Ancient Alchemy Signs and Symbols

Posted on 08/16/2010
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The study of alchemy has been a time honored tradition of interested individuals for at least the past 2,500 years. The ancient practice focused primarily on trying to change base metals like iron or lead into gold and trying to discover an “elixir of life.” The practical aspects and techniques of alchemy actually became the foundation for what is now inorganic chemistry even though the identification of a method that turned other metals into gold or a liquid that allowed eternal life (at least extended longevity) were never found. However, it was also a type of philosophy unto itself whereby the practitioners were attempting to achieve a type of ultimate wisdom and improve their souls in the process of mystical scientific discoveries. A complex yet interconnected system of various philosophies and schools dedicated to these practices spans several thousand years and the entire globe as the Mesopotamians, Greco-Romans, ancient Egyptians, Persians, ancient Chinese, medieval Islamic peoples, and medieval Europeans all practiced a form of alchemy at some point in their history. Alchemists developed system of symbols for their work trying to achieve inner transformations through the philosophical and deeper spiritual meanings of these symbols. These designs became very important to the alchemists of medieval Europe as they needed to disguise their sciences from the very powerful and very intolerant Christian church who warred against them because they thought the ascension offered by alchemy was a way to achieve salvation outside of their chosen methodologies. Yet, the figures that are pictorial depictions have special meanings unto themselves for the entire study of alchemy.



The charm of “abracadabra” actually has its origins from the Hebrew initials for father, son, and holy spirit and is used as a charm in Kabbalah. Its link to alchemy though goes back almost as far as its first uses in those religions. Abracadabra is an ancient alchemy symbol that was utilized as an antidote for multiple illnesses and used to inspire natural healing processes. In order to perform these tasks, abracadabra was written on a piece of parchment in its special upside down triangle formation and was then suspended from the neck of the person who needed healing by a simple thread.



This symbol is also the ancient Roman symbol for the god Mercury. It is basically a figure of two serpents wrapped around a center rod with a pair of wings sprouting from the top. Today, the caduceus is seen in modern medical circles. Most alchemists agree with the use of this symbol in the medical realm as it calls for balance and unity on an internal level which can prove to be very helpful in healing a person who is ill. The design itself has three parts to create its meaning. The central rod is a symbol for transformative alchemy powers. Then, the two serpents represent duality and polarity. The wings pull in a meaning of balance to create a whole design of balance, duality, and then leading to the process of unity.



The cube is a shape that has importance in many ancient traditions such as in the philosophy school of Plato and Pythagorean theories. Egypt embraces the cube by showing the pharaoh sitting on a cube shaped throne. Many Indian deities are frequently depicted standing on cubes with one under each foot. The cube itself is acknowledged as a basic building block for all matter, and alchemists insist that supernatural abilities within the cube are almost limitless. While the cube can be applied to almost anything through its nature of versatility, the basic and general meaning of the cube in alchemy is that it represents the earth from which the king of spiritualism can spring forth.



Even though the current reputation of the pentacle is a design of evil and dissent, the pentacle in alchemy studies is actually a sign of health, mystic powers, and harmony. The ancient Greeks who followed the philosophy of Pythagoras used it to represent the marriage between earth and the heavens in addition to being a formation for health. Since this symbol can be used to represent heaven, earth, and the human body and mind, alchemists consider it to be extremely powerful in nature. Both alchemists and ancient magicians used it as a protection emblem. Alchemists in particular would press the symbol to special books to emphasize that their contained knowledge was sacred and protected and even inscribe it in the covers of the books as well.



This symbol is a special arrangement of five diamond shaped figures held within a square. Traditionally, it was used to infuse the worlds of man, the earth as nature, and the stars. In alchemy, it is used to represent the idea of the whole being more than the sum of its composing parts. The quincunx was also used to describe how each man and woman possesses the four levels of physical elements (man, animal, stone, and plant), but they are able to ascend from these four natural, common elements to the final fifth one that is a truly enlightened state of being almost godlike in its stature amongst alchemists. In the mineral world of alchemy, the quincunx occurs in the formation of metals such as their atomic structure. Since a large portion of alchemy is focused on a way to turn base metals into gold, this symbol was very powerful in its own right to represent the ultimate goal of that branch of study.



Ergon is the ancient spiritual symbol for the right eye of the soul. It is a design possibly based off the ancient Egyptian udjat or “Eye of Ra” that alchemists adopted and altered slightly to represent a focus on the higher, more refined vibrations of the spiritual world which require increased concentration to feel. The ergon is supposed to be always looking toward the eternal more than the left eye of the soul would. It also sees into the infinite nature of our human souls and the capability of men and women to tap into the infinite universe with enough study, work, and practice.



Another symbol from the ancient tradition of Kabbalah, the aleph is actually the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Kabbalah actually means the “secret tradition” when translated, and until very recently the study of it was restricted to a very few number of people as it was thought that looking into this tradition might cause problems for the confused and make things worse for them if they were not ready to understand. This idea in Kabbalah is linked strongly to that of alchemy as many alchemists believe that it is not a practice for novice hands. Therefore, the closeness between these two traditions make them draw from each others symbology. The aleph in particular is considered to be the spiritual root of all harmony in the world and even in the universe for alchemists.

Rose Windows


Gothic circular windows in the shape of a rose are commonly seen as stained glass in giant cathedrals. However, alchemists see the beautiful dodecahedron as a symbol that is connected to the ether (or enlightened fifth element that all alchemists were attempting to achieve). Looking at the windows was thought to have a transformational effect on the viewer that carried them into an altered state of perception.

Author: Brooke Windsor Copyrighted © One page article

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