As far as I know, not many (if any) alchemical symbols have survived in modern nomenclature of science, either in chemistry or any other. I think $\LaTeX$ doesn't even support most of them! I know some symbols are quite cumbersome to draw, but not all of them, so I'd like to know:

  1. Examples of surviving symbols which can be traced back to alchemy (not the obvious planetary ones in astronomy!).
  2. An explanation of why most of them didn't survive.
  • $\begingroup$ Something is wrong with the grammar here, which makes the question incomprehensible: LaTeX does support or does not syupport? Why they survived or why they did not? $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Apr 14 '15 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandreEremenko I believe LaTeX doesn't support most of them. I've edited the post, please let me know if it's still not clear. $\endgroup$ – hjhjhj57 Apr 14 '15 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ Why should they survive is alchemistry did not? Planetary symbols and Zodiac signs survived because they are used in astronomy and astrology (both still widely practiced). But for other symbols there is just no use. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Apr 15 '15 at 2:17

By the end of 18th century the theory of four elements or the mystic duality between planets and metals, which among other things informed the formation of alchemic symbols, did not have much currency with chemists. Neither did traditional alchemic objectives like the elixir of life everlasting, panacea (universal cure), or transmutation of metals. The old notation suggested connections that weren't there, and missed the ones that were. There was a similar question on Reddit, where a commenter put it bluntly:"Until after 1800, they had no clue of chemical structures nor a notation for writing them. Although there were lots of empirical observations, alchemy actually contributed very little to the modern science of chemistry as a theoretical structure." He sources Buckingham's Chasing the Molecule for the sentiment.

At the end of of 18th century chemists started figuring out real relations between different compounds, and anticipating molecular structure and valency bonds. In 1803 John Dalton explicitly introduced the idea of atoms "hooking up" together to form molecules, and in 1808 replaced most of alchemic notation with his own, incorporating the idea of elements forming compounds. Berzelius introduced more or less modern notation in 1813-14, flushing out what little was left of alchemic symbology.

Some of the symbols survive for incidental reasons. Diamond symbol is used by jewelers because it literally resembles a cut diamond. Caduceus (the rod of Hermes), appropriated by alchemists to represent amalgamation of sulphur and mercury, is used as a symbol of commerce, and in the US of medicine due to a historical comedy of errors. It is unknown if John Wallis had Ouroboros in mind when he picked $\infty$ for infinity. Few mathematicians know (or care) that $\triangle$ is fire, $\nabla$ is water, $\square$ is urine, $\ominus$ is salt, $\oplus$ is sal armoniac (a mineral form of ammonium chloride), and $\odot$ is gold. Dalton, interestingly enough, used $\oplus$ for sulphur, and $\odot$ for hydrogen, they are that flexible. It is likely that mathematicians made up those symbols independently rather than picked them up from alchemic tables. But here is one seen in some logos, which is definitely borrowed, the Squared Circle, the 17th century glyph for the Phiolosopher's Stone.

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer as usual. Do you happen to know about LaTeX libraries with alchemic symbols? $\endgroup$ – hjhjhj57 Apr 15 '15 at 1:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Javier I haven't seen any dedicated package, astrology yes tex.stackexchange.com/questions/70066/astrology-signs, but not alchemy. Which is why I am surprised that they enshrined many of them in Unicode. This would be a good question for TeX.SE, apparently no one ever asked. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Apr 15 '15 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ That was the first place I looked for it. Thanks for the comment. $\endgroup$ – hjhjhj57 Apr 17 '15 at 21:14

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