Alchemy has been a prominent topic threading through my passions, from the cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky to Terence McKenna’s psychedelic philosophy, and more recently in James Hillman’s post-Jungian psychology. I’ve never tackled it head-on, though, at a loss as to where to start.
Heart of Albion Press’s ‘Explore’ series has thus far been a reliably succinct source of coherent introductions to key topics, so when I found they had put out a volume on alchemy, I was delighted.
That I’ve felt disappointment is perhaps less a measure of Cherry Gilchrist’s success in corralling such a diversity of materials in such a concise volume, than it is a measure of how this book has forced me to confront the foolishness of my desire for a neat, digestible introduction to a blantantly irreducible mystery. This book is neat and digestible, and makes it quite plain that such an approach is a limited expedient, far removed from any real foray into alchemical knowledge. The history is here, the key figures, a taste of the practical processes and their psychospiritual implications… But alchemy itself is, through the very digestibility of the text, banished. This is categorically a book about, not of alchemy; unlike, say, Dale Pendell’s Pharmako trilogy, there isn’t a trace of the content in the form.
Of course, I always knew enough of alchemy to know that a coherent summary would necessarily be bereft of the taste and texture of the subject. But it was only reading this book which at once fulfilled my desire for finding such a work, and made me realize the emptiness of this desire. Make no mistake, this seems like an excellent place to take your rational mind, to placate it with well-researched facts and a reasoned analysis backed by a clear knowledge of the subject’s inherently fragmentary, elusive nature. At the same time, it brought to light how much I had actually absorbed through Jodorowsky, McKenna and Hillman. Their poetic, tangential revelations of alchemical gnosis have embedded themselves at a deeper level than I’d realized. Such cognitive misdirection, of course, is arguably at the heart of alchemical practice, the devoted attention to the gross reactions in the alembic surreptitiously channelling psychic energies through their own transmutations.
As I’ve come to expect from Albion’s ‘Explore’ books, a sound introduction. But, more than any other, one which starkly reveals through omission the necessities of the subject itself.