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The Philosopher’s Stone

17 Dec

In the popular consciousness the term ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ now conjures up images of Harry Potter and, indeed, J K Rowling’s first novel is concerned in part with the real-life figure of Nicholas Flamel, who was a successful French scrivener and manuscript-seller who developed a posthumous reputation as an alchemist due to his reputed work on the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. Alchemy is the ancient art of trying to change metals such as mercury and lead into gold and silver. Although it was first brought to Europe by the Muslims who conquered Spain in the 8th century, alchemy in fact originated in Egypt four or five thousand years earlier. In the kingdoms of the pharaohs their funerary priests were said to be adept at obtaining silver and gold from the very earth. In 1144 an Englishman, Robert de Chester, made the first translation of many old Arabic writings into Latin. These writings contained the knowledge of most of the ancient Egyptian alchemists and were used by Flamel and others in pursuit of the mystical goals of alchemy. These were to create the elusive Philosopher’s Stone, which turned lead into gold, and to achieve immortality through the fabled ‘Elixir of Life’.

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