Glossary entry for
alchemy

Probably originating in ancient Egypt, alchemy appeared in Europe in the Middle Ages and was much studied during the Renaissance. At one level alchemy is the transmutation of base metals into gold, by long and complex chemical processes. The Frenchman Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418) and his wife Pernelle are reputed to have successfully turned base metal into gold, and much legend has built up around their lives.

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) wrote some of his major works on alchemy, putting forward a psychological interpretation. He saw it as a method of self transformation whereby the alchemist unites the opposite elements within himself (e.g., male/female; conscious/unconscious) and attains completeness as a human being. To mystics and occultists alchemy is a spiritual discipline, whereby a person transmutes the base elements of the personality into "spiritual gold". Alchemical writings were very obscure for a number of reasons: to protect their unorthodox views from the Church authorities; in order not to reveal secrets; and, symbolic language was needed to express the many mystical concepts. Modern chemistry evolved from alchemy, relinquishing the mystical connotations.

Contributed by Alan Pert, Sydney, Australia

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