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Chinese alchemy was closely connected to Taoist forms of traditional Chinese medicine, such as Acupuncture and Moxibustion. In the early Song dynasty, followers of this Taoist idea (chiefly the elite and upper class) would ingest mercuric sulfide, which, though tolerable in low levels, led many to suicide. Thinking that this consequential death would lead to freedom and access to the Taoist heavens, the ensuing deaths encouraged people to eschew this method of alchemy in favor of external sources (the aforementioned Tai Chi Chuan, mastering of the qi, etc.) Chinese alchemy was introduced to the West by Obed Simon Johnson.
The introduction of alchemy to Latin Europe may be dated to 11 February 1144, with the completion of Robert of Chester's translation of the Liber de compositione alchemiae ("Book of the Composition of Alchemy") from an Arabic work attributed to Khalid ibn Yazid. Although European craftsmen and technicians pre-existed, Robert notes in his preface that alchemy (here still referring to the elixir rather than to the art itself) was unknown in Latin Europe at the time of his writing. The translation of Arabic texts concerning numerous disciplines including alchemy flourished in 12th-century Toledo, Spain, through contributors like Gerard of Cremona and Adelard of Bath. Translations of the time included the Turba Philosophorum, and the works of Avicenna and Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi. These brought with them many new words to the European vocabulary for which there was no previous Latin equivalent. Alcohol, carboy, elixir, and athanor are examples.
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Due to the complexity and obscurity of alchemical literature, and the 18th-century disappearance of remaining alchemical practitioners into the area of chemistry, the general understanding of alchemy has been strongly influenced by several distinct and radically different interpretations. Those focusing on the exoteric, such as historians of science Lawrence M. Principe and William R. Newman, have interpreted the 'decknamen' (or code words) of alchemy as physical substances. These scholars have reconstructed physicochemical experiments that they say are described in medieval and early modern texts. At the opposite end of the spectrum, focusing on the esoteric, scholars, such as Florin George Călian and Anna Marie Roos, who question the reading of Principe and Newman, interpret these same decknamen as spiritual, religious, or psychological concepts.
Alchemical symbolism has been important in analytical psychology and was revived and popularized from near extinction by the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. Jung was initially confounded and at odds with alchemy and its images but after being given a copy of The Secret of the Golden Flower, a Chinese alchemical text translated by his friend Richard Wilhelm, he discovered a direct correlation or parallel between the symbolic images in the alchemical drawings and the inner, symbolic images coming up in his patients' dreams, visions, or fantasies. He observed these alchemical images occurring during the psychic process of transformation, a process that Jung called "individuation." Specifically, he regarded the conjuring up of images of gold or Lapis as symbolic expressions of the origin and goal of this "process of individuation." Together with his alchemical mystica soror (mystical sister) Jungian Swiss analyst Marie-Louise von Franz, Jung began collecting old alchemical texts, compiled a lexicon of key phrases with cross-references, and pored over them. The volumes of work he wrote shed new light onto understanding the art of transubstantiation and renewed alchemy's popularity as a symbolic process of coming into wholeness as a human being where opposites are brought into contact and inner and outer, spirit and matter are reunited in the hieros gamos, or divine marriage. His writings are influential in general psychology, but especially to those who have an interest in understanding the importance of dreams, symbols, and the unconscious archetypal forces (archetypes) that comprise all psychic life.
Both von Franz and Jung have contributed significantly to the subject and work of alchemy and its continued presence in psychology as well as contemporary culture. Among the volumes Jung wrote on alchemy, his magnum opus is Volume 14 of his Collected Works, Mysterium Coniunctionis.
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