Alchemy: Relic of the Ageless Wisdom
Article ID: 14663
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Taliesin McKnight
Posted: July 17th. 2011
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Alchemy is a common topic of discussion and debate within the occult community. It is an entire system or path of enlightenment and self-perfection, elaborated and built upon by such great thinkers and magicians as Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and many others. This is not to be understood as mere material alchemy, but also was seen as a spiritual quest and a path of becoming. For those who are new to the occult movement, a basic understanding of these tenants may prove helpful and illuminating.
Alchemy is the transmutation of self and life, concealed quite well behind the allegorical veil of gold-making. The transformation of base metals (such as lead, tin, and copper) into gold is symbolic of transforming the individual into a higher state of being--materially, spiritually, and intellectually. How piteous those poor souls who spent their lives and fortunes on the speculative venture of physical gold-making!
Even if it was ever accomplished, it was certainly rare, and many individuals wasted away their lives in this quest. However, as we find in the Rosicrucian Mysteries, this was all symbolic of Man’s quest for attaining illumination. Since Man came down from the trees, began walking upright, and became a thinking individual, it has been a constant striving upward. This is the gradual progression of our species.
Etymology is the study of words and their meanings. The word “alchemy”, it is often said, is derived from “Al-Khemet.” Khemet was the name the Egyptians used for their land. Khemet means, “black.” This is a reference to the fertile, black soil found along the Nile. This is also where we derive the term “black arts.” This is a reference to alchemy. It has nothing to do with black as a symbol of evil. But alas, there is a lot of misinformation out there.
I personally tend to look at such traditional claims as Khemet meaning “from Egypt, ” with a healthy dose of skepticism, as tradition is often more folklore than a valid history. However, most scholars see no reason to doubt this etymology of the word alchemy, and it is a worthy, if not probable, analysis of the word’s origins. Still, we must keep in mind that we really do not know for certain where the term comes from.
The transmutation of base metals into gold is symbolic of the transformation of the baser elements of character into “pure gold.” Thus, hatred is changed into love; ignorance into knowledge; laziness into laboriousness; poverty into wealth; failure into success. Let us take an example.
Imagine a man who has trouble keeping a job. He moves from minimum wage job to minimum wage job. It all seems meaningless. He is poor and his girlfriend or family must take care of him because he often does not work. This man may drink heavily to cope with this. Also, he has never had a college education. He is fat and lazy.
To begin his personal ‘transmutation, our subject would perhaps decide to ‘keep a job no matter what’. After he has gotten accustomed to this, he may decide that he is tired of low-income jobs, and so the man goes on to obtain a job working at a chemical plant (a good job for someone with no college education) . He makes three times the money he once did! He now becomes interested in taking a few classes in college. He also begins working out and losing weight. This is transmutation of failure into success.
However, this is the materialistic application to philosophical alchemy. On a more spiritual level, the supreme goal is to obtain enlightenment. It is to transfigure the animal man into the enlightened figure or the "god-man" of the mysteries.
In philosophical alchemy, the seven ancient planets play an important role, which might be expected in such a system, which is based in the Western Mystery Tradition. These seven “planets” are not really planets at all by our modern understanding. These are the Sun, Moon, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Mercury, and Venus. It is by these seven forces that the personality of Man is composed, according to the doctrine.
The Sun embodies both the spirit and the intellect. The Moon encompasses our subconscious, intuition, and emotions. Venus is representative of our sexual desires and relationships. Jupiter is our attraction to success and dominion, as Zeus or Jupiter is “King of the Gods”. Mars is the sphere of our aggression. Saturn is the contemplative and purging of the self.
Seven metals symbolize these planets, in alchemy. In fact, in medieval alchemical manuscripts, they often did not say “iron” when referring to the metal; instead the text read “Mars.” One cannot even read these texts with any hope of understanding them if this correspondence is not thoroughly understood.
Venus signifies copper or brass; Mars is iron; Jupiter is tin; the Moon is silver. Mercury is quicksilver (an old name for the chemical mercury) ; Saturn is lead; the Sun is gold. Therefore, transmuting the base metals into gold is ‘to transfigure’ the other planetary natures by the illuminating rays of the Sun. This alchemical association of the planets with metals also influences magick. For example, talismans connected to Jupiter are often made of tin and covered with symbols associated with this planet.
The process or path of self-change was alluded to by an arcane chemical change. Calcination, for example, is the burning or heating of a substance in a crucible until it is reduced to ash. This may then be placed in water in what is known as diffusion. Then the impurities and left over by-products were discarded in a process called separation. After this was done, the remaining substance was recombined by conjunction. Distillation may then be done. This is all symbolic.
The changing of a substance into a higher order is even shown in the simple processes of nature:
Fire is the great element of change. Fire turns wood into ash and smoke. It changes solids into liquid, liquid into gas, and gas into plasma. Fire was also the giver of light. In darkness, man is blinded and cannot see. However, with light we can see reality. Therefore, light is a symbol of knowledge, while darkness is synonymous with ignorance. Notice that the word “enlighten” is simply the word “light” with “en” put on each end. Therefore, to enlighten is to give light or to “bear light on a situation.”
If someone is knowledgeable, it may be said that he or she is brilliant, or that the person is bright. This shows that this doctrine probably has its roots in the sun cults of ancient pagan times. It may be a survival of the ancient mysteries. The mystery schools had a hidden knowledge that was not taught to the masses or general population. Admission into these sacred academies requires a formal oath of secrecy. They were initiated and became one of the intellectual elites controlling the masses. These are the illuminated ones. Concerning this issue, I will say no more.
As found in many systems of self-change and mystery traditions, there are three principles of nature and being: two opposites, and an intermediary between them. These are often explained as being male and female, and the union or reconciliation of these two opposing forces brought forth the wholeness of the individual.
Sulphur represented the active principle, the yang. Salt was the passive, receptive, and yin aspect of consciousness. These two are to be transcended by the middle path, the chemical of which was mercury. Thus, from the transcending of opposites came the chemical androgyny, a divine being. This is the whole, complete, and fully integrated human being—the god-man of the mysteries. These, of course, are represented by the three gunas and three main nadis or currents of energy in the body in Yoga, the three pillars of the Tree of Life in the Qabalah, Yin and Yang in Taoism, and the wand of the Greek god Hermes.
This basic understanding of alchemy is an essential part of occult education. It may constitute the same basic doctrine as found in the ancient pagan mystery cults of Osiris, Isis, Persephone, Mithras, and others. It is very difficult to read and understand the ancient alchemical texts. It is a hidden wisdom passed down through the ages. This is a relic of the Ageless Wisdom, which was the divine treasure of philosophers and mystics.
A study of alchemy may uncover the divine knowledge that once existed in ancient Egypt. It is certainly a valid and worthy subject of debate and study, especially among modern pagans, if these are truly the remnants of lost pagan knowledge.
Location: Dallas, Texas
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Bio: Taliesin McKnight is a researcher, lecturer, and writer on the subjects of Comparative Religion, philosophy, the Qabalah, magick, psychology, and the occult. His studies have brought him to share ideas and knowledge with those of like mind. He is a licensed inter-faith minister. He speaks Spanish, English, French, and Italian. Taliesin's videos and articles are published on more than 20 different websites. He currently resides in Dallas, Texas.
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