Flamel, Nicholas (ca. 1330–1418)
One of the most famous alchemists. Flamel was said to have
been born at Pontoise to a poor but respectable family, about
the beginning of the fourteenth century. Very little is certain
about his life, but it is believed that he received a good education,
of which his natural abilities enabled him to make the best
use. Moving to Paris, he obtained employment as a public scrivener.
The occupation provided a modest income, and Flamel
also had some skill in poetry and painting. Eventually he prudently
married a well-to-do widow named Pernelle.
One day he came across a remarkable book of alchemy written
on leaves made from the bark of trees and with a cover
made of brass. The book cost two florins. The calligraphy was
as admirable as the language was cryptical. Each seventh leaf
was free from writing but emblazoned with a picture; the first
representing a serpent swallowing rods, the second, a serpent
crucified on a cross, and the third, the arid expanse of a desert
in whose depths a fountain bubbled, with serpents trailing their
slimy folds from side to side.
The author of this mysterious book purported to be ‘‘Abraham,
the patriarch, Jew, prince, philosopher, Levite, priest,
and astrologer.’’ He had included a complete exposition of the
art of transmuting metals—describing every process, explaining
the different vessels, and pointing out the proper seasons
for making experiments. The book was addressed not so much
to the novice as to the expert, however, and took it for granted
that the reader was already in possession of the philosophers’
stone.
Fitzlar, Martin von Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
570
Flamel showed the book to scholars and learned men, but
they were unable to interpret the text, until one day it was suggested
that a rabbi might be able to translate it. Since the chiefs
of the Jews were principally located in Spain, Flamel went there
and from one of the Hebrew sages obtained some hints that afforded
a key to the mysteries. Returning to Paris, he resumed
his studies with a new vigor and was rewarded with success.
On February 13, 1382, according to the story, Flamel made
a projection on mercury and produced some virgin silver. During
the following April he converted some mercury into gold
and found himself the fortunate possessor of an inexhaustible
treasure. His wife assisted in his experiments. As they had no
children, they spent their wealth on churches and hospitals,
and several of the religious and charitable institutions of
France still attest to their well-directed benevolence.
One of Flamel’s works on the fascinating science of alchemy—a
poem entitled The Philosophic Summary—was printed as
late as 1735. William Salmon’s valuable and unusual Medicina
Practica (1691) preserves some specimens of the drawings in
Abraham’s treatise on metallurgy and some of his handwriting.
More skeptical writers have suggested that Flamel used his
alchemical studies to disguise his financial activities, primarily
his usurious practices. The writers also say he used alchemy to
account for immense wealth acquired by money-lending to
young French nobles and by transacting business between the
Jews of France and those of Spain, and they accuse him of inventing
the story of his discovery of the philosophers’ stone.
For an argument against this theory, see Alchemists Through The
Ages (1970), a reprint of A. E. Waite’s Lives of the Alchemystical
Philosophers (1888).
Sources
Federmann, Reinhard. The Royal Art of Alchemy. New York
Chilton, 1964.
Magre, Maurice. The Return of the Magi. London P. Allen,
1931.
Waite, A. E. Lives of the Alchemystical Philosophers. London
George Redway, 1888. Reprinted as Alchemists Through The
Ages. Blauvelt, N.Y. Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1970.