Alchemy has had a long history in our world has been starting off its infancy in Ancient Egypt, having been adopted by other civilizations over the centuries into more refined practices reaching new heights. Eventually, alchemical symbols were created in order to further refine the practice and help document the elements leading to new discoveries and mixtures. mostly in the pursuit of eternal life, in attempts to create elixirs to prolong life, and in pursuit of creating precious gold out of simple metals through long arduous processes of slow-burning and mixture of other elements to make a new amalgam. These symbols of this proto-science helped pave the way for new discoveries of new elements and alike, aiding humankind in its progress to the point of modern chemistry.
What are Alchemical symbols?
Alchemical symbols are glyphs used to indicate the different compounds and chemical elements of which everything is comprised of. The three primes or tria prima of these include salt (body – base matter)/ mercury (the spirit – mind)/sulfur (soul).
The historical significance of alchemical element symbols
Alchemy first originated in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians were enthralled by their beliefs in life after death, and the procedures of mummification most likely gave rise to their basic understanding of chemical knowledge in the pursuit of immortality. Alchemists had three main objectives with these chemicals, immortality being one of them; combining elements to create the mythical Philosopher’s Stone which allegedly could transmute metals like lead into gold and give the beholder eternal life and making elixirs for eternal youth, health, and beauty. The word Alchemy is derived from the Arabic phrase ‘Al-Kimia’ referring to the Egyptian preparations of elixirs and the fertile banks of the Nile river. Eventually, it spread as different nations conquered Egypt from the Greeks and the Arabs who adopted this proto-science eventually spreading to Asia and Europe. Symbols were created to represent different elements and even astronomical symbols of planets were used, or the signs of the zodiac were also used.
Alchemical table of symbols
22 Alchemy symbols with meanings and how to use them
Alchemy is the practice of studying the reaction each different element made when combined. goal being turning base metals into metals of value, primarily gold. In the 17th century alchemists devised different symbols to identify various materials. Often there were various different symbols for one element, because at the time one could be persecuted for this practice.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Mercury
Mercury (one of the seven planetary symbols) also known in ancient times as quicksilver, represents the mind, and was believed to be able to shift between life and death as it was able to shift between liquid and solid states. It was represented by the planet Mercury and is representative of female energy.
How to use Mercury alchemy symbols
- It is often depicted as a snake or serpent.
- The symbol could be used to represent the metal mercury as well as the planet.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Salt
Salt is representative of the body and all physical matter, crystallization and condensation. The reason why alchemists would compare salt to the body was because of the impure state it was seen to be in when raw but through a chemical process it’s dissolved and purified, which is similar to the process the human body undergoes when detoxing toxins.
How to use Salt alchemy symbols
- A circle with a horizontal line through the middle
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Sulphur
Sulphur is associated with dryness, heat and masculinity. It can also represent evaporation, expansion and dissolution. It is depicted as the soul and is seen as the middling element connecting salt and Sulphur.
How to use Sulphur alchemy symbols
- At the bottom there is a Greek cross with a triangle on top.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Air
Air represents the life giving force and is associated with the colors white and blue. It can also represent heat and wetness.
How to use Air alchemy symbols
- It is an upward facing triangle with a horizontal line through the top half.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Earth
Earth represents physical movement and sensations, associated with brown and green and has been associated with dry and cold.
How to use Earth alchemy symbols
- Downward-pointing triangle with a horizontal line through the bottom half.
- it is basically the air symbol, upside down.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Water
Water is often linked to the symbol of mercury and is a representative of intuition.
How to use Water alchemy symbols
- Downward facing triangle.
- Used to represent something which holds water like a chalice or a glass.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Fire
Fire represents feelings like hate and anger or love and passion. It identifies with the colors Red and orange are associated with it as well as hot and dry.
How to use Fire alchemy symbols
- Upward facing triangle.
- Opposite of the water symbol.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Lead
Lead, one of the seven classical metals which will be discussed below. It is linked to the spleen in human bodies.
How to use Lead alchemy symbols
- It is Associated with the planet Saturn.
- Has a cross with a horizontal line through the top half which is longer on the right hand side of the vertical line.
- Has a curved line going to the right of the cross.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Tin
Tin is associated with Jupiter and the day of the week, Thursday.
How to use Tin alchemy symbols
- It can be used for liver related situations.
- The symbol looks as if the numbers 2 and 4 were combined. The horizontal base line of the number two is shared with the base horizontal line of the number 4.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Iron
Iron is associated with masculine energy and the planet Mars. Its day of the week is a Tuesday.
How to use Iron alchemy symbols
- The traditional male sign is the symbol for iron.
- It can be used in relation to the gallbladder.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Gold
Gold is associated with the Sun. It represents perfection and one of the most prominent symbols as most alchemists strived to create this metal.
How to use Gold alchemy symbols
- Either a circle with a dot in the middle or or a circle with curvy lines coming out from the circumference, like sun rays.
- It is used in relation to the heart.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Copper
Copper is associated with Venus and Friday. This symbol embodies characteristics of love, beauty, balance and feminine energies.
How to use Copper alchemy symbols
- Either a female symbol or an X intersected by 3 lines. The centre being shorter with a colored in diamond shapes at each end where the other two lines have hollow circles at each end.
- It can be used for the kidneys.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Silver
Silver represents the Moon and purity.
How to use Silver alchemy symbols
- A crescent moon which can face either to the right or the left.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Antimony
Antimony represents the untamed or feral parts of human nature and is often seen representing the wolf.
How to use Antimony alchemy symbols
- Circle with cross above.
- Looks like an upside down female symbol.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Arsenic
Arsenic is sometimes symbolized with a swan because it can transform it’s physical appearance, like ugly duckling becoming a beautiful swan.
How to use Arsenic alchemy symbols
Overlapping triangles, one downward facing triangle and one upward facing triangle with an open section on the bottom middle.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Bismuth
Bismuth has often been mistaken for tin and lead but not much is known about it.
How to use Bismuth alchemy symbols
- It is still uncertain what Bismuth was used for.
- It is symbolized as a circle with a semi-circle on top facing upwards like a cup.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Magnesium
Magnesium represents eternity.
How to use Magnesium alchemy symbols
- Alchemists used magnesium carbonate for experiments as actual magnesium could not be found in its pure form.
- Most common symbol is a stylized D with a cross coming out from the right of the D.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Phosphorus
Phosphorous represents the spirit and was important for alchemists as it was believed to capture light.
How to use Phosphorus alchemy symbols
- One vertical lined crossed with two horizontal lines with a triangle on top of that.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Platinum
Platinum was believed to be a combination of gold and silver.
How to use Platinum alchemy symbols
- left facing crescent moon left of a circle with a dot in center.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Potassium
Potassium could not be found naturally so potassium carbonate (potash) was used for experiments.
How to use Potassium alchemy symbols
- A cross with a rectangle on top.
Meaning of the alchemy symbol for Zinc
Zinc was burnt to create zinc oxide often referred to as “white snow”
How to use Zinc alchemy symbols
Stylized Z with bottom looking like lowercase f.
Our conclusion about alchemical symbolism
Alchemical symbols depicting chemical elements have been used by many different alchemists across the globe for over a thousand years. There have been many variations r the same element in the later half of the millennia for fear of persecution in the 18th century having evolved into chemistry where there was no more need for them. They were the precursor to modern science and chemistry and have had a long impactful history in human civilization allowing many to learn many new ways to combine elements into something new and wonderful.
How many alchemy symbols are there?
There are 22 symbols in total.
Where did alchemy symbols come from?
It is said that Alchemy was first used in the early centuries of AD, having its roots in Egypt, Rome and Greece. By the time the 12th century came about it was apparent by evidence that the use of the alchemical symbols had been adopted by India, China and England.
How to recognize alchemical symbols?
Alchemical symbols can be recognized by their simple in nature geometrical shapes. Some stylized with curves and many with straight intersecting lines, they are almost hieroglyphic in nature.