Variations on the Indo-European “Fire and Water” Mytheme in Three Alchemical Accounts

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David Gordon White



Five medieval Sanskrit-language descriptions of a fabulous technique for extracting mercury from the “wells” in which it naturally resides are shown to be remarkably similar to accounts preserved in Chinese and Syriac. Whereas the Sanskrit and Chinese versions date from no earlier than the thirteenth century C.E., the Syriac version dates from no later than the tenth century. The present article first compares and contrasts these three alchemical narratives, and then suggests that all three are perhaps related to a broader and far more ancient Indo-European mythic tradition of a deity associated with the phenomenon of “Fire in Water,” as attested in Vedic, Avestan, Roman, Irish, and Greek sources. All eight of these witnesses appear to attest to ancient religious and scientific traditions relative to geothermal phenomena.

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