Alchemical symbol

Alchemical symbols, alchemy meanings

Alchemical symbols, originally devised as part of alchemy, were used to denote some elements and some compounds until the 18th century. Although notation like this was mostly standardised, style and symbol varied between alchemists, so this page lists the most common.

Three primes

According to Paracelsus (1493–1541), the three primes or tria prima – of which material substances are immediately composed – are:

  • Mercury (Mind)  Mercury symbol.svg
  • Salt (base matter or body) 🜔 Line within circle.svg
  • Sulfur (Spirit) 🜍 Sulphur.svg

Four basic elements

Western alchemy makes use of the Hellenic elements. The symbols used for these are:

  • Air 🜁 Alchemy air symbol.svg
  • Earth 🜃 Alchemy earth symbol.svg
  • Fire 🜂 Alchemy fire symbol.svg
  • Water 🜄 Alchemy water symbol.svg

Seven planetary metals

Seven metals are associated with the seven classical planets, and seven deities, all figuring heavily in alchemical symbolism. Although the metals occasionally have a glyph of their own, the planet's symbol is used most often, and the symbolic and mythological septenary is consistent with Western astrology. The planetary symbolism is limited to the seven wandering stars visible to the naked eye, and the extra-Saturnian planets Uranus and Neptune are not used.

  • Lead dominated by Saturn  Saturn symbol.svg )
  • Tin dominated by Jupiter  Jupiter symbol.svg )
  • Iron dominated by Mars  Mars symbol.svg )
  • Gold dominated by Sol   Sun symbol.svg )
  • Copper dominated by Venus  (also: Copper symbol.svg )
  • Mercury (quicksilver) dominated by Mercury  Mercury symbol.svg )
  • Silver dominated by Luna  Crescent.svg )

Mundane elements

a drawing of a person
The Squared Circle: an Alchemical Symbol (17th century) illustrating the interplay of the four elements of matter symbolising the philosopher's stone
  • Antimony  Antimony-symbol.svg
  • Arsenic 🜺 Arsenic alchemical symbol.svg
  • Bismuth 🜘 Bismuth Symbol.svg
  • Boron =
  • Lithium Stone symbol.svg
  • Magnesium 
  • Phosphorus
  • Platinum ☽☉
  • Potassium
  • Sulfur 🜏 🜍 Sulfur symbol 1 2.svg Sulphur.svg
  • Zinc Zinc-alchemy symbols.png

Alchemical compounds

a close up of a receipt
A table of alchemical symbols from Basil Valentine's The Last Will and Testament, 1670
  • Sal ammoniac (Ammonium chloride) 🜹 *
  • Aqua fortis (Nitric acid) 🜅 A.F.
  • Aqua regia (Nitro-hydrochloric acid) 🜆 A.R.
  • Spirit of wine (also called aqua vitae)(Concentrated ethanol) 🜈 S.V.
  • Amalgam (Alloys of a metal and mercury) 🝛
  • Cinnabar (Mercury sulfide) 🜓
  • Vitriol (Sulfates) 🜖

Alchemical processes

An extract and symbol key from Kenelm Digby's A Choice Collection of Rare Secrets, 1682

The alchemical magnum opus was sometimes expressed as a series of chemical operations. In cases where these numbered twelve, each could be assigned one of the Zodiac signs as a form of cryptography. The following example can be found in Pernety's 1758 Mytho-Hermetic Dictionary:

  • Calcination (Aries Aries.svg) 
  • Congelation (Taurus Taurus.svg) 
  • Fixation (Gemini Gemini.svg) 
  • Dissolution (Cancer Cancer.svg) 
  • Digestion (Leo Leo.svg) 
  • Distillation (Virgo Virgo.svg) 
  • Sublimation (Libra Libra.svg) 
  • Separation (Scorpio Scorpio.svg) 
  • Incineration (Sagittarius Sagittarius.svg) 
  • Fermentation (CapricornCapricorn.svg)  (Putrefaction)
  • Multiplication (Aquarius Aquarius.svg) 
  • Projection (Pisces Pisces.svg) 

Units

Several symbols indicate units of volume, weight, or time.

  • Hour 🝮
  • Dram 🝲
  • Ounce 
  • Half-Ounce 🝳