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Art and Images in Psychiatry
Aug 2011

Alchemist Sendivogius and Sigismund III Vasa

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(8):771-772. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.89

Man was created of the Earth, and lives by virtue of the Aire; for there is in the Aire a secret food of life . . . whose invisible congealed spirit is better than the whole earth.—Michael Sendivogius, 16501(p20)

Alchemy was introduced to a new generation in 1997 with the publication in the United Kingdom of the first book of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.2 The connection to alchemy was removed from the title of the US edition where, with the author's reluctant permission, Sorcerer's Stone was used instead. The publisher feared that American parents would not buy a book for their children with“philosopher” in the title. Despite the revised naming, the book does indeed deal with alchemy and refers to a historical figure, Nicolas Flamel (early 1330s-1418), now age 665 years in the book. Flamel was believed to have accomplished the 2 major goals of alchemy: creating the philosopher's stone, allowing him to turn lead into gold, and making the elixir of life, thus achieving immortality for himself and his wife. In Rowling's book, archvillain Lord Voldemort seeks the philosopher's stone to achieve eternal life and rule the world but is thwarted by Potter, who has no such desire for immortality and, in his innocence, acquires the stone. Flamel, bored with such a long life, agrees to the destruction of the philosopher’s stone to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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