Alchemy is an early protoscientific practice combiningelements of chemistry , physics , art , semiotics , metallurgy , medicine , astrology , mysticism , and religion . Two intertwined goals sought by many alchemists were the philosopher's stone , a mythical substance which would enable the transmutation of common metals into gold ; and the universal panacea , a remedy that would cure all diseases and prolong lifeindefinitely. Alchemy can be regarded as the precursor of the modern science of chemistry prior to the formulation of the scientificmethod .
The word alchemy comes from the Arabic language al-kimiya or al-khimiya (الكيمياء orالخيمياء), which is probably formed from the article al- and the Greek word khumeia (χυμεία)meaning "cast together", "pour together", "weld", "alloy" etc. (from khumatos, "that which is poured out, aningot").
The common perception of alchemists is that they were pseudo-scientists who attempted to turn lead into gold , believed all matter was composed of the fourelements of earth, air, fire, and water, and dabbled around the edges of mysticism and magic . From today'sperspective, these perceptions have some validity, but if we are to be objective we should judge them in the context of theirtimes. They were attempting to explore and investigate nature before many of the most basic scientific tools and practices wereavailable, relying instead on rules of thumb, traditions, basic observations, and mysticism to fill in the gaps.
To understand the alchemists, it is helpful to consider how wonderfully magical the conversion of one substance into anotherwould seem in a culture with no formal understanding of physics or chemistry . To the alchemist, there was no compelling reason to separate the chemical(material) dimension from the interpretive, symbolic or philosophical one. In those times a physics devoid of metaphysicalinsight would have been as partial and incomplete as a metaphysics devoid of physical manifestation. So the alchemical symbols and processes often had both an inner meaningreferring to the spiritual development of the practitioner as well as a material meaning connected to physical transformation ofmatter.
The transmutation of base metals into gold symbolized an endeavour toward perfection or the highest heights of actual existence, and thedivision of the world into four basic elements was as much a geometric principle as a geological one. The alchemists believed that the whole universe was tending towards a state of perfection; and gold, due to its immunity todecay, was considered to be the most perfect of substances. By attempting to transmute base metals into gold, they were, ineffect, trying to give the universe a helping hand. It was also logical to think that understanding the secret of gold'simmutability might provide the key to ward off disease and organic decay; hence the intertwining of chemical, spiritual and astrological themes that was cheracteristic of medieval alchemy.
Thus, the naive interpretations of some alchemists, or the fraudulent hopes fostered by others should not diminish theundertakings of the more sincere practitioners. Further, the field of alchemy evolved greatly over time, beginning as ametallurgical/medicinal arm of religion, maturing into a rich field of study in its own right, devolving into mysticism andoutright charlatanism, and in the end providing some of the fundamental empirical knowledge of the fields of chemistry and modern medicine .
Up to the 18th century , alchemy was considered serious science inEurope; for instance, Isaac Newton devoted a great time to the Art. Othereminent alchemists of the Western world are Roger Bacon , Saint Thomas Aquinas , and ThomasBrowne . The decline of alchemy began in the 18th century with the birthof modern chemistry, which provided more precise and reliable framework for matter transmutations and medicine, within a newgrand design of the universe based on rational materialism.
The old matter transmutation ideal of alchemy enjoyed a moment in the sun in the 20th century when physicists were able to convert lead atoms into gold atoms via a nuclear reaction. However, the new gold atoms, being unstable isotopes , lasted for under five seconds before they broke apart. More recently, reports of table-top elementtransmutation — by means of electrolysis or sonic cavitation — were thepivot of the cold fusion controversy of 1989. Unfortunately, none of thoseclaims could be reliably duplicated. In either case, the required conditions were well beyond the reach of the oldalchemists.
Alchemical symbolism has been occasionally used in the 20th century by psychologists and philosophers. Carl Jung re-examined alchemical symbolism and theory and began to show the inner meaning of alchemical work as a spiritual path. Alchemical philosophy, symbols and methods have enjoyedsomething of a renaissance in post-modern contexts, such as the New Age movement. Even some physicists have played with alchemical ideas in books such as The Tao ofPhysics and The Dancing Wu LiMasters .
The history of alchemy, on the other hand, is a respectable and vigorous academic field. As the obscure —hermetic, of course — language of the alchemists is gradually being "deciphered", historians are becoming moreaware of the intellectual connections between that discipline and other facets of Western cultural history, such as the Rosicrucian society and other mystic societies, witchcraft , and of course the evolution of science and philosophy .
History of Alchemy
The name of alchemy actually covers several philosophical traditions spanning some four millennia and threecontinents, and their general penchant for cryptic and symbolic language makes it hard to trace their mutual influences and"genetic" relationships.
One can distinguish at least two major strands, which appear to be largely independent, at least in their earlier stages: Chinese alchemy , centeredin China and its zone of cultural influence; and Western alchemy , whose center hasshifted over the millennia between Egypt , Greece and Rome , the Islamic world, and finally back to Europe . Chinese alchemy was closelyconnected to Taoism , whereas Western alchemy developed its ownphilosophical system, with only superficial connections to the major Western religions. It is still an open question whetherthese two strands share a common origin, or to what extent they influenced each other.
Whereas Western alchemy eventually centered on the transmutation of base metals into noble ones, Chinese alchemy had a moreobvious connection to medicine. The philosopher's stone ofEuropean alchemists can be compared to the Grand Elixir of Immortality sought by Chinese alchemists. However, in the hermetic view,these two goals were not unconnected, and the philosopher's stone was often equated with the universal panacea ; therefore, the two traditions may have had more in common than it initiallyappears.
Black powder may have been the most important invention of Chinesealchemists. Described in 9th century texts and used in fireworks by the 10th Century , itwas used in cannons by 1290 . From China, the useof gunpowder spread to Japan, the Mongols, the Arab world and Europe. Gunpowder was used by the Mongols against the Hungarians in 1241 , and in Europe starting with the 14th century.
Chinese alchemy was closely connected to Taoist forms of medicine , such as Acupuncture and Moxibustion , and to martial arts such as Tai ChiChuan and Kung Fu (although some Tai Chi schools believe that their art derivesfrom the Hygienic or Philosophical branches of Taoism, not theAlchemical).
Little is known in the West about the character and history of Hindu alchemy. An eleventh century Iranian alchemist named al-Biruni reported that they "have a science similar to alchemy which is quite peculiar to them. They call it Rasayana . It means the art which is restricted to certain operations, drugs,compounds, and medicines, most of which are taken from plants. Its principles restored the health of those who were ill beyondhope and gave back youth to fading old age."
Alchemy in ancient Egypt
Western alchemists generally traced the origin of their art to Ancient(Pharaonic) Egypt . Metallurgy and mysticism were inexorably tied together in the ancient world, as the transformation of drab ore into shining metal must have seemed to be an act of magic governed by mysterious rules. It is claimedtherefore that Alchemy in Ancient Egypt was the domain of the priestly class.
The city of Alexandria in Egypt was a center of alchemical knowledge, andretained its preeminence even after the decline of ancient Egyptian culture, through most of the Greek and Roman periods.Unfortunately, practically no original Egyptian documents on alchemy have survived. Those writings, if they existed, were likelylost when the emperor Diocletian ordered the burning of alchemical books after suppressing a revolt in Alexandria ( 296 ), which had been a center of Egyptian alchemy. Egyptian alchemy is known mostly through the writings ofancient (Hellenic) Greek philosophers, which in turn have often survived only inIslamic translations.
Legend has it that the founder of Egyptian alchemy was the god Thoth , calledHermes-Thoth or Thrice-Great Hermes ( HermesTrismegistus ) by the Greek. According to legend, he wrote what were called the forty-two Books of Knowledge, coveringall fields of knowledge — including alchemy. Hermes's symbol was the caduceus or serpent-staff, which became one of many of alchemy's principal symbols. The " Emerald Tablet " or Hermetica of Thrice-GreatestHermes, which is known only through Greek and Arabic translations, isgenerally understood to form the basis for Western alchemical philosophy and practice, called the hermetic philosophy by its early practitioners.
The first point of the "Emerald Tablet" tells the purpose of hermetical science: "in truth certainly and without doubt,whatever is below is like that which is above, and whatever is above is like that which is below, to accomplish the miracles ofone thing." ( Burckhardt , p. 196-7). This is the macrocosm - microcosm belief central to the hermetic philosophy. In otherwords, the human body (the microcosm) is affected by the exterior world (the macrocosm), which includes the heavens through astrology , and the earth through the elements . (Burckhardt,p. 34-42)
Alchemy in the Greek world
The Greeks appropriated the hermetical beliefs of the Egyptians and melded with them the philosophies of Pythagoreanism , ionianism , and gnosticism . Pythagorean philosophy is,essentially, the belief that numbers rule the universe, originating from the observations of sound, stars, and geometric shapeslike triangles, or anything from which a ratio could be derived. Ionian thought was based on the belief that the universe could be explained through concentration on natural phenomena ; this philosophy is believed to have originated with Thales and his pupil Anaximander , and laterdeveloped by Plato and Aristotle , whoseworks came to be an integral part of alchemy. According to this belief, the universe can be described by a few unified natural laws that can be determined only through careful, thorough, andexacting philosophical explorations. The third component introduced to hermetical philosophy by the Greeks was gnosticism , a belief prevalent in the pre-Christian and early post-Christian Roman empire , that the world is imperfect because it was created in a flawedmanner, and that learning about the nature of spiritual matter would lead to salvation. They further believed that God did not "create" the universe in the classic sense, but that the universe was created "from" him,but was corrupted in the process (rather than becoming corrupted by the transgressions of Adam and Eve, i.e. original sin ). According to Gnostic belief, by worshipping the cosmos, nature, orthe creatures of the world, one worships the True God. Gnostics do not seek salvation from sin, but instead seek to escapeignorance, believing that sin is merely a consequence of ignorance. Platonic and neo-Platonic theories about universals and theomnipotence of God were also absorbed.
One very important concept introduced at this time, originated by Empedocles and developed by Aristotle , was that all things in the universe were formed fromonly four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. According to Aristotle, each element had asphere to which it belonged and to which it would return if left undisturbed. (Lindsay, p. 16)
The four elements of the Greek were mostly qualitative aspects of matter, not quantitative, as our modern elements are."...True alchemy never regarded earth, air, water, and fire as corporeal or chemical substances in the present-day sense of theword. The four elements are simply the primary, and most general, qualities by means of which the amorphous and purelyquantitative substance of all bodies first reveals itself in differentiated form." (Hitchcock, p. 66) Later alchemistsextensively developed the mystical aspects of this concept.
Alchemy in the Roman Empire
The Romans adoped Greek alchemy and metaphysics, just as they adoptedmuch of Greek knowledge and philosophy. By the end of the Roman empire theGreek alchemical philosophy had been joined to the hermetical philosophies of the Egyptians. (Lindsay)
However, the development of Christianity in the Empire brought acontrary line of thinking, stemming from Augustine (354-430CE), an early Christian philosopher who wrote of his beliefs shortly before the fall of the Roman Empire. In essence, he feltthat reason and faith could be used tounderstand God, but experimental philosophy was evil: "There is also present in the soul, by means of these same bodilysense, a kind of empty longing and curiosity which aims not at taking pleasure in the flesh but at acquiring experience throughthe flesh, and this empty curiosity is dignified by the names of learning and science." (Augustine, p. 245)
Augustinian ideas were decidedly anti-experimental, yet when Aristotelian experimental techniques were made available to theWest they were not shunned. Still, Augustinian thought was well ingrained in medieval society and was used to show alchemy as being un-Godly. Ultimately, by the high middle ages, thisline of thought created a permanent rift separating alchemy from the very religion that had fostered its birth.
Much of the Roman knowledge of Alchemy, like that of the Greeks and Egyptians, is now lost. In Alexandria, the centre ofalchemical studies in the Roman Empire, the art was mainly oral and in the interests of secrecy little was committed to paper.(Whence the use of "hermetic" to mean "secretive".) (Lindsay, p. 155) It is possible that some writing was done in Alexandria,and that it was subsequently lost or destroyed in fires and the turbulent periods that followed.
Alchemy in the Islamic World
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the focus of alchemical development moved to the Middle East. Much more is known about Islamic alchemy because it was better documented: indeed, most of the earlierwritings that have come down through the years were preserved as Islamic translations. (Burckhardt p. 46)
The Islamic world was a melting pot for alchemy. Platonic and Aristotelian thought, which had already been somewhat appropriated into hermeticalscience, continued to be assimilated. Islamic alchemists such as al-Razi (Latin Rasis or Rhazes) contributed key chemical discoveries of their own,such as the technique of distillation (the words alembic and alcohol are of Arabic origin), the muriatic , sulfuric , and nitric acids, soda and potash ( alkali ), and more. The discovery that aquaregia , a mixture of nitric and muriatic acids, could dissolve the noblest metal — gold — was to fuel theimagination of alchemists for the next millennium.
Islamic philosophers also made great contributions to alchemical hermeticism. The most influential author in this regard wasarguably Jabir Ibn Hayyan (Arabicجابر إبن حيان, Latin Geberus; usually rendered in English asGeber). He analyzed each Aristotelian element in terms of four basic qualities of hotness, coldness,dryness, and moistness. (Burkhardt, p. 29) According to Geber, in each metal two of these qualities wereinterior and two were exterior. For example, lead was externally cold and dry, while gold was hot and moist. Thus, Jabirtheorized, by rearranging the qualities of one metal, a different metal would result. (Burckhardt, p. 29) By this reasoning, thesearch for the philosopher's stone was introduced toWestern alchemy.
It is now commonly accepted that Chinese alchemy influenced Arabic alchemists (Edwards pp. 33-59; Burckhardt, p. 10-22),although the extent of that influence is still a matter of debate. Likewise, Hindu learning was assimilated into Islamic alchemy, but again the extent and effects of this are not well known.
Alchemy in Medieval Europe
Because of its strong connections to the Greek and Roman cultures, alchemy was easily accepted into Christian philosophy, andMedieval European alchemists extensively absorbed Islamic alchemical knowledge. Gerbert of Aurillac , who was later to become Pope Silvester II , (d. 1003) was among the first to bring Islamic science to Europe from Spain . Later men such as Adelard ofBath , who lived in the 12th century , brought additional learning. Butuntil the thirteenth century the moves were mainly assimilative. (Hollisterp. 124, 294)
In this period there appeared some deviations from the Augustinian principles of earlier Christian thinkers. Saint Anselm ( 1033 - 1109 ) was an Augustinian who believed faithmust precede rationalism, as Augustine and most theologians prior to Anselm had believed, but Anselm put forth the opinion thatfaith and rationalism were compatible and encouraged rationalism in a Christian context. His views set the stage for thephilosophical explosion to occur. Saint Abelard followed Anselm's work, laying the foundation for acceptance of Aristotelian thought before thefirst works of Aristotle reached the West. His major influence on alchemy was his belief that Platonic universals did not have aseparate existence outside of man's consciousness . Abelard alsosystematized the analysis of philosophical contradictions. (Hollister, p. 287-8)
Robert Grosseteste ( 1170 - 1253 ) was a pioneer of the scientific theory that would later be used andrefined by the alchemists. he took Abelard's methods of analysis and added the use of observations, experimentation, andconclusions in making scientific evaluations. Grosseteste also did much work to bridge Platonic and Aristotelian thinking.(Hollister pp. 294-5)
Albertus Magnus ( 1193 - 1280 ) and ThomasAquinas ( 1225 - 1274 ) were both Dominicans who studied Aristotle and worked at reconciling the differences betweenphilosophy and Christianity. Aquinas also did a great deal of work in developing the scientific method . He even went as far as claiming that universals could be discovered only through logical reasoning : this ran contrary to the commonly heldPlatonic belief that universals were found through divineillumination alone. Magnus and Aquinas were among the first to take up the examination of alchemical theory, and could beconsidered to be alchemists themselves, except that these two did little in the way of experimentation . One major contribution of Aquinas was the belief that since reason could not run in opposition to God, reason must be compatible with theology . (Hollister p. 290-4, 355)
The first true alchemist in Medieval Europe was Roger Bacon . His work didas much for alchemy as Robert Boyle 's was to do for chemistry and Galileo 's for astronomy and physics . Bacon( 1214 - 1294 ) was an Oxford Franciscan who explored optics and languages in addition to alchemy. The Franciscan ideals of taking on the world rather than rejecting theworld led to his conviction that experimentation was more important than reasoning: "Of the three ways in which men think thatthey acquire knowledge of things - authority, reasoning , and experience - only the last is effective and able tobring peace to the intellect." (Bacon p. 367) " Experimental Science controls the conclusions of all other sciences. It reveals truths whichreasoning from general principles would never have discovered."(Hollister p. 294-5) Roger Bacon has also been attributed with originating the search for the philosopher's stone and the elixirof life: "That medicine which will remove all impurities and corruptibilities from the lesser metals will also, in the opinion ofthe wise, take off so much of the corruptibility of the body that human life may be prolonged for many centuries." The idea of immortality was replaced with the notion of long life ; after all, man's time on Earth was simply to wait and prepare for immortality in the world of God.Immortality on Earth did not mesh with Christian theology. (Edwards p. 37-8)
Bacon was not the only alchemist of the high middle ages, but he was the most significant. His works were used by countlessalchemists of the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. Other alchemists of Bacon's time shared several traits. First, and mostobviously, nearly all were members of the clergy. This was simply because few people outside the parochial schools had theeducation to examine the Arabic-derived works. Also, alchemy at this time was sanctioned by the church as a good method ofexploring and developing theology. Alchemy was interesting to the wide variety of churchmen because it offered a rationalisticview of the universe when men were just beginning to learn about rationalism. (Edwards p. 24-7)
So by the end of the thirteenth century, alchemy had developed into a fairly structured system of belief. Most importantly,the alchemists were all true Christians. They believed in the macrocosm-microcosm theories of Hermes, that is to say, theybelieved that processes that affect minerals and other substances could have an effect on the human body (e.g., if one couldlearn the secret of purifying gold, one could use the technique to purify the human soul .)These men believed the philosophers' stone was a substance that was capable of purifying base metals (and thereby transmuting them to gold) as well as purifying the soul. They believed in thefour elements and the four qualities as described above, and they had a strong tradition of cloaking their written ideas in alabyrinth of coded jargon set with traps to mislead the uninitiated. Finally, thealchemists practiced their art: they actively experimented with chemicals and made observations and theories about how the universe operated. Theirentire philosophy revolved around their belief that man's soul was divided within himself after the fall of Adam. By purifyingthe two parts of man's soul, man could be reunited with God. (Burckhardt p. 149)
In the fourteenth century, these views underwent a major change. William of Ockham , an Oxford Franciscan who died in 1349 , attacked the Thomist view of compatibilitybetween faith and reason. His view, widely accepted today, was that God must be accepted on faith alone; He could not be limitedby human reason. Of course this view was not incorrect if one accepted the postulate of a limitless God versus limited humanreasoning capability, but it virtually erased alchemy from practice in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. (Hollister p. 335) Pope John XXII in the early 1300s issued an edict against alchemy, which effectively removed all church personnel from the practice of the Art.(Edwards, p.49) The climate changes, Black plague , and increase in warfare and famine that characterized this century no doubtalso served to hamper philosophical pursuits in general.
Alchemy was kept alive by men such as Nicolas Flamel , who wasnoteworthy only because he was one of the few alchemists writing in those troubled times. Flamel lived from 1330 to 1417 and would serve as the archetype for the next phase ofalchemy. He was not a religious scholar as were many of his predecessors, and his entire interest in the subject revolved aroundthe pursuit of the philosopher's stone, which he is reputed to have found; his work spends a great deal of time describing theprocesses and reactions, but never actually gives the formula for carrying out the transmutations. Most of his work was aimed atgathering alchemical knowledge that had existed before him, especially as regarded the philosophers' stone. (Burckhardtpp.170-181)
Through the high middle ages (1300-1500) alchemists were muchlike Nicolas Flamel : they concentrated on looking for the philosophers'stone and the elixir of youth, now believed to be separate things. Their cryptic allusions and symbolism led to wide variations in interpretation of the art. For example, many alchemists during this periodinterpreted the purification of the soul to mean the transmutation oflead into gold (in which they believed elemental mercury , or 'quicksilver',played a crucial role). These men were viewed as magicians andsorcerers by many, and were often persecuted for their practices. (Edwards pp. 50-75; Norton pp lxiii-lxvii)
One of these men who emerged at the beginning of the sixteenth century was named Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa . This alchemist believed himself to be a wizard and actuallythought himself capable of summoning spirits . His influence wasnegligible, but like Flamel, he produced writings which were referred to by alchemists of later years. Again like Flamel, he didmuch to change alchemy from a mystical philosophy to an occultist magic. He did keep alive the philosophies of the earlieralchemists, including experimental science, numerology, etc., but he added magic theory, which reinforced the idea of alchemy asan occultist belief. In spite of all this, Agrippa was still a Christian, though his views often came into conflict with thechurch. Edwardes p56-9; Wilson p.23-9)
Alchemy in the Modern Age and Renaissance
European alchemy continued in this way through the dawning of the Renaissance . The era also saw a flourishing of con artists who would use chemical tricks and sleight of hand to "demonstrate" the transmutation of common metals into gold, or claim topossess secret knowledge that — with a "small" initial investment — would surely lead to that goal.
The most important name in this period is Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus ,(Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493 - 1541 ) who cast alchemy into a new form, rejecting some of the occultism that had accumulated over the years andpromoting the use of observations and experiments to learn about the human body. He rejected Gnostic traditions, but kept much ofthe Hermetical, neo-Platonic, and Pythagorean philosophies; however, Hermetical science had so much Aristotelian theory that hisrejection of Gnosticism was practically meaningless. In particular, Paracelsus rejected the magic theories of Agrippa and Flamel.He did not think of himself as a magician, and scorned those who did. (Williams p.239-45)
Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine, and wrote "Many have said of Alchemy, that it is for themaking of gold and silver. For me such is not the aim, but to consider only what virtue and power may lie in medicines."(Edwardes, p.47) His hermetical views were that sickness and health in the body relied on the harmony of man the microcosm andNature the macrocosm. He took an approach different from those before him, using this analogy not in the manner ofsoul-purification but in the manner that humans must have certain balances of minerals in their bodies, and that certainillnesses of the body had chemical remedies that could cure them. (Debus & Multhauf, p.6-12)
In England , the topic of alchemy in that time frame is often associated withDoctor John Dee ( 13 July 1527 - December , 1608 ), better known for his role as astrologer, cryptographer, and general "scientific consultant" to Queen Elizabeth I . Dee was considered an authority on the works of Roger Bacon , and was interested enough in alchemy to write a book on thatsubject (Monas Hieroglyphica, 1564 ) influenced by the Kabbala . Dee's associate Edward Kelley — whoclaimed to converse with angels through a crystal ball and to own a powder that wouldturn mercury into gold — may have been the source of the popular image of the alchemist-charlatan..
The decline of Western alchemy
The demise of Western alchemy was brought about by the rise of modern science with its emphasis on rigorous quantitativeexperimentation and its disdain for "ancient wisdom". Although the seeds of these events were planted as early as the 17th century , alchemy still flourished for some two hundred years, and in fact mayhave reached its apogee in the 18th century .
Robert Boyle ( 1627 - 1691 ), better known for his studies of gases (cf. Boyles law ) pioneered the scientific method in chemical investigations. He assumed nothing in his experimentsand compiled every piece of relevant data; in a typical experiment, Boyle would note the place in which the experiment wascarried out, the wind characteristics, the position of the sun and moon, and the barometer reading, all just in case they provedto be relevant. (Pilkington p.11) This approach eventually led to the founding of modern chemistry in the 18th and 19th centuries,based on revolutionary discoveries of Lavoisier and John Dalton — which finally provided a logical, quantitative and reliableframework for understanding matter transmutations, and revealed the futility of longstanding alchemical goals such as thephilospher's stone.
Meanwhile, Paracelsian alchemy led to the development of modern medicine. Experimentalists gradually uncovered the workings ofthe human body, such as blood circulation ( Harvey , 1616 ), and eventually traced many diseases to infections with germs ( Koch and Pasteur , 19th century ) or lack of natural nutrients and vitamins ( Lind , Eijkman , Funk , et al.). Supported by parallel developments in organic chemistry, the new science easily displacedalchemy from its medical roles, interpretive and prescriptive, while deflating its hopes of miraculous elixirs and exposing theineffectiveness or even toxicity of its remedies.
Thus, as science steadily continued to uncover and rationalize the clockwork of the universe, founded on its own materialisticmetaphysics, Alchemy was left deprived of its chemical and medical connections — but still incurably burdened by them.Reduced to an arcane philosophical system, poorly connected to the material world, it suffered the common fate of other esotericdisciplines such as Astrology and Kabalism: excluded from university curricula, shunned by its former patrons, ostracized by scientists, and commonly viewed as the epitome ofcharlatanism and superstition.
These developments could be interpreted as part of a broader reaction in European intellectualism against the Romantic movement of the preceding century. Be as it may, it is sobering to observe how adiscipline that held so much intellectual and material prestige, for more than two thousand years, could disappear so easily fromthe universe of Western thought.
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Substances of the alchemists
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