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Alchemy (Dover Books on Engineering) Paperback – April 1, 1990
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Today the scientific aspects of alchemy are frequently ignored/deemphasized in favor of speculative psychology and other trends, but it must not be forgotten that alchemy was/is fundamentally a scientific enterprise, although its notion of ``science'' presumes a very holistic cosmology and phenomenology of macrocosm and microcosm; and of matter, soul, and spirit. In any case, even an understanding of inner/esoteric alchemy cannot be divorced from its outer/exoteric aspects. For those more interested in the inner/esoteric side of alchemy, this text is still quite essential, for although Holmyard focuses on the exoteric side, he also also provides the appropriate links to the esoteric side of alchemy as well. One simply cannot properly appreciate authentic esoteric alchemy without a grounding in its exoteric foundations.
Titus Burckhardt's ``Alchemy'' provides an good companion to Holmyard. Although Burckhardt is focused on inner alchemy, Holmyard provides much of the historical background needed to get the most out of Burckhardt's essay which is, unfortunately, quite vague and abstruse in too many places. Together, these two texts are indispensable for anyone serious about the meaning and history of alchemy.
I would commend it to any serious beginner in the subject, including those teenagers and adults who first encountered the Philosopher's Stone and the French alchemist Nicholas Flamel by way of Harry Potter (see especially Holmyard's Chapter Eleven), or who have wondered about the quest for the Stone, and discussions of its precursors, like "The Red Water," as portrayed in the manga or anime versions of Hiromu Arakawa's "Full-Metal Alchemist" ("Hagane No Renkinjutsushi").
(For the Stone, the Lapis Philosophorum, see throughout; but Fullmetal fans should take an especially close look at Holmyard's Plate 24, showing Flamel's "diagram" -- which is also found on-line -- for the source of Edward Elric's serpentine insignia; although the Flamel legend says this is copied from a Jewish manuscript, the iconography is based on a Christian interpretation of Numbers 21:8-9; and see also 2 Kings 18:4.)
Unfortunately, such appearances in popular culture tend to reinforce the idea that alchemy was a form of magic, and neither series of stories, although entertaining, has much to do with real-world alchemy.
Yes, some ceremonial magicians were interested in alchemy, and vice-versa; so were many other literate people. Supposed spell-books available to the public (originally on the sly, more openly in historically dubious products of nineteenth-century printers) often offered the gullible "short-cuts" to successful transmutation.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I though I would enjoy this book, since I have an MA in the Intellectual and Scientific History of Europe and alchemy has always been interesting to me. Read morePublished on February 20, 2012 by C. Bradley
I only got up to page 66 of this book so I don't know if you want to stop reading the rest of this review.
Based on what I read this book isn't about alchemy. Read more
Holmyard's Alchemy is an excellent introduction for the neophyte and quick and ready reference (albeit "thin" in sections) for the initiate. Read morePublished on January 28, 2010 by L. Byron
This book, originally published in 1957, is at 275 pages a deceptively small book given the wealth of information it contains. Read morePublished on February 6, 2007 by Whitt Patrick Pond