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The Art of Alchemy

Updated on August 30, 2017

"The alchemists in their search for gold discovered many other things of greater value." ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Alchemy is the study of transformation, and this discipline overlaps the worlds of art, science, philosophy, medicine and spirituality.  Practitioners of the alchemical arts were located in ancient India, Arabia, China, Egypt, with later adepts based in Europe.

It is experiencing a revival as of late, with a variety of people exploring it as a multi-denominational spiritual vehicle. The laboratory side is also making a comeback in the healing/medical realm as people seek more organic means to treat disease.

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismigestus

It is said that all the secrets of alchemy are contained below, hidden in full sight within the text of the Emerald Tablet, as composed by Hermes Trismigestus, author of many mystical tracts.

True, without falsehood, certain and most true, that which is above is as that which is below, and that which is below is as that which is above, for the performance of the miracles of the One Thing.

And as all things are from One, by the mediation of One, so all things have their birth from this One Thing by adaptation. The Sun is its father, the Moon its mother, and the Wind carries it in its belly, its nurse is the Earth. This is the father of all perfection, or consummation of the whole world. Its power is integrating, if it be turned into earth.

Thou shalt separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, suavely, and with great ingenuity. It ascends from earth to heaven and descends again to earth, and receives the power of the superiors and of the inferiors. So thou hast the glory of the whole world; therefore let all obscurity flee before thee.

This is the strong force of all forces, overcoming every subtle and penetrating every solid thing. So the world was created. Hence were all wonderful adaptations, of which this is the manner. Therefore am I called Hermes Trismigestus, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world. What I have to tell is completed, concerning the Operation of the Sun.

Alchemists have studied and analyzed the preceding words for centuries, basing many of their physical and spiritual experiments on its phrases.

My Alchemical Library - books I've read and collected on alchemy

Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy
Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy

This great book not only provides explanations of classical alchemy and alchemical concepts, it shows the direct connection to chemistry and offers guidance for doing actual alchemy experiments.

 
The Weiser Concise Guide to Alchemy (The Weiser Concise Guide Series)
The Weiser Concise Guide to Alchemy (The Weiser Concise Guide Series)

This recent publication is much more of a good, overall introduction to alchemy and from reading this book I finally started to grasp the interconnections of all the theories and also better understood how alchemy is a sort of world tradition, having had input from many major cultures over the centuries.

 
Alchemy Art of Transformation
Alchemy Art of Transformation

With this book, I found the concepts of alchemy starting to "coagula" and not just "solve" within my mind. The ideas and psychology that underlie and intertwine with alchemical thought really started to be more clear. I think it was after reading this book that I decided to purposely put more energy and time into the study of alchemy.

 
Alchemical Healing: A Guide to Spiritual, Physical, and Transformational Medicine
Alchemical Healing: A Guide to Spiritual, Physical, and Transformational Medicine

I love this book for the meditative exercises and stories of how the author has applied alchemical concepts to the process of healing. I'm not sure I'd ready to do the type of energy work she describes, but I appreciate the practices and exercises that are found in this book as I move along my alchemical path.

 
The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy: An Herbalist's Guide to Preparing Medicinal Essences, Tinctures, and Elixirs
The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy: An Herbalist's Guide to Preparing Medicinal Essences, Tinctures, and Elixirs

So as to avail myself of a wonderful backyard garden full of plants and make it relate to alchemy, I've started to study up on making spagyric tinctures. This book touches on European alchemical thought as well as Eastern alchemical philosophies, revealing more facets and ways of interpreting the ideas.

 

The Emerald Tablet Explored

This is considered by many to be the core text of Alchemy. This thirteen line composition is said to contain all the answers to the workings of the Universe. These links lead to various translations and discussions of this seminal work.

The Great Work - Ora et Labora

"Ora et Labora" translates roughly as "work as prayer." The alchemist's laboratory is seen as a place of both work and enlightenment.

The Expanding Alchemy Library - books for those who've learned the basics and want to go deeper

Slowly but surely, the alchemy section of my book collection has been getting larger and larger. Here are some titles I found to be good for both broadening and deepening my explorations of alchemy.

The Way of the Crucible
The Way of the Crucible

This second volume from Robert Bartlett takes those with an interest in lab alchemy deeper into the process.

 
Alchemical Psychology: Old Recipes for Living in a New World
Alchemical Psychology: Old Recipes for Living in a New World

If your interests are more along the lines of inner alchemy and the psychological process, give this one a read!

 
A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery
A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery

Whether you are trying to decipher an arcane recipe or interpret some of the wonderful alchemical art that's survived the years, having a book like this on hand can be very useful.

 

Famous Alchemists

The men and women who worked with Alchemy and whose notes and experiments still provide guidance today.

Alchemy Around The Fire - some modern alchemists are using the fire circle as the crucible

Physical Transformation or Inner Quest? - what is your approach to alchemy?

The above and the below. For some this means physical transformation but for others, the pursuit of alchemy is more of an inner quest. How do you approach the Great Work?

How do you practice or approach alchemy?

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