Alchemy: From the Andalusi Arabic alkímya, this one from classical Arabic kīmiyā['], and this one from the Greek χυμεία chymeía 'mixture of liquids'. Real Academia Española
The term comes (in late Middle English) via Old French and medieval Latin from Arabic alkīmiyā', from al ‘the’ + kīmiyā' (from Greek khēmia, khēmeia ‘art of transmuting metals’).
"Alchemy" in The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
There are four main ideas that come to us when we first think of alchemy: first, that it is the ancestor of chemistry; second, that it uses difficult, unintelligible language to describe its processes; third, that it is about transmuting lead (or other metals) into gold; and fourth, that all these procedures are nothing more than analogies of internal processes in the human being. The truth is that these ideas are simplifications but to some extent based on real facts.
The end of alchemy and the beginning of modern chemistry is often attributed to Robert Boyle, and his book The Skeptical Chymist, but the truth is that this is a fallacy created and spread by authors and books, who promoted the new so-called science. Indeed, a careful reading of The Skeptical Chymist will show that ’Boyle, an alchemist himself, like his good friend Newton, criticized the concealment of chemical processes in cryptic language and other alchemists' practices that hinder the progress of the new science (Boyle only concedes the concealment of the manufacture's secret of the Philosopher's Stone). At that time, science was in its infancy, with the new and powerful premise that everyone could access and contribute to it in a clear language that encouraged its evolution. In any case, it is after Boyle that modern science completely forgets alchemy and even ridicules it. This conception has prevailed until our days.
And yes, the language of alchemy is the most obtuse. Anyone who has had the good fortune to read first hand some of the original texts on alchemy from any period, even those of our near contemporary Fulcanelli, will know that they are cryptic, esoteric, deliberately obscure, and symbolic; hiding and revealing at the same time his knowledge (by analogies and intuition). We could not expect that an art which offers such great promises, such as the elevation of the consciousness of human beings, the prolongation of life and the transmutation of base metals into the most precious and coveted of all, would have its secrets exposed described as cooking recipes and spread in accessible books in any bookstore. Fortunately, however, the secrecy is becoming more and more relaxed and the meanings are presented more clearly in books, courses and forums on the subject. Even alchemy has become one of the subjects of great scientific interest, where history, modern chemistry and other sciences are combined to unravel its secrets (see, for example, the writings of Robert Bartlett, Lawrence M. Principe, William R. Newman, Adam McLean, Dennis William Hauck, Shannon Grimes, etc.).
On the other hand, within the alchemical tradition, there is also the Spagyric tradition, that is, the art of medicine production from extraction (from the Greek "spaô"), purification and reunion (from the Greek "ageirô") of substances from the three kingdoms: Vegetalia, Animalia and Mineralia. This is a discipline formulated by Paracelsus, one of the great alchemists in history, which has much more practical, simpler, even generally safer applications, and which is closely linked to herbal medicine.
Alchemy and spagyrics are not arts that deal with spiritual or material issues only. Perhaps in the past there was, by mistake, a more materialistic conception of alchemy, largely because of the gold rush that was associated with it. Later with books such as "A Suggestive Inquiry Into The Hermetic Mystery" by Mary Anne Atwood, as well as "Psychology and Alchemy" by Carl G. Jung, the pendulum of beliefs about alchemy swung towards a purely symbolic and spiritual interpretation, excluding the material part. However, if we go to the first known texts of this ancient practice, particularly those of Zosimos of Panopolis (a Greek alchemist of the late third century), we clearly find an integrated practice, which has spiritual and material aspects, without the differentiations with which we are now so used to dealing.
So, if we want to learn about alchemy and enjoy its processes, we have to start by changing our paradigms. By leaving behind certain preconceived ideas and addressing the original texts of alchemy, with their mysterious language, and the writings and commentaries about these texts; and we have to do it with an open mind, in some cases suspending our disbelief and in others being more skeptical, because the very teachings of tradition tell us that one never speaks more clearly than when it is done in a veiled way and vice versa.
But if we only read without practicing anything, we can hardly begin to understand alchemy, or to receive the benefits of the process within us. All true students of alchemy, including modern scientists, who have made interesting discoveries have had to put their texts into practice through laboratory work. Doing so is a virtuous process where the text illuminates an experiment and the process and result of the experiment further illuminates the text. There is no other way to learn alchemy, hence the saying: Ora et labora". So let's get to the books and get to work.
1. Bartlett, Robert Allen. (2009). Real Alchemy, A Primer of Practical Alchemy. Ibis Press.
2. Principe, Lawrence M. (1998). The Aspiring Adept, Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest. Princeton Paperbacks.
3. Newman, William R. Principe, Lawrence M. (2002). Alchemy Tried in The Fire, Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry. The University of Chicago Press.
4. Newman, William R. (2019). Newton the Alchemist, Science, Enigma, and the Quest for Nature´s "Secret Fire". Princeton University Press.
5. Grimes, Shannon. (2018). Becoming Gold, Zosimos of Panapolis and the Alchemical Arts in Roman Egypt. Rubedo Press.
6. Hauck, Dennis William. (2013). Sorcerer´s Stone, A Beginner´s Guide to Alchemy. Crucible Books.
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