Alchemical ideas are starting to be battered around the blogsphere again. As usual this is thanks to the output of Pat Zalewski. It seems that Pat only has to cough an idea these days and people will flood the internet saying they thought of it first and Zalewski got it wrong.
Part of the problem, and it is not a problem for Pat, is that Alchemy means different things to different people. The symbolism is so obtuse that some, like the psychologist Carl Jung decided that it was all archetypal processes of transmutation and not meant to be taken literally. Others, like Israel Regardie, nearly killed themselves trying to create the Philosophers' Stone in a test tube. My own experience of physical alchemy has been what I have seen others achieve. I was around at the Zalewski house in the 1980s when I saw a created plant stone in action. I have also seen a person who managed a peacock's tail transformation during some metal alchemical work. At the time I thought it was fairly interesting, but did not seem to create much in the way of spiritual transformation. The Peacock's Tail for example was a multicoloured oxide coat which I had seen when I used to make toy soldiers (I think it was to do with the oils). Equally I do not believe those who claim they have turned base metal into gold, simply on the principle that it is clearly a sales ploy. I find it incredibly unlikely that, given the personality transformation required to archive the Stone, that anyone who claims to have done so must be practically of saint-like status. Most of the people I have met who claimed follow Alchemy as a spiritual path have been arrogant wankers with glass egos and a love of belittling other people's efforts to re-enforce their flaccid egos. Mind you the same can be said of ritual magicians.
As a metaphor, alchemy is an important way of understanding magical processes. It is a set of symbols which can be used as an allegorical language to understand some of the more subtle ideas in magic.
The Golden Dawn was a little soft on the use of Alchemy. It is fairly clear from some papers, that Mathers had a passing interest in the subject. Certainly alchemical ideas flow into the rituals. Even without going into details it is possible to see an alchemical idea being expressed in the transmutation by the Kerux.
It is the idea that the Golden Dawn rituals can be interpreted alchemically that Pat Zalewski has latched onto in his book. The idea is simple but can be taken to depths which could end up with you trying something out in a test tube.
You start with the candidate being the base matter. Each grade is an alchemical process which leads to the refinement of the personality. To Pat, the entire outer order is part of the blackening process with different phases of whitening and yellowing.
These are all alchemical terms and when others use them they are inclined to make your head spin. But by rooting them into the Golden Dawn ritual it is easy for anyone who follows this tradition to understand.
For those who are using the Golden Dawn system, this book unlocks a layer of understanding that they would otherwise not have got, even if they were experienced alchemists. Alchemists tend to live in their own world and are not used to applying their system to something as involved as the Golden Dawn. They will spend days writing long smug a treatise which says that the Golden Dawn Alchemy shown in the Z documents is “wrong” and not understand that it is wired into the 0=0.
Zalewski covers this point smoothly and tells it like it is. It is also a very different book from what he has written previously. His previous contributions to the Golden Dawn tradition were written many years ago. This one was written this year. It shows a considerable maturing both in writing style and thought. Gone are the days of quoting his teacher Jack Taylor. In Alchemy and Golden Dawn Ritual, Pat is standing on his own with his own ideas and it is an approach he can fell justifiably proud. It is a little book of 128 pages but it points you in the right direction for how you need to see the rituals to get them to work correctly.
One of the downsides to this approach is that you can say any old rubbish with an alchemical gloss and get away with it. It is possible to sniff that “of course you were not using the 12 step method or the method insisted on by Father Bacon for storing cheese”. However Pat's approach does not have that problem. Instead of obscuring, the approach clarifies.
Anyway, it is a book well worth buying http://www.amazon.com/Alchemy-Golden-Dawn-Ritual/dp/0982352182/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315997849&sr=8-1 .