Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/alchemy/v-1
Alchemy is the quest for an agent of material perfection, produced through a creative activity (opus), in which humans and nature collaborate. It exists in many cultures (China, India, Islam; in the Western world since Hellenistic times) under different specifications: aiming at the production of gold and/or other perfect substances from baser ones, or of the elixir that prolongs life, or even of life itself. Because of its purpose, the alchemists’ quest is always strictly linked to the religious doctrine of redemption current in each civilization where alchemy is practised.
In the Western world alchemy presented itself at its advent as a sacred art. But when, after a long detour via Byzantium and Islamic culture, it came back again to Europe in the twelfth century, adepts designated themselves philosophers. Since then alchemy has confronted natural philosophy for several centuries.
In contemporary thought the memory of alchemy was scarcely regarded, save as protochemistry or as a branch of esotericism, until interest in it was revived by C.G. Jung. Recent research is increasingly showing the complexity of alchemy and its multiple relation to Western thought.
Pereira, Michela. Alchemy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q001-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/alchemy/v-1.
Copyright © 1998-2023 Routledge.