From a Letter written by Starkey to Robert Boyle, dated 26 January 1652.

St. James, 26 January 1651 <Old Style; i.e. 1652>

“I read with great joy your most pleasing letter, which just arrived (most virtuous friends and honorable hero), and (because you say that you are please by my garrulousness) I will fill each page for you with tiny writing and no margins.  I bring news to you; but what good news it is if not pleasing, hence I promise pleasing news.  And what new would be pleasant if not pertinent to you?  Thus, since I am wholly yours, I promise all of this will flow to you as from an unworthy conduit.  Indeed, on the Sabbath, playing remarkably at my labors, restful ones, in full joy of mind, I now address you.  For God, pitying a searcher’s labors, studies, vigils, and anxieties, finally opened to me the gates of nature and gave me not only the understanding but also the possession of the immortal liquor Ignisaqua, and now finally I sing a hymn to my God, since only He is worthy.”

From British Library, vol. 5, Fol. 133R, translated and printed on p. 66 in George Starkey.  Alchemical Laboratory Notebooks and Correspondence.  Edited by William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe.  University of Chicago Press, 2004.

How possible is it for a mid-17th century alchemist, whose recipes are of a Divine nature, to be an influence in Dutchess County medicine more than a century later?

There are two sorts of history we often hear of being passed on.  The traditional history in the form of the written word, music, architecture, art, entertainment, clothing, housing structures, societal events is that which is most commonly passed on from generation to generation.   We know about these because they are documents somehow in some form of letter or art.  The other kind of history is the oral history that is told from one generation to the next, preserved due to the older members of society feeling the need to keep these teachings alive.  These teachings are often the words, sentences, sayings, beliefs that often are not written down, or are written down but never get published or converted to some form to be shared from one generation to the next.

George Starkey’s life is an example of this latter form of history that existed in the southern part of New England.  Starkey influenced areas just outside of Boston  westward into Connecticut and down to New York, and he did so by letter and word of mouth not by book.   We know this because of other historically important leaders of the people, religious leaders, also had their stories to tell, but for some reason these stories never made it far beyond the audiences attending the lectern, churches and social event halls and dancefloors where these preachers passed on their words.

A fairly extensive treatise written by Wesley for example remained unpublished for more than a century.  In it were his preachings about the value of life’s spark or energy as a form of electricity, giving him good reason to promote the static electric means for a cure and a newly discovered way to revitalize a frozen, drowned human being.  This work of Wesley wasn’t published until the 1800s.  Likewise, a number of preachers from Massachusetts and Connecticut, were it not for the occasional publisher who wanted to print and distribute their weekly sermons, had philosophies and claims that could be kept alive by such locally published writings.  For this reason, Bermudan emigrant George Starkey, who came to settle at Harvard during its first years of existence, left a very detailed set on manuscripts on his practice of alchemy that were only rediscovered quite recently.  These scripts were left unpublished and placed in storage in a British library for more than 300 years, until they were rediscovered and their contents fully researched and published in parts in the 1990s, and most recently as the important translation of these papers–George Starkey.  Alchemical Laboratory Notebooks and Correspondence.  (Edited by William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe.  University of Chicago Press, 2004).

The timing of this was somewhat amusing to me, in particular how I discovered this part of Dr. Osborn’s history.  Back in the first years of the internet, ca. 1997 in my abode, my first link to the internet soon led to my search for any reference to the phrase “ens veneris”.  No such links could be found.  Over the next few years, I repeated these queries every now and then, until one day around 2007, I had hundreds of links pop up on my browser for such a term.  That moment, I knew something had just been published that would have the answers to my question about how on Boyle’s “ens primum veneris” and this particular variation of it “ens veneris” both came to be.  With the insights of the famous chemist from Europe a few years earlier, John Baptiste Van Helmont, Harvard Chemist/Alchemist Georg Starkey discovered what he believed was the secret to making the famed Philosopher’s Stone.

“God communicated to me the whole secret of volatilizing alkalies.”

Georg Starkey, ca. December 1651, British Library Sloane MS 2682, Fol. 88R, 89r, in George Starkey.  Alchemical Laboratory Notebooks and Correspondence.  Edited by William R. Newman and Lawrence M. Principe.  University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Georg Starkey wasn’t the usual alchemist we might imagine him to be when such a title is given to those willing to preach these teachings and question science.  Only a few scientists at this time would document fully the results of their experiments, or their philosophy explaining why they performed them, much less their conclusions about the seemingly unanswerable questions that existed then about mortality and immortality, and the counter-remedy to preventing early deaths.  For just a very few, the secrets to longevity existed just around the corner.  The only other scientists still interested in making such a discovery and working hard to achieve it were back in Europe, the most famous of whom was Robert Boyle, and Georg Starkey was already communicating his discoveries with Boyle by 1649 or 1650.

What made Starkey’s discoveries so unique and different, and effective in the eyes of many other alchemists, was how he achieved them.  The methods of producing these outcomes that Starkey tells us about in his letters came to him through personal wisdom and insights, and his belief in the ability to communicate with a higher power . . . namely the number one Alchemist of Life, God Himself.

From Starkey’s writings we see immediately that he is not just a chemist or alchemist, but rather he is a Christian Alchemist, with an obsession for communicating with God.  God gave him the many experiences he had an needed to draw his conclusions with.  Whenever Starkey was delayed in his work, absent from the lab for a short while, engaging in mistaken moves and actions needed to make his chemical tests be productive and come alive, they all ensued by happenstance, a result of some Holy intervening.  Relying upon his religious faith, and the beliefs gifted to him responsible for the unusual ways he  interpret life’s alchemy, he was able to see the value of these accidental discoveries, their source, purpose and meaning.  Starkey was not necessarily studying chemistry at this time, for chemistry as we know it today needed another 50 to 100 years to become the science that it is.  This chemistry that Starkey was practicing was focused on power and the conversion of matter, the closest thing to a Paracelsian way of being and thinking in the lab normal to labs a half century before or earlier.

During this time, Starkey was in contact with world’s other great chemist–Robert Boyle.  At times, Starkey’s work and discoveries preceded those of Boyle.  Other times it paralleled Boyle’s work.  And yet other times the work of one contributed simultaneously to the findings and revelations experienced by the other.  Boyle’s work both in thought and in person, was influenced by Starkey’s writings, communicated directly to Boyle in England by was of ship spent letters.  Just a few years into Starkey’s experiences in Christian Alchemy, Boyle would learn about Starkey’s success in discovering what to him had been the undiscoverable, what Starkey termed Alkahest and believed to be the philosopher’s stone.  This very unique rendering of that energy needed to define life in a body was the goal of many alchemists over the centuries, and as chemists learned more about the different forms of matter they were experimenting with, some felt they were the fortunate ones, those who could see into the future and know just where to go, how to experiment with substances in order to produce these mystical results they were so much in need of.

Starkey was so obsessed with this value of his finding that at a later point in his life, in order to publish his findings and beliefs, he even took on this new name before spreading his version of the Words of God–he called himself “Eirenaeus Philalethes”, and labeled himself a transmuter of metals, a chrysopoeian (goldmaker), argyropoeian (silver maker), verdigrisist or cuprologist (expert in copper and Venus), stibianist (expert in Antimony), and mercurialist (expert in the Paracelsian concept of Mercury of substance essential for spirit and life) all in one.

Starkey, during his writings, also reveals to us that he considers himself a healer as well as a philosopher, an individual who understood life’s processes and their inner spiritual nature, as a result of experiments performed on the physical experiences.  Some of these experiences Starkey relied upon were not simple the result of earth and earth’s nature.  Some of these experiences came from the heavens, the stars, the moon, the planets, with Starkey’s chemical philosophy detailing many of the different aspects of this theory that he became such an avid believer in.  As an example of such an event, one day Starkey arrived back in his lab and the substances he had been allowing to merge in his large glass container had effectively formed their first product; upon tasting that product, just a tiny drop of it, he burned his tongue severely–most certainly this was a sign to him that he discovered an important magical, powerful substance.  This only led him into further studies in the years to come, never making him turn away from the dangers of the chemistry he was practicing.

Starkey liked to produce such items  as the burning acidic acid or lye in his glass vessel, because he believed they could be used for a good cause, such as for medicines applied primarily to healing, if nothing else.  For this reason he maintained his belief in the traditional alchemical and astrological views of metals and materials in relation to the stars and planets that very much formed earlier philosophies.  There were some parts of the most basic astrological beliefs that once we know how substances behave in such a way of interpreting things, that one then knows how an astrologer will think once he sees such a chemical even happening.

Most important to medicine was the relationship between Mars, the masculine planet, and Venus, the feminine planet.  But there were too the important features of Jupiter and Saturn when it came to explaining how metals and planets influenced the human body, Saturn with its very mystical, silverly looking planet with connections to the other world, and Jupiter, a representative of the very much physical nature of our life and its relationship to the world.  Mercury, so small but very powerful due to its proximity to the sun, symbolized the essences of things, the “Gas” as it was now called by “chymists” like Starkey.  Each of these features provided still more powerful insights into life, health and healing, preachings made popular first by Paracelsus, later by Van Helmont, and yet later by Basil Valentine and a number of lesser known alchemists serving as Starkey’s icons such as Isaac Newton, Samuel Hartlib, Johann Rudolf Glauber, Johann Moriaen, Alexander von Suchten.

The best example of this Starkey’s work existing in the colonies of North America during the 18th and 17th century, was a recipe I read more than twenty years ago.  It was from Dr. Cornelius Osborn’s vade mecum.  Dr. Osborn was a Dutch-English lad trained in medicine by the time he was about 20 to 22.  Apprenticed in the skills of apothecary and medicine, he was trained in many philosophies.  Not just the traditional teachings of medicine, like the power of the blood and other humours of the body, or the need to lance a blood vessel every now and then to facilitate the movement of these fluids, even “energies” or Paracelsian notion of “spirits” and mercurial substances throughout the living human body.  Living in what was once the New Netherlands, Osborn’s family, were it local Dutch, could have been very much educated in health, medicine and the human spirit.  The main professors of medicine for the Dutch, Hermann Boerrhaave and  Johannes Van Helmont, were experts in this new philosophy about the role of substances on health, their effects upon the body.

Likewise, there were some profound mystics out there preaching much the same philosophy, but with a cant and intention directed towards the human minds, what it thinks and the way that it thinks.  Just what triggered these thoughts, enabled them to form and then dissolve into other stories, truths or beliefs, were the questions these philosophical non-science followers of this early Kantian way of thinking.  Jakob Boehme was the most profound leaders of this discipline for the Dutch.  He took Paracelsus’s ideology, its three parts (mercury, sulphur, earth), its powers, its fifth element (the essence or often what we today refer to as the essential oil or smell of the substance), a developed his discipline from this argument he developed, the product of his imagination.  The Hudson Valley, during its first generations, was led by believers in Boehmites teachings. The first to settle the Filipse patent were such followers, as was the greatest alchemist and mystic of all in the U.S for this time, Augustus Hermann, a resident of Manahata, now called New Amsterdam.

Before New Amsterdam was taken over by the English, the first time through during the 17th century, these beliefs developed a long and unforgettable local history, at the philosophical level, and at the ruling Dutch families level.  Boehmitism, knowledge about the first shamanic encounters in the valley, involving Iroquois day or two to the north, the emerging discipline of alchemy as a love and emotion derived Christian thought, were enough to make it easy for conversations on metaphysics to continue in this region, from generation to generation, family to family, decade after decade after decade.  The new notion of Alchemy borne by George Starkey was very much like the teachings one or two generations earlier by Boehme, and ipso facto by Van Helmont, Boerhaave and Paracelsus.  In this way, the philosophy of Christian Alchemy, as we would call it today, was born.  In this situation, by Starkey, but easily redesigned by others who believed.  Such was the case for residents just a few days trip away from where Starkey once experimented with his philosophy and God-given insights born within him.  Somehow, Cornelius Osborn heard and/or learned about Starkey’s unique philosophy, and thus by the time he had penned Starkey’s Philosopher’s Stone invention, ens veneris, into his recipe book around 1759 or 1760, Cornelius OSborn has spent two or three generations contemplating what he was taught by his mentor of this unique form of natural philosophy.

This new tradition, new age philosophy for the time, pertains to Osborn’s recipes on how to use iron.  The way he makes some potions reveal his awareness of the formerly astrology-borne notion of universal energies; only then, when astrology was primitive, these energies were aligned with the makings of the stars and planets.  During Osborn’s generation, such an idea seemed totally ludicrous.  Franz Anton Mesmer himself had preached that universal power was abundant, and helped align and make the starts and planets behave, the way Isaac Newton proposed they behaved.    Mesmer’s new “faith” in the body and mind’s “spirit”, as an entity separate from if not fully detached from the soul, enabled his new thinking to develop into the ability of one person, to control the mind of another, just like the snake charms the squirrel and other prey, and the sun causes the dead spider to spring back to life, as legs engage in their final twitches once it has been slaughtered and lain in the sun.  To many a philosopher for the time, even if God did exist, the universe also had its powers, as did its planets, its stars, and our nearby sun.  These could be harnessed to make a magical healing potion.  Using Starkey’s argument for this, and the versions of it shared with him by others willing to listen and talk, Osborn put this philosophy into how he treated particular problems that were otherwise incurable.


“Ens veneris 8Gr in peroyal water whare rusty Iron has red hot and squencht in 4 or 5 Times Take a half Jill of this water 3 Times a Day…its Excelent”  [Osborn]


According to Cornelius Osborn, if you take freshly hammered and untreated, pure iron, and set it under the moonlight for a certain number of nights, or heat it with a fire, an alchemical stove that we know Osborn once owned, and make it hot, you have initiated to production of your next medicine.   In Osborn’s directions,  he tells the reader to make an iron rod red hot and then quench it in water, to reduce its red and heated nature.  Without this heat, but with the same colors, he discusses the making of a powder of rust from a rusty piece of iron, by forming crystal-like pieces of rust that simply fall off as dust once they are touched.  To the more fully trained natural philosopher.  This could only mean one thing.  You changed the nature of that substance, its association with the universe or former planet-related energies, and thereby changes its metaphysical powers.

Being a modern train philosopher/scientist, this notion he had about his new medicine, seemed to relate to the need to construct a perfect Fe III Oxide (Fe II is yellow, Fe II is red).  In alchemy, this made an impure iron into a more perfect form of Iron, that which is  dominated by the planet Mars.  And nearly a century before Osborn wrote these exact same procedures down in his pocket book, Starkey had already discovered the same abilities of nature to change the Iron from the Fe II oxide, and which Starkey had also penned into his personal notebook.  Starkey would have interpreted the Iron as its yellow, lesser form, which with heating took on the form of a Paracelsian-Von Helmontian sulphur substance, turning into a rich, dark red, blood like Iron (an Fe III oxide to modern day chemists).  Symbolically, such a transformation on substance very much resembled the expectations of a philosopher’s stone being successfully produced.  In the case of this heat or sun-treated iron, its earthen-metal blood native became more vitalized.  In its deep red form, it was now a highly enriched form of Martial medicine, a medicine for the blood, and to some, for the woman’s loss of vitality due to menses.

Starkey puts this philosophy, that Osborn would later replicate, into his writing very succinctly, as follows:

“When this Sol is dry it turns yellow; when it is dissolved, it turns to a red like the healthiest blood.”

p. 140, ca. 1653-6


This is also taught to some apprentices as rule 13 of German doctor Alexander von Suchten’s “Arcanum of Alchemy”, a piece of science and art first penned and published as Book of Mysteries of Antimony,  also published as Suchten’s treatise on Secrets.   Due to their well educated philosophers, the Dutch were also gifted with this knowledge on how to heal, which is why the Dutch heritage of certain regions is more profound, different than regions occupied only by non-Dutch preachings and believings.

Knowing that Starkey’s medicines often had this sense of mysticism to them, we have to ponder Osborn’s choice of medicine, or medicinal materials, to understand how much his philosophy had taken its own philosophical route.  Osborn notes numerous other medicines that he produced using the recipes provided by past and present alchemists.  He used their planets to define their use when certain uses that we were in need of didn’t exist.  He used a number of substances that we normally we wouldn’t expect to see a century later, were it not for some practitioners who wished to retain the traditional Greek and Roman way of producing medicines along with alchemists, a group of physicians known as “Antients” by the time the late 1700s came around.  Examples of these ancient medicines includes his emplastrum de Minio, balsam Locatelli, confection alchermes, elixir proprietatis.


Just how New England and New York were Starkey’s writings!?

In his January 16th, 1652 letter to Robert Boyle, he noted “The red berries brought from New England, similar in shape to cherries, are very healthful, sour in taste, and are very good for making a condiment at home.” (p. 57)  The translators of Starkey’s work identify this “cherry” as “cranberries”, but historians of this time and place will most certainly recognize it as the bitter cherry native to the region.

Starkey refers to the Salt known as Sal Prunella, which in my first reviews more than twenty years ago I considered to be salt of the herb Prunella.  According to the translators, it is as true alchemical salt.   These salts were often named by Starkey for their medical values, for example sal circulatum (literally translated into salt of fortune).  Starkey focused on the power of Sulphur in the elements, so too did Doctor Osborn.  Starkey made use of “Stinking Spirits”, so too did Osborn in various forms.  Other terms they shared, which appeared archaic for Osborn’s writings include “roche alum” (p. 139), oil of sulphur.

Finally, noting the important politicians, acquaintances, and philosophers for the time noted by Starkey, we learn just how close he was to influencing New York.  His various writings, letters, notes, etc. include mentions of Connecticut Governor John Winthrop Jr., John Dee (p. 229), and Basil Valentine (p. 169).

“Finally, with God supporting me, the whole secret of the cinnabar of Van Helmont revealed itself to me, the explanation of which I will discharge to you in a few words.”

16, January 1652, letter to Robert Boyle.  p. 58

This is how Starkey’s knowledge became a part of the New England-New York oral history for a century beyond the years he spent there at Harvard.  This is because his philosophy was very attractive to those who wanted to learn about the reasons for life and the nature of God Himself.  All of this Starkey had discovered during his years as a Christian Alchemist at Harvard.

There are a number of writers from the late 17th century, early 18th century that brought Starkey’s teachings back to the forefront for their readers.  Very few of these books were published, relatively speaking, but they were published and were circulated worldwide.  In general it takes just one copy of one book with a theme to influence enough people sometimes to cause a social movement to evolve.  There are also some books written in English between 1700 and 1720 on Starkey’s philosophy and his ens veneris or philosopher’s stone.  Some of these approach the logic associated with the French philosophers who claimed to be able to tell you about your health by reading your urine in a clear glass container, to see how the sunlight shined through it.   Popular especially around the 1690s, knowledge of their practice and that of Starkey’s would make any open minded, hopeful physician searching for a healthier, longer life to pay heed to some of these writings, even when it is against the “schools” for the time.   (New York of course hadn’t a school then, so these schools were British and other western European schools for the most part.)

A number of writings, enough have been found in Google Books to make this philosophy reasonable to research at this time.  Most people have that human side that is not always status quo, and Osborn like anyone else was like this.

[Insert Reference Links]

The reason I am covering George Starkey in Dr. Cornelius Osborn section is hopefully obvious.  Starkey had a major influence on Osborn’s philosophy which Osborn penned into his manuscript around 1760.  This is a century later, and since Starkey’s work was never directly published, but as I have found referred to on and off in the general magazine types of writings, his influence did have an impact on Osborn’s work.  In fact, it is the only way this particular term could have ever made it into Osborn’s philosophy.  At the time, there were just two versions of the term “ens veneris” circulating.  The first was the version that Robert Boyle produced after reading Starkey’s essay about how he produced this mythical , legendary panacea and power of life, in which he noted “Ens primum veneris” in a brief writing to his comrades about this mythical substance, and in a related writing then recommended that copper be changed to iron if it is the blood that we want to vivify with such remedies (he was right there, by treating the chlorosis or anemia/reduction in blood that women were getting).  The second is the collection of writings by Starkey that mention “ens primum veneris” and “ens veneris”, which were never published in any English written form thereafter.

Over the next century, several German translations of Starkey’s work would appear throughout the remaining 17th century and early 18th century.  These several writings kept the philosophy of Starkey alive in printed word form, but let it escape from much of the English philosophy by the turning point for these two centuries.  (Pages 157-167 of the frequently cited reference bears the formula to “The Element of the Fire of Venus”; this formula’s philosophy include mention of the difference between iron and copper venus is very close to mine written in the late 1980s, and Von Helmont’s Butleran (Philosopher’s) Stone.)

My heart breathes forth the truth, because the Omnipotent has finally repaid my labors with a very full harvest.”

26 Jan. 1652, Starkey to Boyle. BL, vol. 5, Fol. 133R, p. 67 of Text.

The fact that a belief can be passed down for more than a century tells us something about people and their health related belief systems.  Equate these events to the idea of the health and unhealthy attached to smoking, which for generations never made it into the advertising for tobacco products in early 1900s American history.  Even as far back as 1800, some doctors were already questioning this method for partaking in tobacco, but then enough writings were also out there expressing its potential values as a medicine.  During the Oregon Trail years of the mid-1800s, for example, giving someone an enema of tobacco smoke served to treat the colon of its cholera.  In the early 1900s, the value of puffing on a cigarette or to made from Jimsonweed was claimed to help prevent the asthma from doing you in.  And of course, today, smoking can be very good for us if we have need for toking on some Cannabis for reasons related to a lifelong disease, the need to rid ourselves of pain, or the desires to be more active in spite of our multiple sclerosis.  What the turks engaged in in front of European witnesses in the 1600s on up to the 1800s, and what the Somalians engaged in during the small skirmish we had with them in the 1990s with Qat, are all examples of how we wish to be able to make our spirits more long-lasting and vivacious.  Starkey’s way of guiding one to this path was to recommend that your take some sal ammoniac, an ammonia extracted from antlers or other sources of this substance of life, and be able to put it into our body, in some way so as to cleanse the vessels and air passages directly or indirectly, so as to clear the way for our life’s spirit to flow.  In all, this thinking at times seems to be little different from that famous way of getting a woman’s passions and good spirits to flow again once her uterus has gone awry in her body (her PMS during colonial years so to speak), lance her right ankle and pull the blood out from beneath, so as to promote the replacement of this blood with newly energized blood and to get the body’s humours to start flowing again.  This is exactly how Osborn applied Starkey’s theories to his work whenever he had this unruly patient who couldn’t keep her mind straight in anyone’s eyes.

“First, I will write hereafter not without a certain sense of triumph, for some medicinal treasuries have opened themselves to me, with God’s help.”

Starkey to Boyle, 16 January 1652.  BL. vol. 5, Fol. 131R. p. 58 in above citation.

“Ens veneris” is a fairly simple term, if you are read in Latin and such as Osborn was.  So he and the healers before him, and perhaps his uncles, his family’s spiritual advisors and leaders, and the Dutch nature of those from his mother’s side who were alive when Starkey or knowledge of his words as a mystic managed to make its way through the region.  The Dutch already had a liking for this way of believing in things, when in 1599 they were so heavily influenced by the mystical writings of Jacob Boehme, their seer who spent a part of his life in prison for being so different and be able to channel with our universal microcosm and macrocosm simultaneously using a Pewter stein with tea leaves floating about, teaching him like clouds the meanings of whatever of life’s questions came to his mind at the moment.  Boehme’s most important follower in Hudson Valley history was the matron of the Filipse family who purchase that land just north of what is now New York City, Westchester County.  She was a seer as well, and was good friends with the other mystic of New York, Augustine Hermann who lived on Manhattan Island until Peter Minuet and others kicked him off the farm he had established over today’s Diamond District setting.

Each of these people in turn had effectively converted the teachings of chemists like Johannes Van Helmont into some survivable form of early alchemy philosophy and human psychology thinking.  Perhaps the body was no longer believed to be made up of just Earth, Sulphur and Mercury, but the way our mind and spirit worked could very much have these components in them.  This was what Jakob Boehme did to these scientific teachings made for physicians more than theologists, converting them to a form of early human psychology and emotions-passions philosophy needed to understand those parts of the human body and mind that physicians had no explanation for, and therefore had no effective cure for.  The liveliness of this thinking to those passing through these communities who were open enough to pay heed to such different thinkings, like Jasper Danckaerts who made his way up the Hudson a little before the Filipse moved into the Valley, of his associated who at times seemed ever more of a mystic and risk taker (having taken the life of one child for his work as a healer), along with the curers known as heilkunders who first ran the churches down in New Amsterdam in the mid to late 1600s, or the Huguenot healers known as Curées.   There was certainly enough of this mysticism to go around the towns of the Hudson Valley, on over to Boston to where the best local mystic George Starkey’s influences once prevailed, and were now in search of some new place to be reborn.

It makes very good sense to think that this is how Dr. Cornelius Osborn came to know about something a century old at the time he wrote it into his manuscript.  Since there are no other writings about “ens veneris” in these same words for what it is, as Starkey penned it, it can only be explained as a result of local oral history being passed down from one generation to the next.  The fact that even the expert of the Entia for the later 1600s, Robert Boyle, never penned “Ens Veneris” as such, but instead as “Ens Primum Veneris”, a term not used by Osborn, suggests Osborn learned his entia from the traditions out of Starkey’s followers in Boston, not the Boylian following which largely existed back in England and in a few of the local medical training places (Yale and Harvard perhaps).  Osborn was close enough to Yale to have been read in the medical books up there, but these books were published, and Starkey’s writings by then were now in England, housed in some British library for other scholars to see, or ignore (probably stored then where they lie now, Oxford).

“It would be tedious to recount all those labors that I have endured for at least seven years, yet the good God finally conceded the whole secret of volatilizing them to me.”

Secret concerning alkalies not to be sold at any price . . . 25 January 1656, at Bristol . . . Animadversions.  p. 115 in the above.

Can we see Osborn taking his horse and cart on up to Yale to read some of the famous writings?  The answer to this is ‘Yes’, in part.  This is possibly how he learned about Daniel Turner’s works, a writer whose books were donated to Yale around 1717-1720, 10 to 12 years before before Osborn began to learn his medicine for the first time.  This library at Yale, very small about this time (maybe 30 or 40 holdings for medicine), was also where Robert James’s work on the Apothecary may have been stored, a famous apothecarian whom Osborn was also familiar with.  But then again, Robert James’s work could have simply been taught to Cornelius as hand me down knowledge by his mentor.

Other indications are out there as well telling us Osborn learned his medicine in the mid 1730s through oral traditions.  The fact that Starkey’s books were republished in German during Cornelius’s childhood years may have given him further opportunities to hear about Starkey’s philosophy, if not learn it from a wiseman and physician mentor of his read in German writings.  Osborn has also has penned in his dairy a recipe of Iroquois or Mahican origins, so we know he was trained locally, by someone learned in local medicine.  In addition, Osborn know of a number of local plants that British teachers of medicine were pretty much uninstructed in as medicine, learned only of facts that these plants exist.  Even more interesting perhaps is the history of the Cornelius Osborn-Helena Parmentier family.  Four or so generations before Osborn’s birth, his great great great uncle (of the Myndert Harmenz Van Der Boergen family) was the first to document Iroquois shamanic healing practices around 1720.  So mysticism was naturally a part of the Osborn family history, and the beliefs of his neighbors, be they Boehmites of people who believed in some form of Native American mysticism.  This tells us how and why Christian Alchemist George Starkey could have been such an influence on Osborn’s thinking as a physician in the mid 1700s, and why he proves this part of his philosophy by his use of the ens veneris, iron treated by the dew beneath moonlight, Starkey’s favorite ingredient sal ammoniac, and a stinky cat to treat the shingles.

This is the convenant which I do make to bind my life to in the presence of the Lord. . . . .

(sixth) that as far as God shall show me his sign I shall endeavor to observe it by prayer daily and resolve to read and hear publick preaching

this vow the Lord hath seen and heard and shall remember it.


Dec. 12, 1655.  From “A Perfect Day Booke” 



Link to Chronology of Hermeneutics/Alchemists/Chemists.

The Nature and Events of Chemistry/Alchemy at this time in History.

Some of Starkey’s History in London, with his philosophy (in Old German).

One Response to “1648-1657, Harvard Alchemist George Starkey”

  1. […] By the way, if you’re curious to know more about George Starkey, here are a few references to get you started. Also, there’s a biography of him here and an interesting analysis of his influences and interactions here. […]

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