Astrology and alchemy

Host of angels and other beings surround and surmount the spheres of heaven, with Earth in the centre.
Nuremberg Chronicle (1493). Seventh Day of Creation.

Western Alchemy is aligned and associated with traditional Western Babylonian-Greek style astrology. Both astrology and alchemy were part of the search for secret or hidden (“occult”) knowledge, so they were a natural mix. Faust was both an astrologer and an alchemist, and both were legitimate pursuits. Faust sinned when he turned to magic, which was associated with the Devil by Christians.

Astrology was the determination of the effects of the cosmic forces upon things. Western astrology is based on Babylonian and Greek traditions. Astrologers attempted to find the most propitious times for planned events, and would attempt to understand the likely outcome. For example, John Dee used astrology to determine the best time for Elizabeth I’s coronation, and others used it to foresee her death (though they might have seen their own, because forecasting the Queen’s death was treasonous, especially when it gave confidence to an enemy).

Alchemy was the manipulation of things to transform them, usually to a more valuable or “perfect” and permanent state. In time, material alchemy became chemistry (and mining, and metallurgy, and geology, and engineering, and so on), but alchemy was also more than that, since the idea of alchemy was transformation of anything, including person’s minds and bodies. As above, so below. Transmuting spirit would be done in a way equivalent to transmuting metals; transmuting metals would be done in a way similar to transforming people and manipulating spirits – with actions enfolding symbols and rituals.

Alchemical manipulations involved steps which in time would become fundamental chemical formulae, such as the formula to make nitric acid. But at the time the underlying mechanisms were not understood, “spirit” was considered real, and it was prudent to communicate secretly, so a lot of alchemical talk was allegorical and traditional, and the symbolism included associating the basic materials of alchemy – particularly the metals – with the moving astrological objects such as the planets, the moon, and the Sun. Even today, the associations remain fairly common and obvious, with gold being linked to the Sun, silver to the moon, etc.

Until recently, excluding comets and other occasional visitors, there were seven traveling objects in the sky known, including the moon and the Sun, which for a long time was presumed to be circling the Earth. There were also seven metals known in antiquity (gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin and lead). Alchemists traditionally associated those seven metal elements of alchemy with the seven objects in the sky as follows:

  • The Sun rules gold (warmth and glow)
  • The Moon rules slver (mirrors, reflectance, night)
  • Mercury rules the metal mercury (speed, change, near-gold)
  • Venus rules copper (“Cyprus”=copper=Venus, female)
  • Mars rules iron (red=rust=blood=>war, male)
  • Jupiter rules tin (Jupiter=Zeus=Tinia (Etruscan god)
  • Saturn rules lead.

Modern alchemists extend the association to more recent discoveries:

  • Uranus with Uranium
  • Neptune, Neptunium
  • Pluto, Plutonium.

So if you’re an alchemist and want to convert lead to gold, consider the cosmic influences that might nudge the transformation. If you want to purify the soul, consider the sun and the moon and their attributes.

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