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Tree of Life

Divided into over sections and providing tens of thousands of pages of text, over images, over complete alchemical texts, extensive bibliographical material on the printed books and manuscripts, numerous articles, introductory and general reference material on alchemy. This site is organised by Adam McLean , the well known authority on alchemical texts and symbolism, author and publisher of over 50 books on alchemical and Hermetic ideas.


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Alchemy is a complex subject with many different interconnected aspects. Many people still only think of the quest of the philosophers' stone to change base metals into gold.

Introduction to Alchemy

On this web site you will be able to explore the riches of alchemical texts, some of which are wonderful works of allegorical literature, delve into its amazing, beautiful and enigmatic symbolism, and ponder its underlying hermetic philosophy, which holds a picture of the interconnection of the Macrocosm and Microcosm.

This website is so complex and extensive that it can take some time to thoroughly explore all the sections. Clicking on the links in the menubar on the left will allow exploration of the major sections of the alchemy web site. Thus began the Renaissance equivalent of the great California gold rush.

Well-trained, intellectual alchemists sold the prospect of making gold to rich patrons, and less well-educated alchemists with day jobs tinkered the night away trying to make gold in makeshift kitchen laboratories.


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In his ongoing investigation into this remarkable era, Newman became intrigued by one of the most influential of the 17th-century alchemists—another mysterious figure, a man named Eirenaeus Philalethes, who was said to live in colonial America. His real identity was cloaked in secrecy, but his alchemical writings were read throughout Europe. Detective work by Newman proved that Philalethes did not really exist. Another respected American alchemist, George Starkey, had created him out of thin air to boost his career.

From Alchemy to Chemistry (article) | Khan Academy

In the European alchemy circles Starkey inhabited, he could boast that he was the only one who had met the great Philalethes. In Boyle took the bait and asked Starkey to teach him chemistry so he could make the Stone himself. Boyle, considered the father of modern chemistry, knew almost nothing about it until he studied under Starkey, according to Newman.

A Boyle notebook uncovered by Principe in the mids describes how a wandering alchemist seemingly transformed lead into gold before his eyes. In his work, Valentine included an illustration that, Principe suspected, depicted a method for rendering gold—normally one of the most stable elements—volatile.

Alchemy May Not Have Been the Pseudoscience We All Thought It Was

Looking around for other documents describing the volatility of gold, he found a treasure trove of writings on alchemy by Boyle. One of those manuscripts included a description of an absolutely real substance then called Philosophical Mercury—a liquid form of mercury that could dissolve gold slowly, a pivotal stage in gold making. Newton was even more secretive than Boyle, disguising his alchemical investigations he wrote more than a million unpublished words on the subject with codes, obscure symbols for chemicals, and colorful metaphors.

To really understand what Newton was seeing in his laboratory, Newman realized in , he needed to repeat some of the old alchemical experiments himself. One key alchemical experiment was called the Tree of Diana, a magical-looking demonstration that metals could grow like vegetation. Newman learned that the Tree of Diana really works.

Today this process is regarded as a simple matter of chemistry.


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Principe, who had studied the alchemical work of all three men, came to the same conclusion as Newman and decided that he, too, had to replicate the long-abandoned alchemical experiments firsthand. Principe mixed the Philosophical Mercury with gold, sealed it in a glass egg, and watched.

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Just as Starkey and other alchemists reported, strange things started to happen inside the egg. But the experiments proved something that Principe had long suspected.

History of alchemy

Alchemists were not just tinkering blindly. In the process they were learning fundamental principles of chemistry: breaking down ores, dissolving metals with acids, and precipitating metals out of solution. How close did Newton and Boyle think they had come to making gold? Did they believe that with just a few more tweaks, their experiments would eventually work? Principe says yes, they probably did. Why, otherwise, would the highly apolitical Boyle have lobbied the Houses of Parliament to overturn a law forbidding gold making? In life, Boyle had guarded his recipe for red earth as if it were the most precious thing in the world.

But upon his death, his executor, the philosopher John Locke, also an alchemist, was more generous, sending Newton the recipe along with a sample that Boyle had made before his death. No one knows what Newton did with the red earth. After all, the first steps in making red earth require repeatedly heating and cooling mercury. We know now that such a transformation requires not a chemical reaction but a nuclear one, far beyond the reach of the technology of the time. By the early 18th century, alchemists had given up on their quest for gold. That does not mean that their other work was abandoned, however.

Without the pioneering alchemists, none of that would have been possible. Almost overnight, the perception of alchemy became conflated with an unforgiving view of the protoscientific world as one populated by mystics and superstitious fools. Unless someone kept it. X Account Login Forgot your password? Register for an account X Enter your name and email address below. X Website access code Enter your access code into the form field below. Apply code If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access.

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