I guess we all heard about Paulo Coelho’s book “The Alchemist” or about the anime “Full metal alchemist”, even in Harry Potter, there was a whole volume about the Philosopher’s
Stone, the stone that can bring people back to life and transform everything in gold. But what is the truth behind those stories? What is Alchemy in fact and what was its purpose? I want to make a series of articles about it and it’s symbols.
Alchemy always had a dual nature: one involving the use of chemical substances and being the precursor of modern chemistry; in the same time, alchemy has been associated with the esoteric, spiritual beliefs.
Where did Alchemy appeared?
Many associate Alchemy with European Middle Ages, but it’s much older than we think: it was practiced in Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Japan, Korea and China, in Classical Greece and Rome, in the Muslim civilizations, and then in Europe up to the 19th century, lasting at least 2,500 years.
What Alchemy means?
In the history of science, alchemy was both an early form of the investigation of nature and an early philosophical and spiritual discipline, combining elements of chemistry, metallurgy, physics, medicine, astrology, semiotics, mysticism, spiritualism, and art all as parts of one greater force.
Alchemy is an ancient path of spiritual purification and transformation, it is full of mysticism and mystery. It presents to the initiate a system of eternal, dreamlike, esoteric symbols that have the power to alter consciousness and connect the human soul to the Divine.
It dates to ancient Egypt, where it developed in an early form of chemistry and metallurgy. Egyptians alchemists used their art to make alloys, dyes, perfumes and cosmetic jewelry, and to embalm the dead.
The early Arabs also made significant contributions to alchemy by emphasizing the mysticism of numbers (quantities and lengths of time for processes). The Arabs also gave us the term ‘alchemy’, from the Arabic term ‘alchimia‘ that means ‘the Egyptian art’.
During medieval and Renaissance times it functioned on two levels: mundane and spiritual. On mundane level, alchemists tried to find a physical process to convert base metals such as lead into gold. On the spiritual level, alchemists worked to purify themselves by eliminating the “base” material of the self and achieving the ‘gold’ of enlightenment. In those times, many alchemists believed that the spiritual purification was necessary in order to achieve the mundane transformations of metals.
Alchemy is a speculative thought that tried to transform base metals such as lead or copper into silver or gold and, most important, to discover a cure for disease and immortality.
Alchemy was the name given in Latin Europe in the 12th century, similar to astrology and attempting to discover the relationship of man to the cosmos and to use that relationship to his benefit.
Between nature and dreams..
The key word characterizing alchemy is “Transmutation” and it refers to many things: chemical, physiological changes like health, transformation from old to youth or passing from an earthly to supernatural existence. Alchemical changes were always positive, never involving degradation. Alchemists aimed at wealth, longevity, and immortality.
Alchemy was not original in seeking these goals, for it had been preceded by religion, medicine, and metallurgy. The first chemists were metallurgists and their theories came from folklore and religion. Systems of five almost identical basic elements were postulated in China, India, and Greece, according to a view in which nature comprised antagonistic, opposite forces – hot and cold, positive and negative, and male and female.
That’s all for now, hope you enjoy it! If you enjoyed it, please like and share! Thank you!