Alchemy is an ancient path of spiritual purification and transformation; the expansion of consciousness and the development of insight and intuition through images. Alchemy is steeped in mysticism and mystery. It presents to the initiate a system of eternal, dreamlike, esoteric symbols that have the power to alter consciousness and connect the human soul to the Divine.
It is part of the mystical and mystery traditions of both East and West. In the West, it dates to ancient Egypt, where adepts first developed it as an early form of chemistry and metallurgy. Egyptians alchemists used their art to make alloys, dyes, perfumes and cosmetic jewelry, and to embalm the dead.
The early Arabs made significant contributions to alchemy, such as by emphasizing the mysticism of numbers (quantities and lengths of time for processes). The Arabs also gave us the term ‘alchemy’, from the Arabic term ‘alchimia’, which loosely translated means ‘the Egyptian art’.
During medieval and Renaissance times, alchemy spread through the Western world, and was further developed by Kabbalists, Rosicrucians, astrologers and other occultists. It functioned on two levels: mundane and spiritual. On a mundane level, alchemists sought to find a physical process to convert base metals such as lead into gold. On a spiritual level, alchemists worked to purify themselves by eliminating the “base” material of the self and achieving the ‘gold’ of enlightenment.
By Renaissance times, many alchemists believed that the spiritual purification was necessary in order to achieve the mundane transformations of metals.
The alchemists relied heavily upon their dreams, inspirations and visions for guidance in perfecting their art. In order to protect their secrets, they recorded diaries filled with mysterious symbols rather than text. These symbols remain exceptionally potent for changing states of consciousness.
Alchemy is a form of speculative thought that, among other aims, tried to transform base metals such as lead or copper into silver or gold and to discover a cure for disease and a way of extending life.
Alchemy was the name given in Latin Europe in the 12th century to an aspect of thought that corresponds to astrology, which is apparently an older tradition. Both represent attempts to discover the relationship of man to the cosmos and to exploit that relationship to his benefit. The first of these objectives may be called scientific, the second technological.
Astrology is concerned with man’s relationship to “the stars” (including the members of the solar system); alchemy, with terrestrial nature. But the distinction is far from absolute, since both are interested in the influence of the stars on terrestrial events. Moreover, both have always been pursued in the belief that the processes human beings witness in heaven and on earth manifest the will of the Creator and, if correctly understood, will yield the key to the Creator’s intentions.