Did medieval alchemists have magical powers to form gold out of cheaper metals?

Throughout our lives, many myths and fables surround us, especially as a kid. Some myths have related to scientific facts and studies, while some are entirely a work of the human imagination.

These myths often started during the medieval ages, when people don’t usually study science. Interestingly, their works produced positive results – even without them knowing the scientific explanation behind. Because of this, alchemist gained popularity during the medieval era since they always attribute their work with magical powers. One famous myth about alchemists is that they can use their powers to form gold out of cheaper metals.

What is Alchemy?

Let us take a more in-depth look into the definition of Alchemy. The term Alchemy originated from the Arabic word al-Kimiya from Greco-Roman Egypt during the 8th century. They practice transmutation of base metals such as lead and mercury and turn it into noble metals – such as gold and silver. Besides this, they also create potions and elixirs to cure diseases, along with other effects in the bodies. Most of the time, their work focused on transmuting metals by using the philosopher’s stone – which they believed to hold magical powers.

However, alchemy inevitably failed because of the several misconceptions it brought. It once believed that the composition of the world mainly includes the four basic elements – fire, water, earth, and air. These four elements come along with three essential substances – salt, mercury, and sulfur. This belief is far from the knowledge that we have today, in which the universe is composed of atoms and elements. The lack of scientific knowledge is what led to the fall of alchemy, although it did contribute unknowingly to the creation of some essential substances that we use today.

Do Alchemists Use Magical Powers To Transmute Gold?

During the medieval age, people believed in magic, mainly in witchcraft and black magic. These magics include the so-called powers inside the philosopher’s stone, which the alchemists used. That is why ancient people believed that alchemists used magical powers to transmute base metals into noble metals such as gold. However, the underlying factor of this practice is their shallow study of substances’ properties, as well as their composition to manipulate them. For years they tried to investigate and discover the more profound and broader knowledge about the various relations of substances, although they failed to achieve it.

Furthermore, they don’t know the internal composition of matter, as well as an idea of the different elements in the periodic table. The said claims about the magical powers of alchemists are entirely false. A more acceptable fact is that alchemists unwittingly used introductory chemistry and tried to turn base metals into gold, and then attribute its formation with the use of magic. However, this experiment failed to succeed, simply because of the lack of scientific knowledge.

Today, we know that the percentage of each element in the periodic table could not be adjusted in a way that could form a different element – such as gold or silver. This statement leads to the disapproval of the earlier claims that alchemists could turn base metals into gold.

Interestingly, this process of turning base metals into gold is not entirely wrong – considering we have the right equipment to do it. In our modern world, physicists use an equipment called particle accelerator, which made it possible to create gold from other elements. Although the process cost in making the gold is much higher compared to the price of the actual gold – making it impractical.

Moreover, alchemy led to the creation of various essential substances that we use today. These substances include strong acids like hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, and sulfuric acid. These acids are many times more useful than gold. Especially in our modern world, several industrial scenes require the use of these acids, and without it, they may not be able to operate.

However, despite the seemingly less importance of gold, alchemists used to attribute them as a sign of purity and cleanliness. Unlike today, gold is not only a sign of social status and wealth, but they used it to proclaim the holiness of one person. Alchemists believed that not all metal has the same maturity or state, in which gold is the purest of all.

Additional reading:
Alchemy (Wikipedia)

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