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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The Black Aggie is the unauthorized—and cursed—copy of the funerary sculpture for Clover Adams (of the presidentially famous Adams family) who died by suicide. Legends say her eyes glow at night and make men go blind, that her shadow causes miscarriages, that sleeping on her lap causes death, and even that she tore her own arm off, giving it to a local metal worker. After enough incidents, the statue was removed from the cemetery and sequestered in the basement of the Smithsonian. She’s currently installed in the courtyard of the Howard T. Markey National Courts Building in Washington D.C. Photo: dbking on Flickr

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Heavenly bodies are essential in alchemy, particularly the sun, moon, Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn. Symbols of these planets are common in alchemical art along with their Greek god counterparts, and the success of operations were sometimes tied to zodiacal time. Beyond times of the month, day and hour, these heavenly bodies also corresponded to metals, parts of the body, cardinal sins, and cardinal virtues. Images: Clavis artis, Zoroaster, 17th century and De naturae…historia, Robert Fludd, 1680

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Ulrich Ruosch’s Alchemical Manual, 1680, is a pocket sized manuscript containing an overview of alchemy and the meaning of planets, numbers, letters, and elements. Alchemical implements, philosophy, and symbolism representing each stage of the process are also found inside.

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Boginki are minor deities in Slavic folklore that personify nature. They appear in many different forms and dwell in swamps, lakes, rivers, forests and mountains. They’re sometimes hostile and attack women during childbirth, switch babies with changelings and destroy fishing nets. Depending on the region, Boginki were thought to previously be women who committed suicide or died in childbirth. The babies taken by them and replaced with changelings could also be turned into Boginki. Images: Maria Apoleika, 1874

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The Habergeiss is a hoofed demon with glowing eyes from Germanic folklore that appears in the form of a bird, a goat, or a combination of the two. The spirit is known to take children away in a basket, which is reenacted by costumed people at various festivals. Other versions of the spirit are vampiric and suck the blood of farmers and their cattle. Image: Wolfgang Sauber (modified)

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Emblems from Sammlung unterschiedlicher bewährter chymischer Schriften, Johannes Isaac Holladus & Michael Sendivogius, 1746, including The Hand of the Philosophers and a Globus cruciger. Source: Embassy of the Free Mind

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In the 16th and 17th century, women accused of witchcraft were often subjected to a trial by water. Their hands were bound and they were thrown into water. If they floated—a witch. If they sunk—innocent. While they often had rope tied around their waists to bring them back, there were many accidental drownings. From: Bericht von Erforschung, Herman Neuwaldt, 1611. Source: University of Glasgow Library

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Erlik or Erik Khan is the pig-faced god of death and rulers of demons in Siberian mythology, and the first creation of Ulsan the creator god. He judges the dead and is assisted by evil spirits that cause misfortune, sickness, and death, including 9 sons and daughters. Image: Dictionnaire Infernal

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