Category Archives: Alchemists

A look at alchemists themselves.

Giovanni (Mercurio) da Corregio

Podcast about him here:

Giovanni da Correggio, also Giovanni Mercurio is a little out there. Great story. The time frame is around 1450. Hard to say exactly. He was the bastard son of Antonio da Correggio, who lived until 1474, and his pupil, Lodovico Lazzarelli lived from 1447 to 1500.

Anyway, story time. Told to us by Lazzarelli. It’s Palm Sunday in Rome, 1484. All dressed to the nines and with four servants in tow he rides through Rome. Once out of the city he changes out of his nice clothes and gets into some blood-stained linen and a crown of thorns (remember it’s Palm Sunday). He had a crescent moon shaped silver-plated disk above his head saying he was God’s or Jesus’ servant Primander. And get’s on a white donkey and heads back towards Rome. His servants are all around him on horseback.

He rides toward the Vatican, stopping here and there to proclaim the coming judgement, while saying he’s “Giovanni Mercurio da Corregio, the Angel of Wismdom Primander.” The timing is perfect and this is just as people are leaving the churches from Palm Sunday mass, in which they received palm branched. Since it’s Easter and all, the church goers start to follow him through the streets, greatly increasing the intended parallel with Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem.

According to Lazzarelli the guards at St. Peter got out of his way, allowing him to enter, even though the church was still full of people – including the high church officials. Correggio gets of his donkey, walks to the altar, offers up his mystical apparel and a paper called “The Eternal Gospel,” prayed to God and left St. Peter’s.

Another contemporary author, a Jewish man named Abraham Farissol writes that at one time Correggio was imprisoned in Rome; and although Lazzarelli wrote that he entered and left St. Peter’s unmolested, some find this hard to believe.

It is more likely that he was arrested on the spot and never made it to the altar. In any case he’s said to have escaped from prison and escaped with his devotees, only to be imprisioned in Bologna on suspicion of heresy. He was released though. Perhaps a silver moon above dressing like Christ isn’t heretical enough.

In any case, two years later, in 1486 he made another similar appearance in Florence on his way to Naples. He was on his way to the court of King Ferdinand I in Naples, but it’s unclear if he ever made it.

In Florence he was arrested on account of Lorenzo il Magnifico and was harrassed by a Franciscan inquisitor. Eventually he was released when King Ferdinand arranged it.

Seemly unable to learn a lesson, he again returned to Rome in 1492 with a bunch of groupies, calling himself “the younger Hermes.” And in 1497 he preached in Venice. 1499 saw him pass through Cesena dressed in sackcloth accompanied by his entire household, including wife and 5 kids, on his way to Milan.

In 1501 he traveled in a similar manner to Lyons where he was granted an audience with King Louis XII whom he impressed with promises of alchemical and magical secrets.

Later Correggio appeared in Rome again, where he claimed to have found an alchemical cureagainst the plague.

De Quercu

Correggio managed to have his work printed in later life when he and his family were no more than beggars.

A short oration printed in the form of a cross warned against “Barbarians, the Turcs, and the Scyths.” And then De Quercu, which is addressed to Pope Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere), who reigned as pope from 1503 to 1513. It’s been noted that “Della Rovere” means “Of the Oak,” –and the oak was in Julius’ coat of arms – gave Correggio a metaphor for his text; comparing a strong oak to the Pope.

The text contains things like ‘trismegistical’ and ‘mercurial’ and compared things to a phoenix (referring to Hermes Trismegistus and alchemy.) Some quotes:


phoenix “descends from heaven to earth by the way of putrefaction and resolution, separation and purification,”

and how by being burned it returns to the primary and primordial nature of the world and its quintessence, the chaos, hyle, pure, informal and universal matter of nature, from which it had come before. It returns to the genus of genuses, to the form of forms,and to the general seed of all of the world. Which is also called world-spirit, the end of the egg and the great and triple stone, that is to say mineral, vegetable, and animal, which is a stone and no stone, is found in any place and in each and any man, in every thing; which is held by both the rich and poor, and can be changed into every colour or into any nature or complexion with which this stone is brought in conjunction.

Speaking of the first matter… then you would build the burnt stuff back up into living matter based on Aristotelian science: the philosopher’s stone: the fifth essence.

Some more impressions from reading his text:

It can turn imperfect metals into perfect gold and silver.

•It can turn crystal and common glass into precious stones and gems, and can also produce a special kind of flexible and malleable glass.

•It can turn pearls, gems and gold into a “most precious and potable liquor” or universal medicine.

•It can cause trees to give fruit twelve times a year.•It can turn an ordinary apple tree into a “tree of life.”

•It can cure all diseases, restore a man to perfect health and youth, and can even call a man back from the very threshold of death (as long as God permits it).

•It makes man immune to heat or cold, and permits him to live without need of ordinary food, drink, or sleep.

•By means of it one can attract any beneficial constellation and influence from the stars.

•It is a means of finding hidden treasures, and acquiring perfect knowledge of occult mysteries, “as well as every art, and to learn and know all things hidden and yet unknown,” that is to say, it bestows the gift of prophecy.

•It allows a person to “be anywhere at will, by one’s own strength and in a natural way.

And finally, by means of it the Pope will “break, chase away and instantly exterminate the armies and powers of the Turks, the Mohammedans and all Pagan nations, without need of weaponry and without a great army.

All this is done not “as something miraculous and against the course of nature, or through spells and by magicalor kabbalistical art”; on the contrary, it is done “on the basis of nature, and by nature and through nature.”

Nevertheless, he continues in the next chapter to emphasize, with a nod to Hermes, that the substance also “perfects man beyond and above nature,”

and that Julius will gain superhuman knowledge and power

…you will know the things of the past and you will also have knowledge of the future. You will know the subtleties of words and the solutions of arguments. You will know the signs and portents before they occur, and the outcomes of times and centuries. The mutations of vicissitudes and changes of customs, the courses of the year, the dispositions of the stars,the virtues of the elements, the properties of stones, the various powers of shoots, the virtues of roots, the natures of the animals and the wrath of  wild beasts, the force of the winds and the thoughts of men. And all things that are hidden and unforeseen you will thoroughly learn, with Solomon himself….Therefore all obscurity will flee from you, all your darkness will be illuminated as at midday. And you too will conquer all the hosts of pagans and Turks, not in strength of body, nor in might of armour, but…with the word, the spirit and the rod of virtue.

De Quercu may have been written to the pope as a plea to help his family out of poverty.


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Gilles de Rais

Listen to our podcast episode here:

More infamously known as serial killer of children, we discuss his role in alchemy, its charlatans and black magic.

Gilles de Montmorency-Laval (also known as Gilles de Retz) lived from 1404–1440, Baron de Rais, was a Breton knight, a leader in the French army in the hundred years war.

and a companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc

But also he was convicted as a prolific serial killer of children.

Born in 1404 in the castle Champtocé-sur-Loire
parents died when he was 11 and came to be under the care of his grandfather

I’ll mention that his grandfather kept trying to arrange marriages between de Rais and more wealthy women.. not because it’s interesting, but one of the women was Béatrice de Rohan … which, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan.. is an awesome name.

He married and had one daughter..

He was a huge spender. Big. He sold all his estates to put on a play. This play had some 600 costumes made up, worn once, then thrown away and made again. The guests could drink and eat all they wanted during the performance.

His family stepped in to curb his spending. He was no longer allowed to sell any holdings and no one was allowed to enter into a contract with him. His credit dropped and he left orleans leaving many precious things behind (art, manuscripts etc) to his creditors
Occult involvement
According to his trial de Rais was looking for people knew something of occult and Alchemy.
Prelati in Florence was summoned and de Rais started experiments.
In Tiffauges, he tried to summon a demon named Barron.. de Rais provided a contract with the demon (to be paid later).. but the demon never showed.

At this point Prelati said the demon was angry and demanded a child sacrifice (or parts of a child rather) ..but even after providing these parts: no dice… we’ll discuss his child murdering in a bit.


So here’s the thing: he was clearly more of a patron of alchemists than one himself. When we mentioned his involvement in the occult and searching for alchemists, this could all not be true and part of his later trial.

Alchemy was illegal in the time (by king and pope).. so this would all be held against him in trial.

BUT he was at the siege of orleans with joan of arc. he saw her pull a dart out of her shoulder and recover from a wound instantly where a lesser soldier would have needed a month… he saw her power and awe inspiring gift in turning the battle around.

One could infer that he wanted such power for himself (he almost certainly believed that such power existed and was to be had)

There’s a few stories of him being taken in by charlatan alchemists:
Blanchet, (the priest he sent out to find occultists) brought him a goldsmith who claimed to be able to turn silver to gold… they met in a tavern and de Rais gave him a silver coin to turn to gold and then left so the alchemist could do his thing.

When de Rais returned, he found the ‘alchemist’ passed out from booze… well he did turn silver into booze.. so that’s something, but I think I can do that to at a tavern.. so…

Another time he found a conjurer to summon satan. That conjurer, after to a few shenanigans (making it seem like the devil was in the other room) de rais gave the conjurer some supplies and money and sent him into the woods to do his thing.. and then never saw him again.

It was the Italian alchemist/sorcerer Antonio Francisco Prelati, a former priest, who told him that a mortal cannot hope to achieve the transmutation of base metals into gold without the help of Satan. And the only way that an alchemist or a sorcerer could hope to arouse Satan’s interest in his work was by dedicating the most abominable crimes to his name.

So, this is a nice segway to our next part.. but to be honest I was questioning whether to even do this episode. But as you’re hearing it, that means I’ve decided it can show two things in regard to alchemy.

The first is that some did believe that alchemy needed the help of a higher power or magic. This is where theurgy comes.. and this case something more like satanism (that’s not the definition of satanism.. but just sayin)

The second was to give some good examples of charlatans.. whithout waisting a whole episode on them.. yet.

but his need to get the devil’s attention brings us to:

Child killer (listener warning)

De Rais confessed to murdering children (but no account survived) at at Champtocé-sur-Loire starting 1433, and later Machecoul where, as the record of his confession states, he killed, or ordered to be killed, …no one knows how many, but lots. He did nasty things to them first, but I wont get into here, look it up if you’re interested, I’m trying to keep this podcast clean… then killed or had them killed. 40 bodies were discovered Machecoul in 1437.

I got this off of wikipedia:

In his 1971 biography of Gilles de Rais, Jean Benedetti tells how the children who fell into Rais’s hands were put to death:
[The boy] was pampered and dressed in better clothes than he had ever known. The evening began with a large meal and heavy drinking, particularly hippocras, which acted as a stimulant. The boy was then taken to an upper room to which only Gilles and his immediate circle were admitted. There he was confronted with the true nature of his situation. The shock thus produced on the boy was an initial source of pleasure for Gilles.

…again.. if you want to read more, wikipedia has more. It’s brutal, but that’s not what this podcast is about… but that leads us to his trial and execution.
Trial and execution
His downfall was kidnapping a cleric, which prompted an investigation. if you’re wondering why an investigation didn’t happen sooner, I suggest you look up Alžbeta Báthory (Elizabeth Bathory).. nobility could basically get away with whatever unless their victims were clerical or nobility.

He was arrested in 1440 and had a secular investigation that matched the Bishop’s. The prosecution was also done by both church and secular courts. He was charged with muder, sodomy and heresy.

He confessed after about a month, not under torture (but that was on the table at one point)… the witness testimony was so bad, that the judge had the worst part stricken from the records… so yeah. Not going to get into that here.

The general number of victims is placed between 80 and 200, some say as high as 600. The victims were from age 6 to 18 from both sexes.

He was quickly condemned to death and was hung. His body was set on fire, but was taken away by “four ladies of high rank” for burial, but two others he was condemned with were left to burn… but after his confession he was burried in the church of the monastery of Notre-Dame des Carmes in Nantes.
Question of guilt
But let’s hear the other side of the story, okay?

some say he was part of a plot by the bishop, or even by the french state, since he was a nuicance.
The prosecutor, the Duke of Brittany got all of de Rais’ titles after his convition.
There’s a theory that de Rais was a victim of the inquisition.

There are other theories.. including Aleister Crowley.. but it’s bogus and will not be repeated here.
In 1992, Freemason Jean-Yves Goëau-Brissonnière, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of France, organized a court consisting of former French ministers,parliament members and UNESCO experts to re-examine the source material and evidence available at the medieval trial. The hearing, which concluded Gilles de Rais was not guilty of the crimes, was turned into a documentary called Gilles de Rais ou la Gueule du loup, narrated by Gilbert Prouteau.

Cultural references

Gilles de Rais has been the subject of movies, music and books.. I wont get into all of them. Part based on his life, and other’s in his role of knowing Joan of Arc.

  • H. G. Wells makes references to Gilles de Rais in his works, Crux Ansata and ’42 to ’44 in 1943 and 1944, respectively.
  • “Bluebeard, Gilles de Rais” is referenced in ‘Damned” from Chuck Palahnuk (p 197) as one of the many literary and historical conquests of Madison during her quest for power in the depths of Hell.

In video games:

  • Gilles de Rais was a minion of Count Dracula’s in Castlevania 64 and its sequel/remake Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness

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Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber)

Listen to our episode no 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.


Abu Mūsā Jābir ibn Hayyān (al-Barigi / al-Azdi / al-Kufi / al-Tusi / al-Sufi),

But we’ll refer to him simply as Geber, (c.721–c.815) was born in Tus (the Persian region, same as Al-Ghazali)

was another prominent

polymath: a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geographer,philosopher, physicist, and pharmacist and physician.

Born and educated in Tus, he later traveled to Kufa. Jābir is held to have been the first practical alchemist.

This is important.

At least that was his reputation. But.. it’s argued what he actually wrote and didn’t write. As early as the 10th century this was already in dispute.

To add to this, in Christian Europe, his name was latinized as “Geber” and in the 13th Century an anonymous writer wrote alchemical texts under the name “Geber” but is genenerally called Pseudo-Geber.

…and as we mentioned in the beginning, he’s sometimes mentioned as  al-Azdi al-Barigi or al-Kufi or al-Tusi or al-Sufi

Confused enough? No? good, because we told you he’s persian, but he also could be an Arab from Kufa who lived in Khurasan

or a Persian from Khorasan who later went to Kufa or even of Syrian origin and later lived in Persia and Iraq.

Anyway, he grew up in Yemen and studied the koran, mathematics and other stuff… and that’s where he got an interest in Alchemy.

Then he went to practice Medicine in Kufa, where he was eventually put under house arrest after a regime change (if I may put it like that) and that’s where he died.

Since so much of his life is a mystery, we’ll move onto his works.


In total, nearly 3,000 treatises and articles are credited to Jabir ibn Hayyan. But in reality several were almost certainly not by him. Some possibly by his students or later Ishmaili followers.

Again, these texts cover everything from  cosmology, music, medicine, magic, biology, chemical technology, geometry, grammar, metaphysics, logic, artificial generation of living beings, to astrological predictions, and symbolic Imâmî myths.

  • The 112 Books dedicated to the Barmakids, viziers of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. This group includes the Arabic version of the Emerald Tablet, an ancient work that proved a recurring foundation of and source for alchemical operations. In the Middle Ages it was translated into Latin (Tabula Smaragdina) and widely diffused among European alchemists.
  • The Seventy Books, most of which were translated into Latin during the Middle Ages. This group includes the Kitab al-Zuhra(“Book of Venus”) and the Kitab Al-Ahjar (“Book of Stones”).
  • The Ten Books on Rectification, containing descriptions of alchemists such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
  • The Books on Balance; this group includes his most famous ‘Theory of the balance in Nature’.

Geber did have a somewhat famous/known teacher. Which I don’t care about, but I will mention here, because his name is Jafar. Ja’far al-Sadiq acutally. The Shia consider him the 6th Imam… so a descendent of Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammed. Geber spoke very highly of him and was regarded as a wise man in his own right.

His other influences were (i.e. he mentions them in his writings) Egyptian and Greek alchemists Zosimos, Democritus, Hermes Trismegistus, Agathodaimon, whom we have all covered; also Democritus.

but also Plato, Aristotle, Galen,Pythagoras, and Socrates as well as the commentators Alexander of AphrodisiasSimplicius, Porphyry and others.


Takwin is basically the creation of life. As in synthetic life in a laboratory. We don’t know exactly what Jabir meant by this.. but let’s go ahead and assume he meant like a golem or frankenstein.. because that would be awesome.

Again, one reason we don’t know exaclty what he meant, is because that was the intent: From the Book of Stones (4:12) that “The purpose is to baffle and lead into error everyone except those whom God loves and provides for!”

I assume that had he written more clearly, he could have gotten in trouble with Islamic leaders of the time.


Jabir’s alchemical investigations were theoretically grounded in an elaborate numerology related to Pythagorean and Neoplatonic systems. The nature and properties of elements was defined through numeric values assigned the Arabic consonants present in their name, ultimately culminating in the number 17.

Geber is a great example of a neo-platonist. He would have probably just considered his views to come from Aristotle.. but by then it was morphed into what we call neoplatonism.

…which I wont go into again, we have an episode on it out already, and have covered it a lot in other podcasts.

  • “Spirits” which vaporise on heating, like arsenic (realgar, orpiment), camphor, mercury, sulfur, sal ammoniac, and ammonium chloride.
  • “Metals”, like gold, silver, lead, tin, copper, iron, and khar-sini
  • Non-malleable substances, that can be converted into powders, such as stones.

..I would love to dive into more of his work, but as of yet, it’s still mostly in arabic. So if we have some enthusiasts out there that speak arabic.. get crackin.

Practical Alchemy

I think most our listener’s favorite alchemists are the practical ones.. the ones that believed they could turn base metals into gold. We’ll then geber’s for you.

Jabir was all about experimentation. He is credited with some 20 basic types of lab equipment.

  • alembic (an alchemica still, with two tubs and tube going between them)
  • retort (a sort of ball with a cone on top pointing downwards)

Is adition, he described such things as

  • crystallisation,
  • distillation
  • citric acid from lemons
  • acetic acid from vinegar
  • tartaric acid from wine making residues
  • arsenic
  • antimony (metalloid element)
  • bismuth (crappy metal)
  • …and our favorites: sulfur and mercury
  • the idea of chemical compounds (e.g. mineral cinnabar being a compound of sulfur and mercury)
  • nitric and sulfuric acids
  • separation of gold from other metals using lead and saltpeter
  • purification of mercury
  • introduction of the word ALKALI for substances such as lye and other bases
  • aqua regia

suposedly invented a paper that was fire resistant and an ink that could be read at night.

a material that made iron rust resistant, and when applied to textile – water repellant.

when describing other’s arguments against alchemy (from the alchemy reader): “this science (they say) hath been so long sought by wise men, that if it were possible in any way, they would a thousand times, before now, have been masters of it”

Influence in Europe

His works were translated into Latin as early as the 12th century and became standard alchemist’s books

Pseudo-Geber even published under his name.

we still say “alkali” today

“gibberish” is thought (maybe) to be derived from his name.. poking fun at alchemists.

Geber problem

…and then we have the usual problem of trying to figure out which books were actually written by Jabir

Until the 19th century, all books by pseudo-geber were thought to simply be latin translations of Jabir’s

Pseudo-Geber lived some 4-500 years later.

There are, however, certain other Latin works, entitled The Sum of Perfection, The Investigation of Perfection, The Invention of Verity, The Book of Furnaces, and The Testament, which pass under his name but of which no Arabic original is known. A problem which historians of chemistry have not yet succeeded in solving is whether these works are genuine or not.

Some of these are thought to have originated in Moorish Spain.. Regardless, these works combined all had a great influence on later alchemists..

The Pseudo-Geber corpus

The Latin corpus consists of books with an author named “Geber” for which researchers have failed to find a text in Arabic. Although these books are heavily influenced by Arabic books written by Jābir, the “real” Geber, and by Al Razi and others, they were never written in Arabic. They are in Latin only, they date from about the year 1310, and their author is called Pseudo-Geber:

  • Summa perfectionis magisterii (“The Height of the Perfection of Mastery”).
  • Liber fornacum (“Book of Stills”),
  • De investigatione perfectionis (“On the Investigation of Perfection”), and
  • De inventione veritatis (“On the Discovery of Truth”).
  • Testamentum gerberi

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th books listed above “are merely extracts from or summaries of the Summa Perfectionis Magisterii with later additions.”

Popular culture

  • Geber is mentioned in Paulo Coelho’s 1993 bestseller, The Alchemist.[56]
  • Jabbir is said to be the creator of a (fictional) mystical chess set in Katherine Neville’s novels The Eight and The Fire.
  • In S.H.I.E.L.D, Jabir appears as the 8th century leader of the organization.
  • Jabir is mentioned in the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory, in the episode “The Guitarist Amplification”.
  • Jabir Ibn Hayyan is mentioned in the graphic novel Habibi by Craig Thompson, p. 253-254.
  • In the DC comic book title Demon Knights, the 11th century engineer Al-Jabr appears to be based on Jabir Ibn Hayyan.

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Ge Hong

A great Chinese alchemist who may be the first to mention mosaic gold. He used gold for medicine and was a real innovator of gold. Besides that he wrote on nearly everything. His writing were considered Taoist canon for a long time.

Our podcast on him:

Ge Hong (Chinese: 葛洪; pinyin: Gě Hóng) lived from (283–343),

courtesy name Zhichuan (稚川), was a minor southern official during the Jìn Dynasty (263-420) of China, best known for his interest in Daoism, alchemy, and techniques of longevity.

We focused on the more religious and esoteric writings, but he wrote on tons of other stuff.

In particular, he wrote two volumes of essays and alchemical writing totaling seventy chapters, collectively entitled Baopuzi or “The Master Who Embraces Simplicity”,

In the Neipian (Inner Chapters) volume of the Baopuzi, Ge vigorously defends the attainability of divine transcendence or “immortality” through alchemy; while the outer chapters (Waipian) are more about social and literary criticism.

Wikipedia has a lot more on the Baopuzi, but we’ll get into that further down.


His father, Ge Ti served in various civil and military positions, and was eventually appointed Governor of Kuaiji prefecture (in the Wu kingdom)

When the Jin took over he was eventually rewarded with a promotion, and he died while in office, serving as the Governor of Shaoling in modern Hunan province, an area of relatively modest size.

Ge was born in 283 in Jurong, just three years after the Jin conquest of Wu. He was the youngest of three sons, By his own account, Ge possessed a serious demeanor as a child, declining to play with other children or to participate in activities such as chess, gambling, or cock fighting. (As kids are wont to do)

He was uninterested in serious study,

Ge was only twelve years old when his father died in 295.

He states that he personally engaged in plowing and planting, suffering from cold and hunger. The destruction of his father’s library by soldiers due to civil strife worsened Ge’s plight and, in one colorful passage from his postface, he describes how he used his meager income earned from chopping firewood to underwrite his education… the poverty could be an exaggeration though.

Ge began his study of the canon of texts, generally associated with ru jia, often translated simply as “Confucianism”. Ge states that he began to read classics such as the “Shi jing” (Book of Odes) at fifteen, without the benefit of a tutor, and could recite from memory those books he studied and grasp their essential meaning. His extensive reading approached “ten thousand chapters”, a number meant to suggest the dizzying scope of his education. The “ten thousand things” is used often in Daoist texts to describe the vast manifestations, life forms or types of matter in the reality of the Dao.

At the age of fourteen, Ge Hong entered into the tutelage of Zheng Yin, an accomplished classical scholar who had turned to esoteric studies later in life. According to Ge’s lengthy and colorful description of his teacher, Zheng was over eighty years old but still remarkably hale. He was a master of the so-called “Five Classics” who continued to teach the Li ji (Book of Rites) and the Shu (Documents), was a teacher of the esoteric arts of longevity, divination, and astrology, and was even an accomplished musician!


Zheng Yin’s instruction in the esoteric arts emphasized the manufacture of the “gold elixir” or jin dan, which he considered the only truly significant means to achieve transcendence.
His influence is reflected in portions of Hong’s writings that endorse alchemy, but are critical of dietary regimens, herbs, and other popular methods of longevity.
The process of learning alchemical recipes and receiving scriptures combined rituals, oral instruction, and textual transmission.
Ge states that his master carefully limited access to these texts among his more than fifty disciples. He was only permitted to copy out a few, but lists the titles of many more in his own writings. Indeed, Ge’s “Inner Chapters” is remarkable for its extensive bibliography of alchemical scriptures, most of which exist only in fragments today.
Only to Ge did Zheng Yin transmit texts such as the Sanhuang neiwen (Esoteric Writings of the Three Sovereigns), which Zheng considered to be among the most important alchemical scriptures. Ge also received three scriptures from the Grand Purity tradition that originated in northern China, along with their accompanying esoteric, oral instructions.
These texts were relatively unknown south of the Yangtze River, and their transmission to Ge may be regarded as a rare event that owed something to Zheng Yin’s close relationship to Ge’s family. Zheng Yin was the pupil of Ge’s granduncle Ge Xuan, who was in turn the pupil of the well-known Han fangshi (occultist), Zuo Ci. Ge claims that these three texts were revealed through divine revelation to Zuo Ci, who later fled south to escape the chaos that followed the collapse of the Han dynasty.

He had a carreer as an official in the military
Then remained in the south, living as a recluse on Mount Luofu for the next eight years before returning to his native Jurong around 314.
Then became an official again
Shortly after emerging from reclusion and returning to his family home of Jurong around 314, Ge received an appointment as Clerk to the Prince of Langya, Sima Rui (276-322), who served as Prime Minister from 313 until 316.


In 343, Hong died on Mt. Luofu. The account of his passing as found in his official biography is more hagiography than history. Supposedly, Ge sent a letter to Deng Yue, hinting at his approaching end. Deng rushed to Ge’s home, but found him already dead. Strangely, Ge’s body was light and supple, as if alive, and his contemporaries all supposed that he had finally achieved transcendence with the technique of shi jie, sometimes translated as “corpse liberation”.
His biography moreover follows a tradition that Ge was eighty-one when he died, an important number in Daoist numerology, but there is little doubt among modern scholars that this tradition is false, and Ge died at the age of sixty.


Recent surveys of the history of Daoism in Chinese have also emphasized Ge’s importance in the history of science, based on his detailed descriptions of alchemical processes, which are frequently studied in terms of modern chemistry.

A temple dedicated to Ge stands in the hills north of West Lake (Xihu) in Hangzhou (like czech), Zhejiang Province. According the monks and nuns who live at the temple, it was on this site that Ge wrote Baopuzi, and eventually attained transcendence. Ge supposedly answers prayers from a Daoist worshipper with a healthy mind and body. Further south, near Ningbo, lies an eco-tourist destination that also claims to be the site of Ge’s alleged transcendence. Visitors are rewarded with an exceptional hike through a narrow gorge of remarkable natural beauty. These contradictory claims, together with conflicting historical sources, reflect the complexity of Ge’s legacy as a figure of continued religious, historical, and literary importance.


The twenty Neipian “Inner Chapters” record arcane techniques for achieving xian “transcendence; immortality”. These techniques span two types of Chinese alchemy that Tang Dynasty scholars later differentiated into neidan “internal elixir; internal alchemy” andwaidan “external elixir; external alchemy”. The word dan “cinnabar; red; pellet; [Chinese medicine] pill” means “pill of immortality,elixir of life, Philosopher’s stone” in alchemy.

Ge Hong details his researches into the arts of transcendence and immortality. “Internal alchemy” concerns creating an “immortal body” within the corporeal body through both physiological methods (dietary, respiratory, sexual, etc.) and mental practices (meditation, visualizaiton, etc.). “External” or “laboratory alchemy” concerns compounding elixirs (esp. from minerals and metals), writing fu talismans or amulets, herbalism, and exorcism.

Many scholars have praised the Inner Chapters. Joseph Needham (1954:437), who called Ge Hong “the greatest alchemist in Chinese history”, quoted the following passage about medicines from different biological categories.

Interlocutor: Life and death are predetermined by fate and their duration is normally fixed. Life is not something any medicine can shorten or lengthen. A finger that has been cut off cannot be joined on again and expected to continue growing. Blood from a wound, though swallowed, is of no benefit. Therefore, it is most inappropriate to approve of taking such nonhuman substances as pine or thuya [cypress] to protract the brief span of life.
Ko: According to your argument, a thing is beneficial only if it belongs to the same category as that which is treated. … If we followed your suggestion and mistrusted things of a different type, we would be obliged to crush flesh and smelt bone to prepare a medicine for wounds, or to fry skin and roast hair to treat baldness. Water and soil are not of the same substance as the various plants; yet the latter rely upon them for growth. The grains are not of the same species as living men; yet living men need them in order to stay alive. Fat is not to be classed with fire, nor water with fish, yet when there is no more fat the fires dies, and when there is no more water, fish perish. (3, tr. Ware 1966:61-62)
Needham (1954:439) evaluated this passage, “Admittedly there is much in the Pao Phu Tzu which is wild, fanciful and superstitious, but here we have a discussion scientifically as sound as anything in Aristotle, and very much superior to anything which the contemporary occident could produce.”
In addition to quoting early alchemical texts, the Inner Chapters describe Ge Hong’s laboratory experiments. Wu and Davis mention theBaopuzi formula for making mosaic gold “a golden crystalline powder used as a pigment” from chiyan ?? “red crystal salt” (produced from amethyst, calcite crystal, and alum, and “limewater”.

Possibly Earliest Mention of “Mosaic Gold”

Mosaic gold exists in flakes or leaflets which have the color and the luster of gold, it does not tarnish, and is used at present for bronzing radiators, gilding picture frames and similar purposes. As Ko Hung describes the process, “tin sheets, each measuring six inches square by one and two-tenths inches thick, are covered with a one-tenth inch layer of a mud-like mixture of (Red Salt) and (potash-water, limewater),

They are then heated in a sealed earthenware pot for thirty days with horse manure (probably with a smouldering fire of dried manure). “All the tin becomes ash like and interspersed with bean-like pieces which are the yellow gold.” The large portion of the metallic tin is converted into some ash-like compound or possibly into the ash-like allotropic modification, gray tin. A small portion of the tin is converted into bean-sized aggregates of flaky stannic sulfide. The yield is poor, for the author says that “twenty ounces of gold are obtained from every twenty pounds of tin used.” (1935:232)

The authors add, “It seems likely that Ko Hung was personally experienced in the chemistry of tin, for the Chinese say that he was the first to make tin foil and that he made magic or spirit money out of it.”
For centuries, traditional scholars have revered the Baopuzi as a canonical Daoist scripture – but in recent years, modern scholars have reevaluated the text.

Traditional scholarship viewed the Baopuzi, especially the Inner Chapters, as a primary textual source for early Chinese waidan “external alchemy”. Wu and Davis described it as,
probably the widest known and highest regarded of the ancient Chinese treatises on alchemy. It has been preserved for us as part of the Taoist canon. It shows us the art matured by five or six centuries of practice, having its traditional heroes and an extensive literature, its technique and philosophy now clearly fixed, its objectives and pretentions established. This art the author examines in a hardheaded manner and expounds in language which is remarkably free from subterfuge. (1935:221)


He uses a certain number of secret terms, such as 金公 “metal-lord” and 河車 “river chariot”, both of which mean lead; and 河上她女 “the virgin on the river”, which means mercury … But his attitude is always that of a solidly educated layman examining claims which a narrow-minded orthodoxy had dismissed with contempt. (Sound familiar?)

Ge Hong quotes his teacher Zheng Yin explaining that poverty forces daoshi

“Daoist practitioners” seeking xian techniques to engage in the difficulties and dangers of alchemy.

Then I asked further, “Why should we not eat the gold and silver which are already in existence instead of taking the trouble to make them? What are made will not be real gold and silver but just make-believes.” Said Cheng Chun in reply, “The gold and silver which are found in the world are suitable for the purpose. But Tao-shih are all poor; witness the adage that Hsienare never stout and Tao-shih never rich. Tao-shih usually go in groups of five or ten, counting the teacher and his disciples. Poor as they are, how can they be expected to get the necessary gold and silver? Furthermore they cannot cover the great distances to gather the gold and silver which occur in nature. The only thing left for them to do is to make the metals themselves”. (16, tr. Wu and Davis 1935:260-1)

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Francesco Giorgi

Francesco Giorgi, (1466–1540) a Franciscan friar and Christian Cabalist.



Christian Kabbalah. He believed that Cabala was a way to prove Christianity.

Influenced by:


Ramon Llull


John Dee (at least possessed his books)

Possibly influenced Rosicrusians


Is said to have helped Henry VIII with the Jewish Law in Venice in order to divorce Catherine.




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Edward Kelley

Edward Kelley One of the most famous Alchemists of the 16th Century. Spent some time in Prague.

Listen to our podcast on him here: John Dee and Kelley are some of the more interesting characters we took a look at. Between making gold, talking to angels, and even wife-swapping, there’s a lot to cover. John Dee has his own episode. johndee_liber84_1.preview

Sir Edward Kelley or Kelly, also known as Edward Talbot (1 August 1555 – 1 November 1597), was an colorful figure in English Renaissance occultism and
self-declared spirit medium who worked with John Dee in his magical investigations. Besides the professed ability to summon spirits or angels on a crystal ball, which John Dee so valued,
Kelley also claimed to possess the secret of transmuting base metals into gold.
Legends began to surround Kelley shortly after his death.


Much of Kelley’s early life is obscure. He claimed descent from the family of Ui Maine in Ireland. That’s one of the oldest, largest kingdoms in Ireland.
He was born at Worcester on 1 August 1555, at 4 P.M. according to a horoscope that John Dee drew up and based on notes Dee kept in his almanac, which he used as a diary.
however, much of Kelley’s life before meeting John Dee is not known. He may have studied at Oxford under the name of Talbot; whether or not he attended university, Kelley was educated and knew Latin and possibly some Greek.

According to several accounts, Kelley was pilloried (as in whipped publicly) in Lancaster for forgery or counterfeiting. Both his ears were cropped, a common punishment during the Tudor Dynasty. John Weever says, “Kelly (otherwise called Talbot) that famous English alchemist of our times, who flying out of his own country (after he had lost both his ears at Lancaster) was entertained with Rudolf the second, and last of that Christian name, Emperor of Germany.” Most accounts say that he first worked as an apothecary’s apprentice.
…kind of our quintessential charlatans, at least that’s how he’s often portrayed.

With Dee in England

Kelley approached John Dee in 1582. Dee had already been trying to contact angels with the help of a scryer, or crystal-gazer, but he had not been successful. Kelley professed the ability to do so, and impressed Dee with his first trial. Kelley became Dee’s regular scryer. Dee and Kelley devoted huge amounts of time and energy to these “spiritual conferences”. From 1582 to 1589, Kelley’s life was closely tied to Dee’s. In those seven years, they conducted these conferences, including “prayers for enlightenment… in the spirit of Dee’s ecumenical hopes that alchemy and angelic knowledge would heal the rift of Christendom”
Kelley married a widow, Jane Cooper of Chipping Norton (1563–1606). He later helped educate her children and she described him as a ‘kind stepfather’ and noted how he took her in after the deaths of her two grandmothers. Kelley had also hired a Latin tutor for her, named John Hammond.
About a year after entering into Dee’s service, Kelley appeared with an alchemical book (The Book of Dunstan) and a quantity of a red powder which, Kelley claimed, he and a certain John Blokley had been led to by a “spiritual creature” at Northwick Hill. (Accounts of Kelley’s finding the book and the powder in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey were first published by Elias Ashmole, but are contradicted by Dee’s diaries.)
With the powder (whose secret was presumably hidden in the book) Kelley believed he could prepare a red “tincture” which would allow him to transmute base metals into gold. He reportedly demonstrated its power a few times over the years, including in Bohemia (present Czech Republic) where he and Dee resided for many years.

With Dee on the Continent

In 1583, Dee became acquainted with Prince Albert Laski, a Polish nobleman interested in alchemy. In September of that year, Dee, Kelley, and their families left England with Laski for the Continent. Dee sought the patronage of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague and King Stefan of Poland in Kraków; Dee apparently failed to impress either monarch. Dee and Kelley lived a nomadic life in Central Europe. They continued with their spiritual conferences, though Kelley was more interested in alchemy than in scrying. (more details in the John Dee episode)
Kelley and Dee’s involvement in necromancy eventually caught the attention of the Catholic Church, and on 27 March 1587 they were required to defend themselves in a hearing with the papal nuncio, Germanico Malaspina, bishop of San Severo. Dee handled the interview with tact, but Kelley is said to have infuriated the nuncio by stating that one of the problems with the Catholic Church is the “poor conduct of many of the priests.” The nuncio noted in a letter that he was tempted to toss Kelley out of the window (defenestration is a sort of Praguer tradition)
In 1586, Kelley and Dee found the patronage of the wealthy Bohemian count Vilem Rožmberk, also known as Lord Rosenberg. Rožmberk was a senior official from a powerful family who also shared Kelley and Dee’s alchemical interests, and is known to have participated in spiritual sessions with the two men. Kelley and Dee settled in the town of Trebon and continued their research there (in Dee’s journal, he states “Oct. 26th, Mr. Edward Kelly cam to Trebona from Prage”), and according to Dee’s diary it was during this time that Kelley is said to have performed his first alchemical transmutation (on 19 December 1586). Kelley’s skilled draughtsmanship is evident in the notes taken by Dee during certain séances (these notes are available in Dee’s Book of Enoch). These notes show Kelley’s initial commitment to the alchemists’ mutual goal, but somewhere along the line, this goal was clouded by Kelley’s sudden desire to end their sessions. However, Dee insisted that they continue. In 1587, possibly as an act to sever the sessions, Kelley revealed to Dee that the angels (namely a spirit “Madimi”) had ordered them to share everything they had—including their wives.
It has been speculated that this was a way for Kelley to end the fruitless spiritual conferences so that he could concentrate on alchemy, which, under the patronage of Rožmberk, was beginning to make Kelley wealthy. Dee, anguished by the order of the angels, subsequently broke off the spiritual conferences even though he did share his wife. This “cross-matching” occurred on 22 May 1587 and is noted in John Dee’s diary: “May 22nd, Mistris Kelly received the sacrament, and to me and my wife gave her hand in charity; and we rushed not from her.” Nine months later on 28 February Dee’s wife Jane gave birth to a son, Theodorus Trebonianus Dee. Although there may have been speculation among the families that the child was actually Kelley’s, it was raised as Dee’s son (references to the child’s communion are present in Dee’s diary); the “cross-matching” incident remained a secret until after the post-mortem publication of Dee’s diaries, so no public controversy ensued.
Though it seems the two shared a basically cooperative and innocent partnership, it was often characterized as “quarrelsome” and “tense”. Kelley left Dee at Trebon in 1589, possibly to join the emperor’s court at Prague. Dee returned to England, and they did not see each other again after this departure.

Apogee and fall

By 1590, Kelley was living an opulent lifestyle. He received several estates and large sums of money from Rožmberk. Kelley was able to access gold and silver mines, and he took advantage of this, working on his alchemy until various noblemen thought that he was able to produce gold.
Rudolph II knighted him as Sir Edward Kelley of Imany and New Lüben on 23 February 1590 (but it is possible that this happened in 1589). Rudolf had Kelley arrested in May 1591 and imprisoned him in the Krivoklát Castle outside Prague, supposedly for killing an official named Jiri Hunkler in a duel, but it is also likely that he did not want Kelley to escape with his rumored alchemical secrets.
Rudolf apparently never doubted Kelley’s ability to produce gold on a large scale, and hoped that imprisonment would induce him to cooperate. Rudolf may also have feared that Kelley would return to England. Elizabeth I was trying to convince him to return to England at the time. In 1595, Kelley agreed to cooperate and produce gold; he was released and restored to his former status. Again he failed to produce, and was again imprisoned, this time in Hnevín Castle in Most.
His wife and stepdaughter attempted to help him by means of an imperial counselor, but Kelley died as a prisoner here in late 1597 or early 1598 of injuries received while attempting to escape. In 1674 Sir Thomas Browne, recollecting his Norwich associate Arthur Dee in correspondence to Elias Ashmole, stated that “[Arthur Dee] said also that Kelly dealt not justly by his father, and that afterwards imprisoned by the Emperor in a castle, from whence attempting an escape down the wall, he fell and broke his leg and was imprisoned again.”
A few of Kelley’s writings are still known today, including two alchemical verse treatises in English, and three other treatises, which he dedicated to Rudolph II from prison. They were entitled Tractatus duo egregii de lapide philosophorum una cum theatro astronomiae(1676). The treatises have been translated as The Alchemical Writings of Edward Kelley (1893).

The Enochian language

Kelley’s “angels” sometimes communicated in a special “angelic” language called Enochian. Dee and Kelley claimed the language was given to them by angels. Some modern cryptographers argue that Kelley invented it (see for example the introduction to The Complete Enochian Dictionary by Donald Laycock). Some claim that this was a farce, but are not clear whether Dee was a victim or an accomplice.

Voynich Manuscript

Because of this precedent, and of a dubious connection between the Voynich Manuscript and John Dee through Roger Bacon, Kelley has been suspected of having fabricated that book too, in order to swindle Rudolf.
The angelic language was supposedly dictated by angels whom Kelley claimed to see within a crystal ball. The angels were said to tap out letters on a complicated table, something like a crossword puzzle but with all the cells filled in. The first third were tapped out with each angelic word backwards; the following two thirds with each word forwards. There are no significant errors or discrepancies in word usage between the first and following parts. The English translations were not tapped out but, according to Kelley, appeared on little strips of paper coming out of the angels’ mouths.

Other source?

The angelic word telocvovim is glossed as “he who has fallen”, but it is actually a Germanic-like combination of two other angelic words:teloch (glossed as “death”) and vovin (glossed as “dragon”). Thus “he who has fallen” would be literally translated as “death dragon”, both rather obvious references to Lucifer. However, neither Kelley nor Dee appears to have noticed or remarked on this.
Another argument against Kelley’s fabrication of angelic is that the English translations are in a very different style of writing to that of Kelley’s own work. This raises the possibility that Kelley might have plagiarized the material from a different source. However, no similar material has ever surfaced.
Dee considered the dictation of the angelic material as highly important for three reasons. First, Dee believed the angelic represented a documentable case of true glossolalia, (speaking in tongues) thereby proving that Kelley was actually speaking with angels and not from his imagination. Second, the angels claimed that angelic was actually the original prototype of Hebrew and the language with which God spoke with Adam, and thus the first human language. Third, the angelic material takes the form of a set of conjurations that were supposed to summon an extremely powerful set of angelic beings who, he believed, would be able to reveal many secrets, especially the key to thephilosopher’s stone.

For more see John Dee.

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Benedictus Figulus

Benedictus Figulus, or Benedikt Heffner (1467 – after 1619)

listen to our podcast on him here:

This guy wasn’t that easy to research. I only found stuff in German. Go ahead and look him up, we’ll wait… all German? Well we translated stuff just for you, so this guy might be new. We hope you find him interesting. This one will be a short one, just a footnote to the history of alchemy really.. but an interesting one anyway.

Benedictus Figulus (dt. Benedikt Heffner,) born in 1567 in Uttenhofen near Schwäbisch Hall, but vanished after 1619. So again in our golden age of Alchemy around Rudolf II’s time. He was a German alchemist, preacher, poet and publisher. He was an important representative of Paracelsianism. He was the son of a preacher and and studied the Universität Wittenberg. He became a preacher in his own right in 1593 in Lipprichhausen… but had to flee in 1601 because he divorced his wife. He started publishing poems and versions of psalms. Around this time he started to publicly state his support for Paracelsus.. and like many others on our show started traveling. In this time between 1607 and 1609 is when he published most of his alchemical works. including works by Paracelsus and Alexander von Suchten.

He kept having trouble because he was shakin’ up with his girl without being married, and was even arrested and locked up for a while. Not just his marital status caused him trouble though, in 1617 we was chased out of Strassbourg because of his “generally crazy opinions” (translation my own)… and then more or less just vanished. The last dated work of his is a collection of alchemical recipes for a goldsmith in Buchsweiler in 1619, so it’s assumed he was still in Alsace at that time. He did write much, if anything himself, but he’s noted as being important to the spreading German alchemical works. Among his publications were commentaries on Paracelsus and philosophers and commented on Hermes Trismegistus. He tried to define the philosopher’s stone and aqua vitae. He published works on salts and their use. It’s rumored he was also in touch with Rosecrusians, but evidence is lacking.

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Basil Valentine

Basil Valentine, or Basilius Benedictus (possibly 1565 to 1614)

who may have been the publisher Johann Thölde listen to our podcast on him here:

Valentine’s true identity can’t be known for sure, but my money’s on Johann Thölde, and we talk a little about both. As far as we know for the first time in the English-speaking part of the internet.

In his work L’Azoth des philosophes Valentine came up with Vitriolum as an akronym for the latin sentence: isita interiora terrae, rectificando invenies occultum lapidem, veram medicinam. Which means “See what’s inside the earth, and by rectifying you will find the stone, the true medicine.” Which also became a motto within Rosecrucian and Masonic orders (sometimes without the veram medicanam, so the acronym is just VITRIOL).

This show is special because we desided to dig a little further into a mystery than the internet would allow in English.. so to change that, here he is:

Basil Valentine is an alchemist who’s true identity is unknown, but we’ll try to get beneath the surface of this mystery and take a look at a good candidate of the true Basil.

Basil Valentine is the Anglicised version of the name Basilius Valentinus, who was allegedly a 15th-century alchemist. There are claims that he was the Canon of the Benedictine Priory of Saint Peter in Erfurt, Germany but according to John Maxson Stillman, who wrote on the history of chemistry, there is no evidence of such a name on the rolls in Germany or Rome and no mention of this name before 1600. During the 18th century it was suggested that the author of the works attributed to him was Johann Thölde. Modern scholarship now suggests that one author was Tholde, but others were involved. Tholde, a salt manufacturer in Germany (lived roughly 1565–1624) published the first five books printed under Valentine’s name.


The Basil Valentine writings provided twelve “keys,” a widely reproduced sequence of alchemical operations encoded allegorically, both in words and in images. The images were essential to the communication and had to depict the same scene, regardless of the artistry.

Numerous publications on alchemy in Latin and German were published under the name Basil Valentine. They have been translated into many European languages, including English, French, Russian and others.

You can find some of his writing online if you’re curious.

Latin only

  • Currus Triumphalis Antimonii (The triumphal chariot of antimony)
  • Duodecim Claves philosophicæ (The twelve philosophical keys)

In Latin and German

  • Porta sophica
  • The Medicine of Metals
  • Of things natural and supernatural
  • Of the first tincture, root and spirit of metals
  • De microcosmo deque magno mundi mysterio, et medicina hominis, (Of the microcosm, of the great secrecy of the world, and the human medicine)
  • Libri quattuor de particularibus septem planetarum, (Book four: Of the features of the seven planets)
  • Experimenta chymica
  • Practica
  • Azoth
  • Compendium veritatis philosophicum (German)
  • Last will and testament

So who was the man behind the works? At least possibly?

Johann Thölde

Not much can be found in English-speaking internets on this guy, nor is he in my books, so we had to dig a little deeper. And also after this podcast english speakers might know a little more.

Johann Thölde  lived from 1565 to 1614 and was born in Grebendorf near Eschwege… which is in Hessia

He was a german Alchemist, Salt extractor, Author and publisher.

He’s knows as the “Grandfather of Salt winning methods” … at least in German circles.. and that’s a bad translation.

Also the publisher of Basilius Valentinus.

He’s from a line of Salt workers.

He studied at the University Erfut and Jena

He married in the town of Frankenhausen (another salt town) and was on the town council.

1608 he was put in charge of a salt mining operation or district near Bamberg, and what happened after that is unknown.. at least until his death in 1614.


Besides salt (which is vital to alchemy) the thing he’s now mostly know for is publishing the works of a Benediktine monke known as Basilius Valentinus, who’s true identity is obscure or not known.

Some regard Thölde  as the mysterius author himself.

He also published a work on Antimony by Alexanders von Suchten (who’s also on my to-do list of shows)

in 1603 he wrote and published a book called Haligraphia.. in which he summarized all knowledge to-date knowledge of salt extraction. It described some 50 salt mines and evaporation ponds in central europe.

He also published a book for a nobleman Moritz den Gelehrten (the learned), (Maurice, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel)

Bericht Der abschewlichen Kranckheit der roten Ruhr. Erfurt 1599

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Arnold of Villanova

Podcast about him here:

The man who may have discovered carbon monoxide and general anaesthesia… and maybe moonshine.

Arnaldus de Villa Nova (also called Arnau de Vilanova, Arnaldus Villanovanus, Arnaud de Ville-Neuve or Arnaldus de Villanueva, was an alchemist, astrologer and physician.

Very interesting person to look at since he’s mentioned so often by later alchemists. He lived from 1235–1311.

He was born in Valencia, and appears to have been of Catalan origin, and is said to have studied chemistry, medicine, physics, and also Arabic philosophy.

 He also likened the alchemical process to the suffering of Christ. “Torturing” mercury until it changes form. Then comes back.

Also the red phase was equated to the abused body of Christ.

But let’s take a look at his life first:

After having lived at the court of Aragon and taught many years in Montpellier School of Medicine, he went to Paris, where he gained a considerable reputation.

He started to get a reputation as an alchemist; but his abilities were often thought to come from communication with the devil. This reputation caused ecclesiastics to take now and he was forced to flee. A friend of his in Spain was caught by the inquisition. Villanova finally fiound an asylum in Sicily to avoid a potential burning at the stake.

He didn’t help matters by sneering openly at the monastic regime and declaring boldly that works of charity are more acceptable to God than the repetition of paternosters.

Thanks to papal favor, de Villanova remained unscathed by his enemies. However, soon after his death, about the year 1313, the Inquisition decided that they had dealt too leniently with him and ordered certain of his writings burned publicly at Tarragona.

Read more:

About 1311 he was summoned to Avignon by Pope Clement V, who was ill, but Villanova died on the voyage off the coast of Genoa.

Clement V is the guy that killed the Knights Templars with Philip IV, remember?

He is credited with translating a number of medical texts from Arabic, including works by Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Qusta ibn Luqa (Costa ben Luca), and Galen.

Many alchemical writings, including Thesaurus Thesaurorum or Rosarius Philosophorum, Novum Lumen, and Flos Florum, are also ascribed to him, but probably had nothing to do with him. I still mention it because part of his influence on later alchemists also rested partially on these works. Breviarium Practicae is another book attributed to him.

Among his achievements was the discovery of carbon monoxide and pure alcohol.


“To produce sleep so profound that the patient may be cut and will feel nothing, as though he were dead, take of opium, mandragora bark, and henbane root equal parts, pound them together and mix with water. When you want to sew or cut a man, dip a rag in this and put it to his forehead and nostrils. He will soon sleep so deeply that you may do what you will. To wake him up, dip the rag in strong vinegar.”

That’s Arnold describing what would now be known as an anaesthetic. Variations on the spongia somnifera were quite common in the 9th to 14th centuries. Soporific sponges offered a measure of pain-relief. But they did not offer surgeons or their stricken patients controllable general anaesthesia as we would understand the concept in the modern era.

Besides supposedly getting rich by creating gold, Arnold was also a physician, a toxicologist and a proto-chemist. He extracted the active principles of contemporary medicinal remedies with alcohol to make tinctures.

An interesting tale I came across is that before he went to bed every night he would lay wax over his chest. He believed this would increase his life span. He’d mix quality white was with certain quantity of Oriental saffron, red rose-leaves, sandal-wood, aloes, and amber, liquefied in oil of roses. Then in the morning he would wake up take it off and save it for the next night.

He also had a sort of very special diet: he raised his own chickens every 7 years (also to increase his life span.) The chickens themselves got a special diet and Arnold would eat one of his chickens every day.


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Albertus Magnus

My Podcast on this topic:

Albertus Magnus, (11/3/1206 – November 15, 1280), also known as Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, is a Catholic saint and was a Dominican monk.

“Doctor Universalis”

Dominican Friar, Bishop and saint.

Patron saint of natural sciences

Honored by the Catholic Church as a Doctor of the Church (one of only 35)

Virgin Mary told him to enter Holy orders

He entered the Dominican order

He commented on virtually all of Aristotle, at that time that brought him in contact with arab/muslim writings which in turn brought him to the center of academic debate

Unlike his contemporaries, he also went out and learned from nature. He was a strong believer in Scientific type experiments which was rare at the time. This earned him a reputation as an alchemist and sorcerer-type.

Most alchemical texts were attributed to him after his death, which led to his reputation, but had little basis in truth.

These rumors went so far as to claim he had found the philosopher’s stone and passed it to Thomas Aquinas. He did claim to have witnessed the transmutation of something into gold

Since God’s intent was corrupted by the heavenly bodies that were in the way, it’s best to understand the heavenly bodies’ influence on man.

His writings on astrology heavily influenced almost all future thinking of Astrology for generations.


Wrote extensively on the works of Aristotle

He believed in learning from nature instead of just books and mathematics. This lead to his reputation as an alchemist.

Wrote on logic, theology, botany, geography, astronomy, astrology, mineralogy, chemistry, zoology, physiology, phrenology

He is credited with being the first to isolate arsenic by heating soap together with arsenic trisulfide. and experimented with photosensitive chemicals, including silver nitrate.


Believed in occult properties of minerals.

He wrote he witnessed the transmutation of metal to gold.


Influenced by:



Thomas Aquinas

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Al-Razi (Rhazes)

Listen to our podcast to hear about another legendary polymath in medicine, philosophy, and chemistry that broke the mold.

Our episode here:

Interview with Peter Adamson, Professor at LMU in Munich and host of the History of Philsophy without any Gaps Podcast here:

Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī (865 – 925), known as Rhazes or Rasis after medieval Latinists was a Persian Muslim polymath, a prominent figure in Islamic Golden Age, physician, alchemist and chemist, philosopher, and scholar.


His “firsts”

  • The first to differentiate smallpox from measles,
  • The discovery of numerous compounds and chemicals including alcohol, kerosene, among others.

He knew Ancient Persian, Greek, and Ancient Indian medical knowledge. Some 200 books are attributed to him.

He furthered medicine by observation and experimentation

Educated in

  • music,
  • mathematics,
  • philosophy, and
  • metaphysics,

Medical Contributions

In addition to his experiments he’s also considered the father of pediatrics and a pioneer of ophthalmology. He wrote the first book that treated children’s illnesses separately.

He was among the first to use Humoralism to distinguish one contagious disease from another. In particular, Razi was the first physician to distinguish smallpox and measles through his clinical characterization of the two diseases.

Razi contributed in many ways to the early practice of pharmacy by compiling texts, in which he introduces the use of ‘mercurialointments’ and his development of apparatus such as mortars, flasks, spatulas and phials, which were used in pharmacies until the early twentieth century .


He became chief physician of Rey and Baghdad hospitals.

He traveled extensively, mostly in Persia. As a teacher in medicine, he attracted students of all disciplines and was had a reputation for being compassionate and devoted to the service of his patients, whether rich or poor.

While himself a Persian and part of a prolific generation of brilliant Persian scholars, he wrote his works exclusively in Arabic, at that time the language of scholarship in Iran.

Razi was born in the silk road passing city of Rey (hence Al-Rhazi)

After becoming a famous physician Razi moved from Rey to Baghdad during Caliph Muktafi’s reign (approx. turn of the 10th century)) where he again held a position as Chief Director of a hospital.


His eye affliction started with cataracts and ended in total blindness. The cause of his blindness is uncertain. One account attributes the cause to have been a blow to the head by his patron, al-Mansour. Others claim that the cause was eating beans. Another attributes the cause of his blindness to a beating ordered by a mullah who was offended by his work, al-Hawi. According to that version the beating was administered with the manuscript of the work.

According to another legend he could have been blinded by steaming vapors during an accident in one of his experiments.

During that time he was approached by a physician offering an ointment to cure his blindness. Al-Razi then asked him how many layers does the eye contain and when he was unable to answer he refused his services and the ointment stating “my eyes will not be treated by one who does not know the basics of its anatomy”. One of his pupils from Tabaristan came to look after him, but, according to al-Biruni, he refused to be treated, proclaiming it was useless as his hour of death was approaching. Some days later he died in Rey, on the 5th of Sha’ban 313 AH (27 October 925).

Ethics of medicine

On a professional level, Razi introduced many practical, progressive, medical and psychological ideas. He attacked charlatans and fake doctors who roamed the cities and countryside selling their nostrums and “cures”. At the same time, he warned that even highly educated doctors did not have the answers to all medical problems and could not cure all sicknesses or heal every disease, which was humanly speaking impossible.

Doubts About Galen

In his book Doubts about Galen, Razi rejects several claims made by the Greek physician, as far as the alleged superiority of the Greek language and many of his cosmological and medical views. He links medicine with philosophy, and states that sound practice demands independent thinking. He reports that Galen’s descriptions do not agree with his own clinical observations regarding the run of a fever. And in some cases he finds that his clinical experience exceeds Galen’s.

Criticism over the Four Humors

He criticized moreover Galen’s theory that the body possessed four separate “humors” (liquid substances), whose balance are the key to health and a natural body-temperature. A sure way to upset such a system was to insert a liquid with a different temperature into the body resulting in an increase or decrease of bodily heat, which resembled the temperature of that particular fluid. Razi noted that a warm drink would heat up the body to a degree much higher than its own natural temperature. Thus the drink would trigger a response from the body, rather than transferring only its own warmth or coldness to it.

Four Elements

This line of criticism essentially had the potentiality to destroy completely Galen’s Theory of Humours including Aristotle’s theory of the Four Elements, on which it was grounded. Razi’s own alchemical experiments suggested other qualities of matter, such as “oiliness” and “sulphurousness”, or inflammability and salinity, which were not readily explained by the traditional fire, water, earth, and air division of elements.

Crystallization of ancient knowledge, and the refusal to accept the fact that new data and ideas indicate that present day knowledge ultimately might surpass that of previous generations.

Razi believed that contemporary scientists and scholars are by far better equipped, more knowledgeable, and more competent than the ancient ones, due to the accumulated knowledge at their disposal. Razi’s attempt to overthrow blind acceptance of the unchallenged authority of ancient sages encouraged and stimulated research and advances in the arts, technology, and sciences.

Mental Health

As many other theorists in his time of exploration of illnesses he believed that mental illnesses were caused by demons. Demons were believed to enter the body and possess the body. This shows that mental illnesses were understood to be out of the control of the sufferer (i.e. not their fault and they should receive care)


Al-Razi isolated many chemical substances, produced many medications, and described many laboratory apparatus.

The Transmutation of Metals

Razi’s interest in alchemy and his strong belief in the possibility of transmutation of lesser metals to silver and gold was attested half a century after his death by Ibn an-Nadim’s book The Philosophers Stone (Lapis Philosophorum in Latin). Nadim attributed a series of twelve books to Razi, plus an additional seven, including his refutation to al-Kindi’s denial of the validity of alchemy.

Finally we will mention Razi’s two best-known alchemical texts, which largely superseded his earlier ones: al-Asrar (الاسرار “The Secrets”), and Sirr al-Asrar (سر الاسرار “The Secret of Secrets”), which incorporates much of the previous work.

Apparently Razi’s contemporaries believed that he had obtained the secret of turning iron and copper into gold.

Chemical Instruments and Substances

Razi developed several chemical instruments that remain in use to this day.

He is known to have:

  • perfected methods of distillation and extraction.
  • dismissed the idea of potions and
  • dispensed with magic, meaning the reliance on symbols as causes.
  • his alchemical stockroom was enriched with products of Persian mining and manufacturing, even with sal ammoniac, a Chinese discovery.
  • He relied predominantly on the concept of ‘dominant’ forms or essences, which is the Neoplatonic conception of causality rather than an intellectual approach or a mechanical one). Razi’s alchemy brings forward such empiric qualities as
  • salinity and inflammability -the latter associated to ‘oiliness’ and ‘sulphurousness’.

Major Works on Alchemy

Razi left out the usual alchemists’ elusive and obscure way of writing. He had (maybe for the first time since late antiquity) a clear systematic classification of observations of chemical substances, reactions and apparatus, described in a language almost entirely free from mysticism and ambiguity. Razi’s scheme of classification of the substances used in chemistry shows sound research on his part.

  • In his book Sirr al-Asrar, Razi divides the subject of “Matter’ into three categories as he did in his previous book al-Asrar.
  • Knowledge and identification of drug components of plant-, animal- and mineral-origin and the description of the best type of each for utilization in treatment.
  • Knowledge of equipment and tools of interest to and used by either alchemist or apothecary.
  • Knowledge of seven alchemical procedures and techniques: sublimation and condensation of mercury, precipitation of sulfur and arsenic calcination of metals and minerals

This last category contains additionally a description of other methods and applications used in transmutation:

  • The added mixture and use of solvent vehicles.
  • The amount of heat (fire) used, ‘bodies and stones’, (‘al-ajsad’ and ‘al-ahjar) that can or cannot be transmuted into corporal substances such of metals and Id salts (‘al-amlah’).
  • The use of a liquid mordant which quickly and permanently colors lesser metals for more lucrative sale and profit.

Similar to the commentary on the 8th century text on amalgams ascribed to Al- Hayan (Jabir), Razi gives methods and procedures of coloring a silver object to imitate gold (gold leafing) and the reverse technique of removing its color back to silver. Gilding and silvering of other metals (alum, calcium salts, iron, copper, and tutty) are also described, as well as how colors will last for years without tarnishing or changing. Behind these procedures one does not find a deceptive motive rather a technical and economic deliberation.

This becomes evident from the author’s quotation of market prices and the expressed triumph of artisan, craftsman or alchemist declaring the results of their efforts “to make it look exactly like gold!”. However, another motive was involved, namely, to manufacture something resembling gold to be sold quickly so to help a good friend who happened to be in need of money fast.

Of interest in the text is Razi’s classification of minerals into six divisions, showing his discussion a modern chemical connotation:

  1. Four spirits (AL-ARWAH) : mercury, sal ammoniac, sulfur, and arsenic sulphate (orpiment and realgar).

  2. Seven bodies (AL-AJSAD) : silver, gold, copper, iron, black lead (plumbago), zinc (Kharsind), and tin.

  3. Thirteen stones : (AL-AHJAR) Pyrites marcasite (marqashita), magnesia, malachite, tutty Zinc oxide (tutiya), talcum, lapis lazuli,gypsum, azurite, magnesia, haematite (iron oxide), arsenic oxide, mica and asbestos and glass (then identified as made of sand and alkali of which the transparent crystal Damascene is considered the best),

  4. Seven vitriols (AL-ZAJAT) : alum (al-shabb الشب), and white (qalqadis القلقديس), black, red (suri السوري), and yellow (qulqutar القلقطار) vitriols (the impure sulfates of iron, copper, etc.), green (qalqand القلقند).

  5. Seven borates : natron, and impure sodium borate.

  6. Eleven salts (AL-AMLAH): including brine, common (table) salt, ashes, naphtha, live lime, and urine, rock, and sea salts. Then he separately defines and describes each of these substances and their top choice, best colors and various adulterations.

Razi gives also a list of apparatus used in alchemy. This consists of 2 classes:

  1. Instruments used for the dissolving and melting of metals such as the Blacksmith’s hearth, bellows, crucible, thongs (tongue or ladle), macerator, stirring rod, cutter, grinder (pestle), file, shears, descensory and semi-cylindrical iron mould.

  2. Utensils used to carry out the process of transmutation and various parts of the distilling apparatus: the retort, alembic, shallow iron pan, potters kiln and blowers, large oven, cylindrical stove, glass cups, flasks, phials, beakers, glass funnel, crucible, alundel, heating lamps, mortar, cauldron, hair-cloth, sand- and water-bath, sieve, flat stone mortar and chafing-dish.

Secret of Secrets (Sirr Al-asrar)

This is Razi’s most famous book which has gained a lot of recognition in the West. Here he gives systematic attention to basic chemical operations important to the history of pharmacy.

Avicenna stated:

Or from Muhammad ibn Zakariyyab al-Razi, who meddles in metaphysics and exceeds his competence. He should have remained confined to surgery and to urine and stool testing—indeed he exposed himself and showed his ignorance in these matters.

Quotes about Razi

“Rhazes was the greatest physician of Islam and the Medieval Ages.”– George Sarton

“Rhazes remained up to the 17th century the indisputable authority of medicine.”– The Encyclopaedia of Islam

“His writings on smallpox and measles show originality and accuracy, and his essay on infectious diseases was the first scientific treatise on the subject.” – The Bulletin of the World Health Organization (May 1970)

“In today’s world we tend to see scientific advance as the product of great movements, massive grant-funded projects, and larger-than-life socio-economic forces. It is easy to forget, therefore, that many contributions stemmed from the individual efforts of scholars like Rhazes. Indeed, pharmacy can trace much of its historical foundations to the singular achievements of this ninth-century Persian scholar.” — Michael E. Flannery


The modern-day Razi Institute in Tehran, and Razi University in Kermanshah were named after him, and ‘Razi Day’ (‘Pharmacy Day’) is commemorated in Iran every August 27.

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My Podcast on this topic:

Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, born 448 AH (c. 1058 – 1111)

also known as Algazel at the time in Europe. Born in Khorosan Province in Persia and became a muslim alchemist. Single most important muslim after mohammed Also known as “The man who saved islam”

About Al-Ghazali

Alchemy in the arab world was much more above-board. One of the noblest sciences/philosophies in contrast with Europe at the time.

His life was during the Islamic golden age.

He was given the title Hujjat al-Islam, meaning ‘The Proof of Islam’, a title given to no other scholar or personality in Islamic history, further displaying his status within the religion.

At one point he made arrangements for his family, he disposed of his wealth and adopted an ascetic lifestyle.

After some time in Damascus and Jerusalem, with a visit to Medina and Mecca in 1096, he returned to Tus (his birhtplace) to spend the next several years in seclusion.

Refuted neoplatonism so thoroughly that it never really recovered in the muslim world ..that’s actually a symplistic way to look at it. He argued and analyzed it so well, I wouldn’t say refute per say, but Islam was able to incorporate it, and move on. All parts were thoroughly considered and either dismantled or built upon.

The Incoherence also marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its vehement (rejections) of Aristotle and Plato. The book took aim at the falasifa, a loosely defined group of Islamic philosophers from the 8th through the 11th centuries (most notable among them Avicenna (who influended Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas) and Al-Farabi) who drew intellectually upon the Ancient Greeks. Al-Ghazali argued against Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek writers as non-believers and labeled those who employed their methods and ideas as corrupters of the Islamic faith.

He argued that everything is directly caused by God


Sufism or taṣawwuf (Arabic: تصوّف‎) is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. Sufis consider themselves as the original true proponents of this pure original form of Islam. They are strong adherents to the principal of tolerance, peace and against any form of violence.

He really set the direction of future islamic thought and philosophy.

The Alchemy of Happiness

Kimiya-yi Sa’ādat (Persian: كيمياى سعادت‎, English: The Alchemy of Happiness)

The book mentions ways to worship and in the end receive happiness, including in the afterlife. This is a good example of alchemy in the sence that he’s talking about transmutating the soul in preparation for the afterlife. “Spiritual alchemy”

Kimiā (Alchemy) is an applied and mystical science that has been studied for centuries. In its essence, Kimiā represents a complete conception of the universe and relations between earthly beings and the cosmos.[7] Religious philosophers emphasized its importance as a religious discipline. Due to its spiritual dimensions Kimiā is considered the noblest of all occult sciences (i.e. astrology and various kinds of magic). Ghazali was himself a believer that everything on Earth is a manifestation of God’s spirit, thus everything belongs to kimiā.[7]

From the book: ″God has sent on Earth a hundred and twenty-four thousand prophets to teach men the prescription of this alchemy, and how to purify their hearts from baser qualities in the crucible of abstinence. This alchemy may be briefly described as turning away from the world, and its constituents are four: Knowledge of Self Knowledge of God Knowledge of this world as it really is Knowledge of the next world as it really is.″


Wrote extensively on the works of Aristotle but mostly to refute it.

Splitting scientific study: He was an early arguer of splitting “philosophy” into it’s distinct sciences which included physics, math and logic, but also included mysticisms like astrology and other occult beliefs. At the time religious leaders would refute “philosophy” as being against god, and therefore ignoring facts like lunar and solar eclipses.. When one bought into one idea of “philosophy” one tended to buy into all the garbage, not just the fact.. which is why al-Ghazālī wanted to split it (i.e. mystical claims that go against the teaching of islam). By separating the sciences, real sciences were allowed to progress.

Theology (like Sufism) Philosophy Medicine Jurisprudence



Influenced by



St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) … and while they do have much in common, it’s interesting to note that while al-Ghazali argued strongly against aristotole, Aquinas incorporated him to a much higher degree


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Here’s my podcast on him:

Agathodaimon was an alchemist that lived around (c. 300) in Roman Egypt.

Works: Anepigraphos Supposedly from the 3rd century, but all we have are medieval fragments of this work. It describes elements and minerals.

A way to produce silver


…and poison “fiery poison” possibly arsenic trioxide, or possibly amphoteric oxide.

When this poison was dissolved into water, it stayed clear, and copper dunked into it turned deep green (which arsenic trioxide would do)

His methods can be considered the basis of future poison “experiments” and were often used for murder

History of his texts If it wasn’t for the few writing we have mentioning him, we wouldn’t even know he existed. Alchemy was in decline at his time, BUT Nestorian christians fled to persia around 400. ..this is one way (the conquest of Alexandria being another) some of the later knowledge got to the arabs later on. And possibly directly contributed to the rise of alchemy in the middle east.

We talked about greek influence on arabs influence, and in turn their influence on medieval europeans (and especially after the fall of Constantinople and reconquest of spain) .. so it’s interesting to take a look at how some of that knowledge got to the persians even before the arabs arrived.

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