David – Chapters 14-17 (Practical Alchemy)

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s been quite awhile since the last reflection. As promised The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy has been much more a journey than a simple reading. My life has been moving in a number of directions this year, so it seems best to reflect as reflection comes rather than forcing anything. Suffice to say that underneath the swell of circumstance, the wisdom gained through Dennis Hauck’s introduction to the alchemical art, and the off roads it points to, has been invaluable.

In chapters 14-17 of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy we are presented with the practical nature of the art. Prior chapters, for as many full and profound revelations they hold, serve merely to massage our world view, preparing us for the reality that, yes, alchemy does involve material preparations, but, no, it is not proto-chemistry.  For within the Art, everything is alive with spirit, from a sliver of silver to a fully realized human being, everything participates in universal Life.

“From the alchemist’s viewpoint, chemistry is a superficial and artificial science that deals only with the external forms in which substances manifest while ignoring the essences of energy and light that created them…From our modern viewpoint, it’s hard to imagine how much a part of their experiments were teh alchemist’s themselves. All matter was alive to them, and they sympathized with the subject of their work every time they exposed it to fire, submerged it in acid, or bathed it in cooling waters.”

– from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy, by Dennis William Hauck

The practical work is alchemy itself. Outside of this there is merely technique and philosophy, but to actually practice the Art one must approach the matter hands on.

It seems there is some confusion in this matter due to the use of the term “alchemy” as an adjective for anything that involves change or transformation from one state to another. There is a correspondence here, at times a very deep correspondence, such as when the term is used for certain approaches to psychoanalysis, or in certain areas of the creative arts, but this remains merely a correspondence. Alchemy stands on its own, application of it’s techniques, philosophic insights or terminology merely indicates a similarity, or correlation, between the Art itself and what is being described.

This is not to reject other applications of the Wisdom gleaned from the Art, but it seems all too often that in the rush to find the Secret, to unveil the Mystery, it’s very easy to mistake sympathy and correspondence for the thing itself.

We stand at an incredible point in the history of our culture where all of the achievements so hard won in shadows, often under the threat of execution, are ours to partake in openly. Whether it’s the psychical discoveries of clandestine national laboratories, or the Arcanum itself, today all is open for those who seek and perservere in the quest.

Imagine that even as of the 19th century eager seekers and burgeoning adepti were still trading folios of rare manuscripts, paying exorbinant prices for rare books, and scrabbling to connect with others of like mind. Today we have instant communication around the world.

While you may not find transcendence on the web, you can very easily join the potent conversation that is going on across so many different disciplines, and those rare books are now just a Google search away. If, as in the past, we take the time to expand our understanding of languages and culture, even greater resources lie in store.

It seems particularly pertinent to reflect on the practical aspects of the Art, for, in a display of just how open this information has become, in less than a month Dennis will be hosting the first public demonstration of the Arcanum Experiment in the modern era. This was once performed before royalty in closed sessions, or farther back in dim lit chambers under the constant fear of persecution.

While alchemy itself has never been criminally charged, except for some brief periods where fears of forgery and ill gotten wealth lead to charges of fraud, these practices have always floated just outside of the orthodox. In certain social climates, even today, this is one step away from a jail cell, noose or a stake.

Due to some of the poisonous nature of some of the materials produced during the Arcanum experiment Dennis will be showing a video of his laboratory work at the Conference. This too is an example of how open things have become with our current communication technology. The picture at the beginning of this post is from the 20th century alchemist Julien Champagne’s laboratory, and for the most part this is as close to an alchemist’s inner sanctum as we could hope to get without initiation or fortuitous circumstance. Through video, however, we are now invited to not only view a practicing alchemist’s laboratory, but to actually take part in an active working.

“”During the process of fermentation, the First Matter was most exposed and most open to the influence of the alchemist. However, it was a delicate operation.

At the beginning of fermentation, the resurrected life was easily corrupted by another’s impure thoughts, which is why the alchemist always kept the incubator hidden – even from other alchemists. He believed that if anyone other than himself touched or even looked at this box, all would be lost…

To alchemists, consciousness was a force of nature that could be purified and directed through prayer and meditation. This esoteric part of the experiment was absolutely necessary for its success.”

– from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy, by Dennis William Hauck

Hermetic silence, the key to Adepthood, is a very tenuous gift.  Our open society calls for a true adoption of this secret if one is to successfully complete the Work. As the Medieval German theologian Meister Eckhart points out, it is one thing to be at peace in prayer when you are isolated from the crowd, it is another to be at peace amidst the maelstrom of society.

When the Catholic Church removed the veil provided a separation between the priest preparing communion and the congregation the mystery was open for all to behold. And what happened? Oh…it’s just…a piece of bread? Some wine? Who cares?

But the real mystery was that it worked, an empire was built on the ritual preparation and consumption of bread and wine. The intimacy of the Divine and the mundane, the story of creation, the story of redemption, are still there, but without a purified consciousness, without the eyes to see, it all appears so banal.

In a previous post I mentioned the spagyric work of Clare Goodrick-Clarke, and her latest book Alchemical Medicine for the 21st Century. Clare trained under the noted contemporary alchemist Manfred Junius, who was a member of the International Alchemy Guild until his passing in 2004. Spagyrics has not had the same level of mystique lauded upon it as the mineral and spiritual aspects of the Art, but it’s humble reception is no indicator of it’s true merit.

As Dennis points out in Chapter 15, the Western concept of spagyric preperations comes from Paracelsus, and represents the synthesis of traditional wisdom and scholarly study that he accumulated and refined over his years of practice as a medical doctor in the field. Today’s spagyric practice is even more diverse, having been informed directly by Ayurvedic, Taoist and other traditional medicinal philosophies through the cross cultural work of figures such as Junius.

This is no mere medicine however, and from their preparation to their administration, spagyrics represent a profound meditation on the relationship of Nature and the animating Energy that courses through every aspect of existence. Celestial influences, which are in turn mirrored or correpsondent to, mental influences and spiritual influences, are all represented, their drama played out in the spagyric work.

Within the full progression of the Art, spagyric preparations are used to prepare the body for attaining the Great Work.  In ancient thought our bodies were no different than plants, and by meditating, preparing, refining and applying these herbal medicines we bring the body back into alignment with its proper place in the natural order. As gardeners tending the soil from which the flower of consciousness springs.

The focus on the celestial elements in the preparation, through timing and awareness of stellar influence, brings us into alignment with the rhythm of the universal order. First, through the meditation and careful work necessary to prepare the spagyric materials, and secondly as those materials themselves work internally to realign the body.

This preparation is then used as the basis for the next stage of the work. Chapter 16  provides a valuable reminder that these processes are not high flown theory, but have very practical, everyday, applications. Dennis describes how spagyric preparations and tinctures can be prepared in the kitchen, which may surprise those who think of alchemy as an untouchable Art reserved for those with enough money to build a full laboratory.

This chapter is valuable not only for it’s practical advice, but also for the fact that it shows how our everyday existence is deeply integrated with the Sacred. One could fly through the spagyric process in order to create herbal remedies and essential oils, but if Dennis’ advice is headed, and the process is approached as a spiritual, as well as practical, discipline then the use of the kitchen itself becomes a means to bringing these insights directly into our seemingly mundane day to day reality.

With this we move into work that does require greater material preparation, but, as with everything related to the Art, this too can be seen as a reflection of it’s full importance.  Working with minerals and metals goes directly to the heart of the alchemical process, what Basil Valentine called “the first Tincture, Root, and Spirit of Metals and Minerals.”

From dust we are born, and to dust we return. So what makes up this dust? And if the return is spiritual, what does that mean? By applying the Art to the mineral and metallic realm we begin to inch closer to the Eternal. Metals and minerals last longer than a flower, and when refined and spiritualized it becomes representative of the Eternal processes of Life itself.

“”Remarkably, the iron sulfide structure of Fool’s Gold is exactly the same as the lead ore galena (lead sulfide). The only difference is that a pair of sulfur atoms in pyrite replace a single sulfur atom in galena. This pair of sulfur atoms disrupts the stubborn four-fold symmetry of the more ancient galena ore and produces a stunning transformation into Fool’s Gold. In esoteric terms, in the evolution of the metals, the appearance of the sulphur compound in iron (Fool’s Gold) has freed the lead archetype of its stubborn materiality and set form (Saturnalian aspect), and this notable transmutation is marked by the signature of gold.”

– from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy, by Dennis William Hauck

This is philosophy conducted in materia, theory and practice united and demonstrated through the visible interactions between metals and minerals.  Here again we see the necessity of a different form of consciousness when we approach the Art.

“It will be necessary first of all to utter, and to acquaint you by a speech, that all things consist of two parts, that is, Natural and Supernatural; what is visible, tangible, and hath form or shape, that is natural; but what is intactible, without form, and spiritual, that is supernatural, and must be apprehended and conceived by Faith; such is the Creation, and especially the Eternity of God without end, immensible and incomprehensible; for Nature cannot conceive nor apprehend it by its humane reason:

This is supernatural, what Reason cannot apprehend, but must be conceived by Faith, this is a Divine matter, and belongs to Theology, which judgeth Souls. Moreover, there appertains to supernatural things, the Angels of the Lord, having clarified Bodies, doing that by the permission of their Creator, which is impossible for any other Creature to do, their Works being concealed from the Eyes of the World, and so likewise are the Works of the Infernal Spirits and Devils unknown, which they do by the permission of the most High God. But above all the great Works of God are found and acknowledged to be supernatural, not to be scann’d and comprehended by Humane Imaginations…”

– from Of Natural & Supernatural Things, Also of the first Tincture, Root, and Spirit of Metals and Minerals, how the same are Conceived, Generated, Brought forth, Changed, and Augmented, by Basilius Valentinus

Dennis’ presentation of the various Nobel Metals shows how a philosophic understanding of these substances, and their relationships to each other, goes far beyond what is possible from a modern scientistic viewpoint. When discussing the esoteric properties of iron this becomes apparent even on a societal and cultural scale.

“The alchemists were certainly aware of the hidden signatures of iron and the social implications of the Iron Age. Several alchemists warned of the spiritual dangers of iron, even though they recognized it was a necessary stage in the Great Work and that the iron phase eventually led to the “transformation of the body into the Spirit-Become-Form.” in Alchemy, Titus Burkhardt quotes several alchemists who warned of the dangers of the Iron Age. One described it as “an active desscent of the Spirit into the lowest levels of human consciousness, so at this stage of the Work, the Spirit appears submerged in the body and as if extinguished in it.”

– from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy, by Dennis William Hauck

Here again I would encourage readers to branch out from the CIGA and engage with all of the threads of thought that Dennis has woven into the work. Titus Burkhardt is a seminal figure in the Traditionalist movement, and his writings provide a wonderful gateway to rethinking our social and cultural situation. Through the Eranos Conferences Burkhardt is connected to Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, Ioan Couliano, and a whole host of philosophers, scholars and creatives that sought to carry the ancient traditions into the contemporary world.

The interconnected nature of these figures, and their reflection on the work of past adepti, is a sign post to the interconnected nature of the Great Work itself. Here is a Mystery presented off hand, and yet deeply resonant with the truth of the matter. If the alchemist is working on themselves in the Great Work, how then does the Iron Age as a period of culture represent a phase of the Work?

Further illustrating these correspondences we see that descriptions of the planetary Venus are formed through observations of the chemical reactions found in her attendant metal, copper.  The overview of these correspondences provides a good grounding not only for working with these materials, but also provides a starting point for rethinking our understanding of the natural world.

For some additional elucidation of the Mineral and Metallic work, a good history of contemporary alchemy, specifically the Dry Path of Antimony carried on by the French tradition, as well as a very clear exposition of the process itself, can be found on Gyllene Gryningen’s site here.

It’s often asked what purpose alchemy can serve in today’s world, and a short side note by Dennis shows exactly what kind of influence alchemical investigations can have. Red mercury became a news item in the 1970’s when arms dealers began selling it on the black market for as much as $300, 000 a gram. It was purported to be a key component for creating an advanced nuclear weapon.

In the ensuing years the existence of Red Mercury has been shown to be a hoax in all of the instances when samples were able to be obtained from what was being put on the market. However, when we look at the fact that this hoax began from reports given by Samuel T. Cohen, the American physicist who invented the neutron bomb, the issue becomes much more difficult to immediately dismiss. Although the black market versions were fake, does that mean that the substance described by Cohen doesn’t exist?

What is scoffed at by the media, and considered folly by the masses, often holds a grain of truth that requires deeper study. So it is with alchemy, whose role in the origins of contemporary chemistry has clouded a much deeper tradition. A tradition that promises much more than merely a fancy symbolic language for describing chemical reactions. While public officials and the mass media play their shallow and facile political games, the Great Work continues in the studios, laboratories and minds of contemporary adepts who will define the culture that emerges from the next turn of the cosmic wheel.

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