Book Review by Joseph Caezza

ANTIMONY IN MEDICAL HISTORY, by R.Ian McCallum, Pentland Press, 1999, 125 pp. 22 illustrations, hardcover, 15 pounds sterling.

     Here is an indispensable reference for all connoisseurs of alchemistic mysticism. It will be particularly welcome by those preoccupied with the operational aspects of the laboratory. Dubious therapeutic effects and more obscure toxicities of this strange substance receive erudite examination.

     The initial chapter details the ancient use of antimony in Egypt, Europe, the Middle East and China. Cast artifacts of this semi-metal appear from Mesopotamian civilization possibly as early as the third millennium B.C.. Following chapters explore the alchemical and pharmaceutical use of antimony in the 16th and 17th centuries. From the theories of John Rupescissa to the applications of Paracelceus, Basil Valentine, Issac Newton and Boerhaave the reader discovers a comprehensive academic treatment.

     An intriguing chapter on alchemical symbolism explicates the functional aspect of antimony, known as "lupus metalorum", the wolf of metals. When molten it devours or dissolves the other planetary metals even at relatively low temperatures. This ability earned it the title of "lead of the sages" because lead's mythological counterpart, Saturn, gained fame for devouring his children.

     The author although generally accurate in interpreting alchemical texts falters when he explains that the Green Lion devouring the sun in the ROSARY OF THE PHILOSOPHERS represents "raw immature antimony ore". A more astute understanding might identify the red sulfur of nature, the sun, being dissolved by philosophical mercury, itself possibly but not necessarily prepared from antimony. This manipulation as it is situated in the text in question applies during the advanced archetypal stage of multiplication.

     A fascinating chapter devoted to antimony cups fashionable in Roman times and then again in the Renaissance documents a bizarre practice. Wine left for a few days in cups of cast antimony was considered a universal medicine. Many deaths apparently resulted from this controversial procedure. Excellent photographs of finely crafted museum piece artifacts testify to a very strange tradition.

     One chapter chronicles antimony in theater and literature from the 16th through 18th century. Another disturbing chapter explores its exploitation by quacks and mountebanks. Although Napoleon Bonaparte passed up the offer of this therapy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may take his place among the fatalities of its overenthusiastic use.

     The final section of the book gives evenhanded consideration to the legitimate place of antimony in contemporary Allopathic medicine, Homeopathy, Rudolph Stiener's Anthroposophy and even Veterinary medicine. The fully annotated text features 214 scholarly references and an appendix of 97 of the most popular antimony ores along with their chemical composition. Also included is a table of 26 classic antimony preparations accompanied by their physical description and chemistry. Many of these items will be easily familiar to philosophers of nature. The list entails such items as "Mineral Beazor", "Algaroth's Powder" and "Kermes Mineral". Lovers of operational alchemy will be particularly amused by the author's inclusion of "Powder of Projection" described as: "Produced in the Philosophical Egg, (an oval glass vessel) containing sublimed butter of antimony, and heated on a sand bath for months". Is nothing sacred?

     The author, R. Ian McCallum CBE MD DSC FRCP (London) FRCP (Edinburgh) FFOM FSA (Scotland) is emeritus professor of occupational health at the University of Newcastle. He formerly served as dean of the faculty of occupational medicine at the Royal College of Physicians of London among other very respectable posts. The last sentence of his biographical sketch on the dust jacket explains that he is currently studying Scottish alchemical manuscripts.

     The rigorous nature of this book calls to mind another fabulous volume from the same vein, MERCURY: THE HISTORY OF QUICKSILVER, by Leonard J. Goldwater MD PhD (1972) York Press, Baltimore, 305 pages. This exhaustive study covers occurrence of mercury, use in occult arts, mining, extraction, commerce, trade, ancient knowledge and uses, contemporary toxicology, pharmacology, analysis as well as uses in Dentistry and Veterinary medicine. Extensive chapters deal with its use in the 16th through 20th centuries. Good luck trying to find a copy.

     Dr Goldwater's monumental study in its turn was inspired by the work of Dr. Robert A. Kehoe, another eminent toxicologist who devoted his entire life to the study of lead. The work of these scientists constitutes an invaluable resource for any sincere operator. Their material remains a refreshing alternative to the pseudoscience of contemporary psychology that reduces sacred hermetic mysticism to the antics of armchair philosophy.

     Dr McCallum's treatise on antimony produced in accordance with the highest standards of British publishing features a black clothbound hardcover with its title in gold lettering. Sewn signatures and a handsome dust jacket add to its elegance. It easily merits the 21 pound sterling price tag.

Copies are available direct from Adam McLaen alchemy@dial.pipex.com. A 21 pound sterling price includes handling and worldwide shipping.
See also: http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/alchemy/antimony.html

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