One of the greatest tasks of the Golden Dawn tradition and Order today is the integration of Alchemy and Spagery to its corpus. As I perceive it this almost total absence of Alchemy and Spagery is truly the greatest lack within the traditional Golden Dawn system, as presented in published litterature.
Now some of you may react against this last sentence and say: “Hey mister, wait a moment! There’s lots of references to alchemy throughout the Knowledge Lectures of the Outer Order.” Yes, obviously there is. But it is sadly restricted to a mere theoretical knowledge, and very superficial at that. For example in the Second Knowledge Lecture (pertaining to the 1°=10° Grade) you will find some scarce information about the Three Alchemical Principles, who they are and how to draw their symbol, but almost no information as to their nature.
The only flying roll dedicated to Alchemy from a practical point of view, the very early written Flying Roll No. VII - Alchemy by Dr. W.W. Westcott, is quite interesting in its own right but unfortunately doesn’t delve anywhere beyond the historical, theoretical and speculative. It clearly shows that the author has much knowledge of Alchemy, but very scarce or non laboratory experience.
Then there is the Z – 2 section on Alchemy which shows the only trace of External Alchemical or Spagyrical processing. However this process is very curious and unique and follows a rationale distinct from most other Alchemical processes I have encountered. It is a so-called “Wet Path”, as it concerns moderate heat and uses cucurbits and alembics. However it doesn’t concern the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone but instead is more of a Magico-Spagyrical preparation of a Matter or Subject, creating a magically charged tincture and powder in the process.
The most interesting aspect of this Golden Dawn process of Alchemy as presented in the Z – 2 is its emphasis on the integration of Theurgy (or Magical techniques) and Alchemical processes. This, in my opinion, is the greatest contribution of the Golden Dawn to Alchemy which is unparallel anywhere else, at least to my knowledge. It is the natural or logical outcome of the old Alchemical adage of Ora et Labora – to pray and to work.
The Z – 2 process of Alchemy involves the so-called Trivium Hermeticum, the three hermetical disciplines of Magic, Alchemy and Astrology. The binding link between Alchemy and Magic being Astrology and with its common symbology appealing to both Alchemy and Magic. This multiple use of these disciplines should be spilled over into all other categories of Golden Dawn Alchemy.
But beyond the Middle Pillar Ritual, the Flying Roll No. VII and Z – 2 there is nothing else in the old Golden Dawn documentation which goes beyond the speculative view upon Alchemy, which is quite common today and usually being referred to as “spiritual alchemy” but unfortunately also to often as “inner alchemy”, creating a confusion of what Inner or Internal Alchemy actually is all about. This is the view that regards magic and initiation as “Alchemy”, and refers to everything occult as “The Great Work”.
In my opinion this almost amounts to nothing when it comes to advanced practical application of Alchemy, as the Z – 2 Alchemical formula probably is the least used of the Formulae of the Magic of Light throughout the history of the R.R. et A.C. and the Middle Pillar Ritual constitutes but a basic exercise. And also there is no Alchemical processes present in the original Golden Dawn documentation that involves the Great Work proper, i.e. as defined by Alchemical Masters of old as opposed to Golden Dawn magicians.
This lack of understanding of Alchemy in the original inauguration of the Golden Dawn is strange considering that the two main currents which were behind it, the German Order Gold und Rosenkretuz and the English Societas Rosae Crucis, were both Rosicrucian organizations with a heavy lean towards operative Alchemy. Remember that Fredrick Hockley, one of the close associates of Kenneth MacKenzie and probably the source from which W.W. Westcott got hold of the Cypher Manuscripts of the Golden Dawn, were a pupil of the teachings of Sigismund Bacstrom, the founder of the Societas Rosae Crucis.
Furthermore, according to most historians on the Golden Dawn the only person seriously involved with Alchemy was the Rev. W.A. Ayton. There is nothing in published sources that hints to any profound erudition or understanding of the actual rationale of Alchemy in either of the founders of the Golden Dawn, W.W. Westcott and S.L. MacGregor Mathers. It have been proposed however that MacGregor Mathers later through his continental Rosicrucian sources, i.e. the Third Order, received some basic instruction on Inner Alchemy which may account for the rather vague references to the Sexual teachings of the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega.
So, unfortunately I have to conclude that we won’t find anything of value in the original teachings of the Golden Dawn that may shed some light upon the Alchemical Great Work. And sad as I am to say, this tradition of a magical or spiritual understanding of Alchemy has been perpetuated through the modern disseminators of the Golden Dawn tradition yet to this day, leaders and authors alike. One such example is Israel Regardie and his book The Philosopher’s Stone, which basically uses a Jungian interpretation of Alchemy.
Other more recent suggestion has been the effort to attribute the 22 Keys of the Tarot to Alchemical processes corresponding to the Mother (3), Single (7) and Double Letters (12), or even the notion that the 22 plates of the Splendor Solis somehow corresponds to the Major Arcana through this letter association. In fact it was Ithell Colquhoun who first suggested this association in her book The Sword of Wisdom, and that MacGregor Mather supposedly had written such a document associating the Major Arcana of the Tarot with the Splendor Solis. But to date no such document has surfaced for scholarly study.
Many also attribute the initiatory process to the Spagyrical principle of solve et coagula, and to the stages of the Alchemical process of the three (or four) colours of blackening, whitening, (yellowing) and reddening – nigredo, albedo, (citrinitas) and rubedo – and also to that of the Philosopher’s Stone actually being the metaphor for the realization of the True Self within man, the divine spark within.
Now, there is nothing wrong per se with a purely spiritual and psychological interpretation of Alchemy to understand the processes of the human soul and mind. In my opinion there even is certain validity or merit to this level of application of Alchemical symbolism, especially to the initiatory process of the Golden Dawn. Alchemical symbolism is archetypal, and in this instance Jung actually was right. It can be used to describe all manners or level of existence, not mere the material. This is also hinted at in the Cypher Mss. and the Fourth Knowledge Lecture (pertaining to the 3°=8° Grade) when it is stated that Alchemical language may be religious or philosophic or natural (of the Sun), meaning that it may explain spiritual, psychological (psychology being a discipline of philosophy) and material processes alike.
The one also bleeds over into the other, a fact which also is clearly expressed in the above-mentioned Z – 2 manuscript. This means that the prerequisite for material success of the Great Work in the laboratory is a corresponding spiritual maturity within the Alchemist him- or herself. In the hermetic teachings of the former Golden Dawn Adept Paul Foster Case we will also find a very interesting blend of spiritual and material Alchemy, in that he describes the Great Work as involving changes in the physical body of the initiate, for example in the composition of blood and to the extent of creating outgrowths in the brain (however not malignant!)
But the dangers in Jungian psychological and spiritual or mystical alchemy, so popular in today’s Golden Dawn community, is that it may suffer a reduction to Alchemy, nurture a attitude that there is nothing more to Alchemy than being a analogy to spiritual and psychological processes, if it becomes one sided. And there is definitely more to Alchemy than “Theurgy being the Great Work”, etc. So basically Jung is wrong when he reduces the Royal Art to the projection of the archetypes of the Alchemists. This shows that he was no true initiate of hermeticism.
So, in my opinion, the Golden Dawn tradition is sadly lacking in its fundamental understanding of Alchemy. And in this instance students of the hermetics have to turn their attention elsewhere if they desire to learn about true Alchemy. But it is also my firm belief that even the Golden Dawn student should be offered the opportunity to learn actual Alchemical processes, without entering into other and more Alchemy oriented organizations in their search of the Philosopher’s Stone. It is also my firm belief that the teachings of the Golden Dawn should become more Alchemical in nature as the initiate proceeds upon his or her path.
But as one cannot develop something out of nothing, the Golden Dawn tradition needs its nourishment from an outside tradition to complement its arsenal of teachings. However in our search we should retain or restrain our focus upon the Rosicrucian current, of which the Golden Dawn always has been a part, and from which context it emerged. As the Golden Dawn tradition has its distinctive historical end esoteric roots there we must also search for more information in the same line as the original founders, but dig more deeply into the soil of Rosicrucian hermeticism than our forefathers were able to.
I have already mentioned two important sources predating the Golden Dawn in the Gold und Rosenkreutz and Soceitas Rosae Crucis. Whereas the German Order presented lots of different processes and used a plethora of Matters or Subjects, and both the External and Internal Ways, the English Soceitas mainly focused upon one particular process and on the subject matter of Antimony, in the tradition of Nicholas Flamel and Eirenaeus Philalethes. But another important historical source is also Egyptian Freemasonry, especially its highest mysteries comprising the Arcana Arcanorum of Internal Alchemy.
But we may also find good sources in the contemporary works of Frater Albertus and his now defunct organization the Paracelus Research Society, and in the author Manfred M. Junius, as well as in the works of Jean Dubuis and especially in his correspondence courses on Spagyrics and Mineral Alchemy which he wrote for Le Philosophes du Nature (or Philosophers of Nature). Albertus’ and Dubuis’ materials blends particularly well with our tradition as they both have their foundation in the Golden Dawn Qabalah, especially Jean Dubuis who were a student of the Golden Dawn before he created Le Philosophes du Nature.
But there is also a direct reference to the Golden Dawn with Frater Albertus. Many years after he wrote his book The Philosopher’s Stone Israel Regardie met Frater Albertus and took some instruction from him. As a result of this he abandoned his former spiritual and Jungian outlook upon Alchemy and fully embraced the material form, which he apparently practiced until the end of his life span. Unfortunately he suffered a accident while working upon a Alchemical process and inhaled poisonous fumes, which lead to him acquiring asthma. When Regardie died he testamented all his magical regalia and paraphenalia to his only beloved pupil, while he gave away his Alchemical laboratory to someone else, as he feared injury if she took upon her the path of Alchemy.
Finally we have also the important works of Roger Caro and the particular Alchemical Way of the mineral Cinnabar, with its roots in the Eastern Masters and as transmitted to Caro from Kamala Jnana. This comprises the teachings of the Frères Aînés de la Rose Croix (or Elder Brethren of the Rosy Cross), commonly abbreviated to F.A.R+C. Regardless of the quite brief and late existence of the F.A.R+C, at least in the form as presented by Roger Caro, there is great value in this particular path of Alchemy as it uses a more noble and evocative process compared to most other Alchemical traditions.
Now, regarding the integration of Alchemy with the Rosicrucian structure of initiation, according to the Golden Dawn tradition, we mustn’t stare ourselves blindly upon how our elder brethren did things several centuries ago. For example in the Gold und Rosenkreutz Orden advanced alchemy were taught already from the Grade of Practicus. Only after the production of the Philosopher’s stone the Rosicrucian initiate were taught the Magical arts of Theurgy at the very last stage of his initiatory process, i.e. as a Magus. In the Golden Dawn the initiates were, on the other hand, taught Theurgy relatively early, already as Adepti Minori when it came to advanced formulae. But even Neophytes of the Golden Dawn were taught the basic Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram.
As the particular Alchemical perspective of the Golden Dawn always involves a combination of Theurgical techniques, or at least should be, it follows naturally that Theurgy should be taught and practiced alongside with the instruction on Alchemy. I hold that the initiate of the Golden Dawn even should master certain basic magical formulae of invocation of Elements, Planets and Zodiac, prior to him or her venturing upon an advanced Alchemical process, such as the production of a Plant Elixir, as these magical formulae are crucial for the success of Golden Dawn style Alchemy. Therefore I suggest that initiates of the Golden Dawn should begin with the invocation of the basic Elements, Planets and Zodiacal Signs already as Outer Order members from the very first Elemental Grade and onwards.
When it comes to the purely Alchemical work I suggest the following arrangement: For the senior Grades of the Outer order some very basic and introductory alchemical processes which doesn’t require any lab experience nor advanced equipment, such as Alchemical workings with water and the production of spagyrical (vegetable) tinctures using simplified processes and substances.
For the sub-grades of the Adeptus Minor the Golden Dawn style Order should introduce advanced processes of Plant Achemy and Spagery, or Paracelsian medicine, i.e. the Lesser Circulation or Lesser Work, such as the production of the vegetable Alkahest, of tinctures and elixirs, of the Circulatum Minus of Urbigerus, and finally the production of the vegetable stone and the vegetable Aurum Potabile.
For the sub-grades of the Adeptus Major the Mineral Workings according to the Dry and Amalgams Paths of the Black Dragon should be ventured upon, i.e. the Greater Circulation or the Great Work according to Nicholas Flamel, Eirenaeus Philalethes, Basil Valentine, Sigismund Bacstrom and Fulcanelli; the production of the Red Powder or Philospoher’s Stone.
For the sub-grades of the Adeptus Exemptus the Mineral Work according to the Wet or Humid Way of the Red Dragon should be taught, in other words the Greater Circulation or Great Work according to Kamala Jnana and Roger Caro, and the production of the mineral Aurum Potabile, the White Power and the Red Powder, or Philosopher’s Stone.
When it comes to the final and exalted part of the Tree of Life, the Supernals and the Grades of Magister Templi, Magus and Ipsissimus, also referred to as the Magisteria, as well as the preliminary stage of the Babe of the Abyss, we must finally leave the purely external processes and turn our attention towards Internal Alchemy, it constituting the highest arc of the Great Work. Here we must search for our sources on the European continent and amongst the highest arcanas of the hermetic tradition, the Arcana Arcanorum being but one such example, remembering that Inner Alchemy also were practiced amongst the German brethren of the Gold und Rosenkreutz as well as the Masters of the Third Order, which gave MacGregor Mathers all the information necessary to create the Second Order of the Golden Dawn, or the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (R.R. et A.C.).
So, in fact when it comes to the actual essence and source of origin of the Golden Dawn, it has everything to do with Hermetic Alchemy! Besides, all true initiation and spiritual practice should result in the energetic evolution of the body of the initiate. In this both Magic and Alchemy serves its purpose. Combine these two hermetic disciplines together, with the aid of Astrology, and you will create a very potent formula of evolution of body and of soul. This, in my opinion, should be the project of today’s Golden Dawn.