Alchemy, an ancient word, a fusion of several terms to indicate a continuous research that has fascinated man since the dawn of time. It doesn't matter whether it has Egyptian, Greek or Arab origin. The word is a fusion of terms such as alchemy is a fusion of science and philosophy

But does alchemy still have a meaning today? In a world that is increasingly “connected” and “disconnected” at the same time, dwelling on the study of a thing in all its forms, even possible ones, is something crazy.

So, why from the time of the ancient Egyptians to today has this "science" fascinated minds, inspired writers and gave rise to the most disparate representations, both in books and in games?

We could look for an answer in Jungian psychology and in the relationships between the imagination and the dream, so similar to the alchemical world, but it cannot be reduced to this alone. How can such an article also make little sense, given the thousands of words that should be spent trying to give even a basis to give a definition of alchemy.

Alchemy and Mythology

An ancient image on the work of alchemy

Popular tradition and mythology are full of legends about wizards or charlatans selling their alchemical trinkets to fight the dark and supernatural forces.

Hawthorn, garlic, sacred symbols, objects forged through alchemy are nothing but gimmicks used to fight Vampires, both in literature and in role-playing games dedicated to them. The use of belladonna and silver against werewolves or cold iron against fairy beings. Popular culture of other times that has remained rooted in the collective imagination and allowed us to modify the use of certain symbols to now give it a superstitious connotation.

But alchemy, in the past, was something else. Trivially it was an attempt to change lead (what is negative for humans) into gold. Allegorically speaking, more than a modification to the state of being of the metal it was a search for illumination and inner improvement.

The search for a philosopher's stone.

The Philosopher's Stone and Alchemy

The Philosopher's Stone in an illustration of Enchanted on DeviantArt
Art by Incantata on DeviantArt

We all know that the only one who managed to create the Philosopher's Stone is Nicolas Flamel, at least so Rowling told us (you have read our articles on Writer? Come on Severus Snape?), but this alchemist really existed, it is less likely that he really managed to create something like what is attributed to him.

Again, this mythical figure of the philosopher's stone is, for alchemy, the greatest topos of the search for knowledge. For Paracelsus this stone was used for the creation of the elixir of eternal youth, for others it was the basis of the fading for the creation of something purer.

For Jung, on the other hand, it represents an evolution of man's spiritual thought and that pushes him to differentiate from other individuals.

We are not made only of salt!

Fundamental in alchemical research is the “Salt”. Perhaps some readers of Providence solitaire already know this, but the salts are fundamental, at least in his works, to learn about those now lost secrets:

... a Philosopher can, from the essential salts of human Dust and without criminal Necromancy, resurrect the form of any deceased Ancestor from the Ashes of his Body

You thought this phrase was from Lovecraft right? But no! This is a thought expressed by Cotton Mather famous Puritan preacher well known for the witch hunt in Salem.

These salts, so important to Lovecraft's work, that they give us the recipe for a powder to ward off evil spirits and other similar devilry:

IBN GHAZI powder: Take three parts of dust from a grave whose corpse has been buried in it for two hundred years or more. Take two parts of pulverized amaranth, one part of ivy leaves and one of fine salt.
Combine the ingredients together, using a mortar, on the day and hour of Saturn. Make Voor's mark on the compound, seal it in a lead urn with the seal of Koth engraved on it.
Whenever you are dealing with the manifestations of spirits,
take a pinch of powder and from the palm of your hand blow it towards them. Also remember to always do the Ancient Sign when they appear, otherwise the coils of darkness will enter your soul.

We do not guarantee its effectiveness, but the Nyogtha who had spent a greeting yesterday evening, did not appreciate the powder that had been prepared for him.

The Witcher and alchemy

I still remember, as well as in the books, how in the first game dedicated to "The Witcher" the use of alchemy was fundamental to continue in the story and honestly I enjoyed mixing the nigredo, the albedo and rubedo together with sulfur or mercury to try to prepare the potion of the "swallow" or the "lark". For the explanation of the elements you will have to wait!

Alchemy in the board game and in the role-playing game

Alchemy in Skyrim
A Skyrim alchemist

Alchemy has given significant impetus to the world of play, both table and role.

There are numerous titles that are based on this pseudoscience from games such as "Alchemists“, Somewhat complicated but exciting game localized by Skull Creations to many others, which one Lex Occultum, created by RiotMinds and which will be located by Wyrd Edizioni in Italy.

In this game we recover the study of alchemy during the period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the possibility of coming into contact with the Count of Cagliosto, the Count of Saint-Germaine and all the other figures who made this discipline romantic.

There would be dozens of titles to list, but they all have something in common, the love for transformation and the search for gold.

The Magnum Opus today, conclusions

Alchemy, in the modern world, has had a fundamental importance in the development of chemistry. Much more earthly and real, chemistry has led to the abandonment of the philosophical research inherent in alchemy.

However, there are still many who study it, more for personal pleasure than to turn lead into gold. It is not for everyone to have an Athanor in the garden to search for the perfect essence.

For myself, alchemy will always have a fundamental role in the collective imagination.

I will never cease to thank William H. Gass for his motto of spirit on it, which I very often find myself quoting:

“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words. "

“The real alchemists are not those who change lead into gold; are those who change the world in words "

It sounds better in the original language, no doubt about it. What about you instead? What do you think of alchemy? Do you have any books or games that you are fond of that talk about it? Amaze us! May it be "The work in black" or "The Alchemist" it matters little. Let us know, but above all do not miss the next article, linked to this, which will give you ideas on alchemy for your campaigns.