The Elixir of Life: Across History and World Cultures

Blog Post

Share this

Exploring The Elixir of Life through Philosophy and Alchemy, Mythology, Theology and Spirituality, Mysticism and Esoteric Sciences, Ancient Medicine, Nutrition and Herbology


Below, we present the introduction to a longer article on this subject. You can read the complete text here.


“If you want to know your true nature,
follow the manifestation back to the source,
the mother,
and when you find the mother,
you will be free from suffering and sorrow.”

-Lao Tze

Concept and Evolution

Generically, the Elixir of Life, or the Elixir of Immortality, was a term used to represent a mythical alchemic potion which would presumably confer immortality, rejuvenation and ageless life to the person consuming it – possibly if ingesting it at a certain time or from a certain cup. The promise of the elixir was “eternal life” and/or “eternal youth”. In some traditions, the elixir was also believed to have the power to create life. The purpose of the Alchemists over the centuries and across cultures was to seek for the ways and methods of formulating the elixir. Sometimes, in alchemic traditions and literature, the elixir was equated with the “philosopher’s stone”. In other cultures, a fruit or other type of food or a drink would have the same purpose and would be granted the same powers.

However, as we seek for the deeper meanings and analyze the more profound uses of the concept, we discover different dimensions of the term and different levels of interpretation. This paper will bring a gradual approach to the study, integrating all the dimensions of the concept, and progressing by exploring and understanding all the sides and angles of the elixir “story”.

As an ingestible drink or food, we find variations of the concept of the elixir of eternal life – ranging from the mythical alchemic potion to a large variety of herbs, natural medicines and remedies, fruits, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and other foods and drinks that were generically called “the food and the drink of the Gods”. They were used with the promise of health and longevity, immortality, and creating or recovering life.

Some of them were also used as entheogenic agents. An entheogen was a psychoactive chemical substance used in a spiritual context for “generating the divine within” (in religious, shamanic, spiritual rituals). Entheogens have been used for thousands of years and there are strongly established evidences (modern and anthropological) of their religious significance in a ritualized context. The entheogen could be synthesized from natural sources and may have induced psychological or physiological altered states of consciousness, transcendence and revelation. Entheogens were used to supplement a wide range of practices, such as meditation, yoga, prayer, psychedelic and visionary art, chanting and music, traditional medicine and psychedelic therapy, witchcraft, magic, and psychonautics.

The elixir of immortality is often seen as a metaphor for the spirit of God. In that sense, it is the expression of the elevation of the spirit, a superior state of consciousness, and perfect body-mind-spirit integration. The elixir is thus seen as the finest form of perfection, the culmination of enlightenment, and heavenly bliss. At this stage in the study, we explore the dimension of spiritual knowledge, “religion of knowledge”, mystical enlightenment, or “insight”.

We largely speak about the broader philosophy and archetypal human mythology related to the life and the transformation of an ascending person, centered around the concept of the “elixir of immortality”, the “golden elixir” that was thought to confer “immortality” to the seekers of spiritual realms and self-realisation. The “elixir” is depicted as the goal, the target, and the prize, pursued through persistent practice and cultivation of the right attitudes, the expression of the highest form of “cultivation”. The “golden elixir of immortality” is both the intent and the gift. But one cannot purchase it, one has to earn it. One has to deserve it, and acquire it, and the process requires undergoing the steps and stages of proving the appropriate qualities, attitudes, persistence, determination, endurance, and the patience of the one who is ready for it; overall, those qualities of the initiate who has attained the level of transformation that grants one the privilege and the grace of receiving the elixir.

The Gods – often appearing in these legends of the elixir across cultures – are seen, in this view, as archetypal representations of exceptional historical figures, “deified” evolved beings that have been – upon the success of their quests – wed as gods or demi-gods. “Ambrosia”, for example, was sometimes defined as a reward for the ones that had succeeded to complete the Gods’ quests and were thereby wed as Gods themselves and accepted on Olympus.

Sometimes the Gods are regarded as the embodiment of particular qualities and wisdoms of ascending beings, or even as forces of nature and specific energies of the Earth and the Cosmos that could be developed or assimilated by the seekers of spirituality and enlightened beings, through persistent work, mind-body energy cultivation, spiritual practice and commitment to righteous attitudes in life. In Daoist and Buddhist stories we find the ascending beings undergoing the quests in order to be accepted at the Temple, where they would further prove readiness and being worthy to be initiated and to eventually receive the elixir of life”, the pill of immortality”.

I find it interesting and of crucial importance to explore with profound attention the range of mythological and spiritual archetypes and figures of divinity in order to understand their similar profiles and the common treats of the “divine” archetypes that could be linked to the self-realisation and/or the ingestion of the “Elixir of Life” – throughout world’s historical dramas, cultures, and philosophies.

In most traditions, and typically at later stages in history, we then discover the “pill of immortality” as being the symbolic representation of the “Inner Elixir” – the most highly refined essence of self, our “true nature”, expressing the profound truth of eternal being. We discover the “elixir of eternal life” as being directly related to the profound inner transformation of the initiate, gradually occurring as the ascending person undergoes the process and the quest for finding and acquiring the elixir of immortality. Eventually, one discovers one already has it; it is inner, it is subtle, it is the most resilient self, that which is the most real, pure and perfect, the self infused with the aspects of one’s nature that are indestructible.

The concept of the “Golden Elixir” and the archetypal human mythology of the ascending person can be found in the Daoist, Buddhist, Vedic, Greek, Latin mythologies – to only mention a few – which all started with the “elixir” being seen as an ingestible potion thought to confer “immortality” and the access to “transcendence” and to the “higher soul”, but further it was “turned inside” toward the inner plane and linked to the process of inner evolution – e.g., the Waidan (Daoist External Alchemy) transitioned to Neidan (Daoist Internal Alchemy) and the “elixir” became the “inner elixir” sought to be created, or developed, or simply re-discovered (in the version of Liu Yiming, which stated that we already had it in ourselves).

The Elixir now becomes “the goal” inner essence to be generated through the inner alchemical practice. That’s where practice comes in place – combining the spiritual teachings with physiological practices, nutrition, healthy life-style and righteous life attitudes. It further addresses concepts that can be found with similar connotations across cultures – such as the Yin and Yang, the Elements (the simplest essential parts and principles of which anything can consist), and the “World’s Soul” in direct relation to the individual souls and the human body.

Last but not the least, we find pointers toward the alchemic tantric practices of sexual energy transmutation (e.g. in Vedic and Daoist traditions), put in the frame of “Reversing the Sense of Cosmogony”. Transmutation (and sublimation) are presented as a way of refining the raw vital life force (or essence) and transforming it into superior forms of spiritual energy – that would further develop the spirit and lead it into the Emptiness. The concept of the elixir of eternal life comes closely related with these practices of alchemic transmutation, revealing the ultimate essence of our being, the “true nature” and “eternal self”.

Names and Forms of the Term

The word “elixir” was not used until the 7th century A.D. and derives from the Arabic name for miracle substances, “al iksir”. There are hundreds of known names for the “elixir”, found in various cultures and at various times in history, in the extensive sense comprising: the Philosopher’s Stone (legendary alchemical symbol), Cintamani (the equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone in Buddhism and Hinduism), Amrit Ras (or Amrita, the Indian name for “immortality juice”), Maha Ras (“the great juice”), Soma Ras (“juice of Soma”), Haoma (the version of Soma in Zoroastrianism), Hum (the Middle Persian form of Soma and Haoma), Aab-i-Hayat (Persian name for “water of life”), Aab-Haiwan, Dancing Water, Chasma-i-Kausar (“Fountain of Bounty,” which Muslims believe to be located in Paradise), Mansarover (Pool of Nectar, or “mind lake” – the holy lake at the foot of Mt. Kailash in Tibet, close to the source of the Ganges), Ambrosia (the “favourite food or drink” of the gods or demigods in ancient Greek mythology, Nectar (similar to Ambrosia, the Latinized version of néktar, and etymologically meaning “overcoming death”), the Wine of Dionysus, etc. Other legends refer to the myths of Thoth and Hermes Trismegistus, both of whom in various tales are said to have drunk “the white drops” (liquid gold) and thus achieved immortality, as mentioned in one of the Nag Hammadi texts.

In Christianity, the term “Water of Life” is used in the context of living water, specific references appearing in the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of John. Jesus’s reference to the “Water of Life” or the “Fountain of Life”, refers to the Holy Spirit: “But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14); the term is also used when water is poured during Baptismal prayers, praying for the Holy Spirit (“Give it the power to become water of life”).

Read the rest of this paper here.

By: Hridaya Yoga teacher Dr. Adina Riposan-Taylor, Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi

This Post Has One Comment

  1. kamala

    thanks, adina! really interesting. i look forward to reading the rest.

Leave a Reply

Latest Post

Exploring Beauty as a Doorway to Love 

Exploring Beauty as a Doorway to Love  By Jessica Soares Is Loving Beauty Superficial? Vain. Conceited. Shallow.  All words that have been wielded as weapons against a demonstrated love and care for beauty. So prevalent are the judgments that can be held towards appreciating beauty, particularly one’s own, that we

Read More
More Posts
Follow Us on Instagram