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A Brief History of Alchemy

It is common today to think of alchemy as the mere precursor of chemistry or a primitive and not very accurate attempt to describe nature. This is entirely untrue. Alchemy, from its beginnings, was a means to transform the human soul from its base (lead) state to its Enlightened and eternal state (gold). Alchemy lies at the heart of the world’s three dominant modern religions.

The word “Alchemy” is derived from Khem, the name of Egypt, “Al” means “of” so the word means “of Egypt.” It came to mean the wisdom of Egypt. Many of the sayings and methods attributed to Hermetica have been traced hieroglyphic texts that are among the earliest Egyptian writings, others have been traced further back to cuneiform tablets of the Sumerians, dating to 6000-5000bce. It is claimed that the wisdom of alchemy was even older than these sources currently no evidence to either dispute or confirm this claim.

The texts known as the ‘Hermetica’ are not the product of one ancient sage or Divinity. They are named after the Greek God Hermes Trismegistris, Thrice Great Hermes, the Greek name of Egyptian God Thoth as in the ancient world it was common to credit the God or Goddess who inspired the author. Hermetica is seen as the direct descendant of Sumerian and Egyptian philosophy.

The Egyptian God Thoth was believed to have invented the sacred art of writing and the concepts of justice; he taught mankind astronomy, architecture, geometry, medicine and religion. He was the carrier of Divine messages and recorded all human deeds. Like the Hebrew/Persian god, He sat among the judges of the dead, weighing the heart. An unworthy heart (soul) was eaten by Sobek and ceased to exist, while the worthy went to the blissful realms or were reborn to continue their evolution. It is therefore understandable that Thoth, the God of Wisdom, was credited with the creation of alchemy.

300bc - Greece
Though Hermetica is Egyptian belief, its familiar forms from the 1st and 3rd century are works filtered through the understanding of ancient Greek scholars such as Pythagoras and Plato. Pythagoras studied in Egypt for 22 years, his geometry texts were translations, not inventions. Plato studied the translations of Egyptian texts by Pythagoras before he started writing, and many of his ideas are restatements of Egyptian philosophy.

The Hermetica inspired some of the greatest achievements of the ancient world. The famous Library of Alexandria contained more than 500,000 scrolls, including Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy (geometry), Aristarchus of Samos (who demonstrated that the world was round and revolves around the sun some 1500 years before Kepler) and texts on math and geography which were translated in Latin and dominated these fields well into the middle ages. Here scientists studied ancient Egyptian texts* and learned of the precession of the equinoxes and that the moon, which revolved around the Earth, was responsible for tides. (Sumerian text predated this teaching by 3000 years.) Eratosthenes, a famous Greek alchemist, calculated the circumference of the Earth and was unchallenged until the last half of the 20th century when space travel and computer measurements confirmed his measurements adding only a few decimal points. All of these authors were alchemists.

The writings of Hermes Trismegistris have had a profound effect on Western thought and religion. The Hermetica’s influence on early Christianity is seen through such saints as St. Clement, St. Origen – an Alexandrian who synthesized pagan and Christian doctrines, and St. Augistine who were each students of Hermetic philosophy. The New Testament’s emphasis on “the Word” is Hermetic Greek doctrine.
Several versions of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes were in secret circulation in scattered Jewish enclaves all over Europe, Asia and Russia. Thus many sacred texts were preserved. Hebrews equated Hermes with Enoch (Sumerian derivative), who received direct teachings from God and was eventually taken up into heaven.

400’s - Dark Ages
When the Library at Alexandria was destroyed and the last librarian murdered in 415c.e. by Christian fanatics, the knowledge was scattered and lost, hidden for almost 1000 years – the “dark ages.” Fear, brutality, superstition, and intolerance ruled the West. Western versions of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes were hidden in metaphor, allegory and blinds to prevent the reader or aspirant from accusations of heresy by the Church. Alchemy took sanctuary in the Middle East.

700’s - The Muslim Empire
Pagan scholars and sages fled to the Middle-East and were welcomed with open arms by the emerging Moslem cultures. Greek versions of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes were treasured by the Moslem conquerors and revered as sources used to develop algebra, number theory, architecture and medicine which until recently far surpassed the West. 200 years after Alchemy worked its magic, Muslim Empires were replete with learning and scientific achievements.

In the 9th century, the first University was established in Baghdad and was called “the House of Wisdom.” Many pagan works were translated and taught, studied and practiced. Hermetica became the secret inspiration for many unorthodox religious sects such as the Sabaeans, Sufis (who called Hermes “Idris and Enoch.”), Zoroastrians, Gnosticism and various schools of neo-Platonists. The most notable of the Sufis was. Al Hallaj martyred as a heretic, who loudly espoused the Hermetic wisdom “I am the truth,” and “We are all God.”

1100’s - India
In the 1100s custodian of Hermetic texts went into India and back into Europe where they found sanctuary in the region of Aquaitania in France, where the flowering of the middle-ages occurred under the influence of Eleanor of Aquaitaine. It was the influence of the Hermetica that led to the Gnostic revival in that region, which in turn led to the Albiginsian crusade, which virtually depopulated southern France.

1400’s - Florance & The Renaissance
Alchemists and scholars traveled to the city of Florence where their knowledge inspired a cultural flowering under the guidance of the di Medici family. Cosimo di Medici translated the lost works of Plato into Latin in 1438 and sent agents to look for other “lost” works. In 1460, the Thrice Great Hermes was brought back and translated. This heralded the Renaissance (meaning “rebirth”). Greek translations again became available to the West with the invention of the printing press in 1460. They were instrumental in bringing about the modern view of the world.

Reuchlin (1455 – 1522), the teacher of Martin Luther and Erasmus, studied the Hermetica in Florence and left to sew the seeds of the Protestant Reformation in Germany. Thomas Linaere, a student in Hermetica and natural philosophy, founded the Royal College of Physicians in London. The mathematician Nicholas of Cusa; the physician Paracelsus; the architect Filippo Brunelleschi; the astronomer Copernicus, the astronomer Toscanelli (whose map inspired Christopher Columbus). All of these men studied Hermetica in Florence. Copernicus studied these ancient texts and announced his (re)discovery that the Earth revolved around the Sun. He quoted Hermetica in his landmark Revolution of Celestial Orbs.

1500’s - England
In England, the works of Hermes had a profound effect on Elizabeth I and the circle of learned courtiers that surrounded her. Sir Phillip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Donne, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, George Chapmen, Frances Bacon, Dr. John Dee, and Sir Edward Kelly all studied the Hermetica. Prague the capital of Bohemia, was an enlightened refuge for Hermetic scholars, Aristotelian philosophers, Jewish Kaballists and scientists from every nation, due to the benevolent attitude of Rudolph II.

1600’s – Modern Day
Although the counter-reformation and Inquisition tried to discredit alchemy, reason eventually won out and the “Enlightenment” set the stage for the modern world. Throughout the Enlightenment, Hermetica continued to influence such visionary scientists as Isaac Newton and John Milton, who quoted it in their texts on various subjects.

Secret societies such as Masonry, the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O., the Rosecrutians were founded around Hermetic texts and on Hermetic doctrines.

Early Hermetic writings remain some of the oldest and greatest sacred texts ever written. In a very real sense, Hermetica continues its influence as quantum mechanics demonstrates the hidden truths of ancient Hermetic philosophy and psychology validates alchemy as true means of mental and spiritual health. Religion and science are merging.

Some of the more famous people who were practicing alchemists or influenced by alchemical texts:

Political & Religious Leaders Scientists Philosophers

Queen Elizabeth I

Albert Einstein

Aristotle

Martin Luther

Sir Isaac Newton

Plato

John Calvin

Copernicus

Giordano Bruno

Thomas Aquinas

Roger Bacon

Roger Bacon

Rumi & other Sufi Masters

Johanus Kepler

 

 

Heisenberg

 
 

 

 
Writers Artists

Occult Philosophers

Shakespeare

Leonardo da Vinci

Israel Regarde

Daniel Defoe

Michelangello

Aliester Crowley

Victor Hugo

William Blake

Edward Kelley

Decartes

Thomas Moore

Paracelsus

Ben Johnson

Botticelli

John Dee

Percy & Mary Shelley

Sir Walter Raleigh

A.E. Waite

Milton

Drurer

Cornilius Agrippa

John Donne

Raphael  

The Alchemist’s Prayer

Oh, most singular and unspeakable Presence, first and last in the Universe, brighten the fury of my fire and burn away the doors of my being. Cleanse my soiled soul; bathe me in your awesome light. Set me free from my history and cut me loose from my boundaries. Unite me this the one thing, hidden in my life, wherein is my only strength. Fill me with your Presence, allow me to see through your singular Eye, grant me entry to your Mind, let me resonate with your Will. Make me transparent to your flame, and fashion me into a lens for your light only. Transmute me into an incorruptible Stone in you eternal service, like the golden light that surrounds you.



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