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Rev Hist Sci Paris. 1996 Apr-Sep;49(2-3):159-88.

"Decknamen or pseudochemical language"? Eirenaeus Philalethes and Carl Jung.

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  • Department of the History of Science, Harvard University.


It is impossible to investigate the historiography of alchemy without encountering the ideas of the "father of analytical psychology", Carl Jung. Jung argued that alchemy, viewed as a diachronic, trans-cultural entity, was concerned more with psychological states occurring in the mind of the practitioner than with real chemical processes. In the course of elucidating this idea, Jung draws on a number of alchemical authors from the early modern period. One of these is Eirenaeus Philalethes, the pen name of George Starkey (1628-1665), a native of Bermuda who was educated at Harvard College, and who later immigrated to London. A careful analysis of Starkey's work shows, however, that Jung was entirely wrong in his assessment of this important representative of seventeenth-century alchemy. This finding casts serious doubt on the Jungian interpretation of alchemy as a whole.

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