Alchemical Symbols

The rich symbolism and secrecy used in alchemy developed from a very limited set of natural substances available. The ancient alchemists started with the four basic elements.

Only a few metals were known to the alchemists, the "seven metals of the Ancients:" gold, silver, iron, mercury, tin, copper and lead. These seven metals were named after the seven gods of the planets.
 

The Seven Planetary Metals

Gold

Sol

Sunday

 

The noble metal from the golden sun, the perfect sphere

Silver

Luna

Monday

 

The wise crescent of the white lustrous moon

Iron

Mars

Tuesday

 

The hard metal for the god of war, marked by Mars' shield and spear

Mercury (quicksilver)

Mercury

Wednesday

 

The swift messenger's caduceus

Tin

Jupiter

Thursday

 

The symbol of the god of lightning

Copper

Venus

Friday

 

The vain maiden rose from the seas near Cyprus, source of Cu

Lead

Saturn

Saturday

 

The dull, slow-moving old man carrying a scythe and hourglass


These seven metals not only correspond to gods and the planets but also the days of the week. The origins of the names "Sunday" and "Saturday" are evident. "Monday" is a corruption of "mooneday" (old English). Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are derived from the Scandinavian gods Tyr (Mars), Woden (or Odin, Mercury), Thor (Jupiter) and Frigga (wife of Odin). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Friday has often been erroneously attributed to the Scandinavian god Freyr, or Venus.

For each of the Zodiacal signs, there is a corresponding alchemical process, some of which – calcination, solution, digestion, distillation, sublimation, separation, fermentation – are recognizable to us now. Projection was the ultimate process – transmutation.

The Serpent
Three serpents represent the Three Principles - Mercury, Sulphur and Salt.

A three-headed serpent represents the Philosopher's Stone - the Three Essences Spirit, Soul and Body as embodied in the Three Principles, proceeding from a common source (the prima materia). It is single in essence but triple in form.

Winged and wingless serpents represent volatile and fixed principles, respectively.

A serpent nailed to a cross represents the fixation of the volatile.

The Twelve Processes in Zodiacal Time

Aries

Calcination

Libra

Sublimation

Taurus

Congelation

Scorpio

Separation

Gemini

Fixation

Sagittarius

Ceration

Cancer

Solution

Capricorn

Fermentation

Leo

Digestion

Aquarius

Multiplication

Virgo

Distillation

Pisces

Projection

 

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