What Is an Elixir?

Published August 01, 2023
What Is an Elixir? - Secret Nature

The definition of an elixir has changed dramatically over the centuries. What began as a magical substance that harnessed the divine energies of the zodiac has now evolved into a simple tincture with entirely mechanistic properties behind its benefits.

With so many words for the same type of substance, though, we might as well keep the definition of “elixir” somewhat magical. What is an elixir, and will taking one truly make me live forever? Find the answers in this guide.

What is the definition of “elixir?”

Elixir is a word with Greek origins that became part of the Arabic alchemical lexicon in the Middle Ages. When knowledge of alchemy was brought back to Europe by the Moorish conquest, elixir became known as a magical liquid with the power of transforming base metals into gold.

Due to the alchemical association with the transmutation of gold and eternal life, legend eventually spread of an “elixir of life,” supposedly mirroring the attributes of the water of life that flows from the mythical fountain of youth. To this day, “elixir” remains associated with lofty metaphysical principles like the Holy Grail, the philosopher’s stone, the homunculus, and the secret art of living forever.

The modern definition of an elixir varies quite significantly from this ancient one. Used mostly in the context of pharmacology, an elixir is technically a sweetened ethanol drink with a medicine suspended in it.

What does an elixir contain?

In the modern context of the term, an elixir can contain essentially any active ingredient that is intended to be orally ingested. The ingredients for the alchemical elixir of life, however, are often quite complex and consist of both minerals and food items.

Honey is almost always included in ancient recipes for elixir of life, for instance, as are mercury, copper and sulfur. It must be taken into account, though, that ancient alchemists almost invariably wrote their treatises in code, making it difficult to discern the actual ingredients that were used in alchemical elixirs.

Modern pharmacological elixirs are usually sweetened while tinctures are not. Regardless, the terms are often used interchangeably.

What do elixirs do?

Alchemical elixirs are believed to confer the gift of eternal life as long as they are consumed regularly. In a pharmacological context, elixirs are designed to allow the oral ingestion of an active ingredient as easily as possible. And then, in a more disambiguated sense, elixirs are simply orally ingested substances that are intended to offer a medicinal benefit.

How do you use an elixir?

Elixirs are generally used by swallowing. In some cases, elixirs may be designed to be held under the tongue first.

That’s all in the modern pharmacological context of the term, though. Alchemical elixirs were designed to be used in very specific ways and at specific times.

Do you take elixirs under the tongue?

Yes, some elixirs are designed to be applied under the tongue prior to swallowing. If this is the case, directions will likely state that the elixir should be held sublingually for 30-60 seconds before swallowing. Contact the manufacturer if you aren’t sure if your particular elixir is designed for sublingual administration.

Do you swallow elixirs?

Yes, elixirs are almost always designed to be swallowed. In very rare instances, elixirs may be designed to simply sit under the tongue for a moment or so before being spat out. Generally, though, swallowing is the whole point of taking an elixir — even if you hold it in your mouth for a while first.

How long do elixirs last?

An average pharmacological elixir will elicit effects that last the usual period for oral administration: 3-6 hours. Alchemical or magical elixirs, on the other hand, may be designed to cause long-lasting or even permanent physical or spiritual changes.

How to make an elixir at home

Making an elixir at home can be as simple as mixing a desired active ingredient with a syrupy or sweetened liquid base. To make an elixir in pursuance of the ancient Art of alchemy, however, extensive research into this much-obfuscated and misunderstood practical science is required. Alchemists and magicians take note of the spiritual inclinations of nature and the cosmos when crafting elixirs — especially when crafting the elixir of life.

Elixirs vs. tinctures

The difference between an elixir and a tincture is primarily etymological since the two terms can loosely be used interchangeably. Sometimes, a distinction is made between the two types of orally ingested medicaments by defining elixirs as tinctures that are sweetened and tinctures as the unsweetened variety.

This distinction likely historically originates from the widespread understanding that the elixir of life contains honey as a major ingredient. By association, all elixirs are now understood to be sweetened, not just the mythical elixir vitae.

Summary: Should I try an elixir?

Even merely as an academic exercise, it’s entirely worth it to learn more about what an elixir is within both Western and Eastern scientific traditions. One of the best ways to do so would be to try an elixir for yourself — whether you take careful note of the movements of the sun and stars when crafting your own or are you simply buy a sweet and healing elixir online.

Depending on your views on immortality, the idea of enjoying a drink that makes you live forever might be a source of great trepidation. Rest assured that almost all the elixirs you buy online will be quite far from elixir vitae in the scope of their healing properties.

Any true student of the science of the elixir will eventually come to understand, though, that this rich tradition of scientific inquiry holds many mysterious secrets waiting to be uncovered. Tread cautiously but with great joy as you uncask the secrets of nature through the subtleties of an elixir.

Elixir FAQ

Delve deeper into the historical-yet-modern subject of elixirs in this concise FAQ section:

What is an elixir in a pharmacy context?

In the context of pharmacological science, an elixir is a sweetened drink designed to deliver a drug or other substance via oral ingestion. Pharmacological elixirs also usually contain a small percentage of alcohol.

Are elixirs drugs?

Orally ingested medications called “elixirs” can be considered drugs, but they aren’t drugs simply by benefit of being elixirs. Put another way, individual elixirs can be scheduled as drugs by the FDA or similar agencies worldwide, but overall, “elixir” is not an official category of medications.

What are alcohol elixirs?

In a pharmacological context, elixirs usually contain 3-20% ethyl alcohol. As a result, conventional pharmacological elixirs can be considered “alcohol elixirs.”

The term “elixir” is also sometimes used in the context of alcoholic beverages since it’s believed that alcohol has an alchemical origin. This is evidenced in the name itself: Arabic words often have the prefix “al,” as in “al-kemi” and “al-kohol.”

Along this vein, alcohol is commonly called “spirits,” derived from the ancient belief that alcoholic beverages were often imbued with spiritual properties. That’s because they’re fermented — fermentation, or putrefaction, is considered to be the primary motivating force of alchemical work.

These days, an alcoholic beverage may be called an “elixir” if it is infused with beneficial herbal extracts or similar substances. Be careful, though, since there’s always the slight possibility you might actually be buying an elixir infused with magical properties by a modern-day alchemist.

What is the difference between a syrup and an elixir?

In pharmacology, an elixir is a watery, sweetened substance that contains around 10% alcohol. A syrup, on the other hand, is much more viscous and is usually also sweeter. What’s more, syrups generally don’t contain any alcohol. The two types of preparations are often used for the same purposes, though.

What is an herbal elixir?

The term “herbal elixir” is usually used to refer to tinctures containing both herbal extracts and a sweetener. The word “elixir” is used to separate these substances from tinctures, which are generally unsweetened. Herbal elixirs usually only contain natural or herbal ingredients.

What are some examples of elixirs?

Elixirs are often used in pediatric medicine as a tool for incentivizing children to take medications. These types of pharmaceutical liquids are also sometimes used in sedatives such as Rohypnol, a liquid benzodiazepine drug. Another category is antihistaminic elixirs, which are used to combat allergies.

What is an elixir in alchemy?

In alchemy, “elixir” is the highest form of matter attainable through the Art. Interchangeably called simply “the elixir,” the philosopher’s stone, or elixir vitae (“the elixir of life”), elixir is believed to heal all illness and confer eternal life to the user — as long as it is ingested regularly.

Alchemical texts are purposefully difficult to decipher, but it appears that ancient alchemists used the energies of the stars, particularly the zodiacal constellations, to infuse plants with special properties. These plants would then be combined with animal components, and, through putrefaction, imagination, and prayer, the elixir would be crafted.

The alchemical elixir is also intrinsically tied to the idea of the homunculus, or the artificial human. As a result, elixir is believed to not just be an inert substance but may actually exhibit consciousness of its own. Elixir is a highly spiritual subject that cannot be properly understood without considerable study of alchemy.

What is a magical elixir?

Over time, the original alchemical definition of “elixir” devolved into a cruder understanding of the term throughout lower magical disciplines. In modern “magickal” systems, for instance, elixirs (often containing animal or human blood) are used to cause intoxication or observe certain times and dates. Any drink that is believed to confer benefits within the imaginal as well as physical realms can be considered an elixir, though this definition deviates considerably from the original.

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