My podcast episode on my all-time favorite Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II had an alchemist’s lab of his own and was the patron of several other alchemists in Magical Prague.
My podcast episode on my all-time favorite Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II had an alchemist’s lab of his own and was the patron of several other alchemists in Magical Prague.
Doctor Mirabilis and Franciscan friar, Roger Bacon… father of science? Have a listen for his take on the philosopher’s stone and alchemical processes.
Roger Bacon, O.F.M. (c. 1214–1294) (scholastic accolade Doctor Mirabilis, meaning “wonderful teacher”)
inspired by the works of Aristotle and later Arabic works
Ilchester in Somerset, England, possibly in 1213 or 1214 in a monastery
He became a master at Oxford, lecturing on Aristotle. then university ofParis then joined the Franciscan Order and quit teaching
As a monk he wasn’t supposed to publish without the order’s concent.. but luckily Pope Clement IV was his buddy and ordered him to write to him and advise him on philosophy etc (possibly alchemy and astrology)
but when the pope died he was imprisoned, it’s not 100% clear why. But possibly attraction to contemporary prophecies,or interest in certain astrological doctrines.. his personality may have played a role.
Optics calendar (he criticized the julian calendar) he strongly advized natural sciences to be taught in universities and to experimentally test theories
He criticized many of his contemporaries, including Albertus Magnus.
Before we go into this, I’ll put a little disclaimer here, that many works attributed to him, he did not write. Especially concerning alchemy. Since he did mention it, others have grasped at that and filled in the missing parts of his picture.
So let’s start with what he certainly did write:
The Opus Majus (Latin for “Greater Work”) is the most important work of Roger Bacon. It was written in Medieval Latin, at the request of Pope Clement IV, to explain the work that Bacon had undertaken. The 840-page treatise ranges over all aspects of natural science, from grammar and logic to mathematics, physics, and philosophy… to the size and distance of plantets etc.
review of alchemy and the manufacture of gunpowder and of the positions and sizes of the celestial bodies, and anticipates later inventions, such as microscopes, telescopes, spectacles, flying machines, hydraulics and steam ships.
The cryptic Voynich manuscript (which we mentioned as being in Rudolf II’s collection) has been attributed to Bacon by various sources, including by its first recorded owner, in a book drafted by William Romaine Newbold… but it probably wasn’t actually written by him.
A work of from a hazy date and possibly not even by Bacon is the Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae, et de Nullitate Magiae (meaning Letter on the Secret Workings of Art and Nature, and on the Vanity of Magic), sometimes alternatively entitled De Mirabili Potestate Artis et Naturae (On the Wonderful Powers of Art and Nature). This treatise dismisses magical practices like necromancy, and contains most of the alchemical work attributed to Bacon, chiefly a formula for philosopher’s stone, and perhaps one for gunpowder. It also contains a number of passages about hypothetical flying machines and (what we today call) submarines, attributing their first use to Alexander the Great.
alchemical manual Speculum Alchemiae, which was translated into English as The Mirror of Alchimy in 1597. It is a short treatise about the composition and origin of metals, espousing “conventional” (with respect to the period) Arabian theories of mercury and sulfur as the constituents of metals, and containing vague allusions to transmutation. probably also not really written by him.
(from the alchemist reader by stanton j linden again) Origin of metals: 5 elements in unison -> grown with sulphur and mercury in the “pores and veins of the mountains” -> vapor of cloud is produced. -> thousand years later = metal and other minerals.
but you can quicken this by making the tincture.. a thick water that when returned to the earth becomes fixed.. so you can be faster than nature.
mercury: “stone and no stone” it swallows other things and is swallowed by other things. It’s the basis of the tincture/elixir/philospoher’s stone Rhasis: ”such a thing may be made of it which exceedeth the highest perfection of nature”
Our stone is natural or mineral vegetable and animal. because it’s generated in the mines, mother or womb of metal. it springs and grows like a vegetable and aboutds with life like an animal
purification of metal:
what tools: glass, transparent, etc. hermetically sealed so no fumes escape
sol mercury, the white and red. “marry the white man to the red woman” etc… moist and dry fire (not too hot..)
decoct, commix, conjoyn, to sublime, to bake grind and congeal, to make equal putrefie make white then red.
check your work:
half out of the fire so you can see. forty day check (black crust from the mercury) which is called: the fires, the sould, a cloud the ravens-head, a coal, our oyl, aqua viae, tincture of redness, shadow of the sun, black brass, water of sulphur…. and more
so the point is.. when it’s all done, you can add some pure gold. Let that ferment and when you pour the gold out, this can be done indefinitely… you’ve just created gold. up to 10 000 times more than you started with… but it’s exponential in a way.
now he talks about fraudster alchemists that ‘in vain’ do all their distillations, sublimations, conjunctions, calcinations, dissolutions, cointritions, etc.
oh and: if you don’t understand what I just said, that’s because God has hidden the meaning from you. I guess you’re just not ready. It’s not the philosopher’s, it’s you. He’s a franciscan. You need to be right with god, before you can understand the gold recipe.
Bacon is often considered the first European to describe a mixture containing the essential ingredients of gunpowder.
he pops up in fiction a lot, which is where he gets today’s reputation from. He’s mentioned in ‘the name of the rose’ for instance. Often as the first true scientist… I wouldn’t go that far. His chemical processes have very little we would recognize as being in any way scientific.
All-around interesting character that had an influence on the likes of Martin Luther and Gottfried Leibniz.
Listen to our Podcast episode on Llull here:
Llull invented a proto-computer to figure out the nature of matter.
Ramon Llull is such an interesting figure, he was the first person I wrote about way back when I made a prototype for the historyofalchemy website.
He was far before his time and influenced such great thinkers later on – that to me, it was Llull that made it clear that modern thinkers didn’t get their ideas in a vaccuum, but sometimes were inspired by people with cooky ideas from the deep middle ages.
I consider it a great privilege to finally share with you the life and works of Ramon Llull and hope you especially enjoy this episode.
Ramon Llull lived from around 1232 to 1315
In English he’s often called Raymond Lully, Raymond Lull;
Sometimes latinized as Latin Raimundus or Raymundus Lullus or Lullius)
He’s from Majorca… which has greatly raised my opinion of that horrible party island.. though I still don’t think I’d ever go there.
He’s a Franciscan tertiary. Meaning a member of the Third order of St. Francis. Not monks, but they lived normal lives and could marry etc. They’re still around and have some 2.5 million members.
To give you an idea of what we’re about to get into he had ideas about or invented:
He’s also honored as a Catholic Martyr
Wrote the first European novel.
And what makes him interesting to us
Wrote treatises on alchemy – and one of the alchemists who supposedly found the philosopher’s stone.
And he influenced folks like
He was born in Palma, on Majorca. So in the Kingdom of Majorca, which was just recently reconcerred from Muslims.
This is important because of the significant Muslim and Jewish population present there. This would influence him greatly.
became the tutor of James II of Aragon. Married one of his relatives and then became he became the Seneschal (the administrative head of the royal household)
He was sort of a bard or troubadour, composing songs and whatnot, and it he was composing one of these songs when he looked over and saw Jesus hanging from the cross in mid air… just hanging in his room like that.
This wouldn’t be the last time he saw that vision.. but that was enough for him to join the Third order of St. Francis
He questioned why Jews, Muslims and Christians don’t get along better (don’t we all?) since they have the same patriarchs and worship the same God.
He pushed for arabic education, so to be able to easier convert Muslims. He even wrote some of his works in Arabic.
He encouraged religion debates with Jewish leaders to try to get them to convert to Christianity.
There’s a picture inspired by Llull of a Pagan or Gentile, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian, each sitting in a row underneath a tree.
He tried to find common ground.. and this where we get into his work on the theory of the elements. All three religions accepted the Aristotelian view of the elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water). So this is an attempt to use the science of the time to find a common ground.
He would build on the elements with the dignities of God.. So far, so good. Jews, Muslims and Christians would all follow him to this point too.
Llull is so much fun to read about… so he would then assign a letter to each dignity (like qualities of “Good” and “Virtue.. see historyofalchemy.com for the full list) and then arrange those letters on a wheel along with the zodiac, planets and elements (and the attributes of the elements like “moist, hot” etc).. and when you turn the wheel, you get the makeup of all matter.
For a full list of the dignities etc, browse my website, and for the wheel itself, well, you’ve seen it. It’s the logo of this podcast. I told you Lull was here since the beginning.
But then he would go a step further and use that “Scientific” foundation to prove the trinity, and therefore that Christianity was the true logical conclusion of science.
This work is actually built on Pseudo-Dionysius and St. Augustine. Who we talk about in other episodes.
Also, if it sounds neoplatonic. It is.
This “Scientific Foundation” was later used by alchemists as the scientific backing of their work. And the sense of reproducibility, one could argue (and I do) that it’s one of the tenants that had an influence on the scientific method.
One could also argue, that this system of logic was the beginning of information science, and his wheel was a proto-computer.. we at history of alchemy wouldn’t go that far. Astrolabes are way cooler and older.
This premise of combining simple things to get more complex ones was taken up by Gottfried Leibniz in his De Arte Combinatoria.
But this wasn’t Llull’s only influence, another attempt to use a borrowed philosophy and prove Christianity came from the Cabala.
We’ll break down the cabal much more thoroughly in it’s own podcast. And when we do we’ll use people Llull influenced (like Johann Reuchlin) as the basis.
But proving the messiah the Jews are waiting for was actually Jesus.. well that comes from Llull.
In short, you need the 10 Sephirath, the names of God mentioned in the bible (which has an overlap with the dignities of God mentioned above.. and that was part of his unifying theory) and you need the 22 letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Since God created the world using Hebrew (stay with us here) contemplating Hebrew was both contemplating God and his creation.
And now we get to Llullist Cabala, which is the basis for Medieval Christian Cabala (but not always the same)
Lull used the latin alphabet instead of Hebrew, but the idea of permutation of letters stays the same, but wont reveal the secrets hidden in the old testament. This is often different from later Christian Cabala, and again, that’ll be it’s own episode.
The aim was still the same though: to prove Jesus was the messiah using cabalistic principles.
He travelled around, but that’s kinda boring, so we’ll just go into one part of it:
His first trip to Tunis was as a missionary and he accpepted a martyr’s death as the outcome, he just got run out of town though, the 2nd trip was more-or-less as a spy for the pope who was planning a crusade, and when he returned he suggested prayer instead of swords.
On his 3rd (or so) trip to Tunis:
At the age of 82, in 1314, Raymond traveled again to North Africa and an angry crowd of Muslims stoned him in the city of Bougie. Genoese merchants took him back to Mallorca, where he died at home in Palma the next year.
In 2001 with the discovery some of his lost manuscripts Llull is given credit for discovering the Borda count and Condorcet criterion, which Jean-Charles de Borda and Nicolas de Condorcet independently discovered centuries later.
These both have to do with election theory.
The terms Llull winner and Llull loser are ideas in contemporary voting systems studies that are named in honor of Llull.
We mentioned his “work” in computation theory, especially due to his great influence on Gottfried Leibniz.
Llull is mentioned in fiction quite a bit. I’ll just mention he is also mentioned in passing in Neil Gaiman’s comic-book Calliope, which is an issue of The Sandman.
Francis Yates: The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age
Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz
See Jabir ibn Hayyan (the original Geber)
Listen to our episode on Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) here:
The first practical alchemist and possibly the most influential alchemist of all time. We also break down Geber vs Pseudo-Geber.
To not confuse Democritus and Pseudo-Democritus (who lived some 600 years apart) we break down the difference between the two and go into the works of Pseudo-Democritus, a 2nd century Alchemist.
Here’s our podcast on him:
To talk about Pseudo-Democritus, let’s first discuss Democritus, so that you can easily tell the difference when you hear the name in the future.
Democritus (not Pseudo-Democritus) was from Abdera in Thrace, an Ionian colony of Teos (modern day Turkey) although some called him a Milesian (like many Philsophers) He was born in the 80th Olympiad (460–457 BC) according to Apollodorus of Athens.
So a pre-Socratic philosopher, if you’re keeping track.
Democritus was a philosoper and a student of Leucippus who came up with the idea of atoms… that everything is made up of tiny indestructible, uhm, things. I want to say “elements” because that’s what we would call them, but “atoms” and “elements” were very different to ancient greeks.
One might think that discussing the guy who came up with the concept of atoms might be significant to the history of chemistry, and therefore alchemy; but their concept of “Atomic Theory” and the modern atomic theory is very different, and only superficially uses some of the same terminology.
As mentioned he didn’t come up with atoms as a part of molecules and chemical reactions. It was more of a thought experiment to refute previous philosophers saying that motion was impossible. This is a side bar and not really pertinent, so I don’t want to get into it too much, but for the curious:
Before Democrus philosophers argued you could cut something in infinite parts, as in, you can cut the object in half infinity times. Likewise, to cross a room you first need to cross half the room, and to do that you first need to cross half of the half, but before that you need to cross an eighth of the room, ad infinitum.
But eventually one would argue that because of that, movement was actually impossible, you can’t cross an infinite points. Democritus said cutting the object would eventually get you to the atomic level.. at which point you can no longer cut. This avoids the idea that something has infinite slices, which must not be true.
I’m not going to talk about Democritus much, and this is just so you get a handle on who Pseudo Democritus was not. For now I just want to point out a few things:
It was said that Democritus’ father was so wealthy that he received Xerxes on his march through Abdera.
He traveled to Asia, and was even said to have reached India and Ethiopia.
His philosophy was based on materialism and mechanistic.
We know that he wrote on Babylon and Meroe; he visited Egypt, maybe even living there for 5 years.
During his travels, according to Diogenes Laërtius, he became acquainted with the Chaldean magi. “Ostanes” (who we’ve also done a show on)
Diogenes Laertius says that he was friends with Hippocrates
Plato hated him so much he wanted his books burned.
Pliny the elder deplored him as a student of Ostanes and magic.
Other legends and anecdotes about him:
Some people liked him because of his seeming prophetic abilities; which may refer to his knowledge of natural phenomena.
Some sources have his him living to 90, which would put his death around 370 BC, but other writers have him living to 104, or even 109.
In contrast Pseudo-Democritus was an alchemist mentioned by Zosimos of Panopolis.. I just wanted to avoid confusion.
Pseudo-Democritus was a 2nd-century AD Greek philosopher, and the second most respected writer on alchemy (after Hermes Trismegistus). Two of his works survive, Physical and Mystical Matters, and Book addressed to Leukippos. He wrote many other books that are quoted extensively by Zosimos of Panopolis. He is mentioned in the Stockholm papyrus.
Physical and Mystical Matters describes “An art, purporting to relate to the transmutation of metals, and described in a terminology at once Physical and Mystical”, branding him as an alchemist for all time and provides straightforward recipes for making imitation gold and silver (alloys).
He describes how to make metals appear gold:
whiten copper by using arsenic and then gold powder
silver sulphide with lead sulphide turns gold
copper pyrite with salt and silver or gold
alloy of tin & lead etc with sulphur or arsenic on gold
silver or bronze with an amalgum of iron
whiten copper, then yellow it with the bile of a calf
silver with sulfur
copper and lead
copper & silver with sulphate of iron
using wine and rhubarb to varnish silver to look like gold
or crocus flower
or varnish lead from dirt from chios (aegean island)
how to “make” silver
same sort of thing as above
So Democritus was a pre-socratic philosopher, Pseudo-Democritus was an alchemist some 700 years later that wrote using the same name. The reason we know less about him is because all we have are quotes by Zosimos, who lived some 100 years later.
Listen to my podcast episode on Paracelsus:
Paracelsus (born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493 –1541) was a German-Swiss
“Paracelsus”, meaning “equal to or greater than Celsus”, refers to the Roman encyclopedist Aulus Cornelius Celsus from the 1st century, known for his tract on medicine.
…this is indicative of his overbearing ego that would get him into trouble several times.
studying medicine at the University of Basel, later moving to Vienna. He gained his doctorate degree from the University of Ferrara around 1515
His wanderings as an itinerant physician and sometime journeyman miner took him through Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Russia.
After some issues with other physicians (he had a reputation for being very arrogant and was kicked out of the faculty in the University of Basel, and the U of Leipzig refused to print his works) he wwondered further through Europe, Africa and Asia Minor, ..some say India and the holy land in the pursuit of hidden knowledge. He revised old manuscripts and wrote new ones, but had trouble finding publishers. In 1536, his Die grosse Wundartznei (The Great Surgery Book) was published and enabled him to regain fame.
He died at the age of 48 of natural causes, and his remains were buried according to his wishes in the cemetery at the church of St Sebastian in Salzburg. His remains are now located in a tomb in the porch of the church.
Paracelsus’ life is connected to the birth of Lutheranism, and his opinions on the nature of the universe are better understood within the context of the religious ideas circulating during his lifetime For instance he thought experience and expertice was better than knowledge and burned the books of Avacenni (who we mentioned in the Al-Ghazali podcast and others) and tought in german instead of latin.
His hands-on experience got him the reputation of a magician, even though he was against magic. (We see similar things with Albertus Magnus)
As a physician of the early 16th century, Paracelsus held a natural affinity with theHermetic, Neoplatonic, and Pythagorean philosophies central to the Renaissance, a world-view exemplified by Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Paracelsus rejected the magic theories of Agrippa and Flamel in his Archidoxes of Magic.
It’s clear he often writes in alchemical languages and terms, but when he mentions ‘transmutation’ it is turning a weak soul into a healthy one. Or turning ingredients into medicine.
BUT he did base his medicine on astrology (which was common at the time)
He also invented an alphabet called the Alphabet of the Magi to write angelic names on talismans.. so while may have revolutionized medicine in some way.. he still clung to old beliefs in others.
Paracelsus believed in the Greek concept of the four elements, but he also introduced the idea that, on another level, the cosmos is fashioned from three spiritual substances:
the tria prima of mercury, sulfur, and salt.
And what will sound very familiar to those that have looked into alchemy or listened to this show is that these substances were not the simple substances we recognise today, but were rather broad principles that gave every object both its inner essence and outward form.
For example, when a piece of wood is burnt, the products reflect its constitution: smoke reflects mercury, flame reflects sulfur, and ash reflects salt.
The tria prima also defined the human identity. Sulfur embodied the soul, (the emotions and desires); salt represented the body; mercury epitomised the spirit (imagination, moral judgment, and the higher mental faculties).
By understanding the chemical nature of the tria prima, a physician could discover the means of curing disease.
he stated he was not after gold or silver (which sounds neoplatonic)
cloth to paper, wood to coal, but also metal to stone and stone to coal Still wrote about the alchemist’s ideas of Calcination, Sublimation, Solution, Putrefaction, Distillation, Coagulation, Tincture
This is from him: Philosopher’s stone: Adam had all knowledge and wrote it on two tables in hiroglyphics, Noah, took one table to Armenia after the flood, this deluted knowledge was taken up by four people: one became a Astronomer, one a Magus, one a cabalist, and one an alchemist. Abraham took it from Canaan to Egypt where it spread Moses plays a role and he has him as a cabalist, who was able to foretell stuff by cabalistic numerology Hermes another and zoroaster He describes how to make the philosopher’s stone (the usual mixing of salt and sulfur and continually heating sulfur breaking down compounds to their elements until you get liquid gold… which in this case can be seen as medicne closer to the elixir of life rather than something that makes gold. Astrology important in all of this.. so the stars and planets and moon need to be in the right place while doing all of this or you’re just wasting your time. …discredits many other occultists, like Ramon Llull and Albertus Magnus, Aquinas, Geber, etc. often while describing how to do something.
Zinc He is also credited for giving zinc its name, calling it zincum. based on the sharp pointed appearance of its crystals after smelting and the old German word “zinke” for pointed.
Healing Wounds etc. He used experimentation in learning about the human body. He did have hands on experience and gave that more importance than some read work. Like a wound needs to naturally drain etc.
Laudanum Paracelsus was also responsible for the creation of laudanum, an opium tincture very common until the 19th century.
Unconscious Paracelsus is credited as providing the first clinical/scientific mention of the unconscious with the meaining of the subconscious (kids sometimes get sick because of something they unconscoiously imagine)
Chemical medicine Although his medicine is based in hermeticism and astrology (as above, so below as in microcosm and macrocosm) he had the view that sickness is caused by an inbalance of minerals and therefore certain illnesses have chemical remedies.
Up to that points hippocrates’ view of sickness held. that means that illness was caused by one of the four humors being out of balance.. medicine was therefore eating certain foods and purging, or bloodletting etc.
Paracelsus challenged that by stating that sometimes illness can be caused by outside factors.
“The dose makes the poison.” was his saying (but paraphrasing) and is famous in toxicology.
Paracelsianism was a medical movement based on the theories and therapies of Paracelsus. It was prominent in late–16th and 17th century Europe (after his death) Trivia – Also mentioned in Frankenstein, along with agrippa and albertus magnus – He’s mentioned in harry poter as one of the collectibe cards that come with the chocolate frogs, and in the books his statue is at hogwarts – mentioned in moby dick – and tons more
the alchemist reader by stanton j linden
A mysterious person, (or –more likely– multiple people with the same name) from Persia. Sometimes called the ‘father of alchemy.’ His supposed contributions include first mentioning the elixir of life, the philosopher’s stone, being in Xerxes’ court, and a teacher of Alexander the Great, teaching Democritus, and a Magi in the line of Zoroaster.
Listen to our podcast episode on Ostanes here:
Ostanes was born in.. not sure. But he died in.. hmm. I also don’t know that. He was Iranian/Persian
Hermodorus, who lived in the 4th Century BC mentions him. Hermodorus circulated works of Plato in Sicily.
He claimed Ostanes was a magus in a long line of Magi descending from Zoroaster.
But Persian sources don’t mention him. He’s one of the ‘wise foreigners’ the Greeks loved so much.
The 1st century CE Pliny the elder called Zoroaster the first magician, but that Ostanes was the first writer of it.
Pliny also writes that Ostanes accompanied Xerxes to the invasion of Greece.
…but then he also mentions him as a tutor of Alexander the Great a century later.
Aslo when Democritus headed east to discover the secret of Magic, it was none other than Ostanes that was his teacher.
Pliny quote: “As Ostanes said, there are several different kinds of it; he professes to divine (divina promittit) from water, globes, air, stars, lamps, basins and axes, and by many other methods, and besides to converse with ghosts and those in the underworld”
By the end of the 1st century CE, “Ostanes” is cited as an authority on alchemy, necromancy, divination, and on the mystical properties of plants and stones.
Later when the Muslim world took over the study of Alchemy they continued to see Ostanes as a father of Alchemy, who possessed the secret of the philosopher’s stone.
Now, a lot of Persian literature from the time ostanes was said to live (lets say between 700 and 300 BC) was lost.. so who knows, there may have been a clever guy named Ostanes.
Somewhere around the 3rd century BCE an Egyptian philosopher Pebechius writes to a Zoroastrian magician that he found hidden books of Ostanes in Persian.
The books were 7 books each hidden behind a door by King.
Pebechius in great awe describes the books as Ostanes’ divine revelations and a treatise on the whole of all the sciences including the wisdom of Hermes which Ostanes had recovered and restored to the Magi and to the world. We assume Osrom, to whom the letter was addressed, lived in Persia.
Another mention: Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (c. 248-258 CE), states that Ostanes said God cannot be perceived and Hermes Trismegistus said God cannot be comprehended (by humans).
So one Ostanes that may have taught Democritus and been in Xerxes court.. one that may have taught Alexander the Great. One that taught Pseudo Democritus
Must have been a sharp cookie.
The reason I wanted to cover him.. even if briefly, is that he may have been the first to talk about “Divine Water” -as in the Elixir of Life, which is all it takes to get a podcast on this show.. so keep that in mind when you invent that time machine.
Listen to our podcast episode on him here:
A book seller that got a larger than life reputation centuries after his death. If the stories are to be believed he’s still around.
I’ll bet some waiting for this one for a while. If people can name one Alchemist, it’s probably him. So let’s get one thing out of the way at the very beginning: Like some of the other’s on this podcast, Flamel was not an alchemist.
He got the reputation centuries after his death.. but we’ll clarify that. We wanted to get that out of the way in the beginning, because, though he maybe the most famous alchemist of all time (possibly) he’s probably one of the least Alchemy-like people we’ve covered. He wasn’t even a fake alchemist, like a charlatan. He basically did nothing to get his reputation. But a reputation he does have, so we’ll delve into one of his supposed works on alchemy (though probably written 3 hundred years after his death)
Nicolas Flamel probably born in Pontoise, ca 1330 – died Paris, March 22, 1418, was a successful French scrivener and manuscript-seller.
According to texts ascribed to Flamel almost two hundred years after his death, he had learned alchemical secrets from a Jewish converso on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
The real historical Flamel lived in Paris in the fourteenth and fifteenth century and his life is one of the best documented in the history of medieval alchemy. He ran two shops as a scribe and married Perenelle in 1368. She brought the wealth of two previous husbands to the marriage. The French Catholic couple owned several properties, and contributed financially to churches, sometimes by commissioning sculptures. Later in life they were noted for their wealth and philanthropy.
Flamel lived into his 80s, and in 1410 designed his own tombstone, which was carved with the images of Christ, St. Peter, and St. Paul. The tombstone is preserved at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. Records show that Flamel died in 1418. He was buried in Paris at the Musée de Cluny at the end of the nave of the former Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie.His will, dated 22 November, 1416, indicates that he was generous but that he did not have the extraordinary wealth of later alchemical legend. There is no indication that the real Flamel of history was involved in alchemy, pharmacy or medicine.
It would not be until centuries after his death that he gained the reputation he has today.
One of Flamel’s houses still stands in Paris, at 51 rue de Montmorency. It is the oldest stone house in the city. There is an old inscription on the wall:
“We, ploughmen and women living at the porch of this house, built in 1407, are requested to say every day an ‘Our Father’ and an ‘Ave Maria’ praying God that His grace forgive poor and dead sinners.”
The ground floor currently contains a restaurant.
A Paris street near the Louvre Museum, the rue Nicolas Flamel, has been named after him; it intersects with the rue Perenelle, named after his wife.
Flamel had achieved legendary status within the circles of alchemy by the mid 17th Century, with references in Isaac Newton’s journals to “the Caduceus, the Dragons of Flammel”.
Interest in Flamel revived in the 19th century; Victor Hugo mentioned him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Erik Satie was intrigued by Flamel, and Albert Pike makes reference to Nicholas Flamel in his book Morals and Dogma of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.
Legendary accounts of Flamel’s life are based on seventeenth century works, primarily Livre des figures hiéroglyphiques.
The essence of his reputation are claims that he succeeded at the two goals of alchemy: that he made the Philosopher’s Stone, which turns base metals into gold, and that he and his wife Perenelle achieved immortality through the “Elixir of Life”.
The book is a collection of designs purportedly commissioned by Flamel for a tympanum at the Cimetière des Innocents in Paris, long disappeared at the time the work was published. In the publisher’s introduction Flamel’s search for the Philosopher’s Stone was described. According to that introduction, Flamel had made it his life’s work to understand the text of a mysterious 21-page book he had purchased.
The introduction claims that, around 1378, he travelled to Spain for assistance with translation. On the way back, he reported that he met a sage, who identified Flamel’s book as being a copy of the original Book of Abramelin the Mage. With this knowledge, over the next few years, Flamel and his wife allegedly decoded enough of the book to successfully replicate its recipe for the Philosopher’s Stone, producing first silver in 1382, and then gold. In addition, Flamel is said to have studied some texts in Hebrew.
The book basically describes that the Tympanum is fully of alchemical hints he learned from studying his old book. It makes a case (written in the first person as Flamel) that he’s an alchemist. He describes the arch in terms of chistian theology and the final judgement, but also in Hermetical terms.
For instance.. Flamel notes the christian symbolism is slightly off. Peter and Paul’s positions are switched, the colors are wrong, they’re standing wrong, etc. This is taken in the book to refer to philosopher’s in the alchemical tradition. Hidden secrets. He mentions qabalah, and the philosopher’s stone (called the philosophicall egge), Geber, Rasis.. all the greats are there, hidden or alluded to. The whole arch can be read as a furnace, giving instruction on how to prepare the stone.
He writes a whole chapter on why peter is wearing red and holding a key. Basically: Peter is the stone that has the key to multiplying gold.
The validity of this story was first questioned in 1761 by Etienne Villain. He claimed that the source of the Flamel legend was P. Arnauld de la Chevalerie, publisher of Exposition of the Hieroglyphical Figures, who wrote the book under the pseudonym Eiranaeus Orandus. Other writers have defended the legendary account of Flamel’s life, which has been embellished by stories of sightings in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and expanded in fictitious works ever since.
The idea of Flamel, the great alchemist has evolved throughout the centuries and has continued through modern times. For example, he was alleged to be the eighth Grand Master of the Priory of Sion leading to his mention in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982), Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum (1988), and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code(2003). Other literary works that feature Flamel include:
Miriam the Jewess (sometime in the 1st to 4th century AD).
Maria the Jewess (or Maria Prophetissima, Maria Prophetissa, Mary Prophetissa, Miriam the Prophetess) is a figure appearing first in the works of the Gnostic Christian writer Zosimos of Panopolis.
Zosimus’ sources are not clear, and may be developed from Miriam, sister of Moses, but on the basis of his comments she is estimated to have lived anywhere between the first and third centuries AD. She is attributed with the invention of several kinds of chemical apparatus and is considered to be the first nonfictitious alchemist in the Western world.
The primary source for the existence of a Maria the Jewess in the context of alchemy is Zosimos of Panopolis, who wrote in the 4th century the oldest alchemy books known. Zosimos describes several of her experiments and instruments. In his writings, Mary is almost always mentioned as having lived in the past and being one of the “sages.”
George Syncellus, a Byzantine chronicler of the eighth century, presents Mary as a teacher of Democritus, whom she met in Memphis, Egypt at the time of Pericles. The tenth century Kitāb al-Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim cites her as one of the fifty-two most famous alchemists, knowing the preparation of the caput mortuum (nigredo, or black phase). The Roman philosopher Morieno called her “Mary the Prophetess” and the Arabs knew her as the “Daughter of Plato”, a name that in Western alchemical texts was reserved for the white sulfur.
In the Alexander book (2nd part) of the Azerbaijani Persian poet Nizami, Maria, a Syrian princess, visits the court of Alexander the Great, and learns from Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), among other things, the art of making gold.
Though none of her writings have survived, quotes credited to her are found in hermetic writings. The most notable of those quotes is found in an extract made by an anonymous Christian philosopher, named The Dialogue of Mary and Aros on the Magistery of Hermes, in which are described and named operations that would later be the basis of Alchemy, leukosis (whitening) and xanthosis (yellowing). One was made by grinding and the other by calcination. This work describes for the first time an acid salt and other acids that can be identified with acetic acid. There are also several recipes for making gold, even from root vegetables such as the Mandragora.
Several cryptic alchemical precepts have been attributed to Maria Prophetissa. She is said to have spoken of the union of opposites:
Join the male and the female, and you will find what is sought.
The following was known as the Axiom of Maria:
One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.
Psychologist Carl Jung used this as a metaphor for the process of wholeness and individuation.
Mary is said to have discovered hydrochloric acid, though this is not accepted by most science texts.
Maria, alongside Agathodaimon, pseudo-Democritus and Hermes Trismegistus, has also been mentioned by Zosimos of Panopolis in his descriptions pertaining devices such as the tribikos, the kerotakis and the bath, although her alleged contributions are disputed and not clear.
The tribikos was a kind of alembic with three arms that was used to obtain substances purified by distillation. No one knows for sure whether Mary the Jewess was its inventor, but Zosimos credits the first description of this instrument to her. In her writings (quoted by Zosimos), she recommends that the copper or bronze used to create the tubes be the thickness of a frying-pan, and the joint between these tubes and the still-head be sealed with flour-paste.
The kerotakis is a device used to heat substances used in alchemy and collect vapors. It is an airtight container with a sheet of copper suspended on the top. When working properly, all joints are in a tight vacuum. The use of such sealed containers in the Hermetic arts led to the term “hermetically sealed”. The mystical kerotakis was a reconstitution of the formation process of gold that was going on in the bowels of the earth.
Later, this instrument was modified by the German Franz von Soxhlet in 1879 to create the extractor that bears his name, Soxhlet extractor.
Her name survives in the invention of the water-bath or bain-marie, extensively used in chemical processes in which gentle heat is necessary. This term was introduced by Arnold of Villanova in the fourteenth century AD.
The podcast episode on Michal Sedziwoj (Michael Sendivogius)
Michal Sedziwoj (1566–1636) Michał Sędziwój (Michael Sendivogius, Sędzimir) alchemist, philosopher, and medical doctor. His noble family that was part of the Clan of Ostoja. – interesting clan. they “chose” their members more than a true bloodline. He studied in Vienna, Altdorf, Leipzig and at Cambridge. His acquaintances included John Dee and Edward Kelley. In the 1590s he was active in Prague, at the famously open-minded court of Rudolf II. In Poland he appeared at the court of King Sigismund III Vasa around 1600, and quickly achieved great fame, as the Polish king was himself an alchemy enthusiast. He developed ways of purification and creation of various acids, metals and other chemical compounds. He discovered that air is not a single substance and contains a life-giving substance-later called oxygen 170 years before similar discoveries by Scheele and Priestley. He correctly identified this ‘food of life’ with the gas (also oxygen) given off by heating nitre (saltpetre). This substance, the ‘central nitre’, had a central position in Sędziwój’s schema of the universe. In 1604 Sendivogius’ most important work — based on the number of editions. 56 editions until 1787 — has been published: “De Lapide Philosophorum Tractatus Duodecim”. The treatise was printed in Prague and its title was changed to “Novum Lumen Chymicum” in later editions. The 12th tract explains that the origin of heat would be motion. Motion causes water to rise as steam.
Eventually the Hapsburg emperor (Rudolf II) granted him land in Bohemia and Moravia where he settled He was lured to the court of Duke Friedrich of Wuerttemberg at Stuttgart in 1605, who had noticed Sendivogius’ claim in De lapide philosophorum (1604) to possess the secret of the philosopher’s stone. The Duke put Sendivogius in prison. Sigismund III, Rudolf II, and several German princes intervened and Friedrich grew alarmed. He arranged for Sendivogius to escape and put the blame on his court alchemist, Heinrich Muehlenfells, who was condemned to die. ..suposedly (mentioned by Rudolf Werner ) was sent by the emperor to other courts as a spy… and since he did also work for the Polish King Zygmunt III, was a Polish nobleman and was at some points married to Ferdinand II sisters (two of them).. He did help in some diplomatic errands, such as negotiating the Poland’s access to the black sea with the Hapsburgs. However priorities shifted during the 30 year’s war and alchemy fell out of favor as finances went toward the war. He died in obscurity
“A New Light of Alchemy”, (Latin original published in 1605), were written in alchemical language, in effect a secret code which was understandable only by other alchemists. it talks about how god’s will enters earth, which is “windy and porous” and is distilled in the bowels of the earth the four elements are transmutated into all metals etc. …all metals are the same, just silver is “done” sooner than gold etc.. He took the philosopher’s stone as fact supposedly received philosopher’s powder from someone
Why does metal not give off seeds like fruit? Because it’s not ripe.. it gets corrupted; conditions are not good enough.. the seed is the philosopher’s gold.. just really pure gold.. that can create more gold So, how to ripen gold? It needs water.. remember aqua regia? solvents and acid.. that. OR the water of life.. no biggie. AND heat for 7 months.. maybe 10. fire. Funny story of an alchemist talking to mercury trying to find the stone.. Are you THE mercury or is there another? Isaac Newton read his work In Kraków’s Wawel castle, the chamber where his experiments were performed is still intact. Summary Had a very important influence both in court life among the poles and hapsburgs, and even some german princes. he moved in very interesting circles like edward kelley and famous scientists of his time. Had a very practical way of making gold (if you could understand it) and was very influencial after his time. Bibliography: the alchemist reader from stanton j. linden, which has an exerpt from a new light of alchemie
John Dee (13 July 1527 – 1608 or 1609) One of the most famous Alchemists of the 16th Century. Spent some time in Prague.
The podcast on Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe:
For more on Brahe, see Tycho Brahe
Johannes Kepler (from 1571 – to) died near Stuttgart
Studied in tübingen where it was noted that in his university years he was good at casting horoscopes
I’ll point out at this point that he had a professor named Mästlin. The university officially still taught the ptolemaic system, but Mästlin was one of the few of his time that taught that copernicus should be taken literally.
Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa came a century before copernicus, and already argued that the earth was not motionless in the center of the universe. Kepler came across his works too.
Kepler was theologically minded, and took an idea very similar to ancient pythagoreans and reinterpreted it for christianity: since the sun was the brightest object in creation, it only made sense that it signified the creator and should therefore be in the center.
“there was nothing I could state that I could also contradict” always say both sides of the coin.. which was not a positive in later political life
Protestant (Lutheran) mathematician, school master in Graz. had a reputation from using astronomy to predict crops and wars
Also district mathematician, which meant he had to compile the calendar for the next year and come up with astrological predictions: war, disease, weather, when would be good/bad times for surgery, when one should anticipate religious or political upheaval, and when the turks would attack
Now’s a good time to point out that Kepler did not believe in horoscopes.. he called it ‘feeding the fatheads superstitions’ and the ugly daughter of astronomy etc. very different than his contemporaries. He still seemed good at it. I just wanted to point this out. I get asked this. How much of this stuff did the people believe that ran horoscopes? In Kepler’s case he didn’t… he still paid attention to the stars on his wedding date. So maybe he did heed them a little.
read horoscopes for the imperial court….in fact he had written horoscopes (and was apparantly good at them) since at least his university days in Tübingen
For example for 1595 he predicted a harsh winter, an attack from Turks from the South and a peasant uprising. All came true.
planetary motion.. e.g. that they travel in elipses, not circles (like copernicus’ theory)
So wallenstein was a big cheese generalisimo in the 30 year’s war. He was more powerful militarily than the emperor. you can still see his spralling palace grounds in prime real-estate below the castle in lesser town in prague.
Well kepler forsaw his death in a horoscope.
Not entirely up to today’s snuff:
polygonal structure of the solar system (see pic.)
Kepler thought he had revealed God’s geometrical plan for the universe. Much of Kepler’s enthusiasm for the Copernican system stemmed from his theological convictions about the connection between the physical and the spiritual; the universe itself was an image of God, with the Sun corresponding to the Father, the stellar sphere to the Son, and the intervening space between to the Holy Spirit.
polyhedrons and ‘perfect solids’ (pythagorean or platonic solids): shapes that fit within spheres :
example: dodecahedron (twelve sided regular solid) fits over mars’ spere. with earth’s sphere a icosahedron (twenty sided) etc.. there are 5 perfect solids, and therefore 6 planets. BAM
So, if each solid has a shere around it (the path of the planets in 3D.. then that describes the distance apart from each other.
anyway, Kepler wanted to be a Theologian originially.. now he thought God was revealing himself through nature. So by writing about the perfection of astronomy (through math) he was saying something about God.
Galileo wrote to Kepler and Kepler replied, talking of Copernicus.
The planets travel at different speeds. He pointed at gravity, but called it “holy spirit force” instead
He noticed that the ratios of distance and speed fit, and would sound ‘harmonious’ if they were corresponding to string lenghts:
the interva; between saturn to jupier was a fourth
jupiter to mars an octave
mars to earth a major third
venus to mercury a fourth
this theory jived a bit better with copernican observations than did his polyhedral theory
point of infinity (if a straight line goes on forever they will meet, thus having the properties of a large circle)
first published description of hexagonal symetry of snowflakes
Astrologically, the end of 1603 marked the beginning of afiery trigon, the start of the ca. 800-year cycle of great conjunctions; astrologers associated the two previous such periods with the rise of Charlemagne (ca. 800 years earlier) and the birth of Christ (ca. 1600 years earlier), and thus expected events of great portent, especially regarding the emperor.
Now, we’ll jump ahead a bit to wrap up Kepler’s solo life and then come back to Kepler and Brahe when they are in prague together.
Around 1611, Kepler circulated a manuscript of what would eventually be published (posthumously) as Somnium (The Dream). Part of the purpose of Somnium was to describe what practicing astronomy would be like from the perspective of another planet, to show the feasibility of a non-geocentric system. The manuscript, which disappeared after changing hands several times, described a fantastic trip to the moon; it was part allegory, part autobiography, and part treatise on interplanetary travel (and is sometimes described as the first work of science fiction).
Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov have referred to it as the first work of science fiction.
Years later, a distorted version of the story may have instigated the witchcraft trial against his mother, as the mother of the narrator consults a demon to learn the means of space travel.
Kepler’s mother supposedly had a knack for herbs and folk medicine, she had a reputation of being rude and meddlesome.. and anti social.
That’s enough in southern Germany at the time to degenerate into a witch trial.
When the charges stacked up (49 in all) they included causing pain without touching people, riding a calf to death, muttering fatal “blessings” over infants, unnatural death of animals, trying to talk a young woman into becoming a witch. And one which was true: she heard in a sermon of an archaic tradition of making goblets of deceased relatives’ skulls, she asked a grave digger for her father’s skull, so she could have it inlaid with silver for her son, the famous court mathematician.
Following her eventual acquittal, Kepler composed 223 footnotes to the story—several times longer than the actual text—which explained the allegorical aspects as well as the considerable scientific content (particularly regarding lunar geography) hidden within the text.
In his calendars—six between 1617 and 1624—Kepler forecast planetary positions and weather as well as political events; the latter were often cannily accurate, thanks to his keen grasp of contemporary political and theological tensions. By 1624, however, the escalation of those tensions and the ambiguity of the prophecies meant political trouble for Kepler himself; his final calendar was publicly burned in Graz.
Graz was no place for a Lutheran like Kepler… Frederik II instituted the catholic counter-reformation and made life very hard for protestants. Kepler started looking around for another place of employment not long after Brahe first read his book.
in 1600 the situation in Graz worsened regarding Lutherans and finally decided to take the risk and visit [Tycho Brahe]().
Kepler arrived in Prague, a bustling city full of new renaissance buildings surrounding the castle complex up on a hill overlooking the Vltava river. It’s hard to describe the castle if you’ve never been to Prague or seen a river. Today it is still be biggest castle complex in the world. Like a city in a city with the cathedral in the middle (plenty of pics on bohemican.com, including the banner if you’ve never seen it)
And now we have a great creative mathematical mind together with the astronomer with the most precise charts of the sky.
Jan Jesensky (explain who he was?) the emperor’s physician and later leader of the uprising that lead to the 30 years war came to benatky to discuss a contract of employment between kepler and brahe on kepler’s behalf… which at first did not end well, but in the end they came to an arrangement.
When the Emperor Rudolf required of tycho to be at court twice a day, he stayed at the golden griffin (on one of my old tours) within sight of the castle. His duties mainly involved advice based on horoscopes. And while Tycho did believe in this (probably more than Kepler) he thought this boring and tedious. Another thing is that Tycho believed that free will trumped the influence of the planets by a long shot.. so predicting battles was ludicrous.. but Rudolf believed in it strongly and he was paying the bills.
Eventually Kepler lived a few blocks further from the castle.. where now a statue of brahe and kepler stands.
Tycho mounted some of his instruments on the balconies of the Belvedere and used it as an observatory. (the same he had turned down on his way into Prague)
Kepler’s dabbling in optics.. ilke how the eye works. used a camera obscura to draw a solar eclipse
kepler discovered how the eye works. Before it was thought that the image was caught in the liquid in the eye, but kepler realized it was reflected upside down in the back of the eye through a lens.
he used those theories to describe how telescopes work, and his work became the foundation of 17th century optics.
According to hasner, kepler was there when he died and it was brahe’s dying wish for kepler to finsh his model (theory)
In fact there had been trust issues between Brahe and Kepler in the beginning, but Brahe soon realized that if he wanted to see his Tychonian model of the solar system finished and published he would have to trust kepler to finish it after his death.
From here on out they worked together, for which they are now famous.
See [Tycho Brahe]() for more on their time together.
After Brahe died, Kepler became Rudolf’s court mathematician. He had full use of brahe’s tools and charts and was to complete the Rudolfine Tables… and create horoscopes
when galileo’s news reached kepler that Galileo had discovered four moon around Jupiter, Kepler’s response was: surely Jupiter has inhabitants then… because why else would God create 4 moons? Just to be enjoyed by the few earth dwellers who have telescopes? surely not!
Kepler left Prague for Linz.. and moved around a few times during the 30 years war. He came to Prague once and would have seen Jesensky’s head on a pike on the charles bridge.
On the night he died there was a meteor shower. His epitaph (that he wrote himself) reads:
‘I measured the heavens, Now the earth’s shadow I measure,
Skybound, my mind, Earthbound, my body rests”
He made it onto an East German stamp
In 2009, NASA named the Kepler Mission for Kepler’s contributions to the field of astronomy. And with the Kepler space telescope, maybe we’ll finally find the inhabitants of Jupiter
In New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park there is also a range of Mountains Named after Kepler, called the Kepler Mountains and a Three Day Walking Trail known as the Kepler Track through the Mountains of the same name.
The crater Tycho on the Moon is named after him, as is the crater Tycho Brahe on Mars. The Tycho Brahe Planetarium in Copenhagen is also named after him.
HEAT1X-TYCHO BRAHE is the name of a manned private spacecraft to be launched by Copenhagen Suborbitals. Other things named after him include a bar inZagreb and a ferry operating between Sweden and Denmark.
Josef Hasner: Tycho Brahe und J. Kepler in Prag – a german book printed in prague in 1873
Kitty Ferguson’s Tycho & Kepler
Our podcast on Newton’s alchemy:
To see Isaac Newton as just a figure in the Scientific Revolution is not understanding him at all. To get the whole picture of who he was and what he was after one needs to look at Isaac Newton the alchemist.
Translated the Emerald Tablet
My Podcast on this topic:
Combination of Greek god Hermes and Egyptian god Thoth gods of writing and magic (and more) Thoth in particular was the god of Magic, Writing, Astrology and Alchemy carried souls to the afterlife (Psychopomps)
Hermes is equivalent to the Roman God Mercury.. who also has a strong importance in alchemy and astrology.
Hermes Trismegistus is placed, according to mythology, in the early days of the oldest dynasties of Egypt, long before the days of Moses. Some authorities regard him as a contemporary of Abraham, and some Jewish traditions go so far as to claim that Abraham acquired a portion of his mystical knowledge from Hermes himself (Kybalion)
One of this myths relates him vanquishing Typhon, the dragon of ignorance and mental, moral and physical perversion… so he’s a hero of intelligence and health.
Contemporary of Moses
Grandson of Adam
Builder of Egyptian Pyramids
In the same way as Hermes Trismegistus, Imhotep and Amenhotep (two prophets) were deified as gods of wisdom and medicine.
Conjuring spirits and animating statues that inform the oldest texts, Hellenistic writings of Greco-Babylonian astrology and the newly developed practice of alchemy
Many Christian writers, including Lactantius, Augustine, Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Campanella and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola considered Hermes Trismegistus (and some uded Zoroaster and Plato.) to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity.
ONE theory: wisdom are alchemy, astrology, and theurgy or philosopher and the greatest priest and the greatest king”
the 42 books known as the “Hermetica” are aobut Occult like astrology, theological, philosophical, medical, law, alchemicy, music, geography, magic, and the most mysterious thing known to man: women. writings was actually probably written in the 1st to 3rd Centuries CE.
Though Hermes Trismegistus is mentioned 6 hundred years earlier at least (by Iamblichus, and Manetho and Egyptian Priest who wrote the egyptian history in greek.)
Written in the form of dialogs (like plato)
The “popular” or “philosophical” parts (occult) are possibly written before the “learned” or “technical” parts and may reflect beliefs in the older Roman Empire.
It’s the popular parts that deal with magic, alchemy, astrology, and potions. and was popular with medieval alchemists. Spells to magically protect objects, for example, are the origin of the expression “Hermetically sealed ”. OR the closed nature of the writings is where that comes from.
Most books lost in the library of Alexandria and Christian text burnings.
Not as ancient as thought: 1st to 3rd C AD
Wrote the Emerald Tablet
Combination of the Greek god Hermes and Egyptian god Thoth
Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of world religions.
Alchemy by Stanislas Klossowski de Rola
Rosemary Ellen Guiley Encyclopedia of witches and witchcraft