the French
Journal des Scavans from its origin in 1665 until the
late 1690's.55 This scholarly journal is an important
research tool because "it covered works published in all
major European languages and because it did not reflect
74


Surveying the
the bias of any one special school."56
works reviewed in the Journal shows that "the literature
of alchemy, hermeticism and Paracelsian natural
philosophy remained in vogue and was required reading
among the serious scholars of Newton's generation"57 and
even beyond.
Sir Issac Newton (1642-1727), whose "image is firmly
associated with the values of the Enlightenment and the
EQ
modern world,"30 was a serious alchemical scholar, as
attested by his enormous library, and was profoundly
influenced by his vast alchemical reading.56 "Newton
looked for no less than the structure of the world in
alchemy- a system of the small world to match with his
system of the greater."66 He believed that alchemy could
reveal the very secrets of nature. "He was interested in
the structure of matter and in what alchemy could teach
him about its forms and changes and about the universal
spirit that animated the changes and molded the forms."6*
His work enabled men of science to better understand the
universe around them, and his theories on nature and
universal principles, detailed in his great work, The
Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, are
grounded in applications of the microcosm-macrocosm
75


analogy. He took science into the Age of Enlightenment,
and with his theories and the new scientific method,
alchemy stood on the brink of extinction. It would be up
to Lavoisier to strike the final blow.
The work of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794)
administered the final blow to the scientific delusions
of alchemy. He overthrew the phlogistic theory of
burning in favor of the modern theory of oxidation and
burning and "took chemistry away from the mystics and the
obscurantists and gave its knowledge to every man who
would learn.His monumental work, Traite Elementaire
de Chimie. completely reorganized the nomenclature of
chemistry, eliminating the alchemical symbolism and
creating a universal chemical vocabulary. "He was the
first to recognize the common elementary constituent of
organic bodies, and the fist to devise a method for their
Cl
determination."0,3 This influential scholar, politician,
philosopher, and scientist, who at age 22 received a gold
medal from the Academy of Sciences for creating the most
efficient and effective way to light the streets of
Paris, was also a student of alchemy. In the Cornell
University Library rests a copy of the seventeenth
century classic alchemical text, the Novum lumen
76


chvmicum. by Michael Sendivogius, bearing the bookplate
of Antoine Lavoisier.5*
Called "one of the three or four greatest men France
has produced,"15 Lavoisier brought chemistry into the
modern era, his system of nomenclature enabling chemists
throughout the world to communicate effectively, ending
the hold of alchemy's mysterious symbolism on chemical
progress. His work on organic bodies combined with the
discoveries of his predecessors effectively eliminated
the reality of transmutation and the philosopher's stone,
if not the dream. The scientific method and the
brilliant men who practiced it, both profoundly
influenced by alchemy, led it to its demise. Yet alchemy
did not die easily, and still retains an odd appeal to
this very day. While chemistry is an accepted and
valuable scientific pursuit today, the underlying ideal
of transformation and reform is alive and well and as
"scientific method reformed chemical theory, the specific
ideas of alchemy were not so much disproved as found
useless and discarded.1,65 These ideas would not
disappear, but were instead transplanted into new areas
where they would again prove influential. Two such new
areas were psychology and literature, or more
77


specifically the theories of Carl Jung and the literary
legend of Faust.
78


NOTES
1. Taylor, p. 114.
2. Pachter, p. 98.
3. Debus, Allen G., The French Paracelsians, Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 146.
4. See Pachter, p. 20 for more information.
5. Webster, p. 4.
6. Pachter, p. 97.
7. Jaffe, p. 31.
8. Taylor, p. 150.
9. Coudert, p. 208.
10. Stillman, p. 381.
11. Pachter, p. 184.
12. Ibid, p. 235.
13. Ibid, p. 63.
14. Coudert, p. 208.
15. Yates, p. 448.
16. While Stillman claims he received a degree though he
claims it is not known from whence it came (p. 309),
Pachter discusses his various educational travels and
medical training without mentioning an official degree
being conferred upon the young Theophrastus (pgs. 32-49).
17. Stillman, p. 309.
18. Again see Pachter, pgs. 32-49.
79


19. Stillman, p. 309.
20. Jaffe, p. 17.
21. Webster, p. 4.
22. Pachter, p. 10.
23. Stillman, p. 322.
24. Pachter, p. 87.
25. Stillman, p. 323.
26. Debus, The Chemical Philosophy, p. 96.
27. Pachter, p. 181.
28. Debus, Chemical Philosophy. Vol. I, p. 96.
29. Debus, French Paracelsians, p. 162.
30. Webster, pgs. 3-4.
31. Jaffe, p. 15.
32. Stillman, p. 149.
33. Debus, French Paracelsians. p. 9.
34. Ibid, p. 21.
35. Taylor, p. 150.
36. Webster, p. 10.
37. Debus, French Paracelsians, p. 8.
38. Debus and Multhauf, "Renaissance Chemistry"
39. Webster, p. 3.
40. Coudert, p. 208.
41. Stillman, p. 383.
42. Ibid, p. 385.
80


43. Ibid, P- 422.
44. Ibid, P- 379.
45. Redgrove , p. 96
46. These dates seem questionable, as Dobbs lists 1664-
1734 while Stillman lists 1668-1735. I have chosen
Dobbs, whose work was of more recent publication.
47. Dobbs, Foundations, p. 44.
48. Ibid, p. 44.
49. Ibid, p. 91.
50. Ibid, p. 51.
51. Ibid.
52. Stillman, p. 423.
53. Ibid, p. 92.
54. Debus, French Paracelsians. p. 208.
55. For more information on the Journal des Scavans, see
Debus, French Paracelsians, pgs. 150-154.
56. Debus, Allen G. "Alchemy in an Age of Reason: The
Chemical Philosophers in Early Eighteenth Century
France", in Hermeticism and the Renaissance, eds. Ingrid
Merkel and Allen G. Debus, Cranbury, NJ: Associated
University Presses Inc., 1988, p. 242.
57. Webster, p. 9.
58. Ibid, p. 1.
59. Opinions again seem to vary as to the impact of
alchemy on Newton and his work. Dobbs believes it played
a tremendous role, as she documents in Foundations. while
in his article "Neoplatonism and Active Principles:
Newton and the Corpus Hermeticum", in Hermeticism and the
Scientific Revolution, J.E. McGuire claims that
"traditions of magic and alchemy did not play a
significant role in shaping Newton's conception of
nature" (p. 132). 81


60. Dobbs, Foundations, p. 88.
61. Dobbs, "Newton's Commentary", p. 184.
62. Jaffe, p. 74.
63. Stillman, p. 528.
64. Debus, "Alchemy in an Age of Reason",
65. Jaffe, p. 71.
66. Taylor , p. 161.
. 233.
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CHAPTER 5
THE LEGEND OF FAUST AND THE WORK OF CARL JUNG:
ALCHEMY'S SURVIVAL IN LITERATURE AND PSYCHOLOGY
The death of alchemy in the scientific arena did not
end its impact on Europe. As society moved into the
modern era, the rich symbolism contained in alchemical
texts, the fantastic stories of past alchemical
successes, the philosophical tenets of its existence, and
the power and appeal of its magical processes were too
strong to vanish completely. They would resurface in
other areas, including literature and psychology, as man
continued to search for more knowledge and understanding
of both himself and his environment, echoing the
alchemists themselves. The appeal of alchemy remained
high and its essence retained value in new arenas as
improved scientific research and creative imaginations
drew upon the rich background of this unique magic. This
process began even as alchemy itself began to face its
demise.
With the return to prominence of magic and the
83


influence and renown of the successful 'magus' throughout
Reformation Europe, legends and myths began to circulate
detailing and romanticizing their exploits. In this time
of intellectual progress and social upheaval, the ideas
of magic and its adherents were a thread which the common
man could grasp on to, an ancient and well-known concept
which most people experienced in some form or another
almost everyday. Fortunetellers, magical healers, deals
with the devil, and witchcraft were acknowledged as fact,
and superstition ran rampant among peasants, "with their
herbs, folk recipes, and mumbled spells."* This
juxtaposition of magic, myth, science, and the
Renaissance Magus was immortalized in the legend of
Doctor Faustus.
The origin of the Faust character is still debated
among experts, but there can be little doubt of the
influence which alchemy exerted in his character, or the
impact which it had upon the author of perhaps the
greatest known version of the legend, Johann Wolfgang
Goethe. While the oldest basis of the Faust character
can be perhaps found in the legend of Theophilus, which
originated in sixth century Asia Minor/ and there is
evidence concerning a real Dr. Faust as well as the title
84


'Faustus' or 'favored one' being applied to Simon
Magus/,it seems to be no coincidence that it was during
the "thirty years after Paracelsus' death that the
Faustus saga took shape.It takes little imagination
to establish a connection between Dr. Faustus and
Paracelsus for "shortly after his death, in 1541, legends
began to circulate that he had been seen in several
places at a time, that he had owned the Philosopher's
Stone, that he had raised the dead and conversed with
spirits."5 These are all themes expressed in the Faust
legend and there would seem to be no doubt that
Paracelsus had a great impact upon the creation of this
infamous character, who "embodies all the sixteenth
century's thrust toward knowledge and mystical alchemy."5
The story of Faust is a familiar one to most
readers. A learned man, not content with contemporary
knowledge and the means to attain it, makes a pact with
the devil to obtain ultimate knowledge and power. Dr.
Faustus "was ready to forgo salvation and brave
everlasting hellfire to gain power over the mysteries of
nature"7 and "felt that the learning of his age had
failed to lift the veil which concealed the secret of
0
creation from human eyes." These are again concepts
85


perhaps directly drawn from the depths of alchemy and the
alchemical philosophy. The search for knowledge whatever
the cost to the seeker is frequently told in stories of
alchemical success as well as failure. The pursuit of
"alchemical magic refers to man's disinterested
ambitions"5, disinterested ambition which corrupts its
owner with actual possession. In his striving for
knowledge, Faust has become a "symbol of modern man's
striving for omnipotence"1 and this symbolic definition
of Faust has penetrated into almost every area of modern
civilization, finding an identification with man's quest
for that which he most desires and his willingness to pay
almost any price for this knowledge. The Faust of
history is at best a "shadowy figure"1* whom his
contemporaries first mention in their records in 1507.
Around 1540 these records no longer refer to him as still
11
living. 4
That he was widely known, fairly well educated, and
extensively travelled; that he was a braggart, a
vagabond, and something of a mountebank; that his
contemporaries had a great contempt for him not
unmixed with fear, all this may be inferred from the
extant documentation without too much stretching of
the imagination.13
This documentation includes references by noted
Protestant reformer Melanchton, who seemed "impressed by
86


Faust
Faustus' exploits"1^, and in a letter of Johannes
Tritheim, noted alchemist and tutor of Paracelsus*5,
is credited as being a "diviner with earth and fire"15 and
"that in alchemy he was the most learned man of all
times."17 The apparent coincidences to the life of
Paracelsus are too numerous to ignore. All these facts
seem to support the contention that the Faust legend was
greatly influenced by the actual life of the medical
reformer and alchemist. Perhaps it is true, "legend goes
strange ways. It first grafted Paracelsian traits upon
the obscure necromancer Faustus; then through the
sensitive imagination of poets, it rediscovered the
1 ft
sources of Paracelsian symbolism."10 The sources of this
symbolism are of course alchemy, and Goethe's version
only reinforces the impact that alchemy had upon this
literary masterpiece.
Early in his own intellectual development Johann
Wolfgang Goethe was influenced by alchemical and
Paracelsian works, and "it has been suggested that he
modeled Faust's description of his father on the life of
van Helmont."1^ This fascination with alchemy was
supposedly stimulated during his convalescence in
Frankfurt from the illness that cut short his studies at
87


Leipzig. It was here that he developed a close
relationship with a "pietistic friend of his mother,
Susanna von Klettenberg."iU While he was already
interested in hermetic writings, and fascinated by
"magical, cabbalistic and Neoplatonic lore, and it seems
likely that even at this early stage he began to brood on
the symbolic meaning of magic,"21 it was during this
period of 1768-69 that he "actually practiced experiments
in the field of alchemy and proto-chemistry."22
His first hand knowledge of alchemy emphasizes two
important points. First it illustrates the continuing
lure of alchemy among the European intellectuals, despite
the scientific progress which seemed to have rendered it
invalid. Secondly, Goethe's personal involvement in
alchemy and natural science, no doubt, "taught him how
arduous the path of knowledge was,"23 and this experience
in "alchemy, astrology, neo-Platonism and hermetic
mysticism extended through his whole life and, in one way
or another, informed much of his creative and theoretical
writing."24 Thus while Goethe was not the first to rework
this ancient legend into literary form, the first German
version appearing around 1580 and Marlowe's English play
in 1604, his personal experience with the process of
88


alchemy as well as the magical background he received
left him uniquely positioned to infuse his work with
authenticity and an artistic symbolism drawn from actual
sources.
Through his intimate understanding of hermetic
sources, "Goethe is both able to infuse profound meaning
into Faust's cultivation of magic and also to use the
theme of magic in its various aspects as one of the means
by which his vast structure is held together and given
unity."25 In fact, Goethe's writing of Faust can be seen
as analogous to the alchemist's search for the
Philosopher's Stone, as "his whole ambition is that of
the magus who seeks the direct revelation of ultimate
knowledge."25 While Goethe's quest for literary
perfection is symbolic, his rendition of Faust is replete
with alchemical references and vocabulary. Examples
include explicit use of alchemical terms and processes in
lines 6675-6860/' and vocabulary such as Saamen und
Wurckung Krafft1, which is directly drawn from hermetic
writings. 0 During his struggle with the Devil, Faust is
promised the "'moment', the sublime instant in which he
will no longer feel himself a narrow and limited man, but
a kind of God who dominates time and human beings."2^
89


This promise harkens back to the Neoplatonic roots of
alchemy and the alchemist's desire to attain the ultimate
knowledge, knowledge which will place him above mankind
in Godlike omnipotence and involve him in a struggle in
which the worthy adept will not only receive the
understanding he sought, but the wisdom and patience to
use it.
This struggle to master the environment is again
symbolic of the scientific revolution which occurred in
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which alchemy
was replaced "by a kind of mystique of science: the
terminology differs, the fundamental intention is the
same.."JU Thus Goethe's Faust symbolizes both the birth
and death of alchemy as a worthwhile and viable physical
pursuit. His use of alchemical symbolism and terminology
kept vestiges of alchemy alive to be reborn in the world
of psychology, while the pursuit of the philosopher's
stone now faded from existence, lost in the whirlwind
that was the scientific revolution. Yet the underlying
theme continues to be powerful, especially in today's
increasingly technological world in which we stand on the
brink of discovering all the universe's secrets. "We
speak of modern man's 'Faustian drive,' his insatiable
90


thirst to know, his unconquerable faith in the powers of
his mind, his resolve to use the uncanny as well as the
qi
admissible forces of nature. Like Faust, we seek
"salvation through knowledge." Perhaps the enduring
quality of Faust captured by Goethe in "its loftiest and
qq
perhaps its final expression," was not man's quest for
knowledge, symbolized perfectly by alchemy, but the
questions the searcher must face before attaining his
goal. Such fundamental questions concern: "the
relationship between man and the powers of good and evil;
man's revolt against human limitations; the thirst for
knowledge beyond mere information; the puzzling disparity
between the sublimity and the misery of human life."^ It
is during man's attempt to answer the last question that
alchemy resurfaces once again, in the influential
psychology of Carl Jung.
Jung, inventor of analytical psychology, viewed
symbols as central to understanding the minds of mankind.
His concepts of the personal unconscious, the collective
unconscious, and archetypes depended on the validity and
universality of symbols. In alchemy and other hermetic
literature he found a rich repository of these symbols.
These symbols, brought forth from the unconscious, were
91


"produced in a situation where the conscious mind did not
follow a definite program, but only searched." This
search, stimulated by alchemy, symbolized man's search to
find and understand himself. Thus, the "alchemical goal
of creating the Philosopher's stone represented the end
of the process with the emergence of the integrated
'self'."3^ However this search could not be analyzed
without an understanding of the symbols with defined it.
Again he returned to alchemy to study the symbolic
process in action, for Jung believed that "he had found
in alchemy a rich store-house for the discovery and
elucidation of the archetypes in the unconscious."^7
According to Jung, this would help to explain both
the continuing appeal of alchemy even after the physical
process had been rendered scientifically obsolete and the
development of new philosophical tenets which had
replaced alchemy in its role as the spiritual journey
which led to better self-fulfillment. As the symbols
used in alchemy were both universal and meaningful to
most of mankind, due to their presence in the collective
unconscious, they would continue to have both meaning and
substance, despite the lack of a validated context in
which to place them. "In the solitary confines of their
92


laboratories, alchemists experienced the unexpected and
terrifying emotions which accompany an irruption of the
unconscious into consciousness." It was this emotional
response which drove the alchemist to record and comment
on his work, further implanting and establishing the
power and definitions of alchemical symbols. This was
almost a religious experience for the alchemist for Jung
had "no doubt that the true adept searched for and found
some level of religious satisfaction in alchemy."'33
Thus Jung confronted the symbolism of alchemy in a
manner not previously attempted by the spiritual
alchemists, who recognized the power and meaning of the
symbols, but never related them to their origins in the
depths of mankind's mentality. For them it was a
philosophy which, when properly practiced, endeavored to
place man in his proper place in the universe and
stimulated him to manipulate this universe in order to
gain power and understanding. However, Jung believed
that for the "true adept alchemy was a way of life, a
great work which absorbed all his mental and material
resources, but it was never a rational branch of natural
philosophy."^ Instead it was a outgrowth of the
unconscious, a desire encoded in symbolic form of man's
93


collective desire to establish his rightful place in his
environment. The lure and utility of alchemy lay in its
rich symbolic content and the value of these symbols to
help explain human behavior. It was here that "Jung has
done some of his most important work: in identifying the
great mysterious symbols of alchemy as psychic images,"^
for in recognizing the value of these psychic images he
greatly impacted the development of psychology. Jung's
work has been analyzed, updated, and amended by such
influential psychologists as Erich Fromm^, thus forever
cementing the legacy of alchemy to psychology.
94


NOTES
1. Monter, E. William, Witchcraft in France and
Switzerland, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976,
p. 30.
2. Kieckhefer, p. 172.
3. O'Keefe, p. 563.
4. Pachter, pgs. 235-236.
5. Ibid, p. 15.
6. Lives of Doctor Faust, ed. Eric Bockstael, University
Studies and Weekend College, College of Lifelong
Learning, Wayne State University, 1976, p. 14.
7. Ibid, p. 22.
8. Ibid.
9. Lives of Doctor Faust, p. 14.
10. Pachter, p. 9.
11. Palmer, Phillip Mason and Robert Pattison More, The
Sources of the Faust Tradition: From Simon Magus to
Lessing, New York: Octagon Books Inc., 1966, p. 82.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Monter, William, Ritual. Myth & Magic in Early Modern
Europe. Sussex: Harvester Press Ltd., 1983, p. 33.
15. See Pachter, pgs. 75-76 for more information on this
fascinating man.
95


Full Text

PAGE 1

ALCHEMY AND ITS 'GOLDEN' LEGACY By Stephen Brent Summersett B.A., University of Denver, 1985 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado at Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts History 1995

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This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by Stephen Brent Summersett has been approved by ::2 6' / j9 7 .s--,/ Date

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Summersett, Stephen Brent (M.A., History) Alchemy and Its 'Golden' Legacy Thesis directed by Professor Frederick S. Allen ABSTRACT The historical study of alchemy has produced a large number of works which attempt to explain the popularity this exotic and fascinating topic achieved. These varied texts trace alchemy from its earliest origins to the apex of its influence in Early Modern Europe, and finally its demise as the Scientific Revolution rendered its procedures invalid, while recounting the progress and impact it had on European intellectual and scientific development. This thesis intended as a survey and synthesis of a number of the most influential and important of these worki and attempts to accurately recount the major themes and ideas set forth by the distinguished authors. Alchemy had a major impact on the development of chemistry and medicine through the work and writings of individuals such as Paracelsus, and its philosophical tenets embodied the evolving intellectual and social environment that characterized the Renaissance iii

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and Reformation. Even with alchemy's death at the hands of science, the symbols, ideas, and values which it contained continued to have value and retained significance in such diverse fields as literature and psychology. By studying this 'pseudo-science', important information on the scientific development of Early Modern Europe can be gathered, as well as invaluable insight into the intellectual climate which fostered this remarkable period in history. This abstract aricurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I Signe iv

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CONTENTS INTRODUCTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 CHAPTER 1. ORIGINS OF ALCHEMY AND THE ARABIC INFLUENCE ..... 8 Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 2. ALCHEMY IN LATE MEDIEVAL AND EARLY RENAISSANCE EUROPE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 7 Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 3. SPIRITUAL ALCHEMY IN RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION EUROPE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 7 Notes.... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 4. PHYSICAL ALCHEMY FROM PARACELSUS TO LAVOISIER ... 61 Notes ................. . . . . . . . . . . . 79 5. THE LEGEND OF FAUST AND THE WORK OF CARL JUNG: ALCHEMY'S SURVIVAL IN LITERATURE AND PSYCHOLOGY. 83 Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 CONCLUSIONTHE 'GOLDEN' LEGACY OF ALCHEMY ......... 98 Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101 BIBLIOGRAPHY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102 RECOMMENDED SELECTIONS FROM THE BIBLIOGRAPHY ....... 105 v

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INTRODUCTION In a dingy and crowded laboratory, a multitude of glass vials, beakers, and tubes stretches at profusely inopportune angles as a harried older man scurries about tending an enormous number of flames. From a raging bonfire he scurries to adjust a deftly pinpointed blue flame that heats a strangely colored concoction in an odd glass beaker. Metal flashes and sparkles, reflecting from small piles seemingly dumped in haphazard fashion throughout the eerily lit workplace. The density and variety of smells are almost overwhelming, a smoky musk mingling with an acidic aroma that assaults the tongue. Amid this sensory maelstrom, the alchemist pauses momentarily, checks a colorfully illustrated volume, and mumbles as he scratches his notes onto a yellowed journal. The almost indecipherable words speak of complex ratios of mercury, sulphur, and salt; of philosopher's stones and metallic oxides; and of Mighty Saturn and Venus. The alchemist, with an air of exasperated patience, checks his tarnished pocket-watch 1

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and returns to his vigilance, ever hopeful that this time, this one time, success will favor him. His calculations perfect, his measurements and timing exact, and his spirit worthy, he seeks to be rewarded with the ultimate prize, as his carefully guarded horde of lead, the most base of metals, will be transmuted to the perfection of gold. Such a fanciful myth of alchemy has existed since its origins. Yet, as with most myths, valuable truth can be strained from the mire of human imagination and mis-information. There can be no doubt of the historical influence wielded by the thousands of driven adepts and greedy charlatans. This has been well documented in many works appealing to both scholastic and general audiences. Yet, there has always been something of an historical problem in the very existence of alchemy. Its evident appeal to generation after generation of adepts is inaccessible to the modern critical intellect, and most books on the subject do little to elucidate the grounds of the fascination it once exerted, even though its relations to innumerable scientific, technical, religious and ppilosophical currents have been carefully explored. This work will approach this field from both angles, providing an informative recapitulation of the remarkable influence that alchemy and alchemists have 2

PAGE 8

had on such diverse fields as psychology, chemistry, medicine, and literature as well as striving to capture the mysterious essence of a philosophy and lifestyle termed, "a magical gnosis,"2 and ''the beginning of an empirical science."3 "Frenzied alchemy held. the world in its grip for seventeen centuries and more of recorded history."4 During those centuries, mankind's progress was mirrored by hiS progress in the search to change base metals into gold, to revitalize and purify the human spirit, and to understand and catalogue the changing world around him. Call it magical rite, or philosophical endeavor, alchemy was "both practical and religious, teaching men techniques to ensure health, wealth, and longevity and providing comforting explanations for man's place in the universe."5 In a most fundamental way, alchemy represented man's ultimate desire, immortality. Replete with symbolism, characterized by obscure language, and rewarding a unique mixture of inspiration and patience, alchemy strove to cloak man's basic fear of death with his fascination with the unknown. Striving to both understand and exert control on his universe, the alchemist must first accomplish this daunting task on 3

PAGE 9

himself. He must analyze and purify himself, readying the receptacle for the required knowledge to attain this obsessive goal. The search for immortality was actually the search for an incorruptible part of man which could survive death, a part of the human being which could be saved from the inescapable end. "Thus the search for immortality, for the eternal in man, is to be found at the very beginning of alchemy."6 Yet along the way the ride was both beautiful and rewarding, both to the individual alchemists and to the world which sustained them. Science, art1 and philosophy benefited as alchemists sought these ends through meticulous preparation, backbreaking labor, and inspired guesswork. "Hope and theory were so inextricably entwined in alchemy that they stood and fell together."7 The consummate culmination of their trials, a thrice achieved victory, and a measure of accomplishment rarely claimed by any one adept, presented a threefold aspect; the alchemists sought the stone of wisdom, for by gaining that they gained the control of wealth; sought the universal panacea, for that would give them the power of enjoying wealth and life; they sought the soul of the world, for thereby they could hold communion with spiritual rxistences, and enjoy the fruition of spiritual life. This fulfillment did not simply involve the alchemist and 4

PAGE 10

his work, but required a new and more complex desire to see and understand all of reality. The alchemist, other than being just a mere manipulator of metals, sought a complete scheme of things in which "God, the angels, man, animals, and the lifeless world all took their place, in which the origin of the world, its purpose, and end were to be clearly visible."9 Alchemists discovered such advanced chemical techniques as distillation, filtration, and crystallization as well as providing and perfecting a large number of utensils and equipment still in use in modern laboratories. They distinguished and named such important reagents as the mineral acids and alcohol10 and elements like antimony, arsenic, bismuth, and phosphorous were unearthed. Many of the common chemicals we use today were discovered in those early days -including alum, borax, cream of tartar, ether, fulminating gold, Plaster of Paris, red lead, iron and silver salts and heavy barium sulphide.11 Alchemy and noted alchemists inspired and influenced literary works such as Faust, Goethe's telling of the moving story of a man's obsessive search for knowledge and his willingness to deal with the devil to achieve his desires, as well as providing rich 5

PAGE 11

symbolic and contextual material for artistic interpretation. In later centuries, the complexity of these symbolic relationships stimulated intense discussion and controversy in the growing field of psychology. Today's scholars grapple to integrate the relationship and relative importance of alchemy and other "Hermetic" fields with ever-growing research on intellectual, social, and scientific development in early modern Europe. Thus, "alchemy provides a rich source for charting the historical development of these discoveries and for investigating their influences on culture. "12 6

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NOTES 1. Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter, The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975, p. 26. 2. O'Keefe, Daniel Lawrence, Stolen Lightning: The Social Theory of Magic, New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1982, p. 527. 3. Von Franz, Marie-Louise, Alchemy-An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology, Toronto: Inner City Books, 1980, p. 26. 4. Jaffe, Bernard, Crucibles, The Story of Chemistry, Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1957, p. 15. '5. Coudert, Allison, Alchemy: The Philosopher's Stone, Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1980, pgs. 12-13. 6. Von Franz, pgs. 93-94. 7. Coudert, p. 17. 8. Redgrove, H. Stanley, Alchemy: Ancient and Modern, New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, Inc., 1969, p. 10 . 9. Taylor, F. Sherwood, The Alchemists, New York: Maraboro Books Corp., 1992, p. 178. 10. Ibid, p. 181. 11. Jaffe, Crucibles, ed. published by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1976, p. 12. 12. Coudert, p. 159. 7

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CHAPTER 1 ORIGINS OF ALCHEMY AND THE ARABIC INFLUENCE There is little doubt that alchemy originated in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in the first or second century AD.1 It was here that "alchemy had its origin in the attempt to apply, in a certain manner, the principals of Mysticism to the things of the physical plane."2 While alchemy was primarily interested in physical phenomena, the transmutation of baser metal into gold, it was also "allied with philosophy and religion from its beginnings."3 When the "thought models of Greek philosophy met with the experimental practices of Egyptian traditions"4 in this cosmopolitan city, a strange science began to emerge. The essential desire of all alchemists was quite simple, "to discover the elixir or 'philosopher's stone,' which can transmute lead or other base metals into gold and silver."5 A small portion of this stone, when applied to correctly prepared baser metals, would 8

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transmute the sample into the desired valuable commodity. If ingested, the philosopher's stone would cure illness and provide a form of immortality to its user. Thus the "philosopher's stone is a symbol for the permanence and perfection which man has always sought and never found."6 From the very beginning, this esoteric knowledge was a closely guarded secret, intended only for initiates and worthy seekers of knowledge, and the initial members were probably members of the Egyptian priesthood or foreign scholars chosen by the cult.7 In this Egyptian melting pot of "Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Persian and Chaldean philosophies, sciences, religions and superstitions,"8 forbidden knowledge originally taught to humans by Fallen Angels or by Isis, the Egyptian goddess,9 emerged into relative popularity. Alchemical theory and practice is a strange mixture of philosophy and practical knowledge. Jewish symbolism is evident, 10 as well as Persian influences, 11 but the primary doctrine seems to be a unique blend of Gnostic thought, which provided "much of the esoteric, or spiritual side of Western alchemy, "12 and the practicality of Neoplatonism and Stoicism. The essence of Neoplatonism, 9

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is an e.ffort to reconcile Aristotelianism with Platonism through an appeal to a still higher unifying principle than is found in either of the two, namely, an Ultimate First Principle that is both transcendent and immanent in all nature, undefinable and knowable, self-sufficient and creatnve throughout the universe without an act of will. Other influential philosophical dialectic include the "principles most clearly and authoritatively stated by Aristotle. "14 This is succinctly summed up in the idea "that all matter is reducible to four elements (earth, air, fire, and water), which are further reducible to 1 prime matter 1 .15 This prime material was present in all things in varying ratios. Thus all matter could be manipulated to reform in composition. The purity and value of gold had been well-known and established. Its monetary and artistic value made it the most precious of metals. In gold, "the alchemist saw a picture of the regenerate man resplendent with spiritual beauty, overcoming all temptations and proof against evil. "16 These inherent psychological ideas are evident even in early alchemical documents, though it was not until the Renaissance that alchemy was almost cleaved into two separate and distinct halves, one dealing strictly with the physical processes and one with the spiritual aspects. For the early 10

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alchemists, the two sides were inextricably entwined. "The process was, in fact, a symbol of what the age was seeking, what was found alike in Christianity and the mystery-religions-death and resurrection. "17 The early alchemists were already accomplished in the art of metalworking and their manuscripts make this abundantly clear. The Greek alchemists name about eighty different pieces of apparatus. Furnaces, lamps, water baths, ash baths, dung-beds, reverberatory furnaces, scarifying pans, crucibles, dishes, beakers, jars, flasks, phials, pestles and mortars, filters, strainers, ladles, stirring rods, stills, sublimatories, all make their first appearance as laboratory apparatus in their works and most have pershsted in somewhat modified forms to the present day. When this knowledge encountered the mysticism of Gnosticism and the logic of Neoplatonism, alchemy reassigned value to the worker, not just the outcome. Ever rich in symbolism, these early alchemical manuscripts are also replete with references to the spiritual and emotional value of metals, and in particular, gold. According to the alchemists, in the metals, "there is the 'body' or outward form and properties, 'metalline soul' or spirit, and finally, the all-pervading essences of all metals. nl9 This definitional scheme is derivatory of 11

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Neoplatonic sources, and the debt of alchemy to Greek philosophy can be extrapolated even farther. Further study of early texts makes it obvious that "alchemists accepted Aristotle's notion that everything in nature strives for perfection. "20 Thus, alchemy as a collection of "esoteric and theoretical knowledge is but a variant of the more fundamental Neoplatonic metaphysics, along with the incorporation of the Aristotelian element theory. "21 All matter, no matter what form, is made of the same material, is desirous of obtaining a new and higher form, and can be manipulated by a knowledgeable and worthy alchemist to achieve this new state. By an acceptable and logical analogy, man himself was in the same circumstance, seeking both perfection and salvation. This salvation, as noted by the Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism, "is not.from above, it is from within; and it is not free-it is very expensive and rarely achieved. "22 Thus the early alchemist combined the technical expertise of the craftsman with the knowledge and insight of the scholar. He needed these qualities in abundance, for early alchemy, by itself, is "tremendously dark and complex, and the texts very difficult to read, so that an enormous kind of technical background of 12

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knowledge is needed if you wish to penetrate into this field. "23 These factors combined to limit the dispersement of alchemy to the general public. However, this was not the only reason for alchemy's secret nature. From its origins, we continually meet throughout the history of alchemy the motif of the great secret which can not be scientifically or socially told or imparted from one person to another. "In the history of alchemy and chemistry this has always been regarded as a trick to make the whole thing appear important and mysterious, and to veil secrets. u24 Yet practicality, as always, played its role in keeping the alchemical secrets, for knowledge of alloys, metals, and other metallic knowledge was profitable, and was probably kept secret for the very banal, financial reason of keeping the upper ,hand. "25 Yet what exactly was this mysterious and potentially profitable process? How does an adept transmute baser metals into goldor create the philosopher's stone? A careful examination of the early alchemical writings provides little exact information, but readily establishes the complex symbolism and tenuous nature of the terminology, procedures, and results of these early 13

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chemists. While the earliest alchemical work in existence is probably the Physica et Mystica of Democritus,26 perhaps the most famous is the Emerald Tablet, attributed to the "Gnostic savior Hermes Trismegistus, or 'thrice-great Hermes'. "27 This mystical author, who has 36 thousand 'original' works attributed to him28, is often considered the founder of alchemy, while the Emerald Tablet is without a doubt, one of the best known tracts in all of alchemy. Of indeterminate but great antiquity, it was long supposed to encapsulate in its mysterious phrases all the occult wisdom of the ancients regarding divine actions in the creation of the world and regarding the alchemist's actions in the great work of alchemy, which was of course widely considered to be a little replication of divine creativity.29 While there is still debate on the age of the Emerald Tablet,30 there can be little doubt that it "contributed mightily to the blend of Gnostic mysticism and laboratory chemistry which came to characterize much of Western Alchemy. "31 For this reason, I have reprinted it here: The Words of the Secret Things of Hermes Trismegistus 1. True, without deceit, certain and most true. 2. What is below, is like what is above, and what is above is like that which is below, for the performing of the marvels of the one thing. 3. And as all things were from one thing, by the 14

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mediation of one thing: so all things were born of this one thing, by adaptation. 4. Its father is the Sun, its mother is the Moon; the wind carried it in its belly; its nurse is the Earth. 5. This is the father of all perfection of the whole world. 6. Its power is integral, if it be turned into earth. 7. You shall separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, smoothly and with great cleverness. 8. It ascends from the earth into the heaven, and again descends into the earth and receives the powers of the superiors and inferiors. So thus you will have the glory of the whole world. So shall all obscurity flee from thee. 9. This is the strong fortitude of all fortitude: because it will overcome every subtle thing and penetrate every solid. 10. Thus was the earth created. 11. Hence will there be marvelous adaptations, of which this is the means. And so I am called Hermes Trismegistus, having three parts of the Philoophy of whole world. 13. What I have ftaid concerning the operation of the Sun is finished. This fascinating document exemplifies the symbolic nature of alchemy as well as the nebulous language in which it was conveyed. The second statement can be taken as the credo of all alchemists, the philosophical and physical reasoning which justified all attempts at transmutation. It was further refined as time went on and was eventually referred to as the macrocosm-microcosm analogy. The remaining precepts stress the symbolic nature of the quest, the inescapable fact that all matter 15

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was formed from one 'prime matter' and the inestimable power of refining and using this material, and the trials and tribulations inherent in seeking this great prize. It is obvious that early alchemists engaged in a kind of 11Symbolic thinking far removed from our own scientific analysis of the world around us. Practical chemistry was only a small part of this profound intellectual and spiritual adventure. u33 For an adventure it was, a perilous journey into the 11Causal chain of descent from God to matter. uJ4 Again the duality of the alchemical process is apparent, for in striving to initiate and control the purification, or 'salvation', of matter, the spirituality and growth of the alchemist himself is of paramount importance. The Neoplatonic roots of alchemy are evident as both goals can be understood in context of Plotinus' writings on salvation, which is essentially a technique involving three processes: (1) catharsis, or the purification of the soul through morality, (2) dialectics, or the practice of the discipline of philosophy; and (3) illumination, or enlightenment (vonois}-a state of ecstasy wherein the soul finally comes into direct communication with that part of the One that is already within it. 35 Thus, in order to be successful, both the alchemist and his work must pass through a series of stages or trials 16

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before attaining the desired goal, be it spiritual salvation or successful transmutation. This line of thinking was revolutionary, the concept "of being able to conquer nature through natural processes. "36 unthought of previously. Yet it was inevitable, given the underlying macrocosm-microcosm philosophy, which appointed "God as the master alchemist, who created the world by separating, distilling and congealing the elements of chaos. "37 The blending of Gnostic thought with Christian ideals was initially quite smooth, for both are "concerned with salvation and redemption and describe experiences of regeneration in terms of death and rebirth. "38 In later years, as will become evident, there would be a number of repercussions concerning the Gnostic and Neoplatonic philosophies underlying alchemy and its relationship with both the Catholic and Reformation churches. However, no such difficulties existed as yet, for Europe was unaware of this new art. Yet its potential was readily apparent. Here was a novel system that linked God, man, and matter in one scheme; it showed all nature as God's handiwork, modelled by the seed of God's light within everything, energized by the continuous flow of influence from heaven to 17

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earth. It opened to man the possibility of knowing nature by the cultivation of his powers, instead of merely chronicling her external changes; it promised him the understanding, not so much of the reasons for phenomenTh, as of the life principle that lay behind them. This vast potential was as yet untapped on either a spiritual or material level. Historical events conspired to end the magnificence of the Egyptian city of Alexandria and its vast repository of knowledge. From the sixth to the twelfth centuries, while Europe lost almost all knowledge of Greek philosophy and science, the legacy of alchemy was carried and advanced by another culture, the Arabs. The history of alchemy in Europe owes much to the Arabic world. While Europe was languishing in the early medieval period and little progress was being made in the scientific arenas, the Muslim civilization was spreading throughout the Middle East and into southern Europe. An enlightened society, the Arabs were interested in both preserving Greek and Roman knowledge and in advancing philosophy and science to new heights, including alchemy. The Arabic influence on alchemy was 11considerable, keeping its importance at least up to the days of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. u40 The transmission and preservation of alchemical 18

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knowledge by the Arabs was accomplished in the many Moslem centers of learning including Baghdad, Damascus, Cordoba, and Toledo. In this task the Arabs owed much to the Nestorian Christians, who had preserved Greek philosophical, medical and scientific_ writings. The "enlightened Caliphs of Baghdad used these Christian scholars to translate into Arabic the works of Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Hippocrates, Galen, and other Greeks."41 However, they developed and refined a large amount of knowledge on their own. By the twelfth century, the chemical knowledge of the Moslem world was 11 quite considerable 1142 and they had produced some very influential philosophers and alchemist, including Jabir ibn Hayyan, considered by many experts as the "Arabic author who most influenced Western alchemy. "43 Jabir's primary contribution to alchemy was his introduction of the sulphur-mercury theory on the composition of metals, which quickly became a primary component of Western alchemy. Jabir and his contemporaries were accomplished laboratory workers, possessing stores of chemical knowledge unknown in Europe at the time, "whose pharmacy and metallurgy consisted only of simplest poundings, strainings, boilings, and 19

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mel tings. "44 They knew the "preparation of sal ammoniac, ammonia, the mineral acids, and borax. "45 Jabir' s works describe the preparation of nitro-hydrochloric acid, also know as aqua-regia46, and the "earliest known recipe for the preparation of nitric acid appears in Jabir's The Chest of Wisdom. u47 The knowledge of acids and their uses are "perhaps the most single piece of chemical information that these books contain"48 for this knowledge "marked an important step in the development of chemistry because once acids were introduced into the laboratory a great numbei of hitherto unknown chemical reactions were possible. "49 Included in this knowledge were methods of testing metals to discover if they were genuine gold, a process noted as the "beginning of analysis ... so Not only did the Arabs contribute mightily to the practical and physical knowledge of alchemy, they also originated a large amount of the nomenclature. In fact, "the word alchemy itself comes from the Egyptian khemeia with the Arabic article al; and it literally means 'the science of the black earth' or prime matter. "51 Other examples include al-kuhl, or alcohol; al-iksir, or elixir; and al-tannur, or athanor, a furnace.52 There are more examples, for "many English alchemical terms are 20

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simply transliterations from the Arabic, which were first converted into Latin and then anglicized ... 53 A complete summation of the Arabic legacy is difficult "because so many of their works are still unstudied, and in no field of the history of science is research more urgently needed. "54 Another problem faced is one frequently encountered in alchemical historical research. It is the question of authenticity of both author and date of publication. However, there can be little doubt that alchemy "was already an old and established doctrine with an august and venerable past, .. ss when it is first discovered by Europeans. This knowledge was primarily transmitted to Medieval Europe through the Moorish donquest of Spain in the eleventh century. When the Europeans learned of the impressive knowledge available in Moorish Spain, they flocked there seeking this unknown commodity, as well as seeking to convert the infidels. Archbishop Raymond (1126-51) of Toledo established a college of translators, and it was there that the first alchemical text was translated from Arabic into Latin.56 The translator, Robert of Chester, accomplished this task in 1148.57 Soon many other manuscripts were translated and 21

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Europeans were soon entranced with this mysterious knowledge and "alchemy swept like a fever over thirteenth-century Europe, and it remained for at least three centuries the chief preoccupation of those inclined to the discovery of nature 1 s secrets ... sa Soon alchemy 1 s influence would equally its popularity, as its practice and philosophy would merge into the growing intellectual stream of late medieval Europe. 22

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NOTES 1. Stillman, John Maxson, The Story of Alchemy and Early Chemistry, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1960, p. 137. 2. Redgrove, p. 8. 3. Coudert. p. 81. 4. Von Franz, p. 80. 5. Kieckhefer, Richard, Magic in the Middle Ages, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 134. 6. Coudert, p. 194. 7. Stillman, p. 138. 8. Ibid. 9. Von Franz, pgs. 39-63. 10. Ibid, p. 79, although no exact information on the nature of this symbolism is provided. 11. Yates, Frances, A., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1964, p. 3. For more information, see Yates on Zoroaster, index, p. 466. 12. Coudert, p. 26. 13. Harris, R. Baine, The Significance of Neoplatonism, Norfolk, VA: International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, 1976, p. 8. 14. Kieckhefer, p. 134. 15. Ibid. 16. Redgrove, p. 11. 23

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17. Taylor, p. 54. 18. Ibid, p. 46. 19. Redgrove, p. 15. 20. Coudert, p. 20. 21. McGuire, J.E., "Neoplatonism and Active Principles: Newton and the Corpus Hermeticum," in Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution, Los Angeles: The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1977, p. 141, footnote #84. 22. Harris, p. 6. 23. Von Franz, p. 13. 24. Ibid, p. 67. 25. Ibid. 26. Stillman, p. 154. 27. Coudert, p. 27. 28. Ibid. 29. Dobbs, B . J. T., "Newton 1 s Commentary on the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus: Its Scientific and Theological Significance, 11 in Hermeticism and the Renaissance, eds. Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus, Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1988, p. 183. 30. Coudert, p. 28. 31. Ibid. There is also a rich history of alchemy in the Far East, with its own unique flavor and nature. However, it is beyond the scope of this paper and deserves its own careful study. I have chosen to concentrate on the origins, practices, and influences of alchemy in Europe. 32. I have used the translation quoted in Taylor1s, The Alchemists, pgs. 77-78. Also see Coudert, p. 28 and Sadoul, Jacques, Alchemists and Gold, trans. Olga Sieveking, New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1972, pgs. 25-26. 24

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33. Coudert, p. 34. 34. Taylor, p. 168. 35. Harris, p. 6. 36. Taylor, p. 12. 37. Coudert, p. 80. 38. Ibid, pgs. 29-30. 39. Taylor, p. 170. 40. Sadoul, p. 27. 41. Coudert, p. 30. 42. Taylor, p. 79. 43. Coudert, p. 31. 44. Taylor, p. 79. 45. Ibid. 46. Sadoul, p. 27. 47. Coudert, p. 34. 48. Taylor, p. 80. 49. Coudert, p. 34. 50. Taylor, p. 80. 51. Sadoul, p. 27. 52. For more examples see Coudert, p. 31. 53. Coudert, p. 31, quoting from E.J. Holmyard, Alchemy, Penguin, 1968 (originally published 1957), p. 110. 54. Taylor, p. 79. 55. Ibid, p. 35. 56. Ibid. 25

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57. Kieckhefer, p. 133, although there seem to be some dissenting opinions. See Coudert, p. 31, footnote #1 for more information on this controversy. 58. Taylor, p. 86. 26

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CHAPTER 2 ALCHEMY IN LATE MEDIEVAL AND EARLY RENAISSANCE EUROPE At a time of rediscovery and new attitudes in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, new, nonreligious intellectual activity was beginning to germinate. Scientific inquiry became acceptable and universities were organized to accommodate the new thirst for knowledge and learning. The Arabic writings were in demand, especially scientific ones, as Western Europe knew "scarcely anything of medicine, its astronomy and mathematics were rudimentary, chemistry and physics scarcely existed at all."1 Into this intellectual vacuum appeared the early alchemical works, translated into Latin and filled with fascinating potential and maddening mystery. It took a special individual to become involved in alchemical pursuits during this period. The early texts were fragmentary and confusing at best and could be 27

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almost unfathomable in worst case scenarios. Until the seventeenth century almost all the alchemical books produced in the West were written in Latin.2 So considerable education was necessary just to read the texts. The early alchemists was fortunate to even own an original text, most primarily made due with copies that they managed to acquire from others. Education was not enough, for starting a laboratory, obtaining and maintaining the equipment, and having the time and labor force to monitor this expensive undertaking were formidable obstacles. Many of the early European alchemists were members of the Catholic Church, possessing both the time and capital to begin these experiments. Even if these difficulties were overcome, success was still not a sure thing. "A firm grasp of natural philosophy, technical skill, and a flair for organization were essential attributes for anyone wishing to take up alchemy, but they were not enough by themselves."3 The texts were "obscure and mixed with a great deal of unnecessary jargon,"4 as evidenced by the Emerald Tablet. They also had instructions for the aspiring alchemist. One text, the Aurora Consurgens, insisted that the 28

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alchemist must be "healthy, humble, holy, chaste, virtuous, faithful, hopeful, charitable, good, patient, temperate, understanding, and obedient."5 With such a long list of requirements, it is easy to understand why the pursuit of alchemy was a daunting task, and this isn't even accounting for the difficulties inherent in the actual texts themselves. Alchemy, as noted, is replete with symbolism and analogy. Planets symbolized certain elements and celestial alignment was considered a crucial factor in many alchemical operations, for "like every other branch of science and learning up to the seventeenth century, alchemy was profoundly influenced by astrology. 6 Thus the actual process whereby the stone could be created remained locked behind numerous semantic and practical barriers. The Medieval practitioners continued the traditions established by the original Greek and Egyptian alchemists. Their original texts are also richly adorned with symbolism and obtuse language. For this new breed of adept, the symbolic nature of alchemical understanding reflected both his daily life and the age-old secretive nature of alchemy. To the men of the Middle Ages, the important things in life were "his relations with God and 29

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his neighbor-religion and human relationships-and the alchemical process became intelligible to him when expressed in those terms."7 One of the earliest European alchemists, Albertus Magnus, canonized by the Catholic Church in twentieth century, provides a good example of this symbolic language juxtaposed into more mundane expression. This section is reprinted from one of his five disputed alchemical texts. The first herb comes under Saturn and is called offodilius. Its extract is excellent for alleviating and curing diseases of the kidneys and of the legs. It may also be given to those with bladder trouble. A small quality of the root, boiled and carried wrapped in a white cloth will relieve persons possessed by devils or who suffer from melancholy madness. Moreover, this srme root will exorcise evil spirits from a house. According to Sadoul, this medicinal prescription involving a herb is in fact a complicated code describing a stage in the search for the stone, or what he refers to as the ''Master Work . 9 Saturn refers to lead and the rest of the text is symbolic of the various chemical processes through which the lead will pass. Not only was Magnus and the other nouveau alchemists mimicking the intentional obscurity of the ancients, but they were also responding to a new threat to alchemical 30

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research, the Catholic Church. While many early alchemists :were churchmen, as previously noted, most were secretive in their activities. In this age of superstition and religious mania, it was not wise to be known as an' alchemist. "Your neighbors, who were commonly unlearned men, took you for a wizard, a conjurer. Your ecclesiastical superior might think you were occupying your time unprofitably. nlO The nature of alchemy, with its ideas of perfection achievable through hard work and proper spiritual growth, all without the direct interaction of the church, as well as its Gnostic and Neoplatonic origins and ideas, "was bound to clash with the Christian emphasis on original sin and man's fallen nature."11 This conflict would continue to intensify and eventually reach a crisis during the time of the Reformation. Until that crucial period however, they were enough curious, greedy or mysticallyminded churchmen to keep the art flourishing within the.Church, even if underground. Although alchemy teetered on the edge of heresy, and sometimes fell headlong into it, it was protected to a great extent by the 'very obscurity of its literature and symbolism, which could always be nxplained away as harmless, if misplaced, allegory. Despite all these obstacles to success, there are numerous accounts of alchemists accomplishing their goals 31

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of producing the philosopher's stone and transmuting baser metals into gold. Their validity was open to question. Such famous and influential figures as Albertus Magnus, mentioned earlier, the Dominican Vincent of Beauvais, Roger Bacon, and Thomas Aquinas believed in the principle of transmutation, and each reputedly produced texts on alchemy and alchemical theory.13 In fact, 11alchemy rested on what was thought to be sound philosophy and accurate observation. Transmutation was a fact of routine observation, which only fools could deny ... l4 The bad reputation suffered by alchemy and alchemists may rest on that observation. Research has provided many 11accounts of charlatans and spurious adepts who, with a deluge of glib words but with only a drop of truth, turned alchemy into one of the greatest frauds in history ... lS The combination of dubious and relatively inaccessible methods for testing the purity and composition of metals and a naive and incredulous public provided an ideal situation for the confidence man.16 Even the dedicated alchemist could not always be sure of the purity of his creation. Although the introduction of nitric acid into the chemical arena did provide a more 32

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accurate test for the presence of gold, as discussed earlier, such chemical knowledge was relatively unknown to the general public. The prevalent tests used at the time were the test of the touchstone and the test by fire, yet neither is particularly accurate by today's standards. Even by including the last test, the measurement of specific gravity, the layman is still not provided an accurate, established method usable to determine the worth of his 'treasure' .17 For an alchemist to believe he hadprepared gold, he would have to make "a metal which closely resembled gold in colour and hardness, which was of high density, and which was little affected by atmospheric action ... 18 It was relatively easY to obtain or create a substance which fit this description and could be passed off as gold, a fact which no doubt contributed to the various stories of successful transmutations. Numerous alloys have the appearance of gold or silver, but no precious metals in their composition. An alloy of copper and arsenic, for instance, which contains as little as 2 per cent arsenic, has a beautiful gold color; with a slightly higher proportion of arsenic (4.6 per cent) the1flloy is transformed into a silver-looking metal. Even the most dedicated and conscientious alchemist could readily believe that real gold had been produced if he 33

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believed he had followed the complicated series of steps correctly, an assumption most alchemists were desirous of making. Thus both the aspiring and desperate alchemist and the gullible local lord could easily be convinced they had witnessed a miracle. This scam was so prevalent that "there were times in Europe when so much counterfeit gold was in circulation that the finances of different countries were in danger. "20 These devious practices were eventually noted in both the contemporary literature and the effected governments. ''The unsavory characterization of the alchemist in medieval literature knows no better example than Chaucer's 'Canon Yeoman's Tale' (c. 1390), "21 or Ben Jonson's Alchemist, and the con games which could be worked were "so simple and attractive that papal bulls and civil laws had to be enacted against the so-called Multipliers of Metals ... 22 While it may seem as if the earliest European alchemists made little or no contribution to scientific or cultural progress, apart from acquiring a reputation for unsavory and untrustworthy behavior, this is not the case. Although "no one of them contributed anything of importance either of facts or theories to the knowledge 34

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of their predecessors, "23 they were assisting in distributing and popularizing among the educated classes the theories and facts of chemistry as then understood, a service which ultimately, though not immediately, was to help lay the foundatifin of a more productive interest in chemical thought. Their work produced practical results as well. Various alchemists of the era, either by design or as an offshoot of their experimentation, invented or helped to refine the use of numerous substances or crafts. Accomplishments included in this impressive list are the first discovery and use of alcohol, a new way to refine sugar, improvements on gunpowder and other fire-producing material, and advancements in pottery, glass-making, painter's pigments, and gilding meta1.25 Thus the early alchemists not only "provided the launching pad for chemistry, "26 but made discoveries which benefitted everyday life. As alchemy entered into the last centuries before the Renaissance, it was slowly undergoing a change, as were the themselves. The prevailing conditions in Europe seemed to portend immense growth and advancement in alchemical research. Considering the intellectual awakening of the thirteenth century, and the revival of interest in the natural sciences, as shown in the works of the 35

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encyclopedists and other writers, and the influence of the universities, it would seem reasonable to anticipate that the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries should have exhibited a marked advance in chemical thought and theory.27 Yet this is not the case, especially in alchemy. While alchemical research and writing continued to proliferate, little actual progress was made. No new theories were advanced, and while tales of success transmutations continued to be voiced, their authenticity continues to be in question. The names of these successful adepts are still some of the most recognizable in alchemy and their stories are a tantalizing blend of fact and fiction. One of the most famous is that of Nicholas Flamel, a Parisian born around 1330. His story was originally printed in French in 1612 and translated into English later.28 In this tale we have many of the classic elements found in alchemical research: the mysterious and indecipherable text, years of frustrating work and failure, the unexpected encounter with a knowledgeable and helpful stranger, more toil and trouble, and finally, success, leading to financial security and philanthropy.29 Yet in some ways it remains unique, even seen in the light of modern historical research. Flamel's identity and his residence in the appropriate house in Paris have 36

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been established, and along with a marble tablet from his tombstone, now in residence in the Musee de Cluny, seem to validate a least part of his story. This tablet records that Nicolas Flamel, formerly a scrivener, left to the church (of St-Jacques-la-Boucherie) certain rents and houses that he had bought in his lifetime and had made gifts to various churches and hospitals in Paris. The tomb is carved in low relief with figures of Christ, of St Peter and St Paul, and between these figures representations of the sun and the moon, which, with the inscriptions 30 on the archway, attest his connection with alchemy. Even with this evidence available, opinions of how Flamel acquired his sudden and surprising wealth vary. Sadoul claims that "this story has provided us with the first definite proof,"31 while Redgrove maintains that "it seems more likely that Flamel's riches resulted from his business as a scrivener and from moneylending. "32 Taylor that after this amount of nothing very convincing can be said on the subject, although he says "it is certain that the history of Flamel was a great source of belief in alchemy, both in the fifteenth century and again in the seventeenth, after the narrative had been printed."33 The credibility of Flamel's success notwithstanding, the legend of his success, as well as that of other famous alchemists of the era such as Basil Valentine34 and 37

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Bernard Trevisan35, definitely influenced the popularity of alchemy, causing many to take up the art and to write texts on their efforts. The majority of these efforts are not memorable and it is difficult to attribute the works to their authors. 11This period was prolific in alchemical writings by many anonymous and pseudonymous persons whose dates and personalities are more or less vague and doubtful. u36 This period also saw the continuation of the practice of attributing works to famous personages and more well-known alchemists, making identification of the actual author an almost impossible task. These new works also continued to highlight and accentuate the symbolic nature of alchemy. The authors 11delighted in making every process of their work, every colour, every substance, and every piece of equipment a sign of something else, n37 furthering their reputation as .. masters of metaphor. "38 Perhaps this massive use of symbolism was necessary to the alchemists of the era, in it they found "a way of understanding chemical change, of taking it into a mental scheme."39 Whatever the reason, the practical applications cloaked in symbolism by these writers led nowhere. In all the works of all these 38

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writers, there is almost nothing that advances to any viable ''the knowledge of chemical fact or thought, however they may have appealed to those who cultivated the philosophy of alchemy as such ... 40 Though this increased emphasis on the symbolic and spiritual nature of alchemy would produce a dramatic change in the following centuries, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries produced little advancement in alchemy, or chemistry as it came to be called as well. Once again, this might be due to mysterious and often negative reputation of alchemy, or perhaps the ever-increasing number of potential subjects available to the inquisitive and intellectual man. Whatever the reason, it may readily be conceived that the conditions in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were not such as to make the field of chemical activities, other than.the technical arts, attractive to men of scholarly inclinations nor to enlist the services of really able men. On the other hand a great number of men of mediocre ability were attracted by the very mystery and obscurity of the forbidden science to dabble in it, and others, who saw their opportunity to profit by the reputation of wonder workers, found in the popular belief in the reality of these mystical arts a fertile soil for their operations. 41 Thus alchemy remained almost in limbo, making few advancements of either a practical or philosophical nature. This stalemate was about to be shattered 39

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however, as Europe entered the sixteenth century, a period often characterized as the "height of alchemy in the Western world. u42 As alchemy entered into the sixteenth century, it was forced to accommodate the new atmosphere which engulfed Europe and its ever-growing population. Religious unrest, humanistic tendencies, and technical advances intertwined with a new interest in the origins and symbolic meanings of this ancient science to alter both its goals and procedures. It reached its apex in popularity and influence, yet suffered a split which ultimately would lead to its demise as a viable and realistic mode of thought. The continuing growth of the university system throughout Europe, over thirty being erected in the fifteenth century alone43, had major repercussions on alchemical study. While study of the natural sciences were not yet included in the official curriculum, "the thoughts and experiences of men were widening and gradually also the problems of natural sciences were finding their way into university thought. "44 Increasingly, the laboratory was becoming a more important place, as observation and experimentation replaced mere contemplation as acceptable ways of 40

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explaining and interpreting the universe. The availability of alchemical literature was also increasing. The invention of movable type and the advantages therein would make "accessible to a vastly larger public in the form of printed books and pamphlets, material hitherto only accessible in laboriously and expensively copied manuscripts. "45. The capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1454 also made more alchemical knowledge and literature available, as the Byzantine Empire had been a storehouse for much of the ancient Greek and Egyptian alchemical legacy.46 By the sixteenth century, "religious tensions probably served to increase interest in the natural soteriological functions of alchemy, further enlarging its attraction. "47 The unrest and desire for religious reform which would ultimately manifest itself in the Protestant Reformation infected alchemy as well. As the censorship of the ecclesiastical authority was relaxed, a multitude of alchemical writings which had circulated surreptitiously were and circulated freely. The secrecy and mystery which had surrounded them in the past gave them an interest and importance which most of them would doubtless never have received except for the previous censorship. 48 More popular than ever, alchemy also provided new religious insights based upon ancient principles, very 41

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appealing in an age of uncertainty and dissatisfaction with the current religious climate. According to Jung, alchemy helps to compensate for the single-sidedness of Christian spiritualization; and he believed it was an underlying movement "which is not anti-Christian but completes it by bringing the opposites nearer together, by bringing physical life and such things more into the field of observation and attention ... 49 The inherent conflict between alchemy and Christianity also influenced alchemical development, as not all who regarded alchemy as a new spiritual base sought to reform existing Christianity. Some were drawn by its Gnostic and Neoplatonic origins, as Renaissance thought began to revalue the philosophies of the ancients. As the sixteenth century progressed, those interested in the new practical emphasis on alchemical operations and observation, inherent in alchemy since its origins, would begin to clash and ultimately split from those who sought answers in its symbolic and quasireligious nature. Until this time, "alchemy had always been composed of two inextricable parts: (1) a secret knowledge or understanding and (2) the labor at the furnace. 11 50 That was no longer the case, as the 42

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microcosm-macrocosm analogy now served two purposes. Some alchemists pursued the "renewal and glorification of matter, guiding themselves by this analogy, others the renewal and glorification of man, using the same analogy."51 Thus it is that we find alchemy to be "at once a craft and a creed. "52 Now there was spiritual alchemi, a part of Hermeticism or Hermetic philosophy, and practical alchemy, which would ultimately evolve into chemistry. 43

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NOTES 1. Taylor, p. 82. 2. Coudert, p. 61. 3. Ibid, p. 60. 4. Taylor, p. 93. 5. Coudert, p. 84. 6. Ibid, p. 60. 7 Taylor, p. 121. 8. Sadoul, pgs. 61-62. 9. Ibid, p. 62. 10. Taylor, p. 88. 11. Coudert, p. 104. 12. Ibid, p. 106. 13. The controversy surrounding St. Thomas Aquinas is particularly fascinating. Like others in his era, he was no doubt acquainted with alchemy and yet, according to Taylor, "mentions it only incidentally"(p. 84). Yet Von Franz sets forth a theory in pages 177-205 of her work that he definitely authored at least one text during his "death struggle"(p. 242). 14. Coudert, p. 204. 15. Jaffe, p. 16. 16. Various schemes to scam those interested in alchemy are detailed more thoroughly in Kieckhefer, p. 139, and Taylor, p. 91. 44

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17. For more information on these tests, see Taylor, p. 34. 18. Taylor, p. 34. 19. Coudert, p. 199. 20. Ibid, p. 66. 21. Debus, Allen G., The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Vol. 1, New York: Science History Publications, 1977, p. 14. 22. Taylor, p. 91. 23. Stillman, p. 272. 24. Ibid, p. 256. 25. For more complete information on this topic, see Stillman, Chapter V, "The Chemical Knowledge of the Middle Ages," pgs. 184-230. 26. Coudert, p. 82. 27. Stillman, p. 273. 28. Taylor, p. 125. 29. For a more complete version of Flamel's tale, see Taylor, pgs. 125-132, or Sadoul, pgs. 73-84. 30. Taylor, p. 133. 31. Sadoul, p. 84. 32. Redgrove, p. 52. 33. Taylor, p. 133. 34. For more on Valentine, see Redgrove, pgs. 52-53, or Sadoul, pgs. 85-87. 35. For more information on this alchemist, whom Sadoul calls Bernard of Treviso, see Redgrove, pgs. 54-55, or Sadoul, pgs. 87-95. 45

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36. Stillman, p. 296. 37. Coudert, p. 113. 38. Ibid, p. 61. 39. Taylor, p. 121. 40. Stillman, p. 297. 41. Ibid, p. 275. 42. Coudert, p. 196. 43. Stillman, p. 300. 44. Ibid. 45. Ibid, p. 301. 46. Ibid. 47. Dobbs, Foundations, p. 42. 48. Stillman, p. 301. 49. Von Franz, p. 260. 50. Dobbs, Foundations, p. 27. 51. Taylor, p. 115. 52. Ibid. 46

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CHAPTER 3 SPIRITUAL ALCHEMY IN RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION EUROPE The high point of European spiritual alchemy, or personal alchemy concerned with man's philosophical search for spiritual perfection, occurred during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and coincided with the "breakdown of religious orthodoxy and social organization during the Renaissance."1 Spiritual alchemy helped to fill the religious needs of "an age adrift on a sea of conflicting idealogies. 2 This quest was also affected by the ever-growing separation between science and religion philosophy. The new scientific method, greatly influenced by practical alchemy and discussed in the next section, added to the spiritual unease and provided further impetus to find answers to mysteries of life. Therefore, not only was there a dissatisfaction with the new science, which was seen not to be a philosophy of nature as a whole, and which consequently awakened a desire for such a philosophy, but there was also a 47

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wish for an explanation of the world in which the surviving beliefs in the 'Hermetic' sciences -alchemy, astrology, and natural magic -should find a rational justification. The result was a defence of these beliefs by explaining them and making them rational in the liht of a spiritual natural philosophy, the Hermetic. To some, there a strong belief in the possibility "that embedded in the accretions of alchemical literature lay important truths expressed in symbolic form."4 These answers could be found by careful examination of the various Hermetic literature, of which alchemical writings were one example. The term 'Hermetic', which came to represent these efforts and the literature associated with them, refers to Hermes Trismegistus, a "mythical name associated with a certain class of gnostic philosophical revelations or with magical treatises and recipes,"5 such as the Emerald Tablet. To many of his followers in the Renaissance era, he was an actual person, "an Egyptian priest who had lived in times of remote antiquity and who had himself written all these works,"6 a theory thoroughly disproved by modern research. The Hermetic literature can be divided into two branches, "one dealing with philosophy and the other with alchemical, astrological, and magical literature and 48

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these two branches can not be kept entirely separate. 7 This study will focus primarily on the alchemical impact of Hermeticism, for "the Hermetic science par excellence is alchemy. 8 It is in spiritual alchemy that the distinction between magic and alchemy as science or pseudo-science begins to be examined, for in reading the Hermes Trismegistus, the reader walks the line between "magic and religion, magic and science, magic and art or poetry or music. It was in those elusive realms that the man of the Renaissance dwelt."9 Not only does Hermeticism in the Renaissance become ''a religion, a cult without temples or liturgy, followed in the mind alone, a religious philosophy or philosophical religion containing a gnosis, "10 but it also reasserts the importance of magic in European In fact, "it is probable that Hermes Trismegistus is the most important figure in the Renaissance revival of magic. 1 1 It is important to redefine the term 'magic' as it will be used in this examination of alchemy. While the reputation of alchemy firmly places it in the realm of science and there can be little doubt as to the contributions it made to this field, it can be safely 49

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maintained that in this period of time it was considered to be a magical process. The obscurity and complexity of the literature, the secrecy of its initiates, and the relatively rare rate of success led the general public to label it as magic, for "magic should be used to refer to those things which society as a whole considers magical and not those qualified as such by a single segment of society only. "12 This revival of magic is concurrent with Renaissance ideas about the purity and quality of the thought of the ancient philosophers and teachers. They -believed the cyclic view of time as a perpetual movement from pristine golden ages of purity and truth through successive brazen and iron ages still held sway and the search for truth was thus of necessity a search for the early, the ancient, the original gold from which the baser metals of the present and nhe immediate past were corrupt degenerations.1 This emergence of alchemy as a magical and spiritual pursuit can be readily understood given the nature of the art. The enormous amount and complexity of the symbolism and its underlying sympathetic definitions and beliefs are more easily understood if they are submerged into a magical system. This sympathetic belief system14 is again due to alchemy's Neoplatonic origins. According to its founder, Plotinus, "beings on Earth are linked with each 50

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other and with the heavenly bodies in an intricate living network of influences. "15 Thus we are constantly subject to the "tug of magical influences from everywhere in the cosmos. When people discover these forces they can employ them for their purposes. ul6 Thus not only does failure become more readily explainable by quick reference to the symbolic nature of the experience and not just faulty procedure, but the more mystical elements such as astrology and Cabalism can be introduced into the equation for success, which also grows in stature as the adept can now claim the powers of the magician. In fact, with spiritual alchemy the "technical elements were reduced to a minimum and magic became the dominant partner; they depended on magic to such an extent that they seemed to have grown from it. "17 This Renaissance re-emergence of magic has been well documented, and we have to think of Renaissance magic as "both in continuity with mediaeval magic and also the transformation of that tradition into something new. ulB The ancient and medieval conceptions of magic were in some ways replaced. Renaissance magic, which was a "reformed and learned magic and always disclaimed any connection with the old ignorant, evil or black magic, 51

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was often an adjunct of an esteemed Renaissance philosopher. "19 No longer did the magician or 'magus' as he came to be called, have to quiver in fear of discovery. The melding of magic and philosophy brought it into mainstream intellectual thought and invested it with both prestige and power. A new breed of man was inventing himself, the magus or "occult philosopher. "20 These men were a complex combination of intellectual, philosopher, scientist, and alchemists. They believed that man "is superior to the stars if he lives in the power of superior wisdom. "21 Such a man, "being master over heaven and earth, by means of his will, is a magus, and magic is not sorcery but supreme wisdom. "22 In this endeavor, alchemy was important because it made the adept "more 'perfect' because it brings his will into harmony with the universe. "23 Examples of these men include Denis Zacchaire (1519-1556), John Dee (1526-1608),'Edward Kelly (1555-1597), Robert Fludd (1574-1637), and Michael Sendivogius ( 1566-1646). 24 The debate over the importance and influence cf these Renaissance magicians continues. Some experts claim these later alchemists and magicians were "simply 52

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mystics, others credulous fanatics, some simply charlatans and confidence operators. "25 Others point to the importance of their own work26 and their influence on such scientific luminaries as Newton.27 Yates influential work maintains that the real function of the Renaissance Magus in the relation to the modern period (or so I see it), is that he changed the will. It was now dignified and important for man to operate; it was also religious and not contrary to the will of God thah man, the great miracle, should exert his powers. Yet conflict was inevitable. The of alchemy's magical investiture and philosophical origins made it a target for various religious authorities. The philosophical roots of alchemy once again reinforce its unique position in Hermetic theory. Its juxtaposition of magic and religion led to its separation from practical alchemy and its conflict with the Catholic and Protestant Churches. "Neoplatonism was the pagan magical gnosticism was the Christian rationalization of magic. "29 The conflict arose not only from its association with magic, which the medieval church had frowned upon as noted previously, but from its Gnostic ideals. For Gnostics, man is a spark of divinity who finds himself in the world of base matter. "He has forgotten temporarily his divine nature but can be made 53

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to realize it again through the experience of qnosis. "30 This type of spiritual transmutation would obviously appeal to those whose religious moorings were in turmoil, for theoretically this transmutation was a process which "transformed the individual from an ordinary mortal immersed in the physical world to a superior being fully conscious of the mystery of life and death. "31 This process, as outlined in Hermetic theory and using spiritual alchemy "as a path to mystical union"32, is both religious and magical. In it, the alchemist becomes God, so as to better understand God. This union is best described in one of the Hermetic dialogues, in which the universal mind (or Nous), explains the transmutation power of man to become God, 33 See what power, what swiftness you possess. It is so that you must conceive of God; all that is, he contains within himself like thoughts, the world, himself, the All. Therefore unless you make yourself equal to Gbd, you cannot understand God: for the like is not intelligible save to the like. Make yourself grow to a greatness beyond measure, by a bound free yourself from the body; raise yourself above all time, become Eternity; then you will understand God. Believe that nothing is impossible to you, think yourself immortal and capable of understanding all, all arts all sciences, the nature of every living being. Mount higher than the highest height; descend lower than the lowest depth. Draw into yourself all sensations of everything created, fire and water, dry and moist, imagining that you are everywhere, on earth, in the sky, that you are not yet born, in the maternal womb, 54

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adolescent, old, dead, beyond death. If you embrace in your thought all things at once, times, substances, qualities, you may understand God. 4 Transmutation could be accomplished not by physical alchemy and its endless repetition of chemical processes, but by philosophical introspection on the symbolic and magical nature of alchemical texts. This new Renaissance magic was based on the revival of the Cabbala. The Cabbala was a 11transcendental philosophy of nature, supposed to have originated among Hebrew Alexandrian neoplationists, and was in the first instance a mystical interpretation of the scriptures ... JS Cabbala, maintains the magical power of numbers, words, and signs and the 11possibility through the knowledge of this power to foresee and influence futute events. It recognized the power of amulets, magic formulae, conjurations of spirits and other supernatural agencies ... JG Thus it is through the revival of the Hermetic tradition and its union with a revitalized interest in medieval and ancient magic that spiritual alchemy begins to re-evaluate itself. and its symbolism, searching for its possibilities. Spiritual alchemy lost its importance and relevancy as advances in scientific theory and understanding as well as new philosophical ideals made it a less 55

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attractive and comprehensive alternative. Yet it did leave a significant legacy. The revitalization of magical theory and practice and its establishment as a somewhat acceptable method of seeking knowledge would have repercussions in both the scientific and literary worlds. The legend of the Magus would profoundly influence literature, culminating in the classic tales of Dr. Faustus, on which more will be said later. The marriage of magic to science, embodied in alchemy, would produce invaluable results as magic retained it appeal as "a useful spiritual exercise, and it was also recognized as of value for medicine and relevant to scientific explanation. "37 This would eventually culminate in the death of alchemy, as alchemy itself transmuted into chemistry and disproved the very tenets of its existence. Along the way, both chemistry and medicine were changed forever, as we shall discover in the next chapter. Finally, the transmutation of alchemy became a symbol of reform. Magical science, imbued with alchemical symbols and the concept of transmutation, once again powerfully the dream of transformation, not only of matter, but of man, society, the world, and ultimately the dream of a Paradise regained on earth. Along these lines, magic in a very fundamental way could be united with the visions of freedom of the Enlightenment and of later 56

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revolutionary ideologies.3 8 This alchemical symbolism of reform would merge into the new scientific revolution occurring throughout Europe, which strangely enough sought to accomplish that reform without mystical and occult explanations. Yet it seems unlikely that it could have occurred without the revival of Hermeticism. This revival infused new ideas and concepts into the volatile mix of the European intellectual and scientific community. Armed with the strange allies of magic and science, they sought to understand and explain the world in a new way. Yates is correct when she states that the revival of the cult of Hermes, "and the Neoplatonism and Cabalism associated with him, may have played during his period of glorious ascendance over the mind of western man a strangely important role in the shaping of human destiny. n39 57

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NOTES 1. Coudert, p. 83. 2. Ibid. 3. Taylor, p. 167. 4. Webster, Charles, From Paracelsus To Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982, p. 10. 5 Yates, p. 6. 6. Ibid. 7 Ibid, p. 44. 8. Ibid, p. 150. 9. Ibid, p. 455. 10. Ibid, p. 5. 11. Ibid, p. 18. 12. Mauss, Marcel, A General Theory of Magic, trans. Robert Brain, New York: W.W. Norton& Co., 1972, p. 18. 13. Yates, p. 1. 14. For more information on the relationship between sympathetic magic and alchemy, see Mauss, pgs. 97-104. 15. Kieckhefer, pgs. 26-27. 16. Ibid. 17. Mauss, p. 19. 58

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18. Yates, p. 81. 19. Ibid, p. 17. 20. Stillman, p. 368. 21. Pachter, Henry M., Paracelsus; Magic into Science, New York: Collier Books, 1961, p. 74. 22. Ibid. 23. Ibid, p. 78. 24. partial list from Stillman, p. 368. 25. Stillman, p. 368. 26. See Debus, Allen G. and Robert P. Multhauf, "Renaissance Chemistry and the Work of Robert Fludd, in Alchemy and Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century, Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1966. 27. See Dobbs' Foundation and "Newton's Commentary". 28. Yates, p. 156. 29. O'Keefe, p. 535. 30. Coudert, p. 103. 31. Ibid, p. 96. 32. O'Keefe, p. 527. 33. Coudert, p. 103. 34. Coudert, pgs. 103-104, in which she credits Corpus .Hermeticum, texte etabli par A.D. Nock et traduit par J-J Festiugiere, Paris, 1945, i, pp. 147ff. Translated and paraphrased in Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, London, 1964, p. 32. 35. Stillman1 p. 367. 36. Ibid. 37. Webster, p. 10. 59

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38. Johannisson, Karin, "Magic, Science, and Institutionalization in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries," in Hermeticism and the Renaissance, p. 259. 39. Yates, p. 156. 60

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CHAPTER 4 PHYSICAL ALCHEMY FROM PARACELSUS TO LAVOISIER Alchemists had come to believe that all matter was composed of sulphur and mercury in differing proportions and that these proportions, if manipulated correctly by a knowledgeable adept, could change one substance into another. Their curiosity about matter and its forms led to the development of many processes now commonly used in chemical laboratories, such as distillation and calcination. As noted previously, the alchemist's quest for knowledge was predicated upon experimentation and extreme attention to detail. "He concentrated attention on the form, colour, and odour of the matter and watched intently all that occurred,"1 although he did not attempt to explain these changes in a chemical manner, instead cloaking them in symbolism. As the Scientific Revolution dawned, alchemists were already at the forefront, as the "art of distillation supplied 'experience'; the tradition of alchemical speculation provided 'reasoning'; two 61

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preconditions for systematic research."2 Yet until recently, the alchemical impact on this scientific reorientation has been neglected. Today we normally associate the scientific revolution primarily with mechanical analogies and atomism, the use of mathematical abstraction, the developing experimental method, and above all, an avoidance of mysticism and occult explanations. The chemical and medical developments of the period 3 seldom play a major part in these presentations. These two disciplines are deeply intertwined, as medicine evolved from chemistry, which grew from alchemy. Perhaps the most influential alchemist of all time was a man who never succeeded in the art, yet his writings greatly impacted upon the development of chemistry and the refinement of medicine. He was Aureolos Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim, ot as he is more commonly known, Paracelsus. The name means "better that Celsus" and is in reference to the ancient Roman encyclopedist.4 He has been called the "Luther of Medicine"5 and is reputed to be the first to use the word chemistry.6 Characterized as a "strange mixture of honest,_-fitful, fearless crusader, and mystic, cowardly seeker after gold, 7 Paracelsus believed that "without alchemy none could be a physician,"8 and that "chemistry was the key to the universe, which would disclose the secrets of 62

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theology, physics and medicine."9 Paracelsus' ideas and writings shook the medical community to its foundations and his later followers were some of.the most influential chemists of all time, including Johann Baptista van Helmont, called the "most prominent chemist of the first half of the seventeenth century. "10 He not only impacted science, but psychology as well for the "descriptive method, which began with him, liberated psychology from the tutelage of theology."11 Finally, he has been linked with the development of the Faust legend, immortalized in a large number of plays, stories, and even music. Quite a list of accomplishments for a man who never achieved the alchemist's goal of transmutation and lived the life of a wandering physician, however, Paracelsus "is not remembered for his achievements, but for his fight against orthodoxy."12 He was "at heart a medieval 'magus,' despite his great contributions to the progress of science, "13 and with his aichemical background Paracelsus "combined Neoplatonism, Hermeticism and alchemy into a heady mixture of revolutionary ideas. "14 "Behind the emergence of modern science there was a new direction of the will towards the world, its marvels, 63

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and mysterious workings, a new longing and determination to understand those workings and to operate with them. "15 Born in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, in 1493, Theophrastus von Hoehenheim typified this new scientific thinking. Son of doctor, he was an only child when his family moved to a mining region, which provided him with invaluable experience in mining chemistry and early alchemical training. He spent hours pondering the thought of transmutation or dreaming of the Philosopher's stone. He seems to have followed his father into medicine, and although he never received an official degree,16 he served from as an army surgeon in the Danish wars, conflicts in the Netherlands, and in the Neapolitan wars from 1518 until his return in 1525, at the age of 32.17 Disillusioned with his conventional university experiences and the various medical theories taught there18, Paracelsus turned again to his love of magic as an answer to his dilemmas. He studied with the Abbot of Sponheim, Johannes Heidenburg of Tritheim, also called Trithemius, a famous alchemist. Trithemius was also an expert in Cabala, various occult sciences, as well as a respected historian, connoisseur of art and poetry and ethics teacher. In short, he characterized the strange 64

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combination of magician and scientist which came to known as. a magus, as previously discussed. Combining his new knowledge with his childhood study, Paracelsus' interest and knowledge of alchemy became an important component in his psychological and intellectual view of the world. Forever changed by these novel experiences as well as his practical career, Paracelsus now began to assume some of the personality traits which would mark his writings and lectures. He was by that time a man of marked individuality, great self-confidence, strongly influenced by the spirit of revolt from traditional authority characteristic of the period of the Revolution, and imbued with the mission to free the practice of medicine from the dominance of the traditional doctrines of Galen and Avicenna, and to further the founding of medicine upon independent observation and experience. And to chemistry he looked as an important in the new development of medical procedures. He began to travel extensively, and in his "passionate search for truth, Paracelsus did not hesitate to mingle with gypsies, conjures, charlatans, sorcerers, robbers, bandits, convicts, refugees from the law-all manner of rogues and honest men. "20 He was seeking both medical knowledge and to both see and better understand mankind and his environment, for he believed "man and the cosmos were analogies which were inseparably linked. The study 65

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of man the microcosm was unthinkable without an appreciation of his place in the physical and spiritual macrocosm. "21 This supreme confidence in both the value and validity of the ancient alchemist's microcosm-macrocosm analogy was no doubt garnered from his alchemical studies and would form the cornerstone of his chemical and medical thinking. With it he revolutionized medicine and forever altered the course of chemistry, for ... out of the magic correspondences between the macrocosmos and the microcosmos, Paracelsus derives the metabolism between the two. Man and the Universe are related chemically. 2 2 Conventional thought held that the all matter in the universe was composed of a ratio of sulphur and mercury, the old alchemical formula. To this theory Paracelsus added another element, salt. This triumvirate of creation would dominate ''chemical thotight and philosophy until the rise of the theory of phlogiston. n23 This theory would finally be destroyed by Lavoisier in the eighteenth century and will be discussed later. Paracelsus' other practical chemical advancement was the transmission of a recipe for laudanum to Europe, a discovery he reputedly obtained from a magus in 66

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Constantinople in 1521.24 However, Paracelsus' primary influence on the development of -chemistry as a vital and viable science came not from his laboratory work, which was almost nonexistent, nor his chemical writings, which contain mostly common knowledge, but on the new attitude which he espoused. He took the traditional alchemical pursuits, that of transmutation and the search for the Philosopher's Stone, and made them acceptable and even desirable for the burgeoning group of chemists. With his unique background and spiritual views on the macrocosmmicrocosm relationship, "he possessed a breadth of view as to the field of chemistry and its possibilities. "25 It was in the development of medicine that this vision would be realized, for Paracelsus believed that in the combination of alchemy and chemistry it would be possible to develop specific medicines to cure specific diseases. This revolutionary idea, germinated in his early alchemical beliefs, grew tofruition nourished in his contempt for conventional philosophy and wisdom and produced fundamental changes in "For Paracelsus the role of the physician was properly compared to that of the true natural magician. 2 6 This magus conceived of "Nature as a self-consistent, 67

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self-constituted whole, governed by all-pervading laws which apply to the human body as they apply to inanimate nature. "27 If correctly trained and properly motivated, the godly magus may concentrate in himself celestial virtues which are the hidden powers in nature. u28 Unfortunately according to Paracelsus, despite the close connection between medicine and alchemy which had existed in Western Europe since the thirteenth the proper training and understanding of medicine and its effect on the human body was non-existent. This was the primary battle of Paracelsus career, an exhaustive and bitter fight to improve and update medical knowledge while integrating alchemical/chemical practices into medicine. "The first major confrontation of the Scientific Revolution was between Paracelsus and Galen, rather than between Copernicus and Ptolemy. "30 Despite all the progress of the Renaissance, medicine in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was still firmly grounded in its ancient roots. The primary authorities were Hippocrates, Avicenna, and the master Roman physician, Galen, and "superstition, mysticism and false theories were the cornerstones of its structure. "31 Galenic 68

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medicine was predicated upon the concept of the four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile. Disease was due to a change it the proportions of these fluids, "these being related by metaphysical analogy to the four Platonic-Aristotelian qualities, cold and warm, dry and moist. "32 Yet "Galenic medicine had failed in the treatment of the diseases that were the scourge of sixteenth-century. Europe. n33 Into this miasma of failure and chaos came Paracelsus, a "revolutionist with the imagination of a poet and the fearlessness of a crusader. "34 With his emphasis on observation and his strong background in alchemical theory and practice, he disregarded traditional thinking in favor of a new medicine which was based on the combination of chemistry and alchemy. Drawing on his experience in metallic alchemy, he reoriented the pursuit for the Philosopher's Stone to include the search for specific chemical cures for specific maladies. Paracelsus "started the investigation of the use of metallic compounds in medicine and thereby gave a new impulse to the chemical worker whose energies had previously been confined to the well-worked but not over-profitable fields of alchemy. "35 This radical 69

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concept was particularly appealing to the new men of science, for applying alchemical theories and practices to medicine represented the application of analytical skills to a vehicle of truth bearing kinship to both revelation and nature. i.36 Paracelsus revolutionary ideas were not initially well-received, for they challenged not only traditional medical knowledge and practice, but the educational grounding upon which medicine rested. By dismissing both the Aristotelian system of elements and the system of deductive logic upon which Galenic medicine was based, Paracelsus helped initiate a new mode of thinking. This new thinking, refined and carried forward by later followers of Paracelsus, sometimes called 11Herinetic humanists1137 or simply Paracelsians, was predicated upon the alchemical of observation and practical experimentation, and signalled the initial prominence of supporters who called for 11a new and unprejudiced investigation of nature. n38 The Paracelsians would eventually overwhelm and replace the Galenic school of thought, but not without a tremendous struggle which would last for over a century. The extreme opposition engendered by the proponents of Paracelsus was 11a measure 70

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of his success in sabotaging efforts at permanently establishing the authority of Galen in the field of medicine. "39 Thus by "turning alchemy away from its preoccupation with gold-making, Paracelsus and his followers transformed it into a universal science of rna t ter concerned with every aspect of rna ter ial change. "40 The Paracelsian influence on chemistry was not complete. The next major chemist influenced by Paracelsus was Jan Baptista van Helmont (1580-1644). He carried on the Paracelsian tradition during his lifetime and is generally credited with inventing the term 'gas', used in connection with carbon dioxide.41 He was a noted experimental chemist of his era and "his chemical theories exerted a powerful.influence on the chemists of his century. No chemist is cited more frequently nor with higher respect. "42 Yet he, as well as Paracelsus, firmly believed in transmutation. Nor were they alone, for despite the growing influence of mechanistic philosophy and atomist theory, there was a marked increase in the publication of alchemical texts in the seventeenth century. "Several chemists who contributed to the expansion of chemical knowledge still held belief in the reality of the transmutation of metals. "43 71

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Here is encountered one of the many paradoxes inherent in the slow decline of alchemy. The very men whose work led to the dissolution of alchemy as a science were convinced of its validity. Robert Boyle (1626-1691), credited 11With being the first chemist to study chemistry for its own sake, and not as an accessory to medicine or any chemical art, 1144 and first to accurately define an element45, also continued to attempt transmutation. Herman Boerhaave considered the 11first great rational chemist1147 and a 11thorough-going experimentalist and careful empiricist1148 still believed in transmutation. This continued popularity of alchemy seems to have stemmed both from the spiritual aspects which still remained in vogue, as well as the association of alchemy in both its spiritual and physical forms with the idea of reform, 11reform of man, reform of human knowledge, of society itself. 1149 This concept of reform gathered many disciples during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries, providing the modern researcher with another paradox. The very cornerstone of Paracelsian science is the repudiation of ancient knowledge and the reliance on personal observation. Yet 72

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even after his work had stimulated such a wave of scientific experimentation, the popularity of alchemical texts, especially those of the ancients, rose to new heights, as such authors as Avicenna, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Hermes Trismegistus were published and republished.50 Reportedly successful adepts such as Nicholas Flamel, Issac of Holland, Bernard Trevisan_and Dennis Zachaire were considered to have "considerable merit. n51 This identification of the Hermetic sciences with reform seems to have reached its peak with the Rosicrucian movement, an "organization of mystics devoted to alchemy, cabalism, and theosophy, "52 which strongly believed in almost a oligarichal reform of society based upon intellectual advances. Although the Rosicrucians were likely based upon a few isolated manuscripts with little actual applicability, it shows the power the reform ideals which had seized Europe, many based upon alchemical texts. The idea of transmutation held its appeal despite the advancing scientific evidence against its validity. Alchemy "could never quite be killed out right by point-by-point empirical refutations, and its most basic assumption 73

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remained subtly appealing: matter should have a unity behind all its apparent diversity."53 As long as physical alchemy still remained as a viable pursuit, although it became seen as a less scientific endeavor, the social analogy retained great power and desirability. Despite this growing scientific evidence, the search for the philosopher's stone seems to have been pursued with as much vigor during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as in the past two centuries. The appeal of alchemy still drew some of the greatest minds of the era, men such as Issac Newton and Antoine Lavoisier, whose work finally laid .to rest the dreams of alchemists and firmly implanted chemistry as a true science. Both these giants and others "viewed Paracelsus and van Helmont not only as of a medical system but also as alchemists of the highest order and discoverers of the true universal medicine. "54 The proof of this continuing popularity can be found in tracing the growing number of reviews of alchemical literature published in the French Journal des Scavans from its origin in 1665 until the late 1690's.55 This scholarly journal is an important research tool because "it covered works published in all major European languages and because it did not reflect 74

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the bias of any one special school. "56 Surveying the works reviewed in the Journal shows that "the literature of alchemy, hermeticism and Paracelsian natural philosophy remained in vogue and was required among the serious scholars of Newton's generation"57 and even beyond. Sir Issac Newton (1642-1727), whose "image is firmly associated with the values of the Enlightenment and the modern world, "58 was a serious alchemical scholar, as attested by his enormous library, and was profoundly influenced by his vast alchemical reading. 59 "Newton looked for no less than the structure of the world in alchemy-a system of the small world to match with his system of the greater. "60 He believed that alchemy could reveal the very secrets of nature. "He was interested in the structure of matter and in what alchemy could teach him about its forms and changes and about the universal spirit that animated the changes and molded the forms."61 His work enabled men of science to better understand the universe around them, and his theories on nature and universal principles, detailed in his great work, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, are grounded in applications of the microcosm-macrocosm 75

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analogy. He took science into the Age of Enlightenment, and with his theories and the new scientific method, alchemy stood on the brink of extinction. It would be up to Lavoisier to strike the final blow. The work of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794) administered the final blow to the scientific delusions of alchemy. He overthrew the phlogistic theory of burning in favor of the modern theory of oxidation and burning and "took chemistry away from the mystics and the obscurantists and gave its knowledge to every man who would learn. "62 His monumental work, Traite Elementaire de Chimie, completely reorganized the nomenclature of chemistry, eliminating the alchemical symbolism and creating a universal chemical vocabulary. "He was the first to recognize the common elementary constituent of organic bodies, and the f .ist to devise a method for their determination. u63 This influential scholar I politician, philosopher, and scientist, who at age 22 received a gold medal from the Academy of Sciences for creating the most efficient and effective way to light the streets of Paris, was also a student of alchemy. In the Cornell University Library rests a copy of the seventeenth century classic alchemical text, the Novum lumen 76

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chymicum, by Michael Sendivogius, bearing the bookplate of Antoine Lavoisier. 64 Called "one of the three or four greatest men France has produced, "65 Lavoisier brought chemistry into the modern era, his system of nomenclature enabling chemists throughout the world to communicate effectively, ending the hold of alchemy's mysterious symbolism on chemical progress. His work on organic bodies combined;with the discoveries of his predecessors effectively eliminated the reality of transmutation and the philosopher's stone, if not the dream. The scientific method and the brilliant men who practiced it, both profoundly influenced by alchemy, led it to its demise. Yet alchemy did not die easily, and still retains an odd appeal to this very day. While chemistry is an accepted and valuable scientific pursuit today, the underlying ideal of transformation and reform is alive and well and as "scientific method reformed chemical theory, the specific ideas of alchemy were not so much disproved as found useless and discarded. "66 These ideas would not disappear, but were instead transplanted into new areas where they would again prove influential. Two such new areas were psychology and literature, or more 77

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specifically the theories of Carl Jung and the literary legend of Faust. 78

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NOTES 1. Taylor, p. 114. 2. Pachter, p. 98. 3. Debus, Allen G., The French Paracelsians, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 146. 4. See Pachter, p. 20 for more information. 5. Webster, p. 4. 6. Pachter, p. 97. 7. Jaffe, p. 31. 8. Taylor, p. 150. 9. Coudert, p. 208. 10. Stillman, p. 381. 11. Pachter, p. 184. 12. Ibid, p. 235. 13. Ibid, p. 63. 14. Coudert, p. 208. 15. Yates, p. 448. 16. While Stillman claims he received a degree though he claims it is not known from whence it came (p. 309), Pachter discusses his travels and medical training without mentioning an official degree being conferred upon the young Theophrastus (pgs. 32-49). 17. Stillman, p. 309. 18. Again see Pachter, pgs. 32-49. 79

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19. Stillman, p. 309. 20. Jaffe, p. 17. 21. Webster, p. 4. 22. Pachter, p. 10. 23. Stillman, p. 322. 24. Pachter, p. 87. 25. Stillman, p. 323. 26. Debus, The Chemical Philosophy, p. 96. 27. Pachter, p. 181. 28. Debus, Chemical Philosophy, Vol. I, p. 96. 29. Debus, French Paracelsians, p. 162. 30. Webster, pgs. 3-4. 31. Jaffe, p. 15. 32. Stillman, p. 149. 33. Debus, French Paracelsians, p. 9. 34. Ibid, p. 21. 35. Taylor, p. 150. 36. Webster, p. 10. 37. Debus, French Paracelsians, p. 8. 38. Debus and Multhauf, "Renaissance Chemistry", p. 9. 39. Webster, p. 3. 40. Coudert, p. 208. 41. Stillman, p. 383. 42. Ibid, p. 385. 80

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43. Ibid, p. 422. 44. Ibid, p. 379. 45. Redgrove, p. 96. 46. These dates seem questionable, as Dobbs lists 1664-1734 while Stillman lists 1668-1735. I have chosen Dobbs, whose work was of more recent publication. 47. Dobbs, Foundations, p. 44. 48. Ibid, p. 44. 49. Ibid, p. 91. 50. Ibid, p. 51. 51. Ibid. 52. Stillman, p. 423. 53. Ibid, p. 92. 54. Debus, French Paracelsians, p. 208. 55. For more information on the Journal des Scavans, see Debus, French Paracelsians, pgs. 150-154. 56. Debus, Allen G. "Alchemy in an Age of Reason: The Chemical Philosophers in Early Eighteenth Century France", in Hermeticism and the Renaissance, eds. Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus, Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses Inc., 1988, p. 242. 57. Webster, p. 9. 58. Ibid, p. 1. 59. Opinions again seem to vary as to the impact of alchemy on Newton and his work. Dobbs believes it played a tremendous role, as she documents in Foundations, while in his article "Neoplatonism and Active Principles: Newton and the Corpus Hermeticum", in Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution, J.E. McGuire claims that "traditions of magic and alchemy did not play a significant role in shaping Newton's conception of nature" (p. 132). 81

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60. Dobbs, Foundations, p. 88. 61. Dobbs, "Newton's Commentary", p. 184. 62. Jaffe, p. 74. 63. Stillman, p. 528. 64. Debus, "Alchemy in an Age of Reason", p. 233. 65. Jaffe, p. 71. 66. Taylor, p. 161. 82

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CHAPTER 5 THE LEGEND OF FAUST AND THE WORK OF CARL JUNG: ALCHEMY'S SURVIVAL IN LITERATURE AND PSYCHOLOGY The death of alchemy in the scientific arena did not end its impact on Europe. As society moved into the modern era, the rich symbolism contained in alchemical texts, the fantastic stories of past alchemical successes, the philosophical tenets of its existence, and the power and appeal of its magical processes were too strong to vanish completely. They would resurface in other areas, including literature and psychology, as man continued to search for more knowledge and understanding of both himself and his environment, echoing the alchemists themselves. The appeal of alchemy remained high and its essence retained value in new arenas as improved scientific research and creative imaginations drew upon the background of this unique magic. This process began even as alchemy itself began to face its demise. With the return to prominence of magic and the 83

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influence and renown of the successful magus throughout Reformation Europe, legends and myths began to circulate detailing and romanticizing their exploits. In this time of intellectual progress and social upheaval, the ideas of magic and its adherents were a thread which the common man could grasp on to, an ancient and well-known concept which most people experienced in some form or another almost everyday. Fortunetellers, magical healers, deals with the devil, and witchcraft were acknowledged as fact, and superstition ran rampant among peasants, 11With their herbs, folk recipes, and mumbled spells.111 This juxtaposition of magic, myth, science, and the Renaissance Magus was immortalized in the legend of Doctor Faustus. The origin of the Faust character is still debated among experts, but there can be little doubt of the influence which alchemy exerted in his character, or the impact which it had upon the author of perhaps the greatest known version of the legend, Johann Wolfgang Goethe. While the oldest basis of the Faust character can be perhaps found in the legend of Theophilus, which originated in sixth century Asia Minor,2 and there is evidence concerning a real Dr. Faust as well as the title 84

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'Faustus' or 'favored one' being applied to Simon Magus,3,it seems to be no coincidence that it was during .the "thirty years after Paracelsus' death that the Faustus saga took shape."4 It takes little imagination to establish a connection between Dr. Faustus and Paracelsus for "shortly after his death, in 1541, legends began to circulate that he had been seen in several places at a time, that he had owned the Philosopher's Stone, that he had raised the dead and conversed with spirits."5 These are all themes expressed in the Faust legend and there would seem to be no doubt that Paracelsus had a great impact upon the creation of this infamous character, who "embodies all the sixteenth century's thrust toward knowledge and mystical alchemy."6 The story of Faust is a familiar one to most readers. A learned man, not content with contemporary knowledge and the means to attain it, makes a pact with the devil to obtain ultimate knowledge and power. Dr. Faustus "was ready to forgo salvation and brave everlasting hellfire to gain power over the mysteries of nature"7 and "felt that the learning of his age had failed to lift the veil which concealed the secret of creation from human eyes."8 These are again concepts 85

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perhaps directly drawn from the depths of alchemy and the alchemical philosophy. The search for knowledge whatever the cost to the seeker is frequently told in stories of alchemical success as well as failure. The pursuit of "alchemical magic refers to man's disinterested ambitions"9 disinterested ambition which corrupts its owner with actual possession. In his striving for knowledge, Faust has become a "symbol of modern man's striving for omnipotence"10 and this symbolic definition of Faust has penetrated into almost every area of modern 6ivilization, finding an identification with man's quest for that which he most desires and his willingness to pay almost any price for this knowledge. The Faust of history is at best a "shadowy figure"11 whom his contemporaries first mention in their records in 1507. Around 1540 these records no longer refer to him as still living .12 That he was widely known, fairly well educated, and extensively travelled; that he was a braggart, a vagabond, and something of a mountebank; that his contemporaries had a great contempt for him not unmixed with fear, all this may be inferred from the extant documentation without too much stretching of the imagination.13 This documentation includes references by noted Protestant reformer Melanchton, who seemed "impressed by 86

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Faustus' exploits "14, and in a letter of Johannes Tritheim, noted alchemist and tutor of Paracelsus15, Faust is credited as being a "diviner with earth and fire"16 and "that in alchemy he was the most learned man of all times. nl7 The apparent coincidences to the life of Paracelsus are too numerous to ignore. All these facts seem to support the contention that the Faust legend was greatly influenced by the actual life of the medical reformer and alchemist. Perhaps it is true, "legend goes strange ways. It first grafted Paracelsian traits upon the obscure necromancer Faustus; then through the sensitive imagination of poets, it rediscovered the sources of Paracelsian symbolism. "18 The sources of this symbolism are of course alchemy, and Goethe's version only reinforces the impact that alchemy had upon this literary masterpiece. Early in his own intellectual development Johann Wolfgang Goethe was influenced by alchemical and Paracelsian works, and "it has been suggested that he modeled Faust's description of his father on the life of van Helmont. "19 This fascination with alchemy was supposedly stimulated during his convalescence in Frankfurt from the illness that cut short his studies at 87

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Leipzig. It was here that he developed a close relationship with a "pietistic friend of his mother, Susanna von Klettenberg. "20 While he was already interested in hermetic writings, and fascinated by "magical, cabbalistic and Neoplatonic lore, and it seems likely that even at this early stage he began to brood on the symbolic meaning of magic, "21 it was during this period of 1768-69 that he "actually practiced experiments in the field of alchemy and proto-chemistry. u22 His first hand knowledge of alchemy emphasizes two important points. First it illustrates the continuing lure of alchemy among the European intellectuals, despite the scientific progress which seemed to have rendered it invalid. Secondly, Goethe's personal involvement in alchemy and natural science, no doubt, "taught him how arduous the path of knowledge was, "23 and this experience in "alchemy, astrology, nee-Platonism and hermetic mysticism extended through his whole life and, in one way or another, informed much of his creative and theoretical writing. 2 4 Thus while Goethe was not the first to rework this ancient legend into literary form, the first German version appearing around 1580 and Marlowe's English play in 1604, his personal experience with the process of 88

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alchemy as well as the magical background he received left him uniquely positioned to infuse his work with authenticity and an artistic symbolism drawn from actual sources. Through his intimate understanding of hermetic sources, "Goethe is both able to infuse profound meaning into Faust's cultivation of magic and also to use the theme of magic in its various aspects as one of the means by which his vast structure is held together and given unity. "25 In fact, Goethe's writing of Faust can be seen as analogous to the alchemist's search for the Philosopher's Stone, as "his whole ambition is that of the magus who seeks the direct revelation of ultimate knowledge. n26 While Goethe Is quest for literary perfection is symbolic, his rendition of .Faust is replete with alchemical references and vocabulary. Examples include explicit use of alchemical terms and processes in lines 6675-6860,27 and vocabulary such as 'Saamen und Wurckung Krafft', which is directly drawn from hermetic writings.28 During his struggle with the Devil, Faust is promised the "'moment', the sublime instant in which he will no longer feel himself a narrow and limited man, but a kind of God who dominates time and human beings ... zg 89

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This promise harkens back to the Neoplatonic roots of alchemy and the alchemist's desire to attain the ultimate knowledge, knowledge which will place him above mankind in Godlike omnipotence and involve him in a struggle in which the worthy adept will not only receive the understanding he sought, but the wisdom and patience to use it. This struggle to master the environment is again symbolic of the scientific revolution which occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which alchemy was replaced "by a kind of mystique of science: the terminology differs, the fundamental intention is the same . "30 Thus Goethe's Faust symbolizes both the birth and death of alchemy as a worthwhile and viable physical pursuit. His use of alchemical symbolism and terminology kept vestiges of alchemy alive to be reborn in the world of psychology, while the pursuit of the philosopher's stone now faded from existence, lost in the whirlwind that was the scientific revolution. Yet the underlying theme continues to be powerful, especially in today's increasingly technological world in which we stand on the brink of discovering all the universe's secrets. "We speak of modern man's 'Faustian drive,' his insatiable 90

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thirst to know, his unconquerable faith in the powers of his mind, his resolve to use the uncanny as well as the admissible forces of nature ... Jl Like Faust, we seek 11Salvation through knowledge. 1132 Perhaps the enduring quality of Faust captured by Goethe in ''its loftiest and perhaps its final expression, .. 33 was not man's quest for knowledge, symbolized perfectly by alchemy, but the questions the searcher must face before attaining his goal. Such fundamental questions concern: 11the relationship between man and the powers of good and evil; man's revolt against human limitations; the thirst for knowledge beyond mere information; the puzzling disparity between the sublimity and the misery of human life. 1134 It is during man's attempt to the last question that alchemy resurfaces once again, in the influential psychology of Carl Jung. Jung, inventor of analytical psychology, viewed symbols as central to understanding the minds of mankind. His concepts of the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious, and archetypes depended on the validity and universality of symbols. In alchemy and other hermetic literature he found a rich repository of these symbols. These symbols, brought forth from the unconscious, were 91

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"produced in a situation where the conscious mind did not follow a definite program, but only searched. "35 This search, stimulated by alchemy, symbolized man's search to find and understand himself. Thus, the "alchemical goal of creating the Philosopher's stone represented the end of the process with the emergence of the integrated 'self' ."36 However this search could not be analyzed without an understanding of the symbols with defined it. Again he returned to alchemy to study the symbolic process in action, for Jung believed that "he had found in alchemy a rich store-house for the discovery and elucidation of the archetypes in the unconscious. n37 According to Jung, this would help to explain both the continuing appeal of alchemy even after the physical process had been rendered scientifically obsolete and the development of new philosophical tenets which had replaced alchemy in its role as the spiritual journey which led to better self-fulfillment. As the symbols used in alchemy were both universal and meaningful to most of mankind, due to their presence in the collective unconscious, they would continue to have both meaning and substance, despite the lack of a validated context in which to place them. "In the solitary confines of their 92

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laboratories, alchemists experienced the unexpected and terrifying emotions which accompany an irruption of the unconscious into consciousness. "38 It was this emotional response which drove the alchemist to record and comment on his work, further implanting and establishing the power and definitions of alchemical symbols. This was almost a religious experience for the alchemist for Jung had "no doubt that the true adept searched for and found some level of religious satisfaction in alchemy. "39 Thus Jung confronted the symbolism of alchemy in a manner not previously attempted by the spiritual alchemists, who recognized the power and meaning of the symbols, but never related them to their origins in the depths of mankind's mentality. For them it was a philosophy which, when properly practiced, endeavored to place man in his proper place in the universe and stimulated him to manipulate this universe in order to gain power and understanding. However, Jung believed that for the "true adept alchemy was a way of life, a great work which absorbed all his mental and material resources, but it was never a rational branch of natural philosophy. "40 Instead it was a outgrowth of the unconscious, a desire encoded in symbolic form of man's 93

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collective desire to establish his rightful place in his environment. The lure and utility of alchemy lay in its rich symbolic content and the value of these symbols to help explain human behavior. It was here that "Jung has done some of his most important work: in identifying the great mysterious symbols of alchemy as psychic images, "41 for in recognizing the value of these psychic images he greatly impacted the development of psychology. Jung's work has been analyzed, updated, and amended by such influential psychologists as Erich Fromm42, thus forever cementing the legacy of alchemy to psychology. 94

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NOTES 1. Monter, E. William, Witchcraft in France and Switzerland, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976, p. 30. 2. Kieckhefer, p. 172. 3. O'Keefe, p. 563. 4. Pachter, pgs. 235-236. 5. Ibid I p. 15. 6. Lives of Doctor Faust, ed. Eric Bockstael, University Studies and Weekend College, College of Lifelong Learning, Wayne State University, 1976, p. 14. 7. Ibid, p. 22. 8. Ibid. 9. Lives of Doctor Faust, p. 14. 10. Pachter, p. 9. 11. Palmer, Phillip Mason and Robert Pattison More, The Sources of the Faust Tradition: From Simon Magus to Lessing, New York: OctagOn Books Inc., 1966, p. 82. 12. Ibid. 13. Ibid. 14. Monter, William, Ritual, Myth & Magic in Early Modern Europe, Sussex: Harvester Press Ltd., 1983, p. 33. 15. See Pachter, pgs. 75-76 for more information on this fascinating man. 95

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16. Lives of Doctor Faust, p. 37. 17. Ibid. 18. Pachter, pgs. 24-25. 19. Debus, Chemical Philosophy, Vol. II, p. 549, quoting Alice Raphael, Goethe and the Philosopher's Stone: Symbolic Patterns in 'The Parable' and the Second Part of 'Faust', London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965, pgs. 11-13. 20. Williams, John R., Goethe's Faust, London: Allen+ Unwin, 1987, p. 29. 21. Smeed, J.W., Faust in Literature, London: Oxford University Press, 1975, pgs. 93-94. 22. Ibid. 23. Feise, Ernst, "Goethe's Faust", in Literary Masterpieces of the Western World, ed. Francis H. Horn, Freeport, NY: Books for Library Press, 1953, p. 187. 24. Williams, p. 29. 25. Smeed, p. 95. 26. Williams, p. 73. 27. For more information, see Williams, pg. 143. 28. Ibid, p. 73. 29. Lives of Doctor Faust, p. 11. 30. Ibid, p. 13. 31. Pachter, p. 236. 32. Ibid. 33. Palmer and More, p. 3. 34. Ibid. 35. Von Franz, p. 22. 96

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36. Coudert, p. 151. 37. Ibid. 38. Ibid, p. 157. 39. Dobbs, Foundations, p. 40. 40. Ibid, p. 27. 41. Ibid, p. 32. 42. For more information on Fromm's theories on the impact of alchemy, see Dobbs, Foundations, p. 42. 97

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CONCLUSION THE 'GOLDEN' LEGACY OF ALCHEMY Alchemy remains a fascinating topic even in today's scientific world, despite its scientific impossibility. The concept of transmuting base metal into gold continues to be an attractive alternative to the daily grind of everyday man, even if it has been proven impossible to achieve. Yet perhaps the real gold created by alchemy is its rich contributions to the very world it sought to revolutionize. Without alchemy it is arguable that there would be no chemistry or medicine, while at the very least their growth would have been drastically affected. The contributions of Paracelsus and his followers have profoundly influenced both fields and the ramifications are not completely understood. Psychology would have been deprived of the groundbreaking and influential concepts postulated by Carl Jung. His work on symbols and their effect on the conscious and unconscious was both inspired and regulated by his interest in alchemy. Without the continuing popularity of alchemy and its appeal to a varied audience, the literary world would never have been 98

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treated to the still relevant symbolism of Faust. Its message continues to teach a lesson to a world whose desire and pursuit of knowledge seems at times without either boundaries or control. Yet despite these well-chronicled contributions to the development of mankind, perhaps the enduring quality of alchemy remains the philosophical tenets on which it was The ancient alchemist firmly believed he could manipulate his environment, but this manipulation depended on his ability to first comprehend and purify himself. While alchemy ''shares the vocabulary of symbols common to all myths and religions,"1 the most important symbol present in alchemy is its symbolization of man himself. He represents the potential existent in all things, the ability to learn and grow, to produce and develop, to reach inside and create gold, or even God, from the base material of flesh. This has ever been mankind's quest, to know the world around him, and alchemy provided vital impetus to this search. Thus while "chemistry was born in their laboratories, psychology from their visions,"2 and medicine profited from their research, alchemy retains its greatest value in simply reaffirming man's 99

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potential. Alchemy helped to teach mankind that knowledge is power, and it can only be obtained by asking questions, not only about the environment but about the motives and desires of the questioner himself. By asking these questions and striving constantly to answer them correctly, most any obstacle can be overcome and most will find the search itself both rewarding and instructive. Perhaps this is the 'golden' legacy of alchemy to mankind. 100

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NOTES 1. Coudert, p. 12. 2. Ibid. 101

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BIBLIOGRAPHY Copenhaver, Brain, 11Hermes Trismegistus, Proclus, and a Philosophy of Magic, 11 in Hermeticism and the Renaissance, eds. Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus, Associated University Presses, Inc., Cranbury, NJ, 1988. Coudert, Allison, Alchemy: The Philosopher's Stone, Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boulder, 1980. Debus, Allen G., 11Alchemy in an Age of Reason, .. in Hermeticism and the Renaissance, eds. Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus, Associated University Presses, Inc., Cranbury, NJ, 1980. The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Vols. I+II, Science History Publications, New York, 1977. The French Paracelsians, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991. Debus, Allen G. and Robert P. Multhauf, 11Renaissance Chemistry and the Work of Robert Fludd, .. in Alchemy and Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, 1966. Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter, The Foundation of Newton's Alchemy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1975. Dobbs, B. J. T., 11Newton' s Commentary on the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus: Its Scientific and Theological Significance, .. in Hermeticism and the Renaissance, eds. Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus, Associated University Presses, Inc., Cranbury, NJ, 1988. Feise, Ernst, 11Goethe's Faust, .. in Literary Masterpieces of the Western World, ed. Francis H. Horn, Books for 102

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Library Press, Freeport, NY, 1953. Harris, R. Baine, The Significance of Neoplatonism, International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, Norfolk, VA, 1976. Jaffe, Bernard, Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry, Fawcett Publications, Inc., Greenwich, CT, 1957. _________ Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1976. Johannisson, Karin, "Magic, Science, and Institutionalism in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries," in Hermeticism and the Renaissance, eds. Ingrid Merkel and Allen G. Debus, Associated University Presses, Inc., Cranbury, NJ, 1988. Kieckhefer, Richard, Magic in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990. Lives of Doctor Faust, ed . Eric Bockstael, University Studies and Weekend College, College of Lifelong Learning, Wayne State University, 1976. Mauss, Marcel, A General Theory of Magic, trans. Robert Brain, w.w. Norton & Co., New York, 1972. McGuire, J. E., ''Neoplatonism and Active Principles: Newton and the Corpus Hermeticum," in Hermeticism and the Scieritific Revolution, The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles, 1977. Monter, E. William, Witchcraft in France and Switzerland, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1976. Monter, William, Ritual, Myth, and Magic in Early Modern Europe, Harvester Press Ltd., Sussex, 1983. O'Keefe, Daniel Lawrence, Stolen Lightning: The Social Theory of Magic, Continuum Publishing Co., New York, 1982. Pachter, Henry M., Paracelsus: Magic into Science, Collier Books, New York, 1961. 103

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Palmer, Phillip Mason and Robert Pattison More, The Sources of the Faust Tradition, From Simon Magus to Lessing, Octagon Books, Inc., New York, 1966. Pritchard, Alan, Alchemy: A Bibliography of Englishlanguage Writings, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1980. Redgrove, H. Stanley, Alchemy: Ancient and Modern, University Books Inc., New Hyde Park, NY, 1969. Sadoul, Jacques, Alchemists and Gold, trans. Olga Sieveking, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1972. Smeed, J. W., Faust in Literature, Oxford University Press, London, 1975. Stillman, John Maxson, The Storv of Alchemy and Early Chemistry, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1960. Taylor, F. Sherwood, The Alchemists, Maraboro Books Corp. New York, 1992. Von Franz, Marie-Louise, Alchemy-An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology, Inner City Books, Toronto, 1980. Webster, Charles, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982. Westburg, John Edward, The Meaning of Faust and the Devil, Westburg Associates Publishing, Fennimore, WS, 1990. Williams, John R., Goethe's Faust, Allen+ Unwin, London, 1987. Yates, Frances A., Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1964. 104

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RECOMMENDED SELECTIONS FROM THE BIBLIOGRAPHY Perhaps the most influential of all the works used was Frances Yates' Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Its innovative theme and careful research provided informative ideas and impetus to others interested in this topic. While the conclusions reached may be questionable today, it remains an invaluable work, though not recommended to those seeking specific information on alchemy as the focus is much broader. Allison Coudert's Alchemy: The Philosopher's Stone is the most readable and enjoyable of the introductory texts on alchemy itself, and if supplemented with F. Sherwood Taylor's The Alchemists, the reader will have a comprehensive view of alchemy. For detailed information on the origins of chemistry, see John Maxson Stillman's The Story of Alchemy and Early Chemistry. Paracelsus: Magic into Science by Henry M. Pachter gives a complete and interesting look into the life of this amazing man. Finally, for an extensive list of works on alchemy written or translated into English see Alan Pritchard's Alchemy: A Bibliography of English-language Writings. 105