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The Alchemist by Wright of Derby
 



Alchemists are persons who practice alchemy.

Alchemy is an early protoscientific practice combining elements of chemistry, physics, astrology, art, semiotics, metallurgy, medicine, mysticism, and religion. Two intertwined goals sought by many alchemists were the philosopher's stone, a mythical substance which would enable the transmutation of common metals into gold; and the universal panacea, a remedy that would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely. Alchemy can be regarded as the precursor of the modern science of chemistry prior to the formulation of the scientific method.

The word alchemy comes from the Arabic al-kimiya or al-khimiya which is probably formed from the article al- and the Greek word khumeia (χυμεία) meaning "cast together", "pour together," "weld," "alloy," etc. (from khumatos, "that which is poured out, an ingot").
The common perception of alchemists is that they were pseudo-scientists who attempted to turn lead into gold, believed all matter was composed of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, and dabbled around the edges of mysticism and magic.
To understand the alchemists, it is helpful to consider how wonderfully magical the conversion of one substance into another, which had formed the basis of metallurgy since its inception at the end of the Neolithic, would seem in a culture with no formal understanding of physics or chemistry. To the alchemist, there was no compelling reason to separate the chemical (material) dimension from the interpretive, symbolic or philosophical one. In those times a physics devoid of metaphysical insight would have been as partial and incomplete as a metaphysics devoid of physical manifestation. So the alchemical symbols and processes often had both an inner meaning referring to the spiritual development of the practitioner as well as a material meaning connected to physical transformation of matter.

Up to the 18th century, alchemy was considered serious science in Europe; for instance, Isaac Newton devoted a great deal of time to the Art (see Isaac Newton's occult studies). Other eminent alchemists of the Western world are Roger Bacon, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Tycho Brahe, and Thomas Browne. The decline of alchemy began in the 18th century with the birth of modern chemistry, which provided more precise and reliable framework for matter transmutations and medicine, within a new grand design of the universe based on rational materialism.

Source: Wikipedia.org
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