What are these alchemical symbols on this pyramid?
May 28, 2013 10:22 AM   Subscribe

The pyramid in question is really an ice house, built in the New Gardens in Potsdam in 1791-92. It was built at the direction of Friedrich Wilhelm II, who was a Freemason and a Rosicrucian, among other things. So what are those alchemical symbols over the door? Extra credit if you can figure out the symbolism of the weird insects and such carved into the stone.
posted by Pallas Athena to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Those appear to be some of the symbols for the various astrological signs and planets.
Guess courtesy of my knowledge of Sailor Moon and her Sailor Scouts.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:02 AM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I only see the symbols for Mercury and copper, but you might take a look at this .pdf file for more.
posted by Houstonian at 11:02 AM on May 28, 2013

Left to right:

Mercury, (something), Venus, (something), Mars, (something), (something recalling Ceres or Saturn - both use scythes, but I've never seen them crossed like that). Still sifting.
posted by jquinby at 11:07 AM on May 28, 2013

From the left, I can identify a few. Hint: whenever you see seven of something in alchemy, you can be sure they are referring to the seven planetary metals, planets historically being defined as the orbiting heavenly bodies you can see with the naked eye (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn).

The first one is the Moon - silver.
Two - either the Sun (gold) or Jupiter (tin) (probably the Sun)
Third - Venus - copper.
Fourth - Sun or Jupiter (probably Jupiter)
Fifth - Mars - iron.
Sixth - Mercury - quicksilver/mercury.
Seventh - Saturn - lead.

Given that it's a pyramid, I would hazard a guess it used to be an alchemical lab, rather than purpose-built as a very high-end icehouse.
posted by Atrahasis at 11:08 AM on May 28, 2013

I agree with Atrahasis for the most part, but am pretty sure the second one is meant to be Jupiter which would make the fourth one the Sun, but this is really just guessing as that fourth symbol is definitely not the normal symbol for any of the planets/common elements.

Mind you, most seem a bit off, as if the whole thing was produced by someone who had been told about alchemy rather than being a practitioner. Mars, for example, is usually on an angle with the arrow pointing to about 2 o clock; although Saturn is described as a sickle shape, it's not really a literal sickle as it's been rendered (and jquinby is also right, Ceres was also a sickle, with handle at the bottom - Saturn has the handle part at the top). The Moon is usually a completely different symbol. Mercury symbol's got a little leg at the bottom (not normal) and while Jupiter usually looks a bit like a 4, this one makes it look more like an arrowhead. Odd.

There's a good site showing various renderings of alchemical symbols from various historical sources. A smattering of Latin is helpful for some of the sources.

As for the other symbols carved into the stone, it's hard to make them out. One looks a bit like the symbol for Libra, but there's another which looks like an Egyptian hieroglyph so my guess would be they all are. I know very little about hieroglyphics but it would not surprise me if they were rendered with the same amount of accuracy as the alchemical/astronomical symbols above the door (ie, not much).
posted by Athanassiel at 9:31 PM on May 28, 2013

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