What Makes Alchemy Work?

Why has the practice of or interest in alchemy endured for so long?

Many would say it’s because of what is now known as the “perennial philosophy.”

This term was first used by Leibniz to describe the eternal philosophy underlying all religions, and it was later popularized in the 20th century by Aldous Huxley.

It has now come to describe the idea that there are certain underlying principles which form the core of all of humanity’s experiences, in particular with regard to “the nature of reality and the meaning of existence.”

According to this philosophy, the basic tenets of all religions are similar and shared — it is only the cultural and historical additions added by each that cause all of the disagreement.

The following are some “perennial principles”:

  1. The material is just one aspect of reality. Actually, this physical world of materiality can be thought of as being the expression of a higher order or spiritual plane (similar to the Platonic ideal, or world of forms).
  2. Humans are also dualistic in nature: they have an (imperfect) physical body and a (perfect) spiritual body. This is unified by the divine energy inherent in all things: the life force, or what is known in alchemy as the Quintessence (the Fifth Element).
  3. All people have the capacity to perceive both realms, but few try to do so. According to perennial philosophy, this is unfortunate, because it is only in perceiving and using this knowledge of the spiritual or ideal world that men and women “can become who they are truly meant to be and achieve mastery and self-actualization on Earth.”

It is this insistence on duality in the manifestation of the universe, as well as the necessity of realizing the higher to truly understand the lower, that defines perennial philosophy and makes it integral, according to some, to the process of Alchemical Work.

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