Alchemy, from exoteric to esoteric
- Category: Articles
by Aaron Franz
first posted Thursday, 10 February 2011
The language of symbols
The ancient art of alchemy has come down throughout the ages, and it seems as though its true level of antiquity is not well understood even by its modern day adherents. It is well recognized that the black land of Khem (Egypt) is where this black art was faithfully practiced, but did it all start there? We simply do not know, and for this reason alchemy remains the black art that it always was. One of its primary powers is mystery itself, or darkness. Darkness is synonymous with ignorance, and without a doubt most of us remain in the dark when it comes to the meaning and purpose of alchemy today.
The language of alchemy is symbolism. This means that its true meaning is hidden from anyone who is symbolically illiterate. Here we can see the Veil of Isis at work.
In the Ancient Mystery tradition, symbolism is the language of Nature. The goddess Isis is Nature herself, and she is also known as the Mother of the Mysteries. The Natural Man understands the language of his own Mother (naturally). The unnatural, or profane, man remains blind. He lives in darkness for he does not see what is in front of his face. To summarize,
• Symbolism = the language used by both nature and alchemy (alchemy emulates nature). • Isis = Nature herself. She speaks in symbols. • Natural Man = the Son of Nature. He has eyes to see the meaning of symbols. He also has ears to hear and listens to his mother. Bacchus/Dionysus, and Osiris represent the Natural Man in mythology. • profane man = An unnatural creature living in ignorance of his own nature. He can see a symbol, but cannot understand its meaning. He lives in darkness, unable to see without the light. He has the Veil of Isis obscuring his vision.
Symbols have the power to both reveal and conceal truth. This is how the truth of alchemy remains unseen.
The art of alchemy emulates nature. This is why it uses the natural language of symbols. Alchemy is the attempt to first study nature, and then to improve upon it. It is about creating an art-i-ficial world that rises up from the base that is the natural world. This is the Great Work of the Natural Man. To rise above natural limitations with the art of alchemy.
Levels of Understanding
The profound meaning of alchemy is hidden on many different levels, for there is not one simple interpretation of its mystery. Symbols themselves have many different meanings that range from the obvious (exoteric) to the arcane (esoteric). Somewhere between these two extremes lie the occult, or hidden meanings of symbols.
To simplify, let's use 3 levels of understanding (this is not the only way to illustrate the point, but it will work well here) 1. exoteric = the literal interpretation of a symbol/ character. An All-Seeing Eye is simply an eye with light rays shining out from it, and nothing more.
- occult = the hidden meaning/meanings of symbols. That same eye now symbolizes the enlightenment of the eye, or I, or self.
- esoteric = the deepest meaning, that combines many occult aspects of a symbol to bring it back to the practical world. This is the power of the true alchemist. I am enlightened, and therefore have the duty to build the future, for I already see it.
Now, let us consider one of the most important symbolic phrases of alchemy which is,
to turn the base metals into gold
1. At the exoteric level this phrase is about literally turning a rusty old lead pipe into a bar of shining gold bullion. This is extremely enticing because it represents the ultimate get rich quick scheme. The profane man is easily motivated by this prospect, but when he finds out that he cannot make gold out of lead he becomes angry. Without understanding the deep meaning of symbols, he simply gives up. The exoteric, literal, materialist meaning is given out to the public to keep them estimating everything in life at face value. Because there is no literal method of turning the base metals into gold, the art of alchemy becomes reduced to a curious relic from the ancient world. It is seen as the foolish work of magicians who lived in ignorance of actual scientific laws. Because most people stick with exoteric understandings the occult remains hidden.
2. The occult meaning of turning the base metals into gold has to do with self-realization, and improvement. It is all about becoming a better, more enlightened person. Base metals, lead, or the Prima Materia of alchemy symbolize a man in his primal state, living in ignorance. By actually recognizing his own faults, and by making the choice to improve upon them, he is slowly raised up to new life. The gold is the light of the sun imbued into the consciousness of the alchemist. A flood of hidden knowledge is revealed, and the world becomes a far different place. Constant change is part of the occult process of alchemy. Throughout life, one dies and is reborn over and over again. So the occult meaning of alchemy is simply self reflection, actualization, and enlightenment. The process itself is catalyzed by symbols. It is through an understanding of ancient symbolism that the alchemist sees the world in a new light.
3. The esoteric interpretation of alchemy is actually a subtle intertwining of both literal and allegorical aspects of symbols. It uses symbolism to describe heavenly ideas/ ideals. These ideas are considered divine inspiration. They represent the blueprint by which the natural world should be remade. By intensely studying nature (with science), and understanding its mysterious processes, the natural progress of evolution can be sped up. Nature takes a very long time to change. With the art of alchemy the process is expedited. An artificial world is created in this way. Life itself is the product of nature, and the true Natural Man seeks to change it according to his own interpretation of ancient symbols. To turn the base metals into gold could be interpreted as altering the base metals, which symbolically represent base (profane) men, by turning them into gold. Because the profane man is forever ignorant, it is the assumed duty of the alchemist to help him along. By turning otherwise useless metals (human beings) into gold (wealth) the alchemical process is put into high gear. Eventually, this Method gives birth to a whole new world.
So what is the real truth?
To most of us, alchemy remains a total mystery. Alchemy is the art of multiplication, and appropriately enough the perplexing mysteries of this world continue to multiply on a daily basis. This causes confusion. People are now mentally, emotionally, and physically breaking down due to this confusion. This represents the dissolution phase of the alchemical process. Those who understand the esoteric truth of the Method are using alchemy as a tool to reshape the world. They require a confused, disenchanted, and malleable population of base metals that may be easily melted down and poured into a new mold. The true practitioners of the Black Art use it in this way. They know how to manifest change.
Understanding the occult aspects of alchemy can actually be a good thing. This is what inspires groups such as the Freemasons to practice their Royal Art. They do so to make a better world. They aren't evil. However, they won't come out openly and tell you the simple, albeit hidden truth of their Work either. You must be wise enough to read symbols. This keeps the esoteric workings of the art far removed from the consciousness of the average person. To take this same point further, it seems as though the esoteric remains hidden to most of those who remain content using the occult practice of alchemy to better themselves. We are all ignorant to an extent, so who can actually tell us what is going on here?
In studying arcane subjects, one becomes familiar with the occult meaning of alchemy. You cannot accurately decode symbols without having this occur. The immense boost in understanding that is gained from such a process is enough to convince anyone of the power of the Ancient Mysteries. As seekers of truth, what we need to be wary of is our final destination. Upon reflection do we decide to make the alchemical process our own? Seeing as how the Method belongs to no one person, and that it is ancient, then what happens if we decide to use alchemy? Is there somewhere we could go to find real answers?
Honestly, the best way to become a true alchemist is to join a secret society of some kind. This is the plain truth. Almost all books on alchemy will point you in this direction. Alchemy is the method by which secret societies operate, and their intent is always good. At least, it seems that way on paper. If anyone is going to talk about using alchemy, then they need to explain the fact that it is the Method used by secret societies. It's just that simple. Openly admitting the fact that you belong to a secret society does not work, and you can't really even begin talking about alchemy until you explain who you are up front. So the exploration of the topic of alchemy can become bit of a catch 22, for the true insiders must remain hidden.
As an alternative researcher I must admit to the fact that I am on the outside looking inside. I'm not stupid enough to deny the power of alchemy, and by the same token I am not foolish enough to think that I know everything about it. My task is to simply understand what is going on in this world. This I will do to the best of my ability.