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CG: Alchemy, Term's Origin

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.metaphysics.alchemy
From: (Robert Scott Martin)
Subject: Re: CG: Alchemy, Term's Origin
Date: 29 Nov 2001 03:11:28 -0500

In article <3qjN7.7819$>,
tyaginator   wrote:

This is pedantic but it's very late and here we have tyagi baiting me with 
this kind of thing. My additions at bottom of document.

>[posted to by "CG" ]

>About the derivation of the term "alchemy", there are a lot of people who
>would love to say that this comes from the word for "Egypt":  I was just
>visiting a site on hieroglyphics and the writer says, "The ancient Egyptians
>were possibly the first civilisation (sic) to practice the scientific arts.
>Indeed, the word chemistry is derived from the word Alchemy which is the
>ancient name for Egypt."


>The other vying argument for the origin of the term
>"alchemy" is that it comes from the  Greek khumos, meaning "fluid". 
>According to Ayto's "Dictionary of Word Origins", 
>"Alchemy comes, via Old French alkemie and medieval Latin alchimia, from
>Arabic alkimia.  Broken down into its component parts, this represents
>Arabic al "the" and Kimia, a word borrowed by Arabic from Greek khemia
>"alchemy"-- that is, the art of transmuting base metals into gold.  (It has
>been suggested that khemia is the same word as Khemia, the ancient name for
>Egypt, on the grounds that alchemy originated in Egypt, but it seems more
>likely that it derives from Greek khumos "fluid"-- source of English chyme--
>itself based on the verb khein "pour".  Modern English chemistry comes not
>directly from Greek khemia, but from alchemy, with the loss of the first

I'd agree with this, but would also bounce off it to contemplate the 
miraculous tendency of alchemical writers to use the word as a sort of 
Ariadne's thread leading through the labyrinth of language -- a sort of 
guided meditation (zikkr) or cabalistic game.

As in mainstream kabbalah [understood in the aleph-beth-gimel sense], 
every answer is equally "correct" -- every number is infinite if you know 
enough math, the word "alchemy" is born under every rock you turn over.

As our first witness, we call the rustic alchemist Armand Barbault, with
no Near Eastern language training to speak of. He gives largely the party
line (probably received from second-hand sources), but spins the
bare-bones etymology out into a mini-treatise on the Work itself.

Is it linguistically supportable? Heck no. Does it tell us something about
Barbault's Work? Heck yes.


The word "alchemy" is derived from the Egyptian word "Keme" meaning 
"science of the Black Earth". The reader will grasp the importance of this 
if he casts his mind back to the slow and progressive corruption of the 
First Matter, all of which must reach the stage of absolute blackness. 

Another breakdown [sic!] of the word "alchemy" is as follows: "Al-chemy". 
"Al" or "El" is Arabic for "before". Thus, alchemy is a science which 
comes before chemistry and indeed provides it with a wider frame of 


And then there's Fulcanelli, who shows off some of the more bizarre ah, 
solutions to the word.

Again, the Word has no place to lay its head, but its resting-places are 
plural and, in fact, limited only by the ingenuity of the artist.


Many controversies have been raised about the diverse etymologies 
attributed to the word "alchemy". 

Pierre-Jean Fabre in his SUMMARY OF CHEMICAL SECRETS claims it recalls the 
name of Cham, son of Noah, supposed to have been the first alchemical 
artisan, and he writes it "alchamie". 

The anonymous author of a curious manuscript [1] thinks that "the word 
alchemy is derived from 'als', which means 'salt' in Greek, and from 
'chymie', which means 'fusion', and it is thus well named, since salt 
which is so admirable has been usurped." But if salt is named "als" in the 
Greek language, "cheimeia' (standing for "chymeia") I has no other meaning 
than that of "sap" or "secretion". 

Others find its origin in the first denomination of the land of Egypt, 
native land of the sacred Art, "Kymie" or "Chemi". Napoleon Landais finds 
no difference between the two words "chimie" and "alchemie" (chemistry and 
alchemy); he simply adds that the prefix "al" should not be mixed up with 
the Arabic article "al", and simply means "marvelous virtue". Those who 
hold the opposite hypothesis, using the article "al" and the noun 
"chemie", understand it to mean "chemistry par excellence" or the 
"hyperchemistry" of modern occultists.

If we had to bring our personal opinion to this debate, we would say that 
phonetic cabala recognizes a close relationship between the Greek words 
"Cheimeia", "Chymeia" and "Cheuma", which indicates that which "runs down, 
streams, flows" and particularly indicates "molten metal", the "fusion" 
itself, as well as any "work made from molten metal". This would be a 
brief and succinct definition of alchemy as a metallurgical technique. [2]

But we know, on the other hand, that the name and the thing are based on 
THE PERMUTATION OF FORM BY LIGHT, fire or spirit; such is in any case the 
true meaning indicated by the Language of the Birds.

DE L'ANTIQUITIE (The Interruption of Cabalistic Sleep, or Unveiling of 
Paintings from Antiquity), 18th century manuscripts with drawings.

[2] And still this definition would be more appropriate for archimy or 
voarchadumy, a branch of the science which teaches the transmutation of 
metals into one another, rather than alchemy proper.

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