Around 1635 in Amsterdam Rene Descartes wrote about the pineal gland. Located in the brain in the middle of the forehead just above the eyes, Descartes believed this ‘third eye’ to be the ‘principal seat of the soul’.
Relatively few witches were tried and burned in the Netherlands. One explanation for this low number is that the Netherlands was more or less economically stable. Therefore the figure of the witch was not needed as a scapegoat blamed for bad fortune. One of the last women burned at the stake in Amsterdam was Meyn Cornelis in 1555. Cornelis said to have suffered from visions of ghostly women pestering her. Moreover, in her verdict it is noted that she admitted to sleeping with the devil and that she tried to bewitch her neighbour’s cows. This assertion was sadly, as most of the more outrageously sounding confessions, obtained under torture. The specifics of Cornelis’ trial are written down in a book of judgement which can be found today in the Amsterdam City Archives.
In 1571 Anneken Hendriks was burnt at a stake in Amsterdam, not so much as a witch, but dangerously close. She was an Anabaptist, who were heavily persecuted at the time because of their belief in adult baptism. Bertrayed by her good Catholic neighbor and later tortured by rack and strappado, inventive tools of the Spanish Inquisition, she still refused to divulge any of the names of her fellow Anabaptists.
But she was more talkative on the way to her burning, warning her neighbor of the sin of following in Judas’ steps, for which her executors stuffed her mouth with gunpowder.
UNDER THE SIGN OF SALAMANDER
Magic mushrooms and marijuana are far from being the 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.
Iatrochemistry was the name of a subdivision of alchemy, whose 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 produce 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.