left: kerotakis, in which a substance is heated on a plate within the vessel right: digestion apparatus with condensing flask above, probably for fractional distillation both illustrations of chemical apparatus from a medieval syrian manuscript
more than gold
however, alchemy goes deeper than simply the creation of sought-after substances. as in philosophy, the chief study of alchemy is the operations of NATURE (remember that some of the great philosophers in history were alsoconsidered alchemists).NATURE is not visible and yet it operates visibly, its volatile spirit animating thematerial world and giving universal life. NATURE can be seen as four regions;the dry, the moist, the warm and the cold and differentiated into male and female.GOD is seen as the beginning and end of NATURE. alchemist try to be likeNATURE, that is be truthful, simple, patient and preserving.
(called neidan in chinese alchemy) alchemical work takes place on severaldifferent levels. whilst there is the activity in physical substances, manipulation of etheric forces there is also a parallel investigation of the inner soul. traditionallythe actions of external investigation are reflected internally, there is a period of preparation and a closing ritual so that the powerful energies are formed within asafe structure. these help the alchemist return to the outer world and not get lostin between. the symbol of the alchemical vessel is associated with the inner andouter worlds of alchemy, reflecting the energies contained within a protectivecircle. the practice of internal alchemy needed much practice as the the forces inthe psyche can be powerful and disruptive. symbols were used as a form of control in the contemplation of inner energy, helping focus thought.
in their true nature are patterns of energy. meditating upon a symbol forces it toshift in shape and manifest itself in ways that help progress transcendentalknowledge. in inner alchemy there are three fundamental archetype symbols; thecrucible, the retort and the still.