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1599Alchemy & the Kabba Stone

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  • Mark Swaney
    Nov 1, 2000
      Neil Fernandez wrote:

      > I'd be interested to know your take on the relationship between the
      > derivation and history of the term 'alchemy'/'al khem' and the
      > (apparently meteoritic) Black Stone at Mecca. The Black Stone is
      > currently - in quantitative terms - the top pilgrimage site in the
      > world, getting kissed by about two million people each year. The term
      > 'alchemy'/'al khem' is said to go back to Egypt, and indeed to the word
      > for Egypt ('chem'). There are other views, which conflict and interact
      > in various ways. I don't know a great deal about the subject, but I know
      > that the black stone and cube feature in alchemy; that the Black Stone
      > at Mecca is said to have changed colour from white to black, and that
      > the Ka'aba, the building which contains the Black Stone in its southeast
      > corner, at the centre of the mosque in Mecca, is cubic. Some say it's
      > not exactly a cube, but it is not as if there is easy access for
      > 'scientists' with mensuration equipment, and 'Ka'aba' does mean 'Cube'.
      > BTW Muslims believe that the Ka'aba was built by Abraham and Ishmael.

      Niel,

      This is very interesting information. Sorry for the delay in answering, things
      here are busy again. I have consulted my best source, "Alchemy" by E J Holmyard - an
      excellent book - and here is what he has to say;

      "The word Alchemy is derived from the Arabic name of the art, alkimia, in which "al"
      is the definite article. On the origin of "kima" there are differences of opinion.
      Some hold that it is derived from kmt or chem, the ancient Egyptians' name for their
      country; this means "the black land", and is a reference to the black alluvial soil
      bordering the Nile as opposed to the tawney-colored desert sands. In the early days
      of alchemy it was much practiced in Egypt, and if this derivation is accepted the
      name would mean "the Egyptian art"."

      "The word Alchemy and its modern formation, chemistry, came directly from the Arabic,
      and provide reminders that in the early Middle Ages, the principal students of the
      Art were Muslims."

      Holmyard also says later of the attempts to produce the Philosopher's Stone;

      "The underlying idea seems to have been that since the prime matter was the same in
      all substances, an approximation to this prime material should be the first quest of
      alchemy; when such a substance had been obtained it was to be successively impressed
      with 'pure qualities' which one after the other should rise in the scale of 'metallic
      virtue' to the perfection of gold. Manifold were the attempts to procure the basic
      matter, and any black solid made from non precious metals . . . was deemed a
      possibility"

      and also;

      "Color to the alchemists was the most important characteristic of a metal, and so we
      find throughout Greek alchemical literature an insistence on color changes and
      sequences of color changes that left its mark on all subsequent alchemy."

      So your information about the Kabba being associated with alchemy in the Islamic
      world is very possible. In the Islamic world, the Kabba stone might be viewed as the
      actual and fabulous Philosopher's Stone of western lore. When looking into alchemy
      it is important to pay careful attention to the dates of the alchemical works that
      are being consulted. Alchemy has a long history, and only the last bit of it
      included any work in Europe. Alchemy began in either China or Egypt in the 4th
      century BCE. That makes it a "live" theory for about two thousand years. Of those
      20 centuries, Europe knew alchemy for about 4 centuries, and simply copied the work
      of the Islamic alchemists, as well as mixing in elements of the Jewish Kabbalah,
      Greek hermetic lore from the renaissance, and western astrology.

      > Have you come across anything on the links between Jewish kabbalah and
      > Islamic alchemy? The Ka'aba is said to have been rebuilt ten times, and
      > this has been subject to kabbalistic interpretation.

      The main connection that I know of between alchemy and the Kabbalah is that the two
      subjects were discovered together by the Europeans (Christians) in Spain in the 12th
      century CE. Spain was then ruled by the Moors who were very tolerant of other
      religions, and so the Jews built themselves a good culture there and the Kabbalah was
      developed. At the same time, and in the same place, alchemy from the Arab world, as
      well as other Arab science (such as that contained in the Rasail of Ihkwan a-Safa)
      was also being practiced. So I think that the references to the Kabballah in these
      European alchemical texts are just late interpolations by Christian alchemists.
      Alchemy was the practice - read "science" - of it's day. The practitioner included
      in his/her recipes all of the information known to that person that might somehow
      affect the intended operation. So late alchemy includes a large array of mystical,
      religious, and proto-scientific ideas in a tuti-fruti mixture.

      As for the Kabba being re-built 10 times, I would tend to look into the Islamic
      numerological ideas, not the Kabbalah.

      Mark
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