Alchemy and Western Esoteric Traditions: Transform Spiritually, Get Rid of Your Baggage and Feel Connected to the Universe
Alchemy as a Spiritual Path
When you hear the word ‘alchemy‘, maybe you have an image of hooded figures in a laboratory trying to turn base metal into gold – or magicians searching for the key to everlasting life. But alchemy is also a spiritual path – where we find the keys to changing ourselves from unhappy and stuck into a state of total thriving. Practising alchemy is a Gnostic approach to spirituality – a way of seeking a personal relationship with the Divine. We’ll also have a look at Anthroposophy and Mystery Schools, transformational ways connected with the Western esoteric tradition.
Living from Your Spiritual Nature with The Great Work, Hermetics, the Enneagram and Anthroposophy
Alchemy doesn’t mess about with any half-hearted methods: it’s about total transformation through purifying ourselves and letting go of everything that stands between us and freedom. Alchemy as a spiritual practice means moving from ignorance of our true selves to enlightenment: knowing who we really are – beyond the physical – as unlimited, free beings that are one with the Universe and everything around us, and can tune into our own wisdom. This is called ‘The Great Work’ in the Hermetic tradition, which sees us as all being part of God – instead of separate from a ‘man in the sky’. Hermetic beliefs include an awareness of gods, angels and elementals that, like us, live in this big and mysterious Universe – and who we can work with through ritual and magic.
OK, so these are all interesting ideas, but why practice alchemy in these modern times? Spiritual alchemy and other esoteric practices can help you to heal yourself by getting rid of the baggage from your past (the base metal), live more from your spiritual nature – instead of getting bogged down in fear, and enjoy more loving, meaningful relationships. Increased energy and self esteem, calm even in stressful situations,and being able to protect yourself energetically are other positive things that can come out of studying and practising alchemy. Here’s a couple of examples of practices that help us to alchemize our lives: the Enneagram, a way of understanding your potential for spiritual development – and your blocks – which was was developed by Gurdjieff, a spiritual teacher in the alchemical tradition. Gurdjieff’s Movements, or Sacred Dances give us the chance to connect up our mind, body and emotions – something rare in our busy and mind-dominated daily life, where often we leave the rest of ourselves behind. The school of Anthroposophy, founded by Rudolf Steiner but influenced by older traditions, also offers tools for alchemical transformation, with its emphasis on developing our intuition so we can feel and experience the spiritual world as reality. Connection with the cycles of nature and their spiritual lessons is also key in this approach. But it’s a moment-by-moment choice: whether to stay identified with the spiritual world or the material plane is up to us.
Get Clued Up on Alchemy and Other Estoteric Traditions – and Empower Yourself
If the idea of empowering yourself with alchemy and through mystery schools sends tingles up your spine, check out these resources: free lessons from the Octagon Society, an alchemy study group, and a Modern Mystery School where you can learn about Kabbalah, alchemy, sacred geometry and more. Or look on Meetup to find a Hermetic alchemy group or another flavour of esoteric group. To find out more about anthroposophy, see ‘Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy’ . Explore Gurdjieff’s work here. For a complete list of mystery schools, see this list. For a portal into the world of gnosticism, try this site. And for a more detailed look at gnostic and esoteric traditions of the West, see this book.
Carl Jung’s Discovery, Gurdgjieff’s The Fourth Way, and Steiner’s Soulful Ideas
Psychologist Carl Jung took a fresh look at alchemical symbolism and found a lot of juice in it for growth and healing. Jung reckoned that alchemy was easier for the Western mind to understand than the yogic philosophies (insert internal link for yoga article) of the East. In psychological or spiritual alchemy, we turn the base matter of our selves – warts and all – into the gold of our fully realized potential. The gnostic tradition, which Jung was a part of, was hugely influenced by alchemy. It holds that instead of relying on faith alone – and believing what is in sacred scriptures like the Bible – we go after our own experience, and through that, knowledge, of the secrets of the Universe and the Divine. ‘Gnosis’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘secret knowledge’, and usually taking part in a gnostic tradition involves secret rituals and methods. One example is The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or ‘The Golden Dawn’), a magical order which has been a huge influence on 20th Century Western occult traditions including Wicca. George Gurdjieff was trained in religious orders but ‘translated’ his esoteric experiences into language more acceptable to 20th Century seekers. He invited us to follow a ‘Fourth Way’ – an evolved, spiritual way of being that doesn’t mean we have to give up ‘the world’ and go and live in a monastery to be spiritual – we can be in the world and experience our spiritual nature. Like Gurdjieff, Rudolf Steiner was an anthroposophist. Steiner’s work is about helping us to develop properly as human beings so we can experience our full potential and bring our souls fully into our bodies, creating more soul-ful societies and cultures.
From the Philosopher’s Stone to the Kabbalah: History of Western Esoteric Traditions
The alchemists searching for the philosopher’s stone in past histories saw no separation between the boiling up of metals and the metaphysical meanings of what they were doing. They borrowed symbols and terms from Western spiritual traditions like astrology, biblical and pagan myths, and the Kabbalah, to describe their craft. From the middle ages on, alchemists started to focus more on the metaphysics of alchemy. They began to see the transmutation of common metals into gold as a symbol for transforming from an unwell state into a healthy state of perfection, with the philosopher’s stone symbolizing the key that makes this amazing change possible. Steiner’s anthroposophical view of life, although controversial, has been a massive influence on the arts and education. Gurdjieff and Steiner had some overlapping ideas but also some big disagreements, each branching off into their own interpretation of anthroposophy. Hermes Trismegistus was the guy who sparked off the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which is still active today. Today, a fair few schools have sprung up to keep the Mystery School and alchemical traditions alive – with a modern twist to make them useful today.
Why is it Ripe and Ready?
Alchemy, mystery schools, and anthroposophy offer us practical and exciting ways to earth ancient wisdom into our everyday lives, bringing radical transformation and a closer relationship to our soul.