Lead to gold
If you think about alchemy you probably imagine an old man turning lead into gold, or course you’d be right but only partly so. Alchemy is not only an esoteric practise it is also a spiritual path and associated with medicine.
Alchemy is a very ancient subject reaching back to Ancient Persia, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece, China and Rome, although the goals of alchemy in these societies differed greatly. The idea of producing gold or silver was known as chrysopoeia and was a more Western approach.
Immortal solar energy
However, this may not have been quite as literal as we tend to imagine, it could refer to a spiritual path in which the body symbolised by lead was transformed into immortal solar energy symbolised as gold; a view taken by Zosimos of Panopolis.
This type of alchemy recognized three stages nigredo (-putrefactio), in which the failings of the person were burnt away. Albedo, something akin to enlightedment. And finally, Ruedo, reddening: unification of man with God. In this case the use of strange symbols and chemistry was merely a way to form a smokescreen and hiding the heretical spiritualism of alchemy from the Inquisition.
Whether they were trying to produce a physical gold or spiritual enlightenment both paths sought The Philosopher’s Stone this mysterious substance would enhance the alchemist’s skills to such a point anything was possible.
Alchemists became revered individuals not due to their ability to make gold or for their spiritual wisdom but because they discovered new dyes, ways to improve metal, gunpowder, new methods of tanning hide and improved ceramic production.
Elixir of life
The Chinese approach was radically different; they were not interested in gold. They viewed alchemy as a way to preserve life, although in some cases the elixirs they produced did more harm than good. Islamic alchemists held the middle ground, they certainly wanted to produce gold but they were also interested in artificial life. They were closest to modern chemists and some of the equipment they used is still used by scientists today.
Isaac Newton and alchemy
In Europe up until the 16th century alchemy also had a scientific approach Isaac Newton was a keen alchemist. However, by the 18th century science as we think of it had sounded the death knell of alchemy; or so it may have seemed.
Jung and alchemy
In the 19th century alchemy was revived not in the form of chemistry but in the field of psychology and in particular in the work of CG Jung who took a spiritual approach to the subject. He was interested in how a person could reach a more fulfilled state and studied both Western and Chinese forms of this discipline.
So alchemy has come along way from its early roots yet it can still produce great wealth, if you don’t believe me ask JK Rowling author of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.
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