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Using the Philosopher's Stone, Flamel achieved the transmutation of metals into pure gold

"The best known goals of the alchemists were the transmutation of common metals into Gold or Silver (less well known is plant alchemy, or "Spagyric"), and the creation of a "panacea", a remedy that supposedly would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely, and the discovery of a universal solvent. Although these were not the only uses for the science, they were the ones most documented and well known. Starting with the Middle Ages, European alchemists invested much effort on the search for the philosopher's stone, a legendary substance that was believed to be an essential ingredient for either or both of those goals."
Libatius Borage, Advanced Potion-Making[src]

Alchemy was a branch of magic and an ancient science concerned with the study of the composition, structure and magical properties of the four basic elements, as well as the transmutation of substances; it was thus intimately connected with Potion-making, chemistry, and transformation magic.[1]

Alchemy also concerned philosophy; one interpretation of alchemical literature, which was known to be dominated by mystical and metaphysical speculation, were that the study of Alchemy were symbolic of a spiritual journey, leading the alchemist from ignorance (base metal) to enlightenment (gold).

While Muggles for the most part largely dismissed it as an outdated forerunner of modern chemistry, there were still wizards actively studying and practising it in the twentieth century and who held it to be some of the most difficult magic known to wizardkind.[2][3] A less well known branch of the study of alchemy was Spagyric, or "plant alchemy".[1]

Alchemy was an elective subject offered at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry only when there was sufficient demand. It was taught to sixth and seventh-years only.[4] To aid those few students who took alchemy, the Hogwarts Library contained a small section on alchemy, though Madam Pince noted that it was rarely accessed.[5] Potions class may also have involved alchemical or near-alchemical processes at N.E.W.T. level.[6][5]

A non-magical version of this study also existed, called Muggle alchemy.[5]


"Alchemists enjoyed prestige and support through the centuries, though not for their pursuit of those goals, nor the mystic and philosophical speculation that dominates their literature. Rather it was for their mundane contributions to the chemical industries of the day."
Libatius Borage, Advanced Potion-Making[src]
Dzou Yen

Dzou Yen

Alchemy had been a field of study since antiquity. As the time went on, the lack of common words for chemical concepts and processes, as well as the need for secrecy (presumably to avoid Muggle persecution) led alchemists to borrow the terms and symbols of biblical and pagan mythology, astrology, kabbalah and other esoteric fields. This marked a progress in alchemical research, as it allowed the exchange of ideas between alchemists. However, this also ended up making the plainest chemical recipe read like an abstruse magic incantation,[1] probably confusing the learning and spreading of alchemy as a science.

Dzou Yen, widely considered one of the fathers of Chinese scientific thought, was an alchemist in the fourth century B.C., during the final years of the Zhou Dynasty.[7]

The best known goals of the alchemists were the transformation of common metals into gold (a phenomenon called chrysopoeia)[5] or silver, the creation of a panacea, a remedy that would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely, and the discovery of a universal solvent.[1] At least two of the three primary alchemical goals were achieved by the famed French alchemist Nicolas Flamel sometime in or after the 14th century, with his creation of the Philosopher's Stone and, by extension, the Elixir of Life.[8] Using the Elixir, Nicolas and his wife, Perenelle Flamel, would live for well over 600 years until the 1990s. The stone could also perform Chrysopoeia, though it's unknown if Flamel used it for this purpose.

After Lord Voldemort nearly succeeded in stealing the stone for his own dark purposes during the 1991–1992 school year, Flamel and his old friend and colleague, Albus Dumbledore, decided that it would be best to destroy the stone to prevent its misuse. After six centuries of life the Flamels were more than willing to accept death and passed peacefully after setting their affairs in order, when their current supply of Elixir ran out.[9]

African wizards had always been particularly skilled in alchemy and Astronomy. Some scholars, like Kennilworthy Whisp, believed that Quidditch had been introduced in Africa by European witches and wizards travelling there in search of alchemical and astronomical information.[10]


Phillipus von Hohenheim

Phillipus von Hohenheim, apart from his important contributions to the field of medicine, was also a secretive alchemist in the sixteenth century.[11][12]

According to an alchemical work, which original translation from Latin dated back to 1557, the constituents of the perfect medicine were Vinegar, Salt, Urine, Sal Ammoniac and a particular Sulphur Vive.[13][14]

Alchemists' greatest prestige came not from their trademark mystic and metaphysical speculation, but from their more mundane contributions to various chemical industries, such as ore testing and refining, metalworking, production of inks, dyes and cosmetics, ceramics and glass manufacture, preparation of extracts and liquors and the invention of gunpowder. The preparation of Aqua Vitæ was also a popular "experiment" among European alchemists.[1]

Alchemy in Medieval Europe HM

A book on the history of Alchemy in Medieval Europe

The sixth-year Potions curriculum at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry covered alchemy and, as such, Libatius Borage's Advanced Potion-Making included a brief historical and scientific overview of alchemy.[1] According to Professor Horace Slughorn, the preparation of an antidote for a blended poison following Golpalott's Third Law incurred in an almost alchemical process.[6]

There was a Centre for Alchemical Studies in Egypt. This may have been the largest centre in the world, although this is not clear.[15]

During his world tour, Elphias Doge observed the experiments of Egyptian alchemists.[16]

During the 1990–1991 school year at Hogwarts, Professor Cuthbert Binns taught his seventh-year History of Magic students about the history of Alchemy in Medieval Europe.[17]

The Alchemy Room was a room in St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries which was used by the resident Healers for the magical study of substances to help synthesise cures, along with the general brewing of healing potions for the hospital.[18]

Known alchemists[]

Behind the scenes[]

  • The first names of Rubeus Hagrid and Albus Dumbledore were chosen based on alchemy, as they mean "red" and "white" respectively, "the red" and "the white" being essential mystical elements of the process.[22]


Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film) - See this image
  2. 2.0 2.1 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 6 (The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters)
  3. From "Very Early page of Philosopher's Stone".
  4. Pottermore information on Hogwarts subjects (transcription available here)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 7, Chapter 5 (The Ministry of Magic) - Assignment "The Rogue Alchemist"
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 18 (Birthday Surprises)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (video game) (Mentioned on a Famous Wizard Card)
  8. 8.0 8.1 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 13 (Nicolas Flamel)
  9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 17 (The Man with Two Faces)
  10. Quidditch Through the Ages, Chapter 8 (The Spread of Quidditch Worldwide)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (video game) (Appears on a Famous Wizard Card)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (video game) (Appears on a Famous Wizard Card)
  13. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (film), Chapter 24 (Norbert)
  14. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (film) (see this image)
  15. Seventh question of the Third W.O.M.B.A.T. at J. K. Rowling's official site
  16. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 2 (In Memoriam)
  17. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 7, Chapter 10 (The Wampus Cat's Out of the Bag) - History of Magic Lesson "Alchemy in Medieval Europe"
  18. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 7, Chapter 19 (St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries)
  19. "Very early page of Philosopher's Stone" on The Harry Potter Lexicon
  20. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 2, "Hosting the Beauxbatons" Achievement
  21. Writing by J. K. Rowling: "Draco Malfoy" at Wizarding World
  22. Writing by J. K. Rowling: "Colours" at Wizarding World

See also[]