Alchemical Emblems Project
Introduction
Back to main page  Resources   Studying emblems  Supporting the work
What is an alchemical emblem?
An alchemical emblem is a gathering together of alchemical symbols into an integrated image.

What is an alchemical symbol ?
These can be :-
  • animals - for example, lions, dragons, snakes, salmander, toads and many others
  • birds - phoenix, black crow, swan, among others
  • objects - such as globes, keys, cornucopia, the heart and many others
  • human figures - king, queen, child, hermaphrodite, even angels
  • and other items.


  • all of which have a special meaning in the context of an alchemical emblem.

    What about all those strange little characters for the metals, etc ?
    These are alchemical graphic characters, code symbols, or shorthand notation for various alchemical substances and processes.
    Cinnabar    Crucible
    Sometimes they appear in alchemical emblems.

    How can we make sense of an alchemical emblem ?
    Although these can seem very complex and even surreal at times, alchemical emblems try and tell us a story through the use of the symbols and the way in which they are linked together in the geometry of the emblem. I have provided some study courses which teach us how the read alchemical emblems. One cannot really naively interpret alchemical emblems, as one will just read ones own preconceptions into it and project ones own beliefs onto the symbols. One needs to study the context through having the experience of deeply contemplating many hundreds of images.

    Do alchemical emblems appear in different forms?
  • Some appear as single, individual emblems, perhaps a frontispiece to a book.
  • Some appear in a sequence of emblems, and we must consider them always as part of the series to which they belong.
  • Some are seen as engraved titlepages for books. Here they often appear to summarise the ideas presented in the book.


  • Where do we find alchemical emblems ?
  • pen drawings in manuscripts (15th to 18th centuries)
  • watercoloured drawings in manuscripts (15th to 18th centuries)
  • woodcuts in printed books (16th to 17th centuries)
  • engravings in printed books (16th to 18th centuries)


  • Are there different types of alchemical emblems?
  • Some are of alchemical apparatus, and do not have much symbolic content.
  • Some are entirely symbolic and allegorical
  • Some are more geometric, showing abstract ideas
  • Some are more mystical, perhaps in the style of Jacob Boehme or D.A. Freher
  • Some are cosmological, illustrating philosophical ideas