Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Roos. Alchemy and Mysticism (3)

Here are the other summary posts from Roos's Alchemy and Mysticism. I'm still on the Introduction to the book, starting today at p. 28.

Roos has now moved into the allegorical reading of Paracelsus: "These Paracelsian Tria Prima [mercury, sulfur, salt] are not chemical substances, but spiritual forces, from whose changeable proportions the invisible blacksmiths or craftsmen of nature produce the transient material compositions of the objective world."

Ooooh, I really like this passage: "Finding the correct source material for the Work was the chief concern of every alchemist, his specific secret, well-protected by code names. And the riddles had it that nothing was easier than finding it, because it is at home in all elements, even in the dust of the street; and although, like Christ, it is really the most precious thing in the world, to the ignorant it is the 'most wretched of all things'."

For the four element approach, Roos has a Stolzius illustration from the Viridarium showing the four elements as women with different triangular symbols and emblematic labels. I need to find that one in the book! ... Here it is, although I wish I had a higher res version to see the figures in more detail. The symbols on which the women are standing are the classical four elements, but except for the phoenix (?) and lion (?), I am not sure about the figures on the pots on their heads:

earth — water — air  — fire 

🜃  —  🜄  —  🜁  —  🜂

For the source material, there is a lovely illustration from the Atalanta fugiens, "the source material for the lapis can be found everywhere: in the earth, or the mountains, in the air and in the nourishing water." If only the things we were seeking really did look like big blocks of stuff just waiting for us to pick them up! I've transcribed and translated the poem in another post: De secretis Naturae.

Roos alerts us to be on the lookout for things that come in fours, and also the "quintessence," the fifth element: "It was the goal of all alchemists to bring this fifth element down to earth through the repeated transmutation that their work entailed."

One set of four I am not so attuned to are the colors in progression: nigredo, albedo, citrinititas, rubedo, for blackening, whitening, yellowing, and reddening.

Roos then has an emblem from the Musaeum Hermeticum which shows the eternal lapis (six-pointed star) produced by rotation of elements, unifying upper and lower, fire and water, with the earthly gold as Apollo in he underworld with his six Muses/metals. I found the book at Hathi, and this is the frontispiece:

The Latin advice there at the end is very nice: sit tibi scire satis! "may it be for you to know enough!" — presumably reading the book will allow that wish to come true. Anyway, I will have to include this nice item in my Latin Reader soon. There is an article about the book, with an inventory of its contents, at Wikipedia.

Okay, that's the end of the Introduction; I'll start with the next section — Macrocosm — next time!


  1. The dust imagery caught my attention ...

    1. I saw! And I noticed the dust passage to start with because I am Philip-Pullman-obsessed, eagerly awaiting his (long delayed) Book of Dust! :-)

  2. How precious metals can be extracted from dust beside the road

    1. That's wild: I had no idea! There was more going on in the dust than the alchemists realized. But now I am curious... did they even know about platinum. Let's see...? Well, from Wikipedia I learn that in the Renaissance period they did! And they even made a cool symbol for it, conjoining the symbols for silver and gold. Although apparently they didn't realize it was valuable: they thought it was an impurity in gold and threw it away. Ha!
      So, thank you for your comment: GO DUST :-)