What Is Alchemy?
by Dennis William Hauck
is alchemy? Why are the obscure symbols and arcane principles of this
ancient craft getting so much attention in modern times? How can the
knowledge alchemists discovered and shared have such a strong influence in
so many diverse contemporary areas as psychology, spirituality, the arts,
literature, business, filmmaking, gaming, and sciences like medicine and
The answer to these questions lies in the universal nature of alchemical
practices and operations. Alchemy can be defined most simply as the "art of
transformation." It is concerned with the underlying principles of how
things change and the basic process of transforming one thing into another.
The Great Work of alchemy has always been to speed up
this natural process of perfection -- to resurrect the ideal of spiritual
development and activate the hidden energies that are trapped in matter.
Gold in alchemy is a symbol of this hastened perfection from the inner ideal
to the outer manifestation. From its origins more than 5,000 years ago in
Egypt, alchemy has had a singular focus on the most fundamental principles
of change in Nature. Since time immemorial, alchemists have sought to
isolate the most basic essences of matter to create higher forms.
Always on the edge between science and religion, alchemy has applied methods
from both cultures to work with deeper realities that transcend the words
and descriptions people have given them over time. In trying to penetrate
the mysteries of matter and energy, the alchemists discovered the very
foundations of creation and being that is the common ground of all
religions, sciences, philosophies, and psychologies.
The golden thread of alchemy weaves in and out of the tapestry of history,
and it is resurfacing today in a wide variety of modern applications:
The most popular reason for studying alchemy today is to reconnect with the
fundamental spiritual realities in the universe. In this approach to
alchemy, the gold of the alchemist is not the common gold but an inner
spiritual gold, and the operations of alchemy are performed in the inner
laboratory of the spirit and soul.
The ancient art of alchemy offers viable, powerful methods of changing
oneself and living life fully. This use of alchemical priniciples focuses on
the application of simple alchemical techniques and operations on the
personal levels of body and mind to perfect one’s character and personality.
The alchemists called this working with the inner metals or changing one's
Alchemy gave birth to not only chemistry but also modern psychology, and the
alchemists were the first to treat psychological problems as chemical
imbalances in the body. Alchemical psychology also deals with the clinical
treatment of character disorders in the tradition of Dr. Carl Gustav Jung.
Arts & Literature
No matter in which medium an artist works, he or she is trying to transform
raw, “dead” matter into something living that speaks to those who experience
it. Whether it is the sculptor's block of stone, the painter's canvas, the
writer's or musician's empty page, the magic of alchemy is what's behind the
artist's impulse to create.
Films & Gaming
Films like “2001,” "The Fifth Element,” “The Matrix,” "Harry Potter," are
just a few examples where producers made conscious use of alchemy in the
plotline. Many young people are being introduced to alchemical principles in
films and software games and want to learn more.
A surprising number of business leaders are applying the principles of
alchemy in the fields of finance, human resources, marketing, and research
and development. These innovative leaders realize the power of the universal
paradigm of alchemy to streamline and energize their company and products as
well as grow their business in new ways.
Change is the new theme in government and alchemy offers tested, effective
methods of dissolving outmoded structures and building new paradigms. Modern
practitioners are working to dissolve bureaucracy and show government
workers how to come alive at work to everyone's benefit.
The physicians' logo (the caduceus) is an ancient symbol of Hermes, the
father of alchemy, and alchemists have always provided natural remedies for
a wide variety of ailments. They possessed a powerful arsenal of herbs and
mineral compounds with detailed knowledge of how they acted in the body, and
alchemists were the first to prescribe drugs to cure disease. There is more
for modern medicine to learn from alchemy.
Most alchemical bodywork modalities like chiropractics, Rolfing, Feldenkrais,
bioenergetics, and polarity therapy have their origin in the work of
nineteenth century alchemists seeking to isolate the life force. More
ancient Oriental alchemical arts like yoga, aikido, tai chi, chi kung,
tantra, acupuncture, and reiki have seen a profound increase in Western
culture. Most modern holistic disciplines like homeopathy, naturopathy,
ayurveda, Chinese medicine, aromatherapy, and reflexology also trace their
origin in ancient alchemical teachings
Practical alchemy is concerned with producing tinctures, tonics, oils,
compounds, and elixirs that capture healing energy. Unique laboratory work
is being undertaken by more and more practitioners around the world.
According to quantum physicist Dr. Fred Wolf, Quantum Physics is the "New
Alchemy," and the two disciplines share many fundamental principles
including the idea that consciousness is a force in nature. But alchemy has
also had a tremendous influence in other sciences such as geology, botany,
biology, and of course, chemistry.
No religious zealot ever tried harder to get closer to God than the medieval
alchemists, and a very spiritual form of Christian Alchemy evolved at that
time. The most basic task of the alchemist is to center himself within the
consciousness of the divine creative presence so that he or she can leap
beyond themselves and humbly assist in the work of God, which is the Great
Work of the universe.
Students and initiates of alchemy and the Hermetic Arts, as well as other
practices related to it such the Kabballah and Tarot, share a long and
secret tradition that is still continued in contemporary organizations such
as the Freemasons, Golden Dawn, Rosicrucians, Gnostics, mystery schools and
many other groups.
Alchemy has become a rallying point for a variety of movements driven by the
human desire to change adverse conditions and change slavery into freedom,
poverty into wealth, fear into courage, war into peace, and totalitarianism
Every one of us participates in alchemy, whether in a conscious manner
(through the intentional transformation and manifesting of one's higher
nature) or through the tumult and suffering of worldly experiences that
finally lead to increased awareness of the alchemical principles at work in