Sunday, June 03, 2007

Work of the Ancients
"The Forge and The Crucible"
by Mircea Eliade

Alchemy is mysterious and wondrous and, I think, interesting. I happened across this book through conversation, found it a great starting point to learn about this ancient process that goes so far back in human history and is steeped in tradition, sacred initiation, secrets, and religion.

Eliade basically traces alchemy back to the most primitive religions, gives examples of smiths and metallurgists before alchemy was practiced, and lays the groundwork for alchemy's influence of chemistry (which consequently led to it's decline as a valid practice). Modern science has done away with much of the spiritual side of alchemy, reactions are strictly chemical now, transformation has an explanation (transmutation though is another animal entirely). Eliade, though, skillfully moves through the history of alchemy and enlightens us to a vastly different world, one where people interact with metals as if they are alive, because they believe we came from rocks, they believe in a cosmogony that is holistic and encompasses everything, not just man.

Personally, I find alchemy fascinating. The fact that Newton, the father of modern science, was deeply rooted in alchemy yet persisted on keeping it secret, published books based on alchemical models and did away with alchemy as a serious pursuit is something to be pondered. The symbolism alchemy provides, the inveterate research and prolific work of C.G. Jung on it, is both useful and helpful.

I understand very little about alchemy in and of itself, and I probably never will know much more than an inkling of surface knowledge, but I find it's explanation of the universe, the symbolism of the Philosopher's Stone and Elixir Vitae, the holistic nature, and the fact that it is such an old idea has some basis of validity for me, and I will not be satisfied until I know more.

The alchemist's ultimate goal was to speed nature up and transmute metals into gold, since it was believed that, given time, that is the endgame for all metals. Spiritually, they must abide by several things to keep on that path. It is that path, that symbolism, that ignites my imagination.

It also probably helps that I love mysteries and mysterious things. Check it out on wikipedia.

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