Azoth was considered to be a universal medicine or universal solvent sought in alchemy (similar to other alchemical idealized substance alkahest that, like azoth, was the aim, goal and vision of many alchemical works it was to achieve). Its symbol was the Caduceus and so the term, which being originally a term for an occult formula sought by alchemists much like the philosopher’s stone, became a poetic word for the element mercury, the name being originally derived from Arabic al-zā’ūq “the mercury”.
Azoth is the essential agent of transformation in alchemy. It is the name given by ancient alchemists to Mercury, the animating spirit hidden in all matter that makes transmutation possible. The spelling consists of the initial letter of the Latin, Greek and Hebrew alphabets followed by the final letters of the Latin alphabet (Z), the Greek alphabet (Omega) and the Hebrew alphabet (Tau). The word occurs in the writings of many early alchemists, such as Zosimos, Mary the Jewess, Olympiodorus, and Jābir ibn Hayyān (Geber).
The word Azoth is also related to the Ain Soph (ultimate substance) of the Kabbalah. In his book The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manley P. Hall explained this connection:
“The universe is surrounded by the sphere of light or stars. Beyond that sphere is Schamayim (שמים), the Hebrew word for “heaven”, who is the Divine Fiery Water, the first outflow of the Word of God, the flaming river pouring from the presence of the eternal mind. Schamayim, who is this fiery Androgyne, divides. His Fire becomes Solar fire and his Water becomes Lunar water in our universe. Schamayim is the Universal Mercury or Azoth — the measureless spirit of life. That original spiritual fiery water comes through Eden (“vapor” in Hebrew) and pours itself into the four main rivers of the four Elements. This comprises the River of Living Water—the Azoth—or fiery mercurial essence, that flows out from the throne of God and Lamb. In this Eden (vaporous essence or mist) is the first or spiritual Earth, the incomprehensible and intangible dust out of which God formed Adam Kadmon, the spiritual body of man, which must become fully revealed through time.”
In his book Transcendental Magic, Eliphas Levi wrote:
“The Azoth or Universal Medicine is, for the soul, is supreme reason and absolute justice; for the mind, it is mathematical and practical truth; for the body it is the quintessence, which is a combination of gold and light. In the superior or spiritual world, it is the First Matter of the Great Work, the source of the enthusiasm and activity of the alchemist. In the intermediate or mental world, it is intelligence and industry. In the inferior or material world, it is physical labor. Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt, which, volatized and fixed alternately, compose the Azoth of the sages. Sulfur corresponds to the elementary form of Fire, Mercury to Air and Water, Salt to Earth.”
Life and the Universe
Known as the Universal Solvent, Universal Cure, and Elixir of Life (elixir vitae), the Azoth is said to embody all medicines, as well as the first principles of all other substances. The 16th century alchemist Paracelsus was said to have achieved the Azoth, and in portraits of him carrying his sword, the inscription “Azoth” can be seen on the pommel or handle. It is said he kept the infallible remedy handy in a concealed compartment in the handle in case he needed it in an emergency or if he was injured in a fight. He said it was the “counter poison” to any physical, mental, or spiritual threat.
As the Universal Life Force, the Azoth is not only the animating energy (spiritus animatus) of the body but is also the inspiration and enthusiasm that moves the mind. In the cosmos and within each of us, the Azoth is the mysterious evolutionary force responsible for the relentless drive towards physical and spiritual perfection. Thus, the concept of the Azoth is analogous to the light of nature or mind of God.
Because the Azoth contains the complete information of the whole universe, it is also used as another word for the Philosopher’s Stone. One of the hints for the preparation of the Stone is Ignis et Azoth tibi sufficiunt (“Fire and Azoth are sufficient”). There are scores of esoteric drawings depicting the Azoth and how it is used in the Great Work of alchemy. Examples include the Azoth of the Philosophers by Basil Valentine, and the Hieroglyphic Monad of John Dee.
The term was considered by occultist Aleister Crowley to represent a unity of beginning and ending by tying together the first and last letters of the alphabets of antiquity; A/Alpha/Alef (first character of Latin, Greek & Hebrew), Z (final character in Latin), O as Omega (final character in Greek) and Th as Tau (final character in Hebrew). In this way permeation and totality of beginning and end was symbolised to consider the supreme wholeness and thus the universal synthesis of opposites as a ‘cancellation’ (i.e. solvent) or cohesion (i.e. medicine), and in such a way is similar to the philosophical “absolute” of Hegel’s dialectic.
Crowley further made reference in his works referring to Azoth as “the fluid” calling it the universal solvent or universal medicine of the medieval alchemical philosophers, as a unifier or unification of a certain extreme instance beholden to a contradict, unreconcilable nature if otherwise sought apart of the philosophical ideal of Azoth.