What is alchemy? Is it a wizened old man locked up in a laboratory, experimenting with metals and minerals to discover a miraculous stone which will turn any material into anything else he desired? A man who scoffs at Heaven and contorts the substances of Earth into whatever he wants?
Well, yes and no. First off, there were a not inconsiderable number of female alchemists who made important discoveries which led to their veneration by male successors in their craft, and many alchemists were also devout in their faith! The legendary alchemist Avicenna was said to have prayed for an answer anytime his research flummoxed him, and many monks at the very least studied and lectured on alchemy.
Not just Christian monks, either! Many Buddhist monks practiced Indian alchemy, a discipline sometimes known as Rasayana which deals primarily with herbal concoctions intended to extend one’s lifespan and is closely tied to disciplines like Ayurveda and yoga. There’s also a Chinese alchemical legacy which often pursued immortality and would, at times, overlap with qigong, Taoism, and other traditions of the world’s oldest extant nation.
However, if you’re talking just about Western alchemy, then you need to understand that it doesn’t end or begin in a laboratory. While I do advocate doing research and experimentation in order to understand the natural world, like the Druids who would study the cycles of the moon and the ways of the forest for 20 years before being able to step into their appointed role, alchemy is not fundamentally rooted in science as we know it today.
One could even make the argument that all the alembics and athanors are, in principal, just pageantry to cover up the true nature of alchemy. I’m sure most of you are not strangers to the fact that alchemists used much of their symbols and terminologies to baffle outsiders who they’d rather prefer made light of their craft as nothing more than mad science.
This was the view that alchemists would particularly prefer of the Church. This is because, at its heart, alchemy is not about turning lead into gold or developing a cure for all human diseases. It’s about transmuting your tarnished soul into its rightful divine state, and about providing a remedy to illnesses of the spirit like ignorance, hatred, and dissatisfaction.
Alchemy was so hated by the Church because it is a way to find salvation within oneself. Salvation from misery, salvation from despair, salvation from the illusion that people are powerlessly being tossed around in the storm known as life. When we study alchemy, we find the rhythms of nature and of human existence, and learn to either play along in tune or make our own song be known.
Where, then, is a person meant to start? Well, it’s not by going on to Amazon to grab an alembic or by practicing drawing transmutation circles from a certain excellent anime. Those can come later, don’t worry; life is too short not to have fun even in the pursuit of innate human divinity!
First, though, you need to understand the building blocks of alchemy. Those are the four elements, and that’s where we’ll be going in my next post on this subject! I’m so excited!
For now, I recommend that any of you who wish to put this into practice start by doing some meditation and research. Try to learn to clear your mind and be present in the moment, and spend some time indulging your curiosity in both the scientific and magickal aspects of plants, minerals, and animals.
Thank you for reading! May the Tree of Life always shelter you.