Though alchemy is usually noted as a physical science, in ancient times, alchemy took on a large philosophical and spiritual role in society. In ancient Greece, alchemy was known as the "spagyric art" and meant "to separate and to join together." The main definition of alchemy in Latin is "solve et coagula" or "separate, and join together".
Most individuals believe that the goals of the alchemists were the transmutation of common metals, such as gold or silver. Other known goals of the alchemists was to create a "panacea or the elixir of life", which was thought to be a remedy that would cure all diseases and promote infinite life and to discover a universal solvent.
Though the goals listed above were not the only uses of alchemy, they were most known and documents. During the Middle Ages, alchemists in Europe spend a lot of time trying to find the "philosopher's stone", which they believed was a legendary substance that was an essential ingredient for both of their goals. The "philosopher's stone" was believed to mystically amplify the alchemist's knowledge of alchemy so that almost anything and everything were attainable.
Alchemists were considered prestigious and enjoyed support through many centuries, but not because of their strenuous work or mystical and philosophical speculation that was important to their writing. The alchemists gained fame and respect from their mundane contributions to the "chemical" industries of their time period, which consist of the invention of gunpowder, ore testing and refining, metalworking, production of ink, dyes, paints, cosmetics, leather tanning, ceramics, glass manufacture, preparation of extracts, liquors, and the "water of life", which was a pretty popular experiment amongst the Europeans.
Beginning in the Middle Ages, some alchemists increasingly came to view metaphysical aspects as the true foundation of alchemy, such as organic and inorganic chemical substances, physical states, and molecular material processes as mere metaphors for spiritual entities, spiritual states and ultimately, spiritual transformations.
Because of this, the literal meanings of 'Alchemical Formulas' were blind, hiding their true spiritual philosophy, which led them to be at odds with the Medieval Christian Church. The necessity could have otherwise lead them to the "stake and rack" of the Inquisition under charges of heresy. Thus, both the transmutation of common metals into gold and the universal panacea symbolized evolution from an imperfect, diseased, corruptible and ephemeral state towards a perfect, healthy, incorruptible and everlasting state; and the philosopher's stone then represented some mystic key that would make this evolution possible.
The alchemists themselves believed that the twin goal symbolized his evolution from ignorance to enlightenment, and the stone represented some hidden spiritual truth or power that would lead to that goal. The cryptic alchemical symbols, diagrams, and textual imagery of late alchemical works typically contain multiple layers of meanings, allegories, and references to other equally cryptic works; and must be laboriously "decoded" in order to discover their true meaning.