The Antikamnia Chemical Company created these morbid calendars in the late 19th century and early 20th century to promote their pain killers to druggists. While their products were effective, they were revealed to contain a banned—and poisonous—ingredient, acetanilid. Images: Wellcome Library

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Catacomb saints are the lavishly decorated bodies of early Christians that were exhumed from the catacombs of Rome by the Vatican and placed in towns throughout Europe between the 16th and 19th century. The bodies were covered in gold and precious stones and acted as relics. Images: Neitram, Dalibri & Dbu (wikimedia commons)

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The Hand of the Philosophers is an alchemical symbol first appearing in Isaac Holland’s Die Hand der Philosophen, 15th century. Each feature of the hand corresponds to a quality, element and/or ingredient of the alchemical process. The thumb features a crown & quarter moon and represents the chemical saltpetre, which Holland calls “The King & Lord of all salts.”

The index finger features the star with six points, the meaning of which is only available to initiated alchemists, and the salt Roman Vitriol. The middle features the Sun, and represents Sal ammoniac. Above the ring finger is a lantern, representing alum. The little finger represents both the lock and key of the “hand” as well as common salt. In the palm, the fish represents Mercury, and the fire is just fire.

Images: Sammlung Alchymistischer Schriften, 18th century, Die Hand der Philosophen, 15th century

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Woodcuts from Des Circkelsz und Richtscheyts, Heinrich Lautensack, 1618. This book was meant as a guide for painters, sculptors, stonemasons, goldsmiths, and others to better understand perspective and the human form. Source: Embassy of the Free Mind

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Engraving from Speculum Sophicum Rhodostauroticum (“The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross”), 1618, an early manuscript on the esoteric order of Rosicrucianism by Theophilus Schweighardt Constantiens, a likely pseudonym of the alchemist, physician, and astronomer Daniel Mögling

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Faust’s Höllenzwang, known as The Book of Hell’s Charms, is a legendary book kept in a church in Zellerfeld. If you’re unlucky enough to be able to read it, it summons the Devil. If he is summoned, pray that you’re able to read it backwards or he may take your soul.

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The Ancient Egyptians believed that the soul was comprised of 9 parts, one being the human body that was left behind. This is partially the reason for mummification, to preserve this piece of the soul and act as conduit to deliver offerings to the rest of it. Photo: Gary Todd (modified)

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The Book of Thoth is a name given to a number of books purported to be written by Thoth, the Egyptian God of Knowledge. One version of the book is described in the ancient story Setne I. In the story, the book contained two spells—a spell to speak to animals, and one to perceive the gods. The book was originally hidden at the bottom of the Nile, locked and guarded by serpents, until it was retrieved by Prince Neferkaptah. As punishment, he was driven to suicide and entombed with the book. Years later, Prince Setne Khamwas retrieves the book from Neferkaptah’s tomb. The prince is seduced by the illusion of a beautiful woman who convinces him to kill his children, and make a fool of himself in front of the Pharaoh. Prince Setne returns the book in fear of further punishment. Image: Hunefer’s Book of the Dead, detail with Thoth

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In the mythology of the Woyo people of the Lower Congo, Bunzi is a goddess of rain who appears as a multicolored serpent, born of Mboze (and her son) who was killed by her husband for faithlessness when seeing Bunzi’s serpent form. Sometimes she can be seen in the ripples of water during sunset, or as a rainbow in the sky.

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An Aludel, also known as Hermetic Vase, the Philosopher’s Egg, and the Vase of the Philosophy, is a tool used in alchemy to turn to solids such as mercury, sulfur into gasses. The device is place in a furnace and the condensation is trapped at the top. Image: Alchemiae Gebri, 1545


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