Our history houses accounts of brilliant and groundbreaking people: inventors, philosophers, teachers, scientists, saints, artists, activists— and of them are a subset who are forgotten or of certain opinions, ridiculed. Isaac Newton was an alchemist. Paracelsus was an alchemist. The inventor of the double boiler was an alchemist. Distillation was invented by alchemists. Though there are alchemical writings misattributed to Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Democritus, their teachings were intertwined with the developing theories of alchemy.
All these great names and achievements, but what does the word magnum opus mean to you? There once was only a single ‘great work’, and that was the practice of transmutation. Change, not literal lead into gold, but study and replication of the changes in nature, material, and in psychology, immaterial, this was and is alchemy.
So why is it considered at best pseudoscience and at worst fictional? To call it pseudoscience is calling any preceding ideology that allowed current research to flourish ‘pseudoscience’. Most of the great geniuses of the past were wrong about at least one thing, even Einstein. Were they pseudoscientists, given that by tendencies of science we rarely know anything for sure? Are today’s leading researchers pseudoscientists because in two years to one hundred years many of their theories will be disproven?
Most of what the alchemists discovered was true and allowed us to develop chemistry as it is today, and most of their fantastical recipes have been enacted by talented and respected scientists of the postmodern era. I believe in magic, in the magic of the water cycle, of decomposition, the gravitational pull of the earth, electricity, quarks, and this is the magic of alchemy.
Looking closely, the relationship becomes clear between the tenets of alchemy and the natural laws of this strange reality.
So this series will be dedicated to the forebearers, from ancient times to the twentieth century. As I publish each alchemist I’ll update a list below.