Legends and realities of Ukrainian alchemy: the Kyiv echo of legends of “philosophers’ dwellings”

Kostiantyn Rodyhin, Mykhailo Rodyhin


In the article, the social and cultural repercussion of the phenomenon of alchemy is considered using specific examples. The authors study the basis and motivation for the creation of modern-day alchemical legends within the “dwellings of philosophers” concept; the means of their hypothetical implementation in the symbolism and imagery of the architecture of Kyiv houses of the verge of 19-20th centuries, in particular so-called “House of Alchemists” in the Pechersk district. The concept of the archetypal nature of alchemical symbols explains why they are regularly reproduced in art on a conscious or subconscious level, and still perceived by society. A comparative analysis of the figures of the facades of the early-20th century “House of Alchemists” and similar elements of the architecture of other Kyiv buildings of that time reveals their similarity to the graphic symbols of alchemy, although it does not reveal absolute coincidences with those presented in alchemical lexicons. Therefore, the hypothesis about the alchemical intentions of the owners or architects of buildings is neither well-proven nor definitively refuted and requires further investigation. Nevertheless, the considered situation illustrates the specifics of the existence of the phenomenon of alchemy in its legendary mode, in which specific historical realities are not crucial for the creation of an attractive legend or are used selectively. Manifestations of the echo of the alchemical worldview in modern society can have both conscious and subconscious nature. In the case of the “House of Alchemists” in Kyiv’s Pechersk, such an echo is the very fact of appeal to the phenomenon of alchemy. It is significant that the name “House of Alchemists” appeared in our time when the popularity of the topic of alchemy is growing in the socio-cultural space. A perceptible echo of the phenomenon of alchemy in the realities of public life is an evidence of the relevance of its existence in the modern socio-cultural environment because the basic axiological ideals of the phenomenon have not undergone devaluation over time. Nowadays, the role of esoteric and non-scientific phenomena in the life of society is not diminished, and the image of alchemy as an alternative to modern rationality acquires new relevance. This situation seems to be inherent in transitional epochs marked by global shifts in worldview paradigms and axiological orientations motivating people to rediscover the “abyss of being”, in particular in the categories of alchemical philosophy with its rich figurative and mythological dimension. Equally, similar trends were characteristic of the period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the mentioned “House of Alchemists” was built in Kyiv.


alchemy; archetypes; architecture; Kyiv; the collective unconscious; legends; symbolism

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