Due to the complexity and obscurity of alchemical literature, and the 18th-century disappearance of remaining alchemical practitioners into the area of chemistry; the general understanding of alchemy has been strongly influenced by several distinct and radically different interpretations. Those focusing on the exoteric, such as historians of science Lawrence M. Principe and William R. Newman, have interpreted the 'decknamen' (or code words) of alchemy as physical substances. These practitioners have reconstructed physicochemical experiments that they say are described in medieval and early modern texts.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, esoteric alchemists interpret these same decknamen as spiritual, religious, or psychological concepts. Today new interpretations of alchemy are still perpetuated, sometimes merging in concepts from New Age or radical environmentalism movements. Groups like the rosicrucians and freemasons have a continued interest in alchemy and its symbolism. Since the Victorian revival of alchemy, "occultists reinterpreted alchemy as a spiritual practice, involving the self-transformation of the practitioner and only incidentally or not at all the transformation of laboratory substances.",which has contributed to a merger of magic and alchemy in popular thought.