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Thread: A Brief History of Alchemy

  1. #11
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    The evidence so far is that western alchemy is at least 2,000 years old. The Physika et Mystika has been suggested as being even 2 centuries BC, and it is the earliest text which can really be said to be alchemical. With that and what Zosimos says about older masters, it is clear that alchemy began generations before Zosimos, i.e. at least 2,000 years ago.
    Now what is also quite clear is that alchemy drew upon gnostic thought which was based upon a heady mix of Hellenistic mystery religion, Egyptian religion and bits of philosophy such as Aristotle and Plato and Democritus.
    Thus something new grew out of old, fertile soil.

    All the starting bits were there before hand, from gold being valuable (The age of metals did not begin with making copper axes - the oldest metal objects found have in fact been jewellery, which makes sense) and long lasting, through to the earth being a reflection of heaven or vice-versa.

    Of course there are parallels between known African myths and similes used in the manufacture of iron, which have survived to this day, e.g. the furnace being female and giving birth to the iron. And we can assume such views were common all around the world. But the point about alchemy is that it ties together that sort of approach to personal change and redemption.

  2. #12
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    Ah, I see the other thread. Well, again, my opinion based on all I have read is that alchemy is pre-christian, gnostic in basis. Christianity itself can be read as being a gnostic religion if you are so minded, so obvious parallels are clear.
    Plus the number of texts which demonstrate non-christian things and the obvious christian interpolations into Zosimos On the letter Omega.

    The fun thing is that Chinese alchemy appears at around the same time, as I have alreay mentioned.

    Of course now I think I should write my own short history of alchemy. That's worth a try at the weekend.

  3. #13
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    Don't pigeon-hole yourselves or you will miss everything outside the (w)hole. Also don’t get caught up in the detail it’s not necessary. IMHO

    For example...

    That which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist; from the beginning of the human race
    until the time when Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed began to be called Christianity.

    (Retract. I, xiii, cited by Dr. Alvin Boyd Kuhn in his Shadow of The Third Century, Elizabeth N.J.:
    Academy Press, 1949, p.3.)
    To follow one set of rules laid down by another is what religion is all about. Do you categorise
    yourself as an Alchemist, Christian, Jew, or Muslim...etc...

    You will feel what the truth is and if that truth isn’t laid down previously by the ones you follow will
    you ignore it?

    Ghislain
    Open Book
    "Dogmatic Assumption Inhibits Enquiry" Rupert Sheldrake

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by dev View Post
    Anything that happened over 500-3500 years ago is always speculation. There will never be any facts, mostly due to people like Diocletian and others (whoever they were) that burned books and historical records. It is all guessing, hear-say and theories.
    The best method is, as it always was, is to recall it from one's soul. There're practicing alchemists who 'recall' in this way, they just don't know that they did. Sudden insights, images, symbols, etc. emerge to solve or enlighten the mind.

    The true discipline of alchemy isn't followed from books. The true lineage is 'kept' within. You pick it up as you go along from one incarnation to the next.

    /

    The other method, that works well, is to remote view it. I have utilized this method as well.
    Introitus apertus ad occlusum Regis palatium / Labore et coeli favore / Nosce te ipsum

  5. #15
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    Just found another reference to Alchemy, which I believe will make a good example of the complexities involved
    when trying to study a subject such as this.


    Alchemy

    [al-kuh-mee]

    Alchemy, a part of the Occult Tradition, is both a philosophy and a practice with an ultimately
    unknown aim, involving the improvement of the alchemist as well as the making of several
    substances described as possessing unusual properties. The practical aspect of alchemy generated
    the basics of inorganic chemistry, namely concerning procedures, equipment and the identification
    and use of many current substances.

    Alchemy has been practiced in Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Japan, Myanmar, Korea
    and China, in Classical Greece and Rome, in the Muslim civilizations, and then in Europe up to the
    20th century—in a complex network of schools and philosophical systems spanning at least 2500
    years.

    Alchemy as a philosophical and spiritual discipline

    Alchemy was known as the spagyric art after Greek words meaning to separate and to join
    together. Compare this with the primary dictum of Alchemy in Latin: SOLVE ET COAGULA —
    Separate, and Join Together .

    The best-known goals of the alchemists were the transmutation of common metals into gold (called
    chrysopoeia) or silver (less well known is plant alchemy, or " spagyric"); the creation of a " panacea,"
    or the elixir of life, a remedy that supposedly would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely;
    and the discovery of a universal solvent. Although these were not the only uses for the science, they
    were the ones most documented and well known. Starting with the Middle Ages, Arabic and
    European alchemists invested much effort on the search for the " philosopher's stone", a legendary
    substance that was believed to be an essential ingredient for either or both of those goals. The
    philosopher's stone was believed to mystically amplify the user's knowledge of alchemy so much
    that anything was attainable. Alchemists enjoyed prestige and support through the centuries,
    though not for their pursuit of those goals, nor the mystic and philosophical speculation that
    dominates their literature. Rather it came from their mundane contributions to the "chemical"
    industries of the day—ore testing and refining, metalworking, production of gunpowder, ink, dyes,
    paints, cosmetics, leather tanning, ceramics, glass manufacture, preparation of extracts, liquors, and
    so on (it seems that the preparation of aqua vitae, the "water of life", was a fairly popular "experiment" among European alchemists).

    Starting with the Middle Ages, some alchemists increasingly came to view metaphysical aspects as
    the true foundation of alchemy; and organic and inorganic chemical substances, physical states, and
    molecular material processes as mere metaphors for spiritual entities, spiritual states and ultimately,
    spiritual transformations. In this sense, the literal meanings of 'Alchemical Formulas' were a blind,
    hiding their true spiritual philosophy, which being at odds with the Medieval Christian Church was a
    necessity that could have otherwise lead them to the "stake and rack" of the Inquisition under
    charges of heresy. Thus, both the transmutation of common metals into gold and the universal
    panacea symbolized evolution from an imperfect, diseased, corruptible and ephemeral state
    towards a perfect, healthy, incorruptible and everlasting state; and the philosopher's stone then
    represented some mystic key that would make this evolution possible. Applied to the alchemist
    himself, the twin goal symbolized his evolution from ignorance to enlightenment, and the stone
    represented some hidden spiritual truth or power that would lead to that goal. In texts that are
    written according to this view, the cryptic alchemical symbols, diagrams, and textual imagery of late
    alchemical works typically contain multiple layers of meanings, allegories, and references to other
    equally cryptic works; and must be laboriously "decoded" in order to discover their true meaning.

    In his Alchemical Catechism , Paracelsus clearly denotes that his usage of the metals was a symbol:


    Q. When the Philosophers speak of gold and silver, from which they extract their matter, are we to
    suppose that they refer to the vulgar gold and silver? A. By no means; vulgar silver and gold are
    dead, while those of the Philosophers are full of life.



    Psychology

    Alchemical symbolism has been occasionally used by psychologists and philosophers. Carl Jung
    reexamined alchemical symbolism and theory and began to show the inner meaning of alchemical
    work as a spiritual path. Alchemical philosophy, symbols and methods have enjoyed something of a
    renaissance in post-modern contexts.

    Jung saw alchemy as a Western proto-psychology dedicated to the achievement of individuation. In
    his interpretation, alchemy was the vessel by which Gnosticism survived its various purges into the
    Renaissance. In this sense, Jung viewed alchemy as comparable to a Yoga of the East. The practice of
    Alchemy seemed to change the mind and spirit of the Alchemist. His interpretation of Chinese
    alchemical texts in terms of his analytical psychology also served the function of comparing Eastern
    and Western alchemical imagery and core concepts and hence its possible inner sources
    ( archetypes).

    Magnum opus

    The Great Work ; mystic interpretation of its three stages:

    nigredo(-putrefactio) , blackening(-putrefaction): individuation, purification, burnout of impurity;
    ''see also Suns in alchemy - Sol Niger
    albedo , whitening: spiritualisation, enlightenment
    rubedo , reddening: unification of man with god, unification of the limited with the unlimited.

    Within the Magnum Opus, was the creation of the Sanctum Moleculae, that is the 'Sacred Masses'
    that were derived from the Sacrum Particulae, that is the 'Sacred Particles', needed to complete the
    process of achieving the Magnum Opus.

    Alchemy as a subject of historical research

    The history of alchemy has become a vigorous academic field. As the obscure hermetic language of
    the alchemists is gradually being "deciphered", historians are becoming more aware of the
    intellectual connections between that discipline and other facets of Western cultural history, such as
    the sociology and psychology of the intellectual communities, kabbalism, spiritualism,
    Rosicrucianism, and other mystic movements, cryptography, witchcraft, and the evolution of science
    and philosophy.

    History

    The origins of Western alchemy are traceable back to ancient Egypt. Greek and Indian philosophers
    later theorized that there were only four classical elements (rather than that of today's 112 chemical
    elements); Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. The Greek philosophers, in order to prove their point, burned
    a log: The log was the earth, the flames burning it was fire, the smoke being released was air, and
    the smoldering soot at the bottom was bubbling water. Because of this, the belief that these four
    "elements" were at the heart of everything soon spread, only later being replaced in the Middle
    Ages by Geber's theory of seven elements, which was then replaced by the modern theory of
    chemical elements during the early modern period.

    Alchemy encompasses several philosophical traditions spanning some four millennia and three
    continents. These traditions' general penchant for cryptic and symbolic language makes it hard to
    trace their mutual influences and "genetic" relationships. Alchemy starts becoming much clearer in
    the 8th century with the works of the Islamic alchemist, Jabir ibn Hayyan (known as "Geber" in
    Europe), who introduced a methodical and experimental approach to scientific research based in the
    laboratory, in contrast to the ancient Greek and Egyptian alchemists whose works were mainly
    allegorical.

    Other famous alchemists include Wei Boyang in Chinese alchemy; Calid and Rhazes in Islamic
    alchemy; Nagarjuna in Indian alchemy; and Albertus Magnus and pseudo-Geber in European
    alchemy; as well as the anonymous author of the Mutus Liber, published in France in the late 17th
    century, and which was a 'wordless book' that claimed to be a guide to making the philosopher's
    stone, using a series of 15 symbols and illustrations. The philosopher's stone was an object that was
    thought to be able to amplify ones power in alchemy, and, if possible, grant the user ageless
    immortality, unless he fell victim to burnings or drowning; the common belief was that fire and
    water were the two greater elements that were implemented into the creation of the stone.

    In the case of the Chinese and European alchemists, there was a difference between the two. The
    European alchemists tried to transmute lead into gold, and, no matter how futile or toxic the
    element, would continue trying until it was royally outlawed later into the century. The Chinese,
    however, paid no heed to the philosopher's stone or transmutation of lead to gold; they focused
    more on medicine for the greater good. During Enlightenment, these "elixirs" were a strong cure for
    sicknesses, unless it was a test medicine. Most tests were generally fatal, but stabilized elixirs served
    great purposes. On the other hand, the Islamic alchemists were interested in alchemy for a variety of
    reasons, whether it was for the transmutation of metals or artificial creation of life, or for practical
    uses such as Islamic medicine or the chemical industries.

    A tentative outline is as follows:


    Egyptian alchemy [5000 BCE – 400 BCE], beginning of alchemy
    Indian alchemy [1200 BCE – Present], related to Indian metallurgy; Nagarjuna was an important
    alchemist
    Greek alchemy [332 BCE – 642 CE], studied at the Library of Alexandria
    Chinese alchemy [142 CE], Wei Boyang writes The Kinship of the Three
    Islamic alchemy [700 – 1400], Muslims did not have alchemists because creation of artificial life is
    against their beliefs.
    Islamic chemistry [800 – Present], Alkindus and Avicenna refute transmutation, Rhazes refutes four
    classical elements, and Tusi discovers conservation of mass
    European alchemy [1300 – Present], Saint Albertus Magnus builds on Arabic alchemy
    European chemistry [1661 – Present], Boyle writes The Sceptical Chymist , Lavoisier writes Elements
    of Chemistry , and Dalton publishes his Atomic Theory

    Etymology

    Alchemy, generally, derives from the old French alkemie; from the Arabic al-kimia: "the art of
    transformation." Some scholars believe the Arabs borrowed the word “kimia” from Greek. Others,
    such as Mahdihassan, argue that its origins are Chinese.

    Thus, an alchemist was called a 'chemist' in popular speech, and later the suffix "-ry" was added to
    this to describe the art of the chemist as "chemistry".

    Modern alchemy

    Islamic alchemy was a forerunner of modern scientific chemistry. Alchemists used many of the same
    laboratory tools that are used today. These tools were not usually sturdy or in good condition,
    especially during the medieval period of Europe. Many transmutation attempts failed when
    alchemists unwittingly made unstable chemicals. This was made worse by the unsafe conditions.
    Up to the 16th century, alchemy was considered serious science in Europe; for instance, Isaac
    Newton devoted considerably more of his time and writing to the study of alchemy (see Isaac
    Newton's occult studies) than he did to either optics or physics, for which he is famous. Other
    eminent alchemists of the Western world are Roger Bacon, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Tycho Brahe,
    Thomas Browne, and Parmigianino. The decline of alchemy began in the 18th century with the birth
    of modern chemistry, which provided a more precise and reliable framework for matter
    transmutations and medicine, within a new grand design of the universe based on rational
    materialism.

    In the first half of the nineteenth century, one established chemist, Baron Carl Reichenbach, worked
    on concepts similar to the old alchemy, such as the Odic force, but his research did not enter the
    mainstream of scientific discussion.

    Matter transmutation, the old goal of alchemy, enjoyed a moment in the sun in the 20th century
    when physicists were able to convert platinum atoms into gold atoms via a nuclear reaction.
    However, the new gold atoms, being unstable isotopes, lasted for under five seconds before they
    broke apart. More recently, reports of table-top element transmutation—by means of electrolysis or
    sonic cavitation—were the pivot of the cold fusion controversy of 1989. None of those claims have
    yet been reliably duplicated.

    Alchemy in traditional medicine

    Traditional medicines involve transmutation by alchemy, using pharmacological or a combination of
    pharmacological and spiritual techniques. In Chinese medicine the alchemical traditions of pao zhi
    will transform the nature of the temperature, taste, body part accessed or toxicity. In Ayurveda the
    samskaras are used to transform heavy metals and toxic herbs in a way that removes their toxicity.
    In the spagyric processing of herbal medicine similar effects are found. These processes are actively
    used to the present day.

    Nuclear transmutation

    In 1919, Ernest Rutherford used artificial disintegration to convert nitrogen into oxygen. From then
    on, this sort of scientific transmutation is routinely performed in many nuclear physics-related
    laboratories and facilities, like particle accelerators, nuclear power stations and nuclear weapons as
    a by-product of fission and other physical processes.

    Synthesis of noble metals

    The synthesis of noble metals refers to the realization of the age-old dream of alchemists—to
    artificially produce noble metals. The goal of this could be to achieve greater economic gain when
    compared to traditional methods of obtaining noble metals. Synthesis of noble metals is only
    possible with methods of nuclear physics, either using nuclear reactors or by particle accelerators.
    Particle accelerators require huge amounts of energy, while nuclear reactors produce energy, so
    only production methods utilizing a nuclear reactor are of economic interest.

    In popular culture

    The subject of alchemy is extensively used in many cartoons and comic books, often in the form of
    superpowers. In some Japanese anime and manga, most notably Fullmetal Alchemist, alchemy and
    transmutation are treated as sciences, mixed with magic but fully understandable and utilizable with
    proper knowledge. Fullmetal Alchemist also refers to equivalency or equivalent exchange for
    alchemy to work; i.e to create, something of equal value must be lost, thus making something into
    something related or new. In Buso Renkin, alchemy is used primarily as a means for superpowers.

    In contemporary art

    In the twentieth century alchemy was a profoundly important source of inspiration for the Surrealist
    artist Max Ernst, who used the symbolism of alchemy to inform and guide his work. M.E. Warlick
    wrote his Max Ernst and Alchemy describing this relationship in detail.

    Contemporary artists use alchemy as inspiring subject matter, like Odd Nerdrum, whose interest has
    been noted by Richard Vine, and the painter Michael Pearce , whose interest in alchemy dominates
    his work. His works Fama and The Aviator's Dream particularly express alchemical ideas in a painted
    allegory.

    Scotsman Adam MacLean has made the study and revitalization of alchemy his life, reproducing
    seminal texts in hand bound leather covered editions and making fine quality copies of important
    alchemical imagery.
    Source:

    I guess that is one opinion, There are other opinions at the source above, but IMO each of us have to make our own.

    Ghislain

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