The esoteric and Jungian approach
I am continually asked by people who have recently discovered alchemy to give them some advice on how to get started. Regrettably, I do not really have the spare time to give people more than a cursory account of how they should proceed, so I have decided to place some information onto some web pages.
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Today many people are drawn to a esoteric and Jungian ideas. These seem to address and answer many of the existential questions posed by living in the modern era, however, one must remain aware that these are, at their foundation, belief driven systems, akin to religions. They might on the surface appear to be thought out, abstract, value free philosophies, but at their core there is a requirement to believe in their underlying set of principles.
As alchemy appeared mysterious and almost incomprehensible to the 20th century mind, this allowed people to import its ideas and images as props for their own esoteric systems. Thus alchemy was confused with magic, integrated with tarot (with which it had no historical connection at all), muddled with modern kabbalah, and woven into depth psychology and dream interpretation.
This has now become the main way in which people see alchemy. If one is drawn to this approach one really needs no assistance from me. Merely visit your local bookshop and scan through the metaphysical or New Age section, or type "alchemy" into Amazon.com. You will then, no doubt, embark on a wonderful journey driven by your purchasing one $9.95 best-selling book after another.
This esoteric view of alchemy has now become so prevalent that it is really a subject in itself. It has almost nothing to do with historical alchemy, but is driven entirely by modern concepts and constructs. Modern esotericists and not above inventing documents and distorted views of history. Historical figures are romanticised and woven into preconceived histories. Books purporting to be historical accounts of alchemy or alchemists are often more like novels, or fictional accounts. Everything is brought into fabricating an image of alchemy - Cathars, Knights Templars, Freemasons, witches, shamanism, ritual magic, hallucinogenic drugs, theosophy, language of the birds - a melange of muddled nonsense. In a hundred years from now it will be seen as a historical phenomenon worthy of scholarly study, a construct which reflects the social and cultural concerns of the 20th and early 21st centuries.
This modern picture of alchemy is a study in itself, full of drama, romanticism, and elaborate myth making. I myself find it fascinating, though it has nothing to do with what the alchemists of the 15th to 18th centuries were concerned with. A mass of this speculation is documented on this web site, especially in my early open-to-everyone alchemy discussion groups.