Alchemy and the Philosopher’s Stone

Alchemy is one of the sciences and whose name evokes the most contrary and diverse reactions: attraction, contempt, curiosity, uncertainty … conflicting feelings caused in part by the lack of concise information on its origin and development.

The most common and popular perception that spreads over the alchemists is that they were pseudo-scientific, liars and charlatans who tried to turn lead into gold, believed that the universe was composed of the four classical elements (earth, air, fire and water) and employed most of their time developing miracle cures, magic potions and poisons.

Alchemy is an art as old as humanity itself. The meaning of this term seems to have a dubious origin but many argue that the current expression is directly inherited by the Arabs and can be divided into two parts: the article “the” and “Chemie” which means “land or land black. Under this scenario, the Muslims referred to the dark land of Egypt where they first learned the secrets of the mysterious science. The figure of the Egyptian philosopher Hermes Trimegistus then be regarded as the father of human knowledge and hence derive the term “hermetic” that so often appears related to alchemy.

But no single country comes first Egyptian writings on this activity, but also from the distant land of China. In the year 140 that appeared in the first treaty country and alchemical ideas which are closely related to Taoism. The fact is that both have been found written in the Greek East and citing references in Egyptian texts Arabs.

At present the main documents are in the National Library in Paris and Leyden, where they were ordered alchemical texts into two broad groups: those of Greek origin and those signed by a mysterious character named Jabir ibn-Hayyan, also known Geber, which is supposed to lived in the eighth century of our era. More careful studies have shown that not all works originally attributed to Geber were actually written by the scientist Arabic.
As the Arabic influence is going deeper into Europe, new men were devoted to the study of the new discipline. The story notes that the names are well known and include those of St. Albert the Great (1193-1280), the Majorcan Ramon Llull (1232-1315), Roger Bacon (c. 1213-1294), Arnaldo de Vilanova (c. 1250-1311), Paracelsus (1493-1541) and Newton, the first great modern scientist, but not fully engaged in alchemy, the often quoted in his works and said that he had built a small laboratory in Trinity College to study the mysteries of transmutation.

Leaving aside his face hidden and mysterious, it should be noted that alchemy contributed very significantly to the advancement of chemistry laboratory. New devices like the alembic, and new techniques such as distillation became the thing for everyday use, while also discovering hitherto ignored substances such as oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid), water regia, strong water (nitric acid) , ammonia, etc..

But alchemy was primarily a science-tight around which was weaving an aura of mystery and secrecy, in part caused by the strange and often incomprehensible aspirations of some of his followers, as well as the symbolic form and its almost indecipherable writings. It is not easy to summarize briefly the work of an alchemist. This is particularly focused on three distinct aspects: on one hand the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, in the presence of which all metals could be converted into gold, and secondly the discovery of the elixir of long life, imagined as a substance capable of avoid corruption of the subject and finally achieving the “Great Work”, aimed at raising own alquimista a higher state of existence in a privileged position compared to the Universe.

The philosopher’s stone

The philosopher’s stone is a substance that as believers in alchemy would have extraordinary properties, such as the ability to vulgares trasmutar metals into gold, there are two types of rock: the red ignoble able to transmute metals into gold and white, whose use transforms these ignoble metals into silver. The red is obtained using the dry, the white through the wet, in both cases is the element of iron pyrite.

The philosopher’s stone or elixir of life was something eagerly sought and coveted because it implied wondrous virtues, not only to get the gold but to cure some diseases and give immortality. For the production of gold is looking for material to provide a mixture of mercury and sulfur because it was assumed that this was the right road. After that find the noble metal mixture. These two aspects are related, a feature of gold is that it oxidizes more slowly than other metals, ie gold is “immortal” so if you discovered how to make gold from perhaps could make the poor mortal body is immortal again.

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