The art of alchemy is the art of transmuting base elements into precious ones. On the personal level, a successful alchemist will transmute their own baser nature into something that is in tune with God. As above, so below: such a process also occurs on the collective level. Civilisation itself is an act of alchemy.
The main life objective for any spiritual person is to overcome their raw animal instincts, especially when those instincts cause suffering to other sentient beings. The instincts to dominate and destroy, and to kill and conquer, are controlled by the spiritual person so that they don’t harm anyone. The spiritual man seeks to impose order upon the chaos of his soul.
Chaos, in this sense, represents the vital biological energies and instincts that have been shaped by evolution to meet survival and reproduction challenges, and which would have found expression with or without consciousness. Chaos represents the workings of Nature in raw form.
As awesome as the workings of Nature in raw form may be, they don’t take into account the suffering of conscious beings. Nature is famously indifferent to that. In a state of Nature, men fight and kill each other over food and territory and women, and survival to adulthood is rare. The spiritual impulse is the impulse to transcend and to overcome this.
Transcending and overcoming is the reason why so many religious traditions practice some form of abstinence. To fast is to learn to go without food, which is to learn to be at peace with one’s instincts to eat. To be celibate is to learn to go without sex, with is to learn to be at peace with one’s instincts to reproduce. Admonitions against violence and greed are likewise intended to encourage people to go against their savage natures.
It’s also why many religious traditions practice repetitive tasks, such as Buddhism with meditation, which requires a person to sit still for some time. If a person can learn physical discipline, then they can try to learn mental discipline, and if they can learn that, then they can try to learn spiritual discipline. Achieving spiritual discipline is the highest goal of the alchemist.
The ideal is to take the energy of some instinct, such as for sex or violence, and to sublimate it into a higher order, such as an art. This is what is meant by the transmutation of lead into gold. An alchemist can take their base impulses (represented by lead), which are indifferent to the suffering of others, and transmute them into energies (represented by gold) that work to reduce those others’ suffering .
As above, so below: all the things stated above as truths of personal alchemy are also true on a global level. There is a work of alchemy taking place right now on Earth that amounts to the imposition of order upon chaos on a planetary scale.
The fundamental act of civilisation is, like the fundamental act of alchemy, the imposition of order upon chaos.
The history of civilisation is the history of the imposition of the higher order of will upon the chaos of raw animal instinct. To be civilised is to have developed the ability to resist impulses to attack, rape and steal. A civilised man can laugh off insults, because he knows that to give in to his instinct to punish would be weakness. His highest value is not dominance but composure.
Our society invests a tremendous amount of time in trying to teach young people to think twice before giving in to temporary impulses that might have permanent consequences. Children are told morality stories from when they are old enough to listen and they continue getting lectured well into adulthood. The idea is to induce them to behave in ways that do not cause suffering to others.
Civilisation, then, is the same thing as alchemy, only it is the name given to alchemy at the collective level.
A statesman transmutes lead into gold by passing a law that proscribes certain behaviours. A great author does the same thing by writing a novel that gives its readers insight into the human condition. A great sportsman transmutes tribal bloodlust into a performance of improvisational theatre. All of these people further civilisation by minimising actions that cause suffering.
An ideal civilisation will operate on the frequency of gold. At this level, the ruling class is guided by God, and all of their actions are in tune with the will of God. If the ruling class is correctly devoted to God, then those devoted to the ruling class will be devoted to God, and so on, so that even the simplest peasant acts in accordance with the divine will.
A civilisation that has lost touch with God might operate on the level of silver, as ours appears to. We are godless but are yet to disintegrate into the level of all-out warfare – although this may happen if we fail at the great work of alchemy that is civilisation. A civilisation at war has fallen to the level of iron, and one that falls so far that its very survival is in question has regressed to the level of clay.
The alchemical future of our civilisation will depend on whether we can reconnect to God, or whether we fall further into violence and savagery. It seems that many of our most primal instincts for acquisition and competition are making a comeback, and this has led to a lower frequency of consciousness all over the world. If it keeps decreasing, then war is all but inevitable.
If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.
If you would like to support our work in other ways, please consider subscribing to our SubscribeStar fund.