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Alchemy

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Flamel achieves the transmutation of metals into pure gold.

"The best known goals of the alchemists were the transmutation of common metals into Gold or Silver (less well known is plant alchemy, or "Spagyric"), and the creation of a "panacea", a remedy that supposedly would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely, and the discovery of a universal solvent. Although these were not the only uses for the science, they were the ones most documented and well known. Starting with the Middle Ages, European alchemists invested much effort on the search for the philosopher's stone, a legendary substance that was believed to be an essential ingredient for either or both of those goals."
Libatius Borage, Advanced Potion-Making.[src]

Alchemy is a branch of magic and an ancient science concerned with the study of the four basic elements, as well as the study of the transmutation of substances; it is thus intimately connected with potion-making, chemistry and transformation magic.[1] Alchemy also concerns philosophy; alchemical literature is dominated by mystical and metaphysical speculation.[1] The science dates back to antiquity,[1] although there were still wizards actively studying and practising it in the twentieth century.[2] A less well known branch of Alchemy is Spagyric, or "plant alchemy".[1]

If there is enough demand, Alchemy is an optional subject taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to sixth and seventh-years.[3]

History

Dzou Yen

Dzou Yen.

"Alchemists enjoyed prestige and support through the centuries, though not for their pursuit of those goals, nor the mystic and philosophical speculation that dominates their literature. Rather it was for their mundane contributions to the chemical industries of the day."
Libatius Borage, Advanced Potion-Making.[src]

Alchemy has been a field of study since antiquity. As the time went on, the lack of common words for chemical concepts and processes, as well as the need for secrecy (presumably to avoid Muggle persecution) led alchemists to borrow the terms and symbols of biblical and pagan mythology, astrology, kabbalah and other esoteric fields. This marked a progress in alchemical research, as it allowed the exchange of ideas between alchemists. However, this also ended up making the plainest chemical recipe read like an abstruse magic incantation,[1] probably difficulting the learning and spreading of alchemy as a science.

Dzou Yen, widely considered one of the fathers of Chinese scientific thought, was an alchemist in the fourth century B.C., during the final years of the Zhou Dynasty.[4]

The best known goals of the alchemists were the transformation of common metals into Gold or Silver, the creation of a Panacea, a remedy that would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely, and the discovery of a universal solvent.[1] Two of the three primary alchemical goals were achieved by French alchemist Nicolas Flamel sometime around the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, with his creation of the Philosopher's Stone and, consequently, the Elixir of Life.[5] Flamel went on to live to the 1990s and to six centuries old, til the destruction of the Stone by him and his alchemical partner Albus Dumbledore.[6]

The African wizards have always been particularly skilled in alchemy and astronomy. Some scholars, like Kennilworthy Whisp, believe that Quidditch was introduced in Africa by European witches and wizards travelling there in search of alchemical and astronomical information.[7]

Paracelsus

Paracelsus.

Paracelsus, apart from his important contributions to the field of medicine, was also a secretive alchemist in the sixteenth century.[8]

According to an alchemical work, which original translation from Latin dated back to 1557, the constituents of the perfect medicine, are Vinegar, Salt, Urine, Sal Ammoniac and a particular Sulphur Vive.[9][10]

Alchemists' greatest prestige came not from their trademark mystic and metaphysical speculation, but from their more mundane contributions to various chemical industries, such as ore testing and refining, metalworking, production of inks, dyes and cosmetics, ceramics and glass manufacture, preparation of extracts and liquours and the invention of gunpowder. The preparation of Aqua Vitae was also a popular "experiment" among European alchemists.[1]

The sixth-year Potions curriculum at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry covers alchemy and, as such, Libatius Borage's Advanced Potion-Making includes a brief historical and scientific overview of alchemy.[1] According to Horace Slughorn, the preparation of an antidote for a blended poison following Golpalott's Third Law incurs in an almost alchemical process.[11]

There is a Centre for Alchemical Studies in Egypt. This may be the largest centre in the world, although this is not clear.[12]

During his world tour, Elphias Doge observed the experiments of Egyptian alchemists.[13]

Known alchemists

Behind the scenes

  • The first names of Rubeus Hagrid and Albus Dumbledore were chosen based on alchemy, as they mean "red" and "white" respectively, "the red" and "the white" being essential mystical elements of the process.[14]

Appearances

Notes and references

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