Elixir of Life

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Elixir of Life

Medieval alchemists and mystics believed they were justified in their search for the mythical elixir of life, a universal medicine supposedly containing a recipe for the renewal of youth. The search for this elixir and a quest for gold became the grand goals of alchemy.

There was no standard method of manufacturing the elixir of life. In the grimoire, Le Petit Albert, for example, one is instructed to use eight pounds of sugar of mercury as the foundation of such a mixture. Fifteenth-century alchemist Bernard Trévisan said that dropping philosophers' stone into mercurial water would create the elixir. This process would, when "elaborated to the Red," transmute copper and other metals into pure gold, he stated; if "elaborated to the White" it would produce pure silver.

The possibility that the elixir could prolong life was undoubtedly the chief reason alchemists continued their search. The aged alchemist, weary with his quest for gold, craved the boon of youth and desired renewed health and strength to assist him in carrying out his great purpose. As an illustration of the alchemical concept of the elixir of life, the following extract from a work dealing with the secret of rejuvenescence (originally supposed to have been written by Arnuldus de Villanova and published by Longueville-Harcourt of Paris in 1716) is instructive:

"To renew youth is to enter once more into that felicitous season which imparts to the human frame the pleasures and strength of the morning. Here it is to no purpose that we should speak of that problem so much discussed by the Wise, whether the art can be carried to such a pitch of excellence that old age should itself be made young. We know that Paracelsus has vaunted the metamorphic resources of his Mercury of Life which not merely rejuvenates men but converts metals into gold; He who promised unto others the years of the sybils, or at least the 300 winters of Nestor, himself perished at the age of thirty-seven. Let us turn rather to Nature, so admirable in her achievements, and deem her not capable alone of destroying what she has produced at the moment she has begotten them. Is it possible that she will refuse unto man, for whom all was created, what she accords to the stags, the eagles, and the serpents, who do annually cast aside the mournful concomitants of senility, and do assume the most brilliant, the most gracious amenities of the most joyous youth? Art, it is true, has not as yet arrived at the apex of perfection wherefrom it can renew our youth; but that which was unachieved in the past may be accomplished in the future, a prodigy which may be more confidently expected from the fact that in isolated cases it has actually already taken place, as the facts of history make evident. By observing and following the manner in which nature performs such wonders, we may assuredly hope to execute this desirable transformation, and the first condition is an amiable temperament, such as that which was possessed by Moses, of whom it is written that for one hundred and twenty years his sight never failed him."

Trithemius (1462-1516) on his deathbed dictated a recipe that which he said would preserve mind, health, and memory with perfect sight and hearing, for those who made use of it. It consisted of, among other things, calomel, gentian, cinnamon, aniseed, nard, coral, tartar, and mace. Five grams of it were to be taken morning and night in wine or brodium during the first month; during the second month it was to be taken in the morning only; during the third month three times a week, and so on continuing throughout life. This was a more comprehensible recipe than that of Eugenius Philalethes (1622-1666), who stated:

"Ten parts of coelestiall slime; separate the male from the female, and each afterwards from its own earth, physically, mark you, and with no violence. Conjoin after separation in due, harmonic vital proportion; and straightway, the Soul descending from the pyroplastic sphere, shall restore, by a mirific embrace, its dead and deserted body. Proceed according to the Volcanico magica theory, till they are exalted into the Fifth Metaphysical Rota. This is that world-renowned medicine, whereof so many have scribbled, which, notwithstanding, so few have known."

In his History of Magic (1913) Éliphas Lévi describes Cagliostro 's great secret of rejuvenescence in the following terms:

"Let us now turn to the secret of physical regeneration to attain whichaccording to the occult prescription of the Grand Cophta retreat of forty days, after the manner of a jubilee, must be made one of every fifty years, beginning during the full moon of May in the company of one faithful person only. It must be also a fast of forty days, drinking May-dewcollected from sprouting corn with a cloth of pure white linenand eating new and tender herbs. The repast should begin with a large glass of dew and end with a biscuit or crust of bread. There should be slight bleeding on the seventeenth day. Balm of Azoth should then be taken morning and evening, beginning with a dose of six drops and increasing by two drops daily till the end of the thirty-second day. At the dawn which follows thereafter renew the slight bleeding; then take to your bed and remain in it till the end of the fortieth day.

"On the first awakening after the bleeding, take the first grain of Universal Medicine. A swoon of three hours will be followed by convulsions, sweats and much purging, necessitating a change both of bed and linen. At this stage a broth of lean beef must be taken, seasoned with rice, sage, valerian, vervain and balm. On that day following take the second grain of Universal Medicine, which is Astral Mercury combined with Sulphur of Gold. On the next day have a warm bath. On the thirty-sixth day drink a glass of Egyptian wine, and on the thirty-seventh take the third and last grain of Universal Medicine. A profound sleep will follow, during which the hair, teeth, nails and skin will be renewed. The prescription for the thirty-eighth day is another warm bath, steeping aromatic herbs in the water, of the same kind as those specified for the broth. On the thirty-ninth day drink ten drops of Elixir of Acharat in two spoonsful of red wine. The work will be finished on the fortieth day, and the aged man will be renewed in youth.

"By means of his jubilary regimen, Cagliostro claimed to have lived for many centuries. It will be seen that it is a variation of the famous Bath of Immortality in use among the Menandrian Gnostics."

Aristaeus is said to have left to his disciples a secret rendering all metals diaphanous and man immortal. The process apparently consisted of a mystic treatment of the atmosphere, which was to be congealed and distilled until it developed a "di-vine sparkle" and then became liquefied. After the air was subjected to heat and underwent several other processes, the elixir supposedly emerged.

The great sixteenth-century physician Paracelsus was reputed to have discovered the elixir of life. In the De Tintura Physicorum (1570), ascribed to him, there is a description of a tincture that enabled individuals to live for centuries.

For an account of a modern claim to have made the elixir of life, see the entry on Rev. W. A. Ayton.


Lévi, Éliphas. The History of Magic. London: Rider, 1913. Re-print, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1971.

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