Alchemy is a pretty loaded word. For many it brings up images of the dark ages; wizened old men trying to turn lead into gold, but this is just one part of a multi-faceted spiritual truth that has become murky and irrelevant, yet alchemy is just as important a tool to modern life as it was centuries ago, and it holds the secret of our own liberation from suffering – what’s not to love?
But first, let’s look at where it all stems from.
In one of the earliest surviving mentions of alchemy, the Emerald Tablet (part of a 2,000-year-old collection of Egyptian-Greek wisdom texts called the Corpus Hermetica) outlines the mystical principle of “as above so below” – the idea that everything is connected and we are a tiny version of the universe above us.
You’ve no doubt heard this before and the theory can be found in pretty much every school of esoteric thinking from all over the planet, from the ancient Greeks to the Hindus.
It was even recently supported in the scientific discovery that the neurons in our brain look exactly like an image of the universe:
So what does this have to do with turning lead into gold?
Well, what the alchemists of the dark ages were doing when they practiced transmuting metals wasn’t so much aimed at getting rich, as trying to replicate a symbolic process which would lead them to enlightenment.
I’ll expand on that:
The metals represented parts of their psyche that, if combined in a certain way, would produce something of a higher value – the symbolical gold. The whole procedure was basically a method of tapping into the right side of the brain which deals with images in order to make subtle changes there on an intuitive level.
As above, so below.
It’s the same principle as magick, where symbolic objects are used to represent what the witch or magician wants to happen on the physical plane, except alchemists were using material things to create change on a mental level, and they used this to speed up their goal of enlightenment, wholeness, or whatever you want to call it.
Alchemists were essentially Buddha on a tight schedule.
Now that’s all very interesting, you might think, but what’s it got to do with me?
Well for thousands of years these secrets were hidden from the masses, dismissed as quackery or even forbidden as heretical by the likes of the ancient Egyptian priesthood, the medieval church and modern day religious and political leaders.
And it makes perfect sense that the patriarchal powers-that-be would want to keep this knowledge from us. If people can become enlightened, they deliver themselves from mental slavery and become more conscious, and when people are more conscious, they are harder to control.
So we’re told that alchemy was just a bunch of weird old guys in a basement somewhere trying to get rich by turning stuff into gold, when in actual fact these ancient teachings give us the keys to our soul, they place the responsibility of happiness in our own hands and relinquish us from suffering.
This is what the alchemists worked for.
But how can that tie into our everyday lives? It’s not like knowing all this juicy mystical info is suddenly going to make us all drop our day jobs and invest in a chemistry set, right?
But that’s ok, cos you don’t actually need anything to become an alchemist yourself. You’ve already got all the right equipment – your mind.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the famous psychologist, Carl G. Jung, made direct comparisons between alchemy and his theory of individuation, the combining of the unconscious with the conscious in order to relieve suffering and become whole.
This modern approach to alchemy has become the foundations of practices like psychoanalysis, where the patient is encouraged to dig into the unconscious mind and integrate whatever ugly truths they might find there (this is what is known as “shadow work”).
“Only by discovering alchemy have I clearly understood that the Unconscious is a process, and that the ego’s rapport with the Unconscious and its contents initiate an evolution, more precisely, a real metamorphosis of the psyche” – Carl G. Jung – Psychology and Alchemy.
This “metamorphosis of the psyche” is what many of us are doing without even realising it. If you’re the kind of person that wants to better themselves (and I suspect you are, or you wouldn’t be reading this), then you are already on the path of alchemy, individuation, enlightenment.
To turn the muck and mire of our minds into spiritual gold is something we all desperately want and need, society needs it, and as the alchemists knew very well, it takes hard work and dedication.
Just like the alchemists, the Greeks, the Egyptians and Carl Jung, we want to heal ourselves, but we struggle to know how to go about it in modern life.
Tools like astrology, tarot cards, psychoanalysis, dream interpretation, journaling, art, music, will all help the process along. Anything that gives you a deeper insight into yourself.
But you can kick start this process without any of these. All you need is the knowledge that you can change the way you think on a micro level, and thus change your life on the macro.
Every time you hear your ego say something nasty, and you take a step back from it long enough to question where that negativity came from, and every time you learn something new about yourself, you are one less measure of lead away from gold in the alchemical “Great Work” and one step closer to becoming whole.
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Featured: Robert Fludd
Brain cells: Crystal Links
Buddha cartoon: Mark Stivers
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