Le Pellettier in La Pyrotechnie de Starkey ou l’Art de Volatilizer les Alcalis” ties legendary Alkahest to alkaline salts volatilization.
French physician Jean Le Pellettier, since preface, assures he selected all Starkey writings that seemed appropriate for discovering the secret of Alkahest, and the Secret of its mysteries involving the volatilization of alkalis, giving the first entry into the major arcana.
So: “ One could learn to prepare, purify, correct and exalt simples by Alkalis, all we could do with the same Alkahest, because of their penetration”. Accordingly to the most famed sentence on the topic: “If you can not achieve Alkahest, learn, says Van Helmont, to volatilize alkalis and through them you can make your dissolutions”.
This post is intended as an introduction. If you prefer jumping directly to proceedings skip at Starkey Pyrotechnie & Volatilization of Alkalis 2.
As for Starkey being Philalethes, doubtful Le Pellettier dedicates several pages presenting contrary evidences on the case. He portrays George Starkey as a quarrelsome and unlucky man, who charged and was charged with inventions infringements, and who died of plague in a London jail in 1665.
Back to main topic, inspite of different titles, french treatises are actually one. As Ferguson in his exhaustive Bibliotheca Chemica points out (on the left are here produced snapshots on the subject), Le Pellettier had his treatise published under two different titles and both in 1706, or better he sent to publisher two identical books which only difference were in title-page. However that was not infrequent in seventeenth century. But let’s get on with twin treatises now.
Pyrotechnics is an appropriate term for alchemical chemistry. In greek πῦρ (pyr) is fire. Hermetics authors have given it an all comprehensive meaning. Indeed, in his preface, Le Pellettier introduces Starkey as: “ George Starkey doctor of medicine in London, unhappy with the galenic method he had thoroughly studied, undertook the review of Paracelsus and Van Helmont writings. With such application, he entered principles and Mysteries, which made him a learned philosopher by fire.”
As said in a post of mine on Aqua Regia, our Secret Fire or Alkahest or Universal Dissolvent or Spirit or Mercurius or Virgin or Old Man, is more than an Alchemy key. It is Alchemy Alpha and Omega (see Basilius Valentinus Azoth). It is not a secret (at least in this blog) that our Dissolvent to reduce matter-mass (1) to its essential can be produced by means of repeated changes of state in salts or ashes. Hence one can understand the utter importance given by alchemists to salts volatilization. Volatilize means causing a substance to evaporate or disperse in vapor. This is chemically speaking, but since we are in preparatory work this is just the case. See an Opus Magnum scheme.
Le Pellettier is a physician and consequently points on pharmaceutical preparation. Indeed he suggests volatilized salts to be “reduced” in essential oils: “…..The Salt of Tartar volatilized can be reduced to a spiritual elixir with essential oils……..and this with no other cooking than a Sun-like one. In a short time they are reduced to a crystalline salt like sugar candy, dyed with the color of simple, whose retains all the taste and odor, that “Magnum oportet” (2), or the middle way holds (3)”. His insistence on essential oils is constant and ubiquitous in these first pages. Anyway you can hardly find in his book more than vague and insufficient instructions on preparation. Mind that Le Pellettier talks of reduction to spiritual elixir, not common dissolution in essential oils. For Salt of Tartar volatilized and repeatedly volatilized, can no more be called common Salt of Tartar volatilized. And essential oils volatility has been well recognized for millennia. Ancient Egyptians and Sabians did know something about, in fact they lived in such a warm climate, they hardly needed common fire at all. Please, pay attention, not rush over it. We are here very close to our Alkahest. If you remember my first post on Hollandus De Lapide Philosophico, Mercurius Philosophorum texture is very depending on Materia Tertia ( raw matter) and Secunda ( purified vehicle matter). So no wonder if Le Pellettier talks of “sugar candies” made from spiritual elixir.
In Alchemy Tartar term is ubiquitous. To an extent that some alchemists have used it as an allegory for Mercurius Philosophorum. Thus we are not here inevitably talking of ordinary potassium carbonate or hydroxide. Indeed, back to late renaissance and baroque period, the chemical purity of substances was unknown and scarcely demanded.
To be continued at Starkey Pyrotechnie & Volatilization of Alkalis 2 with proceedings.
- Albert Poisson “Matter Unit without Materia Prima“;
- Magnum oportet, latin for “best convenience”;
- To be honest, I don’t know if this sentence hides a hermetic meaning;