The core of the alchemical tradition consists of a 1) practical, exoteric component and 2) a theoretical, esoteric component. This article is meant as a short introduction to the esoteric component.
Alchemy is referred to as the compound of practical, psychological, Nature-philosophical, mystical and medical aspects. In line with the above, two facets of the work have existed side-by-side: 1) the outer work or manual labour (in reference to the laboratory tradition) and 2) the inner or spiritual work of the initiatory process (specifically those practices such as meditation, ritual and reading, that lead to spiritual advancement). These facets are complementary. Ingestion of spagyric/phytopharmaceutical or advanced alchemical preparations are intended to strengthen the physical and to loosen up physical or psychological blockages. In this way, the results of the manual labor help to increase the awareness and mental abilities of the student of alchemy. This can subsequently lead to further revelations on the inner plane or to answering questions that relate to the outer, physical alchemy.
We are born into the world with a set of neurons totaling about 100 billion, about the same number as there are stars in our galaxy. These neurons interweave and form meaningful patterns and groups and form the basic supporting structure of our reality. The evolution of the brain took place from lower brain stem to midbrain to forebrain. The forebrain only exists as a small bump in animals but came into its own in our primate ancestors about 20 million years ago.
With the development of the forebrain came the development of a separate sense of Time, which is located in the left brain. The mental activity to explore and to search requires constant projection of the mind forward in time in order to guess and create what lies ahead. Searching behaviour concerns the pursuit of specific needs for food, sex or a place to sleep. Exploratory behaviour is unspecific. We are simply motivated (by our Chiah - more about that later) to keep moving, looking, hearing, feeling. Throughout that searching, the mind is not just registering what happens in the environment, but actively shaping what it sees, almost from the very beginning. Alexander Luria found that our preoccupation with the future – our “putting into effect of intentions, plans or programmes” – constitutes “the greatest part of all specifically human forms of activity.” Once our goal is reached, the activity stops; but every time it is not reached, this leads to further mobilization of efforts. Luria concluded that our frontal brain lobes are the site for much of what we think of as the “future sense.” Grey Walter discovered what he called “expectancy waves” appearing primarily in the frontal lobes. They increased as a person anticipated something was going to happen and decreased as anticipation waned. There seems to be a cybernetic feedback loop wherein the actions of a system or organism are shaped by information about the environment that is fed back into the system or organism. We are hooked into our environment by millions of feedback loops, with the active human mind as the central station for prediction, projection and intervention of the creation of reality. We move forward into the future predicting, projecting and intervening, and again predicting, projecting and intervening. The incoming information and energy is broken down for analysis bit by bit and the outgoing information and energy is assembled bit by bit in sequences. The aspects of ourselves that Qabalists call the Ruach and Nephesh are the main actors in this process. More about that below.
Inner work is a tool to discover what the mind is, what you can do with
it, and what the ancients knew about it. Many ancient texts on Ecstatic
Qabalah (for example from Abraham Abulafia) or Arabic texts on
meditation (Ibn Arabi) describe experiences and knowledge that can be
verified and experienced oneself through inner work. We have very little
knowledge of what exactly goes on in our minds and how it works but
over time, with the practice of introspection as taught within many
esoteric traditions, we are able to discover our mind and the essential
truths about the mind’s spiritual capabilities. When you develop an
understanding for the core tradition and the essential truths about using
the mind for esoteric advancement, you then will be able see the truths
that past cultures have preserved about this essential proto-Qabalah
and understand upon what those truths are based.
One of the first skills that needs to be adopted is the ability to enter a state of semi-consciousness that is somewhere between dream and reality. One could call it a light trance or simply a meditative state. It is sort of a mix between a waking consciousness and a dream state. The workings of the mind are often explained by the parallel of one of the most advanced machines we know: the computer. In this parallel, the unconscious is the software of the system, the outer world and our body is the hardware, and the subconscious is the GUI (Graphic User Interface).
It has been said that "an uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter from God". When you dream, you are actually having a conversation between the conscious mind and different aspects of the unconscious mind. This includes a divine aspect within ourselves often referred to as our Higher Genius. When we are in contact with this aspect, the messages and visions received can indeed be likened to receiving a letter from God.
Inner work is based on the potential for inner dialogue and the fact that the unconscious is in fact continuously trying to communicate with the conscious through an animated pictographic language of feelings and visions. It is now popularized in a dressed down version under the title of "The Secret". Unfortunately the popular movie regarding this subject fails to identify one of the major loopholes and stumbling blocks in this mechanism. One of the things the old masters learned was that at first the unconscious chooses images to symbolize ideas based on your natural inclinations concerning your attitude about those images. But the old mages also discovered you can teach the unconscious to use a symbol system (pictographic representation) that you yourself want to use to make the conversation flow in both directions. The Qabalah presents the results of ages of research in this field. On the basis of Qabalah, the internal dynamics can be schematised as follows:
This figure describes the creative mechanism that exists between the divine and ourselves, between macrocosm and microcosm. It also describes the microcosmic workings wherein the Neschamah/Neshama, the Ruach and Nephesch/Nefesh play an important part. At this point, this article uses terms from the Qabalastic tradition which may seem abracadabra to the casual reader. Suffice it to say that the creative process we learn about through inner work is the same process that creates and sustains our reality. By meditation, trance work, daydreaming or visualization, we link into to this process to some degree and access the regions where we can influence this creative process. While there is some danger involved in doing so, the benefits can be great too; and that is why so many mystics and initiates of esoteric traditions try to understand and master this system.