Science Articles

WHAT IS ALCHEMY?

Alchemy is the medieval forerunner of chemistry, concerned with the transmutation of matter, in particular with attempts to convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir.

Alchemy is an ancient mysterious practise full of secrecy that aims to turn lead into fold. The quest has stirred the minds and imagination of people for thousands of years. However, alchemy wasn’t just made to create gold. It was also used for aiming for immortality, for creating pancreas for curing diseases and developing a universal solvent named alkahest.

Alchemy was believed to have been rooted in a spiritual worldview in which everything around us contained souls. Even the metals were believed to be alive and grow inside the womb of Earth. Whenever a common metal like lead was found, they considered it to be the immature form (spiritually and physically) of the higher metals like gold.

For the alchemists, the periodic table did not mean anything. They believed that each metal was same but at different levels of development on their way to get refined for achievement of spiritual perfection and were not unique.

Alchemy was part magic and part experimentation. The early investigators of the natural processes were solely based on searching a mythical substance also known as the philosopher’s stone. The philosopher’s stone was said to have possessed attributes like healing powers, power to prolong the life, and ability to turn the base metals into the precious metals like gold. Philosopher’s stone was not a stone in literal sense but powder or liquid that had magical super powers.

The role of Arabs in spreading the alchemy is significant to be noted down since various books on alchemy have been translated to Arabic from the Greek language before getting introduced to the western audiences. The ancient alchemists did not seek gold for the materialistic purpose but because it symbolized the highest form of purity. They considered that the golden human being was spiritually beautiful and could overcome any darkness.

Isaac Newton is said to have written more than a million words of the alchemy notes throughout his entire life as noted by the historians. Chemical Heritage Foundation, in 2016, discovered an alchemy manuscript of 17th century written by Newton. The manuscript contained details on making the philosophic mercury which was said to be a step further on making philosopher’s stone which gave eternal life.

Alchemists based their entire theories on the assumption of Aristotle that everything in the world was composed of four basic elements namely earth, air, fire and water and the only three essential substances were mercury, salt and sulphur. Alchemists never succeeded in their attempts but were said to be the early practitioners of modern chemistry.