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Ralph Metzner, Ph.D. (2005)
Alchemy, descended from shamanism, is the ancient art and science of elemental transformation. The historian of religion Mircea Eliade posited in his book The Forg the Crucible that alchemy grew historically out of the work of shamanic miners, smi metallurgists. They were the masters of fire, who knew how to extract metals (like c tin, iron, gold, silver) from stone, blend them into alloys such as bronze, and make to (like adz, hammer, plow), weapons (like spear, sword, dagger, shield) and ornament necklace, bracelet, crown, ring). In the archaic and classical period the knowledge o working, because of its obvious connection to power and wealth, was preserved in s and handed down in craft-guilds from master to student. Such technical knowledge w regarded as magical by ordinary people, because it seemed to involve inexplicable m of natural forces. The crafts of masonry, which uses mineral stones in building, and medicine, which uses mineral extracts in healing (as well as metal tools in surgery), parallel and associated secret societies. All three movements developed an esoteric component concerned with practices of spiritual self-transformation.
A popular misconception is that alchemy was solely and futilely concerned with the transmutation of base metals to gold. In actuality, it is clear from alchemical writing the main focus of most alchemical practicioners was healing and what we would now call psychotherapy: the transmutation of the physical and psychic condition of the hu being – starting with oneself. The archaic worldview was holistic – the physical, psy spiritual and cosmic dimensions of life were seen in their wholeness, not as separate As such, alchemy can be considered a specialized extension of the shamanic traditio healing and transformation dating from the Old Stone Age. Shamans too had special knowledge of plants and mineral substances, including crystals, and secret initiatory knowledge of the spiritual dimensions. They negotiated with the normally inaccessib spirits of nature and the ancestors on behalf of their clients.
Alchemists, like shamans, worked with spirits, in particular the spirits of the elemen fire, earth and water) and certain deities (Hephaistos for the Greeks, Vulcanus for th Romans) that were the guides and teachers of mining and smithing. In Germanic-No mythology, the spirits of stone, metal and fire were called the “black elves” (Schwar or dwarves. These dwarves, like the giants who are the spirits of vast natural aggreg like mountains, forests, rivers and storms, were neither benevolent nor malevolent to humans. They were said to have their own agenda, neutral in regard to human welfa survival. But one could communicate with them and learn from them, if one had the codes, so to speak. We can see in this ancient mythic conception an understanding o principle that the knowledge of natural forces and tools is morally neutral: it can be for good, in the service of the Divine and of life; but when used for personal aggrandizement, domination and enrichment at the expense of others, it becomes sor the “dark side”.
Oversimplifying somewhat, one could say that alchemy and yoga are the Western an
medicines and instruments. Hellenistic and Arabic lands during classical era. became symbolically associated with the mind or awareness. or Kem. and which therefore became increasingly garbled. In the Hellenistic period. Aion and Mysterium Coniunctionis. “the way of cultivating essence (r and is an integral part of ayurvedic healing and tantric yoga. as the inheritor of ancient holistic science and art. It remained to C. the mind can slip and slide to strange elusive places. The name points to the Egyptian origin of alchemy. In works Jung interprets the opus or work of alchemy as being the individuation proces . Hermes (Thoth to the Egyptians. called Hermes Trismegistos (“Three-fold Great Hermes”) who initi whole school of secret knowledge of self-transformation practices. Alchemy is also known Chinese Taoism. are essentially alchemical texts Psychology and Alchemy. along with astrology. European alchemy became known as the Hermetic tradition: while one strand of thi knowledge stream concerned itself with the transformation of physical matter. but it can also shin sparkling brilliance. re to the very fertile black earth along the Nile after the seasonal floods. because of its highly mobile. Mercury to the Romans) emerged as the main deity spirit guide of the alchemical work of transformation. Alchemical Studies. fluid characteristics. magic and witchcraft (the mostly feminine herbal medicine traditions) during the advent of the scientific. they were secret. psychic a spiritual transformation all remained more connected. Kam. the psychic spiritual aspects of human elemental transformation experienced an amazing floweri the Hermetic traditions which arose in Egyptian. who transmuted into the Black Madonna in Chris times. The secrecy was profound that the term “hermetically sealed” is still the symbolic expression of abso secrecy. to recover the lost language of alchemy and re-interpr referring to psychospiritual transformation using symbolic and imaginal processes. even although sub-schools an movements arose which focussed on one or another aspect. were shrouded in s Texts were written and illustrated. in the 20th century. Jung and followers.Eastern extensions and developments of Paleolithic shamanism respectively: all thre systematic technologies of physico-psychic-spiritual transformation. divorced from all psychic and spiritual considerations. Because of the persecutory dominance of the Ca Church. mystical core of it were the practic psychospiritual self-transformation. Hermes/Mercury was the divine messenge carrying knowledge between the divine and human worlds – thus the practice of div Mercury the metal. the keys to which were la lost. In addition to Hermes the god. It appears that in the Indian and Chinese traditions. but in a symbolic code. The word “alchemy” comes from the Arabic al kimiya – “the science of the black ea land”. physical. like the practices of shamanic witchcraft. Hathor).G. the esoteric. Like quicksilver. and flourished well into medieval times in Christian Europe. because misuse of the knowledge by those motivated by gr power could have harmful consequences. experimental method – leavi chemistry. the m of tools. Isis. Thoth (or Tjehuti) was the sci scribe and record keeper among the gods. Alchemy does the Indian spiritual tradition: it is called rasayana. also called quicksilver. It was the suppressed. as sometimes assumed: rather. such practices. where it is an integral aspect of the Taoist preoccupations with lon (called “immortality”) and the yogic practices of recycling sexual energies for regeneration. The teachings of the school were not secret arbitrarily or for reasons of pow control. like esoteric yogic and sham practices are kept secret. was the ancient Egyptian name for their land. In the West. there was also a legendary huma spiritual teacher. “Black Earth”. F the twenty or so volumes of Jung’s Collected Works. It was the land Black Goddess (Nut.
or Our Art. to a lesser extent. The first alchemists. the entire set of interrelated energy-systems constituting the human being. or sheath (kosh Yoga) for the immortal Soul. are the multi-layered vessel. perceptual and physical levels. were craftsmen (they called themselves artists) in t fields of mining and smithing. coagulatio. as well as. astrology. Thus the metaphor of the journey -. The human energy-systems. emotional. in his book Anatomy of the Psyche.“the work”. including calcinatio. in which these transformative processes are taking place. is the psyche. The purification of substances using fire or heat is metaphor for the refinem thought and perception using the purification methods of yogic inner fire (called purificatio) The operation of coniunctio. For ex the operation called solutio or “dissolving. or Essence. at the mental. akin to Indo-Tibetan and Chinese practices. which can also be though “personality systems”.” which was represented in alchemical lite by the image of a man sitting in a hot tub.riding on animal or transformed into one -. In mo people’s minds. Mo individuals. by non-ration non-analytical means. is a metaphor for the process of dissolving physico-psychic armoring and defensive structures that block and distort the flow of energy. -. both ind and collective.moving toward wholeness.transformation. So their preferred term for the work of self-transformation. The various operations of the alchemical work and art are metaphors for the intentional processe self. sublimatio and separatio. the hidden present or probable futures. container. The Jung psychotherapist Edward Edinger. to which Jung devoted his most massive tome. the conjunction of Sun and Moon. The esssential process in divinatio involves a querent asking questions and the diviner obtaining answers. I would add only that the alchemical vessel should be understood refer also to the physical body and subtle energy-field. T can be considered divination accessories or tools.in other words. From my st of Alchemical Yoga. the concept of divination involves symbolic systems such as the Tar I Ching. within the psyche. plants and fungi.is a natural choice to describe the process of divina which is seeking knowledge for healing or guidance. or athanor. In the inner traditions of shamanism and alchemy the querent the diviner are one and the same person.the central tec process in shamanism. is a metaphor for the integrat masculine and feminine energies. -. by contrast. often shy away from divinatory practices fearing to give any credence to what they consider ignorant supersition. trained in a scientific outlook. body. insight and guidance from higher dimensional. Though the dictionary defines divination as “the art or act of foretelling future event alleged supernatural agency. health practicioners usin herbs. the Nordic Runes. .” this is a misleading definition. In tracing the historical roots of alchemy to shamanic knowledge-seeking traditions myself what happened to the understanding and practice of altered states of consciou – the “shamanic journey” to acquire healing knowledge and power. I would define it as the practice of seeking healing. They also referred to it as the Art. purificatio. We must remember that shamanic practices arose in hunter-g societies. mortificatio. and one tap direct intuitive knowing -. offers insightf interpretations and symbolic elaborations of these alchemical operations and others. or animus and anima. w fact opus . the alchemical vessel. the working with light-fire energies. accessories are dispensed with.about the past. particularly among hunters. and not merely the mentalemotional psyche. Spirit. inner sou commonly called the spirit world or divine world (hence the term divination). or King Queen. or the reading of patterns of stones or bones.
his dream. toward a pre-determined target. and then recollection or remembering. In remote viewing an individual attempts to clairvoyantly “see” across the b of space and time. and alchemical light-fire yogic methods to clarify perception. that lead to being trained in medicine – realizing his vision. normal timeframework of the querent. for integration. for the causal link to deliberate sorcery or the splitting off of a psychic identity fragment. In the shamanic knowledge-seeking and visionary traditio poses questions to the spirits with which one is allied. one by one.”. also known as augur prophecy. I have come to see anamnestic regression. The past pain or trauma then needs to be integrated into one’s present real sense of self. for the healing process to be complete. The f unlike the past. foresight. to diagnose or find the causal root of il pain. centered states are used to facilitate transcendi space-time boundaries. In both processes. scenarios. in relation to the past. divination the intention or question of the divination guides the process. presentiment. meditative. then brings the visionary inspiration back into the present to be integrated into one’s present sense of self. unknown to the remote viewer or tester. as Western medicine does. The young child who envisions him/herself as a doctor in the f will then need to take the steps. or virus. So alchemical divination is divination focussed on questions of personal and collect transformation. espe business people. A completely parallel situation obtains for the vision. for diagnosis and catharsis. do this kind of anticipation or projection of future trends all the tim there are scientific books and conferences about various approaches to doing this. The chief difference in shamanic. There is no personal involvement or relevance of the target to the individual. and that ma totally personal. or memor work. or visioning is not foretelling or predicting. or germ. M memory and visioning are the same brain-mind function – just looking in two differ directions. is probabilistic and the visions sought in a vision quest or entheogen ceremony are not inner movies passively received – they are instructions or guidanc involving the individual in possible or likely future situations. we could say psychologica questions are addressed to the Higher Self. We may look.It should be understood though that divination about the future. So healing or therapy involves double process: regression.or guidance-seeking process o future divination. or bacteria or wounding or trauma – where som came into the system that was disruptive. One “looks ahead”. for th cause of infection. Divinatory questions abou healing always involve looking into the past. hermetic and other esoteric traditions is that one goes into a mild altered state to do t divinatory questioning. the hidden present and the probable paths to th future. or visioning work. down the probability lines of time-and-space. . ca forecasting. attempting to rise out of the inevitably limited. as many indigenous tradi do. It uses alchemical symbolism to frame the question and answer process. Or we may look. or. Ordinary people. like the two-faced Roman deity Janus – the god of passageways and door One particular variant of divinatory seeing is “remote viewing. which has attracted notoriety because of its apparent use by the American military in espionage and psyc warfare. trauma or unresolved problem. trend analysis and the like. as essentially similar and parallel to divinatory foresight. The questioner seeks answers to personal questions of the past or th future.
Green Earth Foundation Ralph Metzner PO Box 327 El Verano.In the alchemical divination practices that I teach. expanded or heightened sta consciousness. and are m easily learned without them. induced by guided Agni Yoga (Light-Fire) meditations. chanting and selected movement practices. CA 95433 Welcome | About Us | Consciousness Studies | Shamanism & Earth Mythology | Green & Eco Psychology Metzner Alchemical Divination | Books & Publications | Ralph Metzner | Contact Us . mild. they are not dependent on such amplification. are used in preparing for the operations of the divination. thus maximizing receptivity to the subtle inner promptings from Spirit. Th divination practices can also be used in expanded states of consciousness induced b assisting plants – however. enhanced by breathi toning. The meditations. serve to clear the mind and calm emotions.