What is Alchemy?

thejourney2_insoleAlchemy is a big subject and I cannot in any way do it justice in this short piece, so I will simply highlight a few ideas here.

Simply put, alchemy is the art transformation.  It can be thought of as both a study and a practice, one which can allow us access to the regenerative force of creation, the creative genius that continually weaves the web of life (known in earlier times as the web of ‘wyrd’).

Alchemy is among the most mysterious of the metaphysical arts. Its tradition is closely interwoven with medicine, astrology and magic and its lore is rich in symbolic understanding and profound metaphorical references to plants, minerals, elemental intelligences, and planetary bodies. Our modern idea of an alchemist tends to conjur up visions of strangely clad men in primitive laboratories attemtping to turn base metal into gold. Such a pursuit may be considered absurd to our modern ways of thinking, and so alchemy is often dismissed as an anachronism. However, as moderns, we tend to see only the outer attempt at transforming one ‘thing’ into another ‘thing’, and in doing so, we miss the ‘inner’, spiritual transformation that must always accompany such an attempt.

The transmutation of lead or base metal into gold is a key alchemical concept. It should be understood primarily, though, as a philosophical transformation. It involves, a transformation of perspective that can enable us, as modern-day alchemists, to reconnect to that which we have come to regard as separate from us; to come in contact with the invisible web which is the source of our power, vitality and creativity.

Klossowski de Rola, in his book, ‘Alchemy: The Secret Art’, describes alchemy as “a rainbow bridging the chasm between the earthly and heavenly planes, between matter and spirit”. He describes how the alchemical texts have concealed in their enigmatic symbols, “the means of penetrating the very secrets of Nature, Life, and Death, of Unity, Eternity, and Infinity”.

So alchemy offers us the possibility to relieve suffering, achieve peace of mind, increase our vitality and creativity and overcome our fear of death through direct experience with the invisible realms that continually weave together matter and spirit. Alchemy is a living practice, a way of life, a journey into the profound mysteries of life, a search to find the gold that lies within each of us.

To practice alchemy is to realise first-hand the co-respondent relationship between body and soul, earth and sky, human being and cosmos.  It is the realisation of the power of Hermes / Mercury, the messenger of the Gods, the weaver of worlds, the interlocutor between heaven and earth. As we access this Mercurial power within ourselves, it produces a paradigm-shift, out of which we may begin to realise how richly interconnected we are with all things. As that realisation becomes an authentically embodied experience, we are healed and transformed.

Alchemy is rooted in the Earth and the journey of the Alchemist is rooted in the natural cycles of the Sun, the Moon and the Earth, the cycles of the planetary bodies, the cycles of birth, gorwth, culmination, decay, death and rebirth. This can be understood as a wheel of transformation.

We experience this through the wheel of the year, as we move through Spring as light prevails and new life bursts through into being, waxing into Summer and its irrepressible outward growth, waning in Autumn as darkness returns and outer expressions of life recede and die, and the inner life of contemplation takes hold, culminating at the Winter Solstice when the Sun begins again its long ascent.

OurobourosAlchemy acknolwedges the play of darkness and light, of Sun and Moon, of birth and death, of growth and decay. It helps to put us in touch with the natural cycle that govern our own existence. It reminds us that everything is in condition of flux and change and that the journey always takes the of a circle, a cycle, a spiral. Every end is a beginning, every beginning an end, as depicted in the famous alchemical image of the Ourobouros, the serpent devouring its own tail.

Alchemy is without a fixed doctrine. Though it is rooted in an ancient tradition and draws upon particular symbolic resonances, it is essentially an experiential art, one that we must approach through enquiry and reflection, observation and practice. It begins with having the courage to relax our long-held assumptions, that haved formed the dominant perspective we have of ourselves and the world.

The alchemy we engage with through The Alchemical Journey relates specifically to the journey around the astrological wheel. And from 2009, we will be engaging with the wheel explicitly through the sacred landcsape of the Glastonbury Zodiac.