I have been interested in Alchemy in general for at least 9 years. For those that don’t know, the word itself comes from the arabic word “al-kimiya”, ‘al’ being an arabic article meaning ‘the’ and ‘kimiya’ being derived from the Greek word ‘χημεία’, its latinization being ‘khēmeia’ which means ‘art of transmuting metals’.
Khem or Khemet was also the Greek name for ancient Egypt. The following excerpt shall serve to further elaborate:
“From beginning to end, Egypt has been called a theocratic state, ruled by a very powerful priesthood. The priesthood was divided into various castes, each with specific duties — such as scribes and astronomers. Of special interest to us are the priests, who worked with materials in ways we might describe today as chemistry. These priests, often working under an oath of secrecy regarding their art, developed skills in metallurgy, ceramics, medicine, mummification, and winemaking, to name just a few… When Alexander the Great arrived in Egypt around 300 B.C.E, he fell in love with the whole culture, and the Egyptians welcomed him with open arms. This began the so-called Greco-Egyptian or Ptolemaic period of Egyptian history. The Greeks called Egypt Khem or Khemet. This literally meant “The Black Land” and is in reference to the thick layer of dark fertile soil deposited by the annual flooding of the Nile. Knowledge of Egyptian Secret Sciences made its way into Greece where it was called Khemia “The Black Art” and spawned a long line of Greek alchemists.”
-From ‘Real Alchemy’ by Robert Bartlett.
When I first started learning about it, I discovered the subject in modern books which spoke of alchemy as a metaphor for spiritual transformation. The elemental transmutation of lead to gold, which was said to be alchemy’s goal, was seen as meaning the act of transforming one’s own lead, which are the negative vices we carry such as jealousy, envy, greed, hate, etcetera, to the gold of positive character traits such as confidence, kindness, generosity, love etc. This was done through disciplines such as introspection and others. The process was not only confined to the emotions. The mind would be made clear and focused through disciplines of meditation and contemplation. This work would enable perception of the individual to become clearer so they could better understand the laws at work in themselves and the world around them. Thus I saw Alchemy as a veritable spiritual path and pursuit. Eventually as I learned more about it I realized that the interpretation of Alchemy as only a psycho-spiritual pursuit was not doing the hoary art it’s full justice. After more studying and learning I came to see that this art was indeed the precursor of laboratory chemistry for a reason. I outline some of those observations below along with several pertinent quotes from some respected modern authors on the ancient art on a piece I wrote 2 years ago. I have inserted some more quotes which will help to further elucidate this often obscure subject for the reader:
Written July 16th, 2013 (edited May 24th, 2015)
There is a notion that the term Alchemy is synonymous with nothing more then a failed science, an ancient attempt at using crude means to achieve progress in the now modern discipline of chemistry. The usual idea that comes to mind when the word Alchemy is uttered, is that of men in dark spaces with furnaces attempting their hand vainly at making the legendary Lapis Philosophorum (the philosophers stone which was said to be gained after much serious work and effort. According to legend, it is red in colour and heavy in weight and little of it can transmute large amounts of base metal into gold. No reference to the Harry Potter novel, although the book did indeed have some themes of alchemy in it, most notably the inclusion of the legendary alchemist Nicholas Flamel). There are indeed stories though of successful alchemists in their art. One speaks of the legendary Flamel having attained the Magnum Opus, the Great Work, via the correct interpretation of an ancient book with symbols. He was able to make large quantities of gold and because of his pious manner, donated much of it to build hospitals and other buildings of the sort. There is another story of a successful transmutation which took place in a certain court of Europe, where up to this day on this country’s museum, one can see a coin which is half gold due to it being dipped in a certain substance. There are also quite a few discoveries which were made by alchemists, including the discovery of phosphorus:
“The Alchemist discovering Phosphorus” by Joseph Wright, 1771
There were men in the past which practiced this ancient science and it is said that, according to legend, the alchemist must first transform himself inside out, that is, burn his base passions and work on his character and try to understand themselves on a deep level before being able to be successful at laboratory alchemy. There are different types of alchemy. One begins with plant alchemy which teaches one the rudiments of how to work using these methodologies. Then there is animal alchemy, which I have read little of and I have heard it is of not very high repute. Then, there is the top echelon as it were, mineral alchemy, where the operations in the laboratory do require a good grasp of modern chemistry and also the right environment, for noxious gasses are produced at times and also a bad reaction can occur leading to disaster. Therefore, one begins with plant alchemy. I was always interested in the inner transformative alchemy which involves working on oneself via methods of introspection and mental development but after reading and finding out some more information, laboratory alchemy seemed to truly be a producer of many marvels for healing sicknesses.
“Paracelsus” by Robert Thom
A man named Paracelsus was a medieval doctor and alchemist and he is said to have performed many wonderful cures where the doctors of the time were not successful. He created the term Spagyria, which is a combination of the greek words “spaō” which means ‘to draw out’, ‘to divide’ and “ageirō”, which means ‘to gather’, ‘bind’, ‘join’. This gives way to the phrase in alchemy “Solve et coagula, et habebis magisterium!” (dissolve and bind, and you will have the magistery). In Spagyrics, one works with plants and by using a process of separation, purification and cohobation, one raises the plant’s curative properties to a higher level. A few excerpts from a few authors on the subject will help to elucidate the topic at hand:
“The renewed valuation of natural healing methods in our time has led to a steadily growing interest in medicinal plants and their classical-and thus also the spagyric-methods of preparation . The practice of spagyrics consists in the application of alchemical, or parachemical, findings and methods to the preparation of tinctures, essences, and other products from the medicinal plants at our disposal.”
“The beginnings of this true hermetic art are to this day shrouded in obscurity. We know that the hermetic-spagyric method of preparation was known to many ancient cultures. In ancient China, for instance, in India , and among the ancient Egyptians we find important contributions to alchemical medicine. Between the ancient Indian and Chinese alchemy there exist many parallels. In India, alchemical preparations are part of the southern Indian siddha medicine, of Ayurvedic medicine as also of Unani medicine, which came later to India through the Muslims and represents a further development of ancient Greek medicine. The alchemy of the Western schools is chiefly based on the Egyptian tradition. In ancient Egypt, hermetism was taught in the temples of Memphis and Thebes. From the writings of Zosimos of Panopolis (Akhmin, A.D . 300) we learn that alchemy was practiced in Egypt under the supervision of kings and priests, and that divulging the secrets of this art was against the law. The hermetic art was taught exclusively by oral transmission. The Arabs were the chief agents for transmitting theoretical and practical alchemy to the Europeans, who then merged it with the Christian tradition.”
“How do spagyric plant remedies differ from nonspagyric ones?
Ordinary tinctures, infusions, decoctions, and the like, utilize in part the curative powers of the plants from which they are prepared. The spagyric preparation “opens” the plant and by its own process liberates stronger curative powers . It is in principle synergistic, and less interested in isolated pharmacologically active principles . We cannot do justice to the methodology of spagyrics if we measure it according to the standards of analytical chemistry or pharmacology, even if these sciences can explain in their own way part of the effects of spagyric remedies . Just as homeopathy has its own findings, experiences, and laws, which cannot be comprehended solely by the prevailing chemical-analytical knowledge, so, too, does spagyric insist on its own standards, for which it has its own conceptions and symbols. In the case of many of these conceptions and ideas we are dealing with analogies, which, however, prove to be extremely valuable, just as in traditional acupuncture.”
“The quality of the master instruments of Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu has remained unattainable to this day. I once asked a famous contemporary violinmaker, who could literally awaken an old instrument to new life, to tell me the “secret” of the old masters of Cremona. His reply was clear: “There are no secrets in the sense of tricks as you might think. **The ‘secrets’ consist of the true knowledge of natural laws and their bases, which the old masters understood better than we today”**
(the stars are mine, as i think this sentence applied to many other fields of human endeavours, not just instrument making and medicine, but also architecture, natural sources of energy and many other fields)
In a conversation with a friend, Manfred, the author of the work in discussion, was told:
“There are many processes in our organism-and I beg you to
understand this word in a much wider sense than you are perhaps used to-which the official Western medicine does not know. The prana energy of the breath and the nadis, for example, are unknown to Western medicine, likewise the meridians of Chinese medicine. Breathing is not only oxygen absorption. Still quite different energies and transformations of energy are involved . My father was a vaidya [Ayurvedic physician] in Allahabad. You will see that it will not be long before Ayurvedic medicine is also taught at our modern universities”
“What, then, is Alchemy? It is “the raising of vibrations” ”
“How this came about is a story in itself—typical of the way in which such things occur. Through a friend of a friend of mine, I was introduced to Mr. Albert Riedel of Salt Lake City, Utah, while he was visiting Los Angeles. At the time I was domiciled there, enjoying the sunny climate and occasionally ruminating over the inclement weather of London where I was born. It took only a few minutes to realize that I was talking to the first person I had ever met who knew what he was talking about on the subject of Alchemy. We promised to keep in touch—and we did. This promise later eventuated in an invitation to attend a seminar on Alchemy that he was conducting at the newly instituted Paracelsus Research Society in Salt Lake City. Most of the material presented in the Seminar concerned Alchemy, Qabalah, Astrology, etc.—with which I was already theoretically familiar—though even there some radically new and stimulating viewpoints were obtained. But the piece-de-resistance was the laboratory work. Here I was wholly dumbfounded. It took no more than a few minutes to help me realize how presumptuous I had been to assert dogmatically that all alchemy was psycho-spiritual. What I witnessed there, and have since repeated, has sufficed to enable me to state categorically that, in insisting solely on a mystical interpretation of alchemy, I had done a grave disservice to the ancient sages and philosophers.”
“Lesebure, a physician of Louis XIV of France, gives, in his ‘Guide to Chemistry’ (‘Chemischer Handleiter.’ Nuremberg, 1685, page 276), an account of some experiments, witnessed by himself, with the Primum Ens Melissae as follows:
‘One of my most intimate friends prepared the Primum Ens Melissae, and his curiosity would not allow him to rest until he had seen with his own eyes the effect of this arcanum, so that he might be certain whether or not the accounts given of its virtues were true. He therefore made the experiment, first upon himself then upon an old female servant, aged seventy years, and afterwards upon an old hen that was kept at his house. First he took, every morning at sunrise, a glass of white wine that was tinctured with this remedy, and after using it for fourteen days his finger and toenails began to fall out, without, however, causing any pain. He was not courageous enough to continue the experiment, but gave the same remedy to the old female servant. She took it every morning for about ten days, when she began to menstruate again as in former days. At this she was very much surprised, because she did not know that she had been taking a medicine. She became frightened, and refused to continue the experiment. My friend took, therefore, some grain, soaked it in that wine and gave it to the old hen to eat, and on the sixth day that bird began to lose its feathers, and kept on losing them until it was perfectly made, but before two weeks had passed away, new feathers grew, which were much more beautifully coloured; her comb stood up again, and she began again to lay eggs.’ ”
-From “The Life of Paracelsus” by Franz Hartmann
“The Ens manifests the highest initiatic virtue of the plant it is made from. Since alchemy has no set rituals, no lodges, or methods of advancement other than the Work itself, all initiation is said to be interior in this form of esotericism. We initiate ourselves into the Work, and the Work initiates us to higher (and deeper) levels of awareness.
The nature of spagyric tinctures, and in particular the Ens, is to clear out the blocks in our psychic makeup and anatomy, similar to what is called Nadis in yoga or the Meridians in acupuncture. This subtle anatomy allows for the exchange of information between the dense physical world of matter, and the subtler psychic world of which it is an extension”
-From “Practical Plant Alchemy” by Mark Stavish
“According to Hermetic tradition, the Philosopher’s stone is manifest as a heavy crystalline substance which is described as being quite similar to pulverized glass, ranging from crimson to saffron in color.
It has no odor, is not combustible and yet melts easily like wax by candle flame alone and readily dissolves into water or wine. The materials to make it are abundant and to be had by anyone. The Stone is said to have the power to cure all sickness, give back lost youth , and to transmute other metals into gold. The old Adepts constantly assure us of its physical reality. There are exhibits in several European Museums, which are reportedly alchemically made gold. Even up to our current times, reports of successful transmutations are found. Near the end of the nineteenth century, alchemical transmutation was considered a dead issue. “The elements are immutable”. Then came the discovery of radioactivity and the fact that transmutation of elements was occurring naturally.
In the 1960’s it was announced that the alchemist’s dream had been realized when scientists formed a tiny amount of gold by bombarding a pool of mercury with high energy particles. In the 1970’s and 1980’s the work of the French biochemist Louis Kevran revealed the possibility of elemental transmutation as a natural process in avenge systems and gave it the name Biological Transmutations. Today the controversy over Cold Fusion is still in progress and Quantum Physics tells us the observer has an effect on the material world. The promises of alchemy seem to be far from a dead issue. The perfection and evolution of the alchemist is the true goal in all of this. We mentioned that one must become the living stone before being able to produce the tangible stone. The skills necessary for its production and the way to proceed are gradually revealed to the alchemist as his own transformation unfolds. The actual physical stone is regarded more as a final test or proof that he has been successful, although at that point the transmutation of base metals to gold will become a trivial pursuit.”
-From “Real Alchemy” by Robert Bartlett
There is a great deal more which could be said on this vast subject. Here are some further points of information for the interested:
This is a pdf version of a book which was written by a modern day alchemist named Frater Albertus in 1960:
–Frater Albertus-The Alchemist’s Handbook
A Modern day alchemist named Jean Dubuis shares some thoughts about alchemy
Alchemist Robert Bartlett, a student of legendary alchemist Frater Albertus, is interviewed on the subject
A great book on the trials and tribulations of three modern day alchemists
A great modern paper on Alchemy and Spagyrics by herbalist Justin Sinclair
–The Alchemy of Herbal Medicine