MadSci Network: Science History

Re: How are elements different for alchemy and chemistry?

Date: Tue Jan 24 19:01:00 2006
Posted By: Dr. Nathan Allen, , Alchemy, International Alchemy Guild
Area of science: Science History
ID: 1137689709.Sh

Dear Jenna.

The differences in the Elements are many. For modern chemists the elements are
based on the atom and molecule and on the atomists philosophy which started with
the Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus and atomic philosophy. For us
alchemists the basic elements come from the philosopher Aristotle and are earth,
fire, air, and water along with the concepts of hot, moist, dry , and cold.
Along with the three essentials of salt, mercury, and sulphur along with  the
prima materia or first matter. For instance fire is hot and dry and water is
cold and moist whereas air is hot and moist and earth is cold and dry.
Alchemists either write an element down in its latin term or we put them in
pictures like the book Splendor Solis which can be found on this web page
and that is the beginning of the basics of the basic elements of alchemy. Hope
this helps.

Dr. Nathan Allen.

PS. This is the extent of my knowledge in modern day chemistry. My scientific
knowledge is in alchemy only. My school never touched on modern day chemistry.
My school is Flamel College In Sacramento California. Web page at

Moderator's Note:
Alchemy is a direct ancestor of modern chemistry. Many of the basic laboratory
techniques taught to beginning chemists were developed by the alchemists,
including crystallization, extraction and distillation.

And chemical discourse owes a lot to the alchemists. It is still largely
pictorial and symbolic, although the symbols no longer have mystical meanings;
and my students still seem to think that chemistry is a branch of esoteric
knowledge! ;^)

Elements in chemistry are considered to be made up of atoms, this is true; but
atomism began to be accepted among people like Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle,
who were still practitioners of alchemy. Atoms were not fully accepted until the
19th Century, when it became apparent that they were the best explanation for
the sorts of combinations that were being observed by working chemists.

Elements in chemistry are represented by symbols, and they are still considered
basic substances that make up all (chemical) matter. Since there are more of
them than four, the combinations are a bit more multiform, but we still combine
and recombine elements in order to make new substances.

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