Women Alchemists:
Stories and Reflections on Their Place in History, Psyche, and Science

Sophie Brahe: Carrier of Sulphur
 Sophie received her education at home, with Tycho sometimes acting as tutor in subjects such as chemistry well-versed in Latin, astronomy, alchemy, and classical literature. She was a skillful poet and she enjoyed casting horoscopes for friends. In 1573, when she was 14-years-old, she assisted Tycho in observing a lunar eclipse

Sophie married Otto Thott of Eriksholm at the age of 19 or 20 and gave birth to one son, Tage in 1580

She returned to her family home after the death of her husband in 1588. There, Sophie plunged into her studies and built a laboratory in her garden to work on her Paracelsian medicines.

Sophie made frequent visits to her beloved brother, Tycho, on his island. Uraniborg gave her a place to not only work with her brother, but to pursue her own studies in astrology and alchemy.

Sophie’s alchemy focused on both the pursuit of transmutation of base metals into gold as well as the creation of numerous medicinal cures. She developed a “pest-elixir” (Gade, 1947, p. 89) that was supposed to combat the plague.

While working with Tycho on his island observatory in 1590, Sophie met Erik Lange who is described as a romantic figure who visited Tycho frequently to discuss his own work in alchemy.

Sophie and Erik fell in love and became engaged; however, Tycho was the only member of the family who supported their relationship. The details that gave the family cause to be anxious about Erik surrounded his alchemical work. Upon the death of Erik’s father, he had inherited the estate with his sister. Erik sold a portion of his estate to obtain a title and the position as governor at Bygholm Castle. He then proceeded to lose his fortune on failed alchemical experiments. Erik did not appear to be stable husband material; Sophie was young and in love.

 Anima – Animus

Depth psychologists like Carl Jung, write about the male aspect of a woman’s  psyche, the animus.

Women are often deeply attracted to men who carry or embody their animus which may or may not result in a successful relationship.

It is clear that Sophie was every bit as able to attain the intellectual achievements as her brother; however, cultural mores regarding women’s advancement in academic fields narrowed her options. Erik, however, could go where she could not and thus she found the perfect alchemical partner.

They strove to create gold and healing elixirs. At the same time, they became so identified with the work that they lost sight of the need to stay grounded in daily life.

Sophie’s alchemy encompasses both the pursuit of achieving transmutation as well as sustaining her relationship with Erik, a kind of coniunctio image.

We will see these images in the next story but with a spiritual focus.
Sophie Brahe (1556-1643) was born in Denmark. Her brother was to become the very famous astronomer, Tycho Brahe.  Sophie was eclipsed by her famous brother and thus, much of the information I have found on her life her has been in biographies of Tycho.

She was the youngest of eight children and a favorite of Tycho, who admired her intellect above most women he knew. Tycho referred to himself as Apollo and to Sophie as his muse, giving her the nickname, Urania after the goddess of the stars.

Tycho was conversant with alchemy and concurred with the ideas put forth by Paracelsus, that everything in the universe was connected with some type of chemical glue.

Eventually, he constructed alchemical labs in his basement as well as in his dining room at Uraniborg on the island of Hven, a gift from Frederick II, for the construction of an observatory and other buildings he would need to further his science.

Tycho was mentored in the study of alchemy by Thaddeus Hayek, a physician from Bohemia who claimed that he witnessed John Dee produce gold from mercury in 1584 (Thoren, 1990). Furthermore, Tycho read Petrus Severinus’s work on Paracelsus that outlined alchemical practice. Tycho referred to alchemy as “terrestrial astronomy” (p. 211) [macro-micro] and wrote that the study of alchemy had led him to ‘“a great many findings with regard to metals and minerals as well as precious stones and plants and other similar substances’” (p. 211).


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