Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reading Lessons

In Alchemical writing, any description of a process can mean one of three things: an actual chemical process, a psychological process, a way of being. Some authors state that they obviously mean for you to understand their statements in a particular way and all the people who say they mean something else are really just showing how ignorant they are. Other alchemical writers don’t specify which way you should interpret their descriptions. Do I really mean you should stoke some antimony in some kind of fire? Hmmm? Let me get back to you on that.

People who are inclined to physical directness tend to gravitate toward the hard science-style physical descriptions. They build stills and ovens, are careful with their crucibles, and their glassware collection is something to see, but not necessarily drink out of. (John French, in his treatise on distillation goes so far as to describe a method of mending cracked glass with beaten egg whites.) Something about seeing a metal go through a process of sublimation allows them to open to the mysteries of the universe. The way some metals change colors during redox reactions is a kind of proof that the Laws work outside of any lamentably subjective human perspective.

Others find that the processes described in alchemical texts make more sense if understood as colorful descriptions of psychological processes. In this approach, the idea that alchemists are trying to create some kind of physical stone through primitive chemistry seems a bit silly, and psychological alchemists are quick in defense of their favorite writers. Of course the ancient alchemists were not so naive as to think they could actually turn lead into gold, they laugh. That wasn’t the point of real Alchemy at all! The writers who talked as if they were actually making a stone were either real alchemists being metaphorical or pretenders too afraid to integrate their shadows into a more fully actualized Self.

Still others find that the truth of alchemy lies in the body itself. The process of digestion is the ultimate act of transformation. The work is to transform the Self, usually considered to be the mixture of the fixed (physical) and the volatile (spiritual) together through the taking in of food. We eat the dumb cow and turn it into human flesh. In this view, psychological alchemy is woefully incomplete and physical alchemy is merely a diverting illustration of principles.

Each of these approaches has its hand on the elephant. In this case, the elephant is a holographic universe in which any piece contains a picture of the entire universe. The problem with holograms is that although you keep the whole image no matter how tiny you make the pieces; the smaller the pieces, the fuzzier the picture. If you’ve only got the one hand on the elephant, you may get a view of the whole universe, but it’ll be hard to make out what anything is supposed to be.

What you can always have your hand on are your psychological processes and your physical well-being. Those are two pieces of the elephant and for now, the psychological and physiological are all you need to start seeing what the universe is like. All that is required is your conscious attention.

Homework: learn about fermentation by allowing yourself to veg out watching t.v. all day while eating homemade kimchee.


suz said...

this is nice, and next time the physical alchemists start roasting and toasting those of us who are hands-on over on the alchemical college list, i'm going to steal this!
kimchee!!! EWWWWWW!!!!!!
:D khairete

Yvonne Rathbone said...

Well, the cool thing about the physical alchemists is all the shopping. Does Williams-Sonoma make crucibles? But really, the most hands-on you can be is a physiological alchemist. And you don't have to eat kimchee. Yogurt, sourdough bread, all alcholic beverages, kefir, sourkraut... it's all ferment. Choose the one that makes you happy while you ferment on the couch.

Yewtree said...

Hey, Yvonne - did I mention that you rock? Some awesome blogposts recently.

I like that elephant story, and I like your use of it to imply a holographic universe, too.

Yvonne Rathbone said...


I want someone to make me a holographic elephant.