Alchemy, in its essence, implies changing the character of things. In the lore of some societies, this came to average a lot over the time of time.
Birds were thought to be the signs of alchemy. Phoenix, Raven, White Swan, Peacock, and Pelican corresponded to an inner experience and inner size of spiritual being. The alchemist or the poet who observed the birds saw an image of the human soul going by a development that freed it from the earthly things, because the birds took flight between the physical and spiritual worlds and, if they landed, they landed on the Tree of Life or the Stone of wisdom.
William Blake wrote:
“How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?”
In most traditions, the language of birds is the tongue of Secret Wisdom, by myth and symbolism, not only in Alchemy but also in Kabbalah, Astrology, and Tarot.
Alchemy was considered to be as deplorable as black magic at one time; however, at another time and place, it was lauded as being the highest form of science bordering with art for being the science by which the baser materials like copper were changed into gold and silver.
I remember from the time when I was into the Middle Eastern lore that there was this saint who could change dry leaves into gold by a formula given to him by the Creator. Of course, being a saint, he didn’t need the gold, so he changed the gold back to dried leaves in one night. This is a parable, as the human imagination has no bounds.
The earliest form of alchemy existed in old Egypt where magic ruled. Ancient Egyptians believed that magical powers existed in metallic things, alloys, and the like. Chances are, the whole thing was based on Hermes Trismegistus’s art from the ancient Greek times. The seed or at the minimum the hope of alchemy subsisted also inside Europe’s bronze working classes and in old Byzantium. Over the centuries, numerous publications came to existence requiring scholarly inquisition on the art (or science) of alchemy.
If alchemy’s first obsession was gold, the second was to discover a potion that would prolong life, or better however, that would make man immortal. The third obsession of alchemy has been the manufacture of human life, artificially of course, which is scary. I imagine it ending up like the dry leaves parable.
Transmutation of metals could presumably be achieved by the Philosopher’s Stone, which had been associated with the Salt of the World, The Elixir and the like. In its conceptual form the stone reflected higher wisdom and intelligence.
The complete course of action of alchemy was based upon the research and examination of character and the way in which it operated, how the metals became metals inside the depths of the earth, and how sulphur and mercury acted upon them.
According to alchemists, character was divided into male and female and also into four regions: dry, cold, warm, and moist. Ayurveda healing comes to mind; although, I don’t ingemination if or how the two can be connected. Into all this study, of course, went the alchemist’s character, which had to be truthful.
Someday, all these things that alchemy wanted to accomplish may be possible by science. But what then? What if we changed everything into gold? Remember the story of Midas?
What if the thing we changed with good intentions by alchemy or science resulted in calamity? I have a feeling that in order to dare change the base or character of anything, one has to know everything in its entirety. Possibly, that privilege belongs only to the Creator.
One may use alchemy in another way, however. A soft information, a friendly smile, a holding of a hand, and our intent for world peace can be the best Philosopher’s Stone we can use. Maybe this way, we won’t have to change the essence of anything and anyone, but we may help them find a complete meaning inside their basic framework.