Alchemy


ALCHEMY: The science by aid of which the chemical philosophers of
medieval times attempted to transmute the baser metals into gold or
silver. There is considerable divergence of opinion as to the etymology
of the word, but it would seem to be derived from the Arabic al=the, and
kimya=chemistry, which in turn derives from the late Greek
chemica=chemistry, from chumeia=a mingling, or cheein, \'to pour out\' or
\'mix\', Aryan root ghu, to pour, whence the word \'gush\'. Mr. A. Wallis
Budge in his "Egyptian Magic", however, states that it is possible that
it may be derived from the Egyptian word khemeia, that is to say \'the
preparation of the black ore\', or \'powder\', which was regarded as the
active principle in the transmutation of metals. To this name the Arabs
affixed the article \'al\', thus giving al-khemeia, or alchemy.

HISTORY OF ALCHEMY: From an early period the Egyptians possessed the
reputation of being skillful workers in metals and, according to Greek
writers, they were conversant with their transmutation, employing
quicksilver in the process of separating gold and silver from the native
matrix. The resulting oxide was supposed to possess marvelous powers,
and it was thought that there resided within in the individualities of
the various metals, that in it their various substances were
incorporated. This black powder was mystically identified with the
underworld form of the god Osiris, and consequently was credited with
magical properties. Thus there grew up in Egypt the belief that
magical powers existed in fluxes and alloys. Probably such a belief
existed throughout Europe in connection with the bronze-working castes
of its several races. Its was probably in the Byzantium of the fourth
century, however, that alchemical science received embryonic form.
There is little doubt that Egyptian tradition, filtering through
Alexandrian Hellenic sources was the foundation upon which the infant
science was built, and this is borne out by the circumstance that the
art was attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and supposed to be contained
in its entirety in his works.

The Arabs, after their conquest of Egypt in the seventh century,
carried on the researches of the Alexandrian school, and through their
instrumentality the art was brought to Morocco and thus in the eighth
century to Spain, where it flourished exceedingly. Indeed, Spain from
the ninth to the eleventh century became the repository of alchemic
science, and the colleges of Seville, Cordova and Granada were the
centers from which this science radiated throughout Europe.

The first practical alchemist may be said to have been the Arbian
Geber, who flourished 720-750. From his "Summa Perfectionis", we may be
justified in assuming that alchemical science was already matured in his
day, and that he drew his inspirations from a still older unbroken line
of adepts. He was followed by Avicenna, Mesna and Rhasis, and in France
by Alain of Lisle, Arnold de Villanova and Jean de Meung the troubadour;
in England by Roger Bacon and in Spain itself by Raymond Lully. Later,
in French alchemy the most illustrious names are those of Flamel (b. ca.
1330), and Bernard Trevisan (b. ca. 1460) after which the center of of
interest changes to Germany and in some measure to England, in which
countries Paracelsus, Khunrath (ca. 1550), Maier (ca. 1568), Norton,
Dalton, Charnock, and Fludd kept the alchemical flame burning brightly.

It is surprising how little alteration we find throughout the period
between the seventh and the seventeenth centuries, the heyday of
alchemy, in the theory and practice of the art. The same sentiments and
processes are found expressed in the later alchemical authorities as in
the earliest, and a wonderful unanimity as regards the basic canons of
the great art is evinced by the hermetic students of the time. On the
introduction of chemistry as a practical art, alchemical science fell
into desuetude and disrepute, owing chiefly to the number of charlatans
practicing it, and by the beginning of the eighteenth century, as a
school, it may be said to have become defunct. Here and there, however,
a solitary student of the art lingered, and in the department of this
article "Modern Alchemy" will demonstrate that the science has to a
grate extent revived during modern times, although it has never been
quite extinct.

THE QUESTS OF ALCHEMY: The grand objects of alchemy were (1) the
discovery of a process by which the baser metals might be transmuted
into gold or silver; (2) the discovery of an elixir by which life might
be prolonged indefinitely; and there may be added (3), the manufacture
of and artificial process of human life. (for the latter see Homunculus)

THE THEORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF ALCHEMY: The first objects