Alchemy & the Kabba Stone
- Neil Fernandez wrote:
> I'd be interested to know your take on the relationship between theNiel,
> 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.
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
"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 andThe main connection that I know of between alchemy and the Kabbalah is that the two
> Islamic alchemy? The Ka'aba is said to have been rebuilt ten times, and
> this has been subject to kabbalistic interpretation.
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, Neil,
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."
Needless to say, he doesn't seem to provide any room for dispute about that
very intriguing statement.
I would caution against this reading of the origin of alchemy. I know you
both have suggested that there are alternate stories about the origin, but
you didn't include them. 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
>"The word Alchemy is derived from the Arabic name of the art, alkimia, in
>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
>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
>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
>and provide reminders that in the early Middle Ages, the principal students of the
>Art were Muslims."