Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker


Week 3.  Generation

The Art of Distillation... (1651)
by John French (c. 1616-1657)


The Spagyricall [Alchemical] Anatomie of Water.

Ater seems to be a body so very Homogeneall, as if neither Nature or Art could discover any Heterogeneity in the parts thereof:  thus indeed it seems to the eye of the vulgar, but to that of a Philosopher far otherwise, as I shall endeavor to make credible by presenting to your consideration a twofold process of the discovering the dissimilary parts thereof; whereof the one is naturall only, and the other artificiall.  But before I speak of either, it must be premised, that in the element of Water there is great plenty of the spirit of the World, which is more predominant in it then in any other element, for the use and benefit of universall nature; and that this spirit hath three distinct substances, viz. Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury.  Now by salt we must understand a substance very dry, vitall, and radicall, having in it the beginning of corporification, as I may call it:  by Sulphur, a substance ful of light and vital heat, or vivifying fire, containing in it self the beginning of motion:  by Mercury a substance abounding with radical moisture, with which the Sulphur of life, or vital fire, is cherished and preserved....  [A]ll things are produced out of Water:  for Water is both the Sperme, and the Menstruum of the world; the former, because it includes the seed of everything; the latter, because the Sperme of Nature is putrefied in it, that the seed included in it should be actuated, and take upon it the divers Formes of things; and because by it the seed it self, and all things produced of seed, grow, and are encreased....

The Spawne of Frogs is produced after this manner, viz. the Sulphur which is in the Water, being by the heat of the Sun resolved, and dissolved, is greedily, and with delight conceived by the Element of Water, even as the Sperme of a Male is by the Matrix of the Female, and that upon this account.  The water wants siccity [dryness] which the Sulphur hath, and therefore exceedingly desiring it, doth greedily attract it to it self:  Sulphur also wants humidity, and therefore attracts the humidity of the Water:  Moreover, the humidity of the water hath the humidity of the Salt laid up occultly in it:  also, the Sulphur cherisheth the humidity of the fire, and desires nothing more than the humidity of the Salt that is in the Water.  Sulphur also contains the siccity of the Salt, whence it is that Salt requires a siccity from the Sulphur.  And thus do these attractive vertues mutually act upon each others subject.  Now, by this means there is a conception made in the water which now begins to be turgid, puffed up, and troubled, as also to be grosser and more slimie, until out of the spermatick vessels the spermes be cast upward, in which spermes after a while appeare black specks, which are the seed of the Frogs and by the heat of the Sun, are in a short time turned into the same, by which it appears there are dissimilary parts in water.

Stones are produced out of Water that hath a Mucilaginous [slimy or sticky] Mercury, which the Salt, with which it abounds, fixes into Stones.  This you may see cleared by putting stones into water, for they will after a time contract a mucilaginous slimy matter which, being taken out of the water and set in the Sun, becomes to be of a stony nature.  And whence come those stones, gravel, and sand which we see in Springs? they are not washed down out of the Mountains and Hills (as some think) from whence the waters spring, neither were they in the earth before the Springs brake forth (as some imagine) and now appear by washing away of the earth from them; for if you dig round about the springs, even beyond the heads of them, you shall find no stones at all in the earth, only in the veins thereof through which the water runs; Now, the reason of the smalnesse of these stones, is the continual motion of the water, which hinders them from being united into a continued bignesse.  I shall make a further confirmation of this in the artificial processe of manifesting the Heterogeneity of Water.  I shal here only adde the assertion of Helmont [Belgian natural philosopher, chemist and physician, Jan Baptista van Helmont (1579-1644)], saying that with his Altahest [sic; Alkahest] all stones, and, indeed all things may be turned into Water?  If so, then you know what the Maxime is, viz. All things may be resolved into that from whence they had their beginning.

Vegetables are produced out of Water, as you may clearly see by the Waters sending forth Plants that have no roots fixed in the bottom; of which sort is the Hearb called Duck-weed, which putteth forth a little string into the Water, which is as it were the root thereof.  For the confirmation of this, that this Hearb may be produced out of meer Water, there is a Gentleman at this time in the City, of no small worth, that saith he had fair water standing in a glass divers yeares, and at last a Plant sprang out of it.  Also, if you put some Plants, as Water-mint, &c. into a glass of fair water, it wil germinate, and shoot out into a great length, and also take root in the Water, which root will in a short time be so encreased, and extended, as to fill up the glass:  but you must remember that you put fresh water into the glasse once in two or three dayes.  Hereunto also, may be added the experiment of Helmont concerning the growth of a tree; For (saith he) I took two hundred pound weight of earth dryed in an oven, and put it into a vessel, in which I set a Willow tree which weighed five pound, which, by the addition of water to the earth, did in five years time grow to such a bignesse, as that it weighed one hundred sixty nine pound; at which time I also dryed and weighed the earth, and within two ounces it retained its former weight.  Besides, the ancients have observed that some Hearbs have grown out of snow, being putrefied:  and do not we see that all Vegetables are nourished, and increased with an insipid water, for what else is their juice?  If you cut a Vine in the month of March, it wil drop divers gallons of insipid water, which water if it had remained in the trunk of the Vine would in a little time have been digested into leaves, stalks, and grapes, which grapes also by a further maturation would have yeelded a Wine, out of which you might have extracted a burning spirit; Now, I say, although this insipid water be by the specificall Sulphur and Salt of the Vine fixed into the stalks, leaves, and grapes of the Vine, yet these give it not a corporificative [body building] matter, for that it had before, and an aptitude and potentiality to become what afterwards it proves to be:  for indeed stalks, leaves, and grapes were potentially in it before, all which now it becomes to be actually by vertue of the Sun, and of the aforesaid Sulphur and Salt, whereof the latter were originally in the smal seed, and therefore as I said could not adde any bulk to them.

Moreover, doe not we see that when things are burnt and putrefied, they ascend up into the air by way of vapour, and fume, and then descend by way of insipid dew, or rain?  Now, what do all these signifie but that from water are all things produced, and in it are dissimilary parts?....

The famous Arcanum [secret remedy], or restorative Medicament of Paracelsus, called his Homunculus.

FIrst we must understand that there are three acceptions of the word Homunculus [literally, "little man"] in Paracelsus [German chemist and physician, Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (c. 1493-1541)], which are these.

1. Homunculus is a superstitious image made in the place or name of any one, that it may contain an Astrall and invisible man, wherefore it was made for a superstitious use.

2. Homunculus is taken for an artificiall man, made of Sperma humanum Masculinum [human semen], digested into the shape of a man, and then nourished and encreased with the essence of mans bloud; and this is not repugnant to the possibility of Nature and Art.  But is one of the greatest wonders of God which He ever did suffer mortall man to know.  I shall not here set down the full processe because I think it unfit to be done, at least to be divulged:  besides neither this nor the former is for my present purpose.

3. Homunculus is taken for a most excellent Arcanum or Medicament extracted by the spagyricall Art from the chiefest staffe of the naturall life in man, and according to this acception I shall here speak of it:  But before I show you this processe, I shall give you an account why this Medicament is called Homunculus; and it is this.

No wise man will deny that the staffe of life is the nutriment thereof, and that the chiefest nutriment is Bread and Wine, being ordained by God, and nature above all other things for the sustentation thereof.  Besides Paracelsus preferred this nutriment for the generation of the bloud and spirits, and the forming thence the Sperm of this Homunculus.  Now, by a suitable allusion the nutriment is taken for the life of man ,and especially because it is transmuted into life:  and again the life is taken for the man, for unlesse a man be alive he is not a man, but the carcasse only of a man, and the basest part thereof, which cannot perfectly be taken for the whole man, as the noblest part may.  In as much therefore as the nutriment, or aliment of life may be called the life of man, and the life of man be called man; this nutriment extracted out of Bread and Wine, and being by digestion exalted into the highest purity of a nutritive substance, and consequently becoming the life of man, being so potentially, may Metaphorically be called Homunculus.

The processe, which in part shall be set down allegorically is thus:  Take the best Wheat and the best Wine, of each a like quantity, put them into a glasse, which you must hermetically close [completely seal; make air-tight]:  then let them putrefie in horse dung three days, or until the Wheat begins to germinate, or to sprout forth, which then must be taken forth and bruised in a Mortar, and be pressed through a linnen cloth, and there will come forth a white juice like milk; you must cast away the feces [this procedure is viewed as akin to digestion, hence the name for the solid waste produced]:  Let this juice be put into a glasse, which must not be above half full; stop it close and set it in horse dung as before, for the space of fifty days. If the heat be temperate, and not exceeding the naturall heat of a man, the matter will be turned into a spagyricall bloud, and flesh, like an Embryo.  This is the principal, and next matter out of which is generated a twofold sperm, viz. of the father and mother, generating the Homunculus, without which there can be made no generation, whether humane or animal.

A simple arrangement for distilling in Balneo [literally, bath]:  a kettle [A] -- filled with water, sand or ashes -- is placed on an elevated metal stand under which a fire can be easily built; a narrow-necked glass container, or alembic [B], is filled with the material to be distilled and placed in the kettle; a cap, or head [C], is placed over the alembic's mouth to capture and condense the emitted vapors and conduct the resulting liquid to the collecting bottle, or receiver [D].

From the bloud, and flesh of this Embryo let the water be separated in Balneo, and the air in ashes, and both be kept by themselves.  Then to the feces of the latter distillation, let the water of the former distillation be added, both which must ... putrefie in Balneo the space of ten days, after this, distill the water the second time ... together with the fire, in ashes, then distill off this water in a gentle Balneo, and in the bottom remains the fire which must be distilled in ashes.  Keep both these a part.  And thus you have the four Elements separated from the Chaos [the Greek name for the formlessness which preceded the ordering of the universe; for alchemists it represented the first principle; the basis for van Helmont's word "gas"] first principle; that which preceded all things] of the Embryo.

The feculent [literally, feces-filled] earth is to be reverberated [fired at a high temperature in a furnace] in a close vessel for the space of four days:  In the interim, distil off the fourth part of the first distillation in Balneo, and cast it away; the other three parts distill in ashes, and pour it upon the reverberated earth, and distill it in a strong fire; cohobate [redistill] it four times, and so you shall have a very clear water which you must keep by it self:  Then pour the air on the same earth, and distil it in a strong fire, and there will come over a clear, splendid, odoriferous water, which must be kept apart:  After this pour the fire upon the first water, and putrefie them together in Balneo the space of three days, then put them into a Retort and distil them in sand, and there will come over a water tasting of the fire:  let this water be distilled in Balneo, and what distils off, keep by it self, as also what remains in the bottome, which is the fire, and keep by it self.  This last distilled water pour again upon its earth, and let them be macerated [softened or broken up by soaking in liquid] together in Balneo for the space of three days, and then let all the water be distilled in sand, and let what will arise be separated in Balneo, and the residence [residual] remaining in the bottome be reserved with the former residence.  Let the water be again poured upon the earth, be abstracted, and separated as before, untill nothing remains in the bottom, which is not separated in Balneo.  This being done, let the water which was last separated be mixed with the residue of its fire, and be macerated in Balneo three or four dayes, and all be distilled in Balneo, that can ascend with that heat, and let what remains be distilled in ashes from the fire, and what shall be elevated is aeriall; and what remains in the bottome is fiery.  These two last Liquors are ascribed to the two first principles, the former to Mercury, and the latter to Sulphur, and are accounted by Paracelsus, not as elements but their vitall parts, being as it were the natural spirits and soul, which are in them by nature.  Now, both are to be rectified, and reflected into their center with a circular motion, that this Mercury may be prepared with its water being kept clear, and odoriferous in the upper place, but the Sulphur by it self.

Now, it remains that we look into the third principle:  let the reverberated earth, being ground upon a marble imbibe its owne water, which did above remain after the last separation of the Liquors made in Balneo, so that this be the fourth part of the weight of its earth, and be congealed by the heat of ashes into its earth, and let this be done so oft, the proportion being observed, untill the earth hath drunk up all its water.  And lastly, let this earth be sublimed into a white powder, as white as snow, the feces being cast away.  This earth, being sublimed, and freed from its obscurity, is the true Chaos of the elements, for it contains those things occult, seeing it is the salt of nature, in which they lye hid, being as it were reflected in their center.  This is the third principle of Paracelsus, and the salt, which is the matrix, in which the two former sperms, viz. of the man and woman, the parents of the Homunculus, viz. of Mercury and Sulphur, are to be put, and to be closed up together in a glazed womb sealed with Hermes seals for the true generation of the Homunculus produced from the spagyricall Embryo:  and this is the Homunculus or great Arcanum, otherwise called the nutritive Medicament of Paracelsus.

This Homunculus or nutritive Medicament is of such vertue that presently after it is taken into the body, it is turned into bloud and spirits.  If then diseases prove mortall because they destroy the spirits, what mortal disease can withstand such a medicine, that doth so soon repair, and so strongly fortifie the spirits as this Homunculus being as the oyl to the flame, into which it is immediately turned, thereby renewing the same?  By this Medicament therefore, as diseases are overcome, and expelled, so also youth is renewed, and gray hairs prevented.

An Artificiall way to make Flesh.

TAke of the crumbs of the best wheaten bread as soon as it comes out of the Oven, being very hot, as much as you please, put it into a glasse vessell, which you must presently hermetically close.  Then set it in digestion in a temperate Balneo the space of two months, and it will be turned into a fibrous flesh.

If any artist should please to exalt it to a higher perfection according to the Rules of Art, he may find out, how great a nourisher and restorative Wheat is, and what an excellent medicine it may make.

Note that there must be no other moisture put into the glass besides what is in the bread it self.

Paracelsus, his way for the raising of a dead bird to life, and for the generating
many Serpents of one, both which are performed by purtefaction

A Bird is restored to life thus, viz.  Take a Bird, put it alive into a gourd glasse, and seal it hermetically, burn it to ashes in the third degree of fire, then putrefie it in horse dung into a mucilaginous flegm, and so by a continued digestion that flegm must be brought to a further maturity (being taken out, and put into an ovall vessell of a just bignesse to hold it) by an exact digestion, and will so become a renewed bird:  which, saith Paracelsus is one of the greatest wonders in Nature, and shews the great virtue of putrefaction.

Cut a Serpent into small pieces, which put into a gourd glasse which you must Hermetically seal up, then putrefie them in horse dung, and the whole Serpent will become living again in the glasse, in the form either of worms or spawne of fishes; Now, if these worms be in a fitting manner, brought out of putrefaction and nourished; many hundred Serpents will be bred out of one Serpent, whereof every one will be as big as the first.  And as it is said of the Serpent, so also many other living creatures may be raised, and restored again....

To make a vegetable grow and become more glorious then any of its species.

REduce any vegetable into its three first principles, and then joyne them together again, being well purified [sic; putrefied?], and put the same into a rich earth, and you shall have it produce a vegetable far more glorious than any of its species....

To make a Plant grow in two or three houres.

TAke the ashes of Mosse, moisten them with the juice of an old dunghill being first pressed forth, and streined, then dry them a little, and moisten them as before, do this four or five times, put this mixture, being neither very dry, nor very moist, into some earthen or metalline vessell; and in it set the seeds of Lettice, Purslain or Parsly (because they will grow sooner than other Plants) being first impregnated with the essence of a vegetable of its own species, ... until they begin to sprout forth, then I say, put them in the said earth with that end upwards which sprouts forth:  Then put the vessell into a gentle hea[t], and when it begins to dry moisten it with some of the said juyce of dung.

Thou maiest by this meanes have a Sallet grow whilest supper is making ready.

To make the Idea of any Plant appear in a glasse, as if the very plant it selfe were there.

...[I]f you put the flame of a candle to the bottome of the glass where the essence is, by which it may be made hot, you will see that thin substance which is like impalpable ashes or salt send forth from the bottom of the glasse the manifest forme of a vegetable, vegetating and growing by little, and little, and putting on so fully the form of stalkes, leaves, and flowers in such perfect, and naturall wise in apparent shew, that any one would believe verily the same to be naturally corporeall, when as, in truth it is the spiritual Idea, endued with a spirituall essence; which serves for no other purpose, but to be matched with its fitting earth, that so it may take unto it self a more solid body.  This shadowed figure as soon as the vessell is taken from the fire, returnes to its ashes again and vanisheth away, becoming a Chaos, and confused matter.

To make Firr-trees appear in Turpentine.

TAke as much Turpentine as you please, put it into a Retort, distill it by degrees, when all is distilled off, keep the Retort still in a reasonable heat, so that what humidity is still remaining may be evaporated and it become dry:  Then take this off from the fire and hold your hand to the bottome of the Retort, and the Turpentine that is dried ... will crack asunder in severall places, and in those crackes or chaps you shall see the perfect effigies of Firre-trees which will there continue many moneths....

To make artificial Pearle as glorious as any orientall.

DIssolve mother of Pearle in Spirit of vinegar [distilled acetic acid], then precipitate it with Oil of Sulphur per Campanum [concentrated sulfuric acid in solution], (and not with Oil of Tartar [concentrated potassium carbonate solution], for that takes away the splendor of it) which addes a lustre to it:  when it is thus precipitated, dry it, and mix it with whites of egges, and of this masse you may make Pearles of what bignesse or fashion you please:  before they be dryed, you may make holes through them, and when they be dryed they will not at all, or very hardly be discerned from true and naturall Pearles.

To make Steele grow in a glasse like a tree.

DIssolve Steele in a rectified Spirit of salt [hydrochloric acid], so shall you have a green and sweet solution, which smells like brimstone [sulfur], filter it, and abstract all the moisture in sand with a gentle heat, and there will distil over a Liquor as sweet as rain-water (for Steele by reason of its drynesse detaines the corosivenesse of the Spirit of salt, which remaineth in the bottome like a bloud red masse, which is as hot on the tongue as fire, dissolve this red masse in oil of flints, or of sand, and you shall see it grow up in two or three houres, like a tree with stemm and branches; prove this tree at the test, and it yeeldeth good gold, which this tree has drawn from the aforesaid oil of sand [potassium silicate] or flints, which hath a golden sulphur in it.


Shall first endeavour to show whence Gold had its originall, and what the matter thereof is.  As Nature (saith Sandivogius [Polish alchemist Michael Sendivogius (c.1566-c.1640)]) is in the will of God, and God created her:  so nature made for her selfe a seed, (i.) [i.e.; that is to say] her will in the elements.  Now she indeed is one, yet she brings forth divers things; but she operates nothing without a Sperme:  whatsoever the Sperme will, nature operates, for she is as it were the instrument of any artificers. The Sperme therefore of every thing is better, and more profitable than nature her self:  for thou shalt from nature do as much without a Sperme, doe as a much as a goldsmith without fire, or a husband without grain or seed.  Now the Sperme of any thing is the Elixir, the balsame of sulphur, and the same as Humidum Radicale [fundamental moisture which generates and sustains all living beings] is in metalls:  but to proceed to what concernes our purpose.  Four elements generate a Sperme, by the will of God, and imagination of nature:  For, as the Sperme of a man hath its center, or the vessell of its seed in the kidneys:  so the foure elements by their indefinite motion (every one according to its quality) cast forth a Sperme into the center of the earth, where it is digested, and by motion is sent abroad.  Now the center of the earth is a certaine empty place, where nothing can rest:  and the four elements send forth their qualities into the circumference of the center.  As a male sends forth his seed into the womb of the female, which, after it hath received a due portion, casts out the rest, so it happens in the center of the earth, that the magnetick powder [sic; power?] of a part of any place attracts something convenient to it selfe for the bringing forth of something, and the rest is cast forth into stones and other excrements.  For something hath its originall from this fountain, and there is nothing in the world produced but by this fountain:  as for example, set upon an even table a vessell of water, which may be placed in the middle thereof, and round about it set divers things, and divers colours, also salt, &c. every thing by it selfe:  then poure the water into the middle; and you shall see water to run every way, and when any streame toucheth the red colour, it will be made red by it, if the salt, it will contract the tast of salt from it, and so of the rest;  Now the water doth not change the places, but the diversity of places changeth the water.  In like manner the seed or sperme being cast forth by the foure elements from the center of the earth unto the superficies thereof, passeth through various places, and according to the nature of the place is any thing produced:  if it come to a pure place of earth, and water, a pure thing is made.

The seed, and sperme of all things is but one, and yet it generates divers things, as it appears by the former example.  The sperme whilest it is in the center is indifferent to all forms, but when it is come into any determinate place, it changeth no more its forme. The sperme whilest it is in the center can as easily produce a tree, as a metall, and an hearb as a stone, and one more precious then another according to the purity of the place.  Now this sperme is produced of elements thus.  These foure elements are never quiet but by reason of their contrariety mutually act one upon another; and every one of its selfe sends forth its own subtilty, and they agree in the center.  Now in this center is the Archaeus, the servant of nature, which mixing those spermes together sends them abroad, and by distillation sublimes them by the heat of a continuall motion unto the superficies of the earth:  For the earth is porous, and this vapour (or wind, as the philosophers call it) is by distilling through the pores of the earth resolved into water, of which all things are produced.  Let therefore as I said before, all sons of Art, know that the sperme of metals is not different from the sperme of all things being, viz. a humid vapor....   Now the specification of this vapour into distinct metals is thus.  This vapor passeth in its distillation through the earth, through places either cold or hot; if through hot, and pure where the fatnesse of sulphur sticks to the sides thereof, then that vapour (which philosophers call the Mercury of philosophers [principle that makes all things live and grow]) mixeth, and joyneth it self unto that fatnesse, which afterward it sublimes with it selfe, and then it becomes, leaving the name of a vapour, an unctuosity, which afterwards coming by sublimation into other places, which the antecedent vapor did purge, where the earth is subtle, pure, and humid, fils the pores thereof, and is joyned to it; and so it becomes gold:  and where it is hot, and something impure, silver.  But if that fatnesse come to impure places, which are cold, it is made lead:  and if that place be pure and mixed with sulphur, it becomes copper:  for by how much the more pure and warm the place is, so much the more excellent doth it make the metalls.

Now this first matter of metals is a humid, viscous, incombustible, subtle substance, incorporated with an earth subtilty, being equally, and strongly mixed per minima in the caverns of the earth.  But as in many things, there is a twofold unctuosity (whereof one is as it were internall, retained in the center of the thing lest it should be destroyed by fire, which cannot be without the destruction of the substance it selfe wherein it is:  the other as it were externall, feculent, and combustible) so in all metalls except gold, there is a twofold unctuosity:  the one which is externall, sulphurous, and inflamable, which is joyned to it by accident, and doth not belong to the totall union with the terrestrial parts of the thing:  the other is internall, and very subtle, incombustible, because it is of the substantiall composition of Argent vive [literally, living silver or quicksilver; mercury], and therefore cannot be destroyed by fire, unlesse with the destruction of the whole substance, whence it appeares what the cause is that metalls are more or lesse durable in the fire:  For those which abound with that internall unctuosity are lesse consumed, as it appears in silver, and especially in gold....  Geber [Arab alchemist, Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan (c. 721-c. 815)] ... saith that imperfect bodies have superfluous humidities, and sulphureity generating a combustible blacknesse in them, and corrupting them; they have also an impure, feculent, and combustible terrestriety so grosse, as that it hinders ingression, and fusion:  but a perfect metall, as gold, hath neither this sulphurous or terrestrial impurity; I mean when it is fully maturated and melted, for whilest it is in concoction it hath both joyned to it, as you may see in the golden Ore, but when they do not adhere to it so, but that it may be purified from them, which other metalls cannot, but are both destroyed together if you attempt to separate the one from the other:  Besides gold hath so little of these corruptible principles mixed with it, that the inward sulphur or metalline spirit doth sometimes and in some places overcome them of it selfe, as we may see in the gold which is found very pure sometimes in the superficies of the earth, and in the sea sands, and is many times as pure as any refined gold.

Now this gold which is found in sands and rivers, is not generated there, as saith Gregorius Agricola [German metallurgist, Georg Bauer (1490-1555) known by his Latinized name, Georgius Agricola] in his third book de Re Metallica, but is washed down from the mountains with fountaines that run from thence.  There is also a flaming gold found (as Paracelsus saith) in the tops of mountaines, which is indeed separated of it selfe from all impurities, and is as pure as any refined gold whatsoever.  So that you see, that gold although it had an extrinsicall sulphur and earth mixed with it, yet it is sometimes separated from it of it selfe, viz. by that fiery spirit that is in it.  Now this pure gold (as saith Sandivogius) nature would have perfected into an elixir, but was hindred by the crude air, which crude air is indeed nothing else but that extrinsicall sulphur which it meets with and is joyned to in the earth, and which fills with its violence the pores thereof, and hinders the activity thereof; and this is that prison which the sulphur (as saith the aforesaid author) is locked up in, so that it cannot act upon its body, viz. Mercury, and concoct it into the seed of gold, as otherwise it would doe:  and this is that darke body ... that is interposed betwixt the philosophicall Sunne and Moone, and keeps off the influences of the one from the other.  Now if any skilfull philosopher could wittily separate this adventitious impurity from gold whilest it is yet living, he would set sulphur at liberty, and for this his service, he should be gratified with three kingdomes, viz. Vegetable, Animall, and Minerall, I mean he could remove that great obstruction which hinders gold from being digested into the Elixir.  For, as saith Sandivogius, the Elixir, or Tincture of philosophers, is nothing else but gold digested into the highest degree:  for the gold of the vulgar is as an hearb without seed, but when gold (i.) living gold (for common gold never can by reason that the Spirits are bound up, and indeed as good as dead and not possibly to be reduced to that activity which is required for the producing of the sperme of gold) is ripened it gives a seed, which multiplies even ad infinitum.  Now the reason of this barrennesse of gold that it produceth not a seed is the aforesaid crude aire, viz. impurities:  You may see this illustrated by this example.

We see that Orange-trees in Polonia [Poland] doe grow like other trees, also in Italy, and elsewhere, where their native soyle is, and yeeld fruit, because they have sufficient heat, but in these colder countreys they are barren and never yeeld any fruit, because they are oppressed with cold:  but if at any time, nature be wittily and sweetly helped, then Art can perfect what nature could not.  After the same manner it is in metalls; for gold would yeeld fruit, and seed in which it might multiply it selfe, if it were helped by the industry of the skilfull artist, who knew how to promote nature, (i.) to separate these sulphurous and earthly impurities from gold.  For there is a sufficient heat in living gold, which if it were stirred up by extrinsicall heat, to digest it into a seed.  By extrinsicall heat I doe not mean the heat of the celestiall Sun, but that heat which is in the earth and stirres up the seed, (i.) the living spirit that is in all subterraneall sperms to multiply, and indeed makes gold become gold.  Now this is a heat of putrefaction occasioned by acid spirits fermenting in the earth, as you may see by this example related by Albertus Magnus [German scholastic philosopher (c.1200-1280)], but to which the reason was given by Sandivogius. There was, saith the former author, certain graines of gold found betwixt the teeth of a dead man in the grave:  wherefore he conceived there was a power in the body of man to make and fixe gold:  but the reason is farre otherwise, as saith the latter authour:  for saith he, Argent vive was by some physitian conveyed into the body of this man when he was alive, either by unction, or by turbith, or some such way, as the custome was; and it is the nature of Mercury to ascend to the mouth of the patient, and through the excoriation of the mouth to be avoided with the flegme.  Now then if in such a cure the sick man dyed, that Mercury not having passage out remained betwixt the teeth in the mouth, and that carcasse became the naturall vessell of Mercury, and so for a long time being shut up was congealed by its proper sulphur into gold by the natural heat of putrefaction, being purified by the corrosive flegme of the carcasse, but if the minerall Mercury had not been brought in thither, gold had never been produced there:  And this is a most true example that as mercury is by the proper sulphur that is in it selfe, being stirred up and helped by an extrinsicall heat, coagulated into gold, unlesse it be hindred by any accident, or have not a requisite extrinsicall heat, or a convenient place, so also that nature doth in the bowels of the earth produce of Mercury only gold and silver, and other metalls according to the disposition of the place, and matrix; which assertion is further cleared by the rule of reduction, for if it be true that all things consist of that which they may be reduced into, then gold consists of Mercury, because (as most grant, Paracelsus affirmes, and many at this day professe they can doe) it may be reduced into it.  There is a way by which the tincture of gold which is the soule thereof, and fixeth it, may be so fully extracted that the remaining substance will be sublimed like Arsenick, and may be as easily reduced into Mercury as Sublimate.  If so, and if all Mercury may be reduced into a transparent water, as it may ... may not that water in some sense, if it be well rectified, be called a kinde of living gold out of which you may perhaps make a medicine, and a menstruum unfit for the vulgar to know.  It appears now from what is premised that the immediate matter of gold is probably Mercury, and not certaine salts and I know not what as many dream of, and that the extrinsicall heat is from within the earth, and not the heat of the sun, as some imagine (because in the hottest countreys there is all, or almost all gold generated) who if they considered that in cold countreys also are, and as in Scotland were gold mines in King James his time, would be of another mind than to think that the celestiall sun could penetrate, so as to heat the earth so deep as most gold lies.

I now having in some measure discovered what the intrinsicall and extrinsicall heat, and the matter of gold is, I shall next endeavour to explaine what those three principles are, viz. Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury, of which Argent vive, and gold consist:  Know therefore that after Nature had received from the most High God the priviledge of all things upon the Monarchy of this wourld, she began to distribute places, and provinces to every thing according to its dignity; and in the first place did constitute the foure elements to be the princes of the world, and, that the will of the most High (in whose will Nature is placed) might be fulfilled, ordained that they should act upon one another incessantly.  The fire therefore began to act upon the aire, and produced sulphur:  The air also began to act upon the water, and produced Mercury:  the water also began to act upon the earth, and produced salt.  Now the earth not having whereon to act produced nothing, but became the subject of what was produced.  So then there were produced three principles, but our ancient philosophers not so strictly considering the matter described only two acts of the elements, and so named but two principles, viz. Sulphur and Mercury:  or else they were willing to be silent in the other, speaking only to the sons of Art.

The Sulphur therefore of philosophers, (which indeed is the sulphur of metalls, and of all things) is not, as many think, that common combustible sulphur which is sold in shops, but is another thing farre differing from that, and is combustible, not burning, nor heating, but preserving, and restoring all things which it is in, and it is the Calidum innatum [natural innate heat] of every thing, the fire of nature, the created light, and of the nature of the sun, and is called the Sun; so that whatsoever in any thing is fiery, and airy, is sulphur, not that anything is wholly sulphureous, but what in it is most thin, and subtle, having the essence of the natural fire, and the nature of the created light, which indeed is that sulphur which wise philosophers have in all ages with great diligence endeavoured to extract, and with its proper Mercury to fix, and so to perfect the great Magistery of nature.  Now of all things in the world there is nothing hath more of this sulphur in it then gold and silver, but especially gold, insomuch that oftentimes it is called sulphur, (i.) because sulphur is the most predominant, and excellent principle in it, and being in it more then in all things besides.

Mercury is not here taken for common Argent vive; but it is the Humidum Radicale of every thing, that pure aqueous, unctuous, and viscous humidity of the matter, and it is of the nature of the Moon, and it is called the Moone and that for this reason, viz. because it is humid, as also because it is capable of receiving the influence and light of the Sun, viz. sulphur.

Salt is that fixed permanent earth which is the center of every thing that is incorruptible, and inalterable, and it is the supporter and nourse of the Humidum Radicale, with which it is strongly mixt.  Now this salt hath in it a seed, viz. its Calidum Innatum, which is Sulphur, and its Humidum Radicale which is Mercury; and yet these three are not distinct or to be separated, but are one homogeneall thing, having upon a different account divers names:  for in respect of its heat, and fiery substance, it is called Sulphur, in respect of its humidity, it is called Mercury, and in respect of its terrestriall siccity it is called salt, all which are in gold perfectly united, depurated, and fixed.

Gold therefore is the most noble and solid of all metals, of a yellow colour, compacted of principles digested to the utmost hight, and therefore fixed.

Silver is in the next place of dignity to Gold, and differs from it in digestion chiefly, I said chiefly, because there is some small impurity besides adhering to silver.

Now, having given some small account of the originall matter, first, and second, and manner of the growth of gold, I shall in the next place set downe some curiosities therein, and preparation thereof.  The preparations are chiefly three, viz. Aurum potabile [literally, drinking gold; a universal remedy], which is the mixtion thereof with other Liquors:  Oil of gold, which is gold liquid by it selfe without the mixture of any other Liquor:  and the tincture which is the extraction of the colour thereof....

To make gold grow in a glasse like a tree, which is called the golden tree of the Philosophers.

Take Oil of sand as much as you please, pour upon it the same quantity of Oil of Tartar per deliquium, shake them well together so that they be incorporated and become as one Liquor of a thin consistence, then is your Menstruum or Liquor prepared.  Then dissolve gold in Aqua regia [literally, royal water; a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acids], and evaporate the Menstruum and dry the Calx in the fire, but make it not too hot, for it will thereby lose its growing quality, then take it out and break it into little bits, not into powder, put those bits into the aforesaid Liquor (that they may lye a fingers breadth the one from the other) in a very clear glasse.  Keep the Liquor from the air, and you shall see that those bits of the calx will presently begin to grow; first they will swell, then they will put forth one or two stems, then divers branches and twigs so exactly, as that you can not chuse but exceedingly to wonder.  This growing is reall, and not imaginary only.  Note that the glasse must stand still, and not be moved....

To make Gold grow and be increased in the earth.

Take leaves of gold, and bury them in the earth which looks towards the East, and let it often be soiled with mans urine and doves dung, and you shall see that in a short time they will be increased.

The reason of this growth I conceive, may be the golds attracting that universall vapour and sperme that comes from the center through the earth (as hath been spoken in the anatomy of gold) and by the heat of putrefaction of the dung purifying [sic; putrifying?] and assimilating it to it self....

To make the silver tree of the Philosophers.

Take four ounces of aqua fortis [literally, strong water; concentrated nitric acid]; in which dissolve an ounce of fine silver, then take two ounces of aqua fortis in which is dissolved half an ounce of argent vive, mix these two Liquors together in a clear glasse with a pinte of pure water, stop the glasse very close, and you shall see day after day a tree to grow by little and little, which is wonderful pleasant to behold....

Go to:
  • works of Paracelsus (1493-1541)
  • The Golem: Legends of the Ghetto of Prague (c. 1916) by Chayim Bloch (1881-1973)
  • The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597) by John Gerard (1545-1612)
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