In the almost-exact-words of Wikipedia: Alchemy is a philosophical and protoscientific tradition practice throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. It aimed to purify, mature, and perfect certain objects. Common aims where chrysopoeia, the transmutation of “base metals” into “noble metals”; the creation of an elixir of immortality (I believe a bit more common); the creation of panaceas able to cure any disease; and the development of an alkahest (a universal solvent). The perfection of the human body and soul was thought to permit or result from the alchemical magnum opus and, in the Hellenistic and western tradition, the achievement of gnosis. (Wikipedia)
This is where the “brief” part of this “history of alchemy” starts. The first time I came across the term “alchemy” was in fifth grade. I had found a copy of the work Alchemy by Eric John Holmyard at a library book sale. I thought the term “alchemy” was cool at the time and bought it for $0.25. Of course, being so young, I had no idea what I was reading. I spent a good two days trying to be interested in Holmyard’s book but found more interest in tree climbing and dragonfly hunting. We moved several times before I re-found it as a sophomore in high school. At this point in my young life, I had already read some of the genre novels about alchemy and love-things (you know, that mushy stuff that’s written for teenagers). I realized at this point that I had to read it. I stuck the book in my back-pack and carried it around as a “when I’m bored, I’ll read it” book. I think I had good intentions, but by high school graduation, I had only read about 25% of the whole book (it’s not that thick). There were so many other things that were happening in my life that took me away from this book (other books took me away as well too, but don’t tell this book). It wasn’t until first year of grad school that I saw it again. The book was hidden among my other books. Its pages were brown and stiff, stained from the fish tank flood of ’01 (my brother’s fish tank exploded and killed a lot of my books). By this time, I had forgotten the whole point of the book. I looked oddly at it, trying to remember why I had bought it in the first place. I was filled with guilt suddenly. I realized that I had destroyed this book’s destiny. As a cheeky kid, I bought it so that I could be “smarter” but never finished it, even as an adult. This book did not get to fulfill its purpose. I am someone who believes that all books have a purpose, a place, and a meaning. Since I had bought it as a child, it was my duty to make sure that its story was read. It sounds a bit dramatic and weird but I truly think that all books wait for us to read them. Only when we pick them up, turn the pages, and read their words do they feel “alive”. I had not done this book justice growing up but now, I wanted to finish what I had started. I put it on my desk and told myself to read at least a few pages a night. I vaguely remember sleeping that night and dreaming that I was an alchemist, searching for an elixir that would grant me immortality. This search for immortality caused me to be late for work. I can’t remember what I did that day, only that I had come home late. I made dinner, went for my usual three mile run, came home, took a shower, and went straight to find the book. I was almost to the 25% mark that I was on way back in high school. When I came to my desk, I realized that some of my things were missing; the book being one of them. I checked under my desk, looked through my book shelves and basically ripped my bedroom apart. I couldn’t find it. I ran to my mom and asked if she had seen my book. Her answer hit me quite hard. Apparently, my baby nephew, who’s age I can’t remember at that time, was in my room. I was in such a hurry that morning that I had left my bedroom door open and he had gotten a hold of my markers and book. He had written in it and in this process, ripped it. My mom threw it away, saying “it’s okay, you have a lot of books already”. I didn’t argue nor did I get angry at my nephew. I knew then that I didn’t have the right to finish this book. It’s a bit dramatic to say this but I deserved it. I had over 10 years to read it and each time I tried, I never made it till the end. It appeared in different parts of my life, each time, forgiving me and giving me a chance to redeem myself. Books are meant to be read, especially if you choose to take them off the shelf, away from other readers. It’s been about 6 years since this incident. I have not read the book yet, but I feel that maybe it’s time I try again.
And that, my friend, is a Brief History of Alchemy.
~Miss Librarian Time Lord