Isaac Newton's occult studies

From Academic Kids

The unpublished work of Isaac Newton included much that would now be classified as occult studies. He worked extensively outside the strict bounds of science and mathematics, particularly on chronology, alchemy, and Biblical interpretation (especially of the Apocalypse). Much of his writing on alchemy may have been lost in a fire in his laboratory, so the true extent of his work in this area may have been larger than is currently known. He also suffered a 'nervous breakdown' during his period of alchemical work, which is thought by some due to the psychological transformation that alchemy originally was designed to induce, though there is also speculation it may have been some form of chemical poisoning.

Newton was an astronomer as well, and as astrology and astronomy were one and the same for thousands of years leading up to and during Newton's time in history (think combination word: astrolomy), it is not at all illogical to suggest that he studied or at least dabbled in astrology. Astrology and alchemy had already been intertwined for thousands of years (see those main articles); conversely, Newton's deep studies into mathematics were obviously related to his breakthrough theories in gravity and astronomy, for which he is best known.

As Isaac Newton was (indisputably) a well known alchemist of his time period, and astrology and alchemy were and in some cases still are very closely linked, it is plausible that Newton had a very good working knowledge of astrology, or at the very least a basic understanding of astrological methodology as it was related to alchemy. Logically then, one would certainly have to know a good bit about astrology in order to use alchemy effectively, and Newton along with other prominent alchemists of his time definitely knew this.

It is, however, somewhat anachronistic to assume that the importance he attached to these is closely connected to contemporary attitudes. The work modern observers would call scientific, were perhaps to him of lesser importance. He was of his time, in still placing emphasis on rediscovering the occult wisdom of the ancients. In this sense, the common reference to the "Newtonian Worldview" as being purely mechanistic is somewhat misguided, as John Maynard Keynes observed in 1942 after purchasing and studying Newton's alchemical works:

"Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians." - John Maynard Keynes


Speculations regarding Newton's beliefs

  • Newton believed that Pythagoras must have known about Gravity, and even toyed with the idea of including margin notes attesting it.
  • He, for that reason, did not use his "fluxions", but rather geometric proofs which he thought would have been more accessible to geometers of Pythagoras's era.

See also


"The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy : Or,'The Hunting of the Greene Lyon'", (Cambridge Paperback Library 1983), by Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, ISBN 0521273811

External links

"Isaac Newton's Hidden Agenda of Mysticism and Alchemy" (

Modern recreations of Newton's alchemical experiments (

"Newton the Alchemist", from Alchemy Lab (

Transcript of an NPR interview with Michael White, the author of "Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer" (


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