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Vulcan of the alchemists

Vulcan of the alchemists was the patron deity of alchemy. It was also known to be a symbol of the hermetic art.

Despite being important in Egyptian and Greek religion, it was the Renaissance physician/alchemist Paracelsus who first introduced the mythological figure of Vulcan.


Paracelsus' Discoveries on Vulcan alchemy

To Paracelsus, Vulcan was synonymous with both the alchemist/physician's manipulation of fire, heating and distilling of nature's properties for medicine, and the transforming power and creative potential locked within Man, the greater invisible Man or anthropos, slumbering within.

Alchemy is an art and Vulcan (the governor of fire) is the artist in it: 'He who is Vulcan has the power of the art ... All things have been created in an unfinished state, nothing is finished, but Vulcan must bring all things to their completion. Everything is at first created in its prima materia, its original stuff; whereupon Vulcan comes, and develops it into its final substance ... God created iron but not that which is to be made of it. He enjoined fire, and Vulcan, who is the lord of fire, to do the rest ... From this it follows that iron must be cleansed of its dross before it can be forged. This process is alchemy; its founder is the smith Vulcan. What is accomplished by fire is alchemy-whether in the furnace or in the kitchen stove. And he who governs fire is Vulcan, even if he be a cook or a man who tends the stove.

Elsewhere, Paracelus writes:

Nothing has been created as ultima materia — in its final state. Everything is at first created in its prima materia, its original stuff; whereupon Vulcan comes, and by the art of alchemy develops it into its final substance.

Alchemy is a necessary, indispensable art ... It is an art, and Vulcan is its artist. He who is a Vulcan has mastered this art; he who is not a Vulcan can make no headway in it.

Other works and discoveries

The Elizabethan alchemist Francis Bacon, however, was skeptical of alchemy's enlistment of the Roman deity as symbolic of true Alchemical enquiry and exlaimed in The Advancement of Learning (1605):

Abandoning Minerva and wisdom they play court to the sooty smith Vulcan and his pots and pans,

However, Paracelsian alchemists such as Gerard Dorn, Jan Baptist van Helmont and Arthur Dee each acknowledged the Roman god of forge and furnace as symbolic of the art. Van Helmont specifically described alchemy as Vulcan's art, whilst Arthur Dee in his Arca Arcarnum wrote:

Though I am constrained to die and be buried nevertheless Vulcan carefully gives me birth.

The Roman god and Paracelsian deity who was associated with alchemy, was cited no less than three times by Sir Thomas Browne in The Garden of Cyrus of 1658, firstly in its opening lines:

That Vulcan gave arows unto Apollo and Diana according to gentile theology in the work of the fourth day may pass for no blind apprehension of the creation of the Sun and Moon

Secondly, within the context of Classical Greek myth (in which Vulcan constructs) casts an invisible network in order to ensnare Venus, his wife in flagrante delicto with her lover Mars. Browne humorously stating:

As for that famous network of Vulcan, which inclosed Mars and Venus, and caused that inextinguishable laugh in heaven; since the gods themselves could not discern it, we shall not pry into it.

The Classical myth of Venus and Mars trapped by Vulcan's cunning invention is also a lesser-known example of the "fixing" and union of the opposites in the alchemical opus.

And finally at the very apotheosis of the literary-alchemical opus in which he delivers his three factors for determining truth, namely authority, reason and experience; Vulcan here representing the demi-urge or "higher man" who, not unlike the Gnostics, "Man of Light", uses his craftmanship and skills to aid, enlighten and liberate the Spiritual Man within.

Flat and Flexible truths are beat out by every hammer, but Vulcan and his whole forge sweat to work out Achilles his armour.

In modern times, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung interpreted Vulcan as one who:

kindles the fiery wheel of the essence in the soul when it 'breaks off' from God; whence come desire and sin, which are the "wrath of God. CW 12 215.

The alchemists' adoption of the mythic figure of Vulcan may be interpreted on several levels. At the lowest scale of interpretation, Vulcan represents the cunning amoral demiurge who blindly gains power over Nature without integrity; this mundane level anticipates the nascent Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. The activities of the extraction of coal from mines to fuel colossal Furnaces to manufacture Steel and Iron on a gigantic scale and the development of the railroad and steam-train throughout Europe and North America are both decidedly Vulcan-like activities and in many ways, the general "business" of the Protestant work-ethic and industrialised Western society, is strongly reflected in this archetypal figure. At a higher level of interpretation Vulcan is transformed to become an inspired apostle, the visionary capable of releasing Mankind from the bonds of unknowingness and darkness.

The transforming power of Vulcan the "higher man" and anthropos figure of the alchemists has today devolved into the negative aspects of a demi-urge figure; none other than the modern technological man, who, divorced from God, forges his own destiny independent of Religion, Divine Love or theological considerations towards a brave new world or utopia.


  • Jolande Jacobi ed. Paracelsus Selected Writings, 1951, Princeton

See also


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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Vulcan_of_the_alchemists". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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