Welcome to my new blog post series which will have a medieval theme. The first post is called alchemy, looking at a little bit of the history and what alchemy actually is. Keep checking my blog on a daily basis to find new posts about various medieval topics which will cover things like medieval mythology, knights, castles, dragons, wizards and so much more!
Alchemy – ‘The medieval forerunner of chemistry, concerned with the transmutation of matter, in particular with attempts to convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir.’
Philosophers stone – A mythical substance purported to transform metals into gold. Also called the elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and achieving immortality. It was for many centuries the most sought after goal in alchemy. The Philosophers stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolising perfection at its finest, enlightenment, and heavenly bliss. Efforts to discover the stone were know as the Magnum Opus.
In 1666, the English mathematician, astronomer and natural philosopher, Sir Isaac newton made a great discovery about light and colour. He observed that when light passed through a prism it produced an array of colours, a rainbow of colours. He was fascinated and believed that it had a close relationship to the concept known as the ‘vegetable spirit.’ Through his life, and research into alchemy and nature, he hoped to uncover the secrets of this vegetable spirit, a spirit of life.
The main goal or mission of medieval alchemists was to find a way to create gold and the elixir of life. Alchemy is traceable back to the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks. At one point there was a huge issue with fake gold, said to have been created using mere alloys, which led to the Roman Empire Emporor Diocletian ordering for the destruction of every single text that covered the making of gold or other metal work.
In 1317 Pope John XXII issued the Bull “Spondent quas non exhibent” banning alchemy. In 1403 the English King Henry IV had banned the practice of alchemy without a license, granting licenses to those trustworthy enough to attempt to actually make gold.
John Dee, one of the more recognisable names in alchemical history, was an English mathematician, alchemist, astrologer, teacher and occultist. He was an advisor to Queen Elizabeth the 1st. Most of his time was devoted to the art of alchemy and in particular divination.
Above, he is performing an experiment for Queen Elizabeth I. His personal life: he married Jane Fromond in 1558, at 51 whilst she was 23. Together they had 8 children. His wife passed when the bubonic plague swept through Manchester, taking 2 of their children as well.
In 1553 he had been arrested and charged with casting the horoscope of Queen Mary Tudor. He was accused of trying to kill her with sorcery. He was imprisoned in Hampton Court that same year, but released just 2 years later, in 1555. In 1556 Queen Mary gave him a full pardon. He later went on to become one of the more trusted advisors to the Queen Elizabeth. Dee was too intrigued by the philosophers stone.
He later met Edward Kelley, an occultist and medium. The two men worked together using ‘spiritual conferences’ involving prayer, fasting and eventual communication with the angels. Kelley informed Dee that the angel Uriel had instructed them to share everything, including their wives. They parted and Dee returned to the Queen to petition for a role in the court. She appointed him warden of Christ’s College in Manchester. During his role there, several priests had contacted him regarding demonic possession of children.
Dee retired after the death of the Queen, returning to his home on the River Thames. He died in 1608 at 82 in poverty under the care of his daughter, Katherine. The massive collection of books and manuscripts, notebooks and others which detailed those ‘spiritual conferences’ between Dee, Kelley and the angels were discovered. It chronicled the life of Tudor England, which was closely connected to magic and metaphysics, despite the anti-occult sentiment at the time.
Alchemy, still used today to advance medicine and our understanding of the world and of life, albeit called chemistry.
Thanks for taking the time to read todays post. This is the first in a series of posts about medieval England. If you liked this, then please like and comment below or share, which is always welcomed. The next episode will be on Knights.