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The matter lies before the eyes of all; everybody sees it, touches it, loves it, but knows it not. ~ The Golden Tract
Did you know they can change it all?
They got alchemy. ~ Kate Bush
I had discovered, early in my researches, that their doctrine was no mere chemical fantasy, but a philosophy they applied to the world, to the elements, and to man himself. ~ William Butler Yeats

Alchemy refers to a range of philosophies and ancient practices which seek to prepare or develop the "elixir of Life" or "immortality" or "longevity" using the philosophers' stone, accomplish the transmutation of base substances into gold, and attain ultimate wisdom. Many alchemical sources treat the various substances, equipment and processes used in alchemical workshops in an allegorical sense, as metaphors for a spiritual discipline. Alchemy, in its physical procedures and investigations can be viewed as a protoscience, the precursor to modern chemistry, having provided many procedures, equipment and names of substances which are still in use.

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  • The matter lies before the eyes of all; everybody sees it, touches it, loves it, but knows it not. It is glorious and vile, precious and of small account, and is found everywhere... But, to be brief, our Matter has as many names as there are things in this world; that is why the foolish know it not.
    • "The Golden Tract concerning the Philosopher's Stone" in the Musaeum Hermeticum (1625); translation: The Hermetic Museum, Restored and Enlarged, Vol. 1 (1893), p. 13
  • [A]n art without principles, the beginning of which was deceit, the progress delusion, and the end poverty.
    • An anonymous author of the 18th century, quoted or paraphrased by Humphry Davy, Collected Works, ed. John Davy, Vol. 4 (1840), pp. 364-365
  • Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy's first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world's one, and only truth.


  • [E]very relation must be considered as suspicious, which depends in any degree upon religion, ... and ... everything that is to be found in the writers of natural magic or alchemy, or such authors, who seem, all of them, to have an unconquerable appetite for falsehood and fable.
  • Alchemy may be compared to the man who told his sons that he had left them gold, buried somewhere in his vineyard; while they by digging found no gold, but by turning up the mould about the roots of the vines procured a plentiful vintage. So the search and endeavours to make gold have brought many useful inventions to light.
  • [E]ach author seems to have aimed to write treatises intelligible only to himself, and we greatly doubt his success in even this respect.
    • Henry Carrington Bolton, "An Address Delivered before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Montreal," (August 23, 1882) The Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science, Vol. 46, No. 1190 (September 15, 1882), p. 115
  • What a lovely afternoon
    On a cloudbusting kind of day.
    We took our own 'Mystery Tour'
    And got completely lost somewhere up in the hills.

    And we came up on a bee-keeper,
    And he said "Did you know they can change it all?"
    They got alchemy.
    They turn the roses into gold
    They turn the lilac into honey
    They're making love for the peaches.

    And they'll do it,
    Do it for you.


  • And mark yon alchemist, with zodiac-spangled zone,
    Wrenching the mandrake root that fattens in the gloom.


  • [T]he growth of a plant, a tree, or an animal is an alchemical process going on in the alchemical laboratory of nature, and performed by the great Alchemist, the power of God acting in nature.
    • Franz Hartmann, in In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom, containing the History of the True and the False Rosicrucians (1890), p. 129


  • Subtle.
    No egg but differs from a chicken more
    Than metals in themselves.
    That cannot be.
    The egg's ordained by nature to that end
    And is a chicken in potentia.
    The same we say of lead and other metals,
    Which would be gold if they had time.
    ...for 'twere absurd
    To think that nature in the earth bred gold
    Perfect in the instant; something went before.
    There must be remote matter.


  • Everyone knows Newton as the great scientist. Few remember that he spent half his life muddling with alchemy, looking for the philosopher's stone. That was the pebble by the seashore he really wanted to find.


  • If by fire
    Of sooty coal th' empiric alchymist
    Can turn, or holds it possible to turn,
    Metals of drossiest ore to perfect gold.
    • John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667; 1674), Book V, line 439, reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 19
  • Alchemy is an erotic science, involved in buried aspects of reality, aimed at purifying and transforming all being and matter.
    • Jim Morrison, "Notes on Vision" in The Lords and the New Creatures (1969)
  • They can picture love affairs of chemicals and stars, a romance of stones, or the fertility of fire. Strange, fertile correspondences the alchemists sensed in unlikely orders of being. Between men and planets, plants and gestures, words and weather.
    • Jim Morrison, "Notes on Vision" in The Lords and the New Creatures (1969)


  • Although Alchemy has now fallen into contempt, and is even considered a thing of the past, the physician should not be influenced by such judgements. For many arts, such as astronomy, philosophy , and others, are also in disrepute. I am directing you, physicians, to alchemy for the preparation of the magnalia, for the production of the mysteria, for the preparation of the arcana, for the separation of the pure from the impure, to the end that you may obtain a flawless, pure remedy, God-given, perfect, and of certain efficacy, acheiving the highest degree of virtue and power. For it is not God's design that the remedies should exist for us, ready-made, boiled and salted, but that we should boil them ourselves, and it pleases Him that we boil them and learn in the process, that we train ourselves in this art and are not idle on earth, but labour in daily toil. For it is we who must pray for our daily bread, and if He grants it to us, it is only through our labour, our skill and preparation.
    • Paracelsus, Spagyrical Writings, as translated by Arthur Edward Waite (1888)
  • The starving chemist in his golden views
    Supremely blest.


  • Alchemists knew the coiled serpent as Uboros. represented the highest goal of their quest: the harmonious union of opposites, especially the masculine and the feminine sides of the personality. The motto that usually accompanied it was "From the One to the One."


  • It is necessary to deprive matter of its qualities in order to draw out its soul. ... Copper is like a man; it has a soul and a body; ...the soul is the most subtile part, ... that is to say, the tinctorial spirit. The body is the ponderable, material, terrestrial thing, endowed with a shadow. ... After a series of suitable treatments copper becomes without shadow and better than gold. ...The elements ... grow and are transmuted, because it is their qualities, not their substances, which are contrary.


  • Transmutemini (inquit) transmute∣mini de lapidibus mortuis in Lapides vivos philosophicos.
    • Be ye transmuted from dead stones into living philosophical stones.
    • Thomas Vaughan (alias Eugenius Philalethes), Anima Magica Abscondita (London, 1650), p. 100; translation printed in Works, ed. A. E. Waite (1919), p. xxxi: but cp. Collectanea Hermetica, ed. W. W. Westcott, Vol. 3 (1893), p. 10, where the quotation is attributed to Robert Fludd


  • I had discovered, early in my researches, that their doctrine was no mere chemical fantasy, but a philosophy they applied to the world, to the elements, and to man himself.

Metaphorical usage

  • O, he sits high in all the people's hearts;
    And that which would appear offence in us,
    His countenance, like richest alchemy,
    Will change to virtue and to worthiness.
  • To solemnize this day the glorious sun
    Stays in his course and plays the alchemist,
    Turning with splendour of his precious eye
    The meagre cloddy earth to glittering gold.

See also

Philosophy of science
Concepts AnalysisA priori and a posterioriCausalityDemarcation problemFactInductive reasoningInquiryNatureObjectivityObservationParadigmProblem of inductionScientific methodScientific revolutionScientific theory
Related topics AlchemyEpistemologyHistory of scienceLogicMetaphysicsPseudoscienceRelationship between religion and scienceSociology of scientific knowledge
Philosophers of science PlatoAristotleStoicism
AverroesAvicennaRoger BaconWilliam of Ockham
Francis BaconThomas HobbesRené DescartesGalileo GalileiPierre GassendiIsaac NewtonDavid Hume
Immanuel KantFriedrich SchellingWilliam WhewellAuguste ComteJohn Stuart MillHerbert SpencerWilhelm WundtCharles Sanders PeirceHenri PoincaréPierre DuhemRudolf SteinerKarl Pearson
Alfred North WhiteheadBertrand RussellAlbert EinsteinOtto NeurathC. D. BroadMichael PolanyiHans ReichenbachRudolf CarnapKarl PopperW. V. O. QuineThomas KuhnImre LakatosPaul FeyerabendJürgen HabermasIan HackingBas van FraassenLarry LaudanDaniel Dennett

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