The following is an interview with Greg Sneddon, a former administrator and teacher at Paracelsus College, on the 29th of April 1988 in Melbourne, Australia.
Q: What is Alchemy?
Greg: I am sure each person you ask who has studied the subject would have a different answer to that question. I can only give my answer which is a product of my current experiences of the subject. Alchemy could be seen as a systematic approach to understanding the relationship-between the internal and the external with the eventual aim of producing something which is of universal positive value. It is one system among many achieving such ends and we don't in any way consider that it is superior to other systems. Certain individuals however, may find this way of demonstrating the truth easier to work with than perhaps some other ways that are currently available.
Q: Where does Paracelsus College fit in to all of this?
Greg: Paracelsus College has been around for some time, founded by a gentleman named Frater Albertus. It began as Paracelsus Research Society in the early sixties Paracelsus College coming along in 1981 as the direction of what was needed to be changed. We teach a three year structured course which deals with various elements from three basic areas - we refer to them as Practical Laboratory Alchemy, the Qabala or QBL which is based on the ancient Hebrew system some people may be familiar with, and Astro-cyclic pulsations, which is commonly known as Astrology.
Q: A picture that most people have of Alchemy is old men in their cellars concocting various potions and trying to turn lead into gold. Where is the relevance of this for today's society?
Greg: We have to look at it from several aspects. One is where chemistry first began. What is now an orthodox science spent a long time as a group of wise men - if you like - and sometimes women working in their laboratories especially during the Middle Ages and running the risk of being burnt at the stake as heretics. Science was for a long time not accepted as a reputable or worthwhile thing to be engaged in. So we have to make a fine distinction between what was true Alchemy during the Middle Ages, and what was the birth of this attitude to things we know as Science. If we examine medieval chemistry we find that it has a lot in common with medieval Alchemy. It is only in more recent times that a separation has been made. That separation has been caused, principally, by science in this Age of Materialism taking off and leaving the concept of what we could call God behind. At the point where Science and Metaphysics or a more spiritual approach to things separated there was the birth of Alchemy as a separate art from orthodox Science. Where we imagine people in funny little hats in dark dungeons brewing up some sort of strange concoctions in weird looking terracotta apparatus this could as easily be Science as it could be Alchemy. The idea of transmuting lead into gold is something that has fascinated many generations of people. The ones who have been most fascinated have been those who can see some use for the gold that has been made as the end product. Alchemy was sponsored for many generations by wealthy institutions such as kings and queens and princes and various governments and of course the church. It wasn't that difficult if you had a good trick, to go to a king and demonstrate how with a tiny little bit of some mysterious substance you were able to turn a mass of what looked like lead into what looked like gold. The next step was to say to the king: "If only I had enough money to research the subject properly we could produce any amount of this stuff". The kings never got their gold. The so-called Alchemists as a matter of course tended to disappear after they had spent the money that was allocated to them - and then would perhaps change their names and go somewhere else and repeat their performance. It does cost quite a bit in terms of money and an enormous amount of time and effort to work in this field of alchemy. Where most of the other systems we come across for spiritual growth or enlightenment tend to suggest that one leaves behind one's worldly possessions Alchemy is in quite a unique position in that it demands that one lives and works within the world - it is not possible to practise true alchemy hidden in some secluded cavern - somewhere all on one's own - because one of the fundamental basic premises that alchemy rests on is the interaction between imperfect beings. This is not possible when one is isolated so it is vital that this is practised within the world even though actual laboratory experiments perhaps may be performed without letting anyone know that you are doing them in a very quiet secluded place in your home or garage or somewhere. The rest of one's time should be spent in inter-relating with what could be called normal people because it is only through the process of Service that alchemy is of any value both to the individual and to the many other ones - the many other individuals that live within this world of ours.
Q: Most of the manuscripts that exist deal mainly with the search for the philosopher's stone or the making of various herbal or mineral preparations for healing and yet they never talk about Astrology or QBL, why do you study these subjects?
Greg: A study of Astrology and the study of the QBL is something which is very important to the practise - or the successful practise of Laboratory Alchemy. A study of transmutation is vital to a true understanding of Astrology and QBL and so on. The three interrelate and are virtually inseparable. Now that doesn't mean that the Hebrew people are more fortunate than others because they are the ones who possess the secrets of the QBL and therefore if somebody doesn't study Hebrew and isn't familiar with what we understand today as being the QBL then they have no chance of being successful in Alchemy. The QBL itself is simply a system for establishing lawful relationships between living beings.
Q: But if Astrology and QBL are so important to the study of laboratory Alchemy, why aren't there books written that link these three together, or why within the alchemical manuscripts don't these things appear?
Greg: The reason for this is that the manuscripts we come across that deal with the subject of Alchemy only deal with a particular aspect of the subject, for the major part of Alchemy can only be passed on as part of an oral tradition in that it goes from teacher to student who then becomes teacher and so on. This idea of lineage or passing down from generation to generation a living tradition is an essential part of true Alchemy so therefore because this is assumed the manuscripts leave out an enormous amount of detail, this being expected to be provided by a qualified teacher who can lead the student through the maze and hopefully out the other side. It is very difficult to talk about an oral tradition in the cold way like this because it is something that really needs to be experienced rather than intellectualised, for that is the nature of a living tradition. You see, if it was possible through any means like a magazine article or a book to pass on the essence of the tradition then that would have been done. The only reason it hasn't been done is that it is not possible, therefore this article is no more likely to achieve that end than any other article. We may sometimes get glimpses of the truth through reading a book. We may sometimes read a passage and find it really inspires us and we find even temporarily we drift off into some blissful state after having read a particular passage and think; "Is this book good?", but then pretty soon you proabaly notice the image fades and all of us find we have to read another book to try and recapture that blissful feeling again because of course all of us want blissful feelings, but this isn't true Alchemy, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the study. For years I was involved in the search for the ultimate book and often I would come across it, just so precious and so important to my study that I had to have it and then I had to take it home and devour it, then this became something that would bring a great deal of bliss into my everyday existence but very soon the image would fade and I'd be left with just another book on the shelf and I'd run out to find another one, and sometimes I'd be lead mysteriously to a particular bookshelf and I'd open a page almost like the way that one would divine something and come across a particularly deep and meaningful passage that would give me something to think about and I'd think, "Ah that book must be the ultimate one because it was so powerful!". But you see they never are and the images always fade and you are left back with yourself again after every one of those experiences. This is very difficult to cope with until one realizes that whilst those experiences are very important and the things we learn through that means do go in and do become part of our understanding, nevertheless the actual finding of a structured tradition or a structured system that can help us out of the mire of our own day to day difficulties as well as helping us to be able to be of some assistance in this world through being able to aid those in need, is a very important thing. This is what the study of Alchemy through an oral tradition or through a school that uses oral tradition can do that reading manuscripts on one's own just really can't.
There's a difference between reading a book and understanding it intellectually and there can be a big difference between what you have in your head and what you're actually doing, the practise of Alchemy is not just the study of it but it is bringing into line the inner and the outer so that there is no real difference between what is in your head and what you are doing.
Q: What is the purpose of working with plants, metals and minerals.
Greg: Just as the end result of meditation is not meditation, the end result of giving something is not giving something, the end result of studying Alchemy is not Alchemy. What has been found is that if the mind is encouraged to work with the impossible, the seed of self within nothing is planted. This is a very important part of every spiritual way, the seed of eventual comprehension of that which does not exist. Alchemy has a perhaps peculiar approach to this concept, that of producing the impossible within the laboratory. A hundred years ago television was impossible, so if somebody was to produce a television set a hundred years ago and show moving pictures on it that would have been considered to be quite magical because it was impossible. Now we find that every child and every adult just assumes television and turns it on without questioning it, as with computers and so on and so forth, so the impossible is a relative thing. With alchemy we take what the mind currently considers to be absolutely impossible to achieve and produce it. First of all we define what is impossible very clearly and very carefully, building up a very solid structure of what is real and what does not exist outside reality. Then we systematically assist the student to break the structure down for him or herself.