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I was recently reading Sebastien Moureau’s paper “Elixir atque Fermentum: New investigations about the link between psudo-Avicenna’s Alchemical De Anima and Roger Bacon: alchemical and medical doctrines”, and on page 290 it refers to the importance of the right, propitious time to carry out the work.

The note to it has more information:

“The calculation of the right time (arabic words for it in this space but I don’t have the keyboard for it) for the alchemical work is found in several Jabirian treatises; cf Kraus Jabir ibn Hayyan II, 8. The importance of the astral influence reminds one here of the Arabic magic, as, for example, in the making of talismans, cf. Also “Conclusion”, pp 332-33.”

I think it clear that the idea of propitious times etc goes back a lot farther, given how Zosimos railed against them, so an interesting question is what lines of transmission were there? From what I have read, they were undoubtedly many, parallel and only some of them alchemical.

Now now another interesting question is, how much of this approach actually survived into Medieval Europe? Not much, according to William Newman in “Secrets of Nature”. Or rather, why on earth did it not survive? Europeans imported so much, including astrology and alchemy and medical works, why did this idea not survive?

As usual, I’ll need to read a lot more to have a decent idea of an answer. So don’t wait up, this could take years. Or maybe you have a better answer?

Actually, you can also see the link between astrology and alchemy in “The book of the Treasure of Alexander” which is a mixture of astrology, alchemy, instructions for making talismans and poisons that dates from the 9/10th century AD. It says, for instance:

If you want to purify tutia, do so when Venus is in her sign with the moon making a positive aspect to Venus and Saturn is in his sign of exaltation.”

Clearly prescribing a time to carry out an operation.

Perhaps one reason such information did not carry over into Europe so easily was the association with talismans and astrology; the making of talismans was regarded as magic, often of a bad sort, and generally frowned upon. Yet astrology survived.

I’m sure some will say that the information about astrological timings to carry out the alchemical work was passed on by word of mouth. But that idea doesn’t work, because 1) if the Arabic texts mix it all together, why would Europeans separate it out? I can’t think of a good reason. 2) So many alchemists are on record about how they learnt alchemy from books, there simply wasn’t the unbroken master-pupil relationship that many obsessive people claim there was, so passing it on by word of mouth wouldn’t work. Obviously that leads to the suggestion that that is why it isn’t popular in European alchemy, but I doubt it.

What is much more likely is I think that the works translated were not as many or as often as people sometimes think, and in fact the astrologically related ones were not amongst those that were. It is pointed out that several Jabirian treatises mention an astrological link, but we know for sure that not all Jabirian treatises were translated in the medieval period, and I think some still aren’t available in any language than Arabic.

So a minority part of alchemy gets lost through the vicissitudes of copying and translating.