Lesson 7) Manipulating Nature

 

Hello and welcome back students to yet another lesson in the Alchemy laboratory!  Hopefully you have noticed by now that there are a few interesting instruments sitting at the front of the room.  That’s because we will be going over another method of transmutation today! While we won’t be actively transmuting anything due to lack of time, we will be going over the different processes and how to figure out which one to use with which metal.  Make sure to take good notes since this will definitely show up on your N.E.W.T.s! Let’s get started.


The type of transmutation we will be discussing today is known as elemental transmutation, which is a method that uses the four aspects to manipulate and transmute metals.  This was accidentally discovered in the 1400s by an Italian alchemist named Fiammetta Caro when she was experimenting with how metals reacted to fire-based spells.  Caro wanted to see if raising the temperature of magic-induced fire could melt metals, so she casted Incendio on a sample of pure zinc.  Needless to say, she was shocked when the fire began changing color until it became bluebell flames.  Once the flames subsided, Caro was faced with a dull gray metal that could no longer be identified as zinc.  Perturbed, she contacted a colleague from Egypt who specialized in elemental magic about her discovery. The colleague, Abraxas, traveled to Italy to see the metal for himself, and upon further inspection, he suspected that was possibly the beginnings of a transmutation.  After that, the two worked for years on testing the effects of the four aspects on metals that were commonly used by alchemists at the time.

Alongside the seven metals (gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, and lead) which were considered to be the main metals that had magical properties, there were eleven mundane “metals” that alchemists also commonly used in their experiments: antimony, arsenic, bismuth, boron, lithium, magnesium, phosphorus, platinum, potassium, sulphur, and zinc.  Now although I say “metals,” this list is a collection of metals, metalloids, and nonmetals according to modern Muggle chemistry. However, this classification that divided elements between metals and nonmetals didn’t exist until 1869 at its earliest, so alchemists typically lumped everything under the general “metal” category.  Nonmetals, such as phosphorus and sulphur, lack metallic qualities and are typically known for their low densities, low melting and boiling points, and their poor conductivity of heat and electricity. The metalloids, which have properties between metals and nonmetals, include antimony, arsenic, and boron. Meanwhile, the true metals in this list are bismuth, lithium, magnesium, platinum, potassium, and zinc.  Some of these mundane metals you have studied before, such as antimony, zinc, platinum, and sulphur.

Caro and Abraxas created four separate transmutation processes based on the four aspects.  They also determined that each metal coincides with an aspect, much like how plants are “ruled” by the planetary aspects.  The aspect that corresponds to each metal determines which process to use. For ease of access, I have provided in the chart below which metals go with which aspects as well as whether or not they are included in celestial transmutation.

* Although platinum is not included in celestial transmutation, ruthenium, which is in the platinum group, is included.

Each elemental transmutation (fire, earth, water, and air) has a starting process and an ending process.  What starting and ending process you use depends solely on the aspects correlated with your initial and resulting metals.  For instance, if you wish to transmute boron into tin, you would execute the air starting process on the boron and finish it with the water ending process to get tin.  If you are wanting to transmute a metal into another metal with the same aspect, such as zinc to lithium, you would do both the starting and ending processes for that element, which is fire in this case.

The amount of time the transmutation takes is determined by whether the metal you are transmuting and the resulting metal is magical or mundane.  Overall, it is much quicker to transmute any type of metal into a mundane metal, whereas transmuting something into a metal classified as magical will be more time consuming.  I have provided the approximate times for each combination below, though do remember that the times may vary slightly depending on the circumstances surrounding your transmutation (i.e. specific metals being transmuted, timing, temperatures, etc.). I would also like to note that a capital M on the chart stands for “magical” while the lowercase m means “mundane.”

 

Many alchemists prefer elemental transmutation over celestial transmutation due to the fact that not only there are more metals that are available, but it’s also uniform process-wise and more lenient on exact timing.  If you are late to start your ending process, that is completely fine! Once the metal you are transmuting “cooks” for the appropriate amount of time, the magic will stop and the transmutation will be complete.  Of course, the form at the completion of the ending process should be your resulting metal, however, the form the metal takes between processes is a curious metal known as blurium.  Blurium is the dull gray metal that Caro had discovered when she accidentally transmuted zinc.  It is too soft and unstable to really be used for anything. Even though it’s solid at room temperature, it doesn’t take much heat for it to liquify, due to its low melting and boiling point.  This metal is not found naturally on Earth and is only created during transmutational processes, which of course makes it an alchemical phenomenon. Caro mentions in a text published in 1447 that blurium occurs when a metal is “shedding its identity and starting anew.”  In allegorical emblems and art, it’s typically represented by symbols that signify change, rebirth, or anything cyclic, such as the phoenix rising from the ashes or the ouroboros.


Now that we have the general information out of the way, let’s move on to the processes themselves, starting with fire.  The fire process was the first to be developed by Caro and Abraxas and is also possibly the simplest to perform. First, the metal needs to be placed in an athanor, which is a furnace that provides uniform and constant heat.  We actually have one over there in the corner! Athanors are the perfect container to keep magical fires alive, and they are great to use in case something backfires or the metals have an adverse chemical reaction. As always, be sure to wear your safety gear when handling metals.  After the metal is placed in the athanor, cast a simple fire spell to ignite the metal, and shut the door. Incendio should do the trick!  From there, you will need to wait until the alloted time is up, then you can remove the newly formed blurium from the athanor.

The interesting thing about this transmutation is that the fire changes colors depending how much the metal has left to change before it reaches its new state.  The flames start out as orange in the primal stage of the transmutation, then change to blue around the midpoint before transitioning into a white flame towards the end.  Although the colors of flames differ when metals are lit with mundane fire, the magical fire in this transmutation does not stray from these colors. Abraxas notes that the way this transmutation follows this color progression reflects the grades of fire: orange is elementary fire, blue is central fire, and white is celestial fire.  To further the connection between the two concepts, secret fire is the reaction of the magic coming in contact with the fire, which ultimately is how the process is able to be performed. Also, any strong reactions to fire that the metals may have is neutralized by the blue stage. The blue stage consists of bluebell flames and the white stage (although not bluebell flames anymore) are similar in that they are safe to touch. However, I do recommend using tongs due to the heat of the athanor.

The ending process is almost exactly the same as the starting process.  Place the blurium in the oven, ignite it with a fire spell, shut the door, and wait the allotted amount of time.  The only difference is the color progression, which is opposite the order of the starting process. So in this case, the metal will be engulfed in a white flame, before changing to blue, and then orange.  Be sure to wait until the full time has passed and the fire will die off on its own. There are two exceptions to this rule. When transmuting a metal to zinc, you may see it turn to white halfway through the orange stage of the ending process.  When this happens, it burns into philosopher’s wool, or zinc oxide, and I would suggest putting out the flame unless you would like to end up with a white wool-like substance instead of regular zinc.  The other exception is when you are transmuting a metal into phosphorus.  Due to its strong reactions with fire, the metal should be removed before the normal completion time.  This is because a full cycle creates white phosphorus, which is extremely toxic and will spontaneously combust.  The blurium will change into black phosphorus first, followed by red phosphorus, and then finally white phosphorus.  If you are hoping for black phosphorus, the metal must be removed at half of the normal completion time (36 hours for mundane to mundane transmutations and 84 hours for magical to mundane transmutations).  Full formed red phosphorus needs to be removed at around 75 percent of the normal completion time (54 hours for mundane to mundane, and 126 hours for magical to mundane). Although red phosphorus is stable at room temperature, it can become white phosphorus even after removal due to certain factors such as heat, sunlight, and friction.  Your best bet for not only a good grade in this class, but also your safety, is to take out the metal while it is still black.

Continuing on, let’s talk about the water process.  Those of you who excel in Potions know that Lethe river water is one of the key ingredients of the Forgetfulness Potion due to its magical ability of inducing memory loss.  Interestingly enough, Lethe river water has a similar effect on metals in that it makes the metal “forget” its identity and undergo a transmutation. Of course this doesn’t happen naturally, as you need a change of temperature in order to induce any sort of change in a metal.  Otherwise, there would be numerous blurium deposits at the bottom of Lethe river! The tools you need for the starting process are a cauldron, a crucible, a furnace, and a filtering instrument, all of which is provided in the classroom. However, you are welcome to bring your own cauldron if you would like to do so.  If you bring your own cauldron, you will need to learn how to cast the Deliquesce Charm in order for the transmutation to work. Here are the charm’s credentials below.


Spell Practice:

Name: The Deliquesce Charm

Incantation: Deliquesium (de-li-kwes-EE-um)

Concentration: Low

Willpower: Medium

Movement: Clockwise circle around the cauldron followed by two taps on the cauldron rim.

This charm was created by Caro to keep metals in the cauldron from solidifying if the temperature dropped lower than their melting point.  You may also find that it will come in handy in Potions class when you are handling potions containing metal, such as the Toxicon Tonic you learned how to brew last year.


In the starting process, you will need to take your initial metal and melt it in a crucible until it’s completely liquid.  The exact temperature you will need to heat the metal to depends on that specific metal’s melting point (i.e. antimony should be heated to 630.6°C, tin should be heated to 231.9°C, etc.), though if you are working with mercury, you can skip this step, since it’s already liquid at room temperature.  While the metal is melting, pour Lethe river water in your cauldron and heat it until it boils. Once the water boils, you can pour the liquid metal into the cauldron and stir the concoction with your wand three times clockwise, as you would if you were brewing a potion.  Do not actually stick your wand into the mixture. After this initial stir, you will need to wait out the duration of time for your transmutation to process while still keeping the cauldron on heat. If you have a lengthy amount of time to wait, it’s a good idea to stir again every once in a while.  Even if you cast the Deliquesce Charm on the cauldron, occasionally metals will start to coagulate and you may need to cast the charm again. Caro’s notes recommend stirring it once every 48 hours just in case. Towards the latter part of this process, the mixture will begin to darken until it reaches the dull, dark grey color of blurium at the end of the time.  When you have reached this step, turn the heat off and use the Siphoning Charm to transfer the mixture into the filtering instrument. This particular instrument filters the water into a chamber and the metal into a mold. Once the blurium cools down, it has reached the end of the starting process and you will be able to proceed with the other half of the transmutation.

Now the ending process requires much less attention.  For this, you will be using a distillation tool known as an alembic (pictured on the left), which we discussed in Year Three as Cleopatra the Alchemist is credited with the invention of this tool.  The alembic consists of a retort (the glass bulb with a spout sitting on top of the flame) and a receiver (the container on the right). The bottom of the retort sits over a heat source and contains the substance needing to be distilled, while the top of the tool is a tube that slopes down and outwards.  To begin the process, first cast the Deliquesce Charm on the retort. You will then need to melt your blurium in a crucible at its melting point, 35°C (95°F or 308.2 K), and add it to room temperature Lethe river water. Pour the mixture into the retort until boiling. Over the amount of time it takes to process the transmutation, the water will evaporate and the vapors will travel down the tube and collect in the receiver.  The transmutation is complete when the water has completely evaporated, leaving the new metal behind in the bulb of the retort. At that point, turn the heat off and pour the resulting metal into a mold (or a vial in the case of mercury).


Our third process, earth, requires materials that are a tad bit more difficult to acquire.  This process needs sand gathered from near the Temple of Amun in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt (historically ancient Libya), known as Sand of Amun.  This sand not only has the ability to induce transmutations in metals, but it’s also known to be a common ingredient in ancient Egyptian potions and elixirs, according to magihistorians.  Even then, why does this sand work so well for alchemy? If you remember back to our discussion of Thoth in Year Three, the Temple of Amun used to house the Pillars of Hermes before Alexander the Great relocated them to Heliopolis.  According to the myth, the sand there was blessed by Amun, who was one of the most powerful gods in ancient Egyptian mythology, so that his loyal subjects could help improve the overall wellbeing of society. However, magihistorians and magiarchaeologists say it’s more likely that followers of Amun or Thoth found an ancient spell in a document from the Pillar of Hermes to enchant the area around the temple.  This spell has lasted all the way up to present day, as the sand around the temple still holds magical properties, yet sand gathered from anywhere else in the Siwa Oasis is ordinary and mundane.

Now that I have probably either bored you to death or intrigued you to giddiness with the nitty gritty details of magical sand, let’s talk about the starting process.  The entire process entails taking your initial metal, burying it in the sand, and emulating the weather of the sand’s natural environment, which includes, but isn’t limited to, heat, wind, and erosion.  At the end of the total processing time, you will need to dig up your new blurium. Originally, alchemists would travel to the Siwa Oasis to bury the metal they wanted to transmute. However, most of the time they would forget where exactly they buried it, or, if marked and unattended, the metal would oftentimes be stolen.  Along with these problems, some alchemists did not want to travel all the way to Egypt to transmute a metal and would rather do it from the comfort of their own laboratory. So, they would put the sand and metal in a container such as a chest or pot and cast several various weather charms on it. However, this came with its own problems as well.  Most transmutations would fail due to mistakes in charming and the process overall was very tedious. It wasn’t until 1673, around two hundred years after Caro and Abraxas discovered and developed the process, that an alchemist by the name of Ingvar Eklund created a container that made the entire ordeal much easier. Eklund called this the Siwa Sandbox.  The Siwa Sandbox is a glass case that is enchanted with the Atmospheric Form that perfectly simulates the desert’s climate when activated.  This tool offered not only an easier method of transmutation, but also a way to monitor the metal’s progression. It quickly became a standard tool in the alchemical field.  Although these sandboxes can be quite pricey if you were to buy one for personal use, they are a great investment if you perform transmutations regularly.

As for the ending process, you will need to perform a metal casting process known as sand casting.  Essentially, the blurium needs to be melted down and poured into a mold made out of sand.  After the processing time is up, simply break away the mold and the new metal will be in its place.  Once again, the sand used in this process has to be the Sand of Amun. Although you can make your own mold by using the Sand of Amun, clay, water, the Sticking Charm, and a lot of patience, it is much easier to buy one.  Sand molds are relatively cheap in comparison to the Siwa Sandbox, so you won’t be crying over your lost Galleons later.

Before we move on to air, I would like to mention that using this transmutation to produce gold or change gold into another metal is rather difficult.  Gold will not break down in the starting process, even with a Siwa Sandbox, unless aqua regia is added. Similarly, platinum will take much longer than the average processing time if aqua regia is not added, but it will still break down and transmute into blurium without it.  Blurium into gold, on the other hand, is quite challenging. A store-bought sand mold will not transmute blurium into gold as there are extra ingredients needed in the mold mixture. As to what these ingredients are… no one knows. There have been speculations of phoenix tears or feathers, unicorn hair, jiaogulan herb leaves, cinnabar, and other obscure ingredients being the missing key.  However, none of these have been proven successful. Unless you possess the Philosopher’s Stone, I suggest using celestial transmutation for your gold producing needs.


Last but not least, we have the air process.  This is quite possibly, in my opinion, the trickiest transmutation process to perform correctly, but at the same time, it doesn’t call for any obscure magical tools or ingredients.  However, you will need to learn three new spells to perform it, and I have provided you with the information for the first two down below. For the starting process, you will need a container again; any container will do, it doesn’t have to be fancy.  The initial metal needs to be placed into the container and sealed tightly. This is very important because if the container isn’t closed tightly enough, the transmutation will not work and you will have wasted your time. From there you need to cast the Deoxygenation Hex on the container.  This removes the oxygen from the air in the box, leaving the excess gases left. Afterwards, cast the Air Pressure Charm on it. This charm increases the air pressure around the metal. The combination of oxygen-depleted air, increasing pressure, and magic induces a physical change in the metal.  From here, as with the rest of the transmutation processes, you will need to wait the total processing time for the metal to transmute into blurium. When the time is up, a simple Effect-Canceling Charm (Finite) will stop the effects of both spells, and you can safely open the container and extract the metal.


Spell Practice:

Name: Deoxygenation Hex

Incantation: Depello Aeris (de-PEL-oh air-IS)

Concentration: Medium

Willpower: Medium

Movement: Move wand in a fast downstroke towards the area affected and slowly pull the wand back towards you, almost as if you were pulling the oxygen back.

Since this is a hex, you should be cautious and ethical when using it.  If you were to cast the hex on the room you are currently in, the movement is a fast upstroke, stopped directly above your head, and a slow drag of the wand back down.  Should you ever find yourself in a situation where someone casts this on the room you are in, or worse, on you, immediately cast the Effect-Canceling Charm to avoid an untimely death.


Spell Practice:

Name: Air Pressure Charm

Incantation: Aeris Incrementum (air-IS IN-cra-men-TOOM)

Concentration: Low

Willpower: High

Movement: Three sharp downward jabs and then trace the container with your wand.

The higher the willpower, the more the pressure increases in the spell.   It can also be used to increase the pressure of the room you are in. To do this, do the same three jabs downward and then draw a counter-clockwise circle above your head.  Alternatively, there is also a variation of this charm that lowers the pressure. The incantation for it is Aeris Decrementum and the movement requires you trace the container first and then doing three upward jabs.


On the flip side, the ending process also requires a container.  A cylindrical or rectangular container is highly recommended. Place the blurium inside the container and make sure once again that it is tightly sealed.  When you are sure the container is closed completely, cast the Wind Tunnel Spell (provided below) on it. This spell suspends the blurium in the air and essentially turns whatever container you have chosen into a makeshift wind tunnel.  While the metal is processing in the container, it must not touch anything solid or liquid for the full amount of time. If it does, your transmutation will not be complete and you will have to start the entire process over again with a new piece of blurium.  The leftover metal from the failed transmutation cannot be used and you have wasted a resource. After the full amount of processing time is complete, use the Weather Normalization Charm (which you should remember from Year Four of Charms) and open the container to remove the metal.  It’s important to note that you should not open the container before casting the Weather Normalization Charm, unless you want a face full of air and your newly transmuted metal to possibly become a projectile.


Spell Practice:

Name: Wind Tunnel Spell

Incantation: Ventus Ciniculus (VEN-toos cee-NEE-coo-lus)

Concentration: High

Willpower: Medium

Movement: Start from the left and bring your wand around in a loop, then point at the container you are enchanting.

This spell can easily become dangerous if the container is not closed tightly enough.  Strong steady winds will shoot out of the container and the lid may shoot off.


Let’s go ahead and stop here.  I’m afraid that’s the extent of what can you learn about elemental transmutation without performing it yourself.  Although we won’t get a chance to practice them this year, you are free to come into the laboratory and practice during your free time, as long as you are under supervision.  With that being said, you do have an essay assignment as well as a quiz on the information we discussed today. Do remember to complete them in a timely manner before we meet again.  Until next time, students!

Tales of immortality, artificial life, transmutation, and other unexplained phenomena shroud the study of alchemy in mystery. Can creating synthetic life forms such as homunculi be achieved? What goes into the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone? In Year Six of this course, we will be addressing these mysteries and whether or not they are true to the study of alchemy in the wizarding world. We will also be discussing other traditions and organizations that have influenced alchemy and vice versa.
Course Prerequisites:
  • ALCH-OWL

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