Understanding the Elements and Alchemy

What is alchemy?  Alchemy is a quest for physical, mental and spiritual transformation.  Evolving in both western and eastern cultures, this ancient art developed basic laboratory procedures to refine and purify metals. These operations became the foundation on which the modern sciences of biology, chemistry and physics have been built. The perceptive student student of alchemy also realizes, however, that these laboratory processes of transformation veil a deeper philosophy leading to self-knowledge, spiritual evolution and personal transformation and enlightenment.

Alchemy is a process that requires thought, reflection and proper action.  As you begin to understand its physical operation, the deeper philosophical and spiritual mysteries unfold.

               Human transformation alchemy symbols.


Events can flow freely – Adapt, be patient and remain persistent – Feel your emotions and release them

The elements of water represents those aspects of matter that are moist, fluid and humid.

In the scientific world,  water is connected closely to the phase of ablution (the gradual purification of a substance, often through a series of stages, for our purposes, when Primal Matter is washed of all impurities. During the operations of distillation, Water evaporates and falls as condensation in the Alembic vessel (an alembic is an alchemical still consisting of two vessels connected by a tube, used for distilling), further refining the substance.

This element is closely  connected to love and the emotions.

As our watery planet floats in space, huge cloud crowned oceans swell and fall under the influence of the Moon.  From the joyous bubblings of a mountain stream and the cascading veil of a waterfall, to the deep surging power of rivers and the eternal give and take of ocean waves, Water holds many lessons.  Its turbulent tempests and dangerous undertows show it to be a powerful force. It dances around, over, under and through any obstacles encountered as i continues its path to the sea. In its persistence and timeless endurance, it can carve canyons, and through its gentle action can smooth the hardest surfaces into fluid forms.

The fluidity of Water in all its forms can be emulated with great success.  Adaptability and conformity within boundaries may be the proper approach for now, knowing that your unending persistence will eventually wear away any resistance.  Water is patient and powerful at the same time. Like a sudden rain shower, a release of emotions can be helpful to relieve stress and clear our old debris. In quiet reflection, sink into that deep well of feeling within and intuitively draw up a course for proper action.

                                                                              ~M. E. Warlick



Identify exactly what you need – Be practical in your approach – Stand firm and build the foundations to realize your plans

In its diversity, Earth appears as grains of sand on a beach, warm loamy garden soil, tough clay on a mountain side, or huge, solid boulders.  It is the element most closely equated with Primal Matter, although all substances to some degree contain, Earth’s qualities of dryness and solidity.

The Lion, ruling over practical matters and material possessions, its alchemical symbol, represents its fixed aspects with the lions four paws resting on the ground to indicate stability.

Two lions, male and female, represent the two opposing properties of Primal Matter.  Alchemical processes duplicate the Earth’s natural cycle in its evolution of death and rebirth.  Seeds must be buried in the Earth before new life can begin and, as they germinate and take root, the Earth’s minerals support the life of the plant to maturity.  The Earth them receives back the mature plant so that it can decay and replenish its fertility.

Whatever the physical appearance of the Earth, it is a solid substance that can be depended on for support.  Feel yourself grounded in the world, let your feet touch the cool grass, knowing that layers of soil and bedrock are beneath you.  Approach decisions with this grounding in the real world. Look for practical solutions and straightforward, down to earth approaches.  Although material gain should not be your only consideration, this may be the time to think about the realistic financial aspects of your position.  Weigh the situation carefully, as if you were holding a real object in your hand. In the midst of conflict, stand firm in your resolve. Although we sometimes take the Earth for granted, the enormity of this solid supportive substance should be acknowledged and used to support your own inner strength.


Mental clarity brings transformation – Soar high and explore a limitless universe – Enjoy your freedom

In the scientific world, Air is the life giving force joining the Earth and the heavens. As one aspect of Primal Matter, it represents those qualities that are subtle and gaseous.  The gasses in the vessel are symbolized by rising and falling birds; as liquids boil, gases escape and coalesce like crystallized birds on the walls of the vessel. Air is connected to the intellect, and to the life of the mind, which must moderate physical activity just as the careful addition of Air is used to moderate fire and its effects in the laboratory.

A gentle breeze stirs the newly formed leaves in spring to encourage their unfolding and growth.Immense swirling currents of Air encircle the planet and direct the weather, bringing both rain and clearing sunshine.  Although Air is a subtle fore, it can cause great transformation and metamorphosis.

Change is possible through a careful exercising of your mental powers, even though your presence may seem invisible.  Before any action is taken, allow time for reflection. Spontaneous ideas and deliberate plan s both have a function in the process.  As gases escape from boiling liquid, you may need to remove yourself if the activity around gets too hectic. You have freedom and mobility to act, but too many possibilities may be clouding your line of vision.  Clear, sharp perceptions gained at some distance from the situation are needed here. Just as gasses are released to purify the substance in the process of distillation, removal of all unessential factors is necessary to find the essence of your solution.  Exhale all negative thoughts and energy, and breathe in the peacefulness, love and joy that surround us all.


Thrive in the midst of adversity – Vigorous action brings transformation

In the scientific world, Fire is the agent of transformation.  Full of energy and activity, it represents those aspects of matter that are hot and dry.  Heating with fire occurs both inside and outside the vessel: internal fire is created when acids react together to elevate the temperature within the vessel and break down the materials; an external Fire, contained within the ‘Athanor furnace’*, heats the vessel and causes Philosophic Sulphur and Philosophic Mercury to unite.  Although care must be taken to control its power, Fire is an essential tool. The Alchemist must create a constant gentle heat and a uniform temperature within the vessel for the great work to succeed. The substance in the vessel can withstand the heating process, like the mythic salamander who can survive the fire unharmed.

The fire within your heart is capable of transforming the world both inside and out.  Use your initiative, inventiveness and spontaneity to set new projects in motion. Now is the time for action applied carefully and consistently to those areas in your life where it is needed.  Like the salamander, you can survive external adversity and actually thrive, even when the situation around you is overheated and inflamed. Your energy now burns brightly, but take some care to keep new fires under control.

Fire can both break down matter and fuse it; so too, can your passion create the necessary changes for letting go of destructive elements in your life and bringing union with new, beneficial ones.  Warmth and compassion given to others will return to you threefold, when you need it most.


“In alchemy, an athanor is a furnace used to provide heat for alchemical digestion. An athanor is a self-feeding furnace, designed to maintain a uniform temperature.

The athanor was also called Piger Henricus (“Slow Harry”), because it was chiefly used in slower operations, and because when once filled with coals, it keeps burning a long time. For this reason the Greeks referred to it as “giving no trouble”, as it did not need to be continually attended. It was also called the Philosophical furnace, Furnace of Arcana, or popularly, the Tower furnace.”

From Paul Foster Case:

“Dissolution is said to be the whole mystery of alchemy,

because Hermetic practice enables us to control those

functions of our bodies which dissolve, or break down

into their constituent elements, the forms of materials

taken from our environment. The laboratory of the

alchemist is his own personality. The secret vessels

therein are organs in his own physical body, together

with their astral and etheric counterparts.

The principal piece of alchemical apparatus is a furnace,

called an “athanor.” Eliphas Levi says: “We are all in

possession of the chemical instrument, the great and

sole athanor which answers for the separation of the

subtle from the gross and the fixed from the volatile.

This instrument, complete as the world and precise as

mathematics, is represented by the sages under the

emblem of the pentagram, or five-pointed star, which is

the absolute sign of human intelligence. I will follow

the example of the wise by forbearing to name it; it is

too easy to guess it.”

Today there is no need for even the slight concealment

which seemed advisable when Levi wrote. The athanor

is the human organism.





This material has been heavily influenced by content found in The Philosopher’s Stone.

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