Levels of meaning in symbolic drawings

Ancient manuscripts and paintings with symbolic drawings and diagrams filled with mysteries from the dawn of science. These topics captured the interest of the public recently with bestselling books and popular movies about esoteric science, code breaking and symbols. It's easy to simply appreciate these works of art for the technical skill required to create such beautiful drawings, long ago.

The Mysterious World of Alchemy

Alchemy Laboratory

Natural science and the dawn of chemistry

Typical furnishings and equipment in an alchemy lab

Without television or the internet, our distant ancestors had time to observe the cycles of nature and the movement of the stars. The scientific method was created by early natural scientists who looked at the world in detail and recorded their observations.

These were the eminent philosophers of the medieval period, healers and pioneers like Paracelsus, who was the model for the modern medical doctor. So, next to the herbs and glass beakers, the simmering tinctures and and medieval cookbooks, rests the symbols for contemplating the eternal mysteries. The human skull to remind us of the one inevitable truth of existence. A raven with outstretched wings can be a metaphor for many things (that’s the beauty of symbols).

Mercury/Hermes and the moon goddess Luna

Roman mythology - Luna and Mercury (Zazzle)

Symbols for the planets, moons and the stars in the night sky were created by nearly every culture throughout recorded history. The Greeks called our nearest neighbor Selene and the Romans called her Luna. Once her brother Helios (Sol) was finished with his day job, Selene steps out of a cool bath in the ocean to shepherd the evening sky. Mercury is the messenger of the Gods, with a special place in alchemy as the personification of the Egyptian Thoth, called Hermes by the Romans, holding aloft the caduceus symbol and a bag of gold in the other hand.

Art of Distillation

Liber de Arte Distillandi by Brunschwig

Art of Distillation

The art of distillation is commonplace to us in the modern age. Without it how would we have beer and wine, medicine and petroleum products? In the middle ages of Europe, the processes of transforming raw materials into a useful product was considered no less a miracle than the rising sun each morning.

Allegorical images

Clavis Artis: Key to the Arts

Clavis Artis

An inscription on the title page claims that the text was translated in 1236 BCE from the original Arabic language into German. Cryptic signatures on the page may also link the document to ‘Rosa et Aurea Crucis, the Rosicrucians, a clandestine brotherhood presumably founded by Christian Rosenkreutz.

Authorities believe the book was actually published in the 17th or 18th century, and these watercolor illustrations may be from that period, added by an unknown artist, along with commentary about the alchemical text.

The Key of Alchemy

Alchemy emblem

Clavis Artis is translated as The Key of the Arts — the arts of alchemy and transmutation. Dragons and humans merge together in a symbolic progression through the sacred work, filled with emblems of the chemical processes. Only two copies of the illuminated manuscript exist, safeguarded by libraries in Rome and Trieste, Italy. The author is attributed as Zarathustra (Zoroaster), a magi from Persia — where the esoteric knowledge of the ancients was safeguarded while Europe was in the Dark Ages.

Unicorn and Deer


Confrontation between a unicorn and a deer stag in the forest.

These mythical beasts symbolize the sharp focus of the intellect (the single horn of the unicorn) and the natural instincts of wild animals. The task of the alchemist is to merge these two principles together to achieve balance in the “great work” of alchemy.

Umberto Eco

Stories of mysticism and esoteric science

Eco is another contemporary author known for using symbols and the mysteries as subject for his fictional history books.

The Alchemist 10th Anniversary edition

Author Paulo Coelho

Classic allegorical novel about the external pursuit of the deeper mysteries in life to make an internal transformation.

Alchemy coloring Page

Signs of the zodiac

Alchemy coloring page sample with the signs of the zodiac

To print a black and white copy for coloring, right-click the image and “Save as” to your computer. Then, print out the page and grab your colored pencils, watercolors or crayons. Painting outside the lines is encouraged.

Author Dan Brown

Popular novels of mystery and symbolism

Titles listed in reverse order starting with the first book in the series Angels and Demons, and continuing with the adventures of Robert Langdon through The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, and the he latest adventure in the depths of The Inferno by Dante Alighieri, released in May 2013.
All product designs © dotpattern

Symbols of Alchemy and Hermetic Arts, revised 6/7/2014 (created on 01/13/2012).

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What you think of these beautiful drawings?

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  • spudzjamezspudz Mar 02, 2014 @ 1:44 am
    Great post! Always curious about these symbols. Now I understand a few of them.
  • dotpattern Mar 02, 2014 @ 8:03 am
    The meaning of symbols change and grow along with the person who studies the great mysteries. Thanks and enjoy.
  • Photahsiamirabel Apr 16, 2013 @ 7:53 am
    I have always been fascinated by these hermetic symbols. Really nice looking lens! :)
  • dotpattern Apr 16, 2013 @ 9:52 pm
    Symbols are quite wonderful. Thanks for your comment and enjoy.
  • WriterJanis Oct 09, 2012 @ 12:45 pm
    Really interesting read.

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