Saturday, November 26News Written in the Stars

Alchemy for the modern day chemist? : alchemy

Hi everyone,

I’ve got a few questions about alchemy that I was hoping to have answered by the community here. I’ll share a bit of background below because it influences the perspective from which I am approaching the topic of alchemy.

I have a PhD in organic chemistry and currently hold a position as a postdoctoral research associate. I have also been practicing meditation for 6 years. I’ve done a variety of practices from many traditions, though mostly Buddhist. I am open minded to spiritual/esoteric (and even paranormal) topics and I believe that many esoteric traditions hold genuine secrets that are not known to the average layperson of our culture. At the same time, I always try to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism because I think there is a lot of garbage in the esoteric world (really this is true of any field, not just those that are esoteric in nature). The excess noise created by this garbage makes it difficult to identify which traditions teach genuine truths, and which practices to put your time, energy and trust in.

Question 1: How might someone with my background approach alchemy? Are alchemy and modern scientific understanding compatible? Does anyone here have a career as a scientist while also pursuing alchemy as a part of their personal practice? I know this certainly has been done throughout history (Newton, for example). The reason I ask is because I want to calibrate my skepticism correctly. If I come across claims in the alchemical literature that I know to be untrue through science, it may cause me to dismiss the entire topic altogether. But maybe in doing so I’d be throwing the baby out with the bath water? On the other hand, might my training in organic chemistry allow some of the theories, techniques and apparatuses to be familiar and intuitive to me?

Question 2: What can one expect to gain from the practice of alchemy? In my limited research I’ve seen a wide spectrum of interpretations as to what alchemy actually entails. Some suggest alchemy is simply the creation and use of plant medicines (tinctures, extractions, decoctions) for health benefits. Others talk of more esoteric/supernatural results – the creation of a philosopher’s stone, for example. And yet others suggest that alchemy is actually a metaphor for an inner science, one that produces a spiritual transformation in the individual. I guess I’ve become a bit confused as to what to expect given all of these different interpretations of what alchemy actually is.

Thanks all!