What I’ve Learned About Alchemy So Far
The top graphic is called a rebis and is essentially a western mandala (spiritual or ritual symbol). Alchemists used many different symbols and language to disguise their texts. The rebis is a simple image that can be used as an introduction to alchemy.
• The Seven Major Symbols
For alchemists and magicians, a variety of things are grouped into 7 major categories. These categories are most commonly represented by the sun, moon, and 5 visible planets; Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter & Saturn. These heavenly bodies represent a multitude of things, but most commonly they stand for metals and emotions.
• The Chemist
Alchemists are known as precursors to the modern day chemist. They would hide chemical equations in elaborate symbolic stories. In fact, ancient poems about Greek & Roman gods often had hidden alchemical meanings. Here is a breakdown of the Roman poet Ovid’s writing, “The Metamorphosis”.
"Ovid tells the story of the god Vulcan catching his wife, Venus, in bed with the god Mars. According to the myth, Vulcan made a fine metallic net and hung the lovers from the ceiling for all to see. In alchemy, Venus, Mars and Vulcan mean copper, iron and fire.
Viewed this way, the myth becomes an alchemical recipe.”
The “metallic net” mentioned in the story is actually a purple alloy which is what you get when combining copper and iron in a certain way. This has been recreated by modern chemists and even Isaac Newton himself who happened to be a prolific alchemist.
See more Isaac Newton and alchemy here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/newton-alchemist-newman.html
• The Psychologist & Magician
The other major thing these 7 symbols represent is emotions. This is a very ancient teaching akin to the eastern mystics teachings of chakras. The famous psychologist Carl Jung wrote and published a number of books on alchemy. In his writing, Psychology & Alchemy, Jung explains that ancient alchemical symbols represented wise insights into the human psyche.
The surface idea of mental alchemy is to learn to control and understand one’s emotions, but there are many deeper and dangerous aspects to these practices as well. For example, Jung himself wrote a book called, The Red Book in which he describes conversing with spirits and what one might call demons. Jung followed ancient alchemical teachings and wrote his own experiences in this book. However, to put it in his own words, he was, “menaced by a psychosis” during this time and gave up many of his esteemed psychology positions. Some say Jung was suffering from psychotic episodes in this book, but the ancient alchemists believed that certain alchemical teachings were paths to the spirit world. This book was not released while he was alive and has only recently been published by his family in 2009.
For some wise insight into the dangers of dabbling in these esoteric teachings check out this audio from the scholarly Manly P. Hall, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3WiuG6uTJQ&noredirect=1
Also see this fascinating NOVA video about Isaac Newton and alchemy: Newton’s Dark Secrets https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-w_2C8WfAw&noredirect=1