On Alchemy

November 8, 2013 @ MoC

By refining bases into gold, the alchemist believed that immortal life would be delivered if the “fake” or synthetic gold was ingested. The idea that fake gold was superior to real gold arose because the alchemists believed the combination of a variety of substances (and the transformation of these substances through roasting or burning) gave the final substance a spiritual value. It possesses a superior essence when compared to natural gold. (Cooper, 1990. Pg. 65) Gold and cinnabar (Jindan in Chinese) were the most sought-after substances to manipulate and ingest. They were believed to have longevity and could elongate the life of the consumer. Cinnabar is a mineral with a reddish brown colour and is often found near deposits of mercury, and so assumed to be related, which is correct, as Cinnabar is mercuric sulfide. It was used in the search for immortality because of the special significance of its colour, and the difficulty with which it was refined.

The colour of the cinnabar is significant to symbolic belief as well. The colour red in Chinese culture is considered to be the “zenith of the colour representing the sun, fire, royalty and energy.” (Cooper, 1990. Pg 70) Cinnabar could also be roasted which produced a liquid form of silver known as quicksilver, which we know to be mercury. This substance was ingested but it could also be combined with sulphur and burned again to return to its natural form of cinnabar. “Cinnabar was the yang to quicksilver’s yin” (Cooper, 1990. Pg 70). In China gold was quite rare, so it was usually imported from other surrounding countries. However, cinnabar could be refined in the mountains of Szechuan and Hunan Provinces in central China.

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