Mystic Magic: alchemy
Grace Cavanaugh ~ Editor in Chief
The word alchemy just makes me think of fancy chemistry. To my understanding, that is all it really was: chemistry before we had the word. Imagine, using chemicals to change something into something else. It is fascinating, is it not?
Most people who have heard of alchemy probably relate it to something like magic. Witchcraft, if you will. The problem therein is that alchemists were revered as scientists, while witches were set ablaze for fun. Alchemy nowadays might be magic, but then, it was just experiments so the scientist may live forever, or what have you.
According to Britannica, “Alchemy was the name given in Latin Europe in the 12th century to an aspect of thought that corresponds to astrology […]. Astrology is concerned with man’s relationship to “the stars;” alchemy, with terrestrial nature.”
Britannica goes on to say that there is not a whole lot of evidence of alchemy and astrology in Middle America, which considering the Conquistadors destroyed most of those cultures, is not surprising. There also is not a lot of evidence in India, and by default, there is an abundance in China, Greece, and Islamic lands only because they actually have manuscripts.
“Superficially, the chemistry involved in alchemy appears a hopelessly complicated succession of heatings of multiple mixtures of obscurely named materials, but it seems likely that a relative simplicity underlies this complexity,” says Britannica. The materials, including sulfur, mercury, and gold, were often not referred to as their common names, but more along the lines of “the stone that burns” for sulfur, and other flowery language.
Transmutation is the big goal for alchemy. That is, turning something into another thing, like lead or iron into gold, or sickness into health. Transmutation also always ends happily, with the alchemist getting wealth, health, or a long life.
However, alchemy is not the earliest. “The first ventures into natural philosophy, the beginnings of what is called the scientific view, also preceded alchemy,” according to Britannica. Natural philosophy was all about the combination of opposites: positive and negative, male and female, et cetera. Philosophers then included astrological elements, like planets and metals and the actual elements. All of these ideas predate the alchemists.
Alongside Nicolas Flamel, a Frenchman who was rumored to have created the philosopher’s stone and gained immortality, Isaac Newton was an alchemist. Like I said before, it was not seen as some magical thing back in the day, but more of science in order for people to gain what they wanted.
Alchemy fell out of fashion around the 1700s, and now is used in a lot of fiction stories for a magical plot point.
If you want to read about alchemy, you can visit https://www.britannica.com/topic/alchemy/Arabic-alchemy and https://www.livescience.com/39314-alchemy.html.