the most important thing you need to learn about alchemy

At the risk of really flying the freak flag high, I want to talk about alchemy. Because I notice, with growing irritation, that the word gets bandied about a lot these days. It seems to be a stand in for the once-cool but now over used descriptive term fusion.

Its not just the metaphysics crowd – I see it now in general fiction and even in commercial use. There’s a trend, too, of using ‘alchemy’ in the title of books that have nothing to do with the subject. ‘Sexual Alchemy’, ‘the Alchemy of Policy Making’, ‘Editorial Alchemy’ ‘Garden Alchemy’ etc. (I’m rolling my eyes, if you can picture that)

And just lately there’s been some discussion, in other parts of the blogoshpere, about alchemy and the practice of ‘turning crap into gold’, to which I occasionally pipe up in defence of the Work and it not involving any actual fecal matter, that I’ve ever heard of.

Too literal, I say, excuse me but alchemy is all metaphor and allegory and mystery-with-a-capital-M. No pooh, if you please.

Oh I know they are not talking about real shit either – its the flippancy that bothers me (hence my flippant tone now).

There’s a general idea circulating about Alchemy that it involves madly and magically transforming things into gold. The archetypal Alchemist is an old man in a pointy hat, long white beard and dark robes, labouring to produce the impossible. An image arcane and laughable at once. Not quite a snake-oil merchant, but not far off.

Oh and the other idea is that alchemy is a long-dead science harking back to the reformation era origins of chemistry and other sciences. Which, OK, is sort of true, but is still only a part of the picture.

Truth told, I only have part of the picture myself, and I’ve been studying alchemy for about four years now. Its not a long time – men such as Isaac Newton and Carl Jung dedicated decades of their lives to it, so I am even lower than an apprentice.

Having been drawn to alchemy on a quest for insight into my own restlessness and dissatisfaction as a mother and woman in a world that often appears to appreciate neither – I’ve worked my way through many books and classes and performed my nigredo in drawing and other creative works and my life as a whole.

Along the way I’ve had a lot of arguments with sixty-something Freemasons, become frustrated with asking questions to which answers never came (or which I missed entirely); laughed at obscure, strange old texts (as I’m certain they were meant to be laughed at) written by Fraters with all-too-obvious Latin pseudonyms; puzzled over quantum mechanics and laws of the universe; and got my hands and face dirty grinding up antimony in the laboratory of two of the coolest people I’ve ever met, real alchemists.

I’ve learned meditation, astrology, qabala, sacred geometry, sacred languages – a plethora of sacred things. I’ve learned and relearned the meaning of the word esoteric and to stop talking, stop listening and believing my own thoughts – to stay still, and to contain myself. I learned the true meaning of disipline.

Most of all, though, I learned to embrace all things as being perfect according to their own nature.

And that’s only the beginning of Alchemy as I understand it.

Yeah, its frustrating to see it all so trivialised, and more so because – and this is it, the most important thing – whatever anyone may think alchemy is they are right.

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