Sunday, May 29, 2011
The philosopher's stone is a legendary substance, allegedly capable of turning inexpensive metals into gold. It was sometimes believed to be an elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and possibly for achieving immortality. For a long time, it was the most sought-after goal in Western alchemy. In the view of spiritual alchemy, making the philosopher's stone would bring enlightenment upon the maker and conclude the Great Work. It is also known by several other names, such as 'materia prima.'
The Stone in Alchemy
Transmutation of Metals
The concept apparently originated from the theories of the 8th century Islamic alchemist Geber. He analyzed each Aristotelian element in terms of four basic qualities of hotness, coldness, dryness, and moistness. Thus, fire was both hot and dry, earth cold and dry, water cold and moist, and air hot and moist. He further theorized that every metal was a combination of these four principles, two of them interior and two exterior.
From this premise, it was reasoned that the transmutation of one metal into another could be effected by the rearrangement of its basic qualities. This change would presumably be mediated by a substance, which came to be called al-iksir in Arabic (from which comes the Western term "elixir"). It was often imagined as a dry powder, made from a mythical stone - the "philosopher's stone". The stone was believed to have been composed of a substance called carmot.
Geber's theory and the concept of the philosopher's stone may have been inspired by the knowledge that metals like gold and silver could be hidden in alloys and ores, from which they could be recovered by the appropriate chemical treatment. Geber himself is believed to be the inventor of aqua regia, a mixture of muriatic and nitric acids, which is one of the few substances that can dissolve gold (and is still often used for gold recovery and purification).
(More to follow)