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alchemy-msg - 11/21/11

Alchemy philosophy, medieval chemistry.

NOTE: See also the files: p-medicine-msg, beverages-msg, bev-distilled-msg, perfumes-msg, aphrodisiacs-msg, metals-msg, Med-Math-Sci-bib, Teach-in-SCA-art.


This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.

This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org

I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.

The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.

Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).

Thank you,
    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous
                                          Stefan at florilegium.org

From: tip at lead.tmc.edu (Tom Perigrin)
Date: 5 Dec 91 00:56:26 GMT
Organization: A.I. Chem Lab, University of Arizona

Unto the dearest and most adventurous Winifred de Schyppewallebotham,
doth Thomas Ignatius Perigrinus send his amused greetings;

I humbly salute thy adventerousness in attempting to dye with indigo and
urine! Thy peradventures should'st stand as a beacon to light our way,
although mayhaps the nose shall lead rather than our eyes?

I am minded of the time I made saltpeter at the Northern California
Rennaisance Faire.  If thou wouldst permit,  may I relate my
tale, which I promise thee, has good humour therein.

I followed the scrip of Birringucchio, 1540.

I took a large barrel, and did bore therein a hole near unto the bottom.
Into this small hole did I affix a bung, so as to draw off the liquors
when they were ripe.  Then I did find me some goodly horse manure which
had dried but not been rained upon.  I specifically searched for that
which was rimed with white.

Of this manure I took and cast a full four fingers depth into my pot,
and then two fingers of ash, and a final finger of lime.  This I did
repeat until the earthly matter did come nye unto the top of my barrell.
Then I did invite twenty men all stout and true to add their waters
into my barrel,  which, they being full of goodly ale,  they proceeded
to accomplish with alacrity.

I then stirred this goodly brew with a stout stick.  But, as I did stir it,
I did see that many of the larger turds did not dissolve,  so casting
aside my shirt,  I did plunge my arms into the vile soup and did break up
the clumps with my hands.  It was at this time that one of the Blue Boys,
Her Majesties own guard, did come unto me , and knowing that I was a man
of martial disposition as to himself, he did ask at what was I adventuring?

So I took out a goodly turd, which being covered by wet ashes and lime, did
seem more like unto a rock than the outfall of a horse,  and I did press
it into his hand and say thusly unto him;  "In faith,  I am assaying to
make saltpeter...  but as you can see, my turds have not broken!"   Stout
fellow he was, he did blanch for but a moment, and then proceeded to
answer me in like manner, discussing how the dissolution was proceeding.
But mind you, under his breath he swore to me that I would die afore the day
was through!

Then, once I had accomplisht my goal, and the whole been reduced to the
consistency of some diabolical gruel,  I left it to stand in the hot sun
for four and twenty hours.

Upon the next day, the mass had achieved an excellence of odor which was
surpassing ripe!   And so,  preparing to follow the dictates of learned
Birringucchio, I prepared myself to draw forth the waters.  I once again
cast off my shirt, and plunged my hands into the mass to affix a wad
of straw over the hole to act as a filter.  And as I stood near this
vile vat,  two comely but cupshotten women come up unto me, and
insensate to the evidence of their noses, enquired of me as to the contents
of this evil cauldron.  

Now, I must admit that these fair women must have been deep into their
cups many times and more that day,  for not only did they fail to smell the
effluvience of this morass, they also gave evidence of finding me attractive
unto them (remember, I am lame, bald, and exceedingly ugly!)  So before
I could answer them, one began to run her fingers up and down my arm
in what could have been a most seductive fashion, had not the arm in question
been lubricated with the combined and fermented waste of horse, man, and fire.

It was but my duty to inform her what she was rubbing her comely fingers
through, whereupon her collegue did let forth a most amazed laugh, and did
call sport upon the unfortunate one.  This was, mayhaps, unwise,  for the
offended party did turn and assay to clean her fingers upon the shirt of
she who did laugh.

This succeeded in quelling the laughter,  but transmutated mirth to umbrage,
and quickly into a missile of mire which caught the flirtatious one square
upon her shirt.   And thus by degrees did they proceed from shirt to hair, and
unto a rolling catfight interrupted only by the need to refresh their
armamentaria with new handfuls of deadly dung.

Needless to say,  this sight amused me greatly, and caused such mirth among
my fellows that we all lay helpless upon the ground, clutching our sides
and rolling with laughter.

Eventually the two, by now slime encrusted combatants left, and I proceeded
to drain my broth, and rinsed it twice with water, and boiled it down to
receive 1 handful of pale brown crystals of saltpeter.  But I must swear,
the making was more rewarding than the salt.

I hope that my tale may have given thee some amusement,  and I
remain,   thy dutious and obedient (but, alas, not blue) servant

Thomas Ignatius Perigrinus

From: harald at matt.ksu.ksu.edu (Harold Kraus Jr)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: A "Medieval" look at napalm
Date: 2 Nov 1993 13:10:16 -0600
Organization: Kansas State University

Ahoy, the Bridge!

Given the wanderings of the napalm thread, thought I'd dig out
one of my great-grandson's "term" papers -- Harald Isenross

Aristotlan (After A Fashion) Atomic Theory
According to Karl Isenross, Nuremburg scholar (with apologies)

Caveat: I'm just a physimatitioneer.  I'd be a physemist-
matitioneer if I hadn't quizzed out of Alchemy. :)

Just as the stone seeks its place below the serpent which seeks
its place below the beast which seeks its place below man; just
as the body of man seeks the earth and the soul of man seeks the
heavens; so too do the atoms seek their place in creation.

Metals and Airs:

Just as man and animal were created male and female, each to seek
out the other and join so two may become one; so were atoms
created metals and airs, each to seek out the other and join so
two may become one.  Metals and airs are opposites: metals,
sequestered and purified from airs, are enduring, strong, and
heavy; airs, sequestered from metals, are ephemeral, weak, and
light. As with men who are cloistered from women to serve God,
so too are metals cloistered from airs to serve men to the glory
of God.  

As there are virtuous and base men and women, there are also
virtuous and base metals and airs.  Virtuous metals, like
virtuous men, are more able to resist corruption.  Gold (Au) is
incorruptible and is to be found free, pure, and untarnished in
the earth.  Aluminum (Al) is so base and corruptible as to be
little more than common dirt in its natural state.

The baser the air, the greater the power to corrupt metals.  So
virtuous are the airs of the first degree (C, P, S) that they can
take on enduring forms similar to metals.  But in the enduring
form, airs of the first degree lack strength and their true
nature as airs can be revealed by heating.  So base are the airs
of the third degree (O, Cl, F) that they not only corrupt metals
as is their predilection; but, in the absence of metals, will
corrupt airs of the first degree and even airs of the second
degree (N, H [and H will even corrupt N]).

                 Metals         Airs
                   Au  Virtuous  C    
                   Ag            P    
                   Hg            S      
                   Cu            N      
                   Sn            H    
                   Pb            O  
                   Fe            Cl  
                   Al    Base    F

Corruption of Fe by O via H:   H + O -> HO
                              HO + Fe -> FeO + H

Thus, given a drop of water (HO) on a piece of iron (Fe) all in
air (containing O), the O corrupting the H abandons the H for the
Fe given the baser air's preference for metal.  The abandoned H
is then available to be corrupted again by any O in the air.

With impetus (heating), a corrupting air atom may be driven from
a metal atom.  Baser metals require more impetus to drive off an
air than more virtuous metals.  Being fickle, an air atom that
has been driven off a metal atom by impetus will retain that
impetus. If a baser metal atom is nearby, the air atom with
impetus will corrupt the baser metal atom.  In so corrupting the
baser metal atom, the air atom will give up its impetus.  This
surrendered impetus can be sufficient to be collected and used by
another nearby corrupted but relatively virtuous metal to drive
off a corrupting air atom.

Consider the compound of *thermite*: Sequestered Al atoms are
mixed with corrupted Fe atoms.  With sufficient impetus, some of
the corrupting air atoms can be driven off of the Fe atoms.  With
the baser Al atoms in sufficient proximity, the exiled air atoms
readily corrupt the Al atoms releasing considerable impetus given
the exceptional baseness of Al atoms.  This released impetus is
greater than the impetus needed to drive the air atom off of a
nearby corrupted Fe atom.  Thus, this process is canonical,
canonical in the sense that when an atom is purified, one or more
other corrupted atoms may follow and imitate the purification of
the first atom.

Hence,      impetus + FeO -> Fe + O(+impetus)
           O(+impetus) + Al -> AlO + greater impetus

(Combining) impetus + FeO + Al -> Fe + AlO + greater impetus

Thus, just as the purification of one corrupted soul can lead to
the purification by that soul of another soul, the purification
of one corrupted metal atom can lead to the purification by that
atom of another atom.  

Base Metals and Noble Airs:

Just as there are men so base that it be their nature to corrupt
themselves without influence, there are metals other than those
listed above that are so base as they quite readily corrupt
themselves with airs under their own impetus.  These metals are
so base as to be called "earths".

Just as the noble heirs hold themselves separate from the baser
men and women and thus maintain their higher place in creation,
so too do the noble airs hold themselves separate from the baser
metals and earths and thus ascend to the heavens.

So, as in the kingdom of man, in the kingdom of atoms are be to
found the incorruptible, corruptible, and ultimately corruptible,
the non-corrupting, corrupting, and ultimately corrupting.

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
From: hwt at bcarh11a.bnr.ca (Henry Troup)
Subject: Re: Dinner we got, but how about breakfast and lunch?
Organization: Bell-Northern Research Ltd., Ottawa, Canada
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 1993 15:01:19 GMT

Water glass is sodium or potassium silicate. Source: Concise Oxford

Beware of some lists of common versus chemical names. These things changed
over the years.  And some lists are wrong - "The Edge of the Anvil", an other
wise good book, defines water glass as sodium cyanide!!!
Henry Troup - H.Troup at BNR.CA (Canada) -

From: corliss at hal.PHysics.wayne.EDU (David J. Corliss)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Tin
Date: 12 May 1994 10:56:33 -0400

Mistress Gwennis asks about tin.

[Comments are in persona; comments out of persona/period are in brackets]

There are seven metals: lead, iron, tin, mercury, copper, silver, and gold.
None dissolve in vinegar and hartshorn [ammonia] may be used to clean them.

The base metals, lead, iron, and tin, may be dissolved in cold aqua fortis or
strong water [nitric acid]. Aqua fortis is made by distilling oil of vitriol
[sulfuric acid] with saltpeter [potassium nitrate]. Hot aqua fortis will act
on the noble metals mercury, copper, and silver, but not gold. It will also act
more quickly on base metals than cold aqua fortis. A person wishing to use tin as a mordant is then advised to obtain some aqua fortis, warm it, and place the
tin therein. Do not make it too hot, for the fumes are very dangerous. When the
tin is consumed, lye [sodium hydroxide] or wood ashes [which combine with water to form potassium hydroxide] must be added to the brew until it will no longer
turn orchil red [litmus test. yes: they knew about this.] This water of tin may then be added to the dyebath to help the dye bite.

Beorthwine of Grafham Wood

From: jeffs at math.bu.EDU (Jeff Suzuki)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: platinum
Date: 12 May 1994 15:56:56 -0400

Michael Fenwick writes:
>If I recall aright, platinum was known in period; seems to me
>that the Germans called it "Kupfernickel" ("copper-devil").
>"Kupfer" because it often showed up in association with copper,
>and "Nickel" because it was the very devil on the water-driven
>hammermills used to work the copper: it broke them, being _much_
>harder than copper, and harder than the hardened steel
>hammer-faces. But that very difficulty in working it makes it
>less likely, IMHO, that this is what Pliny was talking about.

"Kupfernickel" is "Devil's Copper".  It's where we get the word nickel
from (Old Nick and all...sayyyy, do ya think there's a relationship
between that and Jack Nicholson...)  The name comes from the fact that
certain ores of nickel resemble copper ores, yet no matter how they
were worked, they produced no copper.  (qv "Fool's Gold")

The practice of adding nickel to iron is fairly recent; any artifact
with a nickel-iron alloy is most likely derived from meteoric iron.
Read the section in the Iliad about the funerary games if you want a
Bronze Age person's view of iron.

Platinum was certainly known in period; it was first described by a
Spaniard who called it "Pinto Silver".  (Silver in Spanish is
Platina). It was discovered in the new world.  It's not improbable
that other elements of the platinum group were around, since, like
gold, they're very inert and nuggets of them can be found.  However,
the metals are very rare.

Antimony was "discovered" during the Middle Ages, although there is an
Egyptian vase around that is nearly pure antimony.  One of its ores
(stibinite, I believe it's called) was used as a mascara; the word
"styptic" hails from the same root (as does its symbol, Sb, for
"stibium"). The name "antimony" itself seems to mean "against
solitude", probably due to some obscure alchemical notions.

Oh, and Al2O3 + CO --> Al + CO2 ("How do you spell stoichiometry?
B-O-R-I-N-G!") is _never_ spontaneous at any temperature.  It's
endothermic and entropy decreasing (i.e., Del G > 0 for all T)

William the Alchymist

From: jeffs at math.bu.EDU (Jeff Suzuki)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: alchymy
Date: 14 Jan 1995 17:57:15 -0500

Genevieve de Renard asks:
>Greetings to one and all!  After finishing a loverly novel titled "In
>Search of the Green Lion," I was wondering if, in fact, the green
>lion *in the book it was rearing, and swallowing a sun* was actually
>an alchemist's symbol, or if it was made up to spice up the author's
>story. Did alchemist's use animal personifications to represent
>elements or substances?  Just curious!

It was fairly common.  From memory (check out Sherwood Taylor's _The
Alchemists_, or, um, Carrington's _Historical Studies in the Language
of Chemistry_), the "spirit" of a metal was usually depicted as some
sort of animal: dove, lion, etc., not in any standardized way.  Now,
recall the Gospels also are associated with animals (bull, rooster,
etc.) Thus came the belief that certain of the Gospels were worthy of
study for their alchemical content.

For example, a metal might be burnt to release its spirit (sometimes
depicted as a dove), which could be coaxed to enter another metal to
change its quality.

The metals were _also_ symbolized as planets, in a more standardized
way: the sun is gold, the Moon silver, Mars iron, Saturn lead, Venus
copper, Jupiter tin, and Mercury mercury.  This astronomical
connection lent itself easily to an astrological connection:  the
positions of these planets determined the efficacy of a procedure.

This last could tie together (via the zodiac) the two systems;
however, I don't recall ever seeing the two systems mixed.  Still, one
might hazard a guess at the "green lion swallowing the sun":

Lion, as King of the beasts, would correspond to gold, king of the
metals. But a green lion is not truly a lion, just something that
looks like it: probably copper (which turns green if acted upon by oil
of vitriol).  Swallowing the sun clearly means imbibing upon the
essence of gold, and, hopefully, turning the green lion into a true
one, as a bit of leaven may raise a whole batch of dough (also a
standard alchemical belief, ergo the search for the Philosopher's

William the Alchymist

From: bjm10 at cornell.edu (Bryan Maloney)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Re: Alchemy and Magic in
Date: Wed, 21 Jun 1995 15:13:09 UNDEFINED
Organization: Organization is a means of destroying humanity.

>   Ahem, hmmm, QUESTION TIME: Isn't the modern conception of
>alchemy and similar stuff OUT OF PERIOD by about 200 years?
>DESPITE the claims of would be mages, I have never run into
>documentary evidence of the practice of the `science' until
>a point very very close to our cutoff point of our society.

Answer time:  I've translated a work called "Dhe book of Quinte Essencia"
[sic--I'm recalling the title to memory], part of the EETS (Early English Text
Series) to modern English.  According to the foreword of the EETS edition, the
MS. it comes from dates somewhere around the mid fifteenth century.  Last time
I checked, 1450 was within SCA period.

I have already promised email of an ASCII copy of both the translation and the
transliterated early modern English text to one person.  I intend to put both
onto a WWW page once I can remember the furshlugginer HTML2 codes for "thorn"
and "yogh".

>   If we are to take Crowley - that's John, not Alek. at his
>word (that he has done research into the origins of the
>modern tradition of "magick" it all occurs during the end of
>the Renaisance with the "discoveries" of many an allegedly
>ancient book ranging from the pseudo Keys of Solomon to the

However, this still does not mean that no magic nor alchemy at all was
practiced in the Medieval period.  To wit:

         TITLE: Zauberer und Hexen in der Kultur des Mittelalters : III.
                   Jahrestagung der Reineke-Gesellschaft e.V., San Malo, 5.-9.
                   Juni 1992.
         AUTHOR: Jahrestagung der Reineke-Gesellschaft. 3rd, 1992, San Malo.
      PUBLISHED: Greifswald : Reineke-Verlag, 1994.

         TITLE: The rise of magic in early medieval Europe
         AUTHOR: Flint, Valerie I. J. (Valerie Irene Jean), 1936-
      PUBLISHED: Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1991.

         TITLE: Magic in the Middle Ages
         AUTHOR: Kieckhefer, Richard.
      PUBLISHED: Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1989,

         TITLE: Zur Geschichte der Schmerz-, Schlaf- und Betueaubungsmittel in
                   Mittelalter und frueuher Neuzeit
         AUTHOR: Kuhlen, Franz-Josef.
      PUBLISHED: Stuttgart : In Kommission, Deutscher Apotheker Verlag, 1983.

         TITLE: The feather of Simurgh : the "licit magic" of the arts in
                   medieval Islam
         AUTHOR: B?urgel, J. Christoph.
      PUBLISHED: New York : New York University Press, c1988.

         TITLE: The book of secrets of Albertus Magnus of the virtues of
                   herbs, stones and certain beasts, also A book of the marvels
                   of the world.
         AUTHOR: Albertus, Magnus, Saint, 1193?-1280. Spurious and doubtful
      PUBLISHED: Oxford [Eng.] Clarendon Press, 1973.

         TITLE: Die Alchemie im Mittelalter. 8Reprografischer Nachdruck der
                   Ausg. Paderborn 1938)
         AUTHOR: Ganzenm?uller, Wilhelm, 1882-
      PUBLISHED: Paderborn, Verlag der Bonifacius-druckerei [c1938]

         TITLE: De occulta philosophia libri tres
         AUTHOR: Agrippa von Nettesheim, Heinrich Cornelius, 1486?-1535.
      PUBLISHED: Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1992.

         TITLE: Criptologia
         AUTHOR: Porta, Giambattista della, 1535?-1615.
      PUBLISHED: Roma : Centro internazionale di studi umanistici, 1982.

         TITLE: Disqvisitionvm magicarvm libri sex, : quibus continetur
                   accurata curiosarum artium, & vanarum superstitionum
                   confutatio; apprime utilis, & pernecessaria theologis,
                   iurisconsultis, medicis, philosophis, ac prÌsertim verbi Dei
                   concionatoribus, & utriusque fori iudicibus, quibus in
                   primis aurea prÌcepta traduntur.
         AUTHOR: Del Rio, Martin Antoine, 1551-1608.
      PUBLISHED: Venetiis, : Apud Iuntas., M.DC.LII.  [1652]

         TITLE: The archaeology of ritual and magic
         AUTHOR: Merrifield, Ralph.
      PUBLISHED: New York  : New Amsterdam, 1988.

         TITLE: The rise of magic in early medieval Europe
         AUTHOR: Flint, Valerie I. J. (Valerie Irene Jean), 1936-
      PUBLISHED: Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1991.

         TITLE: Zauberglaube und Hexenwahn im Gebiet von Rhein und Maas :
                   sp?atmittelalterlicher Volksglaube im Werk Johan Weyers
         AUTHOR: Nahl, Rudolf van.
      PUBLISHED: Bonn : L. R?ohrscheid, 1983.

         TITLE: Anglo-Saxon-charms
         AUTHOR: Grendon, Felix, 1882-1965, comp.
      PUBLISHED: Norwood, Pa. : Norwood Editions, 1978.

         TITLE: Anglo-Saxon magic and medicine. Illustrated specially from the
                   semi-pagan text "Lacnunga,"
         AUTHOR: Grattan, John Henry Grafton, 1878-1951.
      PUBLISHED: London, New York, Oxford University Press, 1952.

         TITLE: The book of the secrets of alchemy
         AUTHOR: Constantinus, Pisanus, 13th cent.
      PUBLISHED: Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1990.

         TITLE: The Summa perfectionis of Pseudo-Geber : a critical edition,
                   translation and study
         AUTHOR: Geber, 13th cent.
      PUBLISHED: Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1991.

         TITLE: Vom Hylealischen, das ist, Pri-materialischen catholischen
                   oder allgemeinen nat?urlichen Chaos, der naturgem?assen
                   Alchymiae und Alchymisten
        AUTHOR: Khunrath, Heinrich, 1560-1605.
      PUBLISHED: Graz, Austria : Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, 1990.

I apologize for only listing English, German, and Latin sources, but these are
the only languages that I have any chance of following (and the Latin only
with a Latin/English dictionary by my side).

>know of today came from the misinterpretation of some Greek
>Gnostic writings around the time of Elizabeth I. i.e. the
>point we draw our line in the sand between things period and
>things not period.

And your point?

>scams) etc. But 18th through 20th century theosophism,
>anything dealing with the Rosecutions, Masons, A. Crowley,
>the A(three dots)A(three dots) and Golden Dawn, etc. and
>almost anything dealing dealing with Kabalistic and
>Chassidic writing is as period and as proper in the SCA
>setting as electric toasters, telephones and plastic.

Ah, this is your point.  So far as I can tell, nobody was advocating study of
modern magical traditions but study of the practices and traditions of the

Did anybody mention 18th-century or later traditions or attempting to work
modern magic in this thread?

From: morganh at teleport.com (Morgan Hall)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Re: Alchemy and Magic in Period
Date: 21 Jun 1995 08:22:43 -0700
Organization: Teleport - Portland's Public Access (503) 220-1016

In article <8AB7593.02DE00A11C.uuout at compudata.com>,
DAVID RAZLER <david.razler at compudata.com> wrote:
>   Ahem, hmmm, QUESTION TIME: Isn't the modern conception of
>alchemy and similar stuff OUT OF PERIOD by about 200 years?
>DESPITE the claims of would be mages, I have never run into
>documentary evidence of the practice of the `science' until
>a point very very close to our cutoff point of our society.

M'lord, although I agree with you on the _modern_conception_ of alchemy,
I would refer you to Biringucchio's _PIROTECHNICA_ (available in
translation from Dover Books) for a discussion of the processes and
equipment used.  True, it's from very late period, but it's one of the
earliest technical books available.  He discusses common technical
problems and somehow I doubt that the extensive discussion he presents
would be caused either by a recent or rare phenomonon.

Biringucchio was a practical man.  (I'm sure you'd get a few smiles out
of his descriptions of alchemy and alchemists)  His book shows how to
make and do things.  So far, I've been able to use it as a means to
solve many practical problems, and would accept it as an authoritative
source for period practices.  Thus, since the first publication was 1540
or therabouts, we can say that there was at least a market for
alchemical equipment at the end of period.
>   If we are to take Crowley - that's John, not Alek. at his
>word (that he has done research into the origins of the
>modern tradition of "magick" it all occurs during the end of
>the Renaisance with the "discoveries" of many an allegedly
>ancient book ranging from the pseudo Keys of Solomon to the
>Zohar. <JC has used this as the cornerstone plot of his last
>two of a promised four novels where he states that what we
>know of today came from the misinterpretation of some Greek
>Gnostic writings around the time of Elizabeth I. i.e. the
>point we draw our line in the sand between things period and
>things not period.
>    While not encouraging or discouraging anyone's faith, I
>must point out that only dealings with the alleged
>supernatural be done as they were done in period, to the
>best of one's abilities to properly recreate them. John
>Dee's experiments and astrology would be perfectly
>acceptable as models, various forms of divination
>(surprisingly excluding tarot cards - which were used for
>gambling in period, though the Rom did use them in their
>scams) etc. But 18th through 20th century theosophism,
>anything dealing with the Rosecutions, Masons, A. Crowley,
>the A(three dots)A(three dots) and Golden Dawn, etc. and
>almost anything dealing dealing with Kabalistic and
>Chassidic writing is as period and as proper in the SCA
>setting as electric toasters, telephones and plastic.
>              In Service as Always                                                                                                         
>Aleksandr the Traveller

Much of what you say is quite true.  However, it should not affect
_period_ practices.  The modern stuff is useful only as those who
investigated such things documented their sources.  It seems to me that
for persons treading on somewhat shaky ground, that a set of resources
and expertise that could help weed out non-period concepts and practices
would be quite valuable.  Caution, indeed, is in order.  Here is a point
where peer-review may be a valuable tool to help establish

Well, time to return to the earth, air, water, and fire of the
blacksmith shop and practice some practical alchemy with a hammer.

In Service
Morgan de Comyn

Piper to Clan Hubert and all-around nice guy
morganh at teleport.COM  

From: cat at MARVIN.ama.ttuhsc.edu (Catherine Faber)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Re: Alchemy and Magic in Mediaeval Times
Date: 22 Jun 1995 17:31:26 GMT
Organization: Texas Tech University HSC Amarillo

Bryan Maloney (bjm10 at cornell.edu) wrote:

: >a peice on the historical relevance of the source.  This way, we have an
: >ever expanding body of work (instead of everyone doing the same thing) from
: >which to compare and contrast.

: I suggest that this be done with caution.  As a professional molecular
: biologist who has read some alchemy (and translated a late alchemetical work
: into modern English--should I post it or email it?), I must warn people of
: potential dangers involved in alchemical workings under period conditions:

(good gentle mentions dangers of heavy metal poisioning and explosions...)

I noticed this because I'm just in the process of reading "the
Canon's Yeoman's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales (By Chaucer, 13something).
The speaker in that story has *plenty* to say on the practice of alchemy,
none of it flattering.  
According to the story, explosions are a regular occurrence,
and occur with such force that the walls of the workroom must be made
of stone, and metals are frequently driven into the (earthen?) floor.
Chaucer does not describe heavy metal poisoning _per se_, but
comments on the general unhealthiness of alchemists...
While it is *fiction*, there are footnotes in the back saying
that as far as modern science historians can make out, Chaucer's descriptions
of the practices of the time are correct.

I would urge you to use *extreme* caution before carrying out
any "alchemical experiment".

Yours---Myfanwy ferch Tangwystl (mka Cat Faber)

From: Michael Bennett <mjb at efn.org>
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Re: alchemy questions
Date: Sun, 27 Apr 1997 23:09:59 -0700
Organization: Oregon Public Networking

> Does anybody know how you get the equipment and the materials for
> alchemy experiments?  Also, does anybody know of any good books on
> period alchemy? Merci beaucoup!
> Isabelle de Foix

You can find an *excellent* Alchemy website at:

This Alchemy Web site has at present 30 megabytes of information
organised into over 700
individual pages (with 18 megabyes of text), and 500 graphic images.
Have fun!
Mike Bennett
aka Brenainn MacCuUladh (Barony of Adiantum, AnTir)
aka Crimmy (Forbidden Fruit)
mjb at efn.org

From: sjerkins at worldnet.att.net (Steven Jerkins)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Re: alchemy questions
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 1997 21:24:36 GMT

On 27 Apr 1997 22:57:16 -0400, HPGV80D at prodigy.COM (MISS PATRICIA M
HEFNER) wrote:
>Does anybody know how you get the equipment and the materials for
>alchemy experiments?  Also, does anybody know of any good books on
>period alchemy? Merci beaucoup!
>Isabelle de Foix
>Shire of Misty Mere
>Kingdom of Meridies

Get a copy of "The Modern Alchemist".  I don't have it at hand to give
you the author and ISBN.
        That gives modern terminology for a lot of the materials that
seem so cryptic in old texts and a bibliography of where to get modern
equivalent equipment.


From: azdeg at imap1.asu.edu
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Re: alchemy questions
Date: 29 Apr 1997 05:09:17 GMT
Organization: Arizona State University

james koch (alchem at en.com) wrote:
: > >Does anybody know how you get the equipment and the materials for
: > >alchemy experiments?  Also, does anybody know of any good books on
: > >period alchemy? Merci beaucoup!
: > >
: > >Isabelle de Foix
: > >Shire of Misty Mere
: > >Kingdom of Meridies
: >
: Dear Ms. de Foix,  Chemical supply houses will sell equipment to private
: individuals, but will no longer sell chemicals.  This is due to recent
: EPA type legislation (a long story).  However, most chemicals available
: to the alchemists of the renaissance may still be found in bulk in
: hardware stores and industrial supply houses, and at a much lower price.
:       Stop at a drug store and ask the pharmacist for an old pharmacy
: supply catalog.  These contain all sorts of alchemical paraphernalia
: (thank good ness for dictionaries!) which they display as decorations.
: I have also found flasks, beakers, mortars & pestles and the like in
: second hand stores.
:       A third route is to synthesize your own chemicals and make your
: own equipment.  Alcohol lamps, alembics, mortars and many other pieces
: of equipment can be made as they were in the past.  
:       If you are seriously interested in alchemy please e-mail me at
: "alchem at en.com" or stop at my camp (Pentwyvern(Christmas in Pentwyvern,
: men without pants & ...)) at Pennsic.  Gladius

You can also usually find mortars and pestles at any herbalist shop (or
organic food co-op).

Date: Fri, 6 Jun 1997 12:36:19 -0400 (EDT)
From: Rooscc at aol.com
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Medieval alembics

Alembics are a small still as you guessed.
Early alembics were made in two pieces: a round bowl
bottom part and a cone-shaped top part. The cone had
a lip on the inside and a drainage hole or spout.

The herb and water were placed in the bowl and heated.
The steam rose into the cone, condensed on the sides,
ran down into the lip and dripped out the spout into another
container. This water could be added to a fresh batch
of herbs and the process repeated again (and again)
for a stronger product. You can do the same thing by
collecting the condensation on a glass pot lid.

Very early distillation wasn't distillation as we use
the term. It literally means "drop by drop". Avicenna
advises making waters by distillation, but describes
a filtering system. Put the herb and water in one
container. Dip a piece of wool (raw, but a piece of cloth
will work) into the liquid and hang it over the edge
of the container, so it can drip into another container.
As the water drips off the end of the wool, more water
is drawn up the other end of the wool which remains

This method does not make a very strongly scented product,
but it is capable of filtering out the plant material. (Not
as well as a coffee filter, though.)  It is an easy and fun
experiment and could be used as a "period" air freshener.

In case someone is interested:
Because the condensing part of medieval alembics
is not very sophisticated, you most likely would not
get "essential oils", the volatile oils which often (but
not in all cases) are the fragrance of the plant. "Essential
oils" are often treated by modern herbalists as "the
essence of all the good stuff" in a plant--which is
stretching the matter a good bit. It is a perfumers'

Volatile oils are substances which evaporate at a
lower temperature than water--why we can smell herbs
and flowers ;-). This is what's behind the instructions on
when to harvest herbs--on a sunny morning, just after
the dew has dried. The idea is to catch the plant before
these fragrance oils have dispersed. In distilling then,
the oils are released before the steam, and because they
are present in very small quantities it difficult to
collect them.

While the tendency is to equate the fragrance with the
active principles in herbs, this is not necessarily
the case.


Date: Fri, 6 Jun 1997 15:12:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: Catherine deSteele <desteele at netcom.com>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Alembics ????

On Thu, 5 Jun 1997, Margritte wrote:
> Anyone know what an alembic is? From the context, I assume that it must be
> some sort of small still, as it can be used for making rosewater. I'd very
> much like to find a description and/or pictures (maybe woodcuts from texts
> on alchemy?) showing or talking about an alembic. Can anyone help me out?
> -Margritte

Ther's a lovely book out, "Secrets From the Still", I think the author's
name is Grace Firth. Very readable, good historical section, incluing
woodcuts of an alembiv, a helmet still, and other goodies. Check your
library! Catherine deSteele

Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2000 20:25:55 +0200
From: "Cindy M. Renfrow" <cindy at thousandeggs.com>
Subject: SC - nifty site

Alchemical symbolism, imagery and music - has lots of pictures of
glassware, labs, etc. (& Nicolas Flamel too)


From: rcmann4 at earthlink.net
To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org
Date: Sat, 16 Jun 2001 23:57:31 -0400
Subject: [Sca-cooks] Re: Book of Quinte Essence

On 16 Jun 01,, Ted Eisenstein wrote:
> I came across a reference to this earlier today. A vague memory suggests that > this may be a book about eating, or cooking, or even possibly vintning,
> brewing, herbalism, or something in some way vaguely connected with cooking or
> gardening. Does anyone hereabouts know what it is?
> Furnivall, F.J., ed., Book of Quinte Essence Sloane MS 73 (It's part of the
> Early English Text Society series.)
> Alban

There's a transcription of it here:

Seems to be an alchemical treatise.

From: Bronwynmgn at aol.com
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 21:00:44 EST
Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] ivory reworked
To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org

mark.s.harris at motorola.com writes:
> Ok. And what are "bezoar stones"?

Not a Harry Potter fan, eh?  Professor Snape asks Harry where he would find
a bezoar during Harry's first potions class (as a way of taking the "new
celebrity" down a notch).  The answer is that it is a stone found in the
stomach of a goat, and will protect you from most poisons.  That's the
period answer, by the way.  So I guess it's effectively a goat's gallstone.

Brangwayna Morgan

From: "Grace Loehr" <divinegracie at earthlink.net>
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Re: Alchemy & hermetic philosophy
Date: Sun, 17 Feb 2002 04:55:46 GMT

"Jeff Foehringer"<degan at ccia.com> wrote:
> I am looking for some good sources on alchemy in the middle ages &
>renaissance, particularly as it applied to hermetic philosophy.  I'm having
>a difficult time finding any books in print on the subject.

Here's my two cents' worth; if you've already heard of or read these books,
then disregard:

I know of a few books on this topic; they're more philosophical and
historical overviews of the hermetic tradition from antiquity throughout the
medieval and Renaissance periods, rather than sources for specific, "how to"
manuals for practice of alchemy : two by Frances A. Yates, "Giordano Bruno
and the Hermetic Tradition" (Univ of Chicago Press, 1991), and "The Art of
Memory" (Univ of Chicago Press, 1966). Another is Ioan P. Couliano, who has
a book translated into English, "Eros and Magic in the Renaissance" (Univ of
Chicago Prrss, 1987).  I had a very interesting class from Mr. Couliano in
the mid-'80's at Univ of Chicago Divinity School on this topic, which is
where I read the Frances Yates "Art of Memory" book.  One of the other books
from this class was "The Occult Sciences of the Renaissance: A Study in
Intellectual Patterns" by Wayne Schumaker (U of Calif Press, 1972).

>   I'll take recommendations from anyone, but I'm hoping to contact two
>individuals in particular.
>   One is a gentle who taught three classes, in persona, many Pennsics ago
>(Pennsic 22).  I believe his name is Beorthwine of Grafham Wood.
>     The other is Isolt la Gaunt-Roussel called Midori, who taught a class
>on hermetic theory and neoplatonism at Pennsic 24.

If you contact these indviduals, and get further information, would you mind
sharing it with me?  (By email, below.)

Juliana, Lost In Byzantium/Grace
Grace Loehr <divinegracie at earthlink.net>

From: "Steven H. Mesnick" <steffan at pobox.com>
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Re: Alchemy & hermetic philosophy
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 22:44:40 GMT

>      I am looking for some good sources on alchemy in the middle ages &
> renaissance, particularly as it applied to hermetic philosophy.  I'm having
> a difficult time finding any books in print on the subject.

Check out Samuel Weiser Publishing of York Beach ME, at
They're probably the foremost publishers of hermetic/esoteric books in
the US.
=== Baron Steffan ap Kennydd, Pel, Firebrand Her. Ext. ===
  Silverwing's Laws: http://pobox.com/~steffan/laws.html
               Bridge, East (RI, USA)
        Are you on the Rolls Ethereal? You should be!

Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2002 10:11:21 -0400 (EDT)
From: Jenne Heise <jenne at mail.browser.net>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ku.edu
Subject: Re: Alchemy

> I have a question; I plan to put my hands on alchemy, and I know
> it's perfectly allright if you go to a scadian and say "hey my
> art is alchemy" -- but what about roleplaying?

Practicing alchemy on the side seems to have been considered a sort of
wierd hobby... Take a look at John French's _Art of Distillation_
Which is basically on the practical aspects of alchemy:

Also see this history of alchemy:

So one could dabble in alchemy, presumably, as long as one didn't 'go over
the line'...

-- Jadwiga Zajaczkowa, mka Jennifer Heise jenne at mail.browser.net

Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2002 09:31:17 -0500
From: "Pafra & Scott Catledge" <scplc at i-55.com>
To: <sca-arts at raven.cc.ku.edu>
Subject: Re: Alchemy

Note that John French dates to 1650--very late in the gray
area (although I use him myself for a reference).  His
practices update but are substantially based on the much
earlier Arnaldus de Villa Nova, who documented the
production of a substance (alcohol) from many forms of
living matter.  He considered this the fifth essential
element, joining air, earth, fire, and water.

Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2002 09:25:26 -0500
From: "Pafra & Scott Catledge" <scplc at i-55.com>
To: <sca-arts at raven.cc.ku.edu>
Subject: Re: Alchemy

>I have a question; I plan to put my hands on alchemy, and I know
> it's perfectly allright if you go to a scadian and say "hey my
> art is alchemy" -- but what about roleplaying? I mean, if someone's
> persona was a witch, the others would be supposed to burn her
> and have a fiesta, or they could ask her "ok, so show us".
> Same thing as we all play nobles, I suppose.
> *gundrid

I am confused.  I freely admit that in the Middle Ages that
burning witches was as common as impaling homosexuals. but
what does any of that have to do with alchemy?  Alchemy was
a series of chemical operations guided by theories of the
nature of matter and directed by astrological and/or
religious ideas--Hellenistic, Islamic, Nestorian, and
culminating in the works of Arnaldus de Villa Nova, Albertus
Magnus, and Roger Bacon.  I am not familiar with any
widespread Wiccan beliefs concerning the nature of matter
and its transmutation.  I can tell you that alchemists did
not discuss their work--even with other alchemists:  all
knowledge acquired was considered a closely held trade
secret. If you truly believed that one day you would
discover how to change lead into gold, would you run around
sharing your secrets and risk someone beating you to your
dreams of wealth and power?  When a SCAdian alchemists role
plays, I would think that the role would relate to that of a
dyer or metal caster--the two most common related trades by
which alchemists supported themselves.  Of course, most
dyers and all metal casters kept the details of their work
to themselves.  In short, an alchemist would "pass" as a
self-educated skilled tradesperson (who would not boast of
being literate) or as an educated noble with no visible
connection to anything alchemical.  As a woman, I would
suggest dyer as your cover occupation; as a noblewoman, you
could get away with reading current works on general alchemy
and having philosophical discussions on the nature of matter
with other ladies so inclined.  

Colm Dubh

Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2002 10:31:50 -0500
From: "Pafra & Scott Catledge" <scplc at i-55.com>
To: <sca-arts at raven.cc.ku.edu>
Subject: Re: Alchemy

> > and its transmutation.  I can tell you that alchemists did
> > not discuss their work--even with other alchemists:  all
> > knowledge acquired was considered a closely held trade
> > secret.
> Um. Dumb question: if alchemists didn't discuss their work, how come there
> are printed books from our period (pre 1600) on it?
> --
> Jadwiga Zajaczkowa, mka Jennifer Heise

Not a dumb question at all. The notebooks kept by alchemists used allegorical or made-up names for every apparatus, procedure, or reagent used in order to confuse even fellow alchemists who could only guess--only the seven metals (gold, silver, copper, tin, mercury, iron, lead--corresponding to the seven heavenly bodies:(sun , moon, and five planets) were commonly identified by common astrological symbols. Such manuscripts were usually attributed to a classical, mythological, or Biblical hero and were frequently distributed after the death of the alchemist.

The confusion found in many early manuscripts was compounded when the mystical alchemists added their philosophy and interpretation to such writings. The Physica et Mystica, the writings of Zosimus of Panopolis, and 40-odd other manuscripts of the 3rd-6th century were collected in Constantinople around the 7th-8th. The results are very difficult to read or translate and harder to interpret. The works of later alchemists were normally available only after their deaths: the works of Arnaldus de Villa Nova were published several centuries later.

Note that the common man and the noble were essentially illiterate in period, and the greatest library in England might have a few hundred books until after the printing press. Just because a book was in someone's library did not mean that anyone had read it--much less that the information was up for common knowledge.


Date: Sat, 31 Aug 2002 05:18:43 -0500
From: "Patricia Hefner" <p.hefner at worldnet.att.net>
To: <sca-arts at raven.cc.ku.edu>
Subject: Re: Alchemy

I have a primary alchemy source on my site. It's called "the Book of
Quintessence" and was written around  1450. The URL is
and "Quintessence" is in the first category, "General Research".


Date: Tue, 6 Apr 2004 11:54:07 -0400
From: Jadwiga Zajaczkowa / Jenne Heise <jenne at fiedlerfamily.net>
Subject: [SCA-AS] [jahb at Lehigh.EDU: IRN: Alchemy]
To: SCA Herbalist list <SCA-Herbalist at yahoogroups.com>, Arts and
Sciences in the SCA <artssciences at lists.gallowglass.org>

Reviewed on Internet Resource Newsletter...

ALCHEMY <http://www.cix.co.uk/%7Eapritchard/>


?The major bibliography on alchemy (Alchemy: a bibliography of
English-language writings) is to be updated and published on a web
site as the 2nd (Internet) edition.

It is very much an ongoing project and will be focussing on new
material, and on the wealth of material made available on the
Internet. Material from the 1st edition will gradually be
incorporated, in order to provide a comprehensive resource on both the
alchemical and Hermetic source literature, and the influences of
alchemical thought and imagery on many aspects of Western culture.
----- End forwarded message -----
-- Jadwiga Zajaczkowa, Knowledge Pika

Date: Thu, 11 Nov 2004 12:33:45 -0500
From: "Martin G. Diehl" <mdiehl at nac.net>
Subject: [Sca-cooks] Alchemy
To: SCA-cooks at ansteorra.org
Cc: BethAnn A Bretter <bethann.bretter at bms.com>

BethAnn A Bretter's Ravens recently whispered:

Ironically enough, whilst searching for herbalism
info I came upon this website which has some of
the most intriguing Alchemical texts both period
and post-period.

Including one from Arnald de Villanova.




Date: Thu, 11 Mar 2010 15:25:15 +1100
From: Raymond Wickham <insidious565 at hotmail.com>
Subject: [Lochac] borax alternate name
To: <lochac at lochac.sca.org>

An English author wrote in 1569: "There is to be found in the heads of old
and great toads a stone they call borax or stelon, which being used in
a ring gives a forewarning against venom"
"see the article by E.A. Armstrong in Man, Myth and Magic p.2856."

Here is an article on the nature of the black toad

From: "Ceridwen" <keridwen at cox.net>
Date: November 10, 2011 9:05:39 PM CST
To: <the-triskele-tavern at googlegroups.com>
Subject: Re: {TheTriskeleTavern} Alchemy

Look up "Natural Magick" by John Baptista Porta - late period and almost the beginnings of real science, but enough of the alchemical beliefs to get you started.


Date: Fri, 11 Nov 2011 17:43:27 +1100
From: Ian Whitchurch <ian.whitchurch at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Lochac] washable, 24-carat cloth-of-gold
To: "The Shambles: the SCA Lochac mailing list"
<lochac at lochac.sca.org>

As part of a compound, aluminium is well known in alchemy - "Alum of
Yemen" is aluminium sulphate, and per Gerber, as the Latins called
Jabir ibn Hayyan, Aqua Fortis is made by equal parts of that and
vitriol of cyprus and two parts of saltpetre (*).

That said, I havent ever found aluminium as a metal referenced in any
of my dodgy and unreliable sources, mostly because all the planets
already have their own metal, and so any new metals would therefore
need a new planet to rule them.

Anton de Stoc
At Rowanie
XI novembre c+e

<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org