Exploring the Ripley Scroll

By The British Library

A recipe for making the Philosopher's Stone

Touch & Hold

The Ripley Scroll
The Ripley Scroll is an extraordinary manuscript, nearly 6 metres long, that describes how to make the fabled Philosopher's Stone. It is named after George Ripley, a medieval canon of Bridlington Priory, Yorkshire, who reputedly wrote a text known as The Compound of Alchymy. The scroll is full of mystical symbolism. The precise meanings of the alchemical icons are not completely understood and it is clear that some of its imagery is deliberately obscure. Only those who have dedicated their lives to Alchemy have any hope of deciphering its secrets.

‘“A stone that makes gold and stops you ever dying!” said Harry …
“Anyone would want it.”’
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Stage 1
In the first scene, Hermes Trismegistus (a legendary Egyptian sage) holds an alchemical flask over a furnace. The eight roundels show the stages required to create the ‘white stone’, involving the fusion of sulphur and mercury. In the centre, Hermes presents a book about alchemy to George Ripley.

Stage 2
Next we witness the creation of the ‘white stone’ in a chemical bath. The snakes twisting round the tree (a symbol of wisdom and knowledge) represent Mercury, the Roman God. In the bath are two figures resembling Adam (sulphur) and Eve (mercury).

Stage 3
At this point the sulphur and mercury should be mixed in another chemical bath. Beneath is a dragon ingesting a toad, which together symbolise the spontaneous creation of the ‘black stone’.

Stage 4
Here is the final part of the process of making the Philosopher’s Stone. The red lion represents red sulphur, the green lion the ore from which the essence of mercury should be extracted. Added to the blackened ‘stone’ over a fire, these materials will form the ‘red stone’.

Stage 5.
Resembling a phoenix, the Bird of Hermes represents regeneration. It symbolises the powerful vapours that are created when making the Philosopher’s Stone.

Stage 6
The Philosopher’s Stone is shown as three coloured orbs (the white stone, the red stone and the black stone). Combined, they can make the Elixir of Life. The Sun signifies gold and the Crescent Moon represents silver. The stones are held aloft by a dragon known as the ‘Serpent of Arabia’.

Stage 7
The final figure on the Ripley Scroll presumably represents the scribe (or maybe George Ripley himself), holding a quill pen.

The Ripley ScrollThe British Library

Credits: Story

Learn about the history of Harry Potter's creation in The Journey:

The Journey

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