Allow me to introduce you to the digital library of the Restorers of Alchemical Manuscripts Society (RAMS). Based out of suburban Dallas, RAMS offers pdf downloads of a number of rare and apparently powerful alchemical texts for the low, low price of 54 American dollars. These manuscripts appear to be lesser works by un-famous magicians of the Renaissance. When it comes to books of alchemy and conjuring, most of the good stuff is owned by libraries and museums, but the texts that RAMS has collected and made available are probably quite useful to present-day practicing alchemists looking for experiments to try out in their garages/laboratories. By far the best text in RAMS’s collection is the Golden Chain of Homer, which is a comprehensive guide to all of the earth’s primary substances, with explanation of their make-up, their alteration and their destruction.
Most RAMS texts appear to have been translated into English from Latin or another continental European languages. One couldn’t really say this alternative expression in another language constitutes a corruption of the work since most of the ideas found in books of alchemy were lifted from other works which themselves were translated into a modern tongues from Arabic or Greek. And it was probably the case that the Arabian alchemists were deriving their methods from Sanskrit texts from India and the Greek from the Egyptians and the Babylonians. For example, two of the most important books of alchemy, the Turba Philosophorum and the Picatrix, were translated from Arabic into Latin around the 12th or 13th century. The Turba Philosophorum is one of the first alchemical texts available to Europeans. It is supposed to contain the wisdom of Pythagoras. In effect, it introduced many of the key themes of alchemy such as transmutation and neoplatonistic doctrine to a European audience. The Picatrix is said to be a guide to symbolistic magic and a comprehensive summation of Arabian sorcery. Both texts are manuscripts sit today in the British Library.
Of course, the most mysterious Achemist texts are written in secret languages such as Gematria, Temura, and Notariqon. These were encrypted works that alchemists would draft only for each other to see. We have found instructions for decoding many of these shadow languages, some remain indecipherable. The most famous of these is the Voynich Manuscript. Written in a specialized script and containing confusing illustrations of non-existent flora and fauna, it is the best-known unread book in the world.
Hats off to the Yale’s Beinecke Rare Books Library for having the generosity and wherewithal to digitize this extremely rare book and making it freely available on the web. Perhaps some renegade scholar somewhere will use their lovely manuscript site to crack the Voynich’s code.