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satire, alchemy, magic vs. science


Our present conception of alchemy is, at best, shadowy and confused. As Charles Nicholl states in The Chemical Theatre, "The modern image...tends in two directions: one scientific, the other magical. The first defines alchemy simply and chronologically as early chemistry...out of which modern chemistry began to emerge during the seventeenth century.” On the other hand, “alchemy is popularly defined as one of the ‘occult arts’.... To us, the alchemist’s avowed quest for miraculous substances—the Philosopher’s Stone which converts all to gold, the Elixir Vitae which confers immortality—belongs to the realm of magic rather than science.” Nevertheless, to consider Renaissance attitudes towards alchemy, we have to recognize that in certain circles the magical viewpoint, the one we are now so quick to dismiss, was held in veneration, there being yet no clear distinction between magic and science. Frances Yates, reminding us of this more reputable tradition, asserts that

Alchemy as the Hermetic art par excellence belongs to the Hermetic tradition.... With the advent of Paracelsus, a reformed, renaissance type of alchemy came into being, and to this tradition John Dee made his contribution. The triple strand of “Magia, Cabala, and Alchymia” runs through the Rosicrucian manifestos, typifying their inclusion of alchemy with Hermetic-Cabalist tradition.