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8 Lessons of Alchemy

This article was written by Mark Stavish
posted under Alchemy

Wisdom is only gained through experience and reflection upon that experience, which draws out the lessons it has to offer. A life not reflected upon is a life lived in the shadow of reality. Only by stopping, looking back at where we have started, what we have done, where we are in the present, and how we got here, can we begin to call ourselves wise—and Wisdom is the goal of genuine esotericism, not power, fame, or titles—Wisdom is the fruit of experiences that are understood.

To practice alchemy is to knock on the doors of the Temple of Sophia, of Wisdom, and to pray to enter. One quickly realizes that no matter how hard one knocks, there is nobody on the other side to open the door. It is we who must, individually and through our own free will and accord, push on the door and open it for ourselves. Once inside we find some peculiar and helpful friends waiting, but only once we have taken the responsibility to open the door for ourselves.

This article is a summary of some of my own, as well as other alchemists’ experiences, that occurred during our first twelve months of practicing spagyrics or plant alchemy. Hopefully they will be useful to aspiring alchemists, and even students of other occult arts and sciences in understanding the path that they have chosen and its potential.

Lessons Learned
Many have found the study of alchemy particularly rewarding, first because of the kind of returns one gets for their investment of time, and second because of the certainty of the results.

Jean Dubuis, the founder of the French qabalistic and alchemical organization The Philosophers of Nature, frequently stated during seminars that “Alchemy is the only path that does not lie.” By this he meant that in a variety of esoteric, and so-called esoteric practices, it is easy to excuse ones failures or lack of results. We hear these excuses all the time: the wrong incense was used, the moon cycles were off, the "mood" wasn’t right, the wrong associations, planets, gods, or Elements were invoked. The list is endless.

However, in alchemy—even plant alchemy, or spagyrics as it is properly called—everything is a learning experience that points towards how we are to approach not only our alchemical operations but also life itself. As Frater Albertus said, “All manifestation is accomplished by the utilization of will, which is another term for being alive.”

If we have manifestation we have demonstrated that we are truly "alive" on a level that not only affects and includes the material, but also precedes and supercedes it. It is the Ouroboros, the serpent eating its tail; the Alpha and the Omega. Alchemy my friend, does not lie, and here are some of its lessons.

  1. Lesson One: I am responsible for my own Becoming.
    Alchemy teaches that I and I alone am responsible for myself, my life, my consciousness, and my growth in wisdom, or "Becoming" as it is called. While others can try to help me along the way, I have to be receptive to their assistance and listen to the voice of experience. At the end of time, when I stand before the Eternal, my answer to the question, “Who are you?” must be in the words of Victor Hugo, “I am freedom.” Freely I have entered the Path, freely have I undertaken its challenges, and freely do I share with others what I have learned.

  2. Lesson Two: Nature does not care if I am stupid.
    Nature will help me if I am alert to what is happening. I am the handmaid of Nature and assist it in its work just at is assists me in my undertakings—but only if I am aware. Nature responds to one’s actions as well as intentions. Unlike in ritual magic where an error can be made and the inner essence override the misstep in the ritual, an error can result in ruining all of the work to date. Working directly with material elements means being responsible to material laws as well as psychic ones.

  3. Lesson Three: Energy goes where your true attention is, not where you think it is.
    During the distillation of some alcohol off of red wine for use in the making of a spagyric tincture, a fellow alchemist decided to go sit outside and let the process run. To pass the time he decided to "send some energy" to a small plant near where he was sitting. First some Earth, with no response; then Water, with only a slight response; then Air, with better results; and finally Fire, with great results (as well as hearing his distillation explode, sending flaming alcohol all over his ceiling). A similar incident occurred to another practitioner of the Art, with him finding a flaming blue liquid all over the ceiling fan in his kitchen. If you are working on an alchemical experiment, stay focused on it until it is complete, or that portion of the process is finished.

    Thoughts are things and affect my physical and psychic environment. As such they are not limited only to ‘me’ but also impact on those around me.

  4. Lesson Four: Learn the theory before practice.
    Alchemy works primarily on the Earth element, and as such, promises nothing quickly. In the host of false promises offered up by a variety of authors and systems, and even self-styled abusers of the word "alchemy," the Royal Art stands alone in saying that Illumination can be had—but at a price. The biggest price is time, as skills must be learned, preparations made, notes taken and reviewed, and experiments catalogued. Preparation is the key to success in anything, be it material or psychic. A key element of this was memorizing the Emerald Tablet and accepting it as an outline of the entire alchemical process regardless of other methods taken. It is a poor craftsman who blames his tools.

  5. Lesson Five: Make Haste Slowly.
    Constantly in the alchemical literature there are references to the work being done slowly, and then, just before it is completed, to increase the heat on a given product, but to do so carefully and diligently, so as not to burn the matter and thereby destroy all of one’s efforts just as success is in sight. It is often said that in any project, eighty percent of the work takes place during the final stages, and in alchemy this is clearly true. Slow, slowly, slower, is the best way to go, with daily attention to the work.

  6. Lesson Six: We must be prepared before we begin the Work.
    Preparation is more than just a physical process of making sure the glass is clean, and the proper materials and equipment are available and in working order, it is also an internal process. To be successful in alchemy—or any occult practice aimed at material or psychic manifestation—students have to be ready to accept and participate in the process. This means making one’s self a perfect vessel by internalizing the steps of process. First intellectually through memorization, and through this, letting them operate internally on our subconscious to organize and direct its energies. Once we have internalized the work in theory, we can begin to use it in external practice. Internalization of the process results in externalization of the process through a successful technique. The devil is in the details. “Read, Read, Read, Pray, Work and Read Again.”

  7. Lesson Seven: It is Finished!
    The Hermetic axiom from the Emerald Tablet states, “As Above, So Below; as Below, So Above.” Internalization is also Paracelsus’s statement that we only transmute without what we have first transmuted within. We must pay attention to the still small voice within—the voice of Hermes, of our Inner Master—as it will respond to our work and teach us in our dreams and meditations. The information will be practical as well as theoretical or symbolic. It is not uncommon to suddenly sense a process is complete when working with the production of plant stones. That is, there is an inner knowing that it is time to move on to the next step. Sometimes this even takes place verbally. Once during the process I heard, “I am done” and knew that this was my attunement to a plant stone I was working on letting me know the process was complete, even though it was the middle of the afternoon and I as preoccupied with something else all together. Even here however, this inner knowing was checked against reality. Did the plant stone work? Did it do what a plant stone is supposed to do? The proof is in the results, not the wishes, desires, or beliefs, but in the cold hard evidence of an operation that was successful.

  8. (Lesson Eight: You’re not an alchemist until you have had at least one explosion.)

In the words of Hermes, “That which I have to say about the Operation of the Sun is completed.”

Mark Stavish
Mark Stavish (Pennsylvania) has been a long-time student of esotericism and is a frequent lecturer on ancient occult knowledge. Founder of the Institute for Hermetic Studies, he is the author of numerous articles on Western esotericism. In 2001 he...  Read more

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