Alchemical symbols

Iron is the last of the seven metal elements known since antiquity that I have stitched, the others being gold, silver, lead, mercury, copper and tin. Iron was linked to the god Mars, bringer of war; its alchemical symbol is thought to derive from a shield and spear and is the symbol we now use in biology to denote ‘male’.

Antimony (a semi-metal) and its sulfide, stibnite, have also been known since ancient times and found applications in health and beauty. Roman and Greek authors described stibnite as ‘cleansing ye filth & ulcers which are in ye eyes’. It was also, and still is, used as eye liner, being the traditional ingredient of the ‘kohl’ used in parts of Africa, South Asia and the Arab world. It strikes me as being quite handy to be able to enhance your beauty and ward off ulcers all with the one substance and if I’d have been able to stitch a convincing eye, I would have done. Instead, here is its alchemical symbol which rather resembles the one we use on an Ordnance Survey map to denote a church with a spire.

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