Alchemy was the stuff of medieval tales. Alchemists--not the ones like Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle--were old men with pointy hats, almost like wizards, standing over furnaces with alembics and other distillation devices. And to be an alchemist, you couldn't be any old wizard--you had to be like a Merlin-level alchemist for transformation to occur. Or so I thought until I realized that every time I pick up my pen--yeah, I still use a pen, think of it as my magic wand-- I'm performing a feat of alchemy.
Rooted in the writings of King Hermes Trismegistus of Egypt (Kemet), where the word "Khem was used in reference to beliefs in life after death," alchemy with its salts, sulfurs, mercury, and the four elements thrown in for good measure, was much more than primitive chemistry. And for a solitary alchemist who had usually withdrawn from her village, the base metal, lead, represented the Self, and the purified gold was what Maslow, the psychologist who created the hierarchy of needs, would call an "actualized person." Through the Seven Stages of the Alchemical Process, similar to spiritual states, the alchemist's psyche was refined by the search for "spirit in matter." The internal landscape of the alchemist was transmuted into chemicals and metals. The fire below the flasks in the alchemist's chamber paralleled the fire within.
Writing is literary alchemy. The raw emotions we feel--grief, joy, anger, and heartbreak--are the unrefined experiences that, untreated, weigh us down. When we take our pen to the page, we initiate chemical processes that fire synapses and make connections in our brains—almost like magic-- that were not there before.
Writing becomes the alchemical alembic that controls the distillation of experiences and strips away the distractions and distortions that cloud our vision. The relationship between image and meaning transforms memory into words with their own arcane history—"translating [them] into another medium."
During this process, if we pay attention, we are altered; we become lighter. And if we concentrate on the objects being observed and ourselves in the process of creating, we learn a little more about ourselves. In the alchemical journey of writing, we learn to discern our various roles—like the jewels on Indra's Net--and even reframe, as therapy often does, the recurrent scenes in our heads.
We begin to see the connections between life events, the stories we create, and the stories we habitually tell ourselves. And following alchemy's Law of Equivalent Exchange that, to make something, "another thing of equal value must be exchanged and is then lost," we witness the transformation of our inner lead into the gold of self-awareness.
This can be liberating. The alchemist has acquired a new vision, and she can return to her village with "boon bestowing hands"--the evidence that her art has changed her life into gold.
So, the next time you pick up your pen—okay, keyboard--remember that you're not just writing words; you're engaging in the alchemy of creativity. Each sentence is a step closer to self-discovery and transforming your inner world into something precious and profound.