The ancient science of transmuting base metals into gold and silver. The etymology of the word is uncertain but it may derive from the Arabic al kimiya, meaning "the magical craft of the Black Country", a reference to northern Egypt and the Nile Delta (southern Egypt, by way of contrast, had red, sandy soil). The ancient Egyptians were master metalworkers and believed that...
magical powers existed in certain fluxes and alloys. When the Arabs conquered Egypt in the seventh century, they brought alchemy back with them to Morocco and Spain. From the ninth to the eleventh centuries, Seville, Cordova and Granada were leading centers for alchemy; later, this esoteric science spread to France, England and Germany.
The three aims of alchemy were to attempt to make gold from base metals with the aid of the Philosopher's Stone; to search for an elixir that could prolong life indefinitely; and to acquire methods of creating life artificially.
In the middle Ages considerable fortunes were lost by wealthy patrons who financed alchemical experiments that came to nothing.
Nicholas Flamel claimed to have transformed mercury into silver and gold, but it is more likely that he acquired his wealth as the result of his money-lending business. In some degree at least, alchemy was also a metaphor for spiritual transformation, a process quite separated from laboratory experimentation. The imperfect person, mean and dark, could become pure and golden through gradual processes leading to spiritual illumination.
Basil Valentine, a celebrated alchemist and Benedictine monk described alchemy as "the investigation of those natural secrets by which God has shadowed out eternal things" and Jacob Boehme regarded the Philosopher's Stone as the spirit of Christ, which would "tincture" the individual soul.
In this sense, alchemy was both a precursor of modern chemistry and also a complex spiritual philosophy - one of the major sources of medieval esoteric thought.
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