A person practising the art of alchemy.
The ancient mental discipline of strict Ascetic control combining spirituality and chemistry through which, it was believed, the discovery of the 'Philosopher's Stone' or Elixir of life could result. It was from this belief in spiritual sublimation that the cause celebre of transmuting base metals into gold or silver arose. Alchemists pursued the formula for the Elixir which it was believed, once discovered, would grant human immortality.
In the western world, alchemy derived from the ancient, second century Gnostic texts on metallurgy whilst, in the east, the alchemy of Chinese Taoism arose between the fifth and ninth centuries AD. Alchemy was practised by the Arab world in the ninth Century and, in Christian Europe, reached its greatest popularity between 1400 and 1700 AD.
In England, during the Interregnum of 1649-1660, when many of the alchemical texts were published the Puritans railed against alchemy as an activity allied with diabolism, arguing that attempts to meddle with nature played into the hands of the Devil. Many eminent scientists of the day, including R Boyle and Isaac Newton, were, however, committed to the quest.
Modern interest was probably first rekindled by the psychologist C G Jung. Having been introduced by a colleague to Chinese Alchemy, Jung made a detailed study of the subject and believed that he had come across an historical counterpart of his psychology of the unconscious. He published two works Psychology and Religion (1938) and Paracelsica (1942), which devote sections to the theme.
Alchemy continues to playa significant part in the magic arts and is practised widely in the Far East.
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one defintion may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differring practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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