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Alchemy Explained

Nicki Scully

Excerpted from Modern Egyptian Alchemy, by Nicki Scully. This is part of her contribution to the anthology The Modern Day Alchemist from the Land of the Pharaohs, by George Faddoul and Mohamed Nazmy

Alchemy is the process by which each of us moves from our primal state of unconsciousness, through the various alchemical stages represented by our most elemental experiences, to the realization of full awakening, or enlightenment. It is the interactive dance through which we are constantly weaving spirit and matter into the multidimensional tapestry of life. Alchemy is a process that spirals from cycle to cycle, ever upward and forward, repeating itself as required to transform and change us through the experiences of our body, soul, psyche, and spirit. In alchemical terminology it is called the Opus, or Great Work. The higher state of consciousness and self-understanding that results includes recognition of our connection to the spirit world and awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings.

The goal of the Great Work is called, among other things, the philosophers’ stone, the universal medicine, alchemical gold, and the elixir of life. It is the interpenetration of spirit and matter—the spiritualization of our material selves, and the materialization of our spiritual essence.

Alchemy has much in common with shamanism. A shaman is a multidimensional traveler who journeys into various realms of spirit to bring back power and healing for the benefit of his or her community. A shaman’s development requires a breakdown of ego, and toward this end there are rites of passage that often lead to the edge of or beyond the physical, mental, and emotional tolerance of most people. I’ve never heard of a shaman who has not undergone ordeals that tested his mettle and stretched the envelope of his abilities. All shamans go through a process of decomposition and re-membering in order to find their personal power and abilities, and all have allies from the spirit world with whom they consult and often merge. These allies include plants, animals, minerals, elementals, and often the spirits of places. Even the realms beyond death are open to certain shamans.

As in alchemy, a shaman’s body and psyche become his laboratory, and through his initiatory experiences he develops the power, the humility, and the relationships he needs to function as intercessor for others. He is also a medicine maker, often creating his cures as a result of divine inspiration.

The roots of classical alchemy are found in the Arabic, Al Khem, which translates roughly as "of the black land.” Khem is the ancient Egyptian word for Egypt herself—the land of black, fertile silt that was left after the inundation swept through the Nile Valley each year, the place of the fecund earth which, when blessed by the regenerative forces of nature, brought forth new life that grew and nourished the people.

The word alchemy commonly refers to a legendary medieval art by which an adept could turn lead into gold. This is only one aspect of alchemy. Those “puffers,” so called because of their frantic use of the bellows, whose sole purpose was the generation of riches, were an embarrassment to true alchemists, and have maligned the reputation of an art with a much more noble objective.

For those actually engaged in the Great Work, the transmutation of metals was an allegory veiling their true goal. This goal was a superior and interior achievement—the alchemical gold of enlightenment—through which one transcends duality and illusion and becomes one with the fabric of creation, where creator and creation are one.

What is the matter? Integrated into our language is this common question, which goes for the underlying source of that which is in need of transformation. Some ancient texts say that the goal of the Work can only be achieved by starting with that which contains at its source some of the basic ingredient of the desired result. This ingredient is the prima materia, or prime matter. In Egypt, the obvious analogy was the fertile black soil itself. For the later alchemist, it is variously the base metals and/or the unconscious mind. In plant alchemy, it is the active curative essence that is rendered from the physical plant. Ultimately, alchemy is an enigma that offers seemingly paradoxical, often contradictory ground rules for a mysterious, although not insurmountable challenge, to know ourselves fully, inside and out.

The ancient and modern arts of alchemy are easily understood by an example found in nature, the transformation that occurs over time in the creation of a diamond. The matter starts as carbon, deep within the earth. Through elemental interaction and when the appropriate amount of heat and pressure is applied and sustained, transmutation occurs—the soft black material becomes the exquisite clear, hard, brilliant diamond.

Pressure is a fundamental part of that process, and as we explore the process of alchemy in our own lives, we discover that it is through the management of pressure that we achieve personal mastery. It is not so much about what comes to us in our life experience, but rather how we respond to it that indicates our level of mastery. Alchemically, we can see every adverse condition as a valuable part of the process, grist for the inner mill in which transmutation takes place. In healing, it is the disease that forces us to learn how to transform in order to heal.

The basic tenets of alchemy are distilled in the Emerald Tablet, one of the most quoted and studied of the guiding treatises of alchemical lore. The Emerald Tablet is attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, the legendary author of works on theosophy, magic, wisdom, and alchemy, who is associated with the Greek god Hermes, and the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth. The Tablet suggests that "that which is above is the same as that which is below: All that exists is of One Mind, or of One Thing, and they are the same.” (My favorite translation is found in The Emerald Tablet, Alchemy for Personal Transformation, by Dennis William Hauck, Penguin/Arcana 1999.) It is the goal of the alchemist to bring spirit and matter into alignment and harmony. Within that relationship rests the secret of creation, and with it our ability to co-create our own reality and to heal ourselves and others.

Modern alchemy is emerging as one of the most powerful means for transforming our reality, and Alchemical Healing provides maps and tools for those who would consciously engage in the process, especially for those who which to heal themselves and others.

Alchemical Healing provides ways to weave spirit and matter, to develop communications between divinity and humanity, to retrieve knowledge, and to transform magical experience into wisdom. It honors the accumulated wisdom of the Earth and humankind, both in written and oral traditions, and offers entry into the magical realms of intuition and limitless knowledge. These are combined with physical, rational, and scientific based sources of information.

Healing is by nature an alchemical process. With clear intention and resolve, we learn to use our adversarial situations to help us grow spiritually, emotionally, and even physically, which opens up a myriad of possibilities regarding how we choose to live our lives and how we relate to one another and the world.

All people have inherent healing abilities that, for the most part, are not recognized or acknowledged in modern western cultures. Although our population has burgeoned since the industrial revolution and the advent of modern medical technology, many of the simple, effective, and free or easily affordable cures have been lost and largely forgotten. Western culture suffered a severe setback in this regard during the Inquisition, when healers were considered heretics and burned at the stake. In our rush for freedom in the New World, we assumed that the original inhabitants of this land were primitives, and in our arrogance, laid waste to thousands of years of cultural and spiritual development that had preceded us here. Regardless of our race or where we came from, most of us have been cut off from the wisdom of our ancestors for so long that we need help to remember ourselves. It is time to reclaim the power and pathways to knowledge that are buried deep within our psyches and our DNA. Within us dwell all the memories of our ancestors, and the ability to more fully comprehend new mysteries bursting forth from our unfolding universe. We are all mystics and sages waiting to remember what we’ve misplaced or forgotten.

We are living during an unprecedented explosion of technology; now it is time to catch up with an equal explosion of spirituality. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

In the course of remembering, we are not limited to what is in our own heads; we have access to the gestalt of the entire accumulated wisdom in the fullness of time. The goals of this discipline are the reawakening of our inherent healing powers and our transformation into a higher awareness of our potential to navigate the mysteries of this miraculous life. Modern Egyptian alchemy is both a school of knowledge and a spiritual path to an enlightened state of presence.

To purchase a copy of The Modern Day Alchemist from the Land of the Pharaohs, by George Faddoul and Mohamed Nazmy (with chapters by Nicki, Normandi Ellis, Danielle Hoffman and Dr. Friedemann Schaub, Leslie Temple-Thurston, Lynn Andrews and others whose love of Egypt and alchemy shines through their writings), go to