Divine Images: Zosimos of Panopolis’s Spiritual Approach to Alchemy

Shannon Grimes


Zosimos of Panopolis (ca. 275 CE), who was an alchemist and scribal priest, is the earliest known writer in the Greco-Egyptian alchemical corpus to describe a spiritual approach to alchemy. In this article I offer an explanation for why Zosimos insists that alchemy is both a spiritual and technical undertaking, and why he thinks it should be practiced in this manner even by metallurgists outside of the temples. Using divine images as a theme, I examine Zosimos’s views of divine statues, as well as his emphasis on the inner work of realizing the divine image within the self. Particular attention is given to his text, On Apparatus and Furnaces (Letter Omega), because it expounds a theology of divine images and illustrates how Zosimos conveys spiritual teachings to metallurgists who are unaffiliated with the temple. I argue that Zosimos promotes gnosis, a profound inner experience of divine reality, as a spiritual approach to alchemy because he believes it offers exceptional insight into the human condition and the natural order, and encourages excellence in one’s craft.

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