Alchemy – is it a science, a religion, a philosophy, or… something more?
In this Guide to Alchemy, we’ll explore the definition of Alchemy and talk about alchemy’s influence on science, religion, medicine, and beyond. We’ll also look at some of more popular symbols of alchemy, the Alchemical Elements, and review books about alchemy by famous alchemists. Finally we’ll review how alchemy fits into the world created by author M. C. Stoppa’s for his Last Temptation of John books.
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1. Alchemy Definition
Definitions of Alchemy are as varied as the concept itself. Here are some of the more popular ways to define alchemy.
1-Cambridge defines alchemy as “a type of chemistry, especially in the Middle Ages, that dealt with trying to find a way to change ordinary metals into gold and with trying to find a medicine that would cure any disease.” It’s interesting that such a prestigious organization would give us the most basic of definitions – one wonders, is the renowned university misdirecting us from the real purpose of Alchemy? 🙂
2. Miriam Webster takes things a bit further, giving the definition of alchemy as “a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life. Alchemy is also a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way (or) an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting.”
3. Wikipedia gives us even more nuance: “Alchemy (from Arabic: al-kīmiyā) was an ancient branch of natural philosophy, a philosophical and protoscientific tradition practiced throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, originating in Hellenistic Egypt (primarily Alexandria) between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. It aims to purify, mature, and perfect certain objects.” Keep in mind that the ‘objects’ that were sought to be perfected could be the human body, mind, and spirit.
2. Origins of Alchemy
When readers from the Western World think about Alchemy it’s typically the branch of alchemy that was practiced during the Medieval Age of European History – the branch usually associated with the alchemical goal of using the Philosopher’s Stone to try to turn lead into gold. And yet, the origins of alchemy go back MUCH farther and the goals are much deeper.
In fact it is suspected that there are at least THREE different branches of alchemy that (allegedly) developed independently across the globe – in China, in India, and in the Mediterranean areas of the Middle East and Europe. I say ‘allegedly’ developed independently because when you delve deeper into the respective goals of each of these branches certain similar threads start to become apparent which causes one to at least have to wonder if perhaps there is a connection to a common source for the true origin of alchemy for all branches – AKA the roots of an Alchemy Tree that produced the various branches of alchemy we know today.
Alchemy in China
Numerous sources point to the beginning of alchemy in China around the 4th or 5th century BC. Whereas the overt purpose of Western Alchemy was the transmutation of base metals into gold, Chinese Alchemy is reported to have been more focused on the overt goal of finding the Grand Elixir of Immortality. And while Chinese alchemists did apparently seek ways to turn base metals into gold, but it wasn’t necessarily to use the gold for wealth, instead they used the gold as part of their quest for immortality by INGESTING the metal. In fact, Chinese alchemists and their followers ingested various metals, stones, and other substances (mercury, jade, cinnabar, sulpher, arsenic, etc) in an attempt to find the long sought after Elixir of Immortality – drinkable gold was high on their desired list because it was a non-tarnishing material that was believed to keep the body in a pure state. As you might imagine, drinking all these toxic substances led to numerous cases of “Chinese Alchemical Elixir Poisoning” and as such the practice eventually faded from the main stream of the science.
Chinese alchemy developed deep roots with Taoism and the mastery of the Qi energy source as well as the obvious associations with Chinese medicines.
Chinese alchemists are credited with having a hand in the development of black powder (i.e gunpowder), fireworks, and associated with acupuncture and moxibustion, in addition to the ever continuing quest for longevity.
Alchemy in India
It’s harder to pinpoint when alchemy originated in the Indian subcontinent of Asia – with some sources pointing as far back as 1500 BC, others to the 4th Century BC and others not until the Common Era, but most tend to agree that alchemy in India was closely tied to the Hindu Religion, the concept of Rasa (fluid, juice, essence/sap of life), and a focus on transmuting various substances in order to ingest them as forms of Elixers of Life in order to purify the mind and body via the concept of Rasayana (the path of the essence of life). There are deep connections to the Sanskrit and the god Shiva and goddess Devi. Mercury, sulfur, and gold were part of the Indian alchemy system along with many other substances and compounds.
Alchemy in the Mediterranean (Middle East and Europe) – AKA “Western Alchemy”
Most people reading this will probably be familiar with Western Alchemy since that has featured prominently in western literature. This form of alchemy is said to have originated in Babylonia or Egypt around 2,000 BC, or perhaps Greece in the 6th Century BC or Hellenistic Egypt in the 4th century BC and that it then spread outward to the Middle East and Europe (with some speculation that this form also spread to India and Asia as well as the root form but others that alchemy in India and Asia developed independently of the Greek/Egyptian form). Regardless of when it originated (which I believe was even earlier than 2,000 BC because of various conspiracy theories I buy in to), Western Alchemy continues to captivate us.
With a deep connection to Hermeticism and that philosophy’s focus on the relationships between the Divine, the Cosmos, the Mind, and Nature, Western Alchemy is most often associated with Metallurgy, the manipulation of the Classical Elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Aethyr), the use of the Philosopher’s Stone to trasmutate base metals into gold (although I believe this was a ruse to divert attention away from the true goal of the Philospher’s Stone), and the pursuit of perfecting the Magnus Opum (connecting the Soul to the Divine).
In the Last Temptation of John books, we know John lived all over the world under a variety of (famous) alchemy identities. This also includes spending over 200 years in India during one of the peaks of that country’s highest highs in alchemy knowledge. Although we don’t know about the identities John lived under in India or China, we do know about those personas he assumed in and around the Mediterranean alchemy world – see below to learn more.
3. Alchemy as a Science
Alchemy can be seen as a science for numerous reasons. To begin with many of the world’s first chemists, doctors, and philosophers were also alchemists. Numerous references consider alchemy as the precursor to modern chemist (remember alchemy had it’s own periodic-style chart of elements), as a form of protochemistry (alchemy was one of the first sciences to consistently use laboratory experiments working with chemical substances), and as being focused on the quest for purity (for example the transmutation of lead into gold) via the use of the scientific method of experimentation.
4. Alchemy as a Philosophy
As already mentioned, many of the ancient and medieval world’s best philosophical minds were also keenly interested in alchemy. For example, as relates to Hellenistic Alchemy, the Greek philosophies of Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Stoicism and Gnosticism all played a role in the development of the branch of Western Alchemy that developed in Egypt.
Aristotle was reputed to believe that “all things in the universe were formed from only four elements: earth, air, water, and fire” and “each element had a sphere to which it belonged and to which it would return if left undisturbed.” From a philosophical sense, it’s important to understand that while the Greek elements were concerned with the physical nature of these elements, in alchemical philosophers “never regarded earth, air, water, and fire as corporeal or chemical substances in the present-day sense of the word…[but instead as] amorphous substances of all bodies” that could be purified back to their divine form.
5. Alchemy as a Religion
If science is the focus on the ‘body’ of alchemy, and philosophy is its spirit, then the religion of alchemy is its soul. Those who took the philosophy of alchemy to the next level, made alchemy their de facto religion – seeking to use alchemy not just to reach their highest potential, but to become and, dare I say, even to absolve themselves of the stain of Original Sin. Alchemists often talk of the soul having been divided by the Fall. One sources claiming that alchemists believed that “only by purifying [oneself] could he find that divine spark within oneself and accepting it as a part of their existence [and] be reunited with God.”
In fact it’s suspected by some that the popular belief that alchemy’s main goal was to turn lead into goal was in fact nothing more than a ruse to protect alchemist’s from their true goal – “the transformation of man from his natural evils into a partaker of the Divine.” Why the ruse? Remember, for Western Alchemy at least, much of the area and era during which they lived was controlled by the Catholic Church – an entity that jealously guarded its control over the hearts and minds of the people that made up their congregations and often viciously persecuted anyone who threatened their jurisdiction (see. The Inquisition of Alchemists) – by using a bit of misdirection and making The Church believe they were trying to merely turn lead into gold (and undoubtedly promising to donate a portion of the proceeds), alchemists deflected spying eyes from their true purposes.
Interesting Note: In the Last Temptation of John books, the main character is none other than the Apostle John who has been ‘cursed’ (his words) with immortality. John has lost his original faith (Judaism) and worked through many others (Christianity, Catharism, etc), only to be continually disappointed. During his long life, John has worked the craft of Alchemy for over 1700 years – exploring its many facets as a philosophy, science, and ultimately as his religion – although his goals involving the ‘higher concepts’ of alchemy are a bit different than what you’ve read about here…
6. Key Concepts in Alchemy
I. Hermeticism (AKA “Hermetism”)
Earlier we asked the question about Alchemy – “is it a religion, a philosophy, or something else?” and the same could be said of Hermeticism. We’ll called it a theology since its followers called it the “Prisca Theologia” (claiming that Hermeticisism is one true theology which threads through all religions, and that it was given directly by God to ancient man”). Hermetism is based on the teachings of the mystical Hermes Trismegistus, a figure whose history is just as mysterious as the theology he started – is Hermes Trismegistus a mortal man, a god, a combination of god + man, a combo of multiple gods (namely the Greek God Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth), or something altogether different (ancient alien perhaps? Haha)? There is no clear answer to that question and we don’t really know when Hermes Trismegistus even lived (some claiming that he was a contemporary or even a teacher of the Jewish Patriarch Abraham which, if true, would date him about 2500 years before Christ).
Regardless of these mysteries, let’s focus on the teaching of Hermes Trismegistus that became the pillars of the hermetic theology. Hermeticism is a vast expanse of knowledge but for our purposes we’ll hone in on this overarching concept…
“There is a transcendent God, or Absolute, in which we and the entire universe participate” and that man can learn how to purify nature (and thereby himself) such that he can become one with “The All.”
A complete discussion of Hermeticism is clearly beyond the scope of this article (after all Hermes Trismegistus is credited with over 10,000 texts to his name!), but as relates to Hermetic Alchemy we should touch on a few more key concepts:
a. The Emerald Tablet: (AKA “Tabula Smaragdina”) reported to be the source of the philosophical phrase “As Above, So Below…”
The Emerald Tablet (as translated by Sir Isaac Newton) reads:
Tis true without lying, certain & most true.
That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing
And as all things have been & arose from one by the meditation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse.
The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.
Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.
Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.
It ascends from the earth to the heaven & again it descends to the earth & receives the force of things superior & inferior.
By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world
& thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.
Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing & penetrates every solid thing.
So was the world created.
From this are & do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world
That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished & ended.
b. Corpus Hermeticum
An 18-chapter sacred text of the Hermetic Religion – it is purported to document a dialogue between God and Hermes in which God shares His wisdom with Hermes who in turn shares it with his followers.
c. The 3 Parts of the Wisdom of the Universe
A hermetic practitioner seeks to learn how to perfect 3 “crafts.” These are:
- The Craft of Alchemy (the operation of the Sun).
- The Craft of Astrology (the operation of the Stars).
- The Craft of Theurgy (the operation of the gods AKA ‘magic’).
The perfection of these three crafts is thought to grant the hermetic all the wisdom of the universe, which, when known is believed to open the door for the practitioner to attain a higher consciousness and ultimately achieve a Oneness with The Divine.
Such is the ultimate goal of The Great Work (see below).
Interesting Note: In the Last Temptation of John books, we know John has used The Emerald Tablet, but not much is said about Hermes Trimegistus, the Corpus Hermeticum, or the Wisdom of the Universe.
II. The 3 Alchemic Agents
1. The Philosopher’s Stone
There is perhaps no more popular (and misunderstood) concept in alchemy than the famed Philosopher’s Stone – that mythical substance (?) reputed to be capable of turning lead into gold. This transformation was achieved by heating the base metals in a pear-shaped glass crucible (a Hermetic Tube, AKA The Philosopher’s Egg). As the process contained the base materials changed color: “black indicating the death of the old material preparatory to its revitalization; white, the color required for change into silver; and red, the highest stage, the color required for change into gold.”
Or so the legend goes – but is there really more to the Philosopher’s Stone than just the promise of untold riches?
Consider for yourself…
The Philosopher’s Stone was also known as The Stone of the Philosopher’s, Materia Prima, Lapis Philosophorum, The White Stone by the River, Chrysopoeia, Magisterium, Spiritus Mundi, Stone of the Wise, Diamond of Perfection, and even The Sword in the Stone.
It’s true that the Philosopher’s Stone was most famous for it’s supposed function of turning BASE metals (lead, iron, tin, copper, mercury) into PRECIOUS metals (silver and gold) – at least that’s what alchemists told non-alchemists.
Remember, many alchemists (particularly in Europe during the Middle Ages) practiced their craft under the baleful eye of The Catholic Church. Telling the ever-hungry-for-money Church that they could one day offer them untold amounts of silver and gold allowed alchemists to pursue their experiments (and hide their possible true intention for using The Stone).
In fact, many people now suspect that the real purpose of the Philosopher’s Stone was to…
a. Create the Elixir of Life to achieve immortality.
b. Obtain Perfection of The Self – AKA Complete Enlightenment and heavenly bliss as part of The Magnum Opus (see below).
To learn even more about The Philospher’s Stone, here is a treatise on the topic from Dennis Hauck, Project Curator of the Alchemy Museum.
Featured here is Mr. Hauck’s drawing of the alchemist’s workshop in which the Philosopher’s Stone is setup.
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in trying to create the Philosopher’s Stone for yourself, here is a copy of Isaac Newton’s manuscript on the topic. (BTW, you knew Isaac Newton was an alchemist, right?)
Interesting Note: In the Last Temptation of John books, the main character (John the Apostle) gives a rather extended dialogue about the real purpose of the Philosopher’s Stone – confirming some of the details above, while dispelling other myths. On one hand, John’s use of the Philosopher’s Stone has filled his coffers with untold riches, and yet he has continued to remain disappointed in it to this day.
2. Alkahest vs Azoth
Although sometimes taken to mean the same thing, a closer look reveals that Alkahest and Azoth are in fact quite different alchemical agents.
Alkahest was the ‘universal solvent’ used in alchemy. The purpose of alkahest was that is had the power to DISSOLVE any other substance – including gold.
Key contributors to the development of the use of alkahest within alchemy were Paracelsus (legend has it that Paracelsus came up with the term “Alkahest” and who is said to have believed that alkahest was actually the Philosopher’s Stone) and his successor Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont (who developed the concept of Liquor Alkahest).
The challenge with trying to make an alkahest was that most versions of it turned out to be such powerful solvents that they apparently dissolved everything – which was a problem… at least for amateur alchemists.
The mystery surrounding alkahest (and perhaps it’s true key to alchemy’s higher goals) lies in this: from the chemical standpoint, the true ‘universal’ solvent was purported to be WATER (since, over time, it can dissolve anything back to it’s base form) and from a metaphysical standpoint, there is an alkahest (substance only known to alchemy masters) which can dissolve the body’s ailments and deliver eternal life (AKA The Elixir of Life).
Not to be confused with Alkahest, Azoth is in fact far different. Although it’s true that both were reported to be universal medications, the process by which they accomplished this goal is the key to understanding their differences. Whereas alkahest was the universal SOLVENT, azoth was the universal TRANSFORMER.
Azoth (nee Azoc) is closelly associated with mercury (a key alchemical substance held by ancient alchemists to be “the animating spirit hidden in all matter that makes transmutation possible“).
A discussion of azoth goes far deeper into metaphysics than alkahest. Like the latter, azoth is also associated with the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life, but unlike alkahest, azoth has a far richer history (dating back to the time of the early alchemists like Zosimos of Panopolis and Mary the Prophetess).
Azoth is in fact associated with all of these higher goals in alchemy:
a. The Kaballah concept of Schamayim (שמים) which is “the first outflow of the Word of God” that becomes the Water of Life (AKA Azoth) which in turn “pours itself into the Four Elements.” Of these elements, Edem (vaporous essence or mist) is “the intangible dust out of which God formed Adam” thus making azoth the spirit of life.
b. Azoth is believed to be not only “the animating energy (spiritus animatus) of the body but is also the inspiration and enthusiasm that moves the mind.”
c. Azoth is claimed by some to be “the nature or mind of God.”
Interesting Note: We learn that Azoth is a core concept for the character John in the Last Temptation of John books. In fact, during the climax of the book in which John is working on his Magnus Opus, we discover that John actually calls himself “Azoth” and instructs another character to only refer to him by that name during the experiment.
3. Elixir Vitae
As we have already spent much time on topics similar to this one, we’ll be brief here. As you probably guessed by know, alchemists around the globe have continuously been intensely interested in finding a substance that would grant them eternal life or immortality – this was the famed Elixir Vitae (AKA. The Elixir of Life).
In China, alchemists experimented with mixing and ingesting numerous elixirs made with jade, cinnabar, hematite, and even gold. Although we don’t know if any of them achieved immortality, we do know that many died of Chinese Alchemical Elixir Poisoning – yikes!
Alchemists in India were focused on finding an elixir made from the nectar of the gods which they called Amrita. Depending on the form of religion they followed (Hindu, Buddhism, Sikhism, etc) the method of finding Amrita varied.
In Europe, the quest to create an Elixir Vitae was part and parcel to the use of the Philosopher’s Stone discussed above.
Whether any of them found their Holy Grail we don’t know.
A Paradox? In the Last Temptation of John books, the main character John was made immortal by Christ. During the course of his long life, John repeatedly turned to alchemy to find Life’s answers since world religions were not accomplishing that task for him. Although John became an alchemy master many times over, one thing he didn’t seek from the craft was the Elixir of Life – if anything, John quested for the Elixir of Death – the one thing that the craft would never delivery to him!
Samuel Norton was an English Alchemist who lived in the 1500’s. Among his works, he wrote about the 14 Keys to Alchemy which describes the processes through which the alchemical substances pass from the time they are first placed in the test tube until ready for harvesting/use in higher level alchemical experiments. This list was published in 1577.
- Solution, the act of passing from a gaseous or solid condition into one of liquidity.
- Filtration, the mechanical separation of a liquid from the undissolved particles suspended in it.
- Evaporation, the changing or converting from a liquid or solid state into a vaporous state with the aid of heat.
- Distillation, an operation by which a volatile liquid may be separated from substances which it holds in solution.
- Separation, the operation of disuniting or decomposing substances.
- Rectification, the process of refining or purifying any substance by repeated distillation.
- Calcination, the conversion into a powder or calx by the action of heat; expulsion of the volatile substance from a matter.
- Commixtion, the blending of different ingredients into new compounds or mass.
- Purification (through putrefaction), disintegration by spontaneous decomposition; decay by artificial means.
- Inhibition, the process of holding back or restraining.
- Fermentation, the conversion of organic substances into new compounds in the presence of a ferment.
- Fixation, the act or process of ceasing to be a fluid and becoming firm; state of being fixed.
- Multiplication, the act or process of multiplying or increasing in number, the state of being multiplied.
- Projection, the process of turning the base Metals into gold.
In the Last Temptation series, John’s work with the Magnus Opum takes place after these processes and add more levels to mix (see Magnus Opum below)
IV. The Magnus Opus – The Great Work
In alchemy, it all leads to this – the completion of the Great Work and the End of the Matter. Over the centuries, different alchemists throughout the world seemingly had different definitions of the Magnus Opum…or so we are led to believe.
- Some claimed it was part of the process of transforming base metals into precious metals via the use of the Philosopher’s Stone previously described.
- Other (particularly those in the Hermetic traditions) claimed the Magnum Opus involved the final stages of transforming one’s self into the Divine.
- In a more esoteric sense, used crafted their Magnus Opum bring out true Individualism — “fulfilling one’s destiny embracing one’s life’s path — moving away from being a pawn in the hands of fate and into to consciously acceptance of the realization of one’s unique destiny.”
Regardless of the professed goals for the Magnus Opum, most text appear to agree that the stages of the Great Work involved…
- nigredo, in a basic sense this is the stage involving “a blackening,” but in a higher sense, this is also called “The Shadow Stage” in which the material being worked on ‘loses one’s self’ via destruction of self, confession, or cartharsis.
- albedo, at the most basic level, this is “a whitening” in which consciousness begins to emerge. This is the stage of Illumination of Self, Full Consciousness, and a connection to one’s inner being.
- citrinitas, often overlooked, (a critical error which leads to failure of the Magnus Opum), this stage involves a “yellowing” which seems odd after the illuminating power that was achieved during the Albedo, and yet, if performed, the Citrinitas provides further illumination regarding the external world.
- rubedo, at the basic level, this is a reddening” but going deeper, rebedo was associated with the concepts of tapping into one’s “Personal Myth — and understanding how one’s essence and purpose to the world.”
In the Last Temptation books, after centuries of work, John completes his Magnus Opum and finally achieves Rebedification… only to discover the results of his alchemy (and his life’s purpose) were far different than he ever imagined.
7. The Elements of Alchemy
Throughout the world, alchemists have historically quested to ‘know all there was to know’ about the elements that make up our world. Consider the variances and similarities among these cultures and what they considered the base elements from which all other matter is built…
- Greeks: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Aether
- Chinese: Wood, Fire, Earth, Gold, Water
- Babylonia: Sea, Earth, Sky, Wind
- India/Hindi: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space, The Void
- Buddhism: Earth, Air, Fire, Water
Although these elements appear to be linked to their physical meaning, it’s suspected that alchemists in these countries used these terms to mean beyond just their basic definition. For example, in China, Wood, Fire, Earth, Gold, and Water were the alchemists terms for various types of ENERGY that was in a “constant state of interaction with each other and a state of change” and referred to them collectively as the Wu Xing (“Five Changes”). In Buddhism “the four elements are a basis for understanding suffering and for liberating oneself from suffering.”
As we are most focused on the medieval alchemists for this article, let’s turn our attention to the Mediterranean Alchemists Elements of Alchemy…
Tracing a path back to the origins of the universe (Chaos) and then beyond to a connection to Divinity (Quintessence), alchemists like Jābir ibn Hayyān and Paracelsus added to the classic 4 elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water on both the front and back ends of the spectrum.
From Chaos come Matter & Energy, which are then influenced by either Passive (Magnetic) or Active (Electrical) Forces to follow paths governed by Salt (which leads to Earth & Water) or Niter (which leads to Air & Fire).
It was Jābir ibn Hayyān who allegedly identified Sulphur (AKA sulfur as “The stone that burns”) and Mercury (the element so important to much of alchemy) as having key roles to play in terms of enabling an alchemist to ‘manipulate’ the 4 base elements in their experiments – claiming that both Sulpur and Mercury were ‘irreducible’ elements.
Paracelsus took Hayyān’s work further and added in Salt to the mix to create the 3 Metallic Principles which are:
- Sulphur: flammability
- Mercury: both volatility and stability
- Salt: solidity
Paracelsus named these irreducible elements as The Tria Prima and claimed they could be used to unlock Quintessence.
What is Quintessence?
Now we’re getting somewhere! Quintessence is another of the mystical goals of the alchemist’s quest. Quintessence is given many definitions, including:
- The material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere.
- The spirit that fills the universe generating its life and vitality.
- The Prima Materia of the Universe.
- The pure essence essential for life.
- Perfection itself, the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of life.
Interesting Note: In the Last Temptation of John books, John talks about Quintessence during his pursuit of The Magnus Opus – explaining its importance to The Great Work.
8. Symbols of Alchemy
The symbols of alchemy have fascinated us for millennia. Here are two of the more classic examples of alchemy symbols that depict the Elements of Alchemy, the Zodiac Planets, various alchemical processes, and more.
The second image comes from alchemist Basil Valentine – a 15th century Franciscan monk who was also a renowned alchemist.
9. Famous Alchemists
Here is a list of the world’s most famous alchemists, however I’d recommend you keep in mind that just because these alchemists were famous does not necessarily mean they were the most successful – after all isn’t it possible that the alchemists who achieved the highest goals are not listed here because they didn’t want fame or fortune?
This list is compiled from research exploring numerous sites and texts (see references below for more info). A special thanks to the site CrystalLinks for it’s outstanding research on this topic.
Agricola, Georg (1494-1555)
Al-Farabi, “Alfarabi” (870 – 950/951)
Artephius (c. 1150)
Bacon, Roger (1220- 1292)
Bernard of Treves (1406–1490)
Bohmen, Jacob (1575 – 1624)
Brahe, Tycho (1546-1601)
Charnock, Thomas (1516–1581)
de Cagliostro, Count Alessandro AKA “Guiseppe Balsamo” (1743-1795)
de Lille, Alain (Born from 1115 to 1128 – died in 1202(1203?))
de Meung, Jean (c.1250 – c.1305)
de Rais, Gilles (1401–1440)
de Roquetaillade, Jean (Johannes de Rupescissa ) (d. 1336)
Dee, John (1527-1608)
Dhul-Nun al-Misri (b. 796)
Flamel, Nicolas & Perenelle (1330-1418)
Fulcanelli (Late 19th century – early 20th.)
Ge Hong (Ko Hung, 283—343 C.E.)
Jabir ibn Hayyan (AKA “Geber”) (721-815)
Kanada, (6th century BC)
Kelley, Edward (1555-1595)
Khalid ibn Yazid, “Calid” (d. 704)
Kirchweger, Anton Josef ((d.1746))
Magnus, Albertus (1193-1280)
Muhammed ibn Umail al-Tamimi, “Senior Zadith” (c. 900–960)
Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi, “Rhazes” (864 – 930)
Newton, Isaac (1642 -1727)
Norton, Samuel (1548–1621)
Norton, Thomas (c. 1433-c. 1513)
Olympiodorus of Thebes (c. 400)
Paphnutia the Virgin (c. 300)
Reidel, Dr. Albert (AKA “Frater Albertus”) (1911–1984)
Ripley, George (15th century)
St. Germain, Count(18th Century)
Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, Alexander (1842-1909)
Sędziwój, Michal (1566–1636)
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Valentine, Basil (1394-1450)
Villanovanus. Arnaldus (1240-1311)
Zhang Guo the Elder (c. 600)
Zosimos of Panopolis (c. 300)
Additional Bio’s about Alchemists can be found at these links:
- U of Bristol School of Chemistry
- Lifenders 20 Most Famous Alchemists
- CrystalLinks Alchemist List
- Wiki “Complete” List of Alchemists
Editor’s Note: In the Last Temptation of John books, John claims to have lived portions of his life under the pseudonyms of famous alchemists – including Zosimos, Paracelsus, and Fulcanelli – a trio of heavy hitters in the world of alchemy!
10. Alchemy Books of Important Significance
Although we can’t touch on every alchemy volume ever written (there are untold thousands of texts), let’s look as some of the most famous ones.
- Liber Aboali Abincine de Anima in arte Alchemiae
- Declaratio Lapis physici Avicennae filio sui Aboali
- Avicennae de congelatione et conglutinatione lapidum
- Avicennae ad Hasan Regem epistola de Re recta
- Opus Maius
- Opus Minus
- Opus Tertium
- Letter on the Secret Workings of Art and Nature and on the Vanity of Magic (Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae et de Nullitate Magiae)
- The Mirror of Alchimy (Speculum Alchemiae)
- Le Livre des figures hiéroglyphiques (The Book of hieroglyphic figures)
- Le sommaire philosophique (The Philosophical summary)
- Le Bréviaire de Flamel (Flamel’s breviary)
- Le Mystère des Cathédrales (The Mystery of the Cathedrals)
- Les Demeures Philosophales (Dwellings of the Philosophers)
- Finis Gloriae Mundi (End of the World’s Glory)
- Kitab al-Kimya (Book of the Composition of Alchemy)
- Kitab al-Sab’een(Book of Seventy)
- The Book of Stones
- Book of the Kingdom
Among the thousands of books attributed to him, perhaps the most influential books by Hermes Trimestigus were:
- Metals and Materials
- Theatrum Chemicum
Mary the Jewess
- Alchemical Catechism
- The Aurora of the Philosophers
- Coelum philosophorum
- Concerning The Tincture Of The Philosophers
- The Treasure of Treasures for Alchemists
Zosimos of Panopolis
- Concerning the true Book of Sophe, the Egyptian, and of the Divine Master of the Hebrews and the Sabaoth Powers (French translation)
- The Final Quittance (French translation)
- On the Evaporation of the Divine Water that fixes Mercury (French translation )
- On the Letter Omega (English excerpt translated by G.R.S. Mead; French translation)
- The Sulfurs
- Treatise on Instruments and Furnaces (French translation)
- The Visions of Zosimos (English translation)
- Sacred Text Archive – an amazing resource for lost tomes from ancient archives the world over!
- Forgotten Books – a treasure trove of alchemy wisdom.
- Levity – a giant list of alchemy books post 16th-century.
- Alchemywebsite.com – over 300 alchemy books post 16th-century
11. Alchemy & The Last Temptation of John Books
Although the trilogy known as the Last Temptation of John is not solely focused on alchemy, the craft plays an important role in the series because the main character (St John the Apostle) is an unhappy immortal whose primary goal in life is to find a way to die. Unable to discover a normal way to die, John turns to alchemy to find a solution. His curious quest takes him on a journey that involves The Philosopher’s Stone, Quintessence, Azoth, and of course The Magnus Opus. Will he successfully complete his alchemical goals?
Read The Last Temptation of John to find out..