Alchemy Indepth: The Human Transmutation Circle

The world of Fullmetal Alchemist is a highly fascinating one, and it all begins with one central concept: alchemy. Individuals who have the ability to analyze, destroy and recreate objects are called alchemists. There are two rules that and alchemist must follow: transmuting gold and trying to bring someone back from the dead is not allowed. In what had started the entire series, Ed and Al’s attempt in reviving their late mother, lies a complex symbol that plays an important role in their naïve attempt at the taboo called human transmutation. This is none other than the human transmutation circle.

Fig. 1 The human transmutation circle used by Edward Elric in their unsuccessful attempt at reviving their mother.

The circle is a symbol of unity and spirituality, of wholeness and interconnection of everything. In alchemy, there is the principle of “All is One and One is All,” hence the shape.

The three big symbols in the middle of the transmutation circle refer to the Three Primes in alchemy, which are Sulphur (1), Mercury (2) and Salt (3). Mercury stands for the volatility of an object, and it denotes the spirit. Sulphur stands for the unctuousness of a substance, and it refers to the soul. Lastly, Salt refers to solidity, and it stands for the body. These three are the building blocks of alchemy, and can be considered as the equivalents of modern day neutrons, protons & electrons.

The hexagon refers to 6 of the 7 planetary metals in alchemy. During the middle ages, the 7 planets were considered to have ruled over these metals.
Silver (4), refers to the memory, the subconscious, and the emotions of the human being. In alchemy, it represents the stomach, breasts, [the] womb, bodily fluids and the left side of a person.

On the other hand, Gold (6) refers to vitality, authority, and individuality of a person. Alchemically, it stands for the heart, the back, the spinal cord, and the right side of a person.

Copper (8) refers to beauty and the ability to give affection & love, while it represents the neck, kidneys, ovaries, and veins.

Tin (5) refers to moral values, philosophy, and the abstract mind. In alchemy, this metal stands for the Arteries, hips, thighs, feet and liver.

Lead (7) signifies discipline & responsibility, and it stands for bones, joints, knees, skin & teeth.

Iron (9) signifies desire, energy & drive, it represents the head, the muscles and the sex organs.

Fig. 2 The result of Ed and Al’s failed attempt.

The 7th and the missing planetary metal, Mercury refers to the mind, communication and intellect. Notice that due to this, the arms, hands & shoulders in the result of the transmutation were deformed. Furthermore, the transmuted body lacked the following parts: solar plexus, abdomen, lungs, intestine, the rest of the nervous & respiratory systems.

The text running all over the circle, in full, was taken from Ripley’s The Compound of Alchymy.

Pale white and black with false citrine, imperfect white and red,
The Peacock’s feathers in bright colours, the rainbow in the sky above,
The spotted panther, the green lion, the Crows beak blue as lead.
These shall appear before you in perfect white, and many more others.
And after the perfect white, grey, false citrine also,
And after these, there shall appear the red body invariable,
Then you have a medicine of the third order of his own kind multipliable.

This verse refers to the midway point in the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone. The flash of colors in the reaction is signified by the peacock’s tail in bright colours, while the phrase there shall appear the red body invariable refers to the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone. The peacock is also a symbol of renewal, which is sort of what Ed and Al are trying to do.

While the result of the transmutation has certainly been unpleasant, the author really did put a lot of thought into her work, as evidenced by just one of the dozens of transmutation circles she has created for the series.


Alchemical Symbols. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2009, from Purple HeII:

Cotnoir, B., & Wasserman, j. (2007). The Weiser Concise Guide to Alchemy.

Lerry, D. (1996). Retrieved November 23, 2009, from Alchemy Website:


32 Responses to “Alchemy Indepth: The Human Transmutation Circle”

  1. 1 Guest June 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I dunno where you go your symbols but everyone i looked up on here was wrong….

  2. 2 Phaedrus August 22, 2011 at 12:06 am

    Well, not all his symbols were “wrong”. Also, perhaps these are Korean or even Chinese symbols for Alchemy? But it’s true that the symbols here for Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt all bear little resemblance to their alchemical symbols in the western world.

    The “outer” symbols fare better though. #4 is a perfectly fine alternative symbol for silver, #6 for gold (incomplete/imperfect gold though — perhaps fools gold?), and #7-9 are just kinda simplistic versions of their alchemical symbols.

    The symbol for Tin bears almost zero resemblance to the image above though (#5).

    Dunno how close the picture is to the FMA original, but I’ve made a more realistic version at least. Willing to share as long as it’s attributed.

  3. 4 CarboMcoco August 24, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks! Very helpful :3

  4. 5 Malicious.Count December 1, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    your correct on the information and yes the symbols are a bit wrong but it’s true that the symbols may differ from region to region. But, alchemy is an ancient art so the symbols should fairly remain the same over the ages. If you replaced the objects with its correct meaning then you could have a legit “western” style circle, but most likely the creators created their own “unique” symbols geared towards the show to prevent any type of “infringement” actions if you understand what i mean.

  5. 6 Adriano Rosa (@dori_kun) June 1, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    I have a question. You describe the three symbols in the circle as the Three Primes, Sulphur, Mercury and Salt (respectively numbered 1, 2 and 3), and later state that the reason the Elric brothers’ experiment failed was due to the missing 7th planetary metal, and describe it as being Mercury.

    Why is this?

    • 7 brian June 2, 2012 at 8:19 pm

      They way it’s explained is the 7th metal is blood. Transmuting the liguid of blood would be the missing element. You could say that 7th metal would be the one’s our body’s created. They thought it has wrong and of course demeaning and all that jazz and i have no clue what’s goin on today with the series.

    • 8 Cuboid3301 March 19, 2013 at 1:58 am

      The internal elements (or the Three Primes) Sulphur, Mercury, and Salt, are centered on the triangle (representing the Basic Element water) and not the hexagon. Because of this, Mercury is not added into the instructions (Which are the Planetary Elements on each corner of the hexagon) for what the Transmutation Circle will attempt to create. Since Mercury, symbolizing the mind, communication and intellect is missing from the instructions it was left out of the final product that the circle created. If Ed and Al had made the Transmutation Circle with a heptagon including Mercury on one of it’s points the Human Transmutation would likely have worked.

  6. 9 Tom July 3, 2012 at 2:08 am

    i agree with Adriano Rosa about the mercury thing, but i learned enough to figure out how to bring someone back to life. thanx.

  7. 10 owings July 30, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Is it possible to do taboo and work?

    • 11 Jimmy August 7, 2012 at 5:33 am

      no, pretty sure the missing component is the persons soul your trying to bring back. one could say it’s a little difficult to bring to the circle ^^

  8. 13 Darshana Natarajan October 10, 2012 at 4:51 am

    I Love Your Blog. Basically every post makes me lol, analyze things, and learn something.

  9. 14 jon rye October 31, 2012 at 3:57 am

    I need to know is it posible

  10. 15 ortopedia online December 9, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this
    article and also the rest of the website is very good.

  11. 16 Maybell February 19, 2013 at 9:23 pm

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  12. 17 Mark March 20, 2013 at 11:37 pm

    The fundamental thing you have to remember about these symbols is that they were theoretically created in a parallel world to ours so therefore isn’t it entirely possible that though one or two symbols might be invented the same; the vast majority of symbols should be different from ours.

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  14. 19 danny Grimaldi January 14, 2014 at 1:16 am

    Yo, so are you saying that this circle isn’t actually complete? Because it doesn’t have the 7th metal symbol.
    if so do you know where I can find a picture ofa actually complete circle with all 7?

  15. 20 dentmaze February 11, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    it depends on how you get your answer

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  18. 23 Andre Lopez May 11, 2014 at 5:39 am

    hmmm, someone said they’d need to bring the soul of the person they r trying to revive. wouldn’t you just do what did for al n then do the heptagon? wouldn’t it work then?

    • 24 Brandon August 8, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      I think you would need to use an octagon with each of the elements of the body circling and have that symbol used for al for the creation of the soul but without the circle around the outside. The circle would contain it and restrict it from the reaction. The shape surrounding the squiggly (the squiggly represents the soul) is the symbol for creation or rebirth. Thus you are creating a soul to join the body. What I wonder though is if you could use a heptagon without the soul creating a corpse and then binding a soul to the body you’ve then created in the same manner as Al and the others were made using this symbol.

  19. 25 September 7, 2015 at 8:49 am

    I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to
    be exactly I’m looking for. Do you offer guest writers
    to write content available for you? I wouldn’t mind publishing
    a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you write regarding here.
    Again, awesome website!

  20. 26 site January 23, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Anime, you see, is extra fashionable in Europe.

  21. 27 ladyofprocrastination May 24, 2018 at 8:28 am

    So you’re saying that the entire series happened because Ed and Al fucked up the transmutation circle and not because reviving dead people is impossible?

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