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Elixir of life

The elixir of life, also known as the elixir of immortality or Dancing Water or Aab-e-Hayaat آب حیات and sometimes equated with the philosopher's stone, is a legendary potion, or drink, that grants the drinker eternal life or eternal youth. Many practitioners of alchemy pursued it for two main reasons: either they sought the gift of immortality for its own sake, or they desired to spend as much time as possible practicing alchemy. The elixir of life was also said to be able to create life. It is related to the myths of Enoch, Thoth, and Hermes Trismegistus, all of whom in various tales are said to have drunk "the white drops" (liquid gold) and thus achieved immortality. It is also associated with the Qur'an's Al Khidr ('The Green Man'), and is mentioned in one of the Nag Hammadi texts.[1]

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No such potion has ever been discovered though alchemists in ancient China, India, and the Western world spent a great deal of time and effort on it. An elixir can be referred to as the 'Quintessence of life' or by other names -- quintessence being reference to the five elements of Chinese alchemical philosophy or a theorized fifth element in European alchemy. In other cultures, alchemical philosophy would deem less or more elements (four in most of Europe, thirty-six in India).


In Ancient China, various emperors sought for the fabled elixir with various results. In the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang sent Taoist alchemist Xu Fu with 500 boys and 500 girls to the eastern seas to find the elixir, but he never came back (legend has it that he found Japan instead). The ancient Chinese believed that ingesting long-lasting precious substances such as jade, cinnabar or hematite would confer some of that longevity on the person who consumed them. Gold was considered particularly potent, as it was a non-tarnishing precious metal; the idea of potable or drinkable gold is found in China by the end of the third century BC. The most famous Chinese alchemical book, the Tan Chin Yao Ch’eh ("Great Secrets of Alchemy," dating from approximately 650 AD), discusses in detail the creation of elixirs for immortality (mercury, sulfur, and the salts of mercury and arsenic are prominent) as well as those for curing certain diseases and the fabrication of precious stones.

Many of these substances, far from contributing to longevity, were actively toxic. Jiajing Emperor in the Ming Dynasty died from ingesting a lethal dosage of mercury in the supposed "Elixir of Life" conjured by alchemists. British historian Joseph Needham compiled a list of Chinese emperors whose death was likely due to elixir poisoning. Chinese interest in alchemy and the elixir of life declined in proportion to the rise of Buddhism, which claimed to have alternate routes to immortality.


The oldest Indian writings, the Vedas (Hindu sacred scriptures), contain the same hints of alchemy that are found in evidence from ancient China, namely vague references to a connection between gold and long life. Mercury, which was so vital to alchemy everywhere, is first mentioned in the 4th to 3rd century BC Arthashastra, about the same time it is encountered in China and in the West. Evidence of the idea of transmuting base metals to gold appears in 2nd to 5th century AD Buddhist texts, about the same time as in the West. Since Alexander the Great had invaded India in 325 BC, leaving a Greek state (Gandhara) that long endured, the possibility exists that the Indians acquired the idea from the Greeks, but it could have been the other way around.[2]

It is also possible that the alchemy of medicine and immortality came to India from China, or vice versa; in any case, gold making appears to have been a minor concern, and medicine the major concern, of both cultures. But the elixir of immortality was of little importance in India (which had other avenues to immortality). The Indian elixirs were mineral remedies for specific diseases or, at the most, to promote long life.[2]


More recently, French alchemist Nicolas Flamel was said to have discovered the elixir, and to have bestowed immortality on both himself and his wife Pernelle. The Comte de St. Germain, an 18th century nobleman of uncertain origin and mysterious capabilities, was also reputed to have the Elixir and to be several thousand years old.


The Elixir has had hundreds of names (one scholar of Chinese history reportedly found over 1,000 names for it.), including (among others) Amrit Ras or Amrita, Aab-i-Hayat, Maha Ras, Aab-Haiwan, Dancing Water, hasma-i-Kausar, Mansarover or the Pool of Nectar, Philosopher's stone, and Soma Ras. The word elixir was not used until the 7th century A.D. and derives from the Arabic name for miracle substances, "al iksir." Some view it as a metaphor for the spirit of God (e.g. Jesus' reference to "the Water of Life" or "the Fountain of Life"). And of course, the Scots and the Irish adopted the name for their "liquid gold": the Gaelic name for whiskey is uisge beatha, or water of life.

Note: Aab-i-Hayat and Aab-i-Haiwan are Persian and both mean "water of life". "Chashma-i-Kausar" (not "hasma") is the "Fountain of Bounty", which Muslims believe to be located in Paradise. As for the Indian names, "Amrit Ras" means "immortality juice", "Maha Ras" means "great juice", and "Soma Ras" means "juice of Soma"; Soma was a psychoactive drug, by which the poets of the Vedas Veda received their visions, but the plant is not known any more. Later, Soma came to mean the moon. "Ras" later came to mean "sacred mood, which is experienced by listening to good poetry or music"; there are altogether nine of them. Mansarovar, the "mind lake" is the holy lake at the foot of Mt. Kailash in Tibet, close to the source of the Ganges.

See also


  • Al-Khidr, The Green Man
  • Alchemy and Daoism
  • Naam or Word, Book Three: Amrit, Nectar or Water of Life
  • Needham, J., Ping-Yu Ho, Gwei-Djen Lu. Science and Civilisation in China, Volume V, Part III. Cambridge at the University Press, 1976.
  • Turner, John D. (transl.). The Interpretation of Knowledge
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Elixir_of_life". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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