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Alchemy: The Most Secretive of Arts

By Sandra Tabatha Cicero

Along with astrology and the qabalah, alchemy is considered one of the principle branches of the Western Esoteric Tradition. But while many students are familiar with zodiacal charts and the fundamentals of the Tree of Life, far fewer are acquainted with the basics of alchemy. Too often alchemy is still wrongly caricatured as an attempt by medieval quack-scientists and con-men to gain quick wealth by turning lead into gold, or to dupe others into handing over their gold, only to receive a lump of lead in return while the swindler makes a quick getaway!

The origins of Western alchemy date back to Graeco-Roman Egypt, particularly Alexandria. It was here that techniques of metallurgy and herbal medicine were combined with Greek philosophy, astrology, religion, and mythology to form the earliest Western teachings on alchemy. Medieval authors often called alchemy the “Hermetic Art,” suggesting that the origin of this science was none other than the fabled master, Hermes Trismegistos, or “Hermes the Thrice Great,” who was said to have written forty-two books covering all manner of knowledge. Greek philosophers, such as Empedocles and Aristotle, first developed the theory that everything in the universe was comprised of the four elements of fire, water, air, and earth. These were regarded as qualities that exist within all matter and not merely the outward expressions of the physical elements. The treatises of alchemy included the physical properties and the magical powers of the elements as well as various material substances in nature.

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