Guest Post by Alexis Smets: Religious and Spiritual Alchemy

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About Sommer_HPS

Dr. Andreas Sommer, historian of the human sciences at Cambridge University, UK. View all posts by Sommer_HPS

5 responses to “Guest Post by Alexis Smets: Religious and Spiritual Alchemy

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  • alanborky

    Andreas Alexis I’ve a suspicion a lot o’ the difficulties people have with this whole alchemists as pursuers o’ gold versus alchemists as pursuers o’ spiritual gold is they can’t seem to conceive both statements might be true.

    ie alchemists may’ve viewed the whole impossible rigmarole o’ try’n’o turn lead t’gold/manufacture the Stone as a sort o’ outrageous gesture or even intellectual equivalent o’ the holy labours o’ the anchorite in his cave/perched atop his stylite mortifyin’ his flesh in the hope it’ll eventu’ly transmute t’spirit.

    The other thing they may have even more difficulty conceivin’s the possibility the alchemist may not’ve viewed himself as merely try’n’o raise just his own physical material t’the level o’ spirit but as involved in a kind o’ Adam an’ Eve like marriage with the very matter of the universe all round him ultimately leadin’ to its restoration t’the level o’ spirit too.

    • guthrie

      It depends on what period you are talking about. I am convinced that the early alchemists were practising a form of religious work, seen best in Zosimos, where the work of perfecting a metal was carried out mirroring the work perfecting your soul to joine the Nous.
      But over time and cultural transfer that was lost.
      So that, for example, when we turn to 14-15th century England, the sources which have been examined so far make it clear that alchemy is about making gold and silver. That’s it. The more respectable folk say you need to be wise and pure and beloved of god to manage it, but that is an entirely normal way of medieval thinking, in which religion was woven throughout life.

      The problem for the spiritualists is that they can’t produce any evidence or any argument which takes account of the wider medieval world viewpoints.

      Also the thing about raising matter to the level of a spirit simply doesn’t match the medieval world view about what matter is made from and how the universe works, so trying to use it to describe things is wrong.

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