The Golden Sand

Johann Joachim Becher was yet another alchemist, who was very active in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Originally from Germany, he had established his office in Amsterdam, where in 1679 he published his major work, presenting three of his inventions.

Later Becher set up his company in Haarlem, where with the help of his newest inventions attempted to produce gold from sea sand. All attempts failed, however, and Becher quickly became the object of ridicule, so much that even a play was written featuring a fraudulent German alchemist by the name of Goudschalk (meaning ‘gold jester’), who strongly resembled Becher.

‘The Converted Alchemist’ was not an extraordinary play, yet it preserved the attitude quickly forming in the wake of the 18th century, when the alchemists were no longer treated as potential miracle and gold-makers. They had enough time to back up their claims, and having failed to produce gold, they were now being treated with scorn.

The Philosopher’s Stone on Koningsplein

Not so long ago, sometime in the fall of 2015, an interesting performance took place on Koningsplein, one of the central squares of Amsterdam. A man dressed in what seemed to be a Beetlejuice outfit, with the help of several accomplices, proceeded to draw a geometric symbol right on the pavement, which soon revealed itself to be the geometrical representation of the Philosopher’s Stone. The Alchemist’s attempt to create the elusive substance capable of transmuting base metals into more noble ones, most notably gold, was equalled to a geometer’s riddle of ‘squaring the circle’, a challenge of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle by using only a finite number of steps with compass and straightedge. In 1882 the task was proven impossible. So was the alchemist’s attempt to transmute metals. Or was it? Some alchemists have claimed they achieved success, others continue the pursuit even today. Perhaps, by drawing the symbol of the Philosopher’s Stone this modern alchemist let us know that he too found the secret …

AMSTERDAM’S ALCHEMISTS

UNDER THE SIGN OF SALAMANDER

Magic mushrooms and marijuana are far from being tSalamander_from_The_Story_of_Alchemy_and_the_Beginnings_of_Chemistry (1)he strangest products Amsterdam shops have ever offered. Back in the XVII century instead of mushroom-shaped signs (signifying the location of a smart-shop), or a leaf of weed (which almost all coffee-shops have somewhere in their design), the shops of alchemists were identified by the sign of a salamander, dancing in the fire. Sailors and missionaries rushed to these shops in order to procure alchemically made potions.

ANTIMONY

Iatrochemistry was the name of a subdivision of alchemy, whImage_Parool_blog1ose main preoccupation was medicine. The iatrochemist distilled metals with the purpose of creating a miracle drug, which would cure people of all diseases. Antimony was considered a miracle metal and was extremely popular among the Alchemists of Amsterdam. With the right recipe (and a magical cup, of course) one could make a miracle drink. And even though poisonings were much more frequent than miraculous healings, the metal remained a popular cure throughout the XVII century.

ELIAS THE ARTIST

Of all Amsterdam’s Alchemists of the XVII century (and there were quite a few), only one managed to producHelios-copy-for-websitee gold. Or so he claimed. His name was Johann Friedrich Schweitzer (1625 – 1709). Needless to say, this happened not without the intrusion of the Supernatural, in the face, as it was common those days, of a “Mysterious Stranger“. He was known, to the few Chosen Ones, of course, as Elias the Artist (from Helios – the sun), a legendary alchemist of supreme skill, a semi-god, the Messiah, whose coming would transform the land. On a December night of 1666, Elias the Artist himself paid a visit to Schweitzer’s lab. There, he handed the alchemist the missing ingredient, a tiny bit of the Philosopher’s Stone.

JOHANN RUDOLF GLAUBER

The coming of Elias the Master was also awaited by another prominent alchemist of the XVII century, German-Dutch Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604 – 1670). The scientists remember him even today for his discovery of sodium sulfate, which is called after him “Glauber’s salt“. Elias, however, never showed up. After a severe fall from a carriage in 1666, and in a state of health seriously undermined by all sorts of poisonings known to man Glauber died. He is buried in Westerkerk.