Orthelius announces his intention to go above and beyond Sendivogius: searching out the raw matter to extract the threefold salt while not wetting the garment.

orthelius commentary on sendivogius img 1In first chapter of his commentary on Sendivogius’ New Chemical Light demonstrates from the beginning that he is not going to strictly comment on Sendivogius, but mostly take inspiration from the great Polish alchemist. My translation from Latin source Theatrum Chemicum Zetzneri ArgentoratiOrthelius Commentator in Novum Lumen Chymicum Michaelis Sendivogii. Caput I, Tome 6page 404.

My translation from latin in quotation mark, my comments in normal. You can find the long and interesting preface in Orthelius Commentary on Sendivogius. Preface. I translated as verbatim as possible to maintain the integrity of the text:

orthelius commentary on sendivogius chap 1 incipit“Chapter 1.

On the subject of the Earth, that’s to say the Philosophers Stone Matter inferior part.

Text. If the Earth, concerning the generation of metals, is the mother, the Sky is required to be the father, but then the material part must again have its origin in the Earth. As there can be found many categories of Earth, it is necessary to have great competence in choosing the appropriate one for this special work; among them a naturally red earth should be picked up, Terra Adamica (Adamic Earth) and Terra Hispanica, with its consistent appearance improving, black, white, golden reddish-yellow, called nature of color.”

Orthelius starts his first chapter with a sort of conundrum investigating the best matter to obtain the Philosophers Stone. In the rest of the exposition we will see if the author decides to go beyond the tradition to keep in secret the preparatory works (in just a few paragraphs he will describe more common earths). Anyway, Terra Adamica, which comes from Adam the alleged first man, in the ancient alchemical dictionaries would represent instead the final product of our works, not the raw matter we need  starting the first work with to achieve the necessary Mercurius.   He reinforces the concept with the sentence: “…una terra prae alia, pro hoc negotio eligatur, ex quibus lutum naturaliter rubrum prae exteris or, verbatim, an earth ahead of all others, to be chosen among all foreigners, from those a naturally red lutum……”. Lutum in Latin doesn’t mean soil, ground, but mud, slime, clay in the sense of shaping, molding. A second meaning is also “weld”, a water plant that colored in red-yellow. A later medieval meaning leads to the chemical lute sealing an alembic. Lutum, in Alchemy, is also synonym of seal.

The exact meaning of Terra Adamica  is not same with all alchemists. In fact for some it is a synonym of Terra Foliata (1), for others – of Red Powder. The stages are different: Terra Foliata is Mercurius Philosophorum, the Red Powder is the product of operations on Terra Foliata. Both cannot to be found as a ready substance in mine, but have to be prepared from our white Mercurius, which is a rather ineffable substance coming out of salt volatilizations, out of black primitive Mercurius.  Eventually, as Orthelius points out, both Terra Foliata and Red Powder should undergo a further “nature of color”.  And Terra Adamica, in both meanings, is only from Mercurius. The term Earth can refer both to the raw initial matter and the final matter, in fact we humans do work with tools, and tools always contain powders, oils, waxes, smokes. In Alchemy “Earth”. The element Earth, the part we can see, the inferior part.

Concerning what the author calls “nature of color”, this is also accompanied by the sentence “with its consistent appearance improving” and then a list of those colors i.e. black, white, golden reddish-yellow. Which are strangely in the exact order of our rota or color rotations. Some translater interpret as though those colors were a distinctive mark  of the earths to be avoided, but the adjectives seem to be in relation with the ablative “pro meliore”, or in order to get a better product, and “habitus” means appearance-condition, so in the original latin it seems that the colors could ameliorate the naturally red.

The reader may have also noted the second epithet for this earth, i.e. “Terra Hispanica” which, according to some ancient authors, means vitriol.

“Side-note: Lutum provided with threefold salt.

And although the above mentioned lutum is found in any place: nonetheless it can be extracted more ranked or beautiful, or universal at certain sites rather than the others. Hence philosophers believed it is to be dug up either towards east or the sun rising, which is traditionally a supreme position for a metal mine, and it carries within itself a threefold recondite salt…….”

orthelius commentary on sendivogius chap 1…….quod triplicem salem in se reconditum gerit or carries within itself a threefold recondite salt.….pay attention to this sentence as one of the most important in the first chapter. Andreas Orthelius chooses “reconditum” (little known, abstruse), and not “occultum” (hidden, secret, arcane, esoteric), to point at the knowledge rather than the object per se. What comprehension should the reader grasp? The fact that from the same raw matter we can get three different salts, in texture and appearance. Please note that I used the verb “can” instead of “must”. In fact we can use three different raw matters as well, we are in preliminary works, the unique matter will be Mercurius Philosophorum in second work.

But why should we need three salts? Because in Alchemy all is performed by salts, so more than one. Roughly, salts have to be married, or Mercurius Duplicatus (2), even united in marriage by a third salt, bishop or servant (3), and finally giving birth to another salt (the alchemical child).

“…one of them is volatile and similar to salt armeniac, the other is of medium texture and nitrous. The third is entirely fixed and comparable to salt alkali. The philosophers are said to call these three salts, after having mixed them together, body and part of Mercurius.. As well as terrestrial liquored water……”

For the moment Orthelius hasn’t yet hinted at a path, so, to be on safe side, I would suggest to identify the three salts as just named after their texture, independently from their chemical composition and source. For instance “salt armeniac”, which, with slightly different nomenclature, can be found in ancient chemists’ works on urine or vegetal reign, and could even have been extracted not from urine, or saltpeter, but from atmosphere or a mineral. The author says the salt is similar to salt armeniac, so it may here simply connote a volatile salt out of the first, or preliminary work, in fact the term “Sal Armoniacum” was used to signify Mercurius in general, and a spirit specifically when separating from its body; in fact the author further down will define salt armeniac just as Mercurius Philosophicus.

Concerning the “nitrous” salt, that too could be mentioned along the same lines, with just a sulfurous appearance (more fixed than the volatile Mercurius), which was what ancient chemists meant when calling a substance “nitrous”. We will see as we go what kind of path Orthelius is thinking of. Anyway, mind that the method put in display by Orthelius will not be the unique possible: apparently he presents the fixation of the volatile with another salt, but it is not always like that, in fact it often is rather difficult to open the vessel to handle the first volatile salt.


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