When you hear metal, what comes to your mind? Industry? Maybe trading? Certainly, human association with metals goes a long way back in history. The ancient people viewed metals as mysterious materials found deep inside the earth. Likewise, they believed them to be full of spiritual powers with the potential for creation as well as destruction.
Several ancient civilizations practiced alchemy and it has been said that Arabs were the forefathers of it. The philosopher Muhammad ibn Zakariya Al-Razi (9th century) claimed that “the study of philosophy could not be considered complete, and a learned man could not be called a philosopher until he has succeeded in producing the alchemical transmutation.”
For many years, Western scholars ignored Al-Razi’s praise for alchemy, instead, seeing it as a pseudoscience, false in its purposes and fundamentally wrong in its methods, closer to magic and superstition than to the “enlightened” sciences. However, only in recent years have pioneering studies demonstrated the importance of alchemical practices and discoveries in creating the foundations of modern chemistry.
So how do Arabs influenced the study of alchemy
Arab alchemists excelled in the field of practical laboratory experience. They offered the first descriptions of some of the substances still used in modern chemistry. For example, muriatic (hydrochloric) acid, sulfuric acid, and nitric acid are discoveries of Arabic alchemists, as are soda (al-natrun) and potassium (al-qali). In addition, the words used in Arabic alchemy books have left a deep mark on the language of chemistry. Besides the word alchemy itself, we see Arabic influence in such words as alcohol (al-kohl), elixir (al-iksir), and alembic (al-inbiq). Furthermore, Arabic alchemists perfected the process of distillation. They did so by equipping their distilling apparatuses with thermometers in order to better regulate the heating during alchemical operations. Alchemists also assigned planetary correspondences to each of the metals they used.
Therefore, with the deep and rich history of Arabs and alchemy in mind, let’s take a look at a few types of metals in Arabic and their meanings and importance.
Here are our examples:
|Gold in Arabic||dhahab||ذهب|
|Silver in Arabic||fiddfah||فضة|
|Mercury in Arabic||zi’baq||زئبَق|
|Copper in Arabic||nohas ahmar||نحاس أحمر|
|Tin in Arabic||qasdeer||قصدير|
|Brass in Arabic||nuhas asfar||نحاس أصفر|
|Bronze in Arabic||bronz||برونز|
|Lime in Arabic||kils||كلس|
|Steel in Arabic||foolath||فولاذ|
|Platinum in Arabic||platen||بلاتين|
|Pitch in Arabic||zift||زِفت|
|Sulfur in Arabic||kibreet||كبريت|
|Nickel in Arabic||nekel||نيكل|
|Acid in Arabic||aseed||آسيد|
|Metal in Arabic||ma’den||معدن|
|Aluminum in Arabic|
|Calcium in Arabic|
|Iron in Arabic|
|Zirconium in Arabic|
|Uranium in Arabic|
|Cobalt in Arabic|
|Lead in Arabic|
|Plutonium in Arabic|
|Magnesium in Arabic|
|Stainless steel in Arabic|
However, when it comes to alchemy, some metals are more important than others. So, check out below how different metals were used.
In ancient Egypt, gold was used to represent the sun and the power that came along with it. Likewise, it was believed to represent perfection and purity and was a symbol of wealth, prosperity, authority and charisma. Meanwhile, if you were a pharaoh, you were a descendant of the gods. Therefore, you’d be the ruler of the skies and heavens. One of the largest catches of gold from the ancient world ever discovered turned up in Egypt. In the 1920s, an archaeologist named Howard Carter stumbled across the tomb of a pharaoh that few had ever heard of — King Tutankhamen.
Gold appears in the stories of the Greeks and Romans as well. For example, King Midas had the magic touch, and everything he got his hands on turned into gold — including his beloved daughter! Moreover, for quite some time, alchemists worked fervently to turn other metals into gold, and were spectacularly unsuccessful.
Silver is a very versatile metal — one of the three base metals in Alchemy. It is associated with philosophical traits of intuition, self-reflection, and inner wisdom. Silver is a feminine metal, a symbol of purity and is connected to the goddesses and spirits. Likewise, its energies include divination, healing, protection, emotion, love, wisdom, dreams, luck and wealth. It is symbolic of attributes such as vision, clarity, awareness, focus, persistence and subtle strength.
Mercury, or quicksilver, is one of the heaviest metals. At room temperature it still remains in a liquid form. Another name for it is mercurius vivens, or “the living mercury”. Even though most metals begin as liquids deep in the Earth, mercury is the only one whose final form is still in motion. Also, findings in the tombs in China, Egypt, and India (several thousand years ago), show that people used mercury in healing medicine. Mercury is a bit of a weird anomaly when it comes to metals, and is unlike any of the others. Since it’s not hard or malleable, it can’t be scratched, shaped, or bent. It doesn’t conduct heat, but it does react to it. Also, it will expand and contract based on temperatures – that’s why it’s used in thermometers. When it freezes, it actually works as an excellent conductor of electricity.
One of the most fascinating aspects of magical correspondences is that often an item’s metaphysical properties match up to its tangible, physical ones. For instance, in the engineering and science worlds, copper is a conductor of electricity and heat. It allows the flow of a current back and forth. So, if copper can transfer energy in one direction or another in your home or workplace, guess what one of the metaphysical associations of copper will be? If you said energy conduction, you’re exactly right. Copper is ruled by the planet Venus, so, that’s the reason why it’s associated with matters of love. It symbolizes characteristics like charisma, feminine beauty, artistic creativity, affection and balance. It is also considered a healing metal that teaches about living a fulfilling life.
In ancient history, people associated tin with Jupiter, both the planet and the Roman god. It’s shiny and malleable, and the Romans called it plumbum album (“white lead”). They used it for making mirrors and even coins. Alloys often contain tin, blended with other metals to make something new. It embodies wisdom, logic, education, maturity, and knowledge. Ancient beliefs show tin as the metal of sages and scholars.
We put these two metals together because in alchemy considers them as antimonies. An antimony is a cooperative metal because it works best when combined with another metal. It is actually a metalloid that does not react chemically as a metal but has metal-like appearance and physical properties. They are considered protective metals and symbolize transformation and adaptability, wisdom and strength that can be gained from others and also given back in return. Antimony represents the free spirit, wild nature, or animal power, dwelling within all humans.
Today, no one doubts that Latin alchemy is mainly based on Arabic heritage. Before the first infiltrations of Arabic alchemical texts, the Latin West knew of only a few translations of Greek books of alchemic recipes, largely out of context. The history of the influence of Arabic alchemy in the West faces some major problems directly connected with its sources. Not all the Latin translations from Arabic are cataloged or identified, their handwritten tradition is scarcely known, and translators’ names are rarely specified.
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