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Most of us have heard of the popular myth of alchemists attempting to turn base metal into Gold, and their search for the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life. For years I looked into books on alchemy and could make no sense of it. It seemed to be cloaked in intellectualism, complex concepts and puzzling symbolism, but I continued to be intrigued. I then had a 'eureka' moment, when I realised that each of the main alchemical processes were the same intrinsic energy pattern as each of the eight Celtic festivals and so I was able to understand them perfectly from this perspective! My journey through the Wheel of the Year has been greatly deepened by this fusion of the two systems and this book Earth Alchemy (formally The Alchemist's Journey) grew from this union.
Alchemy has a long and varied history that spans many ages, cultures and civilizations. The strength of alchemy lies in these deep roots that go far back in Time. Alchemy is a study of the art of transformation and, true to itself, it has transformed many times, surviving the changing political and religious climates of many centuries. Its early roots are in the ancient civilizations of China and Egypt and by the fifth century AD it was known as 'the Divine Art' or 'the Sacred Art' in China, India, South East Asia, Japan and the Far East. The early alchemists were philosophers and healers searching for the Elixir of Life. They understood that mind, body and Spirit were One and that personal philosophy was as much a part of healing and longevity as the elixirs they were creating. The search for Gold may have begun as a metaphor for the most precious thing we have, our health.
The early Chinese alchemists were Taoists who aimed to keep the energy flowing through the body and saw this as a key to prolonging life. They worked with three vital energies: Chi, the Life Force; Ching, the Vital Essence; and Sheen, breath control. Indian alchemy was influenced by Hinduism and, like its Chinese counterpart, sought to prolong life, in this case through Yoga and Tantra, seeking to cleanse the body and mind through breath control (Prana) and work with the seven chakras. They aimed to release energies latent in the body to gain enlightenment and absolute freedom from the confines of Time.
Alchemy came to Europe in the Middle Ages, probably after the Crusades (1095 - 1099). The search for the Holy Grail and the Chalice grew from this period of cultural fusion. To understand medieval alchemy, we need to appreciate the political, religious and scientific climate of the times. Medieval alchemy was a fusion of the earlier alchemical texts, the philosophical minds of the day, the growth of Christianity and the rising power of the medieval Church. With its introduction into Europe, alchemy began to lose touch with its metaphysical and spiritual roots and was influenced by the climate of new scientific discoveries such as chemistry, and the distillation process, which led to healing elixirs being made from plant and mineral extracts.
From the Middle Ages onwards alchemy became cloaked in intrigue, secrets and hidden codes. The alchemical processes, which had begun as an exploration of natural laws and chemical reactions, were now hidden in metaphor and symbolism. This was an attempt to disguise what the powerful medieval Church condemned as heretical, since alchemy was based on the belief that individuals could develop their own spiritual path without the intervention and control of the Church. There are no fixed doctrines in alchemy. Each alchemist follows their own unique path, beginning with what they know and developing through what they discover. As part of an on going process each alchemist integrates their experiences with their own personal spiritual development, growth and understanding, and then 'earths' this in their own personal philosophy ~ their Philosophers Stone. It is based on simple observations of natural laws that root it firmly in the Earth, in the self and in the journey itself.
This is the same with following the Wheel of the Year and the Celtic festivals. We each celebrate and honour them in our own way. There is no hierarchy, no one telling us how to celebrate them. We do what feels right and good for ourselves and this deepens our personal philosophy and spirituality and our relationship with the Earth. As with alchemy, the journey is always circular. There are always endings, whether created by choice, by time or by circumstances, but each ending opens up a new beginning and each time the journey deepens, as new cycles of understanding grow from within.
As an alchemist I aim to unite all parts of myself, to embrace the invisible as well as the visible, the acceptable as well as the unexplained. I follow my feelings and my intuition; I follow my imagination into the world within me. I look at what is hidden, reading between the lines, searching for the common bonds and the roots of communion, the paths that create unity and harmony. To find the root of my happiness and good health ~ the Elixir of Life and the Gold! This ultimately leads to our planetary healing as we each become more conscious of the unity and interconnection of all of life.
By Glennie Kindred - www.glenniekindred.co.uk ~ Click here for print-friendly version
Alchemy has a long history, beginning in the fifth century BC in China and India as a healing and sacred art. It has grown and developed since then, embracing many paths and ideas along the way. Alchemy has never been a fixed doctrine and has no central organisational body and no leaders. Alchemy encourages personal freedom and personal philosophy and each person brings to alchemy their own individuality, as well as an awareness of the interconnected web of life. It has also always encouraged the balance and flow of our intuitive spiritual nature with our logical and rational nature.
Alchemy is the natural process of transformation that grows from all unions; the cycles of fertility, birth, growth, harvest, death, decay and rebirth found through out the natural world. These observations of natural laws that govern all acts of union, fertility, and manifestation are linked to seven main alchemical processes, patterns or experiences.
During its history these have been aligned with the seven chakras, the seven planets, seven numbers, seven colours, and to seven metals. In the middle ages they were linked to the alchemists observations of seven or more chemical reactions. (Hence our image of medieval alchemists in their laboratory attempting to turn base metals into gold.) After this alchemy was ridiculed and went underground until the early part of the twentieth century when it was absorbed into the newly developing esoteric and healing arts. In the 1920's Carl Jung recognised in the alchemical texts the symbolic language of dreams and archetypes common to us all and reaffirmed that alchemy was about our personal development towards wholeness and balance. Alchemy continues into the twenty-first century through our growing interest in metaphysics, holistic medicine and personal development.
As Above, So Below.
As Within, So Without.
This is probably the most famous of the alchemical maxims reminding us of the essential unity between our inner world and our outer world. Whatever we do in the physical world simultaneously resonates and influences the inner world and what ever is on the inside, in our hearts and minds, is reflected out into all we do in the outer world. Every thing we do, say and think is an opportunity to live our lives from this place of balance and integration, as we unite our everyday lives with our hearts desire.
Our actions are not isolated or separate from our thoughts. Our intentions set the directions that our actions take. We do not live in linear time, but cyclic time, with never ending cycles of endings and new beginnings, a matrix of overlapping cycles that create openings and endings from which we grow and learn. We are all part of the Earth and her natural cycles and her natural alchemy. We can live our lives in harmony with the Earth by aligning our personal lives with the Earths changing cycles. This brings us closer to the Earth and helps us to make the best use of the inherent alchemy of each season.
My interest in alchemy has grown with my understanding that each of the seven alchemical processes or experiences corresponds to the underlying energy of each of the eight Celtic festivals. Union, the most important alchemical experiences, occurs naturally twice in the Earth's cycle, at each of the Equinoxes.
Alchemy begins with the understanding that life is a uniting fertile force, a web of energy that is in constant interconnected motion, joining, merging, transforming and growing. We are all influencing this web of energy with all our actions, our words, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are increasingly becoming aware that everything is connected to everything else in the intricately balanced web of life.
Like permaculture, alchemy is based on observations of nature and natural laws and our conscious choice to understand what the Earth has to teach us, so that we are in harmony with the natural laws that influence our lives. Permaculture and alchemy go hand in hand, deepening the understanding we gain from living closely with the balance and transformation inherent in the cyclic flow of nature, extending this awareness to include our personal and spiritual growth. Through this awareness we learn how to adapt to change and how to work with change, both within ourselves and in the world.
Our ability to do this is as much a survival skill as learning to live sustainably on the land. We are all becoming increasingly aware of environmental changes that will affect all our lives, and our ability to embrace change and learn the skills that help us to consciously create beneficial change are becoming essential personal tools.
Alchemy, like permaculture, is about uniting our own originality and responsibility to ourselves with our responsibility to the whole of the web of life around us. Each season brings transformation and change, not only through the physical changes around us, but they also bring transformation and change within us. New possibilities unfold as we leave behind one season and adjust to a new one.
Alchemy is aware of this natural dynamic and each cycle of the changing year can be seen as an opportunity for conscious participation and choice. Our connection to the natural cycles and natural laws that govern all life on Earth deepens our understanding of the natural forces we are a part of.
With each seasonal shift I come closer to the understanding that WE ARE the Earth, WE ARE each season, WE ARE the fertile force of nature. We are not separate from the Earth, WE ARE the creative fertility of the life force and we are free to choose what we wish to grow in our hearts and in our minds.
As the present season changes I experience the shift in the energy as the Earth moves from the outer growth cycle of the spring and summer, to the inner growth cycle of the autumn and the winter months. The harvest is gathered in, and the seeds are stored or lay in the dark of the Earth, waiting for the spring and the next shift in energy that will bring the outer growth cycle once again.
This is the part of the cycle that leads to endings. It is an opportunity for me to look at and celebrate what I have grown and achieved during the active part of the cycle, not only from the material perspective, but what I have learnt about myself and my relationship with others and the world. I look at what I wish to continue to grow and what I wish to leave behind and I am aware of the importance of creating and honouring endings. This is an opportunity for me to let go of any stored negativity, old hurts, resentments, old ways of being that no longer serve me, the things that limit me and hold me back. I let them fall away like leaves from my tree, to rest in the Earth, in the fertile dark, to rot and decay and become my compost. By letting go of the old I empty myself, so that like the Earth, I can rest and regenerate during the winter months. This alchemical transformation of my experiences is then reabsorbed back into myself as the fertile compost in which I grow the new seeds of my future intentions. As I move into the winter I choose the seeds I wish to incubate in the dark of the year, bringing me in harmony with the Earths natural cycle.
During the winter months the Earth strengthens her roots, creating stability and strong foundations in preparation for the new outer growth cycle of the year. The dark nights and shorter days help me to slow down, return to base, rest back inside myself. I remind myself to let go of many of my activities in the outer world, to create space in my life so that I open up to my inner world, to be still for long enough to experience and strengthen this valuable part of myself. Here is an opportunity to challenge my assumptions about the world I think I know, to change my perspective, to look inside myself, to reflect, to find the openings, the doorways into fresh new insights, to the previously unseen, to enter the formless chaos of all possibilities within me and to consciously incubate my new seeds of my future growth.
This is a time of transition in which new perceptions are incubated in the dark of the year in preparation for rebirth, the alchemical shift in energy at Midwinter. The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the Earths year. From here the energy changes as the return of the Sun brings a new cycle of outer growth and activity once again.
The Earth's cycles show me continuous life. Out of the darkness, death and decay of the winter comes the spring, new growth, new life. From my experiences in the dark world within me, new insights and new possibilities are revealed, waiting to become integrated into my life. As I wait for the new cycle to begin I consolidate and strengthen my new perspective of Unity, following the threads that encourage healing, Love, happiness, inner and outer peace, for these are the things I wish to grow.
Alchemy is not about completion, but about the journey, and our awareness of changing cycles. Above all it is our growing awareness that the conscious choices we make now will create beneficial change in the future. The seeds of hope and seeds of change that we set in motion now will grow, as all things grow.
Together our actions, words and thoughts are creating a change of heart and new cycles of caring, Love, trust and gratitude that open the doors to positive change. When this is what we consciously decide to grow, this is then reflected out into the energy and continuous cycles of transformation we create in our lives and therefore in the world.