Alchemy, which is considered the origin of chemistry, is commonly thought to have originated in ancient Egypt, but many scholars in the East studied it also. For example, Chinese alchemists invented black powder, the first gunpowder.
The history of alchemy can be seen from ancient Egyptian books dating to 4000BC.
There were two things that alchemists sought: transmutation of common metals into gold, and the creation of the philosopher’s stone. A philosopher’s stone is a mystical stone believed to drastically boost an alchemist’s abilities and grant immortality. This is similar to Eastern alchemy’s goals of seeking immortality.
Also, the idea from ancient Greece that all matter is formed from the four elements air, water, fire and earth, is very similar to the Five Element Theory of Eastern philosophy.
However, the major difference between Western and Eastern alchemy is that Western alchemists sought gold for wealth while Eastern alchemists sought medicine for the people.
In the Middle Ages, a “recipe” was invented for transmutation and the creation of the philosopher’s stone, called Magnum Opus, or “The Great Work”. It mentions three steps, which strangely mimics the creation of the world.
Firstly, the Black Step (nigredo) involves mixing Materia Prima (the first matter) in earth and burning it. This causes all the ingredients to become a black, solid mixture, entering a state of chaos.
Secondly, the White Step (albedo) heats this black solid, turning it into a liquid (a property of water). Impurities are washed away by aqua vitae, The Water of Life.
(Some sources suggest that there is another step, the Yellow Step (citrinitas), between the White Step and the Red Step, that involves the “yellowing” of the matter into gold.)
Lastly, the Red Step (rubedo) continues to add heat until the liquid is totally purified, while obtaining the sediments created from the fusion of matter and spirit, which is gold.
At the end of these three steps, the alchemist gains the philosopher’s stone. Upon closer inspection, one can see how the steps transform simplicity into complexity, bring order to chaos, and develop ignorance into enlightenment.
Therefore, the philosopher’s stone is only the knowledge that we gain, nothing more, nothing less. Although that may not be a simple task.