On Alchemy, Deception, and the Notes Left Behind

Happy New Year everyone! I’m B. Key. After a July 2021 guest post describing the evocation of Faust’s Mightiest Sea-Spirit, Sfinga and Salt, two of my best friends, graciously invited me to become a third author for this blog. To kick things off, I decided to develop a brief miscellany of sorcerous chemistry and external alchemy. By day I’m a biochemist, so this blend of interests never fails to stir the spirit to put pen to paper.

For the past two millennia, alchemy, with its myriad and diverse cultural interpretations, has been practiced in an uninterrupted and ever evolving march toward inner and outer reunification with divinity. Forming medicines and other precious substances from baser materials, lengthening our lives to the point of immortality, wielding magic, commanding spirits, and deepening our connection to the Gods are not without pitfalls. In these ~2200 years, the chase continues to leave the fragmented notes and the emperors, philosophers, physicians, and chemists who penned them in behind, all reunified with the divine in death, instead of life.

To pick up the fragments of the past and piece them back together again, and to add our own scrap to the pile in hopes that one may, some day, craft from it the Philosopher’s Stone, drink from the Font of Life, see Gold in the crucible instead of Lead, is unto itself a goal both most high and tantalizingly attainable. From these records, we find a both a “science simply composed of one and by one, naturally conjoining things more precious, by knowledge and effect, and converting them by a natural commixtion into a better kind” (Roger Bacon, The Mirror of Alchemy), as well as “…the knavery and confederacy of conjurors, the impious blasphemy of enchanters, the fruitless beggerly art of alchimistry, and the horrible art of poisoning” (Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft).

For Hermes said of this Science: Alchemy is a Corporal Science simply composed of one and by one, naturally conjoining things more precious, by knowledge and effect, and converting them by a natural commixtion into a better kind.

Roger Bacon, The Mirror of Alchemy

Ahead is a small collection of personal techniques, selected to demonstrate sorcerous applications, both duplicitous and sincere, of chemical materia and the synthesis thereof. With the guidance and inspiration of spirit and deity, each of these works will take on a life of its own, as all things shall, and become a gateway to new endeavors, each as disparate and expansive as the notes left behind.

A disclaimer: The following experiments involve the use of strong acids, caustic solutions, powerful oxidizing agents, heavy metals, and their products. It is extremely dangerous to attempt any of the following, especially if you do not have formal laboratory training and an environment with the equipment and space to carry out these experiments in a contained and professional manner. Of special concern is the experiment by which one can see a serpent—if deciphered and enacted, the byproducts and waste created by this reaction are extremely dangerous, highly toxic, difficult to clean, require specialized facilities to dispose of, AND some may be regulated in your municipality.

Pieter Bruegel the Younger | The Alchemist (ca. 1600) | Artsy
Pieter Bruegel the Younger, The Alchemist (ca. 1600)

To have 30 Pieces of Silver
Take up your Copper, and wash it in a mixture of good vinegar and salt in excess until impurities have fled. In a good flask, dissolve lye, about 12 grams, into 100 ml of water that has been distilled, and heat, but do not boil. Once warm, add granules and fragments of Zinc. Dry your Copper of vinegar, and add it to the lye, atop the Zinc.

Your Copper shall be Silver, after half of an hour. On Holy Wednesday, take up this silver in your left hand, ideally during the darkness of Tenebrae, and kiss an icon of Christ. Turn, and do not look back until you arrive at a potter’s field. Bury the coins, begging the spirits of place take them, which they will refuse if all is done properly. Leave the place, and return only to unearth them at the dawn of Easter Sunday. Know that these coins are now of great use in trafficking with spirits, especially those who shun the Lord. To have Gold from this Silver, heat it upon a plate.

To Transmute Lead into Gold
Add Aqua Fortis to an equal measure of pure water, and toss in some Lead shot. Heat until the Lead is gone. Boil pure water, and add to this one gram of Potassium Iodide, a splash of good vinegar, and the humor of Lead. As this cools, it shall take on the luster of Gold, until Gold itself falls like snow out of the menstruum. It shall snow for one day and one night, until it can be recovered.

To Have Stigmata
Baptize the Salt born of Potash and Sulfur and apply him to your palm. Take up the stone Molysite, reduce him to dust, baptize him, and apply him to the other. Pray fervently, and know stigmata shall appear without damage to the hand.

To See an Evil Serpent
Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings, this secret of secrets, hidden from the eyes of all but God. Hear, O my son, the Serpent of the Garden has not strayed far from his Bride our Mother. Hear, O my son, that His sons Salt and Mercury stalk the Earth. Hear, O my son, that those same serpents conjured to thwart Moses may be called through our Art at great peril to Body and Soul!

Aqua Fortis, itself distilled, shall feast upon Mercury, and emit a miasma so potent as to ravage the lungs of beasts. From him, his brother, Salt, shall be born a Red Oroboros. Boil Him to free the White tail from a Black mouth and return him to the Water of His birth, but know that he too will bring an equally perilous miasma.

Baptize Him, and with Him cast Salt born from the marriage of Potash and Sulfur. Know, O my son, A plague of Fog shall descend upon the land, and know He is in it. Take Him into the desert, as Enoch, and exorcise him with Fire. An Evil Serpent shall appear before you, and know He will escape you by shedding His skin. Hear, O my son, that all parts of Him are corruption.

Michael Maier, Mary the Jewess, from Symbola Aurea Mensae Duodecim Nationum (1617)

To Know the Weather by means of a Wonderful Vessel
Add 900 mL of good spirits (100 proof vodka works well), three blocks of Camphor, 30 grams of Saltpeter, and 30 Grams of Sal Ammoniac to a pot and heat until all is dissolved. Decant this liquid into a clear glass vessel, leaving some air, and seal. Allow to rest outdoors for a night, and know the liquid inside now produces wonderful omens by which to know the weather, which are as follows:

  • If it is clear, the weather will be as clear
  • If it is cloudy, the weather will be as cloudy
  • If it is cloudy and there are small stars, the weather will be perilous
  • If there are stars, expect fog. If it is winter and the sun shines, expect snow
  • If there are large flakes throughout, it will be overcast, and may bring snow
  • If there are crystals at the bottom, expect frost
  • If there are threads near the top, expect wind

To refresh the vessel, heat him in a bath until the liquid within is clear of all debris, and let him rest overnight once more. Know the vessel must always rest outdoors away from sunlight, lest he cease to function.

To Harm and Bring to Obedience Those Spirits That Conjure Tempests Before The Circle (twice proven)
Mix together 6 parts saltpeter, 4 parts sugar, some Sulfur, and some Asafoetida, then cast some of this upon the fire with this exorcism:

Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord,
and he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld,
and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace into the eyes and nose and mouth and lungs of NN.
And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain,
He destroyed the enchantments, beguilements, deceptions, deceits, and of NN
and filled the eyes and nose and mouth and lungs of NN with the Fire and Brimstone
which is prepared for all rebellious disobedient obstinate and pertinacious spirits
.

To have a Luminous Phial
Heat almond oil in a vessel. Add to it phosphorous, 12 grains per half ounce of oil. Allow the oil to cool, then decant into phials until mostly, but not entirely filled. When uncorked, the phial shall glow.

To Have Mercury
MIx a liter of pure water with about 400 grams lye. Add Sulfur, about 50 grams. Apply heat until he is gone, then allow to cool. It will appear as Blood. Add Cinnabar and wait. Add Aluminium, pounded thin, by parts until it is in excess. Add an equal volume of pure water. Allow to rest for one night, then decant the menstruum. Wash him with water; repeat until impure mercury is seen. To purify him, wash him in a bath of Potassium Permanganate. Again with water until pure. Wash in a bath of diluted Aqua Fortis. Wash again with water until pure. Filter and recover the Mercury, now pure.

To have a Pigment favored by Venus and her Spirits
MIx 256 grams of Blue Vitriol with 700 ml pure water in a flask and heat. Mix 96 grams of Soda Ash with 300 ml of pure water in a flask and heat. Once both are liquefied, add the second to the first in many small parts. Allow to rest for one night, then recover the pigment by filtration. Boil away the fluid that passes through the filter to yield strong Natron.

To have the Oil of Vitriol
Burn Sulfur and Saltpeter together in the presence of steam.

A reading list and selection of sources:
Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Joseph H. Peterson – Three Books of Occult Philosophy (2000)
Al-Razi, Gerard of Cremona – Liber Luminis luminum (1974)
Roger Bacon – The Mirror of Alchemy (1597)
Henry Beasley – The Druggist’s General Receipt Book, 9th Edition (1886)
T. L. Davis – Pyrotechnic Snakes, Journal of Chemical Education (1940)
Ekmeleddin İhsanoglu (ed.) – Cultural Contacts in Building A Universal Civilization: Islamic Contributions (2005)
Jerry Alan Johnson – Daoist Mineral Magic (2006)
Jerry Alan Johnson – Daoist Internal Alchemy: Neigong & Weigong Training (2014)
David A. Katz – An Illustrated History of Alchemy and Early Chemistry (1978)
Albertus Magnus, Joseph H. Peterson – Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus (2006)
Lawrence M. Principe – Chymists and Chymistry: Studies in the History of Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry (2007)
Reginald Scot – The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584)
Christopher Warnock, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold – The Book of the Treasure of Alexander: Ancient Hermetic Alchemy and Astrology (2012)
Martha Windholz (ed.) – The Merck Index: An Encyclopedia of Chemicals and Drugs, 9th Edition (1976)