Must haves for magicians

1st November 2002 at 00:00
The wizard's workshop

The scholar magicians of Tudor times surrounded themselves with the tools of their trade and the memories of these still linger in the cartoon stereotype of the wizard.

Dusty tomes in strange languages

Although printed books were becoming more common, scholars still consulted manuscripts written on parchment and vellum. Most scholars could read Latin, Greek and Hebrew, though might use translations for Arabic texts.

Astrolabes and stargazing gear

Astrology was an important aspect of the wizard's work. It was commonly believed the planets governed life on earth so to make accurate predictions the magician spent a good deal of time observing and charting their movements. The astrolabe measured the elevation of heavenly bodies and it was used by navigators and astrologers alike.

Crocodiles and unicorn's horn

The discoveries made by Tudor explorers led to growing interest in exotic beasts, but there remained considerable confusion about the real and the mythical. Even in Shakespeare's time there was still a flourishing trade in drinking vessels fashioned of unicorn horn. Legend claimed that such a cup was proof against poison. Crocodiles were viewed as semi-magical creatures because they were associated with ancient Egypt, the source of all arcane knowledge. They had a reputation for wisdom and their teeth were believed to have powerful curative properties.

Cauldrons and alembics

In Tudor times, cauldrons were as commonplace as saucepans are today. Those in the magician's workshop might simmer herbs for a medicinal decoction, or contain the raw materials required for producing the Philosopher's stone. These materials were later distilled many times in the alembic. The long slow process, which exposed practitioners to poisonous materials and noxious fumes, was always dangerous and occasionally fatal.


The mixture had to be heated and reheated many times. In the early stages the gentle warmth of a dung heap was used but great heat was required during the final process of transmutation. Lead, mixed with a little gold and a sprinkling of the Stone, was thrust into a furnace and left for up to 36 hours. The hope was that the lead would have turned into gold. Needless to say, opportunities for trickery abounded.

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