Practical Metallurgy — Alchemy was born at the tribal fires of Paleolithic societies where people discovered that the fire acted on different materials in different ways. This led to the fire workers creating secret societies to protect their knowledge and power over fire and metals.
Proto-Chemistry — Medieval alchemists in European and Arab countries sought to find the philosopher’s stone through their chemical experiments on matter and metals. Many of these experiments lead to discoveries in medicine and eventually archaic alchemy transformed into modern chemistry, due to the works of many scientifically inclined, yet spiritually inspired, visionaries such as Paracelsus, and Isaac Newton.
Spiritual — In ancient Egypt, the legendary Thoth was the creator of magic, mathematics, language and writing. The Greek aspect of Thoth was the mythic figure of Hermes Trismegistis, whose “Emerald Tablet” was said to contain the secrets of alchemical transmutation. The Emerald Tablet was re-discovered in the West during the renaissance, and led many alchemists of that time to study both Arabic and Western Alchemical texts.
Sexual Alchemy — In the East, both Chinese and Indian traditions incorporate sexual imagery into the understanding of alchemy, the union of opposites, yin/yang, yoni/lingam, man/woman, and other dualities are unified into the “one thing,” the great mystery. These traditions transmute sexual energy into union with the Divine.
Psychological Alchemy — One of the most important psychologists of the 20th century, C. G. Jung, discovered the wealth of alchemical images that appear in dreams. Jung’s work re-popularized the nearly forgotten study of alchemy in the twentieth century.
Shamanic Alchemy — Often, in shamanic traditions, we find sacred medicines, or elixirs, used to alter the state of consciousness of the shaman, as he or she enters healing trance. The preparation of this elixir is a further example of the alchemical process, and the dissolution of the individual ego in the shamanic state of consciousness is similar to the dissolution of metals in the alchemist’s laboratory. The shaman’s journey of death and resurrection mirrors the alchemist’s experiments of dissolving and re-combining materials. The very nature of alchemical language is intentionally cryptic, even our modern word gibberish comes from an Arabic alchemist’s name, Jabir — whose cryptic alchemical notes were incomprehensible to the uninitiated.
Well, folks, we’re breaking tradition here, in lots of ways — first off, we’re disclosing many of the secrets we’ve learned over the years, and we’re putting them in writing, in what is meant to be clear language. We are not trying to transmit the wisdom of the ages or relay all the information that is available on the art of alchemy. We are attempting to describe how the alchemical process can be seen in viewing a fire circle ritual.
There are three basic components of alchemy which are salt, sulfur and mercury. Salt is fixed or stable, and represents the body, including the physical space and the ritual preparation. Sulfur is volatile, and represents spirit, including drumming, singing, dancing, oratory, music, and prayers. Mercury is mutable or changeable, and represents soul, the inspiration and intention of the ritual, coming from within the individual or group soul.
We have found that it is extremely helpful to mentally and physically prepare ourselves before entering into an all-night ritual. Before we go to the fire circle, we often bathe and choose our ritual vestments for the evening, to reflect our individual or community intentions. The ritual costume often symbolizes the archetype we are embodying during the ceremony that evening. Magnus tends to run a lot of Mercury energy, so his costume often includes a winged hat and a caduceus wand, along with his shamanic bag of tricks. Spinner often carries Lunar energy, and her costume usually includes head wraps and veils, and she carries a medicine bag containing various enchantments to be administered throughout the journey from dusk to dawn. We’ve asked many people what they do before they go to the fire circle, and people have a variety of individual practices, ranging from simple cleansing breaths to chakra meditations, to the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, or other preparatory rituals. Often at our fire rituals there is a formal fire lighting ceremony where the members of the community join together and state their intention for the evening’s ritual. After a brief opening ceremony, the fire is lit, the drums begin, and the dancing starts.
Sometimes, there are those who arrive late to the fire circle, while the ritual is already in process. In these cases, we have found it to be very helpful to enter the space gently, to come in slowly, so that we can tune into the energy already in process, without disturbing or distracting from what may already be happening. Often, we will cover ourselves completely with our cloaks and be “invisible” for awhile. We recommend walking three times around the perimeter of the circle before entering. We know what would happen if a piece of hot metal were suddenly submerged into cold water there would be a lot of hissing and steam, and the vessel might crack — so we’re trying to acclimate ourselves before entering, to merge into the circle, rather than to crash in. The integrity of the vessel is of the utmost importance.