Wilhelm Christoph Kriegsmann and the Secrets of Alchemical Symbolism

The eagerly expected second issue of the young, open-access journal Correspondences was released this past Saturday. Yours truly also contributed a substantial article on Wilhelm Christoph Kriegsmann (1635–79). Even so, there are several things that had to be cut out. For instance, while I devote a fair amount of attention to his philological reconstruction of the Tabula Smaragdina (1657) and his Epistola (1669) arguing that Plato was a noteworthy chymist and, moreover, taught much that agrees with the Gospel of John, Taaut (1665) received short shrift. As this work on ‘the interpretation of the chymical signs’ (Fig. 1) was actually the one due to which I first became interested in Kriegsmann, I thought I’d share some outtakes, as it were, with my readers.

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Call for Papers: Geographies of Alchemy and Chemistry (5th SHAC Postgraduate Workshop)

As the international student representative of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry and lead organizer of this year’s postgraduate workshop, I would like to draw my readers’ attention to the following call for papers. It would have been a great opportunity for the reblog feature but, alas, it doesn’t work for ambix.org where I’ve also posted a few minutes ago. Anyway, as Judith Mawer (University of Exeter) and myself penned it, with a lot of insightful and patient advice from our predecessor Jo Hedesan (Oxford University), I feel few qualms about also posting it on my personal blog. Without further ado:  Continue reading


A Sound Dutch Beating for Fraudulent German Alchemy

Writing for the Amsterdam stage, David Lingelbach (b. 1641)—himself the son of a German expatriate and artist—published a play entitled The Converted Alchemist, or: The Betrayed Fraud in 1680. It is but one out of eleven plays he wrote under the banner of Nil Volentibus Arduum (‘Nothing is arduous for the willing’), a literary society active between 1669 and 1687 to spread the ideals of French classicist theatre in the Low Countries and otherwise known primarily for lack of talent. Thirty-four years later (1714), the self-appointed literary heir to Nil Volentibus Arduum, Ysbrand Vincent (d. 1718), published an improved, second edition that added greater poignancy to an intriguing intercultural encounter less explicit in the original printing: it tells the story of a Dutch widower, Govert, ‘naïve and unskilled in alchemy’, and his encounter with Squire Goudschalk (literally, ‘gold jester’), ‘a German, fraud and pretended alchemist of great experience’.[1] And by the same token it provides us with a glimpse of some associations alchemy carried in early eighteenth-century Amsterdam.

De bekeerde alchimist_web

While not exactly on a par with Molière (d. 1673), The Converted Alchemist (1680/1714) is a brief, entertaining comedy that culminates in a sound beating for the fraudulent German alchemist. In the background, a well-stocked alchemical laboratory can be seen. Author’s photograph; courtesy of University of Amsterdam, Special Collections (OTM: O 63-5575).

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The Orthodox Annihilator of the Microcosmic Preludes

'J. Conrad Dippel, doctor of medicine, commonly known as the Christian Democritus.'

Most of Dippel’s writings appeared under the pseudonym ‘Christianus Democritus’, so most readers would have known him by that name.

Even though it sounds frightful, don’t panic: there was no terminator-style attack on this blog (as yet and to my knowledge). But some readers might remember that this blog adopted its name from a 1733 publication entitled Microcosmic Preludes. This work was falsely attributed to Johann Conrad Dippel (1673–1734), whose ‘Real Frankenstein Potential’ is still up for further investigation. Even though that attribution is almost as old as the book itself and many library catalogues still list Dippel as the author, he was in fact furious at this supposition and published a refutation of the entire work in the very same year. Under the menacing title Orthodox Annihilator (1733), this treatise also contained his own, somewhat paranoid conjectures as to who had written the Microcosmic Preludes and how his own name had come to be associated with them.

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Egyptian Astrologers and the Prognostic Marketplace

Sibylla Ptolomaein_web

The gypsy lady astrologer from Alexandria in Egypt, Sibylla Ptolomaein, shows the tools of her trade, including celestial globe and sextant, and its products: a nativity chart (also known as horoscope) and symbols commonly used in astrological calendars. © Stadtverwaltung Altenburg, Stadtarchiv Historische Haus- und Schreibkalender.

As the last quarter of the seventeenth century began, the astrological calendar-printing scene in Germany saw the sudden appearance of not just one but four Egyptian interpreters of the stars. (Actually, one of them claimed to be Persian instead.) Though usually published in large print-runs of several thousands, these almanacs with forecasts on the weather, politics, economy, family matters, good days for blood-letting or hair-cuts for the whole year were literally read to shreds (or put to other uses, some of them related to excrement) and so precious few of them have survived. The trade surrounding them was hugely competitive, hence crafty publishers picked their astrologer carefully. And even with a qualified expert, all things being equal, a little exotic lustre or mysterious scent could make all the difference in attracting the attention of the buying public at a loss to assess the respective merits of various calendars. An extraordinary authorial persona might well do the trick: meet, for instance, ‘Abdiel Bavai, presently astrologer in Alexandria, Egypt,’ or ‘Necho of Cairo in Egypt’. Most intriguingly, there was also a lady astrologer by the foreknowledgeable name of Sibylla Ptolomaein ‘from Alexandria in Egypt.

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Two Calls for Papers: ‘Scientiae’ 2014 and ‘Revisiting Early Modern Prophecies’

There’s always the danger that blogs turn into some kind of navel-gazing, solipstistic monologue. To avoid that, I’d like to draw attention to two conferences in 2014 that I’m already excited about—in yet another soliloquy. Continue reading


An ABC of Shady Figures on the Medical Marketplace: ‘A’ for ‘Alchemist’ and ‘C’ for ‘Chymist’

This charlatan is depicted as impressing the audience with his snake-handling.

This Italian mountebank is depicted as impressing the audience with his snake-handling.

As part of a description of the Medical Polity (1638) of his day, Ludwig von Hörnigk (1600–67) included a lengthy chapter on all sorts of shady figures that competed with university-educated physicians. Though the alphebetical ordering of the German is lost in translation, these included: ‘old hags, cut-purses, crystal gazers, village priests, hermits, bankrupters, jugglers, piss prophets, Jews, calf physicians, vagabonds, market criers, messengers, furnace enthusiasts, pseudo-Paracelsians, quacks, rat poisoners, speakers of blessings, conjurors of the devil, fiends, forest gnomes, gypsies, etc.’ (Hörnigk, Politia medica, title page.) Sounds random?

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