RogerBacon (1214–1292) The earliest alchemist in England, known as Doctor Mirabilis. Roger Bacon was a philosopher, a genius, and a scientist far ahead of his time, anticipating by centuries the inventions of airplanes, automobiles, powered ships, and suspension bridges. He reconciled the Julian calendar, though the changes were not instituted until much later. Though his work influenced the development of gunpowder, spectacles, and the telescope and led to advancements in astronomy, his unusual gifts earned him persecution. His importance in Alchemy may be inflated, for many of his ideas were derivative or vague, and Bacon was seldom mentioned among great alchemists through at least the 17th century.
Bacon was born in 1214 near Ilcester in Somerset, England. He was a quick student. He entered the Order of St. Francis and studied at Oxford and in Paris, applying himself especially to mathematics and medicine. He returned to England and continued his studies, learning several languages—Hebrew, Latin, and Greek—and philosophy.
In about 1247, Bacon read The Secret of Secrets, a spurious work on the occult attributed to Aristotle. Prior to that, Bacon had evidenced skepticism about alchemy, stating in lectures that transmutation of metals was not possible based on philosophical grounds. The Secret of Secrets stimulated his interest in medicine, astrology, alchemy, and magic, and he began a search for a universal science that would integrate all things.
His interest in alchemy was philosophical, and he especially saw it as important to religion and salvation. Medicine combined with morality and alchemy could increase longevity by several centuries. Astrology explained the correspondences among the body, the humors, the elements, the stars, and the planets. All this ultimately was significant to religion, for it could explain the composition of human bodies before the Fall of Adam and Eve and also explain how the souls of the damned would be tortured in hell. In a commentary on The Secret of Secrets, Bacon said that God wishes for humanity to be saved and provides through revelation the knowledge by which salvation can be obtained. Christian morality is key to longevity and to the success of science.
Bacon was interested in showing that natural materials could be employed to create what appeared to be magic, that is, the marvelous inventions of future machines that he envisioned. He said that a person who has purified his or her body by alchemy could create a magical mirror for prophecy and divination. He called this mirror Almuchefiand said that it had to be made under the proper astrological auspices.
He was critical of Albertus Magnus, saying he lacked the proper perspective to understand the whole of things and was fundamentally ignorant of the principles of alchemy.
Despite Bacon’s religious convictions, his contemporaries reacted to his unorthodox views by shunning him and his works; his own Order of St. Francis banned his books from their library. In 1278 Bacon was imprisoned and was forced to repent and to leave his order. In 1292 he was set free, and he returned to Oxford. He died soon thereafter and was buried at the Greyfriars Church of the Franciscans in Oxford.
Several centuries later, the Demonologist Johann Weyer accused Bacon of practicing black magic and collaborating with Demons. Bacon’s enchanted mirrors, said Weyer, would be used by the Antichrist to perform lying miracles.
Many of Bacon’s works were never published and remain in manuscript form. His most important alchemical work, Speculum Alchimiae, was published posthumously in Lyons, France, in 1557. Like other great scientists and alchemists of his and later times, spurious works were attributed to Bacon’s authorship. Among them is Radix Mundi, which makes a case that the secret of Hermetic philosophy can be found in the four el ement s.
- Brehm, Edmund. “Roger Bacon’s Place in the History of Alchemy,” AMBIX, vol. 23, part 1, March 1976. Available online. URL: https://www.levity.com/alchemy/rbacon.html. Downloaded March 30, 2005.
- Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy. New York: Penguin Books, 1957.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. Alchemists Through the Ages. Blauvelt, N.Y.: Rudolph Steiner Publications, 1970.
Bacon, Roger (1214–1292) In medieval history and legend, English monk, believed to be a wizard. Bacon did numerous scientific experiments, which earned for him a reputation as being in league with Satan. One legend, commonly found in early romances, tells of the Brazen Head. The monk had a head made of bronze, which he often consulted. He had his attendant Miles watch the Brazen Head while he slept. Once, while Miles was watching the head, it spoke to him. “Time is,” it said. A half hour later it said, “Time was.” In another half hour it said, “Time’s past.” Then the Brazen Head fell to the ground and broke to pieces. Byron in his mock epic poem Don Juan (book 1), uses the lines:
Like Friar Bacon’s brazen head, I’ve spoken “Time is,” “Time was,” “Time’s past.”
Earlier the English poet Alexander Pope had written in his mock epic The Dunciad (book 3):
“Bacon trembled for his brazen head.”
The monk is the subject of a play by Robert Greene, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1594).
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow – Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante