What is Alembic Alchemy?

Hi, and welcome to my first blog post on Alchemy! You can find out a bit more about me on the ‘About the Alchemist’ page. However, at this point, you might be asking yourself, what is ‘Alembic Alchemy’? Well, I’m glad you asked! I first started the website ‘Alembic Alchemy’ as a notification/announcement site of my Alchemy classes as well as an informative site regarding the Alchemical Tinctures that I have been making and selling for about 6 or 7 years now. I have since removed the old website and relaunched it as a blog about Alchemy…real Alchemy…as in, with beakers and funnels and crucibles and dragons and philosopher’s stone’s (no, NOT Harry Potter :-)). In searching for blogs about Alchemy, I had difficulty finding very many to read, and since reading about Alchemy is one of my favorite subjects, I figured I’d see if I could add something useful to the Blogosphere. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of good ones out there, but the good ones seem to be few and far between. I know I would have appreciated a blog when I started my Alchemical journey, but unfortunately, blogs hadn’t yet been invented!

So, why Alembic Alchemy? Well, as a an alliteration, it sounds pretty good. Al-embic Al-chemy. But what’s in a name? An Alembic is a type

Alembic Vessel

An Alembic Alchemical Vessel used for Distillation.

of vessel used in Alchemy as part of a distillation apparatus, so Alembic Alchemy, hey it works! However, digging a bit deeper will show some of the more important meanings in that name. An Alembic is a type of alchemical still, or distillation apparatus, and it is really two different vessels connected by a tube. Technically the ‘alembic’ is the lid and tube placed on top of a cucurbit (a vessel or flask) to siphon or funnel off the distilled substance, but often the entire apparatus is referred to as an ‘alembic’.

 

Retort Alchemy

The Retort

If the lid and flask are one solid piece, they are often called a ‘retort’. As the substance being distilled turns into steam, and the steam rises, it then recondenses (or begins to do so) on the lid of the alembic. Thus, metaphorically, the alembic is symbolic of anything that refines, purifies or transmutes an original substance into something that is more pure. This is the true meaning of ‘Alembic Alchemy’. It is the notion that through alchemical processes and work, our understanding may be refined, purified and transmuted into something greater. As we progress through the physical and spiritual work of Alchemy, these changes will take effect and cause true change in one’s life.

What is this blog NOT about? Well, it’s not about, strictly speaking, ‘spiritual alchemy’. I see so many websites, blogs, teachers and classes that advertise teachings in ‘spiritual alchemy’. Don’t get me wrong, spiritual alchemy is certainly inherent in the journey, and is a major component of Alchemical work, and there will be times when it is discussed in detail, but often practical and spiritual alchemy will be addressed together. The alchemists of old taught that the physical and laboratory work of alchemy was inseparable from the spiritual work of the alchemist. They went hand in hand, in a symbiotic relationship, each feeding off of, strengthening and supporting the other. To separate ‘spiritual alchemy’ from the practices of physical or practical alchemy is akin to separating an engine from a car. The engine can’t go anywhere without the wheels and frame of the car, and the car isn’t going to go anywhere (unless you push it downhill) without the engine. They each need the other to work at all, but to also continue to progress and grow.  This is one of the many meanings found in the depiction of the Ouroboros. The serpent or dragon (or sometimes depicting both), that is swallowing his own tail, signifies a never ending circle of learning and enlightenment.

Ouroboros Alchemy

The single serpent and serpent/dragon Ouroboros.

In the single serpent version of the Ouroboros on the left, we see the continuous cycle of learning. In the double Ouroboros on the right, we see it even more clearly. The Serpent (on the bottom), represents the physical, earthly or practical work of the Alchemist, working in his laboratory, performing alchemical processes. The winged Dragon (across the top), represents the spiritual enlightenment found within those physical processes of alchemy. Thus, we see the symbiotic relationship between the physical and practical side of alchemy, and the spiritual and enlightening elements of the science.

Performing the acts of practical alchemy, such as refining a substance, leads us to understand that we need to refine the equivalent substance within ourselves. Gaining an understanding of that spiritual purification leads to changes in our lives, including the physical world around us. Having experienced a change for the better, we then find the next part of ourselves that we wish to purify, and the process continues. Physical Alchemical work leads to Spiritual Alchemical purification and change, which in turn leads to changes in the physical world around us, which causes us to perform more physical Alchemical work, which leads to Spiritual Alchemical purification, and so on. Those who would presume to teach ‘Spiritual Alchemy’, while ignoring the physical and practical work of the same, are quite honestly, missing the boat. They are missing out on half of the symbiotic relationship, and thus half of the information, reward, enlightenment and learning. It is often the physical aspect of alchemy that leads us to the spiritual truths. Likewise, the physical work of true Alchemy becomes our teacher, and demonstrates the way for us to become self-instructing, self-guiding and self-initiated into this path called Alchemy.

So, here we go, off to the races! Being a follower of the Western Mysteries (Golden Dawn, Alchemy, Hermetics), and with my book forthcoming later this year, I have chosen the Fall Equinox of 2016 on which to launch my blog. Thanks for stopping by and reading and please feel free to comment. Learning from others is a most effective means of sharing information. My posts will range from the philosophical to the instructional to journaling some of the things I’m working on. Also, if there is a particular area of Alchemy on which you would like to see a post, please feel free to suggest!

Mutatio per Solve et Coagula!

Sean-Frater MTO

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