Nitric acid was known in alchemical days as aqua fortis….

[Nitric acid was known in alchemical days as aqua fortis. It could dissolve almost anything but gold, which in the last quote is referred to as “Sun” or (elsewhere) “Sol,” reflecting its astrological counterpart. First are some Wikipedia entries on aqua fortis:]

“In alchemy, aqua fortis (Latin for “strong water”) is nitric acid (HNO3). Being highly corrosive, the solution was used in alchemy for dissolving silver and most other metals with the notable exception of gold, which can be dissolved using aqua regia or “regal water”. Aqua fortis was prepared by mixing either sand, alum, or vitriol, or the last two together, with saltpeter, then distilling it by a hot fire. The gas collected from this condenses into aqua fortis. It was first described by alchemist Pseudo-Geber.

Aqua fortis was useful to refiners for parting or separating silver from gold and copper; to the workers in mosaic for staining and coloring their woods; to other artists for coloring of bone and ivory, which is done by tinging the items with copper or verdigris, then soaking in aqua fortis. Some also turn it into aqua regia, by dissolving in a quarter of its weight of sal ammoniac, and then use this to stain ivory and bone, of a fine purple color. Bookbinders also put it on leather, making fine marble covers for books. Diamond cutters used it to separate diamonds from metalline powders. It was also used in etching copper or brass plates. It was mixed with oil of vitriol and used to stain canes to appear like a tortoise shell by applying several coats while the cane is over hot coals. The canes were then given a gloss with a little soft wax and a dry cloth.”
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“The first mention of nitric acid is in Pseudo-Geber’s De Inventione Veritatis, wherein it is obtained by calcining a mixture of niter, alum and blue vitriol. It was again described by Albert the Great in the 13th century and by Ramon Lull, who prepared it by heating niter and clay and called it “eau forte” (aqua fortis).

Glauber devised a process to obtain it by distillate potassium nitrate with sulfuric acid. In 1776 Lavoisier showed that it contained oxygen, and in 1785 Henry Cavendish determined its precise composition and showed that it could be synthesized by passing a stream of electric sparks through moist air.”
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[Instructions for working with Nitric acid (aqua fortis):]

Treatise on Metallic Medicine by Joseph Du Chesne

Paris, 1641

“Reduce the Sun in Mercury and calcine it with common aqua fortis, extracting the water and pouring it back three times on the feces. To finish this work properly, put the feces in a crucible on live coal till they turn all red and do not smoke any longer. Then your gold is perfectly calcined or precipitated, and all you have to do is wash it several times with dew water. When this gold lime has been thus prepared, put it in a vessel and pour over it 4 times as much good brandy. Cohobate 7 times in B. M., the last time with a small ash-fire, after which your Sun, at the bottom, will be turned into as fine a liquid as the others, and even more subtle.”
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There are two types of magic

Magic just before the time of the historical Faust:

From Wikipedia:

“In the later Middle Ages, forms of Western esotericism such as alchemy and astrology were constructed on Christian foundations, combining Christian theology and doctrines with esoteric concepts.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Apologia (“Apologia J. Pici Mirandolani, Concordiae comitis” published in 1489) states that there are two types of “magic”, which are theurgy (divine magic), and goetia (demonic magic). These disciplines were explained as the “Operation of the Stars”, just as alchemy was the “Operation of the Sun”, and astrology the “Operation of the Moon.” Kabbalah was also an active discipline. These spiritual traditions allegedly aided the esoteric to arise to higher forms of consciousness, and arise to a better understanding of God, The Self, and the Universe. Esoteric Christians practice these forms or traditions, which they believe are all a part of the same spiritual truth, which help to convey “mystery knowledge”, which can only be learned directly from spiritual experience via Theurgy, Kabbalah, or Mysticism.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, this was followed up by the development of Theosophy and Rosicrucianism. Behmenism also developed around this time, as did Freemasonry.”

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In the Middle Ages…

From the intro to Marlowe’s Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (Clarendon Press, 1887):

“In the Middle Ages, two branches of study, the votaries of which were necessarily to a large extent groping in the dark or unsteadily moving in the twilight, were specially adapted to attract enquiring minds, and to excite the suspicions of the ignorant. These were astrology, which in the terminology of the Middle Ages included what we call astronomy, but which also occupied itself with speculations on the supposed influences of the heavenly bodies upon the inhabitants of the earth and their destinies, as well as with their actual or supposed influences upon the earth itself; and alchemy or chemistry, the speculative part of which treated of the production of all things out of the elements, while the practical part sought to rival or outdo nature in the production of colours and of many other things, but more especially of precious metals.

The connexion which both these sciences thus assumed with common life, with its chief events and most cherished objects, could not fail to impress and excite the wild imagination of common men; and the isolation in which these studies have to be carried on, the loneliness of the observatory and the laboratory, added a peculiar element of mystery.

In these and in other sciences the instruments used or invented by their professors seemed a machinery of a more than human character and origin. All these studies and their appliances were regarded as magic and as appliances of magic by the vulgar, who could not, like philosophic minds, distinguish the mighty powers of nature and the still mightier powers of art which uses nature as its instrument, from that which passes beyond the powers of nature and art, and is therefore either superhuman, or fiction and imposture..”

Marlowe’s Tragical History of Doctor Faustus: Greene : Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Clarendon Press series. Christopher Marlowe. Edition 2. Clarendon Press, 1887.

Download the PDF at

…Or see it at Google Books:

Alchemy in the Western World and other locations where it

Western astrology contains elements of alchemy.

Alchemy in the Western World and other locations where it was widely practiced was (and in many cases still is) allied and intertwined with traditional Babylonian-Greek style astrology; in numerous ways they were built to complement each other in the search for hidden knowledge (knowledge that is not common i.e. the occult). Astrology has used the concept of classical elements from antiquity up until the present day today. Most modern astrologers use the four classical elements [earth, water, air, and fire] extensively, and indeed it is still viewed as a critical part of interpreting the astrological chart.

Traditionally, each of the seven “planets” in the solar system as known to the ancients was associated with, held dominion over, and “ruled” a certain metal (see also astrology and the classical elements).

The list of rulership is as follows:

  • The Sun rules Gold
  • The Moon, Silver
  • Mercury, Quicksilver/Mercury
  • Venus, Copper
  • Mars, Iron
  • Jupiter, Tin
  • Saturn, Lead

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Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II was a great and important

Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II was a great and important Renaissance patron and follower of the occult arts, including astrology and alchemy, but reputedly a poor ruler. His greater legacy is as a patron of the arts; his great failures were as a political leader. He was forced to abdicate in 1611.

A little background:

“Rudolf II of Austria (July 18, 1552–January 20, 1612), Holy Roman Emperor as Rudolf II (1576–1612), King of Hungary and Croatia, as Rudolf (1572–1608), King of Bohemia as Rudolf II (1575–1608/1611) and Archduke of Austria as Rudolf V (1576–1608). He was a member of the House of Habsburg.

Rudolf’s legacy has traditionally been viewed in three ways: an ineffectual ruler whose mistakes led directly to the Thirty Years’ War; a great and influential patron of Northern Mannerist art; and a devotee of occult arts and learning which helped seed the scientific revolution.”


“Astrology and alchemy were mainstream science in Renaissance Prague, and Rudolf was a firm devotee of both. His lifelong quest was to find the Philosopher’s Stone and Rudolf spared no expense in bringing Europe’s best alchemists to court, such as Edward Kelley and John Dee. Rudolf even performed his own experiments in a private alchemy laboratory. When Rudolf was a prince, Nostradamus prepared a horoscope which was dedicated to him as ‘Prince and King’.

Rudolf gave Prague a mystical reputation that persists in part to this day, with Alchemists’ Alley on the grounds of Prague Castle a popular visiting place.”

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In the Middle Ages Astrology and Alchemy were taught at

In the Middle Ages Astrology and Alchemy were taught at the university level. Faust knew both.

Although much about the original Faust is speculation, and his identity isn’t sure, he may have received a degree in Divinity from the University of Heidelberg in 1509, studied magic at the University of Kraków and lectured at the University of Ehrfut in central Germany.>

The three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe

According to Wikipedia:

“Hermeticism, is a religious and philosophical tradition based primarily upon writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus (“Thrice Great”). These writings have greatly influenced the Western esoteric tradition and were considered to be of great importance during both the Renaissance [14th to the 17th century] and the Reformation [16th to the 17th century].”

Alchemy—The Operation of the Sun—is not simply the changing of physical lead into physical gold. It is an investigation into the spiritual constitution, or life of matter and material existence through an application of the mysteries of birth, death and resurrection.

The various stages of chemical distillation and fermentation, among them, are aspects of these mysteries, that, when applied quicken Nature’s processes in order to bring a natural body to perfection. This perfection is the accomplishment of the Magnum opus (Latin for Great Work).
Astrology—The Operation of the Moon: Hermes claims that Zoroaster discovered this part of the wisdom of the whole universe, astrology, and taught it to man. In Hermetic thought, it is likely that the movements of the planets have meaning beyond the laws of physics and actually holding metaphorical value as symbols in the mind of The All, or God. Astrology has influences upon the Earth, but does not dictate our actions, and wisdom is gained when we know what these influences are and how to deal with them.
Theurgy—The Operation of the Stars: There are two different types of magic, according to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Apology, completely opposite of each other. The first is γοητεια, Goëtia, black magic reliant upon an alliance with evil spirits (i.e. demons). The second is Theurgy, divine magic reliant upon an alliance with divine spirits (i.e. angels, archangels, gods).
Theurgy translates to “The Science or art of Divine Works” and is the practical aspect of the Hermetic art of alchemy. Furthermore, alchemy is seen as the “key” to theurgy, the ultimate goal of which is to become united with higher counterparts, leading to the attainment of Divine Consciousness.”

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Goethe’s Faust: Mephistopheles. Perhaps you think I’m trying to betray you

From Goethe’s Faust:

Mephistopheles. Perhaps you think I’m trying to betray you;
Well, here’s the astrologer; ask him, I pray you.
Circle on circle, hour and house he knows.
Tell us then what the heavenly aspect shows.
Two rogues- each to the other known-
Dreamer and Fool- so near the throne-
An ancient ditty- worn and weak-
The Fool will prompt- the Sage will speak-

Astrologer [MEPHISTOPHELES prompting him].
The Sun himself is gold of purest ray,
The herald Mercury serves for love and pay;
Dame Venus has bewitched you all, for she,
In youth and age, looks on you lovingly.
Chaste Luna has her humours whimsical;
The strength of Mars, though striking not, threats all;
And Jupiter is still the fairest star.
Saturn is great, small to our eyes and far;
Him as a metal we don’t venerate,
Little in worth but heavy in his weight.
Ah, when with Sol chaste Luna doth unite,
Silver with gold, the world is glad and bright.
It’s easy then to get all that one seeks:
Parks, palaces, and breasts and rosy cheeks.
All these procures the highly learned man
Who can perform what one of us never can.

Emperor. All that he says I hear twice o’er,
And yet I’m not convinced the more.
What’s all this smoke- a worn-out joke-
Astrology- or alchemy-
An oft-heard strain- hope stirred in vain-
If he appear- a rogue is here-“