Updated: Jul 24, 2020
I've been asked hundreds of times: what is all this alchemy about? And I never find a short answer that's able to express all its genuine magic . It's very difficult to explain what is alchemy in just one sentence unless you stick to the definition itself. Alchemy is not just some sort of old fashioned chemistry but a whole philosophy that beholds the world from a holistic perspective bringing true magic to our lives. So I have decided to take some time and share with you the beautiful stories about our Spanish alchemy and help you understand the magic behind it.
Paracelsus** (1493-1541) stated that the true purpose of Alchemy was not for the vulgar purpose of gold making, but rather for the production of medicines. Thus, alchemy has always had a closer approach to wellbeing and holistic medicine rather than the romantic story about getting common metals into a noble one - gold. Let's have a closer look on its definition:
1. "The medieval forerunner of chemistry, concerned with the transmutation of matter, in particular with attempts to convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir."
2. "A seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination."
To better understand this magic rather than picturing some sort of Harry Potter adventure I'd like to share with you a hint of its history and origins.
A hint of history here
Back in ancient times there was a Latin expression to define an old natural healing method practiced at places where people used to go to get revitalised, rejuvenated and to improve their health and wellbeing: the SPA.
The word SPA is the acronym of Salus Per Aquam which means "health through water". These ancient SPAS were health, wellbeing and beauty temples, where essential oils and water were used to enhance not just the body but also the spirit thanks to their healing properties.
Back in those days, alchemy was an ART; the art of using essential oils to improve health, beauty and wellbeing.
The origins of the three main schools
Alchemy roots - including aromatherapy, cosmetic and perfumery - are based in Ancient Egypt. Essential oils and other botanicals have been used in wellness practices as early as 3500 BC. The Jews collected the knowledge from the Egyptians as did the Greeks, and a little bit later, the Romans.
With the decadence of the Greek and Roman civilization the knowledge was gathered and kept in Alexandria and all the alchemical texts were translated into the Arabic. When the library burnt, all this knowledge had already been passed onto the Arabs and therefore brought into Spain where the Arabs settled for more than 8 centuries.
For Arabs there are 4 pillars to bring happiness: children, women, prayer and perfumes. Therefore the knowledge and mastery of perfumery has profound roots in their culture, which has been inherited and transmitted to the Spaniards.
The word aromatherapy is quite recent. The word first appeared in print in 1937 in a French book on the subject: Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales by René-Maurice Gattefossé, The art of using essential oil and other botanical compositions was called Alchemy.
The Spanish School of Aromatherapy (aka Alchemy) is the oldest. Alchemy - including Aromatherapy and Perfumery- were introduced to Europe in Middles Ages through Spain. The mixing of Christian, Jewish and Arab culture was the origin of an important cultural phenomenon reaching its splendour between the 10th and 11th centuries.
While people in Europe were losing their hygienic habits that had been established by the Romans, Spain was enjoying more than 100 SPAs and hammans (Turkish baths) all over the country. Cities such as Cordoba, Granada, Toledo, Valencia and Barcelona still preserve these temples of health and wellbeing.
The firsts to master and introduce Alchemy in Europe were Spaniards. In our school, as Aristotle once said, "Virtue is the happy medium between two extremes", thus although we are more likely to apply essential oils topically (external use), we also uses them orally paying close attention to what we ingest. You do NOT take an essential oil lightly , because it is an extremely concentrated solution and a mistake can have serious consequences (no matter if the plant it is sourced from is edible) The reason why our school of aromatherapy is alchemical is because it has a holistic approach and follows alchemical processes in its practice. (on the next blog post I'll explain in more detail)
The French school of aromatherapy has its roots in the XX century medicine (René-Maurice Gattefossé), its approach is closely tied to medicinal therapies and they tend to significantly apply essential oils orally. This school is mainly based on clinical applications.
The English school is even more recent; established in the 70's, inherited from the French school and introduced as an alternative therapy. Its pioneer, Robert Tisserand, only recommends the external use (massage or inhalation) of essential oils. This school is closely bound to a more "energetic medicine" and to manual therapies. The English school was broadly spread to the USA and Australia.
In conclusion, Spanish Alchemy (which includes Spanish aromatherapy) owns centuries of wisdom. Its practise has been bringing outstanding results to Spaniards over all this time. It is a holistic approach that contemplates and treats a person as a whole, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of an issue. It respects our planet, is cruelty free, sustainable, and connected to nature, the living forces and ultimately, to the Universe. In addition, it is deeply rooted in perfumery making all its creations a delight for the most exquisite of noses. Can you resist such a healthy and intoxicating fragrant remedy?
But what makes you an alchemist? You too can be an alchemist, if you'd like to know how don't miss out my next blog post.
Wishing you a magical week!
**Paracelsus was a Swiss German physician, botanist, philosopher, and astrologer. He is credited as the founder of toxicology. He is also a famous revolutionary for utilising observations of nature, rather than referring to ancient texts, something of radical defiance during his time. He is credited for giving zinc its name, calling it zincum. Modern psychology often also credits him for being the first to note that some diseases are rooted in psychological conditions. Paracelsus' most important legacy is likely his critique of the scholastic methods in medicine, science and theology. Much of his theoretical work does not withstand modern scientific thought, but his insights laid the foundation for a more dynamic approach in the medical sciences. (Reference: Wikipedia)