Alchemical Belief

Occultism in the Religious Culture of Early Modern England

By (author) Bruce Janacek

Hardback - £65.95

Publication date:

03 October 2011

Length of book:

240 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271050133

What did it mean to believe in alchemy in early modern England? In this book, Bruce Janacek considers alchemical beliefs in the context of the writings of Thomas Tymme, Robert Fludd, Francis Bacon, Sir Kenelm Digby, and Elias Ashmole. Rather than examine alchemy from a scientific or medical perspective, Janacek presents it as integrated into the broader political, philosophical, and religious upheavals of the first half of the seventeenth century, arguing that the interest of these elite figures in alchemy was part of an understanding that supported their national—and in some cases royalist—loyalty and theological orthodoxy. Janacek investigates how and why individuals who supported or were actually placed at the traditional center of power in England’s church and state believed in the relevance of alchemy at a time when their society, their government, their careers, and, in some cases, their very lives were at stake.

“Alchemists pursued the secrets of creation, and Alchemical Belief takes their aspirations seriously. With careful readings and well-chosen cases, Bruce Janacek demonstrates that alchemical writings need to be read in the context of their authors’ broader intellectual and devotional pursuits. Alchemical writings lent themselves to the expression of irenic, unifying aspirations for Christianity and provided solutions to the political and religious conflicts rending the early modern world. This argument is as refreshing as it is ambitious.”

—Lauren Kassell, University of Cambridge