Der Alchimist by Carl Spitzweg
Alchemy is derived from the Arabic word al-kimia which is a reference to a rudimentary form of studying nature and a discipline in the realm of spirituality and philosophy. Both these domains include traces of scientific disciplines such as chemistry, physics, metallurgy and medicine, along with the more social aspects of semiotics, spiritualism, astrology, mysticism, and art.
The history of science has seen widespread usage of alchemy in places such as Mesopotamia, Persia, Ancient Egypt, India, China, Rome, Greece and the Muslim world. Europe was not too far away either and in the nineteenth century, alchemy spawned a number of social and philosophical schools of thought.
In the west, alchemy in is said to have originated from Hermes Trismegistus, an Egyptian and Greek god. Thus alchemy began with strains of the spiritual and philosophical. By the 17th century however, it acquired scientific attributes and enabled evolution of chemistry as we know it today.
In popular culture alchemy is often portrayed as a process which is able to turn any substance to gold. Some folk legends maintain it to be the elixir for eternity.
Historians, Scientists and Philosophers are among the many who study this subject and its evolution today. As a precedent to modern science, and having given birth to many of the processes in the metallurgical and chemical industries today, alchemy retains an important place in human history.