Alchemy

Authored by: Georgiana D. Hedesan

The Occult World

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415695961
eBook ISBN: 9781315745916
Adobe ISBN: 9781317596769

10.4324/9781315745916.ch55

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Abstract

Until relatively recently, scholars defined alchemy as the theory and practice of transmutation, particularly of baser metals into gold and silver. This description was often accompanied by the belief that alchemy was a pseudo-science that vanished around the time of the so-called Scientific Revolution. However, recent scholarship has shown that the separation of metallic-transmutation alchemy from other movements, such as Paracelsian ‘iatrochemistry’, spagyrics or distillation theory and practice is artificial. Today, alchemy is increasingly seen as a complex and wide discipline that had a variety of purposes distinct from simply the making of gold. For instance, Harry J. Sheppard (1996, 313) defined alchemy as the pursuit of three possible goals: (a) the search for the lapis philosophorum (the philosophers’ stone) that could transform metals, (b) the preparation of an elixir of life for health and longevity, and (c) a spiritual-symbolic goal. This approach to alchemy may still be too restrictive to describe the domain, as it still does not take account of other medical goals of alchemy, or of the application of alchemical principles in other areas, such as agriculture or physics.

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