Alchemical symbol

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 standardized, style and symbol varied between alchemists, so this page mainly lists the most common ones.

Alchemical symbols in Torbern Bergman's 1775 Dissertation on Elective Affinities
Part 1 Part 2
Alchemical symbols before Lavoisier

Three primesEdit

According to Paracelsus (1493–1541), the three primes or tria prima – of which material substances are immediately composed – are:[1]

Four basic elementsEdit

Western alchemy makes use of the four classical elements. The symbols used for these are:[2]

Seven planetary metalsEdit

 
The shield in the coat of arms of the Royal Society of Chemistry, with the seven planetary-metal symbols

The seven metals known since Classical times in Europe were associated with the seven classical planets; this figured heavily in alchemical symbolism. The exact correlation varied over time, and in early centuries bronze or electrum were sometimes found instead of mercury, or copper for Mars instead of iron; however, gold, silver, and lead had always been associated with the Sun, Moon, and Saturn.[note 1] The associations below are attested from the 7th century and had stabilized by the 15th. They started breaking down with the discovery of antimony, bismuth, and zinc in the 16th century. Alchemists would typically call the metals by their planetary names, e.g. "Saturn" for lead, "Mars" for iron; compounds of tin, iron, and silver continued to be called "jovial", "martial", and "lunar"; or "of Jupiter", "of Mars", and "of the moon", through the 17th century. The tradition remains today with the name of the element mercury, where chemists decided the planetary name was preferable to common names like "quicksilver", and in a few archaic terms such as lunar caustic (silver nitrate) and saturnism (lead poisoning).[3][4]

Mundane elements and later metalsEdit

 
The squared circle: an alchemical symbol (17th century) illustrating the interplay of the four elements of matter symbolising the philosopher's stone

Alchemical compoundsEdit

 
A table of alchemical symbols from Basil Valentine's The Last Will and Testament, 1670

The following symbols, among others, have been adopted into Unicode.

Alchemical processesEdit

 
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 Dictionnaire mytho-hermétique (1758):[6]

  1. Calcination (Aries  ) ♈︎
  2. Congelation (Taurus  ) ♉︎
  3. Fixation (Gemini  ) ♊︎
  4. Solution (Cancer  ) ♋︎
  5. Digestion (Leo  ) ♌︎
  6. Distillation (Virgo  ) ♍︎
  7. Sublimation (Libra  ) ♎︎
  8. Separation (Scorpio  ) ♏︎
  9. Ceration (Sagittarius  ) ♐︎
  10. Fermentation (Capricorn  ) ♑︎ (Putrefaction)
  11. Multiplication (Aquarius  ) ♒︎
  12. Projection (Pisces  ) ♓︎

UnitsEdit

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

UnicodeEdit

Alchemical Symbols
RangeU+1F700..U+1F77F
(128 code points)
PlaneSMP
ScriptsCommon
Assigned124 code points
Unused4 reserved code points
Unicode version history
6.0 (2010)116 (+116)
15.0 (2022)124 (+8)
Note: [7][8]

The Alchemical Symbols block was added to Unicode in 2010 as part of Unicode 6.0.[9] Many of the symbols are duplicates or redundant with previous characters.[10]

Few fonts support more than a few characters in this block as of 2021. One that does and is free for personal use is Symbola 14.0.

Alchemical Symbols[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1F70x 🜀 🜁 🜂 🜃 🜄 🜅 🜆 🜇 🜈 🜉 🜊 🜋 🜌 🜍 🜎 🜏
U+1F71x 🜐 🜑 🜒 🜓 🜔 🜕 🜖 🜗 🜘 🜙 🜚 🜛 🜜 🜝 🜞 🜟
U+1F72x 🜠 🜡 🜢 🜣 🜤 🜥 🜦 🜧 🜨 🜩 🜪 🜫 🜬 🜭 🜮 🜯
U+1F73x 🜰 🜱 🜲 🜳 🜴 🜵 🜶 🜷 🜸 🜹 🜺 🜻 🜼 🜽 🜾 🜿
U+1F74x 🝀 🝁 🝂 🝃 🝄 🝅 🝆 🝇 🝈 🝉 🝊 🝋 🝌 🝍 🝎 🝏
U+1F75x 🝐 🝑 🝒 🝓 🝔 🝕 🝖 🝗 🝘 🝙 🝚 🝛 🝜 🝝 🝞 🝟
U+1F76x 🝠 🝡 🝢 🝣 🝤 🝥 🝦 🝧 🝨 🝩 🝪 🝫 🝬 🝭 🝮 🝯
U+1F77x 🝰 🝱 🝲 🝳 🝴 🝵 🝶 🝻 🝼 🝽 🝾 🝿
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

HistoryEdit

The following Unicode-related documents record the purpose and process of defining specific characters in the Alchemical Symbols block:

Version Final code points[a] Count L2 ID WG2 ID Document
6.0 U+1F700..1F773 116 L2/06-360 Lopez, Tamara (2006-10-30), Proposal on Newton Symbols
L2/07-422 Kass, James (2007-12-25), A preliminary collection of alchemical symbols
L2/08-313 Newman, William R.; Walsh, John A.; Kowalczyk, Stacy; Hooper, Wallace E. (2008-08-12), Toward a Proposal for an Alchemy Unicode Plane
L2/08-390 Newman, William R.; Walsh, John A.; Kowalczyk, Stacy; Hooper, Wallace E. (2008-10-27), Proposal for Alchemy Symbols in Unicode
L2/09-003R Moore, Lisa (2009-02-12), "B.15.14", UTC #118 / L2 #215 Minutes
L2/09-037R2 N3584 Newman, William R.; Walsh, John A.; Kowalczyk, Stacy; Hooper, Wallace E. (2009-03-06), Proposal for Alchemical Symbols in Unicode
L2/09-234 N3603 (pdf, doc) Umamaheswaran, V. S. (2009-07-08), "M54.10", Unconfirmed minutes of WG 2 meeting 54
L2/09-412 N3722 Suignard, Michel (2009-10-26), Disposition of comments on SC2 N 4078 (PDAM text for Amendment 8 to ISO/IEC 10646:2003)
L2/09-395 Whistler, Ken (2009-10-29), "Name Changes for Alchemical Symbols", WG2 Consent Docket
L2/09-335R Moore, Lisa (2009-11-10), "Consensus 121-C17", UTC #121 / L2 #218 Minutes
L2/10-119 N3813 Parker, Robert; et al. (2010-03-21), Comments on spelling SULPHUR vs SULFUR in FPDAM 8
L2/10-128 N3818 Hooper, Wallace E.; et al. (2010-03-29), Further Comments on the spelling SULPHUR vs SULFUR in FPDAM 8
L2/10-137 N3828 Suignard, Michel (2010-04-22), Disposition of comments on SC2 N 4123 (FPDAM text for Amendment 8 to ISO/IEC 10646:2003)
L2/10-152 Anderson, Deborah (2010-04-28), Brief report from WG2 Meeting #56, San Jose
15.0 U+1F774..1F776 3 L2/22-005 Miller, Kirk (2021-12-23), Unicode request for Lot of Fortune and eclipse symbols
L2/22-023 Anderson, Deborah; Whistler, Ken; Pournader, Roozbeh; Constable, Peter (2022-01-22), "18. Lot of Fortune and Eclipse Symbols", Recommendations to UTC #170 January 2022 on Script Proposals
L2/22-016 Constable, Peter (2022-04-21), "Consensus 170-C11", UTC #170 Minutes
U+1F77B..1F77F 5 L2/21-224 Miller, Kirk (2021-10-26), Unicode request for dwarf-planet symbols
L2/22-023 Anderson, Deborah; Whistler, Ken; Pournader, Roozbeh; Constable, Peter (2022-01-22), "16. Dwarf Planet Symbols", Recommendations to UTC #170 January 2022 on Script Proposals
L2/22-016 Constable, Peter (2022-04-21), "Consensus 170-C10", UTC #170 Minutes
  1. ^ Proposed code points and characters names may differ from final code points and names

See alsoEdit

Other symbols commonly used in alchemy and related esoteric traditions:

FootnotesEdit

  1. ^ For example, Mercury was tin and Jupiter was electrum in Marcianus.[3](p 236)

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Holmyard 1957, p. 170; cf. Friedlander 1992, pp. 75–76. For the symbols, see Holmyard 1957, p. 149 and Bergman's table as shown above.
  2. ^ Holmyard 1957, p. 149.
  3. ^ a b Crosland, Maurice (2004). Historical Studies in the Language of Chemistry.
  4. ^ a b c d e Holmyard 1957, p. 149
  5. ^ Explanation of the Chimical Characters from Nicaise Le Febvre, A compleat body of chymistry, London, 1670.
  6. ^ See Holmyard 1957, p. 150.
  7. ^ "Unicode character database". The Unicode Standard. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  8. ^ "Enumerated Versions of The Unicode Standard". The Unicode Standard. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
  9. ^ "Unicode 6.0.0". Unicode Consortium. 11 October 2010. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  10. ^ Unicode L2/09-037R2

Works citedEdit

  • Friedlander, Walter J. (1992). The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine. Contributions in Medical Studies, 35. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-28023-1.
  • Holmyard, Eric J. (1957). Alchemy. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. OCLC 2080637.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Alchemical symbols at Wikimedia Commons