THE FEMALE ALCHEMIST
Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of god. (NewT:1 Corinthians 11:11-12)
In the mists of the the early Middle Ages, a second alchemist, a woman,
played a great part comparable to that of the alchemist Hermes Trismegistos.
Her name was Maria. Many very early codices refer to the Jewess Maria.
Quotations from her works are to be found in the earliest writers on alchemy.
Her views are treated as expert and exemplary.
It is no less difficult to establish the epoch in which Maria the Jewess lived than that of Hermes Trismegistos. Some writers call her Miriam, the sister of Moses. Others regard her as a contemporary of the Jewish alchemist, Theophilus, who writes of the "beautiful stone, pleasing to God," the stone that leads to the solution of the great mystery. But the period of Theophilus is just as little known as that of Maria, so this is of no help. All we know of the teachings of Maria--some call her Maria Prophetissa--is that she had no knowledge of the philosophy of Democritus. She may have lived before his time, or some hundred of years later, at the time of Aristotle. His philosophical system--the formation of the world out of the four elements of fire, earth, air, and water--harmonize better with Maria's alchemistic ideas.
In these, old Chaldean learning is mixed with the ideas of Aristotle into a secret alchemistic doctrine confined to the Jewish sages and scholars. In her teachings, Miriam gives the instruction, "Thou shalt not touch the Stone of the Sages, for thou art not of the seed of Abraham."
The old Chaldean theory was that the metals were compuands of sulfur and quicksilver; it was based on the observation that sulfur was released in the treament of most ores. It was extended by the teaching of Aristotle, who had added to the four elements of Empedocles (fire, water, air and earth) a fifth, the eather (or ether), the spiritual quintessence.
Sulphur was regarded as an expression of the fiery element. Maria took it as the basis of her principal processes. This sulphur was referred to in a mysterious phrases, as a stone that is not a stone, a stone so common that everyone sees it but nobody notices it. And Maria the Jewess wrote that God had revealed to her the method of roasting copper with sulphur in order to produce gold. Sulphur was produced from realgar, disulphide of arsenic, which was found in the gold mines. It was considered only reasonable that the use of such initial products must have gold as the final product.
Maria amplified Aristotle's quintessence theory: she taught that every substance, every mineral, every ore had a body and a soul. Thus in the distillation of sulphur compounds the sulphur drawn off was called the "soul" and the blackish residue was called the "corpse." These conceptions persisted in alchemy for two thousand years.
[From The Goldmakers, by K. K. Doberer; pages 21 to 22.]
The Goldmakers speak of another female alchemist: "Two miles from Goslar, by the river Lamme, lies another Benedictine abbey that was famous among alchemists. Here one of the finest works in alchemistic literature is said to have been written, the work of the Lord of Lambspringk, with its finely-wrought verses and its allegorical pictures. No lords of Lambspringk, however, are known of, and it has therefore been reasonably concluded that the name was a pseudonym of a noble who had become a monk in this Lower Saxon monastery. But if we dip a little deeper into the old chronicles, we get another surprise. In the Benedictine Abbey of Lambspringk there were no monks, only nuns. Our Lord of Lambspringk, who sang so finely for us of "Alchemy," was not a man at all - he was a nun." (page 80.)
External Link: The Book of Lambspringk.
Some alchemist did their experiments with the help of their wives. It was thought that to achieve the proper balance between all the forces of nature that a woman was needed to balance out the maleness of the alchemist. The female was known as the soror mystica. Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perenelle sought out together the mysteries of alchemy. Though history suggests that Flamel married Perenelle because of her fortune, there is no denying that they enjoyed working together. A would-be alchemist, Michael Sendivogius, married the widow of another alchemist in hopes of discovering his secrets.
External Links: Works of Nicholas Flamel and The Book of Abraham the Jew.