In the fourth chapter of his Commentary on Sendivogius Ortelius explains what to do with the previously non-filterable solids, which he will define as Caput mortuum.
If you remember, our author starts by distilling the dug-up earth (apparently aged with manure) with rainwater. Then he rectified the distillation’s output, which you can find in Ortelius Commentary on Sendivogius. Chapter 3, he ends up with the prescription: “…..From this liquor in balneum they took out a phlegm, and kept it separately. On the other hand they often distilled the spirit remaining from the earth, and also set it aside to keep”.
My translation from Latin in quotation marks, my comments in regular: Theatrum Chemicum Zetzneri Argentorati, Orthelius Commentator in Novum Lumen Chymicum Michaelis Sendivogii. Chapter IV, Tome 6, page 410. Title: De extractione Salis fixi ex capite mortuo, eiusdemque resolutione in suis Spiritibus rectificatis, or On the extraction of salt fixum from caput mortuum, and additionally on the resolution of the same salt in its rectified Spirits.
Textus pergit. Postea exustos primae destillationis lapillos in mortario contusos, cum phlegmate servato, vel alia aqua communi inundarunt,… The text goes on. They burnt the little stones of the first distillation and had them crushed in a mortar, then they flooded them with the set-aside phlegm, or another common water, and only after filtration they extracted the salt fixed (sal fixum), this done, the body, terrestrial part of the same Mercurii, was perfect.
This water-liqueur prepared from the source (minera) of chalybis, called our magnet, which then will attract the celestial influence of the sun and moon, as explained in the following chapters; with this method the crystalline dry water will be improved, which thing Sendivogius in his section “aenigma” would foreshadow as the old god Saturn of the earth.”
I transcribed the whole original Latin first sentence for you to double-check. In fact in the first distillation, the object of chapter two, the author did not mention the crushing of little stones in a mortar, or lapillos (little stones). He actually said that the normal praxis was about distilling from the prepared pellets but, as taken from Ortelius’s Commentary on Sendivogius. Chapter 2: “... the real philosophers, those who were adepts, modeled neither pellets nor boluses, but from the above-mentioned earth they prepared lisciva, which was preceded by filtration and evaporation, at that moment, and only after they have managed to accumulate a sufficient quantity of liquor, they distilled with a proper degree of fire, and a very wild fearless owing spirit similar to sea waves finally floated on its water…”. So let’s assume he rather refers to the solid non-filterable residue remaining after the filtration of the lisciva, an operation which in fact can provide a certain amount of tiny gravel. ( 1).
Very likely this is what the author calls caput mortuum, which nonetheless doesn’t appear to correspond to the canonical set aside caput mortuum we are used to reading about in the majority of seventeenth-century treatises, i.e. usually the solid part too heavy to ascend the still. Here Ortelius makes the little stones resulting from filtration, or gravel”, to play the caput mortuum part. While canonically, and technically, this gravel would represent a mere additional “raw matter”. At this extent allow me to mention two points: first, in ancient chemistry there always were methods to “liquefy”, or bring from element earth to element water (the latter in Alchemy can correspond to the powdery form), the solid parts that could be carbonates, sulfides or little quartz. Ancient Romans already knew how to make huge rocks crack with weak acids and cool-heat effect (2); secondly, we always need a terrestrial part for our alchemical Mercurii, and not only because the peculiar Secret Fire tends to be hidden in the solid substances particularly difficult to be lifted, but also because we need a certain amount of “crust”, and it is not about Mercurius and Sulfur, Sun and Moon, Spiritus Mundi and Secret Fire partnerships. We simply need a certain amount of terrestrial part which, mind you, will eventually appear in the final part of our works. If readers would find the terrestrial-celestial nomenclature a bit puzzling, they can re-read the exhaustive explication the author makes to this extent in Ortelius’s Commentary on Sendivogius. Preface.
So, the little tiny stones remaining in the filter have to be calcined with strong fire and then crushed and ground in a mortar. The author doesn’t say if the calcined gravel has also undergone a kind of the previous dissolution in cold weak acids. Anyway, those who have attentively looked at the picture have certainly noted that the mortar is kind of covered with a lid, leaving only a small hole for the pestle to go up and forth: in fact, during the first works, vapors, and smokes, that’s to say the resulting gaseous parts, should not be allowed to flee but should, as much as possible, kept from flying. In fact, these volatile parts do contain many “spiritual” parts composing the best Mercurius/Dissolvent/Alkahest.
Eventually, Ortelius doesn’t say if the phlegm used for the following filtration is the one that had been set aside in the rectifications following the first distillation. Anyway, having this done, he said that the body, the terrestrial part of the same Mercurii, can be now called perfectly done.
The fourth chapter does not finish here, as Andreas Ortelius adds a controversial part. Controversial because of the objective difficulty found by many translators and the results achieved by the author, we do not know if ever wanted, to make things even more convoluted. If you remember, already in the first chapter (Ortelius Commentary on Sendivogius. Chapter 1), the author mentions the necessity of three salts saying they actually are a threefold salt carrying in within three salts. He describes them separately as “salt armeniac”, “nitrous” salt, and “salt alkali” and just name them after their texture and/or task, independently from their chemical composition and source. We will see whether they can even descend from the same raw matter by means of different operations, or Ortelius introduces heterogeneous parts taken from another source. As for now, he feels like resuming and enlarging, the concept. But, of course, the less learned readers, at this point, could be overwhelmed by excessive exposure to salts which doesn’t seem strictly required for the above-explained process, i.e. the handling of the non-filterable solids. So in the following paragraphs, it is important not to get lost. If you get to lose your way now, mainly for a lack of mental flexibility, you will face the remaining chapters progressing like in a maze. I suggest you forget what you know of male and female salts, Mercurius and Sulfur, Sun and Moon, Spiritus Mundi and Secret Fire, as the author is here terribly pragmatic: he will just talk of salts, obtained by distillation, rectification, sublimation, filtration, solution. I think a good dose of intellectual passivity is also required to follow these so-called minor alchemical authors who, in the final analysis, are those who dared to put in clear the preliminary proceedings the alchemical “celebrities” often refused to deal with, but in a poetical way.
“Side note: Three Salts.
In the final text of the first chapter, three salts are cited, which actually repose and are hidden in the above-mentioned source of our chalybis or subject of the earth: within there can be found special things, all separate, and in this way, all three one by one can be extracted, being as separated as conjunct caused the philosophers to create a set of operations giving rise to wonderful things. Some of those will be exposed.
Side note: Sal Armoniacum.
However many called Sal Armoniacum even the Mercurius Philosophorum, and not inappropriately Sulphur or sal naturae, they know that most worthy and true royal salt required from them many labored efforts, from unspoiled earth or any other subject, through distillation, and subsequent putrefaction on its own, or other similar and proper liquor, and through imbibition and fixation of this liquor in the earth, and they eventually achieved it when it raised through sublimation, and then they smeared it with wax and with the Sun oil set the stone. They dissolved it with its own spiritual water, so that volatile because of the dissolution they distilled both lights.
Side note: Sal Nitrum.
Sal nitrum, when skillfully made and well depurated, it is neither lower in rank nor inferior to Sal Armoniacum, not only because of its easy preparation, which doesn’t need sophistication but can be achieved with an easy women’s work, it is also true that it can be improved by the art till the final goal, in this case, can greatly exceed. With no distillation but with a simple action defined as ‘being abundantly fruitful’ ( the author defines the operation exuberatione), and can be obtained by simple lisciva and a process very like the common saltpeter extraction.
Side note: Lisciva Ph.
It is good to know that of the real earth one is more eligible than the other. If you can really free from impurity the niter with its lisciva, it is better. But even better will be if in the same clearing operation you can corroborate the niter in its qualities either for celestial or terrestrial virtues. And you have to thank God if with so little and exiguous effort, with no justification of countless, difficult and dangerous processes, and there is no remaining salt neither fixed nor volatile, salient or whether they are fixed or volatile; you will take care of some astral impregnation or impression, which this salt in within keeps and include all the salts of the opera, but the ferment of the gold, which you should give life and fully cook.
Side note: Salt Fixed.
You should understand what concerns the salt fixed, which is called alkali, and which from any calcined earth is extracted (even from any disregarded fruit of the earth, of course even from wheat straw), according to Prisciano’s recommendation, or even not calcined at all, or spread till redness by the art through occult manifestation, and distilled with proper vehicle till volatility in form of clear water or a blood color sweet oil, it has the strength of gold if distilled through alembic, to then achieve the oil, or even the joined oil of the salt and gold and in the stone coagulated with great projection, which also about the sal fixum of our minera, which this chapter is about. He who is not accomplished in the real golden fishing net the philosophers spoke about, at least learns of the Mercurius of the vulgar gold, by itself and in itself precipitated and fixed, and so ends this chapter.”
The coming chapters are going to explain the processes to get those salts. For the moment it is enough to know we are still in the preliminary, or first work (see an Opus Magnum scheme).
Next chapter Ortelius Commentary on Sendivogius. Chapter 5.
Previous chapter at Ortelius Commentary on Sendivogius. Chapter 3.
- See also Phantom Play’s Earth Salt Self Extractor;
- See also A Very Ancient Method to Shatter Carbonate Rocks ;