Week 8: Alchemy and Witchcraft

Please write a few comments on these readings by Tuesday night.  Read over what your peers have written and respond if the spirit moves you.  Pay attention to what is Aristotelian, what is atomic or corpuscularian, what is a hybrid, and what is neither.  Also notice any references to religion.  I highly recommend listening to the In Our Time episode on alchemy that is available on the Syllabus.  It is an excellent overview and filled with little interesting tidbits.

Also say something about the readings for Wednesday on witchcraft….


Stay dry and out of harms way.

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2 thoughts on “Week 8: Alchemy and Witchcraft

  1. When thinking about the basis for alchemy, I can’t help but wonder why scientists would have been so interested with coming up with a man-made way of making gold or silver. Of course I understand the monetary motivation, but had they been successful, wouldn’t this ability just serve to devalue the world’s most valuable metals? Was their goal then, rather than a monetary one, more a scientific one? The ability to tamper with metals and give value to otherwise commonplace and meaningless things like salt, urine, or vinegar and common metals would make the scientists like gods. This, I imagine, could present problems with the church. The practice of alchemy, however, seems to be closely aligned with faith in both God and the influence of the celestial bodies. The Albertus Magnus reading brought up the idea of gold and silver as the sun and the moon, and how many metals are named after planets. He even writes in a footnote that symbols of planets were used as shorthand for different metals. What did alchemists think the connection was between metals on earth and the planets? Also, Magnus discusses the formation of metals in the ground and compares it to a fetus developing in a woman, complete with the possibility of birth defects. Did alchemists not recognize that metals were nonliving? Did they view the chemical reactions that took place in their experiments as having something to do with a spirit in the metal?

    • Amy. You rock.
      Your point about devaluing the metal is a good one. But, you figure if you are the first to dump a ton of gold on the market, if you do it correctly, you should get top dollar, but once people find out what you’ve done the price should drop. You, the successful alchemist, reap the initial benefits. Those who follow you get the lower prices.
      Indeed, the spirit in the metal stuff seems to invoke Aristotelian form… and soul in a body… the analogies are all over the place.

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