(Originally published a couple years ago)
Is it the concentrated pursuit of magical wealth or godless immortality unencumbered by ethics?
The history of alchemy is filled with a host of charlatans, tricksters, and confidence men, but is also filled with some of the most astounding intellectual men and women in history. From the remarkable fourth century genius Hypatia to Sir Isaac Newton, from the great abbess Hildegard von Bingen to the more contemporary Dr. Carl Jung, those who have sought the pursuits of alchemy are a varied and surprising lot; intellectuals coupling profound faith with rigorous rational thought.
Although having its roots in ancient Egypt and the traditions of the Prophet Enoch, alchemy continues into today including spiritual leaders and theoretical physicists among its current practitioners.
Alchemy is rigorous observation, experimentation, and application of the principles of creation, with the singular purpose of constructively applying the information learned. An alchemist wants to learn how and why the world is the way it is, so he or she can apply that knowledge and become a better person–specifically, one worthy of Divine Grace.
Recognized as the forerunner to modern scientific methodology and the hard sciences, alchemy involves observations and experiments impacting the Three Worlds: the world of higher spirit or enlightenment (Alchemical Mercury), the underworld of drives and passions (Alchemical Sulfur), and our physical world (Alchemical Salt). This model of physical and spiritual exploration has been followed all around the world since the most ancient of times; one reason Alexander conquered Egypt was so he could procure the mystical Emerald Tablet written by the first alchemist Enoch, and he brought scholars from across the world to learn its secrets.
In the ancient world not only was knowledge power, it was also a threat, so alchemists couched their observations and findings in mystical terms, rebuses, and code so only their students and colleagues could understand their work (Alexander Roob’s work The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy & Mysticism is an excellent resource for the wealth of visual imagery, you can read more about the book here). One of the most famous of these is the intellectual giant Jabir ibn Hayyan, whose works on alchemy were so indecipherable to outsiders, with all his codes and inside references, we still use his name to signify something we are unable to fathom–“gibberish.”
The pursuit of knowledge for the sake of becoming a being worthy of salvation was symbolized in the allegorical pursuit of gold (Western alchemy) or the miraculous Panacea (Islamic alchemy); creating gold, immortality, or the medicine which could heal all ills is a metaphor for the Universal or Ideal Man the alchemist wished to become.
Gold and riches could also be pursued, but from a perspective described best by Luke: “But rather seek ye the Kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you (Luke 12:31).”
One of the most astounding of Muslim spiritual alchemists was Ibn al-Arabi, whose doctrine of the Perfect Man is still referenced by Sufis and alchemists alike and his pursuit of the Oneness of Being remains profound 800 years after its writing. A current alchemist is Dennis Willian Hauck , author of several books on practical alchemy, a pioneer in the field of Consciousness Studies, a teacher in the Alchemy Study Program teaching the ancient arts of alchemy to modern students, and Steering Committee member for the International Achemy Guild.
For more information on the history of alchemy and resources for today, please visit:
Ed Reether’s The Nature and History and the Great Art of Alchemy
Much more than the hopeless pursuit of the impossible by those without social graces, alchemy is a systematic and rigorous path of self-improvement. The gold refined is the soul, a soul to be cleansed and readied for the purification of Grace: a pursuit surely among the best of sciences.