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Golden Moments- Nick Kollerstrom

This is a shortened version of an article published in the UK astrology Quarterly, and reprinted several times. It collects moments when alchemists claim to have made gold, and analyses these 'astrologically' in terms of the celestial aspects then present. They were found to have remarkable features in common. Perhaps a reader will locate more such dates?

When alchemists made Gold

There were various historic dates when the alchemists of old were supposed to have made gold. A collection of these, ranging from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, has here been assembled. An astrological analysis was conducted, to see whether any special celestial aspects were present at such moments. Thereby we discern whether these events shared in common any particular quality of time.

Strong solar aspects were found to be present at these moments. Gold is the Sun-metal, which is the reason why one might expect such. Claims that gold had been made, on these famous occasions, stirred up great public excitement. We have limited this inquiry to such occasions as were witnessed, that is to say, on which the alchemist was not alone: these are witnessed and dated alchemical moments.

By this approach we may hope to avoid the futile question of whether the alchemists 'really' made gold. The times when such events were recorded could well have in common some special qualities: for example, if lead was traditionally the prima materia from which the gold was made, would one expect strong aspects to Saturn? Or, would Mercury play a key role on days when the 'Hermetic Art' was being consummated?

Altogether nine such moments were collected
1. drawn from: 'The Gold Makers' by K.Doberer(1948), 'The Secret Tradition in alchemy' by A.E.Waite (19 ), 'Alchemy' by E.J.Holmyard (1957), 'Alchemists and Gold' by Jacques Sadoul (1972), and 'The Arts of the Alchemists' by C.A.Burland (19**)
2. The date for Edward Kelly comes from the diaries of John Dee
3. while those for Hevelius and the Guildford alchemist Dr James Price appear in their own publications
4. Where more than one such date was available, as for the alchemists Seton and Price, only the first was used.

1. Flamel, 1382, Paris

In the 14th century, after 'years of unremitting labour', the French alchemist Nicholas Flamel recorded how he finally prepared the 'elixir':

'...I made projection of the Red Stone upon half a pound of mercury, ... the five-and-twentieth day of April following, the same year [1382] about five o'clock in the evening; which I transmuted truly into about the same quantity of pure gold, most certainly better than ordinary gold, being more soft and more pliable...I had indeed enough when I had once done it, but I found exceeding great pleasure and delight in seeing and contemplating the admirable works of Nature.' (Holmyard, p.245)

The chart of that time shows the the golden Sun conjunct Mercury within a 5 orb, and leaden Saturn (to 6), themselves 1 apart. Pluto, the 'lord of transformation' conjoins Mercury to 8'. The red planet Mars casts a trine to this four-planet stellium.

2. Kelley, 1586, Trebona in Bohemia

In the mid-19th century a private diary of Doctor John Dee came to light, 'written in a very small illegible script on the margins of old almanacks.' The diary recounts that learned doctor's journey to Bohemia, in the company of Edward Kelley. In the year 1588, the Elizabethan courtier Dyer received from Dee the news that his colleague 'had at last achieved the secret of the ages, that Kelley could indeed transmute base metals into gold.' This news brought Dyer to Prague later in the year to see for himself how matters stood.

Dee's diary for 1586 tersely records some stages of the Work: 'March 24th, Mr K. put the glass in dung.... Dec 13th, Mr E.K. gave me the water, erth and all.' Then, on 19th December 'novi kalendarii', meaning the Gregorian calendar, at Trebona, in the castle of Count Rosenburg, 'E.K. made projection with his powder in the proportion of one minim upon an ounce and a quarter of mercury and produced nearly an ounce and a quarter of best gold; which gold we afterwards distributed from the crucible' (5).

On that day the Sun conjoined Mercury (2), trined Saturn (1) and squared Mars (4). Dee was undergoing his second Saturn-return, (5) synchronous with an exact fifth Jupiter return (). His Saturn therefore received the trine of transiting Sun (3) and transiting Mercury (1) on that day, while his North lunar Node was conjoined by them.

Dr Dee remained ignorant of how the process had been achieved, until the 10th of May 1588, when his diary states: 'E.K. did open the Great Secret to me, God be thanked.' On that day the Sun exactly conjoined Saturn, and Mars (1), while the Moon was Full. It seems an appropriate day for Dee's insight, whatever that was.

To Dyer, Kelley later wrote, recalling 'what delight we took together, when from the Metall simply calcined into powder after the usuall manner, distilling the Liquor so prepared with the same, we converted appropriat bodies (as our Astronomie inferiour teacheth) into Mercury, their first matter.' Where do we find a modern chemist recollecting the delight he took in a chemical operation?('The Private Diary of Mr John Dee', p.22-3)

3. Seton, 1602, near Amsterdam

Jacob Haussen witnessed the Scotsman Alexander Seton making gold from lead, at Enkhuizen near Amsterdam. Seton engraved upon it the date and time (N.S.): 13 March, 1602, at 4 pm. The Sun was conjunct Mercury and trine Saturn, both to 1, square the nodes (4), and semisquare Uranus (8'). Neptune held the ascendent with Saturn at the I.C. Venus was just setting, in opposition to rising Mars (1). (Sadoul, p.119)

4. Richthausen, 1648, Prague

In the city of Prague, in 1648, the alchemist Richthausen performed a celebrated transmutation in the presence of Emperor Ferdinand III: ' with one grain of the powder provided by Richthausen, two and a half pounds of mercury were changed into gold. To commemorate the event the Emperor had a medal struck of the value of 300 ducats.. The inscription read (in Latin), 'The Divine Metamorphosis, exhibited at Prague, 15 January 1648, in the presence of his Imperial Majesty Ferdinand III.' On that day the Sun was trine Saturn (1) and conjunct Mars (3), and Mercury was conjunct the South Node (4). The Sun conjoined the natal Saturn of Emperor Ferdinand who, at thirty-nine years of age, had reached his Uranus-opposition (22'). (Holmyard,p.129)

5. Helvetius, 1667, The Hague

Helvetius was Physician to the Prince of Orange. At the prompting of his wife, on the morning of 19 January, he melted lead and sprinkled over it some powder, as directed by the stranger who had given it to him. He recorded his wonder at seeing the gold: 'Yea, could I have enjoyed Argus's eyes, with a hundred more, I could not sufficiently gaze upon this so admirable and almost miraculous a work of nature.' On that day, the Sun made a multiple conjunction with Mercury, Saturn and Neptune, all within 6. The event generated widespread interest. Spinoza came to inspect the crucible and declared himself convinced. (Holmyard, p.266)

6. Bttger, 1701, Germany

'At the end of a good supper on October 1st, 1701, the apothecary Zorn, after some encouraging glances from his faithful wife, invited journeyman Bttger to give at last a demonstration of his skill.' Four persons believed that they saw, at the house of Herr Zorn, silver become gold. In the heavens the new Moon was but 4 from the Sun. (Doberer, p.234)

7. Lascaris, 1709, Germany

Little is known about the fabled figure of 'Lascaris', except that he was ascribed as the source of the 'projection powder' used by various alchemists, and that his name derived from a German noble family. On the 16th February 1709 in the evening, 'he is believed to have changed mercury into gold and gold into silver, a double transmutation.' The event was performed near Lissa and witnessed by Liebnackt, Counsellor of Wertherbourg. The story as told by Arthur Waite came from a German opus of 1832 (6). A highly empowered Sun then stood in a remarkable grand trine, in which four other planets were also involved; but as well as this, a Uranus-Pluto conjunction was then occurring, in close opposition to the Sun-conjunct Mercury.

8. 1716 Rhineland

The British Museum's numismatics department has a coin replica, of an original that was kept in Vienna. The front side of the coin shows a picture of the mythic figure of Chronos, with his scythe and hourglass, being transformed into Sol. On its back is inscribed in Latin, 'Chemical Metamorphosis of Saturn into Sol, that is of lead into gold, witnessed by many on 31st December 1716, procured by His Serene Highness Charles Phillip, Count Palatinate of the Rhineland, Elector of Bavaria ... minted in perpetual memory, and donated to posterity'.

That day saw a grand trine of Sun, Pluto and Neptune, with Saturn conjunct the North Node in trine to Jupiter. Burland p.?

9. Price, 1782, Guildford

James Price, Fellow of the Royal Society, was a wealthy man of high social standing, with an established reputation as a chemist. In Guildford, Surrey, he carried out seven alchemical projection experiments during May 1782, of which six were successful, causing 'an immense sensation.' The sixth of these was conducted on Saturday, 25 May, with three lords present, including Lords Onslow and Palmerston. The latter put half a grain of 'a certain powder of deep red colour' on to some heated mercury, and after a while it seemed to have turned to gold. A sample was sent to an assay-master 'recommended by the Clerk of the gold-smith's company' who reported the gold to be pure. It was then sent to an experienced goldsmith of Oxford, who said it was 'superior to Gold of the English standard.' In Price's initial experiments only a small fraction of the mercury turned to gold, for example 1/8 on the 9 May attempt, but on this occasion most of it did so.

A remarkable pattern built up in the heavens over May of 1782. The climax of Price's experiments came on 25 May, as a close Jupiter/Saturn conjunction opposed a close Mars/Uranus conjunction (SA OPP UR 2), an image of cosmic tension, while Sun-conjunct-Mercury completed a grand trine with Neptune and Pluto. When the experiments started on 6 May Mars was still 9 from Uranus and the Sun stood in no particular aspect. The main thing of note at the start was Uranus' close opposition to Jupiter/ Saturn. Following the demonstration before Lords Onslow and Palmerston, a last trial took place on Tuesday 28 May. The fourfold opposition was still present as was the solar grand trine, but in addition the Moon came into conjunction with Jupiter/Saturn, enhancing that already tense opposition. King George was presented with gold from that experiment, and 'was pleased to express his approbation' (7).

The goldmaking dates

   Year  Date           Alchemist    Metal Place
1) 1382  Apr 25 5pm     N.Flamel     Hg    Paris
2) 1586  Dec 19     NS  Kelly        Hg    Bohemia 
3) 1602  Mar 13 4pm NS  A.Seton      Pb    Amsterdam
4) 1648  Jan 15         Richthausen  Hg    Prague
5) 1667  Jan 19 10am    Helvetius    Pb    The Hague
6) 1701  Oct  1 8pm     Bttger      Ag    Germany 
7) 1709  Feb 16 Evg     Lascaris     Hg    Germany
8) 1716  Dec 31           -          Pb    Rhineland
9) 1782  May 25         J. Price     Hg    Guildford

Planetary frequencies

If we take these nine dates, and add up all the major aspects, of planetary conjunctions, oppositions and trines present in these events, to 5 orb, and score them per planet, then the following totals result:

Major celestial aspects per planet

Sun 22,     Mercury 20,    Pluto 20,    Saturn 19,
            Mars 16,       Uranus 14,   Neptune 14,
            Jupiter 13,    Venus 7,     Moon 7
This Table scores three major aspects (conjunctions, oppositions and trines), to 5 of orb, received by each planet, as present in the nine 'goldmaking' charts. The chance-expected score is here 9.0.

The planets are here arranged in sequence, from the Sun which had the greatest number of aspects to the Moon with least. For a given planet, it happens that by chance one would expect only nine such major aspects within the group (8,9), ie one per chart. Thus the last three planets, Jupiter, Venus and the Moon, have only scored around chance level. It thereby appears that, overall, there was a huge excess of these aspects in the goldmaking charts: 76 as compared to 45 expected, a seventy percent excess. This is highly unlikely to arise by chance. It is therefore evident that, overall, these charts had very strong major aspects.

In addition, more aspects were present to the Sun than to any other of the 'planets'. Sol was receiving well over twice as many aspects than expected, in fact an excess of 150%! There is a powerful contrast between the Sun at top of the list and the Moon at the bottom, as if Luna's sensitive and reflective nature were positively unhelpful on such occasions. The two femimine planets Venus and Luna are conjointly at the bottom of the planetary-frequency list.

Pluto is associated by astrologers with atomic transmutation: experiments in this realm began in the 1930s immediately following Pluto's discovery. It is a surprise to find this then-unknown planet second in the list of aspect frequencies after Sol. The high frequency of Pluto aspects appearing in the list of goldmaking moments does provide a strange and rather unexpected bridge between the alchemic endeavours of an earlier age and the atomic transmutations of the twentieth century (10,11). Indeed, we may here reflect that, in the Periodic Table of elements, mercury and gold are adjacent, so that a mere single electron distinguishes their atomic structures.

Mercury and Saturn both scored highly, at twice their chance level. On days when the Hermetic Art was being consummated, it seems appropriate that Mercury should score so highly. Mercury was the most often-used metal for the transmutations, on five out of nine occasions, followed by lead.

As the Sun cannot form trines or oppositions to Mercury or Venus, it has a slightly lower expected score. Thereby, major solar aspects are present in this group at at least 150% more than would be expected by chance. The aspects between Sun, Mercury and Saturn were:

The Sun-Mercury-Saturn Aspects

    1) SU cnj ME 4,                ME cnj SA 1
    2) SU cnj ME 2,  SU tri SA 1,  ME tri SA 3 
    3) SU cnj ME 1,  SU tri SA 45', ME tri SA 
    4)                SU tri SA 49'                 R  (SU-ME 18)
    5) SU cnj ME 4,                 ME cnj SA 1   R
    6) -                                               (SU-ME 8)
    7) SU cnj ME 3,  SU tri SA 2   ME tri SA 5
    8) -                                               (SU-ME10)
    9) SU cnj ME 3 44' 

By chance one would expect about three such aspects to be present in such a group, but here there are fifteen! Mercury spends one-eighth of the time within five degrees of the Sun, so the likelihood of finding this conjunction in two-thirds of the charts is remote. Mercury's average angle with the Sun in this group was six degrees, whereas normally it averages eighteen degrees.

Two of the goldmaking moments had Mercury moving retrograde, denoted by an 'R' in the Table. The two kinds of solar conjunctions made by Mercury, 'inferior' and 'superior', happen with equal frequency, the former when Mercury passes in front of the Sun and the latter when it is behind. The former is Mercury's closest approach, the only times when it goes retrograde (ie, appears to move backwards against the stars).

The Table shows six conjunction of Sun and Mercury, of which five are superior and only one is inferior (From the previous table, we notice that mercury was not the prima materia in the case of that inferior conjunction). Thus, the goldmaking moments often involved the Sun passing in between Earth and Mercury.

This group comprises all dated, witnessed goldmaking events I found. It would be of interest if more could be located, presumably in non-English language sources (12).

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Adam McLean for advice in locating some dates.

References

1) The original version of this article, published in Astrology (UK) Summer 1992, had only seven golden moments; it lacked that of 1716.
2) Jacques Sadoul was a pseudonym, and the English translation 'Alchemists and Gold' was published by Neville Spearman in 1972. Hermetically enough, no copy of this opus exists in the London Library, nor it seems in any other London library.
3) 'The Private Diary of Dr John Dee',p.22, Ed. J.A.Haliwell, Camden Society, 1842.
4) J.F.Hevelius, 'Golden Calf', reprinted by the Alchemical Press, 1987, US. Dr James Price, 'An Account of Some Experiments on Mercury...' 1782.
5) M.Nicholl, The Chemical Theatre, 1980, p.243
6) A.E.Waite, The Secret Tradition in Alchemy, p.324; quoting from C.C.Schmieder, Geschichte der Alchemie 1832, 1927, p.481. Louis Figuier in L'Alchemie at les Alchemistes 1860 p.328 also described this event, but cites the date of 16th February 1704, ie a decade earlier, in the village of Asch sur l'Eger; Waite says he found Figuier's accounts of Lascaris unreliable and told in a 'pseudo-historical manner' (Waite, p.321). As the events happened in Germany, we may reasonably prefer the German version, not least because Schmieder troubles to state that the transmutation happened in the evening: it seems unlikely that this detail would be supplied, if the date erred by a decade.
7) Notes & Records of the Royal Society, Vol.9 p.109-14 'The Last of the Alchemists' by H.C.Cameron. Also E.J.Holmyard, p.267.
8) A 5 orb gives 10 of the ecliptic per aspect, and as there are two possible trine positions and only one for conjunctions and oppositions, where each planet can form aspects to nine others, each chart will have an expected aspect frequency of 10(1+1+2)x9/360=1 per planet. For the Sun, due to the aspects it cannot form with Venus and Mercury, the equivalent figure is {10(1+1+2)x9-6}/360=0.95 expected aspects per chart. Taking just the three aspects between SA, SU and ME for all nine charts, their expected frequency would be 10(1+1+2)3x9/360=3.
9) For more details on computing these expected aspect frequencies, see 'Investigating Aspects' by the present writer, in 'Astrological Research Methods, Vol. 1' Ed. Mark Pottenger 1995 ISAR CA, pp.287-302.
10) See, eg, Pluto and Plutonium' by the present writer in The Astrological Journal, Autumn 1984.
11) Robert Chandler, 'Uranium, Plutonium and Black Alchemy' Bulletin of The Company of Astrologers, Summer 1995, 21-28.
12) A source of further witnessed, dated, goldmaking moments could well be 'L'Alchemie' by Jacques van Lennep (Belgium), 1982.

Planetary frequencies

Taking just the aspects between Sun, Mercury and Saturn gives:

1) SU cnj ME 4,                ME cnj SA 1
2) SU cnj ME 2,  SU tri SA 1,  ME tri SA 3
3) SU cnj ME 1,  SU tri SA 45', ME tri SA 
4)                SU tri SA 49'                    (SU-ME 18)
5) SU cnj ME 4,                 ME cnj SA 1
6) -                                               (SU-ME 8)
7) -                                               (SU-ME10)
8) SU cnj ME 3 44' 

By chance one would expect two or three such aspects to be present in such a group, but here there are twelve. Mercury spends one-eighth of the time within five degrees of the Sun, so the likelihood of finding this conjunction in five out of eight charts is remote. Mercury's average angle with the Sun in this group was six degrees, whereas normally it averages eighteen degrees.

This group comprises all dated, witnessed goldmaking events in English-language texts that I could find. Solar aspects were indeed strong in this group, but it also showed other distinctive features.