These Surreal Ancient Alchemy Manuscripts Are Terrifyingly Cool
Behold, the weird and wonderful world of alchemy.
Thesaurus of Alchemy, ca. 1725. Image: Wellcome Library, London
Elixirs of immortality, transmutation, and the philosopher's stone. Today, the most famed pursuits of ancient alchemy are seen as mythological quests, and it's easy to forget that "black magic" once paved the way for modern science.
Alchemy, or the Arabic al-kimiya, is derived from the old name for Egypt: Khemia, meaning "black earth." It was more than just primitive chemistry—it was also a complex worldview based on the belief that all matter could be transformed, or liberated into its most perfect form. And unlike the fictional wizards of modern lore, alchemists were as diverse as the philosophy itself, representing China, India, the Middle East, and Europe.
The entire history of alchemy spans four thousand years, but most of us are familiar with its medieval and Renaissance eras. Thanks to the illuminated manuscripts of European scholars, it's easy to conjure up images of bubbling cauldrons, wild beasts, strangely-shaped vessels, and spiritual beings. It was during this time that alchemy became widely known through the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Dante Alighieri, and the cryptic Nicholas Flamel.
So, to pay homage to the weird and wonderful world alchemy, behold the surreal symbolism of centuries-old manuscripts. Some are strange, and some are scary, but all are certain to bewitch you with their hypnotic beauty.