Alchemy closely dealt with other disciplines like Potion making, Chemistry, and any magic that dealt with the transformation of substances. An alchemist was someone who practiced the discipline of Alchemy. Alchemists were known for trying to find ways to create substances with great value from common items. For example, one of the objectives of Alchemy was to create precious metals like gold and silver from base metal.
Other aspects of Alchemy included the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone which was known to help make the Elixir of Life and the creation of compounds that had healing properties. The Philosopher’s Stone was created by Nicholas Flamel, a French Alchemist who lived even during the time of Harry Potter despite being more than 600 years old. It was also what Lord Voldemort was looking for to gain back life and tried to steal it from Gringotts, but it was safely guarded in Hogwarts under the orders of Albus Dumbledore.
Alchemy was one of the most confusing disciplines to interpret among its practitioners, especially because despite being a basic field like chemistry that dealt with an understanding of substances and the reactions between them, it was recorded with a lot of secrecy and confusion in history.
Since Muggle persecution was a serious threat in the olden days for the magical community, the alchemists borrowed symbolism from a wide variety of sources like the Bible, Pagan mythology, the Kabbalah, Astrology, and so on. This is probably why a major part of Alchemy reads like magical incantations than actual science.
One of the earliest known Alchemists is Dzou Yen who lived around the 4th Century B.C. in China. Paracelsus was also known to secretly be involved with the discipline of Alchemy despite being known mostly for his contributions to Medicine. Some alchemical works translated from the original Latin claimed that “perfect medicine” could be created from sal ammoniac, salt, urine, vinegar, and sulfur vive.
African witches and wizards were very talented in Alchemy and Astronomy. It is also believed that Quidditch was invented in Africa by European wizards and witches who had visited there to know more about African Alchemy.
Alchemy is not just a field of study that helped create substances. It was also seen as a form of philosophy by some thinkers and dealt with the idea of creating something valuable out of something normal. It had been a very popular field of study during the Enlightenment period and had given rise to Chemistry as a science. The action of creating something valuable out of plain substances helped one experience that evolution. Alchemy was also quite popular in the Muggle world. Only, the Muggles considered Alchemy to be a meaningless science that helped pave the way for its successor discipline, chemistry. It was from the world of magic that it came to be known for being one of the most difficult disciplines to master. Wizards and Witches well into the Twentieth century tried mastering this discipline and using it for several extraordinary reasons. Spagyric or “Plant Alchemy” was a subdiscipline of Alchemy.
Alchemy was offered as an elective subject if there was ample demand for it in the sixth and seventh years. It was also taught in part under Potions in the NEWT levels as some procedures in Potion-making made use of techniques and processes used in Alchemy.
Alchemy is The Precursor To Chemistry
Alchemy and Muggle Chemistry are quite similar in that they both deal with the transformation of one substance into the other. While Alchemy uses Wizardry and Magic, Chemistry is known for using the scientific method which helps structure and plans reactions that occur for the change to happen. Also, Alchemy is more interested in the transformation of base elements like mercury into substances like pure gold. Chemistry, on the other hand, does not assign value to the substances that are used and the ones that are created. They just happen to exist in the field of study as mere materials.
Therefore, the philosophy of Alchemy significantly differs from Chemistry in that it is an ancient study that follows a spiritual journey through ignorance toward enlightenment. Alchemy can still be seen as a precursor to Chemistry because they both do have similar goals with varying intensities. For instance, a lot of Alchemy deals with creating valuable substances and potions that give their drinker immortality. Chemistry deals with creating substances of value for mass production and use and medicines that make their consumers less mortal than they were by treating their illnesses.
The Four Basic Elements
The basic elements that comprise the universe were believed to be water, air, fire, and earth. According to the discipline of Alchemy, these elements were the building blocks of the universe and different combinations of these elements could be used to theoretically create any element. Alchemy also dealt with using base metals to transform into a more valuable substance like gold, or universal medicine. Eventually, two more elements labeled as Philosophical elements were added to the roster. The two philosophical elements were the minerals mercury and sulfur. These six elements were used together to attain a translation of substances from basic to valuable existence. Most alchemical scriptures adopted this approach of Alchemy.
Alchemy In The Harry Potter Universe
Alchemy was first introduced in the Harry Potter universe in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when the Philosopher’s Stone was talked about by Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger after Hagrid gave them some clues about what exactly was secured from the vault that was later broken into at Gringotts. Harry eventually figured out who Nicolas Flamel was when he remembered that one of the cards with a Chocolate Frog mentioned him. Albus Dumbledore’s card contained information about his work in Alchemy with his friend Nicolas Flamel.
Furthermore, it was later established that both Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perenelle Flamel were over six hundred years old and lived so long because of the Elixir of Life that they created out of the Philosopher’s Stone. Lord Voldemort badly wanted to own the Philosopher’s Stone as he wanted to come back to life by making the Elixir of Life. Although he had several Horcruxes, he probably hadn’t figured out a way to revive parts of his soul from them to gain back life.
It is presumed that Severus Snape must have been an enthusiast of Alchemy and practiced it in his free time as he was a genius in potions and the famed Half-Blood Prince. Draco Malfoy is also believed to have been interested in Alchemy. The first names of Albus Dumbledore and Rubeus Hagrid have alchemical origins attached to them as they respectively mean white and red, traits that have alchemical imagery associated with them. Albus comes from the Latin term Albedo which is used in Alchemy to denote the second stage of the Alchemical Magnum Opus. The first stage is called Nigredo and the third is called Citrinitas. The fourth stage was called Rubedo from where the word Rubeus comes. Rubedo was the final stage of the Magnum Opus and signaled Alchemical success. This is why the Philosopher’s Stone was red in color.
The Potions class in the sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry covered several important details about Alchemy. This includes the textbook called Advanced Potion-Making by Libatius Borage. Professor Horace Slughorn claimed that some procedures for potion-making required processes that had alchemical origins.
Alchemy’s Useful Applications
Alchemy was known for a lot of procedures, most of which involved the transmutation of elements to create a substance that would be of great value. Some major procedures included Chrysopoeia, a method of creating gold out of common metals, and the creation of silver.
Creating a legendary substance called Panacea was also an objective of Alchemy. Panacea was created by the transmutation of substances to finally form a compound that could prolong one’s life forever and cure every possible disease. It is believed that the Philosopher’s Stone finally solved this objective as it could be used to brew the Elixir of Life, which would render its drinker immortal as long as it was being drunk. Creating a universal solvent was also an objective of Alchemy.
Who Is Nicolas Flamel?
Nicolas Flamel was a famed Alchemist who was born in France in the Fourteenth Century. He went to Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and completed his education there. He also met the love of his life, and later wife, Perenelle Flamel in the school. He was known as the inventor of the Philosopher’s Stone which was known to be able to create the Elixir of Life. It also had several other abilities including the transmutation of base metals into gold. He met young Albus Dumbledore in the 1890s and they both became friends. They worked together on several Alchemy projects and Albus helped Nicolas Flamel to safely hide the stone, first in a vault at Gringotts Bank and later at Hogwarts when its safety at Gringotts was threatened by Lord Voldemort.
Other than the Harry Potter novels, Nicolas Flamel also appears in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie series, where he helps Newt Scamander, his brother Theseus and a few others to safely counter the cursed fire that Gellert Grindelwald unleashes at the Lestrange Mausoleum, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in France.
The character of Nicolas Flamel is inspired by an actual person who lived in medieval Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Nicolas Flamel was a manuscript seller and a scribe who lived in Paris, France with his wife Perenelle. He was a devout Christian and was quite popular in his locality for donating to Catholic churches and other causes. However, after around two hundred years of his death, several texts started claiming that he was secretly dabbling in Alchemy and had a lot of wealth after creating the Philosopher’s Stone which could turn base metals into gold. Nicolas Flamel has been a subject of discussion and has been portrayed not only in the Harry Potter series but also in other works of fiction like the Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo and the Manga Fullmetal Alchemist.
Problems with Alchemy
While Alchemy in the wizarding world has always been a reputed discipline capable of creating great things, Alchemy in the Muggle world has always been seen as a pseudoscience with no scientific merit. This is mostly because only magic can make things claimed by alchemists in the Muggle world come true. In the Muggle world, Chemistry easily took over Alchemy as a field that could study the laws of substances and their chemical transformations from one state to another.
Despite Alchemy being older than Chemistry, it couldn’t accommodate all the explanations for naturally occurring chemical reactions in the Muggle world. Furthermore, there has never been any account of Alchemical success in the Muggle world including the Philosopher’s Stone, Universal Solvent, Universal Medicine, or the Elixir of Life. This has led most Muggles to believe that the methods of Alchemy are mere hoaxes and may never be used for sound scientific studies.
Does Harry Potter have Alchemy?
Harry Potter, the character, doesn’t take up Alchemy as it is only offered to sixth and seventh years at Hogwarts and there is no mention of him taking it in his sixth year. In the seventh year, he does not attend Hogwarts as he is busy hunting Horcruxes and unlike Hermione, Harry doesn’t go back to Hogwarts to graduate. However, the Harry Potter series does have a lot of Alchemy in it and it is constantly mentioned in the series including when Nicolas Flamel is introduced as well as when the Philosopher’s Stone is discussed.
Is Dumbledore an Alchemist?
Yes, Dumbledore is an alchemist. However, Dumbledore is more of a polymath in the broad discipline of magic and wouldn’t necessarily be identified just as an alchemist. He had mastered several disciplines within magic and was known for being well versed in many other fields too like Transfiguration, Herbology, Defence Against Dark Arts, Potions, etc. He was known in Alchemy for his collaboration with the celebrated alchemist Nicolas Flamel.
Is Alchemy the same as Potions?
No, Alchemy is very different from Potions, especially because of how distinct the objectives of the two disciplines are. For instance, Potions deals with the creation of concoctions that have specific purposes. These concoctions are usually very specific to a small range of purposes and cannot be used beyond that requirement. For instance, the Draught of Living Death is a potion to induce very deep sleep. There are thousands of other potions that are studied and made in this discipline for many such reasons. However, Alchemy deals more with solving very large problems like mortality and poverty. Also, Alchemy studies the properties of the four base elements and their combinations unlike Potions, which only dig deeper into substances based on their applicability in any preparation.
Why are Alchemists immortal in Harry Potter?
Not all alchemists are immortal in Harry Potter. However, both Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perenelle Flamel would have been immortal as long as they drank the Elixir of Life which was made from the Philosopher’s Stone invented by Nicolas Flamel through his skill in Alchemy. Any alchemist with this stone could theoretically be immortal. However, Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perenelle Flamel died soon after the events of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as they decided to destroy the stone for the greater good and to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.