Alchemy: A (Very) Brief, Somewhat Opinionated Introduction

Morning!

Remember how I said I was in hospital with an infection? Well, make that four infections. Ridiculous, I know. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna go into details. It’s now eight in the morning and I should be sleeping, resting to kill off all those illnesses. However, my body clearly decides to fight infection by staying awake at the early hours of the day. Not that I complain – I love being up early.

I hope that the new year has been treating you all better than it has been treating me.

So, to keep busy, I decided to write the first article of the year – beginning with the first letter of the alphabet, of course. The first topic I’ll cover on this blog is Alchemy.

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Alchemy: The Basics

Many people think of potions and chemical reactions when they hear this word. Makes sense, there is a chem in there, after all. You aren’t really wrong if it makes you think of chemistry. So, what exactly is Alchemy?

According to the Oxford dictionary, Alchemy is the medieval forerunner of chemistry, concerned with the transmutation of matter, in particular with attempts to convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir.

Sounds really old and outdated, right? Well, it’s still practiced today. For the most part, modern Alchemy is a practice of many options.

If you are not very knowledgeable in the periodic table of elements or in chemistry in general, base metals are the less expensive ones. These would include lead, zinc, aluminium, cobalt, nickel, and a bunch of others. One of Alchemy’s great aims was to convert those cheaper, more common metals into something more valuable, usually gold. Is this possible? Yes. You need a nuclear reactor which is… maybe just a little hard to get… but hey, it’s not impossible.

Is Alchemy still practiced?

The truth is, with the advance of science, many would consider Alchemy dead. It was fun while it lasted, and now it’s gone, and all it gives is the mental image of some old dude with a long beard trying to connect magic to science via chemical reactions in a test tube, surrounded by old leather-bound books and wooden furniture.

Many others though, myself included, don’t believe that. I mean, Alchemy was essentially a bunch of people thinking, “Hey, I wonder if I can use these cool materials to make these cool potions that will give me infinite wisdom, youth and immortality?” and then experimenting with various equations and physical examples. Today, people still try to achieve that in a way. Some look for a cure for the supposedly incurable illnesses, others attempt to make mixtures to make your skin soft and moisturized. You’re not exactly turning metals to metals, but you can certainly try to. My point here is that everything advances. Years ago people used chalkboards in schools. Today, these are slowly turning to projectors and electric boards. They still have the same purpose, but their methods are changing.

Today, this “advanced” Alchemy is still used by some to create elixirs. Sure, you won’t get an elixir of eternal beauty and youth, but you can easily create potions with healing properties that could act as probiotics or even medicine. That surely would make you live at least a little longer, right? (Some people do believe that they can eventually create the philosopher’s stone.)

In the modern times, however, a lot of people – even those who do practice Alchemy – have a more magical view of it. While science and magic can indeed work together, a lot of people consider Alchemy to be a set of symbols with correspondences that could be used as sigils and spells. Some people see the word “elements” in relation to Alchemy and immediately they assume that Alchemy is potion making in regards to elements such as Earth, Air, Fire, Water or similar – without paying attention to the other elements that are important in Alchemy, specifically those you see on the periodic table!

None of that is a bad thing, though. Like I said, practices advance, and if you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, then how you choose to see Alchemy is on you. It is nice to know the history, though, and certainly very helpful if you do decide to follow the path of Alchemy.

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How To Get Started in Alchemy

First, you have to decide what Alchemy is to you. It was probably a lot easier to give a one sentence definition way back when alchemists were all doing something very similar, almost identical to one another. Ultimately, there is one common practice here and it is the study, creation and perfection of objects and substances that can be used with benefit to the user, usually in magical ways. So, if this interests you, ask yourself:

  • Do you want to learn about and try alchemical experiments from way back, before the twentieth century?
  • Do you want to try a more modern take on Alchemy and follow teachings of modern alchemists?
  • Do you want to take on a totally new modern approach to Alchemy by utilizing the information you get from studying the history?
  • Is your goal to make potions and elixirs or to become more knowledgeable?
  • Do you want to simply study the symbols and use them in your workings?
  • Do you want to only study the subject in depth without putting it to physical use?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you get started. In any case, it is simply foolish to head into a practice without knowing much about it. Before you walk into the sea, you test the water for temperature. You should do the same with philosophies, religions… hell, even restaurants. If there’s a menu on the outside wall, check that out first so that you don’t get disappointed by the prices and lack of menu items when you sit down at the table. With Alchemy it is the same. Read more about it, and not just blog posts like this one. Check out at least one book. You don’t have to go through the entire thing, but at least sift through some pages. See if your local library has something you can look through. Then, if you are still interested, figure out what you want to do, and ask yourself the questions above.

Then, test it out! Study some ingredients hard, then make something out of them. Rate it out of ten, and try to make it even better next time. Until you feel it’s perfect and ready to go.

Or just become a chemist.

Witchcraft, Paganism, and Alchemy

How does this relate to witchcraft and paganism? Well, if you haven’t already noticed, alchemy was often related to magic. It’s pretty much the study of transformation. You use something to make a new thing, and boom. You have the new thing. The thing before it has disappeared into thin air(not really, but that would be so cool, no?) and now you’re left with your result. If that isn’t an example of magic, I don’t know what is.

To add to it further, some people use their personal alchemical studies to gain a better understanding of their beliefs and practices. In witchcraft and various pagan religions, the more you can learn about an element, season, potion, and even science, the better. It opens up new doors, helps you gain information that could be beneficial, and can even get you hooked on a new interest. If you’re a particularly cautious practitioner, you might want to know everything there is to know about a specific symbol, mineral or element, so as to not misuse it or accidentally invite something uninvited into your space. Alchemy can be of good help here, given its associations with sorcery, magic, astrology, and science.

Research?

If you’re only looking to see if it’s a practice you’d be interested in, check out websites like Gutenberg, Open Library or any other website that offers free e-books. However, remember to support the authors if you can at all!

Otherwise, go buy some books. Real Alchemy by Robert Bartlett is very well received.

Try out some potion recipes.

Study people associated with Alchemy. There’s a lot you can learn from just researching Newton’s work alone. He’s a good place to start.

If you really get drawn into it, perhaps consider studying biochemistry, chemical physics, or just chemistry or physics. Having a scientific understanding is often helpful.

I hope that this was somewhat informative. Remember that this is simply a brief introduction and there is a whole lot more to Alchemy itself. I apologise for any repetitions, spelling mistakes, or if I made no sense at some point – I feel nauseous and terrible and want to honestly just curl up and sleep. Can’t, though. 😦

And remember, especially if you want to go messing around with something like Alchemy, be careful when handling various herbs, minerals, or metals! They can be harmful and dangerous and you don’t want to hurt yourself now, do you?

That would be all for now! My eyes are stinging from the Olbas oil, owww.
See you all again next week.

Love, light and only positive vibes,

~ ☽ Mori ☾ ~

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