What is Alchemy?

The term “alchemy” has been used to describe chemical, medical, psychological, and spiritual practices from China, Egypt, Europe, and elsewhere which lead to transformation and a realization in which all opposites — masculine and feminine, heaven and earth, divine and human, the whole and the part, the visible and the invisible; body, heart, mind and spirit — are reconciled, integrated and made whole (healed).

This universal human concept has been articulated and applied by chemists, magicians, yogis, metaphysicians, philosophers, physicians, and psychotherapists of many cultures for centuries, but the underlying principles are the same as those that guide the evolution and development of the universe and life itself. The core alchemical maxim “As above, so below; as below, so above” reveals that what we learn about the atom teaches us about the solar system, and what we see in natural processes reveals the pattern of our own development.

Alchemical medicine is the application of these principles in the doctor-patient relationship. The art of alchemical medicine is to mine the leaden existence of boredom, alienation, sorrow, selfishness, fear, dogma, and limitation; to refine it through the cultivation of new attitudes, activities, and habits; to temper these in the furnace of our most difficult experiences; and thus to transform our daily life into a golden work of art filled with compassion, strength, grace, and wonder.

As aspirants to the Great Work of alchemy, we are no one’s antagonists, yet we are ever-willing to explore and research beyond the bounds of convention in the interest of healing. The great physician and healer Paracelsus might serve as one example of our ideals. He is viewed as the father of modern medicine. He was perhaps the first in Western civilization to view the body as a biochemical entity and contributed much to the science of pharmacy. At the same time he believed that all entities – human, plant, animal, and mineral – possessed souls, and that the interaction of these souls and their relation to their Creator was as important to healing as the action of any pharmaceutical substance. He encouraged direct observation and experimentation which led to a more scientific view of medicine, and also launched ideas which presaged the founding of homeopathy and related natural healing arts.

He had a medical degree, but was also formally schooled in alchemy and was an initiate of Western mystery school traditions. He also associated freely with “witches” and contemporary folk healers, and with barber-surgeons of his day who at that time were looked down upon by medical doctors. He traveled extensively, studied the healing methods of all the countries he visited, also probably studied shamanism among the Tartars in Russia. He was ever-opposed to the crystallization of thinking into stultifying dogma, and always willing to be unconventional and non-conformist in the pursuit of the truths of the healing process and the interests of his patients.

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