Quick access:

Go directly to content (Alt 1) Go directly to first-level navigation (Alt 2)

Library of Elements
The Celestial Garden of Medieval Alchemy

Library of Elements © Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan

Nature delights in nature, nature conquers nature, nature rules nature.

Physika kai Mystika / Pseudo-Democritus (1st century CE)

Welcome to The Library of Elements: a VR experience devoted to European medieval alchemy. There is no simple definition of alchemy, which, in different forms, has developed independently in India, China, the Arab world, and Europe. At its most basic level, alchemy is an art form and practise devoted to nature and transformation. Its roots are pre-literate; its body of knowledge is transmitted in symbols, dreams, rituals, and, later codexes.
The difficulty in approaching alchemy today is that it clashes with the contemporary scientific worldview, which assumes matter and the cosmos to be dead. For most of human history, matter and the cosmos were believed to be living things. The practices of mining raw ores and the art of their transformation into metals, an act known as metallurgy, were considered sacred acts. But we now take metals and their meanings for granted. For example, it is doubtful you believe your cell phone, composed of copper, tellurium, lithium, cobalt, manganese, and tungsten, to be a sacred device connected to the planet and its history. Nor do you believe my library, which depends on the internet, with its hundreds of millions of kilometres of metal cables, stretched across oceans and continents, to be a divine manifestation.
The medieval alchemist thought differently. To use fire to transmute raw ores into purified metals was considered a reenactment of the progress of the cosmos, from primordial chaos into higher forms of consciousness. By pursuing the perfection of these metals, the alchemist pursued his own perfection. The liberation of those metals from base stone was seen as akin to the alchemist's own spiritual liberation. Freedom, illumination, even immortality was believed possible since to transmute metals was to collaborate with the creator and free matter from the laws of time. This total transformation, of both the material and spiritual worlds, was titled The Great Work.
Enter The Library of Elements to experience three stages of alchemical transformation: Nigredo, Albedo, and Rubedo.