The word alchemy is an Arabic term comprised of the article "al" and the noun "khemi." The later word relates to "Khem" the Coptic name of Egypt. Alchemy thus means, "that which pertains to Egypt." Thus the words alchemy and chemistry are a reminder of the scientific legacy of Egypt. Another possible origin of the word is the Greek "cheo" which means "I pour" or "I cast"??"a word often used in reference to the ancient Greek metalworkers who used many alchemical formulae. Together, alchemy and astrology are two of the oldest sciences known to humanity. The specialized fields of herbalism, mineralogy, natural science, chemistry, pharmacology, and medicine all evolved from the mother science known as alchemy.
The outer body of alchemy is chemistry; it is in fact the ancestor of modern chemistry. But in addition to being a science, this ancient art is also a philosophy. Alchemy is a science that is based upon multiplication and the natural phenomenon of growth??"it is the process of increasing and improving that which already exists. Alchemy is evolution ??" the raising of vibrations.
Practitioners of the art considered nature to be the greatest alchemist of all; causing the latent seeds of all life to multiply and grow through the act of transmutation. One objective of the alchemists was to carry out in the laboratory, as far as possible, the processes which nature carries out in the earth plane. Not only did they try to duplicate these natural operations, they tried to reproduce them in a comparatively short period of time??"speeding up processes which nature
takes vast amounts of time to manifest.
In its usual (limited) definition, alchemy is an empirical science that concerns itself with the transmutation of base metals into gold. For many the word "alchemy" conjures up an image of a crude laboratory where foolhardy pseudo-scientists labor to turn lead into gold so that they may spend their lives living in a state of luxury. However alchemy\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s true definition encompasses the doctrine of the transformation of humanity to a higher stage. The treatises of alchemy are not only chemical in nature, but also mystical and magical. Certainly many alchemists left behind a vast amount of information to prove the fact that one version of alchemy was primarily practical and chemical in nature. On the other hand, the principal interest of many alchemical philosophers was spiritual. These alchemists did not look merely for the substance of gold; they sought to give the quality of gold to their own being??"to transmute the base metals (gross and impure parts of their own nature) to spiritual gold (wisdom). To them gold, the metal that never tarnishes and cannot be corrupted by Fire or Water, was a symbol of illumination and salvation.
Alchemy is the art and science of transformation. This is not an easily understood art, because the primal medium of alchemical expression is through the use of allegory and mythological symbols, which can be interpreted simultaneously both at a material and a spiritual level. The primary goal of alchemy is to bring all things, including humanity to its pre-ordained state of perfection. To that end, the alchemical theory states that eternal wisdom remains latent, dormant and obscure in humanity so long as a mundane state of ignorance and superficiality exists. The objective of alchemy is the uncovering of this inner wisdom, and the removal of the veils and obstacles between the mind and its intrinsically pure divine source.
It is this spiritual alchemy, as opposed to the purely chemical art, that the Golden Dawn stresses. The initiation of an aspiring magician into the Neophyte grade commences the spiritual alchemical process. The Neophyte is the base material that is to be transmutated by the work (or art) of the Hermetic path. Further initiations into the elemental grades are analogous to the processes of separation and purification. Initiation into the Portal and Adept grades represents the cohobation or recombination of the elemental constituents of the magician\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s psyche into a purified whole. However, the process does not end there. The Adept must incorporate the Quintessence into his or her being, an endeavor that may take a lifetime to achieve. This Great Work or quest for spiritual gold is a long undertaking; although the goal may be distant, every step along the path is infinitely rewarding.
Golden Dawn students are required to study the various terms, symbols, and concepts used in alchemy. They are not required to practice laboratory alchemy.