Sunday, 7 May 2017

What is Alchemy?

Alchemy is known as the 'royal art' and was the earliest form of chemistry, once considered to be immensely powerful, secret and expensive, so requiring very wealthy patrons. These patrons were promised marvellous things in return for their patronage, such as the ability to turn cheap metal into gold, and an elixir which would give eternal life. When I was young, I was fascinated by alchemy, once in times gone by, a burdensome and secretive work over stills and furnaces which involved strange sequences of mystical arts which included a science project featuring explosions. I visited the British Library to read mediaeval texts pertaining to the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life, and I saw illustrations of extraordinary monsters, crowned kings, wolves, lepers, marriages, peacocks, the slaughter of children, dragons, and other everyday - and less than everyday - matters. Could base metals ever be turned into pure gold? It is said in occult circles that Albertus Magnus 1280, could change lead into gold but this, of course, is impossible, though the British Museum has a medallion that belonged to the alchemist and magician John Dee that was said to have been created from alchemical gold. 

Working with metal has always been a highly secretive and skilful art. The ancient blacksmiths kept private their ability to make their most expensive items, thevswords. Is
The writer Idries Shah told a story about a Scotswoman who married an Afghan man, and through him was introduced to an alchemist named Aquil Kha, a Pathan who is purported to have produced a gold substance by using silver and a stone baked in clay over a fire. One wonders about the 'I know sim,eone, who knows someone' kind of story. It is likely electroplating is an ancient art and could be the origin of the fervour to turn base metal into gold. 
It was many years before I read the works of the psychologist, Carl Jung, who suggested that base metal was a symbol for the lusts and greeds of humankind, death being a dissolving of attitudes, ideas and complexes where self-questioning is placed in the fiery furnace to emerge as a new life in truth, peace and love. The pure gold that emerges after the long, arduous process, is a person of integrity, caring, and wise actions, as these are the final stages of Jung's ‘individuation’ process.
The word ‘alchemical’ originates, it is thought, from the root word ‘khem’ a word used in ancient Egypt to describe the fertility of the flood plains around the Nile river and their knowledge of chemistry was involved thousands of years ago in the preservation of mummies. Greece named Egypt, Khemia. Recently, I was speaking about my interest in alchemy to someone from Italy who told me a story about the manufacture of glass, known in Italy since Roman times. This was such an immensely valuable commodity, where common sand could be transformed into a vast solid through which light could pass without obstacle and could keep out the wind and rain. This solid, transparent substance could be mixed with colour to produce amazing beauty and magic when the sun shone through it. So important was this process that the knowledge was retained by one family who lived on an island and no-one was allowed to visit them incase knowledge of the process was stolen.
I later was told that the Chinese used only a few guides through the silk route mountains, thereby protecting the knowledge of the method of the production of their beautiful silk and fine porcelain from those who were unable to produce even an inferior quality imitation substance. I wondered if these instances were an equivalent of the mystical process of alchemy as the masters of the science of the times tried to create valuable items, such as glass and silk and Kaolin porcelain.
I was recently reading a book about the Kabbalah, the mystical path of the Jews, known since very ancient times. Though unexplainable to a large degree, the process of using the Kabbalah as a tool of self-development, involves of moving through levels of kindness, wisdom, forgiveness, understanding and other virtues to ascend to a more spiritual life path. This could be considered an alchemical spirituality of a kind, the transformation of an ordinary person into a person of great merit and renown.
Perhaps the greatest level of creativity is the creation of ourselves as a person who can think, act and possibly change the world for the better. Each moment we spend with others is a work in progress, an offering of ourselves as seekers of a spiritual path of sincerity, caring and peace. For women, there is the possibility of motherhood, the bringing into the world of another life and this is perhaps the greatest creative moment in time, of chemistry, the miracle of life, an act only possible in nature and overseen by the Creative Intelligence that created our great universe the galaxies and our solar system and the blue planet upon which we live. We can look around at the vast variety of plants and animal species that live in the frozen tundra and in the barren deserts and in the hot, wet rain forests. Many human inventions were inspired by studying other species, such as radar from bats and aerodynamics from birds. We need only think of the immense beauty of colour in a sunset and sunrise, the fish on a barrier reef and bird feathers, all of which delight with harmonies and contrasts. With seven billion people on our planet, none have, or have ever had, the same fingerprints, eye colours, DNA or personality as we have. We are indeed unique and have an individual and eternal soul that is precious beyond price. Wendy Stokes:


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