Alchemy and the Discovery of Phosphorus

The element phosphorus was discovered by accident in 1669 when the alchemist Hennig Brand tried to create the legendary Philosopher’s Stone.

The Devil’s Element

The name phosphorus comes from Greek mythology, means “light-bearer,” and refers to the planet Venus. In Latin, it translates to Lucifer.

Alchemy at workFor this reason, and because it is used in the creation of explosives, poisons and nerve agents, it has been referred to as “the Devil’s element.”

Phosphorus was the tenth element ever discovered, and only the second to be discovered since ancient times.

Brand, clearly a master of creative alchemy, discovered it by filling more than 60 buckets with 290 gallons of urine, letting them stand for days until they were particularly vile and then boiling this stank-brew into paste. He took this lovely decoction, heated it again, cooled the vapors it let off by drawing them through water and…voila…phosphorus.

Bonus Trivia—Scientists now recognize that “the Devil’s element” is essential for life and is literally part of our DNA. Coincidence or divine editorializing? Hey, I only ask the questions.

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