From Alchemy to Chemistry
The Origins of Today's "Central Science"
Many of the earliest chemists, physicians, and philosophers were also alchemists.
Historically, alchemy refers to both the investigation of nature and an early philosophical and spiritual discipline that combined chemistry with metal work. Alchemy also encompassed physics, medicine, astrology, mysticism, spiritualism, and art. The goals of alchemy were:
to find the “elixir of life” (it was thought that this magical elixir would bring wealth, health, and immortality);
to find or make a substance called the “philosopher’s stone,” which when heated and combined with “base” (nonprecious metals such as copper and iron) would turn it into gold, thought to be the highest and purest form of matter; and
to discover the relationship of humans to the cosmos and use that understanding to improve the human spirit.
Alchemy was scientific but it was also a spiritual tradition. Some of its practitioners had altruistic intentions. For instance, if alchemists could learn the secret of “purifying” base metals into gold, they might gain the ability to purify the human soul. At the same time, alchemy has often been seen as a get-rich-quick scheme and many alchemists as charlatans and pretenders. But many alchemists were in fact serious-minded practitioners whose work helped lay the groundwork for modern chemistry and medicine.
Alchemy can generally be defined as an ancient art form that seeks purification of the soul and immortality in parallel with the transmutation of chemical elements where gold symbolizes perfection. Alchemists made medicines and pharmaceuticals, and endeavored to understand the material basis of the world. Although the alchemists practiced actual chemistry and medicine, turning lead into gold symbolized a spiritual transmutation equivalent to an awakened consciousness present in all forms and which created the universe.
In Western alchemy, perfection is achieved through the action of the Philosopher’s Stone. Alchemists believed that it could turn any substance into gold, prolong life and cure illness. The Philosopher’s Stone is created from “prima materia,” which is the primitive formless base of all matter, similar to our modern concepts of dark matter or chaos.
Alexander the Great invaded India in 325 BC, which suggests that there may have been some influence between Indian and Greco-Egyptian alchemy. Indian alchemy or Rasayana, which means the art of manipulating Rasa, meaning nectar, mercury or juice, was closely associated to the Dharmic faiths (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism). Indian alchemy began in approximately 1200 BC and is an early from of Ayurvedic medicine focused on extending lifespan. Indian alchemists created medicines composed of various metals, including mercury and other substances that were combined with herbs.
Aspects of Indian and Chinese alchemy were absorbed by modern science and chemistry, and other aspects were preserved in other systems such as Hindu traditional medicine, Ayurveda, as well as Chinese traditional medicine, Acupuncture and modern Tai Chi and Qigong.
Modern alchemy is about the purification of the soul.
It comes under many names. Magick. Occultism. Tantra.
It can be a confusing path. But luckily, we’ve cut through the weeds to show you the path to the Philosopher’s Stone.