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Alchemy was an art that tried to invent a medicine for all diseases and the philosophical stone which would turn all the metals into gold and all the stones into gems.
Alchemy was not pure science but it put the basis of nowadays’ chemistry and of scientific research. It did not explain phenomena and reactions. The Alchemist attributed all these to evil spirits, that’s why he often tried to call upon mysterious powers. The alchemistic processes, the necessary substances and the equipment had pen names and symbols for their description.
Hence, during the ages, an allegoric and symbolic language with ambiguous messages has been created. For this reason, it was easy to find an explanation, depending on the results of an alchemistic method applied.
The history of the Western Alchemist begins, as Alchemists say, with the Egyptian priest-king Hermes. Nowadays it is believed that the foundations of Alchemy consisted of technical processes and metal coloring, which were kept as secret knowledge of the priesthood.
The basic idea in these notions is the conception of alchemistic transmutation of all metals to noble ones. The metals that are not noble are deadened and are reborn as gold, something that conveyed to human soul is similar to the process of human’s expiation and salvation. So, a secretive Inner Alchemy was made, that appeared later in Christianity and Islam. The conception that the metals that were not noble could be transmuted to gold has its basis on Aristotle’s teaching about the four basic elements. The inner proportion of the four basic elements had to be affected, so that the desired metal could be made (especially gold and silver).
The Alchemists supported that the transmutation of the materials was based on increasing processing of the organic nature.
Metals that were not noble had been made because of interruption of the maturing process, something that was caused by their affecting of certain astrological coincidences.
The Chinese had developed a different philosophical system about Alchemy and a special theory about the composition of material. The development of Alchemy in the civilization of the East was in certain things the same with that of Egypt, so at first there was the impression of interaction between the two cultures in the scientific world. Nowadays, researchers do not exclude the possibility of the transition of some ideas from one culture to another, but the evolution of the two civilizations was different.
The basic elements in the Chinese world perception were five: metal, wood, earth, water, fire. The combination of these elements creates all the material substances and the abstract meanings and as a result all the things and properties that are observed in the universe are classified into five categories.
The Chinese Alchemists were fully aware of silver and copper and less of gold contrary to the Egyptians.
The other metals were familiarized to people during the 4th century B.C. Many metallic combinations, which were alchemistically interesting in China, were made of lead and mercury. As in the Egyptian Alchemy, the creation of gold was the real aim, not only due to its rarity and value, but also to the properties that someone who ate filings of gold acquired: eternal life and happiness.
That motive for the gold production did not exist in the Egyptian Alchemy. The mining and the elaboration of natural gold required important tools and special knowledge, so the Chinese, because of their poverty, were trying to produce gold by using transmutation. With the passage of time the Chinese Alchemy approached the philosophy of Taoism and incorporated in it.
Many centuries before the Egyptian Alchemy, the Taoists introduced a characteristically Chinese alchemistic system, in order to dominate nature for their own benefit.