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Alchemy of the Ancient Goths: Johannes Bureus’ Search for the Lost Wisdom of Scandinavia

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The Swedish polymath Johannes Bureus (1568–1652), Royal Librarian and close friend of King Gustavus Adolphus, is primarily known as an exponent of early modern “Gothicism,” i.e., the idea that the ancient Goths of Scandinavia were the first rulers of Europe and Sweden the true origin of Western culture. But Bureus was also an avid reader of alchemical literature, as well as a practising alchemist. Influenced by the Neoplatonic revival of the Renaissance, he viewed alchemy as part of a prisca theologia stemming from the ancient Goths, arguing that the Scandinavian runes constituted a “Gothic Cabala,” in which the secrets of all sciences—including alchemy—had been hidden for posterity. Drawing on Bureus’ notes, glosses and excerpts from textual sources, this article considers the role attributed to alchemy in his quest for this lost wisdom of the Goths.


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