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Trick or treatise? Alchemy as natural magic

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In the popular imagination, alchemy is often classed with magic under the heading of ‘things we don’t believe in anymore’. Most traditions of alchemical practice actually had little to do with magic. However, some medieval and early modern treatises do relate astonishing effects, wrought through the occult virtues of completed alchemical products. From luring birds and friendly philosophers to your house, to recreating the cosmos in your kitchen, these works posit a kind of ‘alchemical magic’ that takes the philosophers’ stone as its starting point. Yet how should we treat these fabulae – as exercises in wishful thinking, serious thought experiments… or simply elegant jokes at the alchemist’s expense?

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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