With the ultimate quest to find the transmutation formula for gold, that is the Magnum Opus for alchemists, and many other works involving elements, the mystical protoscience of alchemy has always been a very intriguing practice since the early ages. But how did it all come to happen? What was used during the alchemical processes and how was it all documented? For those of you who are curious, here are the alchemy symbols and their meanings.
The Four Classical Elements as Alchemy Symbols
Being one of the four classical elements in alchemy along with fire, water and air, the Earth is symbolized in alchemy by a downward triangle divided by a horizontal line crossing through it.
Plato associated properties like cold and dryness with the Earth symbol while brown and green are the colors representing the element. The alchemical Earth is also considered as a symbol for physical sensations/movements.
As another classical element among the alchemy symbols, fire is represented by an upward triangle, that is to say, a regular triangle.
The alchemical fire was associated with warmth, heat and dryness by Plato and it is generally associated with the colors red and orange. It represents emotions like love, passion, compassion, hate, anger etc., the ones we would call “the fiery” emotions. The element of fire is considered masculine/male.
On a side note, the alchemical symbol of fire also symbolizes ‘rising energy’ which is sometimes associated with aspiring to reach the divine above us.
In alchemy, water is represented by a downward triangle, that is to say, the exact opposite of the alchemical fire symbol.
The water symbol mainly represents intuition and it is also associated with the mercury element in alchemy.
Greek philosopher Plato associated it with properties like wetness, moist and cold and the color blue is linked to the element.
Combined with the alchemical fire symbol, the alchemical water comprises the Seal of Solomon/hexagon.
As the fourth classical element among alchemy symbols, air is represented by an upward triangle divided by a horizontal line crossing through it, which makes it exactly the opposite of the alchemical earth symbol.
Air, which was also called ‘wind’ sometimes, was associated with properties like warmth and wetness by Plato. The colors blue and white (also gray from time to time) is linked with the alchemical air.
Air symbol in alchemy is considered to represent holy spirit and life-giving forces/the sources of life like breaths.
Philosopher’s stone is a legendary substance in alchemy which is believed to have capabilities that can turn common base metals like mercury into rare and expensive ones such as gold and silver.
According to the belief, the substance, which was also known as the elixir of life or used to create the elixir, had rejuvenating powers and could be used to become immortal.
Creating the stone was the ultimate goal in alchemy. Many alchemists and even famous scientists like Isaac Newton made great efforts to discover the recipe for it.
The philosopher’s stone represents enlightenment, heavenly bliss and perfection in alchemy.
The symbol is comprised of a circle inside a square surrounded by a triangle inside another circle.
Three Primes (Tria Prima) in Alchemy
Three primes, namely sulfur (the mind), mercury (the spirit) and salt (the body/base matter) were the three components which comprised material substances according to Paracelsus, a Swiss alchemist who lived during German Renaissance period.
Being one of the most prominent and interesting alchemy symbols, the element of sulfur (also known as Brimstone) is represented by two different ways in alchemy.
The first and more commonly used symbol for sulfur is a triangle standing on top of a Greek cross (a cross with arms of equal length predating Christianity).
The second symbol is comprised of a patriarchal cross/Cross of Loraine standing on top of an ouroboros/infinity symbol. Although there were no resources mentioning this symbol being used to represent Satan before, this symbol for sulfur came to be known as the Satan’s Cross/the Leviathan Cross after it was adopted as a Satanic symbol by Anton LaVey in 1960s. The symbol is still used by people of Satanic faith for identification purposes.
Read about the Satanic Cross here: The Leviathan Cross/Satan’s Cross and Its Meaning
Read about ouroboros here: Ouroboros, The Infinity Symbol and Its Meaning
Sulfur was associated with properties like heat, dryness and masculinity and it is considered one of the Three Primes in alchemy along with mercury (a symbol of femininity, moist/wetness and cold) and salt.
Sulfur represented dissolution, evaporation and expansion/expansive force in alchemy.
As the second of the Three Primes among alchemy symbols, mercury is an element represented by a symbol made of an upward pointing crescent moon on top of what we call ‘the female symbol’ today.
Mercury, an element also known as hydrargyrum or quicksilver, represented the spirit of life/life force. According to the belief, this spirit was not lost at all while matter shifted between solid and liquid states and it even transcended death and carried on existing after it.
As the third and final prime in alchemy, salt is represented using a symbol comprised of a circle divided in two by a horizontal line crossing through it in the middle.
Salt in alchemy represents crystallization and condensation and it was also considered as a symbol for the physical matter and essence of things in nature.
Other Alchemy Symbols
Copper was associated with the planet Venus by alchemists and that is why there is more than one symbol representing the metal in alchemy. The first one is the symbol of Venus/the female symbol as seen below:
The second one is as follows:
As another one of seven metals in alchemy, silver also is represented by more than one symbol. The first one is comprised of three upward pointing arrows joined at the bottom.
The second one is the crescent moon. While the moon is widely associated with silver in alchemy, the crescent moon symbol needs to be approached with caution as it might be representing the actual Moon itself.
Just like silver, gold was also represented in more than one ways in alchemy. Here are the three of the symbols used for gold:
Gold was associated with sun, therefore, with perfection in a sense. Representing spiritual, physical and mental perfection for human beings, gold was one of the most prominent alchemical symbols.
Iron is represented by two symbols in alchemy. The first one is what we know as ‘the male symbol’ today which is also the symbol of the planet Mars.
The second symbol is as follows:
Antimony is also represented by more than one symbol in alchemy. The first one of those definitely makes the metal one of the more familiar alchemy symbols as it is actually an inverted/upside-down version of the female symbol.
The second symbol is as follows although it may have different variations:
Antimony is considered as a symbol for the wild and free parts of human nature.
Tin is also represented by a few alchemy symbols/alchemy signs. One of those is also used to represent the planet Jupiter:
The second one is as follows:
Platinum in alchemy is represented by a symbol which is actually the combination of two different alchemical symbols, namely silver (Moon) and gold (Sun).
Alchemists thought that platinum was the mixture of gold and silver and that is why the symbol was created this way.
Being one of seven metals used in alchemy, lead was also represented by more than one symbol. The first one is also used as the symbol of the planet Saturn.
The second one is as follows:
Arsenic is another metal represented by several different alchemy symbols. Stylized in different ways, sometimes it was a cross or a form of the letter ‘S’ that was used to represent arsenic. The most common one is as follows:
That being said, possibly the most interesting symbol for arsenic is swans. Cygnets turn into elegant and beautiful creatures, namely swans while arsenic also has the capability to transform into something else. That is thought to be the reason why alchemists used swans to as a symbol for the element arsenic.
On account of the fact that it could actually trap light inside, the chemical element phosphorus drew special interests among alchemist. This ability is also the reason why it is considered as a symbol for illumination by some people.
Phosphorus is represented by the following symbol in alchemy:
Similar to arsenic and antimony in terms of chemical structure, bismuth is another element that has been used in alchemy.
Although we do not have accurate information regarding what kind of part it played for alchemical processes, the element is known to be used since very early ages. That being said, since it had similar physical properties, it was confused with tin and lead until the 18th century.
Bismuth is represented by a symbol that looks like an eight that has an opening at the top.
Magnesium is another metal for which various alchemical symbols were used. Since the element cannot be extinguished easily when it is ignited, it is considered to be a symbol of eternity.
Here is one of the most common symbols used to represent magnesium in alchemy:
Zinc is a metal used by alchemists to create a substance called philosopher’s wool (also known as ‘white snow’). The substance was obtained simply by burning zinc.
As in many other metals included to this post, several different alchemy symbols/alchemy signs, some of which looked like the ‘Z’ letter, were used to represent zinc. The most common symbol used for the metal zinc in alchemy is the following one:
Potassium Carbonate (Potash)
Potassium carbonate, also known as potash, was another substance used in alchemical processes. It was mostly symbolized by a rectangle standing on top of a cross.
In different variations of the symbol, sometimes the top of rectangle was open or the cross was replaced with a straight line.
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