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 Alchemy: the Cosmological Yoga

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PostSubject: Alchemy: the Cosmological Yoga   Wed Jul 30, 2008 10:47 am

Alchemy in most ancient civilizations is none other than the science of the sacrifice of terrestrial substances, the liturgy for transfiguring those crafts that deal with "inanimate" matter. We find it everywhere from archaic Mesopotamia to ancient China and in India throughout the ages. In these traditions, "mythological" in form, alchemy is not restricted to any particular place: if the Spirit is everywhere, obviously it is also in a stone; when the one and only light, that of Divine Intelligence, is manifest in the sun, in an eagle, and in honey, it is surprising that it is also manifest in gold, that every metal is gold which does not know itself, and even in its ignorance is a "state” of gold? If man has no other role than to worship in the undivided sanctuary of his body and of nature, is it surprising that he should "transmute" lead into gold? Neither can sanctity be divided, and the "miracle" of transmutation reveals its omnipresence.

Alchemy in the metaphysical and mythological traditions had no more importance than the dance which expressed the sacred nature of rhythm, showed the worshipful circling of the dancers to be the same as that of the stars, and, in the sudden immobility of the body, "transmuted" time, the sleep of lead, into the pure gold of a moment of eternity. However, alchemy was destined to have a special significance in the realm of the "monotheistic" traditions, and particularly in Christianity. Apart from traces of folklore that still exists in some rural communities of Europe, alchemy, or, more generally, Hermeticism, seems to have been the only cosmological doctrine to survive in the Christian world. It has therefore been called upon to play a major role "beneath the surface" in a religion that stressed "contempt of the flesh" and shunned cosmology.

In fact, during the early Middle Ages and up to the beginning of Gothic Art, alchemy was not opposed to Christianity but completed it. Through it, the Eucharistic effusion radiated even into the heaviest states of matter. It was no longer only bread and wine that were transubstantiated, but stone, lead, the lime of bones and rocks. Vivified by Christianity, alchemy gave the latter a "technical" application in the "psychocosmic" realm, which Christianity had neglected because its aim was not to establish man in the world but to lead him out of it.

So alchemy could not have survived in the West without the tremendous initiatic effusion of Christianity: just as the archaic house only exists because of the chimney by which it communicates with "heaven," so there is no possible cosmology except around the "central" state, through which one can find a way out of the cosmos. However, without alchemy Christianity could not have been "incarnated" in a total order: there would have been monks and saints; but there would not have been the sacred idea of a nature which could endow the arts and crafts, and heraldry, with their character of "lesser mysteries." In a time when we are weighed down by heaviness, it is perhaps urgent to remind Christianity that it not only accepted but, in the centuries of its noblest incarnation, animated a true "yoga" of heaviness and matter.

Despite the insistence of historians of science, alchemy was never, except in its degenerate aspects, a primitive chemistry. It was a "sacramental" science in which material phenomena were not autonomous, but represented only the "condensation" of psychic and spiritual realities. When the spontaneity and mystery of nature is penetrated, it becomes transparent. On the one hand it is transfigured under the lightning-flashes of divine energies, and on the other it incorporates and symbolizes those "angelic" states that fallen man can only glimpse for brief moments, when listening to music or when contemplating a human face. Symbols are not meant to be "stuck onto" things: they are the very structure, the presence, and the beauty of things such as they are in the process of perfection in God. For alchemy, which is the science of symbol, there was no question, as has sometimes been said, of a "material" unity of nature, but of a spiritual unity – one could almost say a spiritual Assumption of nature. For nature, ultimately, is none other than the place of a metaphysical principle: through man it becomes the body of the Word and, as it were, the bride of God.

This Assumption of matter is the key to the alchemical work, which simply helps substances "to plunge into the Father-nature," that is, to incorporate, according to their mode of being, the greatest possible spiritual light. "Creatures must plunge into this Father-nature and become Unity and the only Son, "for nature, which is God, seeks only the image of God." "Copper, because of its nature, can become silver, and silver, by its nature, can become gold: so neither one nor the other stops or pauses until this identity is realized." For gold is the most perfect of metals, the one whose luminous density best expresses the divine presence in the mineral realm: through spiritual continuity each metal is virtually gold and each stone becomes precious in God. This transfiguration of nature – memory of Eden and expectation of the second coming (Parousia) – can at present only take effect in the heart of man, the central and conscious being of the creation. Indeed, that being so, "the eye of the heart" can see gold in lead and crystal in the mountain, because it can see the world in God.

Alchemy, like all the ancient sciences, was therefore an immense effort to awaken man to the divine omnipresence. Its importance is to have emphasized this omnipresence in the darkest heaviness: there where the pseudo-mystical, "idealistic" perspective would be least likely to look for it; there, on the contrary, where, according to the analogical inversion of a "sacramental" vision, the divine omnipresence "contracts” and most strongly withdraws into itself. If the production of metallic gold has sometimes been achieved, then it was simply a sign. It was no more of a miracle than that of a saint whose look transforms a sinner. Just as the saint sees in the sinner the possibility of sanctity, so the alchemist-sage saw in the lead the possibility of metallic sanctity, that is, of gold. And this vision was "operative."

But the alchemist did not seek to make metallic gold. That was not the true meaning of his work. His purpose was to unite his soul so intimately with that of the metals that he could remind them that they are in God, that is, that they are gold. The medieval alchemist actualized the Word of Christ to the letter: he proclaimed the good news to all creatures. "The stone is the Christ," all the Hermetic texts of the Middle Ages hopefully repeat. Through his vision of Christic Gold, the alchemist could transmute every "imperfect metal." But he did it only rarely, for as a saint, he knew that the time for cosmic transfiguration had not yet come.

The true role of the alchemist was twofold: on the one hand, he helped nature, suffocated by human decadence, to breathe the presence of God. Offering up to God the prayer of the universe, he anchored the universe in being and renewed its existence. The texts call him king; as secret king, he confirmed the order of time and of space, the fecundity of the earth producing grain and diamond, as did the kings of ancient societies, like the emperor of China up to the beginning of the twentieth century. In the second place, the alchemist, on the human plane, "awakening” substances and gold itself to their true nature, used them to prepare elixirs which gave "longevity" to the body and strength to the soul: "drinkable gold" was a gold awakened to its spiritual quality, and reflected in its order the "immortality medicine" as St. Ambrose said of the Eucharist. The true role of the alchemist was to celebrate analogically a mass whose species were not only bread and wine, but also all of nature in its entirety.

~ Maurice Aniane

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