Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2009
The Century between the death of Copernicus (1543) and the birth of Newton (1642) witnessed a major reshaping of traditional ways of viewing the universe. The Ptolemaic system was challenged by Copernican heliocentrism, the Aristotelian world was assailed by Galilean physics and revived atomism, and theology was troubled by the progressive distancing of God from the daily operation of His creation. Besides earning this era the title of ‘the Scientific Revolution’, the intellectual ferment of these times offered many world systems as successors to the throne of crumbling Aristotelianism.
1 Peukert, Will-Erich, Pansophie, ein Versuch zur Geschichte der Weiβen und Schwarzen Magie, Berlin, 1979, pp. 385–386.Google Scholar Peukert is highly critical of Boehme's use of the terms Salitter and Mercurius. von Harleβ, Adolf, Jacob Böhme und die Alchemisten; Ein Beitrag zwn Verständnis Jacob Boehmes, Leipzig, 1882.Google Scholar Cf. Bloch, Ernst, Leipziger Vorlesungen zur Ceschichte der Philosophie, Vol. 4, Frankfurt on the Main, 1985, pp. 223 ff.Google Scholar Bloch glosses Salitter as a vague Hermetic term, perhaps ‘sulphuric acid’.
2 Boehme, Jacob, Mörgenröte im Aufgang (Aurora), In: Sämtliche Schriften, vol. 1 (ed. Peukert, Will-Erich), Stuttgart, 1955, p. 137.Google Scholar
5 Aristotelians maintained that the elements sought (or ‘aspired to’) their ‘natural places’ thus preserving order in the cosmos. Earth, the heaviest element, had its place at the centre of the world, water above it, air yet higher, and fire, the lightest of all, uppermost. Thus earth always falls through air or water to reach its natural place, fire rises through air to reach its natural place, and so on.
7 Boehme, , op. cit. (2), p. 376.Google Scholar The acceptance of heliocentrism is a surprising position for a Lutheran of Boehme's time, for Luther himself had harshly condemned Copernicus and his system.
9 Cf. Degaye, Pierre, ‘Dieu et la Nature dans l'Aurore naissante de Jacob Boehme,’ in Faivre, Antoine and Zimmermann, Rolf Christian, Epochen der Naturmystik, Berlin, 1979, pp. 125–156.Google Scholar
10 Lemper, Ernst-Heinz, Jacob Böhtne; Leben und Werk, Berlin, 1976, pp. 39–45, 120–125.Google Scholar
11 Koch, Ernst, ‘Moscowiter in der Oberlausitz und M. Bartolom7auml;us in Görlitz’ (pts. 1 and 2), Neues Lausitzisches Magazin (1907), 83, 1Google Scholar; (1910), 86, 1.
12 Zeller, Winfried, ‘Naturmystik und Theologie bei Valentin Weigel,’ In: Epochen der Naturmystik: Hermetische Tradition im wissenschaftlichen Fortschritt, Berlin, 1979, pp. 120–121.Google Scholar
14 Each material has its own proper Mercury, Sulphur, and Salt. Whatever part gives the whole fusibility or metallicity (for example) would be called its Mercury (quicksilver is liquid and metallic); whatever gives inflammability or colour would be called its Sulphur (brimstone takes fire readily and is bright yellow); and whatever gives solidity or brittleness would be called its Salt (common salt is hard and brittle). The Mercury–Sulphur–Salt triad also presented a material analogy to the human Spirit–Soul–Body trichotomy, as well as to the Divine Trinity.
16 Boehme writes that ‘the devil infected and spoiled the Salitter from which Adam was made.’ Op. cit. (2), p. 55.
18 Starting in the fifteenth century artificial nitre beds were being constructed. These beds consisted of piles xsof earth, dung and lime, generally watered frequently with urine. The contents of these piles, after being subjected to natural bacterial action for many months, would be artificial ‘nitrous earth’.
19 The saline residue at this point would have consisted of several salts, with calcium, sodium, and potassium nitrates and sodium chloride predominating.
20 Since the difference in the solubility of potassium nitrate in cold water versus boiling water is much greater than the difference for the other salts present, fractional crystallization is an efficient means of separation. Even after the Chilean nitrate deposits were exploited, fractional crystallization was still employed in the manufacture of saltpetre. The native material (predominantly sodium nitrate, often called ‘sodanitre’) was dissolved in boiling water together with an equimolar quantity of potassium chloride, and upon cooling, potassium nitrate crystallized out leaving sodium chloride in solution.
22 Bacon, Roger, Opus maius (ed. Bridges, J. H.), 3 vols, Oxford, 1897–1900, vol. 2, p. 218.Google Scholar
24 Boyle, Robert, ‘A Physico-Chymical Essay, containing An Experiment with some Considerations touching the differing parts and Redintegration of Saltpetre,’ In: Certain Physiological Essays, London, 1661, pp. 107–108.Google Scholar
25 The extracted earth would still retain any insoluble organic matter, and thus further bacterial action would produce new nitrates.
26 This practice of collecting nitre (for use in saltlicks and for curing meats) is recounted with awe by Kirchweger, Anton (Microscopium Basilii Valentini, Berlin, 1790)Google Scholar. The nitre in the area is now somewhat depleted by generations of collecting and changes in the watertable, but in earlier centuries the fenny soil around the lake was saturated with nitrates. At night when the temperature fell, the salts crystallized out of solution and appeared as an efflorescence on the ground. Shortly after daybreak, as the temperature rose, the salt deposits redissolved, thus appearing to vanish miraculously by the warmth of the sun.
28 Creatus homo de terra, ex aere vivit: est enim in aere occultus vitae cibus, … Sendivogius, Michael (Alexander Seton) Novum lumen chymicum, In: Musaeum hermeticum, Frankfurt, 1678, p. 579.Google Scholar
29 Potassium carbonate, originally produced by strongly calcining potassium bitartrate (tartar, a deposit found in wine barrels), is a highly hygroscopic salt, and is thus capable of attracting enough water vapour from the air to dissolve itself. This process, seen with alchemical eyes, was considered a transformation of air into water.
30 … quando pluvia fit, accipit ex aere illam vim vitae, & conjugit illam cum sale nitro terras, (quia sal nitri terras est instar calcinati Tartari, sua siccitate aerem ad se trahens, qui aer in eo resolvitur in aquam: Talem vim attrahendi habet ille sal nitri terrae, qui etiam aer fuit, & est conjunctus pinguedini terrae). Sendivogius (Seton), Novum Iumen, p. 581.
31 Mayow, John, ‘On Sal Nitrum and the Nitro-aerial Spirit,’ in Medico-Physical Works, Alembic Club reprint no. 17, London, 1957, p. 33.Google Scholar