Alchemical symbol

A table of alchemical symbols from Basil Valentine's The Last Will and Testament, 1670
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Alchemical symbols before Lavoisier

Alchemical symbols, originally devised as part of alchemy, were used to denote some elements and some compounds until the 18th century. Although notation was partly standardized, style and symbol varied between alchemists. Lรผdy-Tenger published an inventory of 3,695 symbols and variants, and that was not exhaustive, omitting for example many of the symbols used by Isaac Newton. This page therefore lists only the most common symbols.

Three primes

According to Paracelsus (1493โ€“1541), the three primes or tria prima โ€“ of which material substances are immediately composed โ€“ are:

Four basic elements

Western alchemy makes use of the four classical elements. The symbols used for these are:

Seven planetary metals

The shield in the coat of arms of the Royal Society of Chemistry, with the seven planetary-metal symbols

The seven metals known since Classical times in Europe were associated with the seven classical planets; this figured heavily in alchemical symbolism. The exact correlation varied over time, and in early centuries bronze or electrum were sometimes found instead of mercury, or copper for Mars instead of iron; however, gold, silver, and lead had always been associated with the Sun, Moon, and Saturn. The associations below are attested from the 7th century and had stabilized by the 15th. They started breaking down with the discovery of antimony, bismuth, and zinc in the 16th century. Alchemists would typically call the metals by their planetary names, e.g. "Saturn" for lead, "Mars" for iron; compounds of tin, iron, and silver continued to be called "jovial", "martial", and "lunar"; or "of Jupiter", "of Mars", and "of the moon", through the 17th century. The tradition remains today with the name of the element mercury, where chemists decided the planetary name was preferable to common names like "quicksilver", and in a few archaic terms such as lunar caustic (silver nitrate) and saturnism (lead poisoning).

  • Lead, corresponding with Saturn โ™„ ()
  • Tin, corresponding with Jupiter โ™ƒ ()
  • Iron, corresponding with Mars โ™‚ ()
  • Gold, corresponding with the Sun โ˜‰ ๐Ÿœš โ˜ผ ( )
  • Copper, corresponding with Venus โ™€ ()
  • Quicksilver, corresponding with Mercury โ˜ฟ ()
  • Silver, corresponding with the Moon โ˜ฝ or โ˜พ ( or ) [also ๐Ÿœ› in Newton]

Mundane elements and later metals

The squared circle: an alchemical symbol (17th century) illustrating the interplay of the four elements of matter symbolising the philosopher's stone

Alchemical compounds

Alchemical symbols in Torbern Bergman's 1775 Dissertation on Elective Affinities

The following symbols, among others, have been adopted into Unicode.

  • Acid (incl. vinegar) ๐ŸœŠ ()
  • Sal ammoniac (ammonium chloride) ๐Ÿœน ()
  • Aqua fortis (nitric acid) ๐Ÿœ… (), A.F.
  • Aqua regia (nitro-hydrochloric acid) ๐Ÿœ† (), ๐Ÿœ‡ (), A.R.
  • Spirit of wine (concentrated ethanol; called aqua vitae or spiritus vini) ๐Ÿœˆ (), S.V. or ๐Ÿœ‰ ()
  • Amalgam (alloys of a metal and mercury) ๐Ÿ› () = aอžaอža, ศงศงศง (among other abbreviations).
  • Cinnabar (mercury sulfide) ๐Ÿœ“ ()
  • Vinegar (distilled) ๐Ÿœ‹ () (in Newton)
  • Vitriol (sulfates) ๐Ÿœ– ()
  • Black sulphur (residue from sublimation of sulfur) ๐Ÿœ ()

Alchemical processes

An extract and symbol key from Kenelm Digby's A Choice Collection of Rare Secrets, 1682

The alchemical magnum opus was sometimes expressed as a series of chemical operations. In cases where these numbered twelve, each could be assigned one of the Zodiac signs as a form of cryptography. The following example can be found in Pernety's Dictionnaire mytho-hermรฉtique (1758):

  1. Calcination (Aries ) โ™ˆ๏ธŽ
  2. Congelation (Taurus ) โ™‰๏ธŽ
  3. Fixation (Gemini ) โ™Š๏ธŽ
  4. Solution (Cancer ) โ™‹๏ธŽ
  5. Digestion (Leo ) โ™Œ๏ธŽ
  6. Distillation (Virgo ) โ™๏ธŽ
  7. Sublimation (Libra ) โ™Ž๏ธŽ
  8. Separation (Scorpio ) โ™๏ธŽ
  9. Ceration (Sagittarius ) โ™๏ธŽ
  10. Fermentation (Capricorn ) โ™‘๏ธŽ (Putrefaction)
  11. Multiplication (Aquarius ) โ™’๏ธŽ
  12. Projection (Pisces ) โ™“๏ธŽ

Units

Several symbols indicate units of time.

Gallery

A list of symbols published in 1931:

Unicode

The Alchemical Symbols block was added to Unicode in 2010 as part of Unicode 6.0.

Alchemical Symbols
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1F70x 🜀 🜁 🜂 🜃 🜄 🜅 🜆 🜇 🜈 🜉 🜊 🜋 🜌 🜍 🜎 🜏
U+1F71x 🜐 🜑 🜒 🜓 🜔 🜕 🜖 🜗 🜘 🜙 🜚 🜛 🜜 🜝 🜞 🜟
U+1F72x 🜠 🜡 🜢 🜣 🜤 🜥 🜦 🜧 🜨 🜩 🜪 🜫 🜬 🜭 🜮 🜯
U+1F73x 🜰 🜱 🜲 🜳 🜴 🜵 🜶 🜷 🜸 🜹 🜺 🜻 🜼 🜽 🜾 🜿
U+1F74x 🝀 🝁 🝂 🝃 🝄 🝅 🝆 🝇 🝈 🝉 🝊 🝋 🝌 🝍 🝎 🝏
U+1F75x 🝐 🝑 🝒 🝓 🝔 🝕 🝖 🝗 🝘 🝙 🝚 🝛 🝜 🝝 🝞 🝟
U+1F76x 🝠 🝡 🝢 🝣 🝤 🝥 🝦 🝧 🝨 🝩 🝪 🝫 🝬 🝭 🝮 🝯
U+1F77x 🝰 🝱 🝲 🝳 🝴 🝵 🝶 🝻 🝼 🝽 🝾 🝿
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also

Other symbols commonly used in alchemy and related esoteric traditions:

Footnotes

  1. ^ For example, Mercury was tin and Jupiter was electrum in Marcianus.(pโ€ฏ236)

This page was last updated at 2023-10-25 08:15 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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