Alkahest is a term coined by Paracelsus for a mysterious “universal solvent” in alchemical transmutation. Alkahest also is known as the Elixir and “the water which does not wet the hands.” The exact origin of the term is unknown.

Paracelsus made his first mention of alkahest in Members of Man, saying,

“There is also the spirit alkahest, which acts very efficiently upon the liver: it sustains, fortifies, and preserves from the diseases within its reach. . . . Those who want to use such a medicine must know how the alkahest is prepared.”

Jean Baptista van Helmont gave great credence to alkahest, describing it as “Fire Water” or “Hell Water” that is able to dissolve all bodies “as warm water dissolves ice.” Van Helmont said,

“It is a salt, most blessed and most perfect of all salts; the secret of its preparation is beyond human comprehension and God alone can reveal it to the chosen.”

During the 17th and 18th centuries, alchemists searched for alkahest in order to dissolve substances to fi nd the Prima Materia. Some considered the word alkahest as an anagram of its true name. Some said the name really meant “alkali est,” or “It is alkali,” or else “All-Geist,” German for “universal spirit.” Various recipes were given for making alkahest; the best ingredient was held to be blood, plus worms, sweat, and spittle.

Interest in alkahest ended in the mid-18th century when the German alchemist Kunckel pointed out that if alkahest were a true universal solvent, then it would dissolve even the vessel that held it. Kunckel disdainfully said the alkahest was really “Alles Lugen ist,” German for “All that is a lie.”

Alkahest is used in magic to clear away fog and obstruction so that a desired thing can manifest. In spiritual alchemical processes, alkahest is the dark water of the unconscious in which the ego is dissolved.

Further Reading:


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Collectanea Chemica: On Alchemy and Hermetic Medicine –  Arthur Edward Waite
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Dictionary of Occult, Hermetic and Alchemical Sigils – Fred Gettings
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Arthur Edward Waite – The Secret Tradition in Alchemy: Its Development and Records
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Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy – Robert Allen Bartlett
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From: The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.