Because nature is made up of the four elements, alchemy applies to the processes of nature in the four seasons, but also the processes in the human being. And because the four elements are foundational in most ancient traditions such as Greece, Egypt or India, these also contain some form of alchemy.
The term has an exoteric and esoteric meaning: exoteric applying to physical, (converting matter into gold), esoteric applying to one's own Self (where the aim of alchemy was to purify one's self). Material processes are metaphors spiritual transformations.
Spagyrics is the alchemy based on plants and herbs (using alchol or mineral extraction), and essences can be used in medicine.
Today the terms is most commonly used in a context of medieval practices, such as the philosopher's stone, etc. Historically, probably the most famous book about alchemy is: 'The chemical wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz' (1616), by Johannes Valentinus Andreae, and the most famous alchemist was the legendary Nicolas Flamel (ca 1330-1418).
However, alchemy has been the subject of books and studies of numerous of the most famous scholars through the ages, such as e.g. Carl Jung, Roger Bacon, Isaac Newton, and many others. And because the four elements and alchemy are part of the spiritual scientific body of knowledge, many figures have been put under the denominator of alchemy, eg Faust, Paracelsus, Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, Alain de Dille, Johannes Trithemius.
Well known 20th century alchemists include Alexander von Bernus (1880-1965)n and Eugene Canseliet (1899-1982), pupil of Fulcanelli. Others were modern scientists by education and profession - such as Albert Riedel (1911-1984) and Jean Dubuis (1919-2010) who established alchemy under a modern footing. The rosecrucian Albert Riedel, also known as Frater Albertus, founded the Paracelsus College.
Schema FMC00.162: alchemical principles based on the four elements
Schema FMC00.163 depicts the famous alchemical saying 'solve et coagula' with reference to the process of transformation or transmutaion and the underlying two polar opposite processes. In English it means:
- 'dissolve' (dilute, disperse, breaking down or break apart, decomposing, vanishing of hardened positions) and
- 'coagulate' (cluster, gather or form into mass, recomposing, a new synthesis or integration).
Schema FMC00.154 captures a lecture where Rudolf Steiner describes the alchemical terms as inner processes, and a terminology representative of a different age (illustrated with the figures of J. Boehme, Bacon, G. Bruno).
Lecture coverage and references
1923-01-13-GA220 positions medieval terminology of the processes in Man of salt, mercury and sulphur and maps them to thinking, willing and feeling, see schema FMC00.154 above.
The tendency of substances to combine with certain others (in preference to others) was described by Goethe in his novel "Elective Affinities", Goethe described people as chemical beings whose amorous affairs and relationships were similar to the pairings of alchemical species.
References and further reading
- Alexander von Bernus (1880-1965) proliferic writer, ao Alchymie und Heilkunst
- Albert Riedel (1911-1984) (works in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Czech). See also: Paracelsus Collega Australia and movies.
- The Alchemist's Handbook (1960)
- From One to Ten (1966)
- Parachemy/Parachemica/Essentia (1973-1984)
- 'The Alchemist of the Rocky Mountains' (novel, 1976) - see eg this web page for info for Riedel's visit to Canseliet (Fulcanelli's student)
- Jean Dubuis (1919-2010)
- Spagyrics Volumes 1-2
- Mineral Alchemy Volumes 1-3
- The Experience of Eternity (2007)
- Hermann Beckh: 'Alchemy : The Mystery of Substance from Genesis to Revelation'
- Camila Rodríguez Galilea: 'Alchemy in Anthroposophy' (Master thesis 2019)