For centuries rumors had circled around a strange substance, known enigmatically as “Red Mercury.” While alchemists were said to be looking for it as far back as medieval times it found new fame during the Cold War.
Hidden behind the Iron Curtain and entirely mysterious to the West, this mysterious substance has a reputation for possessing extraordinary properties, yet its true nature remains shrouded in ambiguity. Is it a magical healing elixir, or a key component in making Soviet nuclear bombs?
Some even claim it has the ability to summon supernatural beings. This leaves us with a lot of questions. What is red mercury? What can it do? But first of all: does it actually exist?
What is It?
Well, that really depends on who you ask. Like so many other conspiracy theories or urban legends there’s really no definitive answer as to what red mercury is.
At least descriptions of it don’t tend to vary much. It’s usually described as a mysterious, red-colored powder or liquid with extraordinary properties. Unfortunately, these properties tend to change depending on whom you’re talking to. While we’ll cover this in more detail in a moment, red mercury has been said to do everything from healing the sick to causing nuclear explosions.
The true nature and composition of red mercury remain elusive if the substance even exists at all. Many modern experts argue that red mercury is nothing more than a fabrication, or an amalgamation of various conspiracy theories.
The lack of verifiable scientific evidence, combined with contradictory claims and the absence of a standardized definition, adds to the mystery surrounding this substance. Its very allure seems to come from its unknown properties.
So why are people so fascinated by this strange chemical? Over the years red mercury has become akin to the legendary philosopher’s stone and people have ascribed various properties to it.
No one’s really sure how far back the rumors surrounding red mercury go. While commonly associated with the Soviet weapons program today, some historians believe its origins go back much further.
Some believers claim that when the medieval alchemist and philosopher Jabir ibn Hayyan wrote, “The most precious elixirs to ever have been blended on earth were hidden in the pyramids” he was talking about red mercury. So does this very early reference help us at all?
In this context, red mercury is said to be a strange red substance that can only be found in the throats of ancient Egyptian mummies. It’s most commonly believed that this version of red mercury can be used as a magical healing elixir.
This has had two unfortunate consequences. Firstly, over the years it has led to grave robbing and tomb raiding as thieves have sought the mysterious substance. Secondly, modern con artists have caught on.
Shady websites all over the internet offer to sell red mercury “sourced” from ancient mummies for vast sums. Interestingly, no reliable Egyptologist has ever come across “red mercury”. It would seem that this version of red mercury, even if it once existed, survives only as a scam.
Skip forward a few centuries and red mercury became headline news during the Cold War. References to red mercury first began cropping up in major Soviet and Western media sources during the 1980s and, while never terribly specific, they usually tied the substance to the Soviet weapons program.
It was said that red mercury possessed highly explosive characteristics. In particular, the Western media claimed it was a powerful catalyst that the Soviets were using to amplify the destructive force of conventional explosives.
Some suggested that even a small quantity of red mercury when combined with explosives, could generate an explosive yield far greater than what would be expected from conventional means alone. In an era where terrifying new weapons were being discovered, this was extremely alarming for the West.
This being the Cold War, it was soon tied to the nuclear arms race, although how it did so was never clear. There were assertions that red mercury exhibited unusual thermal and radioactive properties. This led to claims that it was a key component in Soviet nuclear weapons.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the stories revolving around red mercury became much scarier. It was said that the substance was almost untraceable and just a tennis ball-sized lump of it could cause a massive nuclear explosion.
Rumors began to spread that a previously unknown nuclear material that had been created in Soviet labs was being sold by rogue scientists. People were terrified it would fall into the hands of terrorists.
But it never did. However, in recent years governments have actually made use of these old rumors. In 2004 several men were arrested in Britain on terrorist charges after trying to procure red mercury.
They were accused of trying to build a “dirty” bomb, with which they hoped to destroy London. The same happened in 2015 when members of the terrorist group ISIS were caught in Turkey trying to buy red mercury.
This has led to accusations that rather than trying to disprove the rumors surrounding red mercury, governments are actually spreading disinformation about it. Red mercury has turned out to be surprisingly good at snaring terrorists.
Almost as soon as that hysteria died down the stories around red mercury began to evolve once again. Rather than being some kind of nuclear material red mercury was once again said to be an ancient substance with magical properties. Whatever a potential buyer needed it to do, scam artists and hoaxers claimed it could do.
This led to a revival in claims that it came from mummies and could be used to heal the sick. Look close enough on social media or scam websites and you’ll find tiny amounts of red mercury being sold for thousands of dollars.
The stories surrounding red mercury have only gotten weirder with time. In the internet age rumors spread like wildfire and at some point, people began claiming that red mercury isn’t just found in the throats of mummies, it can be found in bat nests.
These unfortunate rumors led to fortune hunters raiding endangered bat habitats to find the miraculous liquid. The only problem? Bats aren’t birds and don’t have nests.
The fact that people weren’t finding any red mercury led to bizarre theories that red mercury only comes from vampire bats. This led to the logic that red mercury exhibits the same abilities as vampires from old b-movies.
Search red mercury on YouTube and you’ll find videos of red mercury being repelled by garlic and attracted to gold. When placed next to a mirror the blob in the videos has no reflection. Of course, the blob usually looks like it’s been created by CGI, but don’t let that spoil the fun.
Finally, there’s one more version of red mercury we need to talk about. In the early 2000s, rumors began spreading across the Arab world that red mercury could be used to summon jinn, Arabic supernatural beings similar to genies. Unsurprisingly this led to red mercury becoming incredibly sought after.
In 2009 a story started doing the rounds on social media that there was no need to dig up mummies or raid bat nests to find red mercury. It could be found in old Singer sewing machines. Obviously another scam, police had to step in when these machines began selling for big bucks.
The Real Red Mercury
So, does red mercury exist? Kind of! Just don’t get too excited, it exhibits none of the abilities mentioned above.
It’s called mercury sulfide, also known as cinnabar. This is a red-colored mercury-containing ore that’s commonly used to decorate pottery. It’s also toxic since it contains mercury, which is incredibly hazardous to human health.
Likewise, there’s no evidence that cinnabar was ever a key ingredient in Russian nuclear weapons. These rumors seem to be the product of scaremongering, overactive imaginations, and a cold war fear of anything “Russian.”
So, beware next time you see an article touting the magical benefits or destructive properties of red mercury. Someone’s either trying to make a quick buck out of you or scare you.
Top Image: Red Mercury has been associated with various Cold War conspiracies. Source: AI Studio – R / Adobe Stock.