Ripley, George

Ripley, George (c. 1415–1490) One of the most important English alchemists. George Ripley was born in about 1415 in the village of Ripley, near Harrogate, England. Little is known about him. He is said to have studied Alchemy in Rome, Louvain, and Rhodes, where he was the guest of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. In 1471 Ripley returned to England, where he became a canon at the Priory of Saint Augustine at Bridlington in Yorkshire. There he devoted himself to the study of the physical sciences, especially alchemy. The stench that emanated from his laboratory offended the monastic community. Ripley traveled in France, Germany, and Italy in pursuit of more knowledge about alchemy. In Rome in 1477 he was made a chamberlain by Pope Innocent VIII. By 1478 he reportedly learned the secret of transmutation and returned to England. According to lore, he gave the knights an annual allowance of 100,000 pounds to finance their participation in the Crusades. The Augustinians did not approve of his smelly alchemical pursuits and expelled him from the order. He went to Boston, where he joined the Carmelites. He died in 1490 in Boston. Ripley was among the first to champion the alchemical work of RAYMOND LULLY. He is credited with the authorship of numerous alchemical manuscripts, though some of these may be in doubt. He wrote in allegorical verse. His most important work is Compound of Alchymy or the Twelve Gates (1470–71). Dedicated to King Edward VI, it became one of the most popular alchemy texts of the time. In it Ripley stated that all of his experiments recorded between 1450 and 1470 should be disregarded because they were written from theory and because he found in practice later that they were untrue. He described the Philosopher's Stone as a threefold microcosm and said that one astronomical year is required to make it. The Prima Materia exists in all things everywhere, he claimed. 272 Ripley, George His Medulla alchimiae (Marrow of Alchemy) was published in 1476, dedicated to George Nevill, the archbishop of York. His song Cantilena explains the alchemical mystery. In Compound Ripley discusses the 12 “gates” or stages of the Great Work and especially describes the different colors that are observed in each stage. His Vision uses the allegory of a toad to describe the Great Work: When busie at my Book I was upon a certain Night, This Vision here exprest appear’d unto my dimmed sight: A Toad full Ruddy I saw, did drink the juice of Grapes so fast, Till over-charged with the broth, his Bowels all to brast: And after that, from poyson’d Bulk he cast his Venom fell, For Grief and Pain whereof his members all began to swell; With drops of poysoned sweat approaching thus his secret Den, His Cave with blasts of fumous Air all bewhited then: And from the which in space a Golden Humor did ensue, Whose falling drops from high did stain the soyl with ruddy hue, And when his Corps the force of vital breath began to lack, This dying Toad became forthwith like Coal for color Black: Thus drowned in his proper veins of poysoned flood; For term of Eighty days and Four he rotting stood By Tryal then this Venom to expel I did desire; For which I did commit his Carkass to a gentle Fire: Which done, a Wonder to the sight, but more to be reheasrt; The Toad with Colours ran through every side was pierc’d, And White appear’d when all the sundry hews were past: Which after being tincted Ruddy, for evermore did last. Then of the Venom handled thus a Medicine I did make; When Venom kills, and saveth such as Venom chance to take: Glory be to him the granter of such secret ways, Dominion and Honor both, with Worship, and with Praise. AMEN. The toad is the Prima Materia, or First Matter. Fed the alchemical water, it bursts (separatio), and its body putrefies (nigredo). Reheated, it achieves the cauda pavonis, or Peacock’s Tail of many colors, a sign that the Great Work is about the be accomplished. This occurs with the whitening and the reddening, the latter of which is the formation of the Philosopher’s Stone. The Ripley Scroll is a work of emblematic symbolism with allegorical verse describing how to perform the Great Work. Ripley was the teacher of THOMAS NORTON.



  • “George Ripley.” The Alchemy Web Site. Available online. URL: Downloaded January 12, 2005.
  • Gilchrist, Cherry. The Elements of Alchemy. Rockport, Mass.: Element Books, 1991.
  • Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy. New York: Penguin Books, 1957.
  • Waite, Arthur Edward. Alchemists Through the Ages. Blauvelt, N.Y.: Rudolph Steiner Publications, 1970.

    The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy  Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.