Alchemy Fact Or Phalicy Essay Research

Alchemy: Fact Or Phalicy Essay, Research Paper

Alchemy: Fact or Phalicy ALCHEMY: The science by aid of which the chemical philosophers ofMedieval times attempted to transmute the baser metals into gold orsilver. There is considerable divergence of opinion as to the etymologyof the word, but it would seem to be derived from the Arabic al=the, andkimya=chemistry, which in turn derives from the late Greekchemica=chemistry, from chumeia=a mingling, or cheein, `to pour out` or`mix’, Aryan root ghu, to pour, whence the word `gush’. Mr. A. WallisBudge in his “Egyptian Magic”, however, states that it is possible thatit may be derived from the Egyptian word khemeia, that is to say ‘thepreparation of the black ore’, or `powder’, which was regarded as theactive principle in the transmutation of metals. To this name the Arabsaffixed the article `al’, thus giving al-khemeia, or alchemy. HISTORY OF ALCHEMY: From an early period the Egyptians possessed thereputation of being skillful workers in metals and, according to Greekwriters, they were conversant with their transmutation, employingquicksilver in the process of separating gold and silver from the nativematrix. The resulting oxide was supposed to possess marvelous powers,and it was thought that there resided within in the individualities ofthe various metals, that in it their various substances wereincorporated. This black powder was mystically identified with theunderworld form of the god Osiris, and consequently was credited withmagical properties. Thus there grew up in Egypt the belief thatmagical powers existed in fluxes and alloys. Probably such a beliefexisted throughout Europe in connection with the bronze-working castesof its several races. Its was probably in the Byzantium of the fourthcentury, however, that alchemical science received embryonic form.There is little doubt that Egyptian tradition, filtering throughAlexandrian Hellenic sources was the foundation upon which the infantscience was built, and this is borne out by the circumstance that theart was attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and supposed to be containedin its entirety in his works. The Arabs, after their conquest of Egypt in the seventh century,carried on the researches of the Alexandrian school, and through theirinstrumentality the art was brought to Morocco and thus in the eighthcentury to Spain, where it flourished exceedingly. Indeed, Spain fromthe ninth to the eleventh century became the repository of alchemicscience, and the colleges of Seville, Cordova and Granada were thecenters from which this science radiated throughout Europe. The first practical alchemist may be said to have been the ArbianGeber, who flourished 720-750. From his “Summa Perfectionis”, we may bejustified in assuming that alchemical science was already matured in hisday, and that he drew his inspirations from a still older unbroken lineof adepts. He was followed by Avicenna, Mesna and Rhasis, and in Franceby Alain of Lisle, Arnold de Villanova and Jean de Meung the troubadour;in England by Roger Bacon and in Spain itself by Raymond Lully. Later,in French alchemy the most illustrious names are those of Flamel (b. ca.1330), and Bernard Trevisan (b. ca. 1460) after which the center of ofinterest changes to Germany and in some measure to England, in whichcountries Paracelsus, Khunrath (ca. 1550), Maier (ca. 1568), Norton,Dalton, Charnock, and Fludd kept the alchemical flame burning brightly. It is surprising how little alteration we find throughout the periodbetween the seventh and the seventeenth centuries, the heyday ofalchemy, in the theory and practice of the art. The same sentiments andprocesses are found expressed in the later alchemical authorities as inthe earliest, and a wonderful unanimity as regards the basic canons ofthe great art is evinced by the hermetic students of the time. On theintroduction of chemistry as a practical art, alchemical science fellinto desuetude and disrepute, owing chiefly to the number of charlatanspracticing it, and by the beginning of the eighteenth century, as aschool, it may be said to have become defunct. Here and there, however,a solitary student of the art lingered, and in the department of thisarticle “Modern Alchemy” will demonstrate that the science has to agrate extent revived during modern times, although it has never beenquite extinct. THE QUESTS OF ALCHEMY: The grand objects of alchemy were (1) thediscovery of a process by which the baser metals might be transmutedinto gold or silver; (2) the discovery of an elixir by which life mightbe prolonged indefinitely; and there may be added (3), the manufactureof and artificial process of human life. (for the latter see Homunculus) THE THEORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF ALCHEMY: The first objects were to beachieved as follows: The transmutation of metals was to be accomplishedby a powder, stone or exilir often called the Philosopher`s Stone, theapplication of which would effect the transmutation of the baser metalsinto gold or silver, depending upon the length of time of itsapplication. Basing their conclusions on a profound examination ofnatural processes and research into the secrets of nature, thealchemists arrived at the axiom that nature was divided philosophicallyinto four principal regions, the dry, the moist, the warm, the cold,whence all that exists must be derived. Nature is also divisible intothe male and the female. She is the divine breath, the central fire,invisible yet ever active, and is typified by sulphur, which is themercury of the sages, which slowly fructifies under the genial warmth ofnature. The alchemist must be ingenuous, of a truthful disposition, andgifted with patience and prudence, following nature in every alchemicalperformance. He must recollect that like draws to like, and must knowhow to obtain the seed of metals, which is produced by the four elementsthrough the will of the Supreme Being and the Imagination of Nature. Weare told the the original matter of metals is double in its essence,being a dry heat combined with a warm moisture, and that air is watercoagulated by fir, capable of producing a universal dissolvent. Theseterms the neophyte must be cautious of interpreting in their literalsense. Great confusion exists in alchemical nomenclature, and thegibberish employed by the scores of charlatans who in later timespretended to a knowledge of alchemical matters did not tend to makethings any more clear. The beginner must also acquire a thoroughknowledge of the manner in which metals grow in the bowels of the earth.These are engendered by sulphur, which is male, and mercury, which isfemale, and the crux of alchemy is to obtain their seed – a processwhich the alchemist philosophers have not described with any degree ofclarity. The physical theory of transmutation is based on the compositecharacter of metals, and on the existence of a substance which, appliedto matter, exalts and perfects it. This, Eugenius Philalethes andothers call ‘The Light’. The elements of all metals is similar,differing only in purity and proportion. The entire trend of themetallic kingdom is towards the natural manufacture of gold, and theproduction of the baser metals is only accidental as the result of anunfavorable environment. The Philosopher’s Stone is the combination ofthe male and female seeds which beget gold. The composition of these isso veiled by symbolism as to make their identification a matter ofimpossibility. Waite, summarizing the alchemical process once thesecret of the stone is unveiled, says: “Given the matter of the stoneand also the necessary vessel, the process which must be then undertakento accomplish the `magnum opus’ are described with moderate perpicuity.There is the calcination or purgation of the stone, in which kind isworked with kind for the space of a philosophical year. There isdissolution which prepares the way for congelation, and which isperformed during the black state of the mysterious matter. It isaccomplished by water which does not wet the hand. There is theseparation of the subtle and the gross, which is to be performed bymeans of heat. In the conjunction which follows, the elements are dulyand scrupulously combined. Putrefaction afterwards takes place. `Without which pole no seed may multiply.’ “Then, in the subsequent congelation the white colour appears, whichis one of the signs of success. It becomes more pronounced in cibation.In sublimation the body is spiritualised, the spirit made corporeal,and again a more glittering whiteness is apparent. Fermentationafterwards fixes together the alchemical earth and water, and causes themystic medicines to flow like wax. The matter is then augmented withthe alchemical spirit of life, and the exaltation of the philosophicearth is accomplished by the natural rectification of its elements.When these processes have been successfully completed, the mystic stonewill have passed through the chief stages characterized by differentcolours, black, white and red, after which it is capable of infinitemultication, and when projected on mercury, it will absolutely transmuteit, the resulting gold bearing every test. The base metals made use ofmust be purified to insure the success of the operation. The processfor the manufacture of silver is essentially similar, but the resourcesof the matter are not carried to so high a degree. “According to the “Commentary on the Ancient War of the Knights” thetransmutations performed by the perfect stone are so absolute that notrace remains of the original metal. It cannot, however, destroy gold,nor exalt it into a more perfect metallic substance; it, therefore,transmutes it into a medicine a thousand times superior to any virtueswhich can be extracted from its vulgar state. This medicine becomes amost potent agent in the exaltation of base metals.” There are not wanting authorities who deny that the transmutations ofmetals was the grand object of alchemy, and who infer from thealchemistical writings that the end of the art was the spiritualregeneration of man. Mrs. Atwood, author of “A Suggestive Inquiry intothe Hermetic Mystery”, and an American writer named Hitchcock arepurhaps the chief protagonists of the belief the by spiritual processesakin to those of the chemical process of alchemy, the soul of man may bepurified and exalted. But both commit the radical error of stating thethe alchemical writers did not aver that the transmutation of base metalinto gold was their grand end. None of the passages they quote, isinconsistent with the physical object of alchemy, and in a work, “TheMarrow of Alchemy”, stated to be by Eugenius Philaletes, it is laid downthat the real quest is for gold. It is constantly impressed upon thereader, however, in the perusal of esteemed alchemical works, that onlythose who are instructed by God can achieve the grand secret. Others,again, state that a tyro may possibly stumble upon it, but that unlesshe is guided by an adept he has small chance of achieving the grandarcanum. It will be obvious to the tyro, however, that nothing can ever

be achieved by trusting to the allegories of the adepts or the manycharlatans who crowded the ranks of the art. Gold may be made, or itmay not, but the truth or fallacy of the alchemical method lies withmodern chemistry. The transcendental view of alchemy, however, israpidly gaining ground, and probably originated in the comprehensivenature of Hermetic theory and the consciousness in the alchemical mindthat what might with success be applied to nature could also be appliedto man with similar results. Says Mr. Waite, “The gold of thephilosopher is not a metal, on the other hand, man is a being whopossesses within himself the seeds of a perfection which he has neverrealized, and that he therefore corresponds to those metals which theHermetic theory supposes to be capable of developing the latentpossibilities in the subject man.” At the same time, it must beadmitted that the cryptic character of alchemical language was probablyoccasioned by a fear on the part of the alchemical mystic that he mightlay himself open through his magical opinions to the rigors of the law. RECORDS OF ACTUAL TRANSMUTATIONS: Several records of allegedtransmutations of base metal into gold are in existence. These wereachieved by Nicholas Flamel, Van Helmont, Martini, Richthausen, andSethon. For a detailed account of the methods employed the reader isreferred to several articles on these hermetists. In nearly every casethe transmuting element was a mysterious powder or the “Philosopher’sStone”. MODERN ALCHEMY That alchemy has been studied in modern times therecan be no doubt. M. figuier in his “L’Alchimie et les Alchimistes”,dealing with the subject of modern alchemy, as expressed by theinitiates of the first half of the nineteenth century, states that manyFrench alchemists of his time regarded the discoveries of modern scienceas merely so many evidences of the truth of the doctrines they embraced.Throughout Europe, he says, the positive alchemical doctrine had manyadherents at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of thenineteenth. Thus a “vast association of alchemists”, founded inWestphalia in 1790, continued to flourish in the year 1819, under thename of the “Hermetic Society”. In 1837, an alchemist of Thuringiapresented to the Societe Industrielle of Weimar a tincture which heaverred would effect metallic transmutation. About the same timeseveral French journals announced a public course of lectures onhermetic philosophy by a professor of the University of Munich. Hefurther states that many Honoverian and Bavarian families pursued incommon the search for the grand arcanum. Paris, however, was regardedas the alchemical Mecca. There dwelt many theoretical alchemists and”empirical adepts”. The first pursued and arcanum through the medium ofbooks, the other engaged in practical efforts to effect transmutation. M. Figuier states that in the forties of the last century hefrequented the laboratory of a certain Monsieur L., which was therendezvous of the alchemists in Paris. When Monsieur L`s pupils leftthe laboratory for the day, the modern adepts dropped in one by one, andFiguier relates how deeply impressed he was by the appearance andcostumes of these strange men. In the daytime, he frequentlyencountered them in the public libraries, buried in gigantic folios, andin the evening they might be seen pacing the solitary bridges with eyesfixed in vague contemplation upon the first pale stars of night. A longcloak usually covered the meager limbs, and their untrimmed beards andmatted locks lent them a wild appearance. They walked with a solemn andmeasured gait, and used the figures of speech employed by the medievalillumines. Their expression was generally a mixture of the most ardenthope and fixed despair. Among the adepts who sought the laboratory ofMonsieur L., Figuier remarked especially a young man, in whose habitsand language he could nothing in common with those of his strangecompanions. He confounded the wisdom of the alchemical adept with thetenets of the modern scientist in the most singular fashion, and meetinghim one day at the gate of the Observatory, M. Figuier renewed thesubject of their last discussion, deploring that ” a man of his giftscould pursue the semblance of a chimera.” Without replying, the youngadept led him into the Observatory garden, and proceeded to reveal tohim the mysteries of modern alchemical science. The young man proceeded to fix a limit to the researches of the modernalchemists. Gold, he said, according to the ancient authors, as threedistinct properties: (1) that of resolving the baser metals into itself,and interchanging and metamorphosing all metals into one another; (2)the curing of afflictions and the prolongation of life; (3), as a’spiritus mundi’ to bring mankind into rapport with the supermundanespheres. Modern alchemists, he continued, reject the greater part ofthese ideas, especially those connected with spiritual contact. Theobject of modern alchemy might be reduced to the search for a substancehaving the power to transform and transmute all other substances intoone another – in short, to discover that medium so well known to thealchemists of old and lost to us. This was a perfectly feasibleproposition. In the four principal substances of oxygen, hydrogen,carbon, and azote, we have the tetractus of Pythagoras and the tetragramof the Chaldeans and Egyptians. All the sixty elements are referable tothese original four. The ancient alchemical theory established the factthat all the metals are the same in their composition, that all areformed from sulphur and mercury, and that the difference between them isaccording to the proportion of these substances in their composition.Further, all the products of minerals present in their compositioncomplete identity with those substances most opposed to them. Thusfulminating acid contains precisely the same quantity of carbon, oxygen,and azote as cyanic acid, and “cyanhydric” acid does not differ fromformate ammoniac. This new property of matter is known as “isomerism”.M. Figuier’s friend then proceeds to quote support of his thesis andoperations and experiments of M. Dumas, a celebrated French savant, asis well known to thous of Prout, and other English chemists of standing. Passing to consider the possibility of isomerism in elementary as wellas in compound substances, the points out to M. Figuier that id thetheory of isomerism can apply to such bodies, the transmutation ofmetals ceases to be a wild, unpractical dream, and becomes a scientificpossibility, the transformation being brought about by a molecularrearrangement. Isomerism can be established in the case of compoundsubstances by chemical analysis. showing the identity of theirconstituent parts. In the case of metals it can be proved by thecomparison of the properties of isometric bodies with the properties ofmetals, in order to discover whether they have any commoncharacteristics. Such experiments, he continued, had been conducted byM. Dumas, with the result the isometric substances were to be found tohave equal equivalents, or equivalents which were exact multiples of oneanother. This characteristic is also a feature of metals. Gold andosmium have identical equivalents, as have platinum and iridium. Theequivalent of cobalt is almost the same as that of nickel, and thesemi-equivalent of tin is equal to the equivalent of the two precedingmetals. M. Dumas. speaking before the British Association, had shown that whenthree simple bodies displayed great analogies in their properties, suchas chlorine, bromide, and iodine, barium, strontium, and calcium, thechemical equivalent of the intermediate body is represented by thearithmetical mean between the equivalents of the other two. Such astatement well showed the isomerism of elementary substances, and provedthat metals, however dissimilar in outward appearance, were composed ofthe same matter differently arranged and proportioned. This theorysuccessfully demolishes the difficulties in the way of transmutation.Again, Dr. Prout says that the chemical equivalents of nearly allelemental substances are the multiples of one among them. Thus, if theequivalent of hydrogen be taken for the unit, the equivalent of everyother substance will be an exact multiple of it – carbon will berepresented by six, axote by fourteen, oxygen by sixteen, zink bythirty-two. But, pointed out M. Figuier’s friend, if the molecularmasses in compound substances have so simple a connection, does it notgo to prove the all natural bodies are formed of one principle,differently arranged and condensed to produce all known compounds? If transmutation is thus theoretically possible, it only remains toshow by practical experiment that it is strictly in accordance withchemical laws, and by no means inclines to the supernatural. At thisjuncture the young alchemist proceeded to liken the action of thePhilosopher`s Stone on metals to that of a ferment on organic matter.When metals are melted and brought to red heat, a molecular change maybe produced analogous to fermentation. Just as sugar, under theinfluence of a ferment, may be changed into lactic acid without alteringits constituents, so metals can alter their character under theinfluence of the Philosopher`s Stone. The explanation of the lattercase is no more difficult than that of the former. The ferment does nottake any part in the chemical changes it brings about, and nosatisfactory explanation of its effects can be found either in the lawsof affinity or in the forces of electricity, light, or heat. As withthe ferment, the required quantity of the Philosopher`s Stone isinfinitesimal. Medicine, philosophy, every modern science was at onetime a source of such errors and extravagances as are associated withmedieval alchemy, but they are not therefore neglected and despised.Wherefore, then, should we be blind tot he scientific nature oftransmutation? One of the foundations of alchemical theories was that minerals grewand developed in the earth, like organic things. It was always the aimof nature to produce gold, the most precious metal, but whencircumstances were not favorable the baser metals resulted. The desireof the old alchemists was to surprise nature`s secrets, and thus attainthe ability to do in a short period what nature takes years toaccomplish. Nevertheless, the medieval alchemists appreciated the valueof time in their experiments as modern alchemists never do. M.Figuier`s friend urged him not to condemn these exponents of thehermetic philosophy for their metaphysical tendencies, for, he said,there are facts in our sciences that can only be explained in thatlight. If, for instance, copper be placed in air or water, there willbe no result, but if a touch of some acid be added, it will oxidize.The explanation is that “the acid provokes oxidation of the metalbecause it has an affinity for the oxide which tends to form.” – amaterial fact most metaphysical in its production, and only explicablethereby. He concluded his argument with an appeal for tolerance towards themedieval alchemists, whose work is underrated because it is not properlyunderstood. Bibliography Atwood, A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mastery, 1850 Hitchcock, Remarks on Alchemy and the Alchemists, Boston, 1857 Waite, Lives of the Alchemystical Philosophers, London, 1888 ” The Occult Sciences, London, 1891 Bacon, Mirror of Alchemy, 1597 S. le Doux, Dictionnaire Hermetique, 1695 Langlet de fresnoy, Histoire de la Philosophie Hermetique, 1792 ” ” Theatrum Chemicum, 1662 Valentine, Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, 1656 Redgrove, Alchemy Ancient and Modern Figuier, L’Alchimie et les Alchimistes, Paris, 1857


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