The ancient pursuit of alchemy has seen a notable revival in recent times. Evolutionary currents impelling many of us toward higher consciousness have reawakened interest in the age-old search for the keys to transformation—in settings as diverse as academia, the corporate world, and new-age spiritual centers. Although the deeper inquiries of medieval and Renaissance alchemists remain shrouded in mystery, and their material results were often dubious, the quest continues to fascinate many. Some alchemists were searching for gold and others for illumination, but their goal was principally the same: to unlock the secrets of transmuting one substance (of lesser value) into another substance (of greater value).
Pivotal to the alchemical pursuit was discovering the mysterious agent of transmutation that became known as the Philosopher’s Stone. It was believed that this elusive “stone,” or substance, was endowed variously with magical powers to transmute metals, cure diseases, restore youth, and bestow immortality. In medieval Europe, alchemists in the employ of the aristocracy postulated that base metals contained latent properties that could be chemically activated and refined into gold, the most perfect of all metals. In the Renaissance, alchemy of a spiritual nature attracted luminaries in science, mathematics and philosophy, among them Isaac Newton. The goal of this “Great Work,” as it became known, was to perfect the individual by “leading out from within” the divine nature of the human being.
In the modern wisdom teachings, the divine Soul within the human being is referred to as “the golden soul.” Likewise, it is said that the instrument of the soul in incarnation—the etheric or energy body that vitalizes the physical form—is filled with a golden light. In the framework of these teachings, the Great Work of leading out the gold from within begins near the close of the long cycle of human incarnations, when the soul awakens to its higher nature. The work takes place in the crucible of spiritual transformation— the Path leading from immersion in material illusion to the emergence of “the golden soul” into the world. Shakespeare’s words—“You are an alchemist; make gold of that”—can be heard as a clarion call to all awakening souls.
To become a spiritual alchemist and “make gold of that,” one must have already encountered the living reality of the higher Self. The individual must have already gleaned, in some measure, that the human soul—the fragment of the divine soul incarnate for a lifetime —is not his or her entire identity. When the “fragment” identified with matter senses its higher counterpart on the plane of Spirit, the individual’s orientation to life begins to shift. As the interaction between the two selves increases, the light of the Soul bestows a growing awareness that causes the individual to turn away from material living and enter the path of spiritual evolution. It is at this point that the Great Work begins.
Using the language of alchemy, the “golden soul” is both alchemist and Philosopher’s Stone in the ageless wisdom. As alchemist, the soul inspires and directs the transformative process. As the alchemical agent (the Philosopher's Stone), the soul’s golden light slowly transforms the lower self into a purified instrument of divinity. In principle, the work begins in parallel fashion to the process followed by ancient alchemists. They started by separating the substance they sought to transmute into opposite elements—one greater, one lesser. Then they purified both elements, reunited them into a single more refined substance, and repeated the process, hundreds of times, until the desired state had been attained. Eventually the greater would absorb the lesser in an ultimate union (a mystical union), thus completing the transmutation process.
The spiritual alchemist begins the work by consciously discerning the two aspects of human consciousness—the ordinary awareness of the outer persona or personality (the human soul absorbed in material reality) and the divine Soul (the spiritual Self created in the image of God). The work proceeds through stages of refinement, with the higher agent purifying the lesser substance, through gradual infusions of spiritual light. During repeated tests and trials in the crucible of human living, over the course of several lifetimes, the soul’s outer instrument becomes pure enough for the mystical union to occur. In the wisdom teachings, the product of this union is a soul-infused personality—a human being transfigured by divine light who becomes part of the Great Chain of Being.
Thanks to esoteric science, the stages of the quest and its outcome are now becoming widely known. With repeated demonstrations of spiritual aspiration and will, the lesser light of the persona attracts a greater light—first the Soul on its own plane and later inner plane Teachers and Guides. The inevitable crises of the Path arise when that greater light exposes contents of the human persona in need of refinement—hindrances that form a barrier between the outer self and the true Self. Thus the aspirant is led into the crucible of purification where the golden soul conducts its alchemical work, gradually removing impurities (the dross or shadow) to allow the lesser element to be absorbed into the greater. At the point in the process where the eternal Soul becomes the individual’s core identity, its golden light transfigures the transitory “fragment” for all to see.
In the more advanced stages of the process of purification, the Soul becomes aware of greater light emanating from the Kingdom of Souls, the Spiritual Hierarchy of the planet. A moment comes when the individual is conscious of receiving guidance from more advanced Beings—humanity’s guiding Elders who have completed the wheel of incarnation on Earth and oversee the divine Plan of evolution. Through soul affinity, the individual disciple will be drawn into one or another of the “ashrams” or groups within the Hierarchy, dedicating his or her personal gifts and abilities fashioned through lifetimes of experience to a particular sphere of hierarchical service. When the disciple finally emerges from the tests and trials of the “burning grounds” which guarantee unselfish motive, and steady communication is established with the inner group, another link is forged in the planetary Chain of Being whose purpose is to materialize the divine Plan on Earth.
Links in this chain are created one by one, by each seeker ready and willing to submit to repeated stages of refinement—through the alchemical process that continuously separates, transmutes, and unites higher and lower aspects of the human nature, preparing the lesser self to be absorbed by the greater, in order to bring the quality of divintiy into living demonstration on earth. It is ceaseless work, in which more refined spiritual substance shares its essence with substance of lesser light when the latter is sufficiently refined for the two to conjoin. Step by step, stage by stage, the seeker advances along the upward evolutionary spiral toward new thresholds from which further progress can be made.
Alchemists of old never actually produced gold, but they intuited the means whereby the greater unit of energy or consciousness interpenetrates the lesser, giving birth to a new “form of expression.” Present-day practitioners of the alchemical work of the Soul can be witnessed all around us, as humanity collectively gives birth to higher forms of expression. Through the hearts and minds of artists and poets, filmmakers and creative thinkers, scientists and educators, Philosopher’s Stones are fashioning new dimensions of human possibility. In response, guiding Intelligences are opening up new frontiers to all who have awakened to the “golden light” of the Soul.
Nancy Seifer and Martin Vieweg
 It should be noted that available information about the actual practices of ancient alchemists is sketchy, due to a paucity of decipherable historical records.