“Great writing is alchemy — you take bits of entertainment, mix in some education, and add a dash of inspiration.”
The alchemy concept is generally related to the ancient mythical process of converting lead into gold.
However, according to ancient scripts, alchemy was only possible via the medium of the philosopher’s stone.
It was said, only when the philosopher’s stone was applied to base metals, could the transmutation to gold be realised.
We can then thus say: base metal (such as lead) + philosopher’s stone (medium) = gold (or silver)
Typically, the end result (gold or silver) (manifestation of one’s higher desires) was considered to represent the awakened (enlightened) self, but scholars recon it’s more technically correct that the philosopher’s stone is the awakened self.
Alchemy, in its original Latin, means ‘total change’. Physically this denotes a change of the properties of matter, and thus of substance…
Psycho-spiritually, it refers to inner transformation, changing the personality and its structures, to allow for the light of unobstructed consciousness and pure Being to be directly known.
The Gnostic view that spirit is trapped in matter, suggests one needs to engage in certain actions to aid in freeing the spiritual essence that is ‘trapped’ within.
Spiritual alchemy is thus a means by which we reconstruct our personality and the various levels of our identification with it, so as to realise the infinite potential of our true being.
The process is essentially set of steps by which we get ‘out of our own way’ and allow our highest and best destiny to unfold.
So how does all of this relate to improving writing?
A key point found repeatedly within alchemy is the idea that the alchemist (in this case the writer) can only succeed in his work if he approaches it with purity of intent, with a heart free of ulterior agendas (an idea that was mirrored in the Grail myths, where only a knight of pure heart had any hope of finding the Grail).
Alchemy suggests that all things in the universe originate with the material prima (first matter). The idea of the ‘primal material’ was developed by Aristotle and refers to the idea that there is an invisible primordial matter that lies within all forms.
The alchemists of old believed that any given base metal must first be reduced to its materia prima prior to it being transmuted into gold.
The psycho-spiritual symbolism here points to the deconditioning process that lies at the heart of spiritual transformation — that is, the deconstructing of that which is false about us, to reveal that which is true and real — our divine self.
This is the womb of creation, the field of pure potentiality, but it only gains existence, in the strictest sense, when given form.
In the alchemical writing process, the primal material is that which remains when something has been reduced to its essence and can be reduced no further.
In writing, this relates to the inner process of considering isolated facts and ideas, in which we arrive at a ‘core realisation’ or epiphany, that cannot be deconstructed further, but which become the ground for successfully moving the story forward.
The process of alchemy thus relates to transformation as deconstructive (dissolving impurities) and constructive (transforming to attain a higher concept or consciousness), through what is referred to as ‘solve et coagula’ (the dissolution and coagulation) the deconstruction and reconstruction of our personality, or the written work.
In writing, we first separate the elements, the facts as isolated parts and break it down to its ‘first matter’. We confront it and understand it in its natural, purest form first, before we know what other higher forms it can or may take.
We then recombine these elements and facts (coagulating in a new, higher form) to create a better story, or outcome, which then allows for accomplishing a much better read.
The magnum opus or ‘great work’ of alchemy is ultimately to realise the fundamental interrelationship between mind (your ideas and story) and matter (the written word), between self and world, between heaven and earth, finally ending in the non-dual realisation: all is one.
The deeper esoteric work of the alchemist was always about personal awakening and union with the divine mind or higher self. The alchemist first seeks to transform him or herself, and then seeks to transform the outer world.
Just as the writer, who is to get to know all the facts and outcomes first — and then — with divine intervention — put it into a sequence with much higher meanings than the original facts each on their own.