alchemy_FAAlchemy FAQ: Your Questions About Ancient Alchemy Answered Here

Have a Question About Alchemy or Personal Transformation?
(These questions are answered by practicing alchemists recommended by the International Alchemy Guild.)

Question: I have a theoretical question for you. If Grail energy was manifest, what was the potential for power that made the ancient alchemists destroy, hide, or code their work? How would that apply to a modern setting? If you had the Grail in front of you, how would you use it?

Answer: The Grail energy for the alchemists was associated with the First Matter, a kind of formless energy/matter/light that had almost unimaginable potential. You have to realized that this was a very real concept for them; they thought it had a physical form that manifested sometimes as balls of light, phantom vessels, or even as creatures like unicorns. This is the fundamental and most secret concept in alchemy. All I may say is that I too have seen it; I too know it is real. And its power is greater than anything we now have in our science, though we are approaching an understanding of it in the equation of the universe (E=MC2). Knowing this and seeing this, however, has not made me any greater personally. In other words my ego, is not involved. Do you remember the crucial question in the Grail myths — Whom does the Grail serve? It serves the King is the answer. It serves the King, not me.

Question: I’m reading THE EMERALD TABLET, which I’m finding fascinating. I don’t know anything about alchemy; this is the first book I’ve read on it. On page 47 of the book there is a quote, “look in the deepest of your wounds, for there lies the gold of your being.” What does that mean? Also, here is one of my favorite poems. I don’t know who wrote it, but it reminds me of what I’m reading in THE EMERALD TABLET:

Tell a wise person or else keep silent, for those who do not understand will mock it right away.

I praise what is truly alive, what longs to be burned to death in the calm waters of the love nights, where you were begotten, where you have begotten.

A strange silence comes over you, as you watch the silence and the burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness, and the desire for high lovemaking sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter: Now arriving in the magic, flying, and finally insane for the light.

You are a butterfly and you are gone.

And so long as you have not experienced this, to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

Answer: What a beautiful poem! If you ever think of the author, let me know. As for your question, the idea that the gold of our being accumulates in the deepest of our wounds means that our innocence, our true being, is a fragile thing, a truly golden presence that is somewhat shocked by the harshness of the world, and once wounded it gives up a part of itself. To really understand this, you might think of a child, who hurt by some action, event, or even slight of tongue retreats into itself for refuge. It does not mean that the child has lost that part of him- or herself. It just means they have buried it or hidden it away to protect so it is no longer “exposed.” The source of the pain may go away, but the feelings are still buried. Those feelings carry tremendous energy, and through the alchemical process of Dissolution we can retrieve that energy to fuel our transformation to create a new self, true to our essence, that does not have to be hidden away.

Question: I was wondering if you have or will someday have a chat room where alchemists can connect in real time and share info with each other?

Answer: You’re in luck! I have just agreed to host a regular Internet chat room devoted to alchemy and personal transformation. It is a chance to share your questions and gain insight into alchemical methods no matter what your level of expertise. We will also discuss personal transformation and the meaning of mystical and paranormal experiences. The two-hour discussion starts at 9:00 PM EST (or 8:00 CST/ 7:00 MST/ 6:00 PST) on alternate Saturdays. It is hosted by the ADC Project website, which is devoted to counseling people who have questions about transpersonal experiences. To join the discussion, go to ADC chat rooms section at Choose a nickname and select “Alchemy” from the pull-down list. Schedule for 1999: August 7, 21; September 4, 18; October 2, 16, 30; November 13, 27; December 11.

Question: I wanted to ask you about the the seven “steps” revealed by the Emerald Tablet versus the twelve steps inferred by adepts such as Basil Valentine and George Ripley. Are the additional operations in the twelve step process included within the seven steps? Or are they really two separate systems?

Answer: The seven-step tradition dates back to the Emerald Tablet, while the twelve-step is usually associated with astrological archetypes. As I described in my book THE EMERALD TABLET, these two systems are completely compatible. Obviously, the tablet’s system consolidates several steps together. For instance, the operation of Putrefaction is a preliminary stage to Fermentation (or Digestion); Cibation (or adding moisture at just the right moment) is part of the Dissolution process; Amalgamation is a metallic Conjunction; Cohobation and Sublimation are usually associated with Distillation; Projection and Multiplication are most often associated with Coagulation. As for the twelve signs of the zodiac, the following associations have been made by alchemists Calcination – Aries (sometimes Sagittarius); Dissolution – Cancer; Separation – Scorpio (and sometimes Sagittarius); Conjunction – Taurus; Fermentation – Leo and Capricorn; Distillation – Virgo and Libra; Coagulation – Gemini, Pisces, and Aquarius.

Question: I think I started the alchemical process inadvertently by studying certain related topics. I believe I felt the dissolution of my ego and it caused me to panic, and I fear I have aborted the Work. Is it possible to continue or begin again? Can you explain to me the concept of a “fallen angel” from an alchemical point of view?

the Alchemist: Certainly the dissolution of ego can be a frightening experience, but I think in the midst of your “panic” you must have sensed a quieter, more resilient, and more genuine presence within. When the falsity of ego is overcome, the essence within is allowed to shine and you return to your true identity. That is the whole point of the early stages of psychological alchemy. That hidden essence is all that we work with in the higher stages. Begin again now! You have nothing to fear and everything to gain.

As for your second question, we are all “fallen angels” from the alchemical point of view. From the viewpoint of alchemy, a “fallen angel” is anyone who for whatever reason has abandoned the Great Work. This is also a way of describing our loss of innocence and purity both as individuals and as a species. Just as each of us has fallen from the golden innocence of childhood into the guilt and falsity of adulthood, so have we fallen as a civilization from having perfect knowledge to living in darkness. In both cases the culprit is focusing on worldly gain that is the birth of ego in children and the birth of the superego of dogma and prejudice in society. I believe the whole world is living a Great Lie, and we will all suffer the consequences until we learn to live in truth on all levels of our being.

Question: What is the Bird of Sublimation?

the Alchemist: The Bird of Sublimation refers to the concluding process of Distillation in which a substance (solid or dense liquid) being distilled, suddenly condenses from the rising vapors and collects in a highly purified powdery form in the neck of the vessel. This passing from the vaporous state to the solid state marks the beginning of the Coagulation phase in the production of the Stone. The Bird of Sublimation is often associated with the Phoenix, the mythical bird that roses in the smoke from its ashes and was reborn. It is also associated with the Astral Body, which according to the great alchemist Paracelsus, is our purified spiritual or golden body that coagulates at the end of our personal transformation and represents a rebirth of spirit on a higher level.

Question: Could you please advise how I might obtain a simple list of alchemical symbols (elements, principles, metals, acids, etc). In particular, what is the alchemical symbol for Spirit of Salt? By the way, your website is very interesting and extremely well designed. Well done!

the Alchemist: Good news! In the Alchemy Resources section on this website at the beginning of the Alchemy Electronic Dictionary is a graphic with scores of alchemical symbols. Simply click on a symbol to see its definition. You can also download a variety of Hermetic fonts. The Spirit of Salt, however, is one of those ideas that is depicted in a variety of ways. A square or cube is the symbol for salt, and a cube suspended from a rope from Above is interpreted as the Spirit of Salt. Sometimes, the Spirit of Salt is shown as a cube with five stars around it. This of course, is the Quintessence or Fifth Element, which is the Life Force. In the final analysis, the Spirit of Salt is the Astral Body, the most highly purified Second Body of Light.

Question: Your book THE EMERALD TABLET, on page 143 where you discuss the Emerald Tablet engraving, discusses the lady’s right hand is holding the grapes and it is the right hand that is chained to the Clouds of Unknowing. What is the significance of the chained hand holding the grapes?

the Alchemist: The right hand represents solar, rational consciousness; the left hand represents lunar, intuitive consciousness. This was known in the Middle Ages and confirmed in modern experiments with right/left brain hemispheres. It is now known that the left brain (which controls the right hand) is the seat of rational or scientific thinking, while the right brain (which controls the left hand) is the seat of intuitive or artistic behavior. Grapes are a classic symbol of the Life Force, thus the right hand as rational thought hinders life force or keeps it from expanding to include the unknown realm. When grapes are “spiritized” or crushed and fermented to make wine, it symbolizes the sacrifice of life force we must make to enter “the Kingdom.”

Question: If we were to apply the template of alchemy to the United States, which operation do you think would be in right now? This is just a question that came to my mind in the wee hours of the morning. Manly P. Hall has a book about the significance of the U.S. but I haven’t read it. Have you any thoughts?

the Alchemist: Many believe the United States is the result of the alchemy of the whole planet’s history. In many ways, the founding fathers incorporated Hermetic principles into the creation of this country. Certainly, freedom of consciousness is a necessary ingredient in the alchemy of perfection. It is an idea that the founding fathers incorporated into our constitution, as pointed out by Manly Hall and in the chapter on Hermetic America in THE EMERALD TABLET. In fact, freedom is required for evolution on any level. Looking at the nation itself, I would say that it could lead the world into a wonderful Fermentation of higher consciousness if the patriarchal powers that be allow it to happen.

Question: Will the coming Avatar be required to trace the steps of the Alchemist or will He/She be born an enlightened being? If He/She does then what makes them different from any other spiritual healer?

the Alchemist: The stages of spiritual alchemy are universal and take place on a gradual spiral of becoming that most Eastern alchemists believe can take many lifetimes before perfection is achieved. The Avatar will be born a more enlightened being than anyone around him or her, much like Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed. Their advanced state of personal alchemy is what makes them different from other spiritual healers. Yet it is part of their own personal alchemy to be present in material form amongst us, part of the Coagulation operations of Multiplication and Projection to make their enlightenment “real” or grounded in reality. As the Emerald Tablet says, “Its inherent strength is perfected if it is turned into Earth.” Even the Stone “returns again to Earth.”

Question: I am sorry that I do not have time to completely look through your site right now. I was simply wondering if alchemy has a separate definition of matter and energy or whether they are placed as a part of a higher level.

the Alchemist: Alchemy defines matter and energy as one and the same. That is, they are transformable into one another through the agent of mind. That idea is very much in line with the view held in modern physics, except the agent of transformation is light. In fact, if the “C” in E=MC2 stood for consciousness instead of the speed of light, the alchemical and the modern definitions would be identical!

Question: I am a High School Student, but I hope to understand as much as possible on Alchemy. In a part of the site speaking of the Emerald Tablet, you said that Alchemy tries to advance humans to a new evolutionary level. Could one consider radiation capable of doing this? I understand that in Chernobyl in the Ukraine the deer in the area had a greatly increased rate of mutation, and mutation is what causes evolution.

the Alchemist: Your idea about radiological mutation being alchemical in nature is quite intriguing. I think the alchemists fully believed that bodily mutation (perfection) was part of their art and they experimented on creating a variety of life forms. The big difference is that mutation caused by the random decay of isotopes is not intentional and produces unexpected and unwanted results for the most part. The question remains whether the use of alchemical will or mental discipline could somehow “direct” the particles to hit correct areas of the DNA strand to cause desirable mutations. Using mental imagery is known to help cure diseases, and in particular, research by physicist Helmut Schmidt has shown that subjects can affect the rate of radioactive decay through concentration. Since this rate is set by nature, the results are astonishing. So I would say that it is indeed possible to increase the rate of desirable mutation (and therefore the evolution of our species) through willed direction of radioactive energies. Whether anyone has yet developed the purified consciousness to do that, of course, is another question.

Question: I have met two self-described alchemists. Both were extremely overweight, had serious health problems, and rotten teeth! Is this typical? I find it hard to lend credence to the philosophy of someone who cannot care for they own bodily health. I am curious about this because I think alchemy has a global impact behind the scenes. Ultimately, this may be the route to solving many world problems. However, the reason for my asking about physically unhealthy self-described alchemists is a concern about the possibility of a network of unhealthy people out there who call themselves alchemists. Do you have any comment on this, and the possibility of poor “spiritual hygiene.”?

the Alchemist: I have to agree that I am often disappointed by spiritual leaders who speak of perfection and neither manifest nor seek it on all levels on which they exist. To be spiritual does not mean to become a radical ascetic and totally ignore the reality and care of the body. This is a form of “monk’s pride,” a silent belief that you are superior to others because of some spiritual discipline you follow. Such a person needs to get real! As the alchemists believed, you must FIRST be healthy and in sound mind even to start the Great Work. Plus, perfection always takes place on all three levels of reality — the spiritual, the mental, and the physical. I am hardly perfected, but I try to practice alchemy every day on every level. Besides my meditation and psychological disciplines, I pay attention to my body. I am neither unhealthy nor overweight; I am a vegetarian and jog fifteen miles a week. I want to achieve optimum health, so I can practice the Great Work with all the energy and clear-headedness I can muster.