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TitleGehennical Fire: The Lives of George Starkey, an American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution
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Page 1

Gehennical Fire

“This is the true Ignis Gehennae, for it Eclipseth the
light of the Bodies, and makes them become black as
Pitch; which is a symbol of Hell, and for its Cimmerian
darkness is by many of the Wisemen called Hell.”

— George Starkey, Ripley Reviv’d

Page 2

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Figure 1. The locked door of the alchem ical secret, surrounded by traditional sayings
(dicta) relating to the alchem ical magnum opus. From Eirenaeus Philalethes’ collected
com m entary on the fifteenth-century George Ripley, Ripley Reviv’d (London, 1 6 7 8 ).

Gehennical Fire
The Lives of George Starkey,
an American Alchemist
in the Scientific Revolution

W i l l i a m R. N e w m a n

Harvard University Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts
London, England
1994

Page 96

T

Figure 3E (top). Agonizanti Vulcano Ovum Fovendum traditur, ut phisicus enascatur
pullus (The egg to be incubated is given to agonizing Vulcan, so that the natural chick
may be born).

Now that the sophic mercury has been prepared and joined to gold, the alchemist
must seal it up in a flask or “philosophical egg” and heat it for a period of months. Then
the “chick,” the nascent philosophers’ stone, will be bom. The curious furnace sur­
mounted by a tree is intended to represent the “hollow oak” as in the Introitus (Chapter
11). Starkey got this image from page 81 of Nicolas Flamel’s Hieroglyphicall Figures
(London, 1624).

ssrpmtc.Kml mit-

Figure 3E (bottom). Gallina nascoe [fortasse pro incubatione? MS; om.] ovumfovet,
Cadmus serpentem ad quercum transfigit, Regemque interficit ^ noster (The hen incubates
the egg; Cadmus has fixed the snake to the oak, and our mercury kills the king).

This emblem again could be derived from Chapter 11 of the Introitus, along with
Chapter IX, but this figure and the ones that follow suggest that if so, the emblematist
misunderstood his source. The Marrow of Alchemy (book 2, part 1, stanza 68) makes it
absolutely clear that Cadmus represents the iron used to reduce antimony sulfide; “Old
Saturns Son, let two parts taken be. Of Cadmus one, and those so long be sure By
Vulcans aid to putrefie, till (free from Faeces) the metalline parts be pure; This shall be
done in four reiterations. The Star shall teach you perfect operations.” Despite this
clarity, the emblematist has made Cadmus’ killing of the serpent synchronous with the
mercury’s killing of the king, which is a reference to the dissolution of gold in the sophic
mercury and its subsequent putrefaction within the philosophical egg.

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lAMit M̂ MrtU,cf ̂ 1 m o } r f ^ ehm^etsuf j f i rouUion^yrocrffohSOhodtiurffA^ ■ iiS'^ufO’ ^tnfhpti OUOf fn^Ki, ̂ THhUm iTitm illt l ° i t f ^ («|ufmont Irjfc Attc /imxHur

Figure 3F (top). Cadmus rotam vertit, et nostro primumfigit clavum, et sic perprim a
[MS: primam] rotationem procreatus O hadetur [MS: habetur] philosophorum (Cadmus
turns the wheel, and he fixes the first nail to our sulfur, and thus by means of the first
rotation, the generated sun of the philosophers is obtained).

The wheel or rota is taken from the alchemist George Ripley, as illustrated by the
following passage from Philalethes’ Breviary of Alchemy; or, A Commentary upon Sir
George Ripley’s Recapitulation (London, 1678), pp. 2 2 -2 3 : "But yet again Two times turn
about thy Wheel, &c. The Stone being by constant and long Decoction brought to this
pass; he who thinketh the race quite run, reckons without his Host, and must reckon
again; It is Medicine of the first Order, and must be brought to the third Order by
Imbibitions and Cibation, which is a second turning round the Wheel; and by Fermen­
tation, which is a third turning round the Wheel, and brings the Medicine to the third
Order, and makes it then fit for Projection . . . our Sulphur then is a Royal Infant, which
doth both hunger and thirst.” Cadmus is shown making the first turn.

Ripley’s three wheels are themselves an elaboration of the “three orders” and “three
medicines” of the thirteenth-century alchemist pseudo-Geber. According to that author,
the alchemical “medicines” could exist in three strengths: only the medicine of the third
order was capable of transmuting base metals into real gold, and was thus the genuine
philosophers’ stone. Cf. William R. Newman, The Summa perfectionis of pseudo-Geber
(Leiden, 1991), pp. 162-167 .

Within the wheel’s perimeter are the symbols of the seven planets, followed by a
barbed triangle within a circle. The planets bear the following captions: Mercury, various
colors; Saturn, black; Jupiter, cinereal; Luna, white; 'Venus, green, red, blue, pale[?l;
Mars, dark yellow, peacock’s tail; Sol, yellow, dark purple. These refer to the successive
regimens through which the sophic mercury, fertilized by gold, was supposed to pass on
its way to becoming the philosophers’ stone. They are described in detail in the Introitus,
Chapters XIX-XXX.

Figure 3F (bottom). Natam [leg: Natus MS: Natura] filius [ MS: filium] O'* ex sophorum
ovoperfermentum, et nutritionem[?j iterum, et tertio[l] repetita rotae versione triplico clavo
firmatur (The son of the sun, born of the wisemen’s egg by fermentation and feeding,
again on the repeated turning of the wheel should be strengthened the third time with a
triple nail).

Here Cadmus has turned the wheel again, evidently for the third time. The wheel has
become a triangle within a circle, the alpha and omega containing the solar infant, who
is himself the philosophers’ stone. The figure at left holding a sun containing the
number three may betray the origin of the emblem, as might the caption’s reference to
“fermentation. ” It could be taken from Chapter XXXI of the Introitus, called “Fermenta-
tio Lapidis,” where Philalethes says that the stone, once prepared, should be strength­
ened with three parts of “most purged sol,” in other words, highly refined gold. The
figure at right feeding a chicken is an elaboration of the idea that the stone must be “fed.”

Page 192

346 Index

Shakespeare, William, 16
Shapin, Steven, 70
Shapiro, Alan, 239
Shaw, Peter, 226
Sheldon, Gilbert, Archbishop of

Canterbury, 201
Shell theory of matter, 11 2 -1 1 4 , 151,

1 6 2 -1 6 9 ,1 7 7 , 2 3 1 -2 3 9
Shelton, Thomas, 174
Shurtleff, H. R., 18
Sibley, John Langdon, 44
Sidonius. See Seton, Alexander
Silk-spider, 17, 18
Silver, 41 , 42 , 49 , 67, 8 6 , 94 , 101, 133, 159,

1 6 8 ,1 7 2 , 174, 215; extractions of, 69, 80;
as doves of Diana, 1 3 0 -1 3 4 , 138, 165,
1 8 0 ,2 3 0

Skinner in Walbrook, 199, 200
Snowflake, 238
Soap, 17 6 -1 8 0 ; of almond, 172; Starkey’s,

179, 180, 242
Society of Chymical Physicians, 2 0 1 -2 0 3 ,

206
Somers Islands. See Bermuda
Somers, Sir George, 16
Son of Art, 10, 12, 191, 196, 199, 202, 203,

207, 220
Soteriology 99
Soul of the world, 214, 216
Spagyria, 84 , 85
Spark of light in matter, 87 , 133, 144, 154,

155, 166, 168, 169, 236
Species: bond of love, 101, 180; can only

produce their like, 104; kind must be
Joined to kind, 124, 136; of motion, 152;
consanguinity to consanguinity, 159, 164,
1 6 5 ,1 7 0 , 180

Specific weight, 105, 164, 1 6 5 ,1 6 7
Specificals, 221, 223, 224, 226
Sperma, 46 , 8 8 , 101, 103, 130, 160, 213,

2 1 6 -2 1 8 , 221, 223, 224, 238; masculine
and feminine, 10 3 -1 0 5 , 166

Spiessglanz, 127. See also Antimony
Spinoza, Benedict, 9
Spirit of urine, 182, 185, 187
Spontaneous generation, 16, 17, 74, 145
Stahl, Georg Ernst, 209, 226, 239 , 240,

242
Star regulus. See Antimony

Starkey, George, literary works: The
Admirable Efficacy and Almost Incredible
Virtue of True Oyl, Which is Made of
Sulphur-Vive , 192, 194; A Brief
Examination and Censure of Several
Medicines, 48 , 195, 197; Britains Triumph,
190; Cabala sapientum, 116; Clavis (1651
letter to Boyle), 58, 60, 6 7 -7 1 , 76, 82,
128, 132, 1 3 9 ,1 4 0 , 159, 165, 173, 177,
178, 180, 1 9 0 ,1 9 3 , 2 2 9 -2 3 1 , 235; De

fermentis, 90; De metallorum
metamorphosi, 151, 1 5 5-163 , 167; The
Dignity of Kingship Asserted, 190, 191;
Epistolar Discourse to the Learned Author
of Galeno-Pale, 202, 203; Experiments for
the Preparation of the Sophick Mercury,
139, 140; Exposition upon the First Six
Gates of Sir George Ripley’s Compound of
Alchymie, 11 8 -1 2 5 ; Eons chemicae
philosophiae, 125, 126; George Starkey’s
Pill Vindicated, 71, 19 4 -1 9 6 ; Innocent
Bloud Crying aloud to Heaven for Due
Vengeance, 190; Introitus apertus ad
occlusum regis palatium, 2, 9 -1 3 , 36 , 60,
63, 64, 6 8 , 125, 126, 129, 130, 131, 133,
139, 151, 165, 173, 209, 210, 2 1 3 ,2 2 5 ,
230, 235, 239, 241; Liquor Alchahest, 6 6 ,
81, 175, 18 2 -1 8 8 , 200; The Marrow of
Alchemy, 60, 61, 140, 141, 16 4 -1 6 6 , 169,
223, 230, 232; Natures Explication and
Helmont’s Vindication, 84 , 1 75-179 ,
18 8 -1 9 1 , 193, 242; Opera omnia, 116;
Organum novum philosophiae, 39, 50;
Perfect Day Booke, 173; Pyrotechny, 84,
8 5 ,1 7 5 , 176, 179, 182, 187, 189, 193,
198, 233, 242; The Reformed
Common-Wealth of Bees, 70, 73, 74, 80,
90 ; Ripley Reviv’d, 11 7 -1 4 1 , 156, 167,
168, 177, 212, 214, 222, 223, 234; Sir
George Ripley’s Epistle to King Edward
Unfolded, 60, 1 6 1 -1 6 5 ,1 7 3 ; A Smart
Scourge for a Silly, Sawcy Fool, 199; Vade
mecum philosophicum, 61

Starkey, Susanna, 52, 57, 207
Steams, R. P, 1
Stevenson, William, 51
Sthael, Peter, 70
Stirk, Agnes, 15
Stirk, Elizabeth, 15

Index 347

Stirk, George (the elder), 15; Musae
Somerenses, 15, 19

Stirk, Mary, 15
Stirk, Samuel, 15, 83
Stirk, Sibill, 15
Stoughton, Elizabeth, 51
Stoughton, Hannah, 51
Stoughton, Israel, 51, 52
Stoughton, Rebecca, 51
Stoughton, William, 52
Sublimation, as proof of homeomerity, 97
Subtlety of matter, 27, 97, 102, 104, 175,

1 7 6 ,1 8 1 , 1 8 2 ,1 8 4 , 236
Succedaneum, 176, 194
Suchten, Alexander von, 59, 60, 118, 132,

1 3 3 ,1 3 5 -1 4 1 , 151, 165, 168, 185, 226,
230

Sulfur, 126, 133, 1 3 5 -1 3 8 , 230, 218; three
types of, 109, 129, 136, 1 6 1-163 ;
intrinsic and superfluous. 111; external,
149, 161

Sulfur-mercury theory, 37, 8 6 , 87, 96 , 101,
106, 148, 161, 232, 233, 236

Sympathetic powder, 35 , 36
Syncope and parathesis, 13 2 -1 3 4 , 138

Talbot, William, 51
Talc, 8 1 ,1 7 4
Tartar, 136, 225, 233; salt of, 6 5 ,1 7 2 , 177,

178, 184, 233, 234 , 242 ; calcined, 8 8 ,
136

Taylor, E Sherwood, 92
Technometry 37
Tempest, The, 16
Terrestrial globe, 2 3 2 -2 3 5
Tertium neutrum, 143, 166, 180, 1 8 2 ,1 8 7
Thackray, Arnold, 237, 238
Theory and practice, 151, 165-168
Thomas of Bologna, 103
Thomson, George, 2 0 1 -2 0 6 , 242
Thorndike, Lynn, 96
Three orders of elements, 219
Thunder and lightning, 89
Tichbome, Robert 188, 191
Tin, 230, 231
Toad, 204, 205; as alchemical symbol, 122
Todtenfeldt, Johann Hertodt von, 128, 132,

241
Tradescant, John, 120

Transmutation histories, 3 -1 3
Trees, rotting, 17
Trithemius of Spanheim, 106, 2 1 5 -2 1 8
Turnbull, George, 78
Turpentine, 6 5 ,1 7 9
Two hsh without flesh or bones, 124

Universal medicine, 12
Urine, 1 8 2 ,1 8 6

Van Melsen, Andreas, 143
Vaughan, Henry, 213
Vaughan, Thomas, 45 , 46 , 209, 210,

2 1 3 -2 2 2 , 226, 241
Vegetable corrector, 177. See also Secret

salt; Volatile alkali
Vegetation, 1 6 6 -1 6 7
Villadin, Jean Rodolf, 77
Vinegar. See Acid, acetic
Virgin earth, 100, 2 1 7 -2 2 0
Virgin’s milk, 43 , 131
Visions. See Oneiric epistemology
Vitalism, 90, 93, 99, 10 6 -1 0 8 , 114, 116,

1 4 5 ,1 4 8 -1 5 1 , 166, 168; used hguratively,
1 0 1 -1 0 4

Volatile alkali, 65, 172, 17 5 -1 8 1 , 242

Waite, A.E., 213
Water-bearer, 120, 121, 1 2 4 ,1 3 3 , 168
Watson, Dux, 173
Watson, Patricia, 44
Webb, 82, 83
Webster, Charles, 87, 202
Wedel, Georg Wolfgang, 213, 241
Weidenfeld, Johann Seger von, 44
Weight: explained in corpuscular terms,

105; of reagents, 185
Westfall, Richard, 2 0 ,1 3 0 , 228, 229, 235,

236
White stone, 44 , 61 , 85
White, John, 59
White, Nathaniel, 48
White, William, 51
Whore, 120, 1 3 0 ,1 3 1 , 138, 224
Wigglesworth, Michael, 2 0 -3 2 ,1 5 7 , 173
Wilkinson, R. S., 1, 38, 81, 191
Wine and beer, 83 , 87, 90, 91 , 172, 178;

from honey, 81 ; spirit of, 178, 1 8 2 ,1 8 5 ,
1 8 6 ,2 3 1

Page 193

348 Index

Winthrop, John, Jr., 3 9 -5 2 , 57, 63, 116,
222; as Hermes Christianus, 40

Winthrop, John, 18, 39, 48, 51, 65
Worsley, Benjamin, 57, 63, 6 9 -7 1 , 78, 80,

8 1 ,8 7 ,8 9

Xenexton, 204

Y-Worth, William, 229
Yliadum, 1 0 6-107
York, James, Duke of, 191

Zetzner, Lazarus, 40 , 64
Zwinger, Jacob, 5, 6

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