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Egyptian Alchemy

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The Alchemy of Egypt is of unknown antiquity and a subject of legend rather than known history. The Leyden X Papyrus, a 3rd Cent AD practical compendium of Alchemical and Chemical techniques written in Greek, includes late versions of presumably much older Egyptian Alchemical practises (most practising Alchemists were Egyptian not Greek). The main aim of Egyptian Alchemy seems to have been the transformation of base metals into gold. There has also been some speculation that the myth of the death and resurrection of Osiris is in some way coded into the process in its original form.

Mainstream studies of Egyptian Alchemy assume it was the art of producing 'fake gold' to use in trade and so maximise profits, the first form of counterfeiting, and this was also the assumption of the authorities in late Medieval Europe, regarding their own contemporary Alchemists, leading to the art being banned in many countries. Studies of Egyptian Alchemy suggest it can easily be entirely interpreted as using alloys, gums and surface amalgams (possibly later including a sulphur-mercury conjunction) to transform metals, like lead or copper, and give them the appearance of gold. No reliable methods for testing real gold were available until Medieval times. It has often been suggested some Alchemists may have believed a real transformation took place, but the Leyden Papyrus makes it clear that fraud was the main intent. There is no evidence that any metals were ever transmuted in Egypt and modern science maintains it is impossible.


Egyptian Alchemy was adopted by the Greeks in Alexandria, as well as exported to Western Asia and India along the early Silk Road. The possibility remains of a flow of ideas from India, and even China, along the same route, particularly in the late period, but no evidence of this has yet been found. However during this time alchemy took on its more familiar mystical character as it fused with both Egyptian mysticism, Greek philosophy and in some cases Gnostic thought. For example, one of the most familiar symbols of alchemy, the Ouroborus, first appears in Egypt around 1600BC, sometimes depicted encircling a scarab beetle. The Alexandrians would depict it encircling the words Hen to Pan, One the All, and the scarab became associated with this phrase by later alchemists.

Some also claimed the Ancient Egyptians equated the Metallic process with the myth of Osiris.

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