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.
Alchemical Formulae for the Fire Circle
As Above, So Below — This is perhaps the oldest Alchemical maxim, originating in the first line of The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. It is a formula for self-realization. The full maxim is “as above, so below; as below, so above.” Our inner world and mental, physical and spiritual states directly impact our exterior world, and vice versa. The Fire Circle is a microcosm for the macrocosm of our existence, and, therefore, any core issue or challenge we encounter in our daily life will inevitably be activated and echoed within the vessel of the Fire Circle. As we encounter and sometimes collide with these issues, it is our ability to negotiate the situation inside the Circle, while remaining engaged in the process, which affords us the prospect and probability of returning to a daily life where these matters no longer activate us. The magic we co-create in the sacred container, through sustained engagement, ripples out exponentially into the rest of our lives, for the highest good. The mightier our ability to remain engaged in the Fire Circle process, the richer and fuller our experience becomes, a truth that is mirrored in the greater mystery of life. Though it can be challenging to stay fully committed to the creative process from midnight, or earlier, until after sunrise, it is specifically this kind of initiatory, inventive ordeal, virtually unheard of in our culture, that furnishes us with the utmost opportunity for personal and collective growth.
V.I.T.R.I.O.L. — from the Latin, “Visitas Interiorum Terra, Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidum” – meaning Visit the Interior of the Earth, in Rectifying, you will Find the Hidden Stone. The early part of the Great Work includes finding the primal matter, which corresponds to our deeper, inner, work. Obstacles come in all shapes and sizes, they may be emotional blocks, but they may also be creative blocks, intellectual blindness, cultural expectations, physical challenges, or material, even musical, limitations. All of these things have their working opportunities in the Fire Circle. By being willing to dig deeply into our subconscious, we can find that which needs to be rectified, to be made right… and it is our work at the Fire Circle which transforms and transmutes these difficult inner issues into spiritual insight and golden illuminations.
Solve et Coagula — This formula means to dissolve and re-form. In Alchemical metallurgy, fire was used to heat and melt. During the ensuing processes, the metals would be refined to more purified states. We at the Fire Circle use this as a metaphor for blending together in mindful relationship and separating ourselves from the things that separate us from others, whether it be obsolete thought patterns, belief systems or communication styles that no longer serve the highest good. We honor our tears of joy as well as tears of sorrow, and sweat our prayers and intentions in manifestation. Through the process of re-creating (recreation) by dancing, chanting, drumming and serving, we dissolve and then re-form our selves, as we move toward more evolved and refined states of being.
Ora et Labora — This phrase is also Latin, Ora meaning to pray or speak, and Labora meaning to work. The balance of these two is the essence of our work, the spiritual made manifest in every aspect of our lives. Gibran said “Work is Love made visible.” All material works and mundane tasks are transformed by our mindfulness into works of art and offerings to Spirit.
Separate the Subtle from the Gross — This is a passage from The Emerald Tablet. Throughout history, alchemists have melted down metals to extract the gross elements. In order to make Gold, we must remove impurities and refine our materials. As we deepen in our work, through repetition, we hone our skills and learn. In this sacred play we discover and invent new, more refined ways to “let go of our lead.” Our lead is the heaviness we feel emotionally that manifests in interpersonal relationships. Our work and play at the Fire Circle accelerates the release and/or transformation of this inner lead. “Impurities are our ‘stuff’ as we say, the trace elements of the psyche – knots, complexes, resistances, blockages – all a result of what we have lived and suffered. When it begins to weigh, to get heavy, we can see it as our lead, our heavy metal. As a result, it often feels depressing, both emotionally and physically.” (Jay Ramsay, Alchemy) As we refine our practice, through deep play around the sacred fire, we let go of old behaviors and thought patterns which no longer serve the highest good. As we continue in our practice, we also discover and invent new, more refined ways to express and apply our Gold. It is clear that there are many individuals at the Fire Circle, who have a lot of untapped Gold to mine, smelt, hammer and shape. As we separate the subtle from the gross, we continue the journey of refinement.
Keep Vigilant, Even While Asleep — We pay attention to our dreams, keeping our dream journals. The Psychologist Carl Jung said “dreams are like love letters from our unconscious mind; the trouble is, most people never open those letters.” By invoking lucid dreaming techniques and dream journaling, we open those letters, and unfold their symbolic content, for further personal exploration and enlightenment. Even though an Alchemical Fire Circle has a closure after sunrise, our work continues in the dream-time.
“Universal Fire Circle Alchemy explores the metaphors and symbols of alchemy to create an experiential laboratory for safe and sacred play. We enter the vessel as individual elements. As we dance the sacred fire, we separate ourselves from that which separates us from ourselves and others. Dancing the fire, we deepen our relationships and forge lifetime connections. By playing, praying and blending together, we share our heart songs, offering our joys and tears, individuals dissolving into a solution. As we refine our work and play, in the liquid embrace of rhythm and community, we discover the deepest mystery, a mystery that has been called the elixir of life, and the philosopher’s stone. The Fire of Nature accelerates our growth, transforms our consciousness and lovingly evolves those of us participating in this Great Work. Alchemy is the magic by which we are transforming the leaden or heavy experiences of our lives into golden realizations and spiritual illuminations.”
–J. Magnus McBride
“Alchemy is the ancient art of transformation. Alchemy presents a paradigm of transmutation, from the leaden to the gold, from the gross to the subtle, from the raw to the cooked, from the first matter to the philosopher’s stone. It transcends all religious and cultural boundaries, and is an accessible map for seekers. By drawing on metaphors from alchemy, we are able to better understand the deeper workings of the fire circle.”
–Abbi Spinner McBride
“Alchemy is the gentle acceleration of growth through the use of the fire of nature.”
“Alchemy is the process of changing lead into gold; at least this is its most popular definition. It was practiced in many countries throughout the world for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. As a result, alchemy has many definitions. It meant one thing to an Egyptian high priest and quite another to a fifteenth century apothecary…”
–Thom Cavalli, Alchemical Psychology
“The philosopher’s stone is a divine spark within us all, which can become a candle to illuminate our whole self. It is the embryo of our subtle body which lives on after the decay of our flesh. It is a crystal in the cave of our consciousness. It is a seed which can put forth golden shoots and blossom into a golden flower. It is a symbol of the wholeness and fulfillment to be attained when our body, soul, and spirit sing together in unison, when the stars within dance with those without, when the sun and the moon lie in tender embrace, and when the original harmony between heaven and earth is finally restored.
As the ancient alchemists said, the philosopher’s stone is a stone and not a stone. It is the most precious thing in the world, and the most common, the most difficult, and child’s play, to be found nowhere and everywhere. If allowed to grow, it will indeed bring everlasting life and untold riches, both here on Earth and in the world around the corner.
Whatever may happen to us in our lives, we can all be transformed from dead stones into living philosophical stones, of that I am certain.”
–Peter Marshall, The Philosopher’s Stone
- 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 Arabian 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, Carl 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