In 1573, an alchemist named Anna Zieglerin gave her patron, the Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, the recipe for something she called “the lion’s blood” which she claimed could “stimulate the growth of plants, create gemstones, transform lead into the coveted philosophers’ stone—and would serve a critical role in preparing for the Last Days.” And that was not all that it could do. “Anna proposed that the lion’s blood, paired with her own body, could even generate life, repopulating and redeeming the corrupt world in its final moments.”
This is an incredible story about an incredible woman in an incredible time; and I mean incredible almost in the true sense of the word, on the bounds—perhaps beyond the bounds—of the credible. In fact, I haven’t even told you the craziest parts in this summary. It is all told by Tara Nummedal in her book Anna Zieglerin and the Lion’s Blood: Alchemy and End Times in Reformation Germany, in which she weaves not only biography and history, enabled by meticulous detective work and imagining of what is now nearly unimaginable, but also the histories of gender, early modern science, the Reformation, and European power politics as practiced perhaps in its most vicious form within the principalities of Germany.
Tara Nummedal is Professor of History at Brown University, and is also author of Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire. She’s also recently co-authored with Donna Bilak Furnace and Fugue: A Digital Edition of Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (1618) with Scholarly Commentary, an alchemical text with both music and pictures. It’s amazing, please do take a look at it: it’s even on Instagram.