Alchemy is known for its secrecy and coded language, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try some things yourself at home! (Don’t try most of this at home, some of it is actually really quite dangerous) If you’ve heard of alchemy, you probably think it’s all about turning lead into gold. It is, to some extent, but some people take that more literally than others. While it’s hard to know what the medieval and renaissance alchemists actually meant when they wrote their manifestos, contemporary alchemists tend to fall into two camps (generally, with some overlap): Practical, or laboratory alchemy, and inner alchemy. Both styles follow pretty much the same formula. Take a thing, separate the thing into its constituent components, purify those components, then recombine them into the more pure essence of the thing.
Practical alchemy is what most people think alchemy actually is. It’s an old bearded dude wearing a robe in a dark, hot basement, surrounded by glassware and furnaces. Practical alchemy is concerned with the operations of plants, minerals, and, in some cases, animals. The alchemist applies the above formula to, say, a plant or a mineral in order to “spiritualize” it. These purified elements can be used to make medicines and other supernatural potions with some astounding qualities. Also gold. Who couldn’t use a little more gold?
Inner alchemy, on the other hand, is concerned with the purification of the alchemist herself. This path is largely meditative and ritual, and those who practice it use the symbols of practical alchemy to focus their inner work. The lead of the mundane human is transformed into the gold of the divinized human.
All that being said, here are seven examples of alchemical practices that have been taught teacher to student for centuries. Your milage may vary, and some of these require lots of practice in order to understand the subtleties of the processes involved. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that you can find these methods without too much trouble.
Plant Extracts and Tinctures
Probably the most basic of alchemical work, and it’s a pretty good place to start. You start with a plant of your choice, usually chosen for its medicinal properties or planetary correspondences. The plant is digested in water or alcohol for a time, then distilled, and, depending on the result you want, perform other actions on it until you have a plant extract that can be used for medicine or some other purpose.
The Plant Stone
The plant stone is the divinization of a plant, and represents the process of the Great Work in microcosm. The plant is separated by various means into its essential salt, sulphur, and mercury. These elements are individually cleansed and purified and then recombined to create the most perfect, most divine form of the substance.
A homunculus is a tiny person, either a physical person or a spirit, that you can create in your lab. It involves human semen and the uterus of a cow (or possibly cow manure). How you get the semen in there is up to you. Some say the homunculus can tell the future or find things for you. Useful things, but there isn’t a lot of documentation about them.
The Glow From a Glow Worm’s Tail
Alchemists made a lot of scientific discoveries, including the element phosphorus. A lot of them wrote about substances that produced light, and one way they explored this phenomena is by murdering thousands of innocent glow worms, cutting off their tails, distilling them and looking at the pretty glow for a few hours. Progress? Gotta break a few eggs I suppose.
Here’s what you came here for, turning something into something else. Mostly it’s turning lead into gold, but the same principles apply. It is said that an alchemist of sufficient skill could use their talents, the Philosopher’s Stone, vitriol, and other substances to break down a mineral and transmute it into a higher state. Many people today see this as a metaphor for internal spiritual work, and that’s a good use for it, but it would also be useful to have a little extra gold lying around.
The panacea is a cure-all substance that is said to be able to pretty much cure anything that ails you. This is a step beyond the plant elixirs described above, and is said to be related to the process by which the Philosopher’s Stone is created.
The Philosopher’s Stone
The Philosopher’s Stone is supposed to be one of, if not the ultimate end goal of alchemy. With it one is said to be able to perform all kinds of miraculous works. It grants immortality, can cure all illnesses, and simply touching it to lead will turn it to gold. It’s like the busy alchemist’s shorthand. If you can make yourself one of these you can pretty much be set for the rest of your preternaturally long life. Let me know if you do, and remember who told you about it!
You can find out more about alchemy at the appropriately named Alchemy Web Site: http://www.alchemywebsite.com/