The Philosophical Stone

Extracted from COLLECTANEA CHEMICA

ed. by A.E. Waite

[1893] at Sacred Texts

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THE

BOSOM BOOK

OF

SIR GEORGE RIPLEY,

Canon of Bridlington:

CONTAINING

His Philosophical Accurtations in Making the Philosopher’s Mercury and Elixirs.

THE BOSOM BOOK OF SIR GEORGE RIPLEY.

The whole work of the composition of the Philosophical Stone of the great elixir and of the first solution of the gross body.

FIRST take thirty pounds weight of sericon, or antimony, which will make twenty-one pounds weight of gum, or near thereabouts, if it be well dissolved and the vinegar is very good; and dissolve each pound thereof in a gallon of twice distilled vinegar. When cold again, and, as it standeth in dissolution in a fit glass vessel, stir it about with a clean stick very often every day, the oftener the better; and when it is well molten to the bottom, then filter over the said liquors three several times, which keep close covered, and cast away the fæces, for that is superfluous filth which must be removed and entereth not into the work, but is called Terra damnata.

The making of our Gum, or Green Lion.

Then put all these cold liquors, thus filled, into a fit glass vessel and set it in Balneo Mariæ to evaporate in a temperate heat; which done, our sericon will be coagulated into a green gum called our Green Lion; which gum dry well, yet beware thou burn not his flowers, nor destroy his greenness.

The extraction of our Menstruum or Blood of our Green Lion.

Then take out the said gum and put it into a strong retort of glass, very well luted, and place it in your furnace, and under that, at the first, make sober fire, and anon you see a white smoke or fume issue. Then put, too, a receiver of glass, which must have a very large belly and the mouth no wider than it may well receive into that the neck of the retort, which close well together, that no fume issue forth of the receiver. Then increase your fire by little and little, till the fume which issueth be reddish; then continue the greater fire, until drops like blood come forth, and no more fume will issue forth; and when that leaveth bleeding, let it cool, or assuage the fire by little and little; and when all things are cold then take away the receiver, and close it fast suddenly, that the spirits vanish not away, for this liquor is called our blessed liquor: which liquor keep close stopped in a glass till hereafter. Then look into the neck of the retort, and therein you will find a white hard rime, as it were the congelation of a frosty vapour, or much like sublimate, which gather with diligence and keep it apart, for therein are contained great secrets which shall be showed hereafter, after the great work is ended.

The Creation of our Basis.

Then take out all the fæces which remain in the retort, and arc blackish like unto soot, which feces are called our Dragon, of which fæces calcine one pound or more at your pleasure in a fervent hot fire, in a potter’s or glass-maker’s furnace, or in a furnace of vent (or a wind furnace), until it become a white calx, as white as snow; which white calx keep well and clean by itself, for it is called the basis and foundation of the work, and is now called Mars, and our White Fixed Earth, or Ferrum Philosophorum.

The Calcination of the Black Fæces, called our Black Dragon.

Then take all the rest of the aforesaid black fæces, or Black Dragon, and spread them somewhat thin upon a clean marble, or other fit stone, and put into the one side thereof a burning coal, and the fire will glide through the fæces within half-an-hour, and calcine them into a citrine colour very glorious to behold.

The Solution of the said Fæces.

Then dissolve those citrine fæces in such distilled vinegar as you did before, and then filter it likewise three times as before, and after make or evaporate it into a gum again, and then draw out of it more of our menstruum, called now Dragon’s Blood, and iterate this work in all points as afore until you have either brought all or the most part of the fæces into our natural and blessed liquor: all which liquor put to the first liquor or menstrue called the Green Lion’s blood, and set that liquor altogether in one vessel of glass fourteen days in putrefication; and after proceed to the separation of elements, for now have you all the fire of the stone in this our blessed liquor, which before lay hidden in the fæces; which secret all the philosophers do marvellously hide.

The Separation of the Elements whereof the first is the Air, and is also counted our Ardent Water and our Water Attractive.

Then put all the said putrefied menstruum into a still of fine Venice glass, fit for the quantity thereof; put on the limbeck, and close it to the still with a fine linen cloth dipped in the white of an egg, and then set it in Balneo Mariæ, put to the receiver, which must be of great length, that the spirit respire not out again; and with a very temperate heat separate the elements one from another, and then the element of air will issue forth first, which is an oil.

Our Ardent Water or Water Attractive is thus made.

When all the first element is distilled, then in another still, fit for it, rectify it: that is to say, distil it over seven several times, and until it will burn a linen cloth clean up that is dipped into it, when it is put to the flame, which is then called our Ardent Water rectified and is also called our Water Attractive; which keep very close stopped, for otherwise the spirit thereof, which is very subtle, will vanish away. By often rectifying the ardent water, there will come air in a white oil swimming above the water, and there will remain behind a yellow oil, which with a stronger fire will also come over. Put sublimate, beaten small, upon a plate of iron, and in the cold it will dissolve into water, and will draw to itself all the mercury in the form of a green oil swimming aloft; which separate and put into a retort, and distil first a water, and afterward will come a green thick oil, which is the oil of mercury.

The Flood or Water of the Stone.

Then draw out the flood or water of the stone by itself in another receptory, which liquor will be somewhat white, and draw it with a very gentle fire of Balneum, until there remain in the bottom of the still a thick oily substance, like unto liquid pitch; keep this water by itself in a fit glass, very close stopped.

NOTE.—When the liquor cometh white you must put on another receiver, for then all that element is come over; two or three drops of this black liquid oil given in spirit of wine cureth all poison taken inwardly.

Our Man’s Blood is thus taken and rectified.

Then put our ardent water upon that matter black and liquid; stir them well together, and let it so stand well covered for three hours; then decant and filter it; put on fresh ardent water, and repeat this operation three times, and then distil it again with a moist lent fire of Balneum; and so do three times, and then it is called Man’s Blood rectified, which the workers in the secrets of Nature do seek, and so thou hast the elements exalted in the virtue of their quintessence, namely, the flood that is water and the air. Let this blood be kept for a season.

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Extracted from the Royal Society of Chemistry:

Many wars have been fought over territory, some over pride or love or money. But in the 1600s a long and bitter war was waged over antimony.


What, you might ask, is there to fight about in this apparently unremarkable element, a soft, greyish metal that doesn’t even conduct electricity well enough to qualify as a true metal? It has its uses, but they are mundane: as an alloy component of battery electrodes and of pewter, and as a flame retardant.


But at the heart of the Antimony War, which raged in France and Germany throughout much of the seventeenth century, was a more unlikely use of antimony. Some doctors of that age believed that it was a vital ingredient in medicine. The advocates and opponents of this point of view didn’t actually take up arms: they fought with pen in hand, sometimes denouncing one another in terms far more vitriolic than we’ll find in the academic literature today.


It’s very curious that the subject of this dispute should be antimony, because this element is actually rather toxic, causing liver damage in large enough doses. But pharmaceutical uses of antimony have a long history. In the ancient world it was known primarily in the form of its black sulphide ore, called stibnite, which the Greek physician Dioscorides recommended for skin complaints in the first century AD. The Egyptians, meanwhile, used stibnite as a cosmetic, applying it as a form of mascara. They called it kuhl, meaning ‘eye-paint’, and to the later Islamic alchemical physicians this became al-kohl. From its original meaning of powdered stibnite, this term came to designate any powder, and then a potent extract of any substance. In the early sixteenth century the Swiss alchemical physician Paracelsus called a distilled extract of wine alcool vini, from where we get the modern word alcohol: a long and strange road from eye make-up to intoxicating liquor.


Paracelsus was particularly fond of antimony compounds as medicines. After his death, Paracelsus’s chemical medicine was championed by many doctors in Europe, especially in France, and some of these made antimony their most prized remedy. One, a German salt-maker who wrote under the false persona of a fifteenth-century monk called Basil Valentine, published an entire book advertising antimony remedies in 1604 called The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony. Valentine admitted that antimony was poisonous – in fact he offered an apocryphal explanation for the name, saying that it derives from anti-monachos, meaning ‘anti-monk’ in Latin, because he once unintentionally poisoned several of his fellow monks by adding it secretly to their food in an attempt to improve their health. But he claimed that alchemy could be used to free the metal of its toxic effects and make it “a most salutary Medicine”.


The Paracelsian chemical physicians were opposed by traditionalists who preferred the medical theories of the ancient doctors like Hippocrates, based on the idea that our health is controlled by a balance of four humours. This was partly a battle for academic power, but the rival camps were also split along religious and political lines. So there was a lot riding on the struggle, and for a time it crystallized around the medical value of antimony.


The toxicity of antimony can cause vomiting – but to its supporters, this was seen as a good thing. They would administer the salt antimony tartrate as a so-called emetic, a vomit-inducer that was believed to purge the body of other bad substances.


Some doctors continued to prescribe antimony freely after the inconclusive Antimony War, and it has been suggested that a fondness for antimony remedies was what actually killed Mozart in 1791. By the nineteenth century it had become a favourite slow poison for murderers eager to conceal their crimes – a chemical villain almost as notorious as lead.