A didactical alchemical scheme by Sigismund Bacstrom. If for personal use, or not, he introduces the more easy to be explained path: that of metallic gold.

 bacstrom compendiumOf course not all alchemists wish, or can, follow this expensive and not short method. It is fair to say that the virtuosi, or skillful ones, tend to perform other paths, with easier and cheaper to find raw matters, or simply faster. But these different paths, to untrained eyes, may not seem so different from common ancient chemistry recipes. While the metallic gold path disclosed by Bacstrom, from the beginning,  necessarily shows its peculiarity.

Sigismund Bacstrom, although his being known mostly by english mother tongue researchers, was apparently son of a swedish father and born in Germany.  He claimed to have been “regularly educated at the University of Strasbourg as a physician, Surgeon and Chemist”. From 1763 to 1770 he served as a surgeon on war ships of the Dutch navy. In 1772 he applied  to naturalist Sir Joseph Banks on his discovery voyages, who engaged him perhaps because of his remarkably clear handwriting. Then he “suffered” (as he later wrote) a not comfortable career as a merchant ship’s surgeon. Finally he became acquainted with a gentleman, an unnamed “Lover of Chymical Experiments” who established him in an expensive laboratory and supported his efforts in natural philosophy. Unfortunately he had to leave this lucky position and, while in France the revolution raged, he was engaged in a five years ship voyage around the world. His much talked about stay in Mauritius island didn’t exceed a few months.

Bacstrom apparently did not published his own treatises, but he is chiefly known for his generous task of translating into english some ancient outstanding alchemical german and latin works.  On the negative side, some of these treatises went abruptly abridged in too much practical nutshells . Bacstrom then formed several manuscripts,  with his appreciated remarkably clear handwriting. Some of these texts now belong to the Manly Palmer collection. From this, generously available on-line thanks to Getty Research Institute, we can find a section with an interesting “Alchemy in a nutshell” summarize.

 The whole section is entitled: “Alchemy, a selected collection of Testimonies about the Doctrines and Practice of the Ancient Alchemists: extracted from their writings.

 The following extracts, selected from many authors, contain a full elucidation of the hidden art on which so many thousands volumes have been written. The writings of these philosophers are written with studied ambiguity to conceal the art; a disclosure of which could not fail to throw prejudicial to mankind, though,eventually, it would certainly be far otherwise. The obscurity, however, which pervades their writings, ought not to be wholly ascribed to their wishes to conceal their knowledge…….”

Bacstrom’s cautious courtesy here demonstrates he is not writing a note for himself, but for a larger audience. And, as we can see further on, he is preparing readers  to the fact that very hardly ancient authors used to handle the same paths:

 ” A slight cursory reading of a few of the authors, who have written on their art, will not enable any enquire to discover where harmony exists among them; much will it enable him to reconcile differences which arise from the different ways in which they have respectively chosen to handle their subject…”

Unfortunately, many of these different ways very little differ from common ancient chemistry methods, but for some details. Letting the untrained reader to be perplex and, even worse, unable to appreciate to real differences of Alchemy from chemistry.

 “Anyway almost all speak of “one”, “two”, “three”, “four” and “five”. But these differences are mere “quibbles”…..

Or wordplays. In fact the substance is always one, our Secret Fire/Mercurius in all its transformations and divisions (1). But let’s go directly to what Bacstrom correctly defines a compendium:

 “1. The first principle, the ground work and foundation of the whole art is Gold – common pure gold, without any ambiguity or double meaning. This is “our sulphur”.

2. The second is Mercury not  common quicksilver, however, but that substance to which the Philosophers have given the name of “our Mercury”, “our Diana”, “our Moon”, “our Luna”, “unripe Gold” and many other names.

3. The third is what they call their “Secret Fire”, “our mercurial water”, “Dissolving Water”, “Fire against nature”, “Spirit”, “Spirit of Life”, “the Mover”, “The Priest”.

The first being well purified, and the second properly prepared, they are then joined together, and the compound, which is called Rebis, is then reduced to powder and mixed with the third. Thus are all the three principles  united in proper proportion.”

bacstrom compendium1 This is the same way poetically described by Augurello in his “Crysopoeia, or the Art of making Gold” (2).  Only, here is schematically reduced. To be clearer, the first and second principles are misplaced: the real number one is the preparation of what Bacstrom calls “Mercury”, that’s to say our Mercurius, which is not so different from the third principle, or the “Priest”. Why a Priest? Because a person authorized to perform certain rites was also administer of marriages. In fact our Mercurius tends to get “married” with common gold. That results in a Mercurius Duplicatus” (3), or double Mercurius. Since the metallic gold cannot aspire to be tied with an aristocrat Mercurius without being an aristocrat himself (4). That’s to say without being another Mercurius, since here we are talking of getting calcined metallic gold powder to be dissolved in our universal dissolvent/Alcahest/Mercurius, the same come out of the preparatory works (see an Opus Magnum scheme).

Mercurius comes from complete insoluble salts volatilizations. I used plural because a single volatilization is not enough, and that is one of the difference between Alchemy and ancient chemistry. As the Mercurius/Secret Fire is our Spirit of Life and Spirit of Life, unlike Soul, is the same for every organized molecule, we can virtually extract our Secret Fire from every ( actually just a great number though) starting raw matter. Only, metallic salts do contain more (5). Generally speaking a Mercurius is a wonderful dissolvent for metallic salts, which in their turn become Sulphur, that’s to say a means to fix a too much volatile Mercurius (8). All substances fitted to fix Mercurius are called Sulphur, anyway Sulphur is also a Mercurius self-fixed. Ancient alchemists, like their colleagues chemists, were more interested in substances functions than molecular composition.

Bacstrom’s scheme is even too complicated, we can simplified in this way: 1. Produce a certain amount of Mercurius/Secret Fire and divide it in parts. 2. Use a part to dissolve metallic gold calcined powder, which in so doing becomes a Mercurius from gold. 3. Then put into another part of the first Mercurius, and then another one. In Cabala Mineralis Rabbi ben Simeon provides “weights” to perform the operations (6). In Atalanta Fugiens Michael Maier defines this system as a method to stop a fast running Atalanta girl (7).

To summarize the whole process it is important to understand that each immersion in Mercurius/Secret Fire helps to extract Mercurius/Secret Fire from raw matters. In fact, once achieved Mercurius out of preparatory works, Alchemy becomes just a huge extraction series of processes.

In fact Bacstrom goes on: ” The first being well purified, the second,  properly prepared, they are then joined together, and their compound, which is called Rebis, is then reduced to powder and mixed with the third. Thus are all the three principles united in proper proportion.”

The following of Bacstrom compendium is a potpourri from several treatises, but, as mentioned above, he puts together a too much heterogeneous selection, and, as we know, this approach more than often may cause confusion and not certainty.  Bacstrom’s  method is here to take just the excerpts that should confirm his theories,  but  in so doing find their room also excerpts from authors dealing others paths. Alchemy is not a puzzle board.

  1. See also Artephius, Secret book & Secret Fire , Artephius and Antimonium est de Partibus Saturni ;
  2. Augurello and the Art of making Gold , see also Starkey Pyrotechnie & Volatilization of Alkalis 2;
  3. See also Atalanta Fugiens and Mercurius Duplicatus ;
  4. See also Sargon Regulus, the little Sun ;
  5. See also Weidenfeld & Basilius Oleum Vitriolis , Universal Sal Armoniacum & Hollandus Sal Armeniacum ;
  6. Cabala Mineralis and the Three Salts Enigma
  7. Atalanta Fugiens and the Golden Apples