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Alchemy in Finland

by Heikki Lehtosaari

Some kings of Sweden (Gustaf III in particular) had their own alchemists, or at least they supported people like Palmstruch and Gumpertz to find the stone. Also we had our only known alchemists during the Swedish regime.


I. Nordenberg

The first of our two was Magnus Otto Nordenberg (1705-1756), who went to Europe for three years to study the sawmill industry in the mid 1720's. During his visit to Leyden he had Boerhaave teach him some of his Arcana Chemica.

After he returned, Nordenberg started (at least from 1735 on) to investigate the origin of the materia. There are some rare manuscripts which state this fact.

One of them is called: "The road to Urim and Thummin, rediscovered on the basis of certain testimony from the Holy Bible of true natural science, happily rediscovered in the land of Finland, or: How the road to Urim was happily rediscovered, and how the light from gold, in gold and through gold, is gained, in short as possible told by a friend of truth".

Nordenberg's Urim seems to be a form of the Lapis Philosophorum, purified and refined essence of gold, that has the power to reproduce gold and to give health and strength of living and so forth.

The work itself, he explains more or less in this manner:

With tender fire drive the coarsest membranes to the outer circle of gold, where they first appear in black, then in snow white form, finally transferring into transparent glass. With the influence of fire, the gold delivers more and more "terrestricteet", the earthly darkness, that settles on the inside of the shell of glass and increases the strength of this transparent substance.
The gold itself becomes purer and purer, undergoing several shades of colours, from black to white and from there to red.
But the work is not finished by one cooking; it needs several evolutions, until there finally remains "a grease that continuously glows in the dark, shaped like a round swelling, called Urim".
The procedure also needs an understanding enlightened by God "for the oneness of the trinity, that is met in a perfect form in all the sunlike substance and in every earthly one more or less fulfilled".
This Urim is the first seed of the material light, but its final conclusion is Thummin, "In gloriousness much more prominent than the sun itself".

The making of Thummin seems to be made of a diamond - according to Nordenberg - but even he himself admits that he hasn't quite discovered how it is done for sure.

It appears that none of Nordenberg's works were ever published.


II. Nordenskiold.

August Nordenskiold was born in the estate of Eriknaes in Sipoo, near Helsinki the 6th of February 1754.

He studied in the capitol city of those days, Turku. He majored in chemistry and mineralogy. Professor P. A. Gadd was his tutor, and the young student was strongly defending his professorial thesis "Om tennets och dess malmers beskaffenfet", (that involves tin and pewter and making of ores).

After that he studied in Stockholm, Sweden and worked, for example, in the mountain college there. But already his main interest had turned to alchemy, which led him to join the Swedenborg Society. This was no surprise to the family, because his brother, Kaarle Fredrik Jr. was also interested in mystical studies, as was their father, Colonel Kaarle Fredrik Nordenskiold to some degree. In fact his uncle was none other than M. O. Nordenberg, who encouraged him in his alchemical examinations (and this uncle also links him to Boerhaavian tradition!).

August had a dream of finding the way to make as much gold as one wished and, by finding the Lapis, to end the slavery of money and end poverty and evil, perhaps even disease and death and "the Congregation of New Jerusalem" would come true in its purity.

In 1779 the King Gustaf III granted a scholarship for him to travel to London in order to study alchemy. There he was said to have published a work called: "A plain system of Alchemy", but it is not to be found in Finland today. Perhaps the Swedenborgians in London have a hint of the whereabouts of the manuscript.

After his returning to Stockholm he formed an alchemical laboratory in Drottningholm with the greatest secrecy.

In 1782 he was appointed to be the director of the mining industry ("Bergshauptman") in Finland, but I have found no proof of him working as such. On the contrary; he was even in 1784 writing a lot to a Swedenborgian "Aftonbladet"- paper in Stockholm.

Yet in 1785 we find him back in Finland - establishing a laboratory in Uusikaupunki. By that time there is a lot of evidence of him working with alchemy day and night. And from that period are also my favourite pieces of his works (never officially published).

In a letter dated the 11th of January 1787 he actually uses the terminology of the Finnish sauna, when he describes the work:

"...At eleven a clock we warmed the bathhouse (stove) and at one the children will start bathing, all eight of them ... the proportion is six hours in the bath and eighteen in sweating..."

By that time he was also writing publications on alchemy, like "Aldeles Fullständigt Begrep om den Enda och Sanna Alchemiska Processen" (The very true process of alchemy), in which he explains a work of 10-15 months - by solution and coagulation - to obtain the all powerful, curing and goldmaking Stone of the Wise (old Swedish: de Vises Sten, Finnish: Viisasten Kivi); Lapis Philosophorum.

After some misfortunes and accidents he returned to Drottingholm in 1787, this time under the supervision of Count Munck. Count Munck was not very happy with Nordenskiold, who was already in great debt, so he left Stockholm in 1789 to travel to England, France and Denmark. To my knowledge he was still paid by the kingdom.

During these travels he became interested in forming a sort of "Utopia" in Africa. His marriage to Anna Charlotta Ekholm in 1779 was never a great success; on top of the financial conditions - his wife never shared his keen love of alchemy.

August died the 10th of December in 1792 in Freetown in Sierra Leone, Africa.

There is a statue by Jussi Vikanen in the park of Vallimaeki in Uusikaupunki, showing the approximate location of the workshop of "August Nordenskiold, the Finnish maker of gold".