Ancient Alchemy Symbols
Exploring Ancient Alchemy Symbols
Ancient Alchemy Symbols and their oft times cryptic meanings began out of necessity as alchemists disguised their practices from the hugely powerful European church.
At the height of its practice, alchemy was considered heretical craft by the church, punishable by death (or worse, torture).
The church body at the time viewed alchemy as a way for the practitioner to ascend to salvation outside of the “traditional” church methodology.
Although ancient alchemy symbols were born out of this necessity, the foundation of alchemical practice is based on inner transformation and the achievement of that transformation.
As a means for this transmutation, the alchemist utilized the changing properties of matter in addition to the philosophical meanings of the symbols themselves.
The very act of turning base metals to gold is a symbol of (wo)mans ascension and achievement of enlightenment. All things, no matter how banal, hold deeper spiritual symbolic meaning to the alchemist in all of us.
Below are some ancient alchemy symbols and their meanings.
Alchemy: A philosophical chemistry in which base elements are transformed into something which, through a process, become more refined, renewed and more pure in core essence.
A Few Common Alchemy Symbols And Their Meanings
This is a Cabalistic charm with origins from Hebrew initials of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is an ancient alchemy symbol used for an antidote for illness and used to augment healing. This phrase was written on parchment and suspended from then neck by a thread in the triangular form seen here.
This ancient alchemy symbol is derived from the “Secret Tradition” or the Cabala. The Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and is the spiritual root of all harmony.
Also symbolic of Mercury, the Caduceus is a figure of two serpents wrapped around a center rod. The rod is a symbol of transforming alchemical power. The two serpents represent polarity or duality. Together with the sprouted wings depict the caduceus having an alchemical meaning of balance, duality and following the alchemical process leading to unity. The caduceus is also seen in medical circles. This is a logical match as the caduceus calls for unity and balance on an internal level and is hailed as a symbol for healing. See my blog entry on Caduceus meaning. Also, check out my in-site page on snake symbolism.
The cube represents the earth in Pythagorean, Indian, and Platonic traditions. In Egypt, the Pharaoh is often depicted sitting on a cubic throne. In India, many statues of deities are shown standing on a cube – one under each foot. It is understood as a building block of all simple matter – and it is also understood that within it supernatural possibilities abound. Therefore cube represents the earth from which the spiritual king comes forth. The symbolic meaning of number four may also help you understand this symbol further. See also Symbolism of Squares.
This is the spiritual ancient alchemy symbol for the right eye of the soul, by which it looks to the eternal. This symbol allows focus on higher, finer spiritual vibrations. It also ascertains the infinite nature of our soul, and our capability to tap into the infinite universe. Depending upon the nature of the alchemical process, the earth, moon, sun or other planets may be presented as the center of the eye. Here shown, is the earth, which is a alchemy tactic of tapping into the terra firma – for solidifying properties, earth-binding, etc. Click here for symbolic meaning of eyes.
“That which the fire operates is alchemy, whether in the kitchen or in the universe” as stated by the alchemical forefather Paracelsus 1493-1541. More specifically this ancient alchemy symbol represents divine energy, purification, revelation, and transformation. As such, fire was (and still is) an important sign in the alchemist’s arsenal of emblems. See a full list of fire symbols here.
Alchemically speaking, the moon represents Silver, the Lesser Work, or Mercury. It conjoins with the sun, or Gold in the Greater Work. In more practical terms, the moon represents fertility, resurrection, occult power, immortality and intuition. The moon is a feminine property and alchemists would incorporate it with the sun (gold) to assure balance. See my in-site page on Moon Symbolism here.
Near the end of the alchemical Operation this symbol would appear. Its many-colored surface on molten metals heralded the nearness of the final stage of transformation. Further, when the alchemical Operation came to this point, the volatile parts of the residue were transcended, and the peacock, as all winged creatures, symbolized changeability. Thus the peacock’s spiritual representation is that of smooth transition. You may also be interested in the symbolic meaning of feathers or the symbolic meaning of finding feathers on your path. Also, check out my page on Peacock Symbolism here.
Pentacle / Pentagram:
Quite the opposite of its unfortunate reputation, the pentacle is a symbol of harmony, health and mystic powers. The Pythagorean’s adopted it as a sign of health and the marriage of heaven and earth. As a sign of heaven, earth, as well as human body and mind, the pentacle holds great power. So much so, that it was used as a protective emblem among alchemists and magicians alike. Specifically, alchemists would press this symbol on hermetic books to emphasize the knowledge within as being protected and sacred.
An arrangement of five figures within a square. Historically, it is imbued with the energy of nature, man, animal and the stars. As an ancient alchemy symbol, it represents the whole being as more than the sum of its parts. In the alchemical mineral world, the quincunx occurs in the formation of metals, in atomic structures. Additionally the quincunx represents (wo)man’s ability to cross from four to five his/her nature. That means we all possess the four levels of physical matter (stone, plant, animal, man) and we are able to ascend from these four basic, primal elements to the final fifth – which is godlike or enlightened stature. More on the Quincunx meaning (on my blog). See also my page on Celtic Five-Fold meanings here.
Gothic circular windows, shaped like a rose – mostly seen in stained glass in cathedrals. Designed by Chartres, a master craftsman, this stained glass was made from a secret recipe using antimony. The windows have a transformational effect on anyone who seriously contemplates it. Essentially a dodecahedron, this symbol is connected with the ether, or the fifth element. By viewing it as a mandala, the rose window brings about an altered state of perception, allowing the observer to tap into the ethereal planes.
The ancient alchemy symbol of gold. Worshipped in many cultures, specifically Egypt where Amon-Ra was personified by the evening sun setting at the end of the creative process. Alchemists understood the process of creation, and utilized the symbol of the sun to focus on creating desired effects in their practice – both physically and philosophically. Check out more sun symbolism here.