The Elixir of Life was an example of panacea, a substance whose discovery was one of three essential goals of the ancient study of Alchemy. Panacea was a substance that could cure all diseases and render its user a perpetual life forever. The Elixir of Life was created using the Philosopher’s Stone or the Sorcerer’s Stone, a substance that was considered priceless in value due to its properties. In the Harry Potter universe, the famed alchemist Nicolas Flamel was credited with the creation of this stone. He and his wife Perenelle Flamel had been taking this potion for over six hundred years and were, therefore, still alive long after their natural life expectancy.
Although the Elixir of Life could keep someone alive into eternity, it required to be consumed at regular intervals, and any obstacles to the supply of Elixir could still cause the person to eventually die.
How Was Elixir of Life Made?
There was no single way of making the Elixir of Life, as Alchemy was a diverse discipline with many approaches to the same problem. However, one of the easiest known ways of making the Elixir of Life was to drop the Philosopher’s Stone into mercurial water. This method was outlined by the fifteenth-century alchemist Bernard Trévisan. The same process was believed to procure pure gold when elaborated to the red or in the rubedo stage while it provided pure silver when elaborated to white or the albedo stage. Some alchemical works advise using eight pounds of sugar of mercury to create this mixture.
Since it made its drinker immortal, the quest for making this liquid was considered a remedy for aging and death even by Muggles. However, alchemists from the magical world kept the actual Elixir of Life potion a secret from Muggles for obvious reasons.
Limitations of the Potion
Although the consumption of the Elixir of Life came with immortality, as long as the wizard or witch drinking it continued to do so, it had some limitations. The most obvious limitation was that the effects of the potion ceased to exist the moment it was not consumed. One would die if one decided to not drink the potion at its stipulated time. Furthermore, the extraction of the Elixir of Life also came with certain risks like contamination which could render the potion dangerous for consumption and sometimes even cause it to react as a poison.
Another limitation of the potion was that although it prolonged the life of the person consuming it, there was still nothing it could do to prevent the body from aging. Therefore, the person consuming it would have a rather senile appearance, especially after their natural age crosses the possible age of death. This was illustrated by the appearance of Nicholas Flamel in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Appearances in the Harry Potter Universe
The Elixir of Life has never made a direct appearance in the Harry Potter series. However, it was first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Lord Voldemort was told to be hunting the Philosopher’s Stone because he wanted to make the Elixir of Life out of it. However, Albus Dumbledore became aware of the possible attempt of someone trying to steal it, so he asked Hagrid to bring it to Hogwarts from the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. It is also mentioned that the Philosopher’s Stone belongs to the French alchemist Nicolas Flamel who has been using it to brew the Elixir of Life. He and his wife Perenelle Flamel were both over six hundred years old and had been drinking the potion for a very long time.
The Elixir of Life was a legendary substance by all accounts and was the only reason that Lord Voldemort was trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone. He tried to stay partially alive in the back of Professor Quirrell’s head by slaying a unicorn and drinking its blood. Despite having seven Horcruxes, Voldemort was killed off his own natural body, and therefore, he had no physical form despite there being seven pieces of his soul lodged in each host.
Another time the Elixir of Life was hinted at in the wizarding world was when the Philosopher’s Stone was shown in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. In this Harry Potter spinoff movie, the Philosopher’s Stone is shown when Nicolas Flamel opens his cupboard door.
Elixir of Life in the Muggle World
There have been several references to the Elixir of Life in the Muggle World. Several ancient scriptures and epics make mention of the Elixir. One of the first references to it is probably in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In this epic, Gilgamesh is concerned about his mortality after the death of his companion Enkidu. He seeks something that could give him immortality and is sent to find a plant at the bottom of the ocean. He reaches the bottom of the ocean, but the plant is eaten by a serpent.
The Elixir of Life also appears in Hindu Mythology and is called Amruta. It is one of the substances that is churned out of the ocean by the Devas (Gods) and the Danavas (demons) during the Samudra Mathana (churning of the ocean).
Several Chinese rulers referred to wise men to provide them with an Elixir that could grant them immortality. There was also an ongoing belief that some metals possessed qualities of the Elixir, including gold, mercury, and substances like jade, hematite, and cinnabar. The Jiajing Emperor from the Ming Dynasty was killed after he ingested a lethal dose of mercury, assuming it would grant him immortality.
What did the Elixir of Life give?
The Elixir of Life was a potion that was obtained from the Philosopher’s Stone. It gave its drinker the ability to remain alive and gifted them with immortality indefinitely. However, it had to be drunk at regular intervals forever in order to remain immortal. It was, therefore, not a one-time solution to death, which is probably why Lord Voldemort chose to create Horcruxes instead of stealing the Philosopher’s Stone after graduating from Hogwarts. However, since the Elixir of Life also provided a soul with a body, he tried to steal it.
How do you get the Elixir of Life?
There were several recipes for the preparation of the Elixir of Life. One of the basic recipes was pouring all the ingredients of the Elixir into a cauldron and heating it. Some alchemical works noted that eight pounds of sugar of mercury were required for this process besides the Philosopher’s Stone.
What is the real Elixir of Life?
From a rational and scientific perspective, there isn’t a real Elixir of Life. All possible attempts at creating the Elixir of Life were unsuccessful in the Muggle world and some of these attempts ended up creating more harm than good especially due to several cases of mercury poisoning and ingestion of other toxic substances. Alchemy as a field of study itself has been considered a pseudoscience because of how inconsistent and unrealistic its claims, processes and results are.