Alchemy Overview

If there is one thing which defines what alchemy truly is then it is the theory of transmutation.

The quest to make gold from base metals such as lead is what most people think of when they think of alchemy, and it is the theory of transmutation upon which this dream is based that forms the core of all alchemical philosophy and practices.

In actual fact, although the transmutation of metals has now been proven to take place in stars, this is only one particular example of the general theory of transmutation, albeit the one which most caught the medieval imagination and grabbed all of the attention.

In spiritual alchemy this universal principle is applied in relation to the inner nature of the individual human being.

First let me give you a very brief overview of the general philosophy itself: 

The basic premise is that all things are made from one universal substance – the prima materia – and that if this is the case then it should be possible to convert any substance into any other substance. But it also goes far beyond this to describe a universe evolving towards a perfect ideal. 

In the example of metals gold is conceived as being the idealized state towards which all metals are moving, and the alchemist must only help nature along its way by speeding up this evolutionary process.

Clearly then, the topic of this article is the spiritual evolution of man, trough the transmutation of our current nature.

This sets alchemy apart from most philosophies (or theologies) of spiritual growth in that it is inherently affirmational.

This means that there is no part of a person’s nature which is viewed as inherently bad, sinful, or worthy of excision; there are only the various stages of evolution, and even the lowest and most destructive parts of ourselves are not to be removed from our nature, but rather spiritualized.

This idea of spiritualization fits perfectly with Carl Jung’s psychology of individuation and the unconscious, which he himself viewed as a modern embodiment of alchemical principles and practices. 

Jung showed that when a person suppresses or tries to eliminate a part of their nature it never actually disappears but is relegated to a subconscious psychological complex (called an archetype), from where is continues to influence the person’s thoughts / feelings and their behaviour in novel ways which are beyond their awareness and hence beyond their control. 

Mental health is only achieved by confronting the shadow and re-integrating its contents back into the conscious mind in a balanced and healthy way. 

There are also social parallels to this personal process, such as the prohibition failing to prevent the use of alcohol or other drugs but rather handing the control over their manufacture and supply to a criminal underworld, with disastrous social consequences.

Thus, to give a few of the most general and universal examples, anger and hatred are not to be fought against but rather transmuted into righteousness and positive action for change.

Sensuality is not to be seen as the enemy of spirituality but rather transmuted into love and even beyond that into the transcendence of the individual personality, as happens in the sexual practices of eastern Tantra.

The process of confronting the shadow to reveal those parts of oneself most in need of spiritualization is covered in our article on The Blackening

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