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Symbols of Alchemy and Hermetic Arts

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Levels of meaning in symbolic drawings

Ancient manuscripts and paintings with symbolic drawings and diagrams filled with mysteries from the dawn of science. These topics captured the interest of the public recently with bestselling books and popular movies about esoteric science, code breaking and symbols. It's easy to simply appreciate these works of art for the technical skill required to create such beautiful drawings, long ago.

The Mysterious World of Alchemy

Typical furnishings and equipment in an alchemy lab
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Typical furnishings and equipment in an alchemy lab

Alchemy Laboratory

Natural science and the dawn of chemistry

Without television or the internet, our distant ancestors had time to observe the cycles of nature and the movement of the stars. The scientific method was created by early natural scientists who looked at the world in detail and recorded their observations.

These were the eminent philosophers of the medieval period, healers and pioneers like Paracelsus, who was the model for the modern medical doctor. So, next to the herbs and glass beakers, the simmering tinctures and and medieval cookbooks, rests the symbols for contemplating the eternal mysteries. The human skull to remind us of the one inevitable truth of existence. A raven with outstretched wings can be a metaphor for many things (that's the beauty of symbols).

Alchemy symbols

The search for the "Philosophers Stone" is also a journey of self-understanding and discipline for the aspirant. By observing the behavior of the natural world, we may come to understand ourselves: As above, so below. The noted psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was deeply influenced by the writings of the alchemists and the ancient mysteries as it applies to human behavior and the common "archetypes" of human civilization. Von Franz was a disciple of Jung and well qualified in esoteric studies and symbolism.

Roman mythology - Luna and Mercury (Zazzle)
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Roman mythology - Luna and Mercury (Zazzle)

Mercury/Hermes and the moon goddess Luna

Symbols for the planets, moons and the stars in the night sky were created by nearly every culture throughout recorded history. The Greeks called our nearest neighbor Selene and the Romans called her Luna. Once her brother Helios (Sol) was finished with his day job, Selene steps out of a cool bath in the ocean to shepherd the evening sky. Mercury is the messenger of the Gods, with a special place in alchemy as the personification of the Egyptian Thoth, called Hermes by the Romans, holding aloft the caduceus symbol and a bag of gold in the other hand.

Art of Distillation
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Art of Distillation

Art of Distillation

Liber de Arte Distillandi by Brunschwig

The art of distillation is commonplace to us in the modern age. Without it how would we have beer and wine, medicine and petroleum products? In the middle ages of Europe, the processes of transforming raw materials into a useful product was considered no less a miracle than the rising sun each morning.

Popular alchemy books - Interpreting alchemy in the modern world

Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy
Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy
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Clavis Artis
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Clavis Artis

Allegorical images

Clavis Artis: Key to the Arts

An inscription on the title page claims that the text was translated in 1236 BCE from the original Arabic language into German. Cryptic signatures on the page may also link the document to 'Rosa et Aurea Crucis, the Rosicrucians, a clandestine brotherhood presumably founded by Christian Rosenkreutz.

Authorities believe the book was actually published in the 17th or 18th century, and these watercolor illustrations may be from that period, added by an unknown artist, along with commentary about the alchemical text.

Alchemy emblem
Alchemy emblem

The Key of Alchemy

Clavis Artis is translated as The Key of the Arts — the arts of alchemy and transmutation. Dragons and humans merge together in a symbolic progression through the sacred work, filled with emblems of the chemical processes. Only two copies of the illuminated manuscript exist, safeguarded by libraries in Rome and Trieste, Italy. The author is attributed as Zarathustra (Zoroaster), a magi from Persia — where the esoteric knowledge of the ancients was safeguarded while Europe was in the Dark Ages.

Manly Palmer Hall - Packed with illustrations

As the title suggests, this is an exhaustive collection of the beliefs and esoteric knowledge from antiquity to the present day. The pages are filled with symbolic drawings and excerpts from sacred texts from every culture in history. If you want to buy one book that has it all, without the hocus-pocus, then Secret Teachings is for you.
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Unicorn and Deer

Confrontation between a unicorn and a deer stag in the forest.

These mythical beasts symbolize the sharp focus of the intellect (the single horn of the unicorn) and the natural instincts of wild animals. The task of the alchemist is to merge these two principles together to achieve balance in the "great work" of alchemy.

Eco is another contemporary author known for using symbols and the mysteries as subject for his fictional history books.

Classic allegorical novel about the external pursuit of the deeper mysteries in life to make an internal transformation.

Alchemy coloring page sample with the signs of the zodiac

To print a black and white copy for coloring, right-click the image and "Save as" to your computer. Then, print out the page and grab your colored pencils, watercolors or crayons. Painting outside the lines is encouraged.

Titles listed in reverse order starting with the first book in the series Angels and Demons, and continuing with the adventures of Robert Langdon through The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, and the he latest adventure in the depths of The Inferno by Dante Alighieri, released in May 2013.

 Last updated on June 7, 2014

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Reader feedback - What you think of these beautiful drawings? 8 comments

anonymous 2 years ago

I love stuff like this! Thanks for a great lens!

Diana Wenzel profile image

Diana Wenzel 2 years ago from Colorado Level 6 Commenter

The alchemy images are exotic and exquisite. Appreciated this collection. Thank you.

WriterJanis2 profile image

WriterJanis2 23 months ago Level 5 Commenter

Really interesting read.

dotpattern profile image

dotpattern 23 months ago from West Village, New York City Hub Author

@WriterJanis2: Thanks Janis. Thanks for visiting a bunch of articles today.

LisaMarieGabriel profile image

LisaMarieGabriel 17 months ago from United Kingdom

I have always been fascinated by these hermetic symbols. Really nice looking lens! :)

dotpattern profile image

dotpattern 17 months ago from West Village, New York City Hub Author

@LisaMarieGabriel: Symbols are quite wonderful. Thanks for your comment and enjoy.

spudzjamezspudz profile image

spudzjamezspudz 6 months ago

Great post! Always curious about these symbols. Now I understand a few of them.

dotpattern profile image

dotpattern 6 months ago from West Village, New York City Hub Author

@spudzjamezspudz: The meaning of symbols change and grow along with the person who studies the great mysteries. Thanks and enjoy.

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