Modern Magister – Jeannie Radcliffe

Seven Questions

First published in Alchemy Journal Volume 10; Number 1, 2009, Salamander & Sons.

1. How would you explain or define alchemy? Is alchemy the same as spagyrics?

On a theoretical basis I was taught the concept that not only is Alchemy the Mother of all the Arts and Sciences but it is also the Art and Science of Evolution.

Spagyrics is an archetypal process that is happening in nature continuously. It is in fact the cycle of life itself. Whatever you observe is either dissolving or coagulating, breaking down or building up. It is how Nature works and is so common that it is overlooked. It is also happening within everyone and on an external level, such as when a person separates from their domestic life, cohobates with work or some other aspect and at the end of the day again separates from to reunite with their other life. This is followed by a sleeping/waking cycle, again a separation and cohobation. All this produces barely perceptible changes in the individual such as aging, but could hardly be called alchemical.

The hidden impetus that takes this process from the natural to the supranatural is the act of purification. This is the application of the Secret Fire so vital to alchemy and is what separates the essential from the non-essential. This act has the potential to turn a barely conscious routine into a process of growth and evolution, and taking it to the alchemical level of operating.

It is the conscious manipulation of the natural cycle of solve et coagula by the gesture of the turning of this wheel and speeding the rotation that hastens the evolutionary process many times until the matter becomes fixed in the ultimate state of fulfilment of it’s potential. This then is the door to alchemy.

As far as products are concerned, a spagyric substance is one that needs to be taken regularly in order to maintain its effects whereas an alchemical product would only need to be used once for a permanent change.

One of the main ideas that has lead to the muddying of the waters of understanding, is the association of, chrysopoeia (chryso – gold, poeia – making) to the concept of alchemy

That gold making has overshadowed many other aspects of alchemy is not a recent development and most people still believe that this is what alchemy is all about. In this sense even a cyclotron could be considered as a practising alchemist but that is of course ridiculous.

2. What is the origin of your interest in, and practice of, alchemy and/or spagyrics?

Well one could say it was because I ‘lost’ my mother when I was very young. coming to terms with the mystery of life and death had a decisive factor in the direction of my interests in this life. I have never had much of an inclination to pursue the accumulation of physical trappings, by far preferring the search for knowledge and understanding, perhaps it was that vague ‘something missing’ inside myself that was calling out to be manifest. Perhaps it was a love of nature. Having lived and grown up in an actively volcanic area with boiling, bubbling mud and mineral springs coming straight out of the earth, the immanence of nature contributed to an awareness of the intensity of natural processes.

My breakthrough into laboratory or external alchemy came in when I met Rik Danenberg who had been a student of Frater Albertus since he was in his teens. We had an instantaneous connection and found many areas of common understanding. The rest is history really, within three months we were helping set up the College in new premises in Melbourne, getting ready to do classes and transforming a very dilapidated garage into a viable working Laboratory.

When I first did Prima, it was such an epiphany of coming home and that was what I had been looking for. I did every single class that I could, repeating them all a number of times. No amount of book reading could ever substitute for the holistic experience of the oral tradition. One can get a certain amount of information from reading but it is always one dimensional and open to interpretation. For example, whatever you are reading into what is written here is based on your experience, which may consist entirely of mental constructs and no practical experience whatsoever. Whereas when you participate physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, it becomes a multidimensional experience. People may not remember a book they read 20 years ago but I have met a lot of people for who Prima was a pivotal experience in their life. Those experiences had a profound and lasting effect on me. So, here I am perpetuating the possibility for others to be able to experience this utterly unique Work.

3. Which alchemist or spagyricist – canonical or contemporary – has most influenced you?

Frater Albertus was a great teacher who has had a profound effect on the English speaking world, even though he never called himself an alchemist, alchemy was implicit in his Work.

Frater developed this teaching system in an attempt to free alchemy from the control of secret societies and pseudo-esoteric influences. The Paracelsus College is an oral tradition specifically set up to create conscious assistants; that is people who are consciously able to participate in the Great Work of the Evolution of mankind into humanity. It was his wish that Spagyrics/Alchemy/Parachemistry in all of its aspects become a serious area of study by scholarly institutions. That the properties of the products be scientifically researched in order to dispel many of the myths and grandiose claims that keep alchemy on the fringes. 

On the down side, there are very few ‘original’ thinkers. What he has spawned is a lot of people who duplicate his ideas without understanding Frater taught the bare bones of a system that students were supposed to use to develop their own understanding of the work, to use the techniques to further open up the depth and breadth of that which is possible in this Great Work.

Frater was not just a lab worker but worked with people on different levels. This is particularly true of the last few years of his life after the transition of the P.R.S into Paracelsus College. There were a number of changes such as the direction of his inner work that had more in common with the G. I. Gurdjieff concept of the work on oneself and the Sufi tradition of the Alchemy of the Heart and moving away from the ritual working as practiced in the western occult/magical traditions.

4. Which alchemical or spagyrical text or book – canonical or contemporary – has most benefited your operative work?

I would have to say the most helpful have been my own lab and class notes since they are based on work that I have actually done, whether on my own or under direction from others. I have often returned to them and found another little key hidden in what I didn’t understand before. Unlike all the other books, these are irreplaceable.

5. Describe your current laboratory.

It consists of two rooms and a storeroom separate from the house. There is a covered area outside for grinding and pounding operations. There is another area for doing calcination, incineration etc. We use a water recycling system for cooling the condensers that was developed many years ago to take into account the Australian conditions.

I share the lab with the College and my co–worker Rik as the lab is focused mainly around teaching as well as our own research.

The whole house and garden is a part of the lab and the separation between life and lab is somewhat artificial, as we do not have pets or small children. So there are always macerations and circulations sitting on top of the heater in winter or summer heat, an incubating sand bath for digestion and slow distillations in the lounge where we can keep an eye on things and fermentations and vinegars in the kitchen. Some tinctures and herbal salts are even part of the culinary repertoire.

6. Describe your ideal laboratory.

My Ideal is not a real possibility since all the disparate elements do not exist in the same time/space continuum on this planet. So I’ll just go with extrapolating on improvements to what already exists:

Besides more space, a few bigger heating mantles would be really useful and some modern analytical equipment.

7. What advice would you impart to an aspiring alchemist or spagyricist?

Observe EVERYTHING, as it is, including oneself, without fantasy or prejudice. Observe the true timing of the seasons of Nature. Learn the right and judicious application of the degrees of fire. Never lie to yourself about yourself or anything else. Be skeptical and learn to discriminate and to recognize subtle signs and differences. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Take copious notes and label everything. Practice, practice, practice, you don’t need much more than basic kitchenware to become skilled in processes such as fermentation as well as calcination, evaporation, crystallization. With a bit of improvisation and innovation, most types of equipment can be constructed at fractions of the cost. Don’t be limited by those who tell you that alchemy is only about the search for the Philosophers Stone the Philosophical Mercury or the Elixir of Youth, or that Spagyrics is only about herbs. Examine History and the multifaceted lives and interests of the Lovers of Sophia. Try to determine which is the Essence in any matter or situation; in order to do this you need to learn to sharpen and focus your mind so as not to be distracted by superfluities, there are a lot of fads around

Cultivate compassion and nurture conscience, as these are the qualities of the Soul, which in the final distillation called Death, joins with the Spirit, leaving the dross behind. Therein lies true Immortality.

Copyright Jeannie Radcliffe 2009