“Ens veneris 8 Gr in peroyal water where rusty Iron has [been made] red hot and Squencht in 4 or 5 times[.]  Take a half Jill of this water 3 Times a Day. . . and Continue the Use for some Time[,] its Excelent.”

Osborn’s Vade Mecum

The wisdom of Fire came to the valley in several ways.

To the most simple minded writers familiar with natural philosophy, Fire was one of the four basic elements of nature, accompanied by water, earth and air.

To the more complex thinkers, Fire was a source of power and change that when used correctly and discretely had an effect upon the environment, its various parts, including the process of life itself.

To the most esoteric and complex of thinkers, those with an attraction towards God and Spirit, pyrolatry was a way to learn more about the innermost workings of the universe, the reason for our existence, and how to make the best use of our existence or being.

In the Hudson Valley, there were several ways that this pseudo-religious take on fire and life came to be.  Philosophically, excluding the traditional Hellacious or Satanic fashion which the Bible dictates fire to be, we relate Fire to our weather and climate, and use this philosophy to define certain beliefs we had about disease, such as the causes for fever associated with certain times of the year, or certain tendencies for the body to build up its storage of this element, or the ability of nature to reduce or vital energy in late summers as humidity and temperature get the best of us, or the causes for fevers and dysentery erupted within our living place, the outdoors, the rainfalls patterns presenting themselves from the sky, and the sudden epidemics of fever that tended to prevail once these conditions were around for weeks.

When Fire was abundant, it was this Fire that made us ill.  It could be the other elements of nature that we used to make sense of disease and illness, but Fire always seemed to be of greatest concern.  With time we learned that the fevers which the element Fire gave us could be phlegmatic in nature or simple (Constant Fever), versus other situations in which the Fire tended to make us sanguinous or bilious in nature, leading to the signs of a spotted or speckled skin (spotted fever), or the onset of a long-lasting fever and diarrhea spell that made us weak and back under the eyes (cholera), or the development of some cyclic fever episode seeming as though it related to the tides, the sun and moon, thereby referred to as 1day and 2Day recurrent fevers.

Fire was not on its own whenever it impacted us and made us sick.  Fire was influenced by nature in general, and as a result, was but one of many other complex recipes out there that nature used to take the best advantage of our weak body ready to be made ill.  Fire was opposed by water, but sometimes gave water the edge in terms of vitality, allowing us to sweat more than ever before.

But this Fire I describe is simply elemental fire.  Fire held other places in the philosophy we then had about disease.  One of these places was study of Alchemy.  In Alchemy, Fire played much more complex roles in defining life, health and disease.  It was this new version of Fire that came to be as Helmontian philosophy indicative of true physical and metaphysical alchemy became a study of the less physical, more human side to Fire by the 1720s, the study of how Fire impacts our emotions, our psyche.  Between 1680 and 1720, Fire was transformed into a new-Paracelsian form of this philosophy.  The writings of Jakob Boehme and others helped to make Fire and Alchemy related to the emotions we have.  Georg Ernst Stahl and Georg Starkey only added to this philosophy, when came to a head so to speak when Cornelius Osborn was learning medicine and began practicing it next to other physicians and metaphysicians.

Thus there is this form of Fire when Osborn learned medicine that had a more metaphysical nature to its presence and meaning than the fire beneath the chimney or in the simple oven.  The Fire of Alchemy was not only the way we produced it with our final products.  This Fire provided us with the route to melt metals, to liquify sulphur, or to make gas out of liquid mercury, but it also enabled us to attempt the transmutation of substances from one element to the next, from silver to gold or vice versa.  These were the skills traditional to alchemy that gave Fire new meaning to in American colonial medical history, well into the decades when we might have expected it to be extinguished.

We find evidence for this latter interpretation of fire in Dr. Cornelius Osborn vade mecum.

Is it possible that Osborn was an alchemist at heart, concealing his inner beliefs in such archaic ways of thinking by the middle 1700s.  More than likely, the way to explain his practices and behaviors with pyrolatry were was not this simple to explain.  With the teachings of Georg Ernst Stahl, a transformation of the pyrolatry philosophy was taking place.  Whereas this belief first came to the Valley as a result of a very early teacher in American medical and science history, time and distance had enabled this originally primitive faith and philosophy to mutate and become a more mature, long-lasting philosophical belief, the long term existence of which was a product of culture, not the simple renewal of traditional knowledge, ro the passing down of such a belief from one individual to the next in a family history.

Fire first became a substance that was important to life in this region when George Starkey brought it to the North American continent from Bermuda around 1648.  From the abode near Harvard the news of this philosophy and person made its way into Connecticut by the end of this first year.  John Winthrop Jr., by then knowing Starkey was in the region, would have perhaps heard a little about his philosophy and persona only in passing, enough to make him wary of such different thinkers, but not overly concerned about the retention and existence of the traditions he believed in with life, versus those old archaic ways that occasional alchemists kept trying to invoke a following for.

But nevertheless, such an alternative theory existed in the minds of New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts settlers.  It was not enough to have active minded preachers already there, believing in the practice of witchcraft locally and the possible convergence of evil with day to day life in certain parts of New England, these same prophets of the traditional Protestant and Episcopalian faiths that managed to diffuse throughout this region, the most learned in human alchemical teachings, were ready to contest any other faiths being promoted, using their own discipline to divide and dematerialize any remaining evidence for any other potential faiths in God and Power still prevailing due to old or alternative ways of thinking.  These preachers and prophets saw their role in society as the means to extinguishing these particular forms of Fire that prevailed in their people.  Medicine like that practiced in New York just a decade or two later would be greatly influenced by such ideologies and “propheting”.

Dr. Cornelius Osborn had a barn where he kept horses and probably cattle, and certain personal supplies such as hay and yard-field tools, perhaps a plow, most certainly a distillery where he made some beer, and more than likely a cast iron stove or oven with an assortment of glassware, including an alembic system with which to perform pyrolatry with.

The evidence for his practice of Fire and medicine appears in his handwritten pamphlet, in which the mention of fire and its importance tells us something about his underlying metaphysical beliefs.

The source for my first supposition that Osborn is into pyrolatry is no doubt going to be controversial.  I based this on his use of the word “peroyal” in the vade mecum.  Phonemically this word can be interpreted as something like “Per-oil” or “pyr-ole” with the ‘y’ not as a long ‘i’ but rather as an ‘-er’ sound like the extension of a word (i.e. ‘hyper‘ or ‘per-oxide’).  We at first might even want to associate it with the chemical terms peroxide or its predecessors, however, the use of ‘-per’ in chemistry was probably not common during the time Osborn wrote his manuscript, so this possibility is not likely.

The only other possible explanation I had thirty years ago for Osborn’s use of the term ‘peroyal’ was that it was a contraction-suspension issue–the common practice of writing for the time was to spell the first few letters for a word, then to save space finish with just the last letters, for example ‘Mother’ might be spelt out as ‘Mothr’ or ‘Motr’ and ‘Doctor’ as ‘Dr.’, with the last letter placed slightly higher than the rest for each.  Contractions made use of the ‘:’ to shorten the term, like in “Christ:r” or ‘Christoph:’ for ‘Christopher’  (saving space wasn’t always effective doing this it seemed back then).

With this in mind, I could argue that ‘pennyroyal’ is being respelled as ‘peroyal’, although rather inaccurately in terms of format; I’d expect to see, if such was the case, the following contractions or suspensions for pennyroyal: “proyal” (with ‘royal’ raised), “p:royal” or “penroyal” (with ‘royal’ raised).

If ‘Peroyal’ is interpreted phonemically, which many words in Osborn’s vade mecum are spelled out to be, then “pyrole” is the most likely candidate for what this word means–in other words, Osborn tells us that he is practicing pyrolatry, or at least believes in the value of Fire to such an extent so as to mention its existence and importance as a part of this recipe.

Going back to the vade mecum, when we look at the term ‘peroyal’ in context with how Osborn is stating and applying it, we see that this term has to mean ‘pyrole.’

“Ens veneris 8 Gr in peroyal water where rusty Iron has [been made] red hot and Squencht in 4 or 5 times[.]  Take a half Jill of this water 3 Times a Day. . . and Continue the Use for some Time[,] its Excelent.”

Pyrole Water is made by cooling a hot iron in it, thereby transferring heat from iron into water.

On the 20th of March 1656 in Bristol, Georg Starkey, an alchemist and mystic popular a century before, whose teachings were revitalized in Germanic culture around 1720, wrote the following:
“God revealed to me the whole secret of the liquor alkahest; let eternal blessing, honor, and glory be to Him!”

p. 175, Translation of Starkey’s work.

As a part of his essay on producing the alkahest or philosopher’s stone (p. 169), Starkey makes mention of several recipes covered by the famous alchemist Basil Valentine, including such things as Tartaris Volatilis (Volatile Tartar), Ladanum Opii (the Laudanum of Opium), Mercuriis Vitae (the Mercury of Life), Sal Antimonii (the Salt of Antimony) the Liquor Alchahest (the Liquor Alkahest) and most importantly, “Ens Veneris” (the Ens Veneris).

This is the source of Osborn’s gifted knowledge, who notds 8 grains of “ens veneris” are to be used–8 grains of what?

This ens veneris is what adds spirit to the medicinal beverage he is about to make.

It is what links the “peroyal” water to the notion of producing and using a substance from the philosopher’s stone for curing certain ailments.  The only part of this philosophy we have yet to cover is the reasons behind the statement

” . . . where rusty Iron has [been made] red hot and Squencht in 4 or 5 times[.] “


To be Continued

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