James Hillman

What You Should Know About History Of Alchemy

Over two thousand years ago, the practice of Alchemy first became known, based on what remains of the ancient writings and holy texts from several cultures.  Alchemy is, both in theory and in practice, a duality; acting as both a spiritual and tangible science.  It deals with the attainment and understanding of knowledge.  Understanding of nature and our place in it. Of a path to attaining personal and, in turn, material perfection. And to the transcendence that comes with attaining such lofty goals as, gold made from any other metal, a universal healing tonic or even the key to immortality. 

Practitioners aimed at understanding the interconnectivity of matter and energy, which was believed to stem from a single, finite source which is shared amongst all forms taken.  They felt that the alchemist must first transform, or upgrade, themselves before being able to transfer and convey that understanding on a material plane.  As they all, and we too, are formed by matter, Alchemists sought to gain the ability to distinguish their place within that whole, thereby unlocking higher planes of existence.  At those levels, they could gain knowledge pertaining to the inner workings, relationships and characteristics the myriad of manifestations. 

In its infancy, the people of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China were performing similar yet, allegedly, independent rituals and trials.  As civilizations grew and more contact was made, it spread throughout Europe and the Arabic countries popularity and, naturally, competition amongst its devotees.  What is known, as far as source material for Alchemy’s genesis, is sparse; only one book from ancient Greece and a 100 volume collection from China being the most notable.  What has been accurately surmised, by professionals in such fields, is that Alchemy was an attempt to blur the line between science and religion.  To assist them, practitioners adopted methods from many other sciences such as metallurgy, astrology, hermetics and spiritualism. 

By breaking down certain forms of matter like metals, stone, fire, and even bone and flesh, into elemental categories, they could more easily see the relationships between them.  Using all kinds of caustic agents and performing all manner of experimentation, practitioners could affect these form and “transmute”, as they referred to it, one form into another.  The Egyptian and Arabic methods dealt more with metallurgy and transmutation of like elements with the hopes of creating gold from lesser metals.  Whereas the Chinese and Indian methods were more about breaking down and combining certain elements into powders to be then further combined with liquids or acids to produce elixirs, salves and tinctures.  Their ultimate goal being the “cure all” or panacea. 

There was an even higher achievement, known across the Alchemical world, called the Philosopher’s stone.  In some circles, it was thought to be a substances that exists in several different forms/capacities simultaneously, therefore, not a rock or gem at all.  Something never seen, or even imagined before.  Through the combination of alchemy, i.e. chemistry and physics, and the Kabballah, i.e. art, geometry and astronomy, one could not only reach enlightenment but bask in its glory for eternity.  Many factors were needed to complete this ultimate task.  It had to be the right date and time of day, location on or within the earth, the proper ingredients and agents, and so on.  Not only that, but the practitioner had to further pinpoint his location and only perform his experimentation within that sphere, which is comprised of an intricate design; as geometrically sound as it was engrained in symbolism.  Only the most learned and steadfast masters had any chance of succeeding and, as far as the accounts show, no one ever did.  Or at least the claims never stood up to scrutiny. 

Whether or not every practitioner and proponent of Alchemy obtained what they wanted from their endeavors, is of no consequence, currently.  What occurred, via the curiosity of civilized man, was the pursuit of perfection, both in the spiritual and material realms, and knowledge to make it so, at will.  The result was the birth of some of our modern day’s most important sciences and theosophies.  If only the many conquerors of the past had left the libraries alone, our ancestors could have possibly shook the hands of such pioneers, before bowing to their masters.   

Written by Colyn Freundorfer

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