Alchemy – Magic or Science?

Image result for harry potter nicolas flamel | Harry potter, The ...

If you know me in real life, you know that I have a special place in my heart for Harry Potter. The first book of the series, The Sorcerers Stone was an award-winning book that came to fame in the late 90s. It was followed by a series of six other books. The actual name of the book was Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone when it was released in the UK but was renamed the Sorcerers Stone to sell to an American audience who might assume the book was boring and maybe not even know what a Philosopher was. Little do people know, the Philosophers Stone wasn’t just some name that J.K. Rowling came up with, it comes from an actual legend in Europe of an actual Philosophers Stone which could make a human immortal – a form of Magic.

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The Philosophers Stone comes from the antiquated world of Alchemy. Alchemy has been known as the forebearer to science in which those who studied Alchemy were able to turn lead into gold. Common aims were chrysopoeia, the transmutation of “base metals“, the creation of an elixir of immortality; the creation of panaceas able to cure any disease; and the development of an alkahest, a universal solvent – all connected to the Philosophers Stone. However, Alchemy was not only about turning one metal into another; it was way deeper than most understood. The alchemists did not regard all metals as equally mature or ‘perfect.’ Gold symbolized the highest development in nature and came to personify human renewal and regeneration. A ‘golden’ human being was resplendent with spiritual beauty and had triumphed over the lurking power of evil. The basest metal, lead, (Voldemort/Devil) represented the sinful and unrepentant individual who was readily overcome by the forces of darkness … If lead and gold both consisted of fire, air, water, and earth, then surely by changing the proportions of the constituent elements, lead could be transformed into gold (Dumbledore/God). Gold was superior to lead because, by its very nature, it contained the perfect balance of all four elements.

Symbol Ankh: Alchemy in Ancient Egypt

The origins of Alchemy can be traced back to the temple culture of Ancient Egypt. Egypt in itself has been known for mystery and the birthplace of many mystery schools. When Alexander of Macedonia (old Greek kingdom) conquered Egypt in 332 BC, Alchemy was an Egyptian ideal which the Greeks adopted into their lifestyle. Later Egypt would be conquered by Arabian nations and they too would become interested. The earliest written account of Alchemy was called “Cheirokmeta,” using the Greek word for “things made by hand” written by Zosimos of Panopolis (300 AD), an Egyptian born Greek Alchemist. As a result, the word Alchemy has its base origins in the Egyptian, Greek, and Arabian language. 

Here is the breakdown: 

Egyptian – ‘Kem(ite)’, chem’ or ‘qem,’ meaning black — a reference to the black alluvial soils bordering the Nile. The base word Kem could also refer to the earliest people of the upper Nile who established the Nubian or Kemetic civilization – Black Africans.

Greek – word ‘chyma,’ meaning to fuse or cast metals, the word Kem referred the land of the blacks

Arabic – words ‘al kimia’ — from which alchemy is derived 

Lab Work

As a result of Arabian conquests, the Arabic role in the spread of alchemy is notably significant out of all; many books on alchemy were translated into Arabic from the Greek. Unfortunately, as new invaders to Egypt came and went, so did the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, which housed several ancient books on alchemy. However, Alchemy continued to survive as its influence spread throughout the entire old world from China to India, and finally Europe. 

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For centuries, rumors spread that certain people had discovered the philosopher’s stone. Some wealthy people hired alchemists to conduct research. Bogus alchemists were so common in the Middle Ages that several famous writers described them, including poets Ben Jonson and Geoffrey Chaucer of Europe. To this day, fraternal organizations like the Freemasons and Rosicrusians utilize the concepts and symbolism of Alchemy in their teachings.

Notable alchemists were not only male,  Mary the JewessCleopatra the AlchemistMedera, and Taphnutia were known as pioneering women of Alchemy who knew how to make the philosopher’s stone.

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Nicholas Flamel, an infamous character in the Harry Potter series, in real life was an actual known European alchemist who wrote several books on alchemy. Most of ‘his’ work was aimed at gathering alchemical knowledge that had existed before him, regarding the philosopher’s stone. 

A lot of modern-day thinking can be attributed to the study of Alchemy such as in science, philosophy, psychology, and healthcare. Traditional medicine uses the alchemical concept of transmutation of natural substances. Famous psychologist, Carl Jung used the process of individuation from Alchemy making the direct correlation or parallels between the symbolic images in the alchemical drawings and the inner, symbolic images coming up in dreams, visions, or imaginations during the psychic processes of transformation occurring in patients. Alchemy can be traced to be one of the earliest branches of philosopy as a practice. Alchemy also inspired the now solved puzzle of creating Gold from base metals, using particle accelerators to synthesize gold as early as 1941 – probably attributed to the development of nuclear science (atom bomb/ power plants/ the discovery of atoms). 

Wednesday AMA: Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult : AskHistorians

There is a lot on the subject of Alchemy that seems to be hidden. What more is there to Alchemy? What more do J.K. Rowling and others know? Is alchemy magic? Or was it thought to be Magic because what we call modern day science to the ancient world was not common, therefore something created by given powers? Maybe this knowledge is hidden for a reason. If we all knew how to manipulate the properties of nature (perform some type of Magic), would we humans use and abuse the Earth? Would we try to financially benefit from our knowledge? This already happens in our every normal day with the exploitation of resources and human beings in order to serve a material enterprise for power and greed. Just imagine if humans were able to manipulate the properties of nature – would it benefit or ruin the human race? Food for thought.


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