Thursday, 17 September 2009

Michael Scot's recipe for making gold

Michael Scot was born towards the end of the 12th century, and became renowned during the 13th century as a scholar, linguist, classicist and alchemist on Continental Europe. In Scotland, the country of his birth, he was thought of as a warlock, and many are the tales of Michael, being taught by the devil, drinking a broth made from a serpent's head and receiving occult wisdom, cleaving the Eildon Hills in three, putting a kerb of basalt to the River Tweed, riding on a demonic horse to Rome to discover the date of Easter, and finally, at his death, having his heart rescued by a dove from the talons of a raven, thus signifying that he had attained eternal rest in Heaven, and escaped the chamber of fire and ice that was prepared for him in the nether regions.

In fact, his true biography is as interesting as any folk tale. He studied medicine and it is said that he discovered a cure for leprosy.He was tutor to the strange character, the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II, and tried to influence him for the good in the government of the country; he translated many works of philosophy and alchemy; he foretold (accurately) where Friedrich would die and foresaw his own death, from a piece of falling masonry. He was proved right in that, too. He wrote a number of prophecies, for which Dante, in The Divine Comedy,  ascribed him a place in hell, with his head on back to front (forever looking backward, as befits those who prophecy the future). James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd put him into a work of fiction, as have many other Scottish writers.

But look at the recipe below, and make of it what you will. I would caution you, however to consider these questions: how much urine from a young badger is needed? How young should the young badger be? How much blood from a ruddy man should you take? How ruddy is ruddy? Where does one find the rest of these ingredients? And at the end, have you, in fact, just got gold-coloured lead?

Medibabaz the Saracen of Africa used to change lead into gold in the following manner:
Take lead and melt it thrice with caustic, red arsenic, sublimate of vitriol, sugar of alum, and with that red tuchia of India which is found on the shore of the Red Sea, and let the whole be again and again quenched in the juice of the Portulaca marina, the wild cucumber, a solution of sal ammoniac, and the urine of a young badger. Let all these ingredients then, when well mixed, be set on the fire, with the addition of some common salt, and well boiled until they be reduced to one third of their original bulk, when you must proceed to distil them with care. Then take the marchasite of gold, prepared talc, roots of coral, some carcha-root, which is an herb very like the Portulaca marina; alum of cumae something red and saltish, Roman alum and vitriol, and let the latter be made red; sugar of alum, Cyprus earth, some of the red Barbary earth, for that gives a good colour; Cumaean earth of the red sort, African tuchia, which is a stone of variegated colours and being melted with copper changeth it into gold; Cumaean salt; pure red arsenic, the blood of a ruddy man, red tartar, gumma of Barbary, which is red and worketh wonders in this art; salt of Sardinia. Let all these be beaten together in a brazen mortar, then sifted finely and made into a paste with the above water. Dry this paste and again rub it fine on the marble slab. Then take the lead you have prepared as directed above, and melt it together with the powder, adding some red alum and some more of the various salts. This alum is found about Aleppo and in Armenia, and will give your metal a good colour. When you have so done, you shall see the lead changed into the finest gold, as good as what comes from Arabia.
This have I, Michael Scot, often put to the proof and ever found it to be true.

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