Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘alchemy’


Shaman as Master of Fire

As ‘masters of fire’, shamans and sorcerers swallow burning coal, handle red-hot iron and walk on fire. On the other hand, they have great resistance to cold; shamans in the Arctic regions as well as the ascetics in the Himalayas, thanks to their magic heat, show an incredible resistance. The true significance of this magic heat and of the ‘mastery over fire’ is not difficult to divine. These powers indicate access to a certain ecstatic state or, on another cultural plane (in India, for example), to an unconditioned state of perfect spiritual freedom. The mastery over fire and insensibility both to extreme cold and to the temperature of burning coals, translated into ordinary terms, signify that the shaman or yogi have gone beyond the human condition and have achieved the level of spirits.

Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible, p. 81

Alchemist as Master of Fire

The alchemist, like the smith, and like the potter before him, is a ‘master of fire’. It is with fire that he controls the passage of matter from one state to another. The first potter who, with the aid of live embers, was successful in hardening those shapes which he had given to his clay, must have felt the intoxication of the demiurge: he had discovered a transmuting agent. That which natural heat—from the sun or the bowels of the earth—took so long to ripen, was transformed by fire at a speed hitherto undreamed of. This demiurgic enthusiasm springs from that obscure presentiment that the great secret lay in discovering how to ‘perform’ faster than Nature, in other words (since it is always necessary to talk in terms of the spiritual experience of primitive man) how, without peril, to interfere in the processes of the cosmic forces. Fire turned out to be the means by which man could ‘execute’ faster, but it could also do something other than what already existed in Nature. It was therefore the manifestation of a magico-religious power which could modify the world and which, consequently, did not belong to this world. This is why the most primitive cultures look upon the specialist in the sacred—the shaman, the medicine-man, the magician—as a ‘master of fire’….

Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible, pp. 79-80

Alchemy Means Constantly Transmuting Yourself

In many spiritual disciplines, the desired outcome is an ideal state, such as enlightenment or inner peace, that one strives to maintain consistently. In alchemy, the nearest thing to an ideal state is an ongoing state of disarray. At first you undertake the Great Work in order to be able to work magic. Gradually you discover that the Great Work is the magic. You are constantly transmuting yourself and, as a result, you are able to transmute other phenomena as well. If you were ever to declare yourself finished, all your magical influence would vanish overnight, for it is only in their unfinished state that phenomena are transmutable.

Catherine MacCoun, On Becoming an Alchemist, p. 149

Author’s emphasis.

The Subtle Body Has a Location

It is the subtle body, not the spirit, that makes the difference between a living person and a corpse. Your spirit doesn’t have to be in your physical body or anywhere near it for you to remain alive. In fact, it’s nonsensical to talk about where a spirit is, since spirits don’t have any location in space. For the spirit to “go away” simply means for it to turn its attention elsewhere, as it often does when you are sleeping. The subtle body, though, has a location. It has to stay with your physical body as long as you are alive. Ghosts are the detached subtle bodies of those who have died. If you have ever felt the presence of a ghost, you could probably say pretty clearly where it was, and approximately how big it was. By contrast, a meeting with a spirit feels more like it’s happening in your mind. When a loved one dies, you might experience them for a while as a ghost. Then the subtle body goes away, and should you meet them again, what you will encounter will be their spirit.

Catherine MacCoun, On Becoming an Alchemist, p. 46

The Alchemical Way of Change

Wooing was a frequent metaphor in medieval alchemy. The troubadours’ ballads of courtly love can be read as coded instructions on how to get to Platform 9¾. The suitor was admonished to become infinitely patient, gentle, and attentive to the lady’s fluctuating moods and whims. To win her, he must learn to empathize with her, tone down his boisterous masculinity, and attune to her feminine style. The central paradox of these stories is that to attain a magician’s power, one must relinquish the impulse to force and conquer. To change anything in an alchemical way, you must allow it to change you.

Catherine MacCoun, On Becoming an Alchemist, p. 32

Author’s emphasis.

The Spiritual and the Material Are Two Different Aspects of the Same World

Alchemists want to understand the whole world in both its material and its non-material aspects. They are willing to forego scientific consensus (and thus risk being labeled as crackpots) in order to study phenomena and apply principles that they can perceive, whether or not others share their perceptions. This is not the same as being superstitious. Nor is it the same as being religious. If alchemists don’t feel compelled to demonstrate what they believe to the readers of Scientific American, neither do they feel compelled to believe what they can’t demonstrate to themselves. What for a religious person might be a creed is, to the alchemist, a working hypothesis. Confronted with a spiritual teaching or religious belief, an alchemist is less likely to ask, “Is it true?” than “Is it workable?” A workable idea is one you can act on with good result.

It is characteristic of alchemists to treat the pursuit of physical science as a spiritual discipline and to approach the spiritual with scientific rigor and practicality. For alchemists, the spiritual and the material are two different aspects of the same world. That insight into one is insight into the other is both an article of faith and a working hypothesis. Alchemists set out to demonstrate it because they believe it.

Catherine MacCoun, On Becoming an Alchemist, p. 10

Author’s emphasis.

Alchemy is a Very Broad Church

Alchemy is very old. Ancient Egyptian texts talk of techniques of distillation and metallurgy as mystical processes. Greek myths such as the quest for the Golden Fleece can be seen to have an alchemical layer of meaning, and Fludd, Boehme and others have interpreted Genesis in the same alchemical terms.

A quick survey of alchemical texts ancient and modern shows that alchemy, like the [Kabbalah], is a very broad church. If there is one great mysterious ‘Work’, it is approached via a remarkable variety of codes and symbols. In some cases the Work involves Sulphur, Mercury and Salt, in others roses, stars, the philosopher’s stone, salamanders, toads, crows, nets, the marriage bed, and astrological symbols such as the fish and the lion.

There are obvious geographical variations. Chinese alchemy seems less about the quest for gold and more about a quest for the elixir of life, for longevity, even immortality. Alchemy also seems to change through the ages. In the third century [C.E.] the alchemist [Zosimos] wrote that ‘the symbol of the chymic art—gold—comes forth from creation for those who rescue and purify the divine soul chained in the elements’. In early Arab texts the Work involves manipulations of these same Four Elements, but in European alchemy, rooted in the Middle Ages and flowering in the seventeenth century [C.E.], a mysterious fifth element, the Quintessence, comes to the fore.

If we begin to look for unifying principles, we can see immediately that there are prescribed lengths of time or numbers of repetitions for the various operations, the distilling, the applying of gentle heat and so on.

There are obvious parallels, then, with meditative practice and this suggests immediately that these alchemical terms may be descriptions of subjective states of consciousness rather than the sort of chemical operations that might be performed in a laboratory.

Mark Booth, The Secret History of the World, pp. 338-40

The Basic Logic of Alchemy is Relationship

Between you and anything that you might wish to influence there is a relationship. If either party in a relationship changes, the relationship itself is changed. In turn, any change in the relationship changes both parties. So if you wish to change something, the first thing you must do is discover the true nature of your relationship to it. Then you will be able to see how to change it by changing yourself. This is the basic logic of alchemy.

Catherine MacCoun, On Becoming an Alchemist, p. 12

Author’s emphasis.

Alchemists Want to Change the World

To the alchemist, matter is in no way to be despised. Matter matters. Alchemists are not content merely to adapt to the world. They want to change it. To them, the test of spiritual truth is whether you can do something with it. They seek to understand the inner workings of the world in order to participate actively in its creation.

Catherine MacCoun, On Becoming an Alchemist, p. 7

Alchemy Had an Unscientific Method

If success follows a complex set of actions and you do not know which parts of the whole performance were the vital ones, it is best to repeat all of them exactly and slavishly every time because you never know what might happen if you don’t.

Alchemy stumbled upon some great truths but produced theoretical structures in which the line of reasoning between cause and effect was cluttered up with all sorts of irrelevant mystical and magical red herrings.

Lyall Watson, Supernature, pp. 178-79