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A LC H E MY


Wooden pestles and mortars


Carved mortar and pestle Wood Africa, 19th–early 20th century RRa0100.3a−b / A658928, A665018 Science Museum / L0076020 Wellcome Images


Turned and carved mortar Wood Europe, 16th–18th century RRa0100.1a / A658967 Science Museum / L0076016 Wellcome Images


Turned pestle Lignum vitae Europe, 18th–19th century RRa0100.1b / A28613 Science Museum


Pestles and mortars have been used to break down natural substances and mix preparations for over 12 000 years. Once employed by the ancient Egyptians and Romans, they are a universal symbol of pharmacy, a profession that has its roots in alchemy.


Spagyria


Swiss–German physician Paracelsus (see p. 7) was an outspoken critic of the traditional medicine of Hippocrates and Galen, burned the writings of Avicenna, and advocated alchemy as a method for preparing pharmaceuticals. He invented the word spagyria, meaning to draw out and bring together (from the Greek span and ageirein) and emphasised the analysis and purification of minerals.


…it is not God’s design that the


remedies should exist for us ready- made, boiled, and salted, but that we should boil them ourselves… Just as fl owers grow from the Earth so the remedy grows in


Carved mortar and pounder Wood 18th–19th century RRa0100.2a−b / A658923, A659417 Science Museum / L0076018 Wellcome Images


— 16 —


the hands of the physician… For the physician’s art is like the


Earth, which also conceals such potentialities in itself…


Paracelsus, 16th century


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