Elias Ashmole (1617–1692) was an English historian and scholar with an intense interest in Alchemy. Elias Ashmole is best known as the founder of the Ashmolean Library in Oxford.
Ashmole was born in 1617 to a Lichfield saddler. He studied law and then served as a Royalist in the Civil War. In 1673, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and was one of its founding members. He was one of the first “speculative Masons” accepted into the London guild of “working Masons.” (See Freemasonry.)
Ashmole was intensely interested in alchemy, Astrology, Hermetic philosophy, magic, angel magic, and other esoteric topics. William Backhouse, his adoptive father, was an alchemist who one day took Ashmole aside and revealed to him the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone.
In 1652, Ashmole published Theatricum chemicum Brittanicum, a substantial opus on the study of alchemy. In it, he expounds on Hermetic and Neoplatonic principles. The Emerald Tablet —that which is above is like that which is below—contains the true cosmology, expressing the correspondences binding the celestial world and the earthly world together. The true alchemist is one in whom the spiritual descends into the material, creating a unity, or vinculum, which has the power to hold all celestial influences.
Ashmole believed in the transmuting powers of the Stone but held that its true power and purpose lay in spiritual transmutation, not changing base metals into gold and silver. He said:
And certainly he to whom the whole course of Nature lies open, rejoyceth not so much that he can make Gold and Silver, or the Divells to become Subject to him, as that he see the Heavens open, the Angells of God Ascending and Descending, and that his own Name is fairely written in the Book of Life.
He upheld the principles of natural magic. He considered medicine to be an Hermetic art linked to Solomon and Moses, who, along with hermes, are the only ones ever to have fully understood the nature and powers of the Stone. The Stone, he said, bears a relationship to scrying crystals, such as the one used by John Dee and Edward Kelly for contacting angels. Ashmole believed in an invisible angelscrying stone that:
hath a Divine Power, Celestiall and Invisible, above the rest; and endowes the possessor with Divine Gifts. It affords the Apparition of Angells, and gives the power of conversing with them, by Dreams and Revelations: nor dare any Evill Spirit approach the Place where it lodgeth.
Ashmole believed strongly in practical astrology — he kept a horoscope of Backhouse— and in the efficacy of magical tools, sigils, seals, and so forth. Ashmole also translated Fasciculus chemicus by Arthur Dee, published in 1650, a work aimed at adepts. For his own name, he used an anagram, James Hasolle.