Alchemical symbol

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Alchemical symbols in Torbern Bergman's 1775 Dissertation on Elective Affinities
Part 1 Part 2
Alchemical symbols before Lavoisier

Alchemical symbols, originally devised as part of alchemy, were used to denote some elements and some compounds until the 18th century. Although notation like this was mostly standardized, style and symbol varied between alchemists, so this page mainly lists the most common ones.

Three primes[edit]

According to Paracelsus (1493–1541), the three primes or tria prima – of which material substances are immediately composed – are:[1]

Four basic elements[edit]

Western alchemy makes use of the four classical elements. The symbols used for these are:[2]

Seven planetary metals[edit]

The seven metals known since Classical times in Europe were associated with the seven classical planets; this figured heavily in alchemical symbolism. The exact correlation varied over time, and in early centuries bronze or electrum were sometimes found instead of mercury, though gold, silver and lead had always been associated with the Sun, Moon and Saturn. The associations below are attested from the 7th century and had definitely stabilized by the 15th. They started breaking down with the discovery of antimony, bismuth and zinc in the 16th century. Alchemists would typically call the metals by their planetary names, e.g. "Saturn" for lead and "Mars" for iron; compounds of tin, iron and silver continued to be called "jovial", "martial" and "lunar"; or "of Jupiter", "of Mars" and "of the moon", through the 17th century. The tradition remains today with the name of the element mercury, where chemists decided the planetary name was preferable to common names like "quicksilver", and in a few archaic terms such as lunar caustic (silver nitrate) and saturnism (lead poisoning).[3][4]

Mundane elements[edit]

The Squared Circle: an Alchemical Symbol (17th century) illustrating the interplay of the four elements of matter symbolising the philosopher's stone

Alchemical compounds[edit]

A table of alchemical symbols from Basil Valentine's The Last Will and Testament, 1670

The following symbols have been adopted into Unicode.

Alchemical processes[edit]

An extract and symbol key from Kenelm Digby's A Choice Collection of Rare Secrets, 1682

The alchemical magnum opus was sometimes expressed as a series of chemical operations. In cases where these numbered twelve, each could be assigned one of the Zodiac signs as a form of cryptography. The following example can be found in Pernety's Dictionnaire mytho-hermétique (1758):[9]

  1. Calcination (Aries Aries symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♈︎
  2. Congelation (Taurus Taurus symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♉︎
  3. Fixation (Gemini Gemini symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♊︎
  4. Solution (Cancer Cancer symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♋︎
  5. Digestion (Leo Leo symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♌︎
  6. Distillation (Virgo Virgo symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♍︎
  7. Sublimation (Libra Libra symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♎︎
  8. Separation (Scorpio Scorpius symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♏︎
  9. Ceration (Sagittarius Sagittarius symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♐︎
  10. Fermentation (Capricorn Capricornus symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♑︎ (Putrefaction)
  11. Multiplication (Aquarius Aquarius symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♒︎
  12. Projection (Pisces Pisces symbol (Moskowitz, fixed width).svg) ♓︎

Units[edit]

Several symbols indicate units of volume, weight, or time.

Unicode[edit]

The Alchemical Symbols block was added to Unicode in 2010 as part of Unicode 6.0.[10]

Alchemical Symbols[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1F70x 🜀 🜁 🜂 🜃 🜄 🜅 🜆 🜇 🜈 🜉 🜊 🜋 🜌 🜍 🜎 🜏
U+1F71x 🜐 🜑 🜒 🜓 🜔 🜕 🜖 🜗 🜘 🜙 🜚 🜛 🜜 🜝 🜞 🜟
U+1F72x 🜠 🜡 🜢 🜣 🜤 🜥 🜦 🜧 🜨 🜩 🜪 🜫 🜬 🜭 🜮 🜯
U+1F73x 🜰 🜱 🜲 🜳 🜴 🜵 🜶 🜷 🜸 🜹 🜺 🜻 🜼 🜽 🜾 🜿
U+1F74x 🝀 🝁 🝂 🝃 🝄 🝅 🝆 🝇 🝈 🝉 🝊 🝋 🝌 🝍 🝎 🝏
U+1F75x 🝐 🝑 🝒 🝓 🝔 🝕 🝖 🝗 🝘 🝙 🝚 🝛 🝜 🝝 🝞 🝟
U+1F76x 🝠 🝡 🝢 🝣 🝤 🝥 🝦 🝧 🝨 🝩 🝪 🝫 🝬 🝭 🝮 🝯
U+1F77x 🝰 🝱 🝲 🝳
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 14.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Miscellaneous Symbols[1]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+260x
U+261x
U+262x
U+263x
U+264x
U+265x
U+266x
U+267x
U+268x
U+269x
U+26Ax
U+26Bx
U+26Cx
U+26Dx
U+26Ex
U+26Fx
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 14.0

Other symbols commonly used in alchemy and related esoteric traditions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Holmyard 1957, p. 170; cf. Friedlander 1992, pp. 75–76. For the symbols, see Holmyard 1957, p. 149 and Bergman's table as shown above.
  2. ^ Holmyard 1957, p. 149.
  3. ^ Maurice Crosland (2004) Historical Studies in the Language of Chemistry
  4. ^ Holmyard 1957, p. 149.
  5. ^ Holmyard 1957, p. 149.
  6. ^ Holmyard 1957, p. 149.
  7. ^ Holmyard 1957, p. 149.
  8. ^ Holmyard 1957, p. 149.
  9. ^ See Holmyard 1957, p. 150.
  10. ^ "Unicode 6.0.0". Unicode Consortium. 11 October 2010. Retrieved 21 October 2019.

Works cited[edit]

  • Friedlander, Walter J. (1992). The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine. Contributions in Medical Studies, 35. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-28023-1.
  • Holmyard, Eric J. (1957). Alchemy. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. OCLC 2080637.

External links[edit]

Media related to Alchemical symbols at Wikimedia Commons