A General Look at Alchemy Part 1
Alchemy, according to esoteric writers, is said to be the invention of an ancient Egyptian sage called Hermes Trismegistus. The "Father of Alchemy" lived in an unknown age of Egyptian history, though he is thought by some Rosicrucian schools to have lived during the time of Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites. If true, being an Initiate of the mysteries of Isis and Osiris, Moses must have been tutored by Hermes himself, which later enabled him to carry out his mission and to realize his I AM Presence symbolised by the burning bush. The various precepts and the Ten Commandments of the Lord of Hosts revealed to the Israelites by Moses are the first alchemical steps of purification and putrefaction. Further steps were later added to the Mosaic revelation by the Nazarene Master. Indeed, the Christ declared that he came not to abolish the previous revelation, but to fulfill it.
It is thought by some that "Hermes Trismegistus" constituted a title assumed by distinguished hierophants of the Mystery Schools, in a somewhat similar manner that Zoroaster, the founder of the "Fire Religion" is regarded by certain scholars. Incidentally, alchemy may also be considered a Fire Religion, or at least a philosophy, because of its symbology of fire related to the alchemical principles, its prerequisite in the art of transmutation, and to the respect and honor paid to it by alchemists.
Jewish mystics identify Hermes as the antediluvian prophet Enoch, or Idris, as the Muslims call him; while ancient Egyptians see Hermes as Thoth, the god of Wisdom, Learning, and Writing. He was given this apotheosis along with Imhotep, the great architect under the reign of King Zoser of the Fourth Dynasty. It would appear that both men were overshadowed by the archetypal figure of Thoth, and were acknowledged as such by both the inner and outer circles of initiates of the Mystery Schools. Thoth, or his Greek counterpart, Mercury, was a messenger of the gods; and as an archetypal incarnation of this god, Hermes lived up to his name by his literary productiveness. Ancient writers declared that the "Trice Greatest" wrote thousands of books on what later became known as Hermeticism and Alchemy. It is unfortunate that very little of Hermes' works survived the conflagration and destruction of libraries and books by Roman and Christian zeal in the early dawn of the Piscean Age. The world as a whole is still ignorant of the great loss, and it will take some time before the invocation is made by the masses for the Greater Light, for disclosure of eternal principles that would shine upon the paths of men, and consequently, for a full restoration and establishment of an occult library of the world, with an archive and database of every known system and tradition of the metaphysical side of life. Although little is known of Hermes, it is evident through the works attributed to him that he was an intermediary of the Wisdom Ray of the Supreme Being.
One of the most famed works on Hermetic doctrine written, and in concise form, is the Smaragdine Tablet attributed to the authorship of Hermes. Its discovery is traditionally believed to have been made by Alexander of Macedonia in a cave near Hebron. This conqueror of nations who had Aristotle for a Master, was in search of immortality. Although he failed to attain his personal immortality, Alexander did uncover a philosophical jewel that would have given him what he had sought if he had only applied the principles that the Emerald Tablet contained. Tradition relates that the Tablet was wrought out of artificial emerald, as a result of transmutation, with the Hermetic doctrine embossed on it.
Alchemy, as a philosophy and an art in the Western hemisphere in the past two millenia, existed concurrently in other ancient cultures and civilizations--it was practiced intensely by Hindu Yogis and Taoists, in India and China. This parallel growth is probably the result of the Great White Brotherhood's periodic presentation of a spiritual method designed for the development of certain types of temperaments and belief-framework of those aspirants belonging to a certain era and stage of mankind's collective evolution.
Based on this parallel growth of alchemy in the Orient and the regions of the Fertile Crescent suggested to some Esoteric historians that alchemy may have had a common origin in that sunken continent Atlan, or Atlantis, as it is more generally known. Esoteric Tradition declares that a handful of the Atlantean Root Race survived the submergence of the land and transmigrated to Egypt, China, and the Americas. It is reasonable to assume that they brought with them their sciences, art, and culture, which influenced the inhabitants indigenous to the regions where they settled. This would explain the similarities in the traditions and beliefs of native cultures to be found both East and West.
Principles of Alchemy are the principles that Nature herself works with, and thus alchemy, scientifically, existed in the inner planes long before it was brought down to the earth plane by Master teachers. A study of Nature's mysteries would reveal to the discerning student that the higher Intelligences, the Elohim, and the Great Architect of the Universe utilized alchemical principles to precipitate the starry bodies out of Chaos, out of Cosmic Root Substance or "Sunyata," as termed by the Buddhist. Qabalists believe that Adam was taught by the angels in Paradise the art of transmutation, to prepare him for his "Fall" and his climb back toward his Monad, toward godhood--his involution and evolution from a Divine Consciousness to Divine Self-Consciousness.
There is no general concurrence among scholars as to the origin of the word "alchemy." The consensus is that the word is derived from the word "Khem," the ancient name for Egypt, added to the Arabic article "al," meaning "the," thus forming the word "al-Khemy." However, Sir Wallis Budge is of the opinion that alchemy comes from the Egyptian word "khemein," meaning the "black powder" or "ore" which is presumed to be an ingredient in alchemy. No matter where it secured its name, the word "alchemy," it would seem, first came into prominence in the Mystery Schools in Alexandria.
Purpose of Alchemy
But just what is alchemy, and what role does it play in the promotion of the welfare of mankind? If alchemy has any true value, it must be based upon eternal values, upon the things that support Heaven's purposes; in other words, upon God's plan of humankind's becoming into the true Elohimic image of the divine. If alchemy simply had an earthly objective, masterminds of the Ages would not have concerned themselves with it. It would have been considered as something so trivial, so transient, as to distract Man from the real work of extricating himself, specifically, from his bondage to the carnal self, the kama manas, or animal soul; and generally, from samsara. Greed was never the impulse that prompted the invention of alchemy. It was, is, and always will be Man's desire for Truth and enlightenment of his true nature and estate that motivates him to seek through every channel and avenue for that certain something that he subconsciously feels he had "lost" and which is his to re-acquire--call it "the Lost Word," "the Philosopher's Stone," or "the Holy Grail," it matters not. Alchemy teaches Man the principles of regeneration and resurrection, laws of creation and transmutation; laws that would assist Man to regain his former estate lost in "the Fall." This "Fall" from Paradise symbolically represents involution of the human life wave into physical matter. The way back to the Throne of God is scientifically called "evolution," and the acceleration of the latter is the art of the hermetic gnosis. This Path of Return is esoterically and graphically symbolised by Jacob's Ladder, and the paths of the Qaballistic "Tree of Life."
The drama of Jesus' life is an alchemical allegory of the steps of regeneration and ascension to the I AM Presence within, the "Father who art in Heaven." Orthodox Christianity does not recognize or is unaware of this vital truth, and because of the lack of mystical insight among most members of its priesthood coupled with the absence of esoteric truths in the doctrines and dogmas of the Church, the average Christian is ignorant and unaware of the true message of Christianity--of the Light, the Christ substance, and the true saving blood that Christ introduced to humankind. Esoteric Christianity is fundamentally an alchemical science and religion; its promulgator was a Master Alchemist--being taught in the initiatory halls of the Mystery Schools. It is related in the Gospels how the Master transmuted water into wine, multiplied loaves and fishes, and walked on water--all of which were manifestations of the applied principles of alchemy, the Hermetic philosophy--or perhaps these events were all allegories conveying some spiritual teaching.
Alchemy is defined as an art of transmutation and precipitation--the changing of base metals into gold. The work of alchemical transmutation is designated as "the Labor of the Sun." This "Eye of Ra" symbolically represents the perfection with which Nature is gradually unfolding in her creations. At the physical level the Sun of Perfection is represented by gold. Alchemy is the science and art which hasten the creations of Nature to attain perfection at their own respective level. Gold is the perfection attain by metals and minerals. Minerals, however, are also following another line of perfection--that of its ability to sustain life and consciousness. And Man, the acme of organic life, is evolving to the state where he acquires perfection in Divine Self-Awareness.
From the above it can be summarized that alchemy is the art of raising vibrations of an object in order to hasten its development or evolution into a higher expression or state. The result is perfection of the object of the transmutation.
Alchemy's Transmission to Christendom
Alexandria was the philosophical capital of Egypt, and perhaps of the whole civilized worlds in the early centuries of Christianity. Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Alchemy and Hermeticism flowered abundantly; these philosophies are intrinsically related, and to comprehend the Royal Art fully, the student of alchemy is advised by Master teachers to be familiar with their doctrines. Alexandria's Golden Age of occult philosophy did not last long, for the reptilian mind of the fallen angels had seized control of the rising new religion of Christianity (no offence to our Christian brothers and sisters). The philosophical sons and daughters of Hermes were persecuted and murdered brutally by Christian fundamentalists and fanatics. Fear and hatred were aroused among the masses and the ousting of the so-called pagan religions from the land ensued. One sad event was the cruel assassination of Hypathia, an illustrious daughter of the Mysteries--the Widow Isis, and propounder of Neoplatonism. She hardly had a philosophical equal during her day, and this caused the envy and jealousy of a certain priest who contrived her murder.
During the decline of the Roman Empire, the Secret Doctrine, or the Ancient Wisdom were passed on to the guardianship of the Arabian and Persian mystics. The tenets of occult wisdom were later incorporated into the Muslim faith with its higher aspects promulgated secretly in the traditional oral manner in certain sects, Orders, and mystical groups such as the Sufi and Dervish Orders, and among the community of Druzes in Lebanon and Syria.
In the 8th to the 11th centuries A.D., in the era of the golden period of alchemic-Islamic culture, we hear of eminent names in the field of the Royal Art, such as al-Farabi, Rhazes, Geber and Avicenna. These men studied the mystery teachings and occult wisdom of the Egyptian and Greek schools. They were most notably influenced by Hermetic, Alchemic and Neoplatonic ideas, and the knowledge that they acquired was synthesized with Islamic and Sufic doctrines. The Sufi adepts produced one of the most beautiful symbols of spiritual unfoldment and progression: the rose. Its symbolism is comparable to the lotus adopted by Hindu mystics.
The Knights Templer was an important link between both East and West, between Islamic culture and the world of Christendom. The alchemical doctrine was passed on by the Sufi adepts to these "Knights of the Holy Sepulchre," as the Templers were originally called. Even the mythical Christian Rosencruez of Rosicrucianism is said to have acquired his occult knowledge from the Sufi Masters and adepts in Arabia.
After the days of the disbandment of the Templer Order by Philip the Fair of France, and the death-sentence of their last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay in 1314, the surviving Knights sought refuge in various countries; and in England some of them founded an alchemical Order which later became known as the "Elder Brothers of the Rose Cross." It is said that this Order comprised 33 members and that this group exists even to this very day in our computer age.
When the believers of Allah invaded and settled in Iberia, they brought with them the Secret Teachings. Colleges were established that had mysticism, metaphysics, and alchemy in the curriculum. With the establishment of the various schools, the Ancient Wisdom finally took definite root in European soil, and it spread gradually throughout the other regions of the Continent. This expansion was no doubt the result of the efforts put forth by the spiritual hierarchy of this planet. Man's evolution is divided into certain steps, stages, and cycles, and these have "time-tables" or schedules associated with them. It was expedient that the Flames of Truth and Freedom be given to the custodian of the Islamic world if it were not to be extinguished by some of the ungodly minds of Christendom of the Dark Ages which would have caused a setback to the Divine Plan already established.
The deviation from the right use of free will by Christian fundamentalists had made them unsuitable vessels for the Christic wine. In spite of exoteric Christianity's blind attack on th Light that gave it birth, the esoteric circle continued its existence clandestinely, preserving the secret teachings of Jesus and transmitting it to a selected few who had the vision of the divine plan within their hearts and minds.
Idries Shah, the eminent Sufi of contemporary times, mentions in his book "The Sufis," how an Englishman, one Robert of Chester, was instrumentally in 1144 A.D., in introducing alchemy to the Christian world by translating an alchemical manuscript originally written in Arabic. There were many others like him, for bearers of the Flame were not few.
Levels of Alchemy
Most of the principles of alchemy conveyed to the public were made up of images, mandalas, and jargon. These obscure languages were necessary considering the era that alchemical science was struggling--struggling for a recognition from the masses as a system of spiritual development in the midst of ecclesiastical persecution. The mentality of the masses of the Middle Ages were not much different from the time of Jesus. Ignorance, superstition, and fear still ruled the day. The letter of the law, as propagandized by Orthodox Christianity were still at odds, and at conflict with the spirit of the law, as advanced by enlightened mystics. The inquisition, which lasted for centuries, showed how far the Church had strayed from the original precepts of Christianity. The Christ taught love, forgiveness, charity and kindness; the Church Fathers and Christian leaders only knew personal ambition, with sadism, and egoism set-up upon an unholy pedestal. The personal "I" was worshipped, the "Yekhidah," or the Divine I AM, was forgotten.
Neophytes of the Mysteries were given the keys of interpretation of Sacred literature when they were accepted in the various secret brotherhoods. The candidates of alchemical initiation were noticed by the Masters when they had proven their sincerity, and the sacrifices and effort that they had made. To the world at large, the existence of the Masters was unknown and unsuspected, even though their presence in the world of men was hinted at in various alchemical manuscripts. It was only in the last century that Helena P. Blavatsky, among others, who brought their existence to the world's attention; and even then, the world scoffed and derided at the idea. This is a little unreasonable, as people of various spiritual unfoldment and mental development may easily be seen and recognized. If some men and women are more perfect than others, why should not there be men and women totally perfect from our human point of view?
Esoterically, when a Master alchemist gave a student of alchemy the "Philosopher's Stone," what was actually conveyed were the teachings of the Ancient Wisdom, and a certain yogic system that when applied and practiced, would transmute an initiate into a god.
To the public eye, alchemical icons and terminology conveyed no sense whatsoever, but the mystiqueness of alchemical texts and images aroused interest in potential practitioners of the Royal Art, and it turned the average person into a seeker. This was perhaps one of the intentions of the authors of alchemical manuscripts. Modern chemistry, feeling a little perplexed by alchemical ideas, contemptuously considers her sire as a pseudo-science, in the same manner that astrology is usually frowned upon by the students of astronomy. Modern research will in time change the opinions and prejudicial beliefs of a materialistically-inclined science; already pioneers of quantum physics are hypothesising what the Ancient Wisdom has been teaching for ages.
One key to understanding alchemy is to determine the objectives and the subject of transmutation. Without keeping this principle in mind, one would be lost in the alchemical wilderness. Alchemy is categorized into four levels:
1) Physical alchemy
2) Biological alchemy
3) Psychological alchemy
4) Transcendental alchemy