The follower series of questions were sent to me by Paul Hardacre at the end of 2013 for publication in a book he was planning entitled, Our Fire, the Secret Fire to be published by his highly acclaimed specialty publishing house Salamander and Sons. However, with the sudden and unexpected collapse of Salamander and Sons in December 2015 the project was never completed. As a result, we are publishing the interview here as a means of providing you with additional information on the role of alchemy and qabala and their importance for your journey on the Path of Return. As usual, we encourage you to continue your practices as outlined in our previous essays.
1. Elaborate upon the interrelationships between spagyrics, archemy, chemistry, and the Divine Art of alchemy.
REPLY: It is important to maintain the technical difference between these practices; however, in fact, there is overlap. They exist not as distinct practices, but rather on a continuum where the primary difference is that a verifiable transmutation has been made – made in a manner that exceeds our agreed-upon understanding of Nature’s laws AND wherein the role of the consciousness of the alchemist is the principal force behind the transmutation. Consciousness is what moves up and down the continuum, moving us and our understanding of what we are doing from chemistry to archemy, then to spagyrics, and finally to alchemy. But from the outside, from the exterior, there is no perceivable difference in appearances or actions. Consciousness is what makes the transition from outer to inner, and the transmutation from inner to outer, possible.
2. Did you find alchemy, or did alchemy find you? Relate the origin/s of your interest in, and practice of, alchemy.
REPLY: The better part of my alchemical biography can be found in the Introduction I wrote for Dr. Joseph Lisiewski’s book, Israel Regardie and the Philosopher’s Stone. However, the short version is that I have always had an interest in alchemy; as a member of the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC), I had registered to attend one of their alchemy classes as part of The Rose+Croix University in San Jose, California, one summer in the mid-1980s, but was unable to attend. Jack Glass and Russ House were the instructors and I knew their names, so several years later when I received a flier in the mail I made immediate plans to go to The Philosophers of Nature LPN/PON conference at the Wild Rose Camp and Conference Center outside of Chicago in September of 1994.This was quite the experience, as it was a sort of PRS/Paracelsus College reunion, with so many alumni in attendance. An article I had written regarding the event appeared in Gnosis Magazine – this made me a minor celebrity among my friends! As everyone knows, Gnosis Magazine was the finest publication of its kind, and is sorely missed to this day by those of us who remember it. I think Jay Kinney and Richard Smoley (the former publishers) still have compete sets of back issues available, and they are worth grabbing. It was nearly twenty years ago as of this writing that I attended the conference, many parts of which are as fresh to me now as when they first happened, and to keep up with the work – even occasionally – has been a tremendous effort and sacrifice. I say “occasional” because there have been periods – and not simply the winter months – when it is too cold to work in my lab; some (like Jean Dubuis) suggest that the energies of life are too low in the Northern Hemisphere to do much alchemical work, and day-to-day life does affect our time in the physical laboratory. With two young children, I have not been as active as I would like over the last three years, spending most of my time working on spagyrics when I would rather be working with antimony.However, we also have to remember that our body is our first and foremost alchemical laboratory, and our thoughts-emotions the raw material of the Work. It is through Thought, Word, and Deed that we accomplish the Work and, as such, our laboratory is always with us. It is up to us to learn how to use it properly. As Paracelsus said, “We do not transmute without what we have not first transmuted within.”
3. It has been suggested that, with regard to alchemy, “oral instruction from master to pupil is the most valuable of all.” Expound upon this, including your own experiences (if any) with such masters / instructors / initiators.
REPLY: My primary instruction in spagyrics and alchemy came from Russ House, Jack Glass, Jean Dubuis, and Patrice Maleze. There was also extensive additional information from Dr. Joseph Lisiewski (as you know, I wrote the Introduction to his book, Israel Regardie and the Philosopher’s Stone: The Alchemical Arts Brought Down to Earth), and for nearly a year it was the focal point of our conversations. As such, I believe that it is very important to have a physical teacher who can shorten your learning curve, just as a classroom teacher does in any discipline. It is good to know how to stay safe in a laboratory or when working with any tools.What sets an alchemical or any spiritual teacher apart from one’s high school or university Math or English instructor is that the spiritual teacher is an example of an ideal – of a method of inner transformation. This makes the relationship very difficult for many reasons that we can only summarize, but which have a great deal to do with intensity, proximity, and what psychology refers to as the unconscious acts of transference and counter-transference that can and do take place. In short, the difficulties arise from the pathologies and inadequacies we bring to the relationship and how we unknowingly project them onto our teacher, along with the teacher’s unresolved neuroses, and how these two qlipothic or chaotic aspects of the teacher and student interact with one another and seek to undermine the relationship. You see, this is the critical part – the student seeks to undermine the relationship from the beginning, no matter what they say otherwise. The limited sense of self is subtle and sly, as it has habituated itself over a lifetime (or maybe several lifetimes) to trying to stay in control.Alchemy asks of us to undertake dangerous activities, so we must implicitly trust our teacher; however, trust is not enough if that trust is misplaced. Our teacher must have not only our best interests at heart, he or she must have the technical knowledge and experience to pass it on to us. This also assumes we have the capacity to learn – and not everyone has the capacity for alchemy, as it is very demanding of time and money. It is called the “path of the rich” for a reason.Thus, I believe that anyone who makes a claim about an alchemical product or act, and teaches it to others, must be willing to produce evidence of the efficacy of their methods.Jean Dubuis would say that he was no “guru,” and what he meant by that was that he was not someone whose word was to be taken at face value and considered holy writ. Yet, I brought up to him – and to his irritation, I am told – that regardless of what he said about not being a guru, he indeed was one. Guru means “dispeller of ignorance,” one who teaches, and he was surely a teacher and, by definition, a guru. I understand his reasons for not wanting to be seen as a “guru,” but the word was being misused, and his desire to encourage a teacherless path, a path without an egregore, reflected his experiences in the European initiatic traditions of which he was a well-respected and highly placed member. In general, I agree with him. The problem is that people need living examples of these Arts and Sciences; otherwise, they are simply intellectual abstractions, bodiless ideals, and therefore unattainable. Recently I wrote a lengthy article on my relationship with Dr. Lisiewski and what I have learned as a result of it. After some reflection it was quite a lot, which the article only touched upon. My first draft was a full three times longer than what made it into print. Of course, you cannot have near-daily contact with someone for years and not have some friction, conflict, or disagreement. What makes the spiritual teacher-student relationship different is that those moments are an essential part of the relationship, and how both parties handle them defines the degree of awakening they bring to and derive from the encounter.There is a reason a spiritual teacher is known as a “dangerous friend,” as they are supposed to bring out the worst in us in order to remove it, so that the best can naturally and effortlessly shine. In alchemy, as in ritual magic, this means being able to take technical criticism for what it is, a critique of our method designed to improve our results; at times, it consists of very direct critiques of our personality and those habituated patterns and actions that hold us back and keep us from proceeding on the Path. A good teacher, just as a good student, is really hard to find; that is why they can be called “a true friend and guide,” as is said in Masonic circles. However, on another level, what is going on when we study with a teacher – as when we are intimately studying an alchemical manuscript, reading the biographies of the great teachers, and surrounding ourselves with images and symbols of the period – is a form of Guru Yoga. We are seeking to unite our mind with the enlightened mind of the teacher to obtain information and insight not directly available through intellectual study alone. This is a specific form of telepathic or clairvoyant communication wherein awakening is sped-up. The Preface by Edouard Blitz, M.D., (a leading member of the Martinist Order under Papus) appearing in Treatise on the Great Art, by Antoine-Joseph Pernety (Weiser 1995), discusses this in great detail.Ultimately, however, a teacher is designed to help us get to the point where we can help ourselves, and no longer be dependent on them. When this happens, we are on the path to communing with our so-called “Inner Master,” which is nothing more nor less than our own conception of our self, or self-awareness, unobstructed by negative habits, emotions, and fallacies. We are like Adam and Eve, naked in the universe eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – only this time, we have the Knowledge of the Tree of Life, and are unashamed of “naked” reality, or ourselves and the cosmos as they are.