By Richard Conniff, Smithsonian Magazine - February 2014
Throughout much of the 20th century, the academic community had little patience with alchemists and their vain efforts to transmute base metals into gold. Any contemporary scholar who even dared to write about alchemy, historian Herbert Butterfield warned, would "become tinctured with the kind of lunacy they set out to describe."
But, in the 1980s, some revisionist scholars began arguing that alchemists actually made significant contributions to the development of science. Historians of science began deciphering alchemical texts—which wasn't easy. The alchemists, obsessed with secrecy, deliberately described their experiments in metaphorical terms laden with obscure references to mythology and history. For instance, text that describes a "cold dragon" who "creeps in and out of the caves" was code for saltpeter (potassium nitrate)—a crystalline substance found on cave walls that tastes cool on the tongue.
Read the full article here: Alchemy May Not Have Been the Pseudoscience We All Thought It Was
Two principal goals of alchemy were: (i) the conversion of low value materials into high value materials, specifically the transmutation of common metals such as lead into the noble metals of gold and silver; and (ii) the discovery of an elixir of life that would confer eternal youth.
In that sense, we at Greene Lyon Group are modern day alchemists. We seek to convert low value waste and industrial by-products into high value raw materials, not by alchemical transmutation, but by the separation and recovery of targeted metals using modern physics and chemistry. We also seek to give "long life" to the metals we recover by enabling them to be used over and over in new products.
So our name is taken from an old English alchemical verse, "The Hunting of the Greene Lyon". www.levity.com/alchemy/tcbglyon This name is especially appropriate given the alchemical symbolism of the Green Lion (see the article that follows). And naming a business based on modern science with an alchemical symbol mirrors the paradox that Sir Isaac Newton, one of history's greatest scientists and mathematicians and a key figure in the scientific revolution, was also an active alchemist. See The foundations of Newton's alchemy or "The hunting of the greene lyon", by Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Perhaps the quaintest and most celebrated of all these allegories is that which describes the quest of the Philosopher's Stone as the hunting of the Green Lion. The Green Lion, though few would divine it, is the First Matter of the Great Work: hence, in spiritual alchemy, natural man in his wholeness, Salt, Sulphur, and Mercury in their crude state. He is called green because, seen from the transcendent standpoint, he is still unripe, his latent powers undeveloped; and a Lion, because of his strength, fierceness, and virility. Here the common opinion that a pious effeminacy, a diluted and amiable spirituality, is the proper raw material of the mystic life, is emphatically contradicted. It is not by the education of the lamb, but by the hunting and taming of the wild intractable lion, instinct with vitality, full of ardour and courage, exhibiting heroic qualities on the sensual plane, that the Great Work is achieved. The lives of the saints enforce the same law.
Our lyon wanting maturitie
Is called greene for his unripeness trust me:
And yet full quickly he can run,
And soon can overtake the Sun.
The Green Lion, then, in his strength and wholeness is the only creature potentially able to attain Perfection. It needs the adoption and purification of all the wealth and resources of man's nature, not merely the encouragement of his transcendental tastes, if he is to "overtake the Sun" and achieve the Great Work. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence, not by amiable aspiration. "The Green Lion," says one alchemist, "is the priest by whom Sol and Luna are wed." In other words, the raw stuff of indomitable human nature is the means by which man is to attain union with the Absolute. The duty of the alchemist, the transmuting process, is therefore described as the hunting of the Green Lion through the forest of the sensual world. He, like the Hound of Heaven, is on a love chase down the nights and down the days.