On this day in history – Alchemy was forbidden

In 1404, English alchemists were forbidden to use their
knowledge to create precious metals. Since the time of Roger Bacon, it had
fascinated the imagination of many ardent men in England. During the reign of
Henry IV, the Act of Multipliers was passed by the Parliament, declaring the
use of transmutation to “multiply” gold and silver to be felony. Great alarm
was felt at that time lest any alchemist should succeed in his projects, and
perhaps bring ruin upon the state, by furnishing boundless wealth to some
designing tyrant, who would make use of it to enslave his country. In 1689,
Robert Boyle lobbied for repeal of the Act.

The world’s largest gold bar, by PHGCOM (Own work by uploader, Toi Mine) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://ift.tt/HKkdTz) or GFDL (http://ift.tt/KbUOlc)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

What is Alchemy?

Alchemy is a philosophical and protoscientific tradition
practiced throughout Egypt and Eurasia which aimed to purify, mature, and
perfect certain objects. Common aims were chrysopoeia, the transmutation of
“base metals” (e.g. lead) into “noble” ones (particularly
gold); 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. The perfection of the human body and soul was thought to permit or
result from the alchemical magnum opus and, in the Hellenistic and western
tradition, the achievement of gnosis.  In
Europe, the creation of a philosopher’s stone was variously connected with all
of these projects.

In English, the term is often limited to descriptions of
European alchemy, but similar practices existed in the Far East, the Indian
subcontinent, and the Muslim world. In Europe, following the 12th-century
Renaissance produced by the translation of Arabic works on science and the
Recovery of Aristotle, alchemists played a significant role in early modern
science (particularly chemistry and medicine). Islamic and European alchemists
developed a structure of basic laboratory techniques, theory, terminology, and
experimental method, some of which are still in use today. However, they
continued antiquity’s belief in four elements and guarded their work in secrecy
including cyphers and cryptic symbolism. Their work was guided by Hermetic
principles related to magic, mythology, and religion.

Modern discussions of alchemy are generally split into an
examination of its exoteric practical applications and its esoteric spiritual
aspects, despite the arguments of scholars like Homyard and von Franz that they
should be understood as complementary. The former is pursued by historians of
the physical sciences who examine the subject in terms of protochemistry,
medicine, and charlatanism. The latter interests historians of esotericism,
psychologists, and some philosophers and spiritualists. The subject has also
made an ongoing impact on literature and the arts. Despite this split, which
von Franz believes has existed since the Western traditions’ origin in a mix of
Greek philosophy was mixed with Egyptian and Mesopotamian technology, numerous
sources have stressed an integration of esoteric and exoteric approaches to
alchemy as far back as Bolus of Mendes’s 3rd-century bc On Physical and
Mystical Matters (Greek: Physika kai Mystika).

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Posted on January 13, 2016, in Useful Information. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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