You are on page 1of 4

The term Alchemy comes from the Arabic Al Khem which in turn is said to come from the

Egyptian Kem meaning Black and referring to the Egyptians name for their country, Kemet
the Black land. Thus the term Alchemy is the origin of the term Black Art though the
meaning is very different than that later ascribed to the phrase.

However others say that the word comes from the Greek Cheme. Considering that the
Egyptians and the Greeks were in close contact for hundreds of years, and that the Greeks in
fact ruled Egypt through the Ptolemaic dynasty for three hundred years and seriously influenced
Egyptian culture, the term could very well be a play on both words.

The Hellenistic era and Hellenistic Egypt in particular, was a very fertile time in the history of
magic. Ancient forms of magic met and merged creating new disciplines. Magical forms still very
much in use today, such as Hermeticism and Alchemy, have their origin in Hellenistic Egypt.

Most people have a very mistaken view of what Alchemy is, based largely upon the caricatures
of its enemies and the misunderstandings of the uninformed. The image of the Alchemist as
benighted proto-chemist vainly bent on turning lead into gold, totally misses the point of
Alchemical thought.

It is true the Western Alchemists like their Chinese counterparts did work with a variety of
substances to try and create various elixirs and arcane effects including the idea of
transmutation of base metals. However this was a small aspect of Alchemy and to define
Alchemy by this is like defining Taoism as the search for the elixir of immortality it misses the
real point altogether.

In reality Alchemy was and is an advanced spiritual discipline, closely related to modern Wicca
in its concepts and images. These concepts and images were presented in largely coded form,
so that they could be read by the unenlightened as relating to chemistry and physical
operations, and by the enlightened as a system of spiritual wisdom.

Thus the true Alchemist was not trying to turn ordinary lead into gold, though the casual
observer might reasonably think so from how things were presented. Rather they were striving
to turn the lead of an ordinary and undeveloped consciousness into the gold of a fully
realized and enlightened Soul.

Like modern Wicca, Alchemy saw the world as a Male/Female duality. Alchemical ideas about
this duality are strikingly similar to Wiccan ideas about Goddess and God.

The Masculine Polarity was thought of as Red and Fixed: The Feminine Polarity as White and
Volatile. The union of these two produced the physical world.

The Great Work or Alchemical Marriage was the quest to unite and transcend this duality.
It is the Great Work which is often mistakenly described as the quest to transmute base
metals.

The Great Work began with what is termed Materia Prima. This is the ordinary state of being
-the lead in the analogy. The Great Work ended in the creation of the Philosophers Stone.
This is enlightenment, or the gold of the analogy.
The Materia Prima was considered to have both a masculine and a feminine aspect, which
were in opposition within it until brought into alignment through the Great Work hence the
term Alchemical Marriage.

The Great Work has three main parts: The Nigredo: the Albedo: and finally the Rubedo. These
correspond to the sacred colors of the Wiccan Goddess: black, white, and red. In addition a
fourth stage called the Cauda Pavonis marked the transition between Nigredo and Albedo.

Symbolically the Materia Prima was described as being placed into an Athanor or Alchemical
Furnace which subjected it to steady pressure and reduced it to its constituent parts: this
residue was the Nigredo, the destruction of preconceived forms considered necessary for new
growth to occur.

What this really means is that before one can grow spiritually one must first eliminate old
ideas and limitations. As the Zen Buddhists say: Only an empty bowl can be filled.

Alchemists described this principle through the Maxim No generation without Corruption
an idea similar to the Wiccan To Rise You Must Fall. New growth cannot take place until the
old is cleared away.

The Nigredo then fermented until at length the Cauda Pavonis occurred this was portrayed as
a light show of many colors.

This means that when we have purified ourselves of old ideas, we may then experience many
new ideas and indeed will at first run riot with them, learning all we can from all sources.

During this period we may in fact be bedazzled or blinded by the newfound light, but through
the application of self-control we can learn to discern what is helpful to our growth and what is
merely entertaining.

After the Cauda Pavonis the subject must be purified, resulting in the Albedo. The Albedo is a
pure and receptive spiritual state.

This means that after initial euphoria, a more controlled spiritual growth may unfold, elevating
and expanding the consciousness.

Finally, after being subjected to pressure again, the Albedo becomes activated as the Rubedo.

What this means is that spiritual knowledge to be valuable must be put into practice. No
matter how deep the ideas or how great the abilities, they mean nothing if they are, as Mable
High-Correll once put it, left on a shelf to gather dust.

Thus old ideas must first be transcended, then controlled spiritual growth can lead to spiritual
enlightenment, which must be put into practice to be of value.
This is of course, and over-simplification. In that it is the opposite of the Alchemists own
tendency which was to over-complications. Like the Ceremonials, Alchemists phrased their
writings in intentionally obscure wording ostensibly to shield their teachings from those they
considered unworthy. It also served to shield themselves
from persecution by religious fanatics.

Alchemists used a rich symbology that included elemental, planetary, and mineral symbolism
as well as a good dose of ancient Paganism.

One of the principle themes of Alchemical symbolism is the Union of Opposites, which is
expressed in many ways throughout Alchemical art.

Such familiar figures as the four elements, the twin dragons, and the Ourobouros, the Great
Serpent of the Universe eating its own tail, were of great importance in Alchemy.

The Masculine principle was likened to the Sun and also to Sulphur, while the Feminine was
considered Lunar and likened to Mercury.

The Inner Fire what we today call the Eternal Flame or Divine Spark was described as a salt.

It is this mineral symbolism above all which has led to the idea that Alchemy was entirely
concerned with proto-chemistry operations. True Alchemists did engage in such proto-
chemistry operations in the belief that it would shed light on their spiritual operations, under
the credo As Above So Below which is principle pillar of alchemical thought as of modern
Wiccan thought.

However it was the dilatant Alchemist who misunderstood the spiritual nature of the teaching
and turned instead to chemical operations, not realizing that they were a code for higher
knowledge.

It is not possible of course to do a more thorough examination of Alchemical thought and


symbolism in this format, but hopefully this brief discussion will be enough to give an
indication of its nature and content as well as the extent to which it is misunderstood.
Above: The Androgyne, God/dess united,
an important symbol in Alchemical art, here taken after an illustration from the Philosophia
Reformata. The three-headed serpent arising from the Goddess Chalice represents the three
sta