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By Sean Martin

Alchemy has routinely been seen as 'the historical past of an error', an instance of mediaeval gullibility and greed, within which alchemists attempted to show lead into gold, create impressive wealth and locate the elixir of existence. yet alchemy has additionally been defined as 'the mightiest mystery guy can possess', and it obsessed the likes of Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and lots of of the founders of recent technology. This booklet explores the heritage of the so-called Royal paintings, from its mysterious beginnings in Egypt and China, in the course of the Hellenistic international and the early years of Islam and into mediaeval Europe. a few of the maximum minds of the center a long time, figures corresponding to Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas have been interested in alchemy, and mythical alchemists equivalent to Nicholas Flamel have been proposal to have really succeeded find The Philosopher's Stone. throughout the Renaissance, Paracelsus and his fans helped revolutionise drugs, and through the 17th century, alchemy performed a big function in paving the way in which for contemporary technological know-how. in the course of the 20th century, it turned a spotlight of curiosity for the psychologist Carl Jung and his fans, who believed that the alchemists had chanced on the subconscious. during this absolutely revised variation, Sean Martin has extended the sections on chinese language and Indian alchemy and has additional new fabric at the dating among alchemy and early smooth technology, whereas additionally creating a clean evaluate of this so much enduringly mysterious and interesting of topics, to which all others were defined as 'child's play'.

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The top of the figure on the right’s head has been peeled back like a tin can, and also has an incision in its chest where it has seemingly reached inside its own body to take out its heart, and is offering it to the other figure, who is eating or drinking from a cup. Although strong and verging on heresy, these images, like that of alchemical poems, were intended to openly conceal the secret in works that could only be understood by the initiated, and that could only be done through contact with a genuine master.

After four years of monumental productivity in Paris and finally in Naples – during which • 58 • Alchemy 16/10/06 11:15 am Page 59 ALCHEMY IN THE WEST he was writing not only the Summa, but also the commentaries on Aristotle as well as lecturing – he underwent a mystical experience while saying mass on December 6, 1273. He told his secretaries that ‘all I have written seems to me like so much straw compared with what has been revealed to me’. He halted work on Part Three of the Summa and never wrote anything again.

So great was the craze for alchemical transmutations, that decrees were issued against it all over Europe. As we have seen, alchemy was banned as early as 144 BCE in China; Pope John XXII forbade the manufacture of gold by alchemical means in his Bull of 1317 (but was then said to have created a fortune of his own under the direction of the alchemist John Dastyn). In England, King Henry IV outlawed alchemy in 1403; thereafter the art could only be practiced under Royal licence. In Scotland, King James IV, rather than outlawing the art, had a court alchemist by the name of John Damian, whose alchemy seems to have been dangerously close to that of the puffers.

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