On Becoming an Alchemist: A Guide for the Modern Magician

On Becoming an Alchemist: A Guide for the Modern Magician

by Catherine MacCoun

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regard alchemy as a metaphor for inner transformation. But this is only half
the story. According to Catherine MacCoun, alchemy is no mere metaphor. It’s
real magic. Transforming the inner world is, for the alchemist, a way to
transform the outer world. Through studying the principles of
alchemy, we can achieve

…  See more details below


regard alchemy as a metaphor for inner transformation. But this is only half
the story. According to Catherine MacCoun, alchemy is no mere metaphor. It’s
real magic. Transforming the inner world is, for the alchemist, a way to
transform the outer world. Through studying the principles of
alchemy, we can achieve extraordinary effects from ordinary actions by
understanding how the world really works. We can perceive the hidden
connections between the spiritual and the material worlds. Knowledge
of these connections enables us to influence external phenomena through the powers
of heart and mind alone. Yet alchemy is not, like some forms of magic, the
exercise of mind over matter. It
is the art of taking what already exists—whatever presents itself—and
transmuting the harmful into the helpful, the useless into the valuable.

Becoming an Alchemist
initiates us into these secrets, showing us how to
think, perceive, and operate as an alchemist. It offers practical advice and
exercises that will help the modern magician to:

Understand and apply basic principles of alchemy

Transmute setbacks, failures, and losses into sources of magical power

Navigate one’s inner world with poise, confidence, and common sense

Intuitively show up in the right place at the right time to benefit from
magical coincidences

Discover the potentials latent in any situation by awakening subtle perception

To learn more about the author Catherine MacCoun go to hermeticist.com.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

MacCoun follows up her acclaimed novel Beyond the Abbey Gateswith a richly gratifying exploration of alchemy. Writing for the advanced magical practitioner who is a novice alchemist, MacCoun represents this ancient art as a kind of spiritual graduate school. Through her vivid storytelling and crystalline prose, she maps out the mental landscape of alchemy, showing how the process is similar to that used by religious mystics. MacCoun devotes the first half of the book to encounters with spirits the practitioner can expect while on the alchemical path. In the rest, she explains how the everyday can become fodder for spiritual growth. Using the traditional components of alchemy as a metaphor, the base metal of a tragic life event or even a bad mood can become source material in the process of personal transformation. Everything in MacCoun's cosmos stands ready to lead the adept toward the deeper truths of reality. This approach may disappoint literalist readers who are hoping for the secret to transforming base metals into real gold, but for MacCoun the purpose of alchemy is the construction of a philosopher's stone in one's heart, leading to the total transformation of the self. (Feb. 12)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

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From Chapter 6: Commencing the Great Work

are probably as many versions of the Great Work as there are
alchemists. Seven seems to be a favorite number of steps, but some list
ten, or twelve, or twenty-two. I chose seven because that seemed like a
manageable number of chapters. I picked this particular version of
seven—called “The Ladder of the Wise”—because I liked the quaintly
scientific words used to label the steps. So don’t let what were rather
casual choices in my mind become monuments in yours. In time you will
develop your own procedures and, perhaps, identify different or
additional stages. Each alchemist’s process is unique, but a book must
necessarily generalize. I’ve used the seven-step model to elaborate on
seven challenges that seem to recur in the inner lives of most
alchemists. If you can’t relate to something I’m saying, maybe it
doesn’t apply to you.

While I’ve arranged the steps in a logical
sequence, to the extent that you experience them, they will be in
“shuffle” mode. That’s because they don’t happen at your conscious
initiative. You don’t say to yourself, “I think I’ll start work on
sublimation today.” Rather, you diagnose a stage that is already in
progress when you notice its telltale symptoms. “I’ve got the blahs.
Maybe I’m in fermentation,” or “All hell is breaking loose. This must
be calcination.” Once you realize what process is occurring, you work
consciously to bring it to a successful conclusion.

For each
stage, I offer a procedural tip or two, along with warnings about known
hazards and admonishments not to blow up the lab. Like Basil Valentine,
I sometimes omit key steps and wander off into theological discourses.
When you come to these, keep in mind that principles imply procedures.
They are implied rather than spelled out because no one has ever
transmuted you before. To do so will require procedures of your own

As far as I know, nobody ever finishes with a stage
once and for all. You will probably continue to cycle through them over
and over for the rest of your life, even after the big
initiation that comes at step 7. To be in a phase of conjunction does
not put you ahead of someone who’s going through separation, because
neither of you is traveling in a straight line. The “path,” if one were
to draw it, would look less like a road than like plate of spaghetti.
In other words, it’s not a path.

The phases do, however, come to
definite—if not permanent—conclusions. When you’ve finished with one
for the present, your mood will change. In retrospect, you’ll see that
you’ve made progress in the form of new insights, new behaviors, and
new capabilities.

Technical Overview

The number seven might already have led you to suspect that the Great Work has something to do with the seven chakras.

their receptive form, the chakras are organs of subtle perception. Each
one is attuned to a different type of information. The chakras are also
points at which our energy can flow outward into the world. As such,
they are organs of will. I know of no explicit references to the
chakras in Western hermetic literature prior to the nineteenth century.
Still, the correspondences between the seven-stage models of initiation
in the West and the volitional aspects of the chakras are striking.
These initiations were designed for a human being who, it would seem,
has seven different “wills.”

These wills are not always in
agreement with one another. At any given moment, some could be aligned
with others, some in conflict with others, and some altogether dormant.
This is why our actions are so often contradictory and inept.
Technically speaking, the Great Work is a realigning of the will
centers so that they are all working toward a shared purpose.

can’t see your own chakras. Most of the time, you probably can’t feel
them either. This makes it difficult to check up on them directly. You
can only infer how they’re doing by noticing how you’re feeling and how
you’re behaving. By the same token, the overview I’m about to present
won’t be of much use in checking your progress once the Great Work
commences. I can draw you a diagram of what’s supposed to happen, a
picture of your inner alignment as it might appear if viewed from the
outside. But you can’t compare yourself to the picture because you
can’t see yourself from the outside. The picture won’t tell you how
you’re doing. It will, however, help you to visualize what you’re going
for. You might want to try meditating on the diagram, moving inwardly
with it as you do with other alchemical figures and symbols.

Here is the alignment of a person who can’t do magic. You could call it “Muggle Alignment.”

three lower centers comprise our instinctive will. They are the drives
we need to survive as physical beings on earth. The names I’ve given
them reflect our subjective experience of them. That is, we feel driven
by fear, desire, or territoriality (the need to patrol our borders and
rule our domain). These are our centers of gravity. Their natural
orientation is down.

The top three centers represent the higher
faculties that inform our conscious intentions. Ideal is our source of
creative and moral inspiration, our point of connection with the
spirit. Thought is deliberation and understanding. Word is declared
intention. These are our centers of levity. Their natural orientation
is up.

At the center of the picture, the heart is the point where
up meets down and where the vertical intersects the horizontal. It is
the between of the human being and the source of alchemical
deeds. But no such deeds are happening at the moment, and the picture
tells you why. If the arrows represent the flow of energy, the heart
isn’t getting any. The upper part of the person is streaming toward
heaven; the lower part streaming toward earth. Isolated in the middle,
the heart doesn’t have much power. It is mushy and sentimental, like
the heart on a Victorian valentine. It might feel love, but it’s not much good at doing love. Its love manifests as inept good intentions and niceness.

The inner alignment that gives rise to alchemical deeds looks like this:

that the labels for the lower three centers have changed. The survival
instincts of the unconscious will have been transmuted into qualities.
Fear has become confidence; desire has become devotion; territoriality
is now integrity. They remain below, but their orientation has shifted
upward. The energy they draw from the earth now streams toward the

Changes in the upper will centers are less dramatic. They
still have the same names. But something has happened to shift their
orientation downward. It is as if they are bowing their heads. The
energy they draw from above spills into the heart. The heart is now the
meeting point between intention and will, between heaven and earth.
Empowered by all the other centers, its energy streams outward into the
world. It is brilliant with the intelligence of heaven-inspired
intention and sonorous with the power of the earthy will. Like a
diamond, it is indestructible, cutting, and radiant. It loves bravely,
shrewdly, mightily, and magically. It has become the philosopher’s stone.

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Meet the Author

Catherine MacCoun is a literary collaborator by profession and has written five published volumes of nonfiction. Her novel, Beyond the Abbey Gates, was originally published as The Age of Miracles, in 1990, and reissued as a Trumpeter book in 2006. She has won numerous grants and awards for her writing, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in prose.

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