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a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.
any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.
Historical Examples

Its elements would not be finer, were they the golden and potent stars of alchemistic and astrological dreams.
The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 14, No. 83, September, 1864 Various

In the second place, we must notice the nature of alchemistic language.
Alchemy: Ancient and Modern H. Stanley Redgrove

Locke seems to have had some faith in the alchemistic process, but it is plain that Newton had none.
Locke Thomas Fowler

The word Baurach occurs in Geber and the other early alchemistic writings, but there is nothing to prove that it was modern borax.
De Re Metallica Georgius Agricola

He was the author of a large number of mathematical, philosophical, and alchemistic treatises.
De Re Metallica Georgius Agricola

His views on the primary composition of bodies dominated the alchemistic world for centuries.
De Re Metallica Georgius Agricola

Paracelsus mentions having visited the Fugger mines at Schwatz in the Tyrol in connection with his alchemistic studies.
German Society at the Close of the Middle Ages Ernest Belfort Bax

If we are ever to understand the meaning of Alchemy aright we must look at the subject from the alchemistic point of view.
Alchemy: Ancient and Modern H. Stanley Redgrove

It is very probable, however, that the alchemistic works attributed to him are spurious.
Alchemy: Ancient and Modern H. Stanley Redgrove

And especially does it help to explain the alchemistic notions regarding the nature of the metals.
Alchemy: Ancient and Modern H. Stanley Redgrove

noun (pl) -mies
the pseudoscientific predecessor of chemistry that sought a method of transmuting base metals into gold, an elixir to prolong life indefinitely, a panacea or universal remedy, and an alkahest or universal solvent
a power like that of alchemy: her beauty had a potent alchemy

mid-14c., from Old French alchimie (14c.), alquemie (13c.), from Medieval Latin alkimia, from Arabic al-kimiya, from Greek khemeioa (found c.300 C.E. in a decree of Diocletian against “the old writings of the Egyptians”), all meaning “alchemy.” Perhaps from an old name for Egypt (Khemia, literally “land of black earth,” found in Plutarch), or from Greek khymatos “that which is poured out,” from khein “to pour,” related to khymos “juice, sap” [Klein, citing W. Muss-Arnolt, calls this folk etymology]. The word seems to have elements of both origins.

Mahn … concludes, after an elaborate investigation, that Gr. khymeia was probably the original, being first applied to pharmaceutical chemistry, which was chiefly concerned with juices or infusions of plants; that the pursuits of the Alexandrian alchemists were a subsequent development of chemical study, and that the notoriety of these may have caused the name of the art to be popularly associated with the ancient name of Egypt. [OED]

The al- is the Arabic definite article, “the.” The art and the name were adopted by the Arabs from Alexandrians and thence returned to Europe via Spain. Alchemy was the “chemistry” of the Middle Ages and early modern times; since c.1600 the word has been applied distinctively to the pursuit of the transmutation of baser metals into gold, which, along with the search for the universal solvent and the panacea, were the chief occupations of early chemistry.

A medieval philosophy and early form of chemistry whose aims were the transmutation of base metals into gold, the discovery of a cure for all diseases, and the preparation of a potion that gives eternal youth. The imagined substance capable of turning other metals into gold was called the philosophers’ stone.

Our Living Language : Because their goals were so unrealistic, and because they had so little success in achieving them, the practitioners of alchemy in the Middle Ages got a reputation as fakers and con artists. But this reputation is not fully deserved. While they never succeeded in turning lead into gold (one of their main goals), they did make discoveries that helped to shape modern chemistry. Alchemists invented early forms of some of the laboratory equipment used today, including beakers, crucibles, filters, and stirring rods. They also discovered and purified a number of chemical elements, including mercury, sulfur, and arsenic. And the methods they developed to separate mixtures and purify compounds by distillation and extraction are still important.

alchemy [(al-kuh-mee)]

A science (no longer practiced) that sought to transform one chemical element into another through a combination of magic and primitive chemistry. Alchemy is considered to be the ancestor of modern chemistry.

Note: The search for the philosopher’s stone that would change lead and other base metals into gold was part of alchemy.

Note: Today, alchemy is associated with wizards, magic, and the search for arcane knowledge.


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