From Anthroposophy

'To make of the body a spirit and of the spirit a body'

Alchemy describes the processes based on the four elements (see the Spectrum of elements and ethers as well as elementals of nature), whereby the lower is transformed into the higher (see Transmutation or Man's transformation and spiritualization). Its essence is about transformation of one substance into another by using spiritual influences and forces of nature (see etheric Formative forces), and this both with substance of the lower kingdoms, as with the highest kingdom of Man - the human being.

Hence, the term alchemy has an exoteric and esoteric meaning:

  • 'outer' applying the process of transmutation to physical substance of the kingdoms of nature.
    • In the experimental lab practice of alchemy, the practioner works with substances of the kingdoms of nature in a spiritual way, that is: treating them as spiritual substances and processes.
      • Plant kingdom: Spagyrics is the alchemy based on plants and herbs (using alchol or mineral extraction), and essences can be used in medicine.
      • Mineral kingdom: Well known from many legends is the process of converting lead into gold, also referred to as the 'secret of the philosopher's stone'.
    • In nature, the process of the four seasons in the cycle of the year can also be described in alchemical terms
  • 'inner' applying to one's own Self, where the aim of alchemy is to purify one's self. Man and the processes in the human being are described in the language of the four elements and alchemical processes.

The two aspects above have the same underlying spiritual working principles, and alchemy uses an own symbolic language based on the states of aggregation whereby material processes are metaphors for spiritual transformations going from chaos to structure (see below).


language or descriptive framework

  • the key terms in the language glossary of alchemy
    • sulphur, mercury, salt (Schema FMC00.162). Every metal consists of sulphur and mercury (see also the chinese yin-yang) with its typical characteristics:
      • sulphur: spirit, male, active pole, divine command or spiritual will
        • fire or warmth: the dynamic power of expansion and growth
        • dry: coagulates and fixes form
      • mercury or quicksilver: soul, female, passive pole, feminine character of nature, plastic 'mouldeable' capacity
        • coldness: power of contraction, fast-holding like a womb
        • water or wetness or moist: dissolving character, receptivity, flexibility to take on any form
    • solve et coagula (Schema FMC00.163) represent the two opposite but mutually complementary forces in transmutation, dissolving imperfections and chrystallizing again to a nobler form using the forces in nature
      • solve: dissolution or disentigration
      • coagula: coagulation or formation
    • operis procession multum naturae placet: latin for 'the progress of the Work pleases nature greatly', meaning that nature comes to the aid in the processes of alchemy, because the great Work uses the spiritual forces in nature (see Formative forces and The two etheric streams)
  • alchemy as a language used in the middle-ages, a framework of concepts and symbols to describe the processes in Man and on Earth (see Schema FMC00.154, e.g. 1917-03-20-GA175, 1923-01-13-GA220, or Burckhardt below)

historical positioning

  • 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, the four elements are foundational in most ancient traditions such as Greece, Egypt or India, and hence these teachings also contain some form of alchemy.
  • In the current cultural age since the 15th century, alchemy has been the subject of books and studies of numerous of the most famous scholars, 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 Lille, Johannes Trithemius.
  • Well known 20th century alchemists include Alexander von Bernus (1880-1965) 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. (see references below)

Further references

See 'Further reading' section below, as well as Sources of spiritual science and More sources on the topic of initiation and magic


  • see Schema FMC00.249 on Rhythm of a year for a summary overview of the alchemy of nature in the yearly cycle of the seasons


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

Basilius Valentinus


.. wherever metallic soul, spirit and form are to be found, there too are metallic quicksilver, sulphur and salt .."


discusses the language of salt, mercury and sulphur used by oa Saint Martin


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.
  • For the alchemical processes in nature, see Schema FMC00.249 on Rhythm of a year

Related pages

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 Eugene Canseliet (Fulcanelli's student)
  • Jean Dubuis (1919-2010)
    • Spagyrics (Volumes 1-2)
    • Mineral Alchemy (Volumes 1-3)
    • The Experience of Eternity (2007)
  • Titus Burckhardt
    • Alchemy: science of the cosmos, science of the soul (original in DE 1960, first EN in 1967)
  • Hermann Beckh: 'Alchemy : The mystery of substance from Genesis to Revelation'
  • Mark Stavish: 'The path of alchemy: energetic healing & the world of natural magic (2006)

Note: Adam McLean inventorized alchemical books and came to some 1179 authors of books published before 1800, in a database of some 4678 books with 2810 unique works (info from the older Levity website, see list)