Basil Valentine (c. 15th c.) was a mysterious chemist, philosopher, and alchemist. Few details of the life of Basil Valentine are known; he has been placed in both the 15th and 16th centuries. His name may have been a pseudonym. Whoever he was, the writings attributed to him exhibit a profound knowledge of chemistry, medicine, and Alchemy.
According to some accounts, Valentine was born in Mayence, Germany, and by 1413 was a Benedictine monk at St. Peter’s in Erfurt. He was made prior in 1414. Supposedly the city records of Erfurt verify this, but according to other accounts, Benedictine records have no information on a man by that name.
Valentine is said to have distinguished himself with his knowledge. Like Paracelsus, he was openly contemptuous of the physicians of his time. He is credited with being the first to introduce antimony into medicine, and was the first to describe how to extract antimony from sulphuret.
Valentine’s works are couched in allegories and kabbalistic Symbols. They show Paracelsian influences and make references to the concepts expressed in the Emerald Tablet. Numerous treatises have been credited to him, some without foundation. Some accounts attribute at least some of his works to Johann Tholde, a German metallurgist and owner of SALT mines at Frankenhausen. None of Valentine’s alleged works were published prior to the late 16th century, and most appeared in the early 17th century.
According to legend, Valentine sealed 21 of his writings inside a stone pillar of his abbey. They were thought to be lost until a thunderbolt shattered the pillar. Supposedly heavenly powers wished the works to be made known. The pillar reportedly closed up again of its own accord when the manuscripts were removed.
However, no original copies of Valentine’s alleged manuscripts exist. Among the most noted works attributed to him are Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, The Great Stone of the Philosophers, and The Twelve Keys of Philosophy.
In Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, Valentine discusses the medicinal properties of antimony and provides details of his experiments with it.
In The Great Stone of the Philosophers, Valentine says that after he spent some years at the monastery, he initiated a study of the “natural secrets by which God has shadowed out eternal things.” At first he understood little, but he continued to apply himself to the works of the ancient philosophers, and at length God granted his prayer for understanding.
One of his convent brothers was seriously ill with a kidney disorder that no physicians could heal. Valentine spent six years treating the brother with herbal medicines, also to no avail. He then turned to the study of the powers and virtues of metals and minerals. He discovered the Philosopher's Stone and extracted its spiritual essence, which he used to heal the brother successfully.
Valentine espouses the belief in the principal of evolution of all things to perfection. A seed exists in metals that is their essence and if properly treated can be caused to grow the perfect metal. He describes the Philosopher’s Stone as a stone that is not a stone, composed of both white and red, to be used as a universal medicine to ensure good health and to lengthen life. Few Adepts ever achieve the stone and can only do so by intense study, PRAYER, confession of sins, and good works. They must understand “the truth of all truths”:
. . . that if there be a metalick soul, a metalick spirit, a metalick body that there must be a metalick Mercury, a metalick sulphur, and a metalick salt which can of necessity produce no other than a perfect metaline body. If you do not understand this that you ought to understand, you are not adepted for Philosophy or God concealeth it from thee.
At the end of The Great Stone of the Philosophers, Valentine provides a laborious procedure for preparing the Stone. Once accomplished, the alchemist can use it to transmute base metals into gold. Essentially, Valentine’s secret is to coat (tinge) base metals with an amalgam of GOLD. When done repeatedly, the base metal itself becomes transmuted into genuine gold:
. . . if this medicine after being fermented with other pure gold doth likewise tinge many thousand parts of all other metals into very good gold, such gold likewise becometh a penetrat medicine that one part of it doth tinge and transmute a thousand parts of other metals and much more beyond belief into perfect gold.
Fraudulent alchemists used the process of coating base metals with gold, many of them succeeding in fooling, at least for a time, gullible patrons.
The Twelve Keys was written as a follow-on companion to The Great Stone of the Philosophers. Eliphas Levi lauded it as a work “at once Kabbalistic, magical and Hermetic.” The work was first published in 1599 with no illustrations. In 1602 an edition with rough woodcuts was published. Twelve now-famous engravings were added when the text was included in The Golden Tripod (Tripus aureus), edited by MICHAEL MAIER and published in 1618. The plates probably were created by Merian and were added by the publisher, Lucas Jennis. Each key has its own allegorical emblem; the emblems themselves are referred to as the keys. They follow a geometry of three, with certain symbols and allegories appearing three times in different keys. The text for each key is couched in symbolism and allegory. The keys are studied for their philosophical and spiritual content by modern students of alchemy.
- Mackay, Charles. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1932.
- McLean, Adam. “Notes on the ‘Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine.’ ” Available online. URL: https://www.levity.com/ alchemy/twelve_keys.html. Downloaded May 17, 2005.
- Thompson, C. J. S. The Mysteries and Secrets of Magic. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1993.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. The Hermetic Museum. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1991.
- ———. Alchemists Through the Ages. Blauvelt, N.Y.: Rudolph Steiner Publications, 1970.