In Egyptian, Akhet means “dawn.” This symbol—often made into an amulet by the Ancient Egyptians—symbolized the new Sun rising over the sacred mountain.
The symbol sometimes features the double-headed lion, or Aker, that guards it, and is also related to the glyph used to denote the astrological sign of Libra.
This is an African fertility symbol belonging to the Ashanti tribe. The Akwaba is a doll, usually carved of wood, which commands the same attention as a real infant. It is dressed, washed, and even “fed” until the human child is actually born, an example of sympathetic magic believed to ensure the arrival of the true baby.
Alchemy is an ancient art, at the heart of which lies the manufacture of a mysterious substance called the Philosopher’s Stone, the highly desirable and legendary object that is said to transform base metals—such as lead—into gold.
However, the gold in this instance symbolizes not just the valuable metal, but enlightenment and eternal life, and Alchemists are concerned with their own spiritual and personal development as well as the pursuit of the seemingly unattainable goal. The Chinese differentiate these different kinds of alchemy as nei-tan (the alchemy of spiritual transformation) and waitan (the straightforward “lead-into-gold” type).
The motto of the Alchemists is Solve et Coagula, meaning “Solution and Coagulation.”
The work of the early Alchemists was necessarily a secretive and clandestine matter, and its secrets are still held within a rich encrustation of symbols, pictures, oblique references, double meanings, and riddles. Alchemical symbolism features animals, birds, colors, and parables as well as archetypal symbols such as the Cosmic Egg.
The key tenets of alchemy are encompassed in something called the Smaragdina Tablet, or the Emerald Tablet, which is said to have been found by Alexander the Great in the tomb of Hermes Trismegistus (Hermes the Thrice Great) who is the founder of all things alchemical. The Alchemical Tradition exists/existed in Ancient Egypt, China, and India, but its most recent incarnation was in medieval Europe.
Those who dabbled in alchemy include the famous and the infamous, such as John Dee (astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I), Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus, Christian Rosenkreuz, Nicholas Flamel, and Isaac Newton. Some of the chemical treatises are befuddling to even the most learned of scholars, but the very word “alchemy” is almost in itself a symbol, conjuring up images that are magical, mystical, and marvelous.
Although some of the alchemical symbols occasionally varied a little between practitioners, the following lists show the most commonly used interpretations. This list is by no means comprehensive but gives a good cross-section of the “feel” of these mysterious signs. It is interesting to see how many of these alchemical symbols have survived to the present day, and how the meanings of the simpler symbols are so universal that they extend well beyond the reaches of this one system.
The four basic elements
The four seasons
The seven planetary metals
- Sun gold
- Moon silver
- Mercury mercury or quicksilver
- Venus copper
- Mars iron
- Jupiter tin
- Saturn lea
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