I’ve talked before about how alchemy is woven into the background in my upcoming release, Haunted Melody. You can read about that in this earlier post. What I haven’t addressed yet is what alchemy actually entails. I think others will feel as I do that there is a sense of the mysterious, the mystical or sinister, surrounding the romantic notions of alchemists and their art. Even after doing research into the topic, I still come away with a fairly romanticized view of these early scientists.
First, let’s look at how alchemy is defined. Most historians agree that alchemy created products, through the act of producing changes which yielded new items, or specifically for monetary gain by selling new products. Historians have shown that some alchemists employed religious or spiritual allegories and allusions in their writings, which reflected their spiritual beliefs as much as their desire to obscure the secret techniques they used. For more on the techniques, read my earlier post here.
Alchemy breaks down into various subgenres, what I call separate spheres of practice:
- medical (iatrochemical) along with pharmaceuticals known collectively as chymiatri;
- household alchemy, comprising home remedies and even cooking skills;
- artisanal alchemy that encompassed efforts related to paints, dyes, gilding, etc.; and
- natural and diabolical magic.
Note that housewives could be seen as a kind of alchemist given their recipes for foods and simples (home remedies). So anyone who whips up a stew or soup is carrying on the tradition in some sense.
We must be careful about how we perceive magic as it related to alchemists. Although it’s tempting to adopt the romanticized view of alchemists brewing up trouble like the three witches of MacBeth, the reality is far different. Depending on the alchemist’s role in society, knowledge of magic could be valuable. Indeed, in America, Puritan leaders and educated people clearly differentiated between what Walter Woodward calls natural magic as the “manipulation through natural means of the occult or unseen forces at work in the world” and diabolical magic which is the “manipulation of those same forces with the aid of the devil.” Thus, while studying natural magic was encouraged, delving into diabolical magic was not.
Sometime way back in the 3rd century AD someone decided to try to make real gold and silver, an idea believed possible at that time. Given that artisans knew how to tinge silver to look like gold, why couldn’t they take it farther, perhaps “give silver not only the color of gold but all the properties of gold?” Making gold in this way is referred to as chrysopoeia, from the Greek words chryson poiein (to make gold), while making silver using a similar process is referred to as argyropoeia. The general process of transforming one metal into another is called transmutation. Once this idea emerged and became popular, alchemists had a common goal in their application of alchemical principles to the “noble art.”
Most of all, alchemy is typically associated with the pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone, a substance that enabled transmutation, and efforts to effect chryosopoeia and argyropoeia. However, more often alchemists engaged in a variety of practical, daily uses for the chemical manipulation of natural elements that they conducted. Principe argues that “There must also exist some body of theory that provides an intellectual framework, that undergirds and explains practical work, and that guides pathways for the discovery of new knowledge.”
So Zak, as a present day chemist in Haunted Melody, works to understand the ancient alchemical recipe so he can apply it to his brother’s medical condition, to attempt to heal his brother. Only Zak doesn’t possess that foundation to help him attain the new knowledge he seeks. But he’s also aware of his weakness and strives to learn what he needs to accomplish his ultimate aim. Does he succeed, you may ask? You’ll have to wait for March 28 when the book releases, but you can pre-order it now so you have the story as soon as possible.
Source: Principe, Lawrence M. The Secrets of Alchemy.
What are your thoughts on alchemists? Were they secretive sorcerers? Or mystical medicine men? The castle cook? Something in between?
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts and opinions!
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Haunted Melody is now available for pre-order and will release on March 28, 2017. Here’s more about the story…
Paulette O’Connell needs to build her home decorating business in order to give her unborn child a stable home. While exploring the mysterious attic of the antebellum plantation where she lives, she accidentally summons her grandfather’s ghost. But he won’t leave until she figures out why she needed him in the first place, putting her plans in serious jeopardy.
Zak Markel has been searching for the last ingredient to create the Elixir of Life he hopes will save his brother’s eyesight. But he discovers the woman of his dreams in the smart and beautiful Paulette, distracting him from his focus at the worst possible time, even though she staunchly refuses to allow him past her defenses.
Can he convince Paulette to open her mind to possibilities and follow her heart to true happiness before it’s too late?
Amazon USA: http://bit.ly/HauntedMelody
Amazon AU: http://bit.ly/HauntedMelody-AU
Amazon CA: http://bit.ly/HauntedMelody-CA
Amazon UK: http://bit.ly/HauntedMelody-UK