Alchemy, in the opinion of Carl Jung was the study of the psyche.

The philosopher's stone was the tool to transmute the leaden brain into a golden consciousness. In his books, Jung goes into quite some detail as to the steps of the change, the whole process being a metaphor for what is happenning on the inside

Science with a spotty but continuous tradition from the antiquity to the late medieval period. Its roots may very well lie in the medical practices of Egypt, from which remain numerous texts on pharmacy and metallurgy, combined with the Greek philosophy of Aristotle on the nature of life, the universe, and everything. Much, however, was lost after the collapse of the Roman empire, and resurfaced only in the 11th century or later from Arabic translations.

The basic principle was that the world was composed of four base elements: Air, Water, Fire, and Earth, which could be broken down further into atoms and combined to form everything else. Thus, gold and lead were just varied forms of Earth, and so the latter could be broken down and reformed to create the former, requiring only the proper catalyst for the reaction. This catalyst was named the Philosophers' Stone, and was said to exist in several forms. The White Stone could produce silver, while the Red Stone (sometimes said to be contained within the white) produced gold. The Liber de Alchimia, ascribed to Albertus Magnus, gives some of the elements involved in preparation: sulfur, boiled down in strong acid, then simmered with mercury for several days, then sublimed for several more, after which the powder is ground in a mortar.

The basic equipment of the Alchemist are as follows:

  • Furnace for burning and dessication
  • Brazier for controlled heating
  • Mortar and Pestle for mixture and break-down of components
  • Scales for accurate measurement
  • Lead, the cheapest of the Earth metals
  • Sulfur, the mixture of Fire and Earth
  • Mercury. One of the most common. Probably how many of them died
  • Alcohol. grain alcohol or spirits, alchemy introduced the term as a scientific product
  • Vials and beakers, each made to a specific shape for each compound
Unlike much medieval magic, Alchemy was founded firmly on philosophical and theological theory, taken from sources as wide-ranging as the Hieroglyphica of Horapollo to Aristotle to the Bible and the writings of the Church fathers. Since the art demanded that the alchemist be well-read and have adequate means of support for his work (notably the cost for obtaining or mining the required metals), many practitioners were priests or clerics; the Dominican and Benedictine orders saw fit to issue several edicts in the 13th and 14th centuries against the practice, and Pope John XXII declared stiff penalties for its fraudulent use.

Of course, many of the alchemists were complete frauds. One popular trick was to convince patrons of your skill by hiding silver in charcoal, then cracking open the coal to produce the results. Another was the use of hollow pestles, containing silver in the hollow to be "revealed" in the mixture. And, of course, many went broke looking for the magical formulae to make them wealthy.

But some honestly believed in the art and experimented with more practical products. The belief that non-biological products could be used as medicine first arose out of the alchemy of the 14th century, despite the obviously disappointing initial results. Other advances were made in the furnaces and stills, glass-blowing, astronomy, and purification and combination of metals.

And certainly not all believed in magic; Thomas Norton in his Ordinall of Alchemy warms his students against superstition necromancy. The degree of combination of magic and alchemy is hard to decide. Most of our surviving texts are longer treatises on theory and probably don't represent most practice. Clm 849, a Necromancer's Handbook from the 15th century, ends with lists of alchemical symbols and a simple recipe, which when read outside the context of the work looks almost respectable. Astrology was also a big part of it; careful observation of the stars could teach the alchemist what times were best suited for his experiments.

The age of alchemy more or less ended with the advent of the Enlightenment; its spirit of empiricism and experimentation were separated from the more arcane aspects, and slowly developed into something close to what we would call science.

The word "alchemy" itself is derrived from "Al Khem," or Black Land, known today as Egypt. The name is a reference to the dark, fertile silt found near the Nile River, as opposed to the vast desert which was dubbed the Red Land. Egypt is usually considered to be the oldest civilization that would become a source of inspiration for medieval alchemists.

Our senses of smell and taste are not only powerful chemical detectors but also emotional portals. I am sure every one of us has had moments when a smell or taste has triggered something powerful in yourselves. My grandmother was a seamstress and I once walked into a fabric store and was instantly transported to her sewing room by the smells. This all does not feel like science, it feels more like magic, call it alchemy.

I met Elizabeth in 1979, my sophomore year in college, a good friend introduced us and over the next couple of years we became good acquaintances, bumping into each other at the [Graduate Center Bar at school - drinking age was still 18 - where I taught her how to play pinball over cheap pitchers of Michelob. She ended up rooming with our mutual friend so I would see her often. I was fascinated by her, so beautiful, smart and infectiously happy in contrast to my existential moroseness. She would always wear wraparound skirts, Danskin leotards and Chinese cloth shoes and it seemed that all her friends were gay, so being a big dumb male, I assumed she was a lesbian and left it at that. But there was always this attraction under the surface.

In 1981 my father died unexpectedly, tragically. I took some time off to stabilize my family as the new unwilling head of household. By spring semester '82 I am back at university in the states. The first day back I bumped into the same good friend that had introduced us. She told me that Elizabeth’s mother had died just a week ago. We are all 21, 22, no one has lost their parents, so I know that there is no one other than me in her circle of friends that she can really talk to who will understand what she is going through.

I call her and arrange to meet at a local college hangout bar with a Donkey Kong arcade machine in the corner. She brings along one of her lesbian friends which I am surprised at initially but who is driven away pretty quickly by the intense conversation about death and its aftermath that she and I are ensconced in. We talk and talk and talk for hours. We get kicked out of the bar at around 1:30 and then wander around campus until about three am.

This pattern repeats itself for a week and the better part of the next. We go to bars and inevitably end up talking until four in the morning sometimes crying our hearts out, having a unique vulnerable intimacy. We don’t kiss, we don’t even hug, I can’t vouch for what she feels or is thinking but I am terrified of this intense connection ending. It is not simple of course, I have a girlfriend back home that had saved my sanity when my father died, but we are not well suited, she loves the idea of me and us being together more than the reality of it all. We are not well matched but I do owe her which is a further complication to what’s happening right now with Elizabeth.

At the end of the second week, Elizabeth invites me to brunch and I am convinced that she is going to tell me that we need to cool it, that we have responsibilities in school, that we are in danger of failing out because we are distracted, that I have a girl back home that I need to deal with.

That Sunday I arrive at her apartment, which is barely that, more a collection of random rooms connected to a bathroom that only dispenses a thin stream of scalding water and a kitchen chock full of generic no brand foods. She has cooked me an omelet but has failed in a spectacular, almost chemical way. I can’t really describe what happened but the omelet is not an omelet, it may be considered an egg scramble but parts are not cooked and others have dehydrated. It is to the point that I can’t really eat it, I am heartened by the fact that she also does not seem capable to down this either and finally looks at me and fesses up that it is indeed terrible. At that point she puts her fork down and I am bracing for it. Miraculously, and to my astonishment, she tells me that she wants to have a relationship with me, even though she will be graduating and I won’t and she is heading to conservatory in Germany so that we will only have until graduation and I just feel a planetary pull and kiss her. And I experience another moment of chemistry, biology, and intellect all dissolved into one.

At that moment, as I kiss her, I realize what she tastes like, she tastes like home.

It has been more than forty years and we are still together, so I believe in alchemy.

Node your homework: A variation of this was told live before an audience, with no notes, February 28th 2024 at a Moth slam in Sommerville, Mass where the theme of the night was Chemistry. I didn't win but I did well enough that I plan to do it again. If you do not know the moth, you owe it to yourself to visit their website at and listen to some of the fantastic stories that have been told on their many live events

Al"che*my (#), n. [OF. alkemie, arquemie, F. alchimie, Ar. al-kimia, fr. late Gr. , for , a mingling, infusion, juice, liquid, especially as extracted from plants, fr. to pour; for chemistry was originally the art of extracting the juices from plants for medicinal purposes. Cf. Sp. alquimia, It. alchimia. Gr. is prob. akin to L. fundere to pour, Goth. guitan, AS. geotan, to pour, and so to E. fuse. See Fuse, and cf. Chemistry.]


An imaginary art which aimed to transmute the baser metals into gold, to find the panacea, or universal remedy for diseases, etc. It led the way to modern chemistry.


A mixed metal composed mainly of brass, formerly used for various utensils; hence, a trumpet.


Put to their mouths the sounding alchemy. Milton.


Miraculous power of transmuting something common into something precious.

Kissing with golden face the meadows green, Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy. Shak.


© Webster 1913.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.