While the practice of alchemy may be viewed by the modern world as medieval superstition, Sascha Kyssa examines its inherent, ancient wisdom.
Alchemy. The word itself conjures images of bearded magi cautiously mixing one volatile substance with another. While the physical representation of this art and science is commonly scrutinized as fantasy, it is impossible to ignore the contributions of alchemy to our modern understanding of the physical sciences. In fact, alchemists Robert Boyle and Jabir ibn Hayyan are both considered the fathers of modern chemistry(1)(2).
This is usually where the writer says, “This article isn’t actually about physical alchemy, it’s about [insert spiritual metaphor].” I’ll do my best to avoid that graveyard. This article is about both sides of the alchemical coin, but I will do my best to remain rooted in practical applications of alchemy, in terms of daily life. Before we dive into daily applications of alchemy, it’s important that we’re all on the same page.
The gross or exoteric level of alchemy is centrally focused on the transmutation of crude metals into precious ones, and the production of panacea, a substance capable of dissolving all disease and prolonging life indefinitely. The subtle or esoteric side of alchemy involves the psychological or spiritual application of transmutation.
Through the application of symbolic and theoretical principles of alchemy, modern psychology and spirituality have flowered into a second renaissance. Famous for his interpretation of Eastern and Western alchemical imagery, Carl Jung interpreted alchemy in terms of individuation. In the field of developmental psychology, individuation occurs as the crude elements of personality (immature psyche) become integrated over time into a harmonious, well-functioning whole (3). In the end, the exoteric and esoteric paths of alchemy are two sides of the same philosopher’s stone.
While the common physical understanding of alchemy revolves around the highly specific modification of lead into gold, there is an overlooked gem in the general, gross level application of transmutation in the context of daily life. Underlying the alchemical transformations and productions, transmutation, the crux of alchemy, quietly performs the transfigurations necessary for the alchemist to fulfill individual will in alignment with cosmic order. Transmutation speaks to the daily needs of our body, mind, and heart. In a very literal sense, the esoteric principles of alchemy provide necessary and practical tools for daily transmutation.
This understanding permeates traditional systems of Eastern medicine. For example, traditional Chinese medicine understands the body as a dance of five elements, creating the alchemical opus that we call a human form. In the fusion of opposites, the necessary balance, or constant transmutation occurs, keeping the orchestra at peak experience. This is not about dusting off a copy of Physika kai Mystika, it’s about developing a conscious and relevant understanding of transmutation in your life, now.
How do the foods of your diet interact to form homeostasis of your vessel? How do the activities of your life merge with your ideal image of personal well-being and success? Understanding the opposing forces of our daily experience provides the foundation for this integration. A common cold of water and earth is cured through the fire of sauna. The integration of opposites provides the fresh scent of something tangible and immediately experiential in our exploration of alchemy. The further you stalk these opposites, in terms of your own life experience, the more refined the results become.
In this sense, the two sides of the alchemical coin meld into one as our daily meditation focuses on the opposites at play around us. If after a late night at the bar I immediately face plant on the nearest available soft surface, I can usually expect a fierce morning after. If on the other hand I dilute the poison in my system with water, and apply an opposing force of milk thistle and reishi mushroom extract, I may awake to little more than a slight light sensitivity. Understand, this is not about cancelling the effects of our excesses with the appropriate medicine, it’s about cultivating the wisdom of the opposites, always ready to apply the necessary force to nullify or enhance our immediate experience.
Let’s look at this from another perspective. If my desire is to refine my awareness through meditation, an examination of the opposite principle, my physical body, may provide the missing puzzle piece necessary for my success. Without necessary exercise, low endorphin and basal serotonin levels risk self-sabotage of regular practice. Ensuring dietary sources of DHA and fat soluble vitamins, I ensure that my practice is delivered along adequately mylinated nerve fibers. A tuned bow increases its chance of staying true to its target over great distance. Too often we chase the carrot without any attention paid to the opposing subtle chord dangling our prize just out of reach.
When faced with a personal desire or chance encounter, see it back lit by the prima materia; ask yourself what is the opposite force necessary for primordial balance. Such a question often involves a glimpse at something lurking in shadow, but in the end, both halves are necessary to reach the paradoxical union. Widen your gaze and you will see the cycles of opposites intertwined with your own personal journey.
There is no rule book or teacher. There are guide posts, but it is happening right now; the relevance is deeply personal and immediate. It requires you to awaken from the commonplace stupor and stalk the energies present in your environment. The experience of that union requires absolute presence. Some call it Zen, some call it enlightenment. Those words don’t really matter. What matters is your intimate relationship with the opposites in your life, and how you consciously integrate them into a working symphony that we all call “me.”
Originally from Ottawa, Canada, Sascha Kyssa is fixated on conscious internal change fueled by his exploration of taboo, pleasure, and fear. Obsessed with new experiences, Sascha thrives in a constantly changing environment. You can currently find him working on his pet project, “www.ChronicleandTale.com.”