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Alchemy: An Overview

By Catherine Beyer

The term alchemy refers to a number of diverse practices around the world. Some are largely chemical, although they often also have a at least a philosophical component. Some forms, particularly intellectual Western alchemy, also have a strong theological component.

Western alchemy is generally considered a part of occultism because it seeks information beyond what is immediately obvious.

Goal of Alchemy in the West

Among intellectuals, alchemy was primarily a spiritual pursuit. Stories of such things as transforming lead into gold were meant as metaphors, not literal pursuit, although some alchemists probably pursued both, believing that understanding how to transform actual lead into the gold would give them the knowledge to transform a gross spirit into a refined, enlightened one more in tune with the divine world. This understanding of alchemy was heavily influenced by Hermeticism.

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