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Alchemy, blend of philosophy, mysticism, and chemical processing that originated before the Christian era. Practitioners sought the conversion of base metals into gold using the “philosopher's stone.” Other goals were the prolongation of life and the secret of immortality. Alchemy began in Hellenistic Egypt and passed through the writings of the great Arab alchemists to the Latin West. In the early 16th century Paracelsus set alchemy on a new course toward chemical pharmacy, although other alchemists—including John Dee and Isaac Newton—continued to work along quasi-religious lines.

See also: Chemistry; Metallurgy.

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