A bearded old man bent over his stove, among the grimoires and dusty jars… This image of Epinal and its many derivatives are engraved in our rational and sceptical minds. Who has never heard of the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of youth or the transmutation of metals? The layman is tempted to smile at the evocation of these obscurantists from another time: to want to transform lead into gold, how naive!
The alchemist, this unknown
And yet… despite the passage of the centuries, the alchemists are still present. From ancient Egypt and Greece, via the Middle East, the Arab world and then medieval Europe, the followers of the alchemical art have passed on, over the centuries, the heritage of the god Thoth and Hermes Trismegistus. Jean Pierre Giolitto, himself an initiate, is among those who speak of it. He insists on the eminently occult character of alchemy: its symbolism is complex, the images coded, the writings cryptic. Without a guide, the layman gets lost in it. What about, for example, the famous transformation of lead into gold? What are its foundations? Is it a purely materialistic quest, as naive as it is self-serving, or is it a metaphorical image of the spiritual journey?
The divine spirit revealed in all things
For alchemists, the world is governed by cosmic rules that are observable and understandable through all that is manifested. One of the essential foundations of alchemy is based on the principle of Unity: in all matter coexist the 3 principles (Salt, Sulphur and Mercury) and the 4 elements (Earth, Water, Air and Fire). On the other hand, the Macrocosm -the Universe- and the Microcosm -the Human-, reflect each other. Thus, through a subtle network of analogies and correspondences, the divine rules of the world order are revealed. In this way, the adept can consciously connect himself to the whole Universe and achieve his goals.
The Great Work: Black, White, then Red
Supreme alchemical achievement, the Great Work goes through three stages: the Work in Black, the Work in White and the Work in Red. Working the metal by fire, the alchemist seeks the spirit that resides in it. Successively dissolved then reunited, the metal is gradually transformed, “matured”, until it reaches its ideal state: the perfect purity of gold. The transmutation of the metal and the inner journey are like two sides of a medal. To transform lead into gold is to be born again, to create the world again, to reach contemplation. “No one can really transform lead into gold without first transforming himself inside. And he who has already sublimated himself… no longer needs to make gold! “Word of an alchemist.