Alchemy Where to begin ?
Alchemy an essentially occult practice has to it so many aspects that it is difficult to know where to begin. The primary concern of the Alchemist in the simple view most often presented is the transformation of base metal normally lead, into gold.
This idea in itself requires certain understandings to be accepted, and just like modern science has its underpinning structures, and philosophies, the Alchemists had their own, slightly different from ours, that could support the concept of transforming one form of matter to another; Lead to Gold. Today this is aknowledged as possible. We are aware of ways of changing one Element to another, but nuclear transformations are not considered appropriate for the garden shed enthusiast.
This process of transformation was usually thought to be performed by another materiel, the agent of change (almost like a chemical Catalyst), a form of mercury; sometimes reffered to as the Philosopher's Stone. Mercury is an important element in Alchemy. The work of the Alchemist was essentially to produce the Philosopher's Stone, the proof of which would be the ability of the stone to change base metal to Gold.
The great work, to produce the Philosopher's Stone, is regarded in itself in many ways as the important work; the refining, learning, understandings, and respect for the elements, and the processes, was the essential work, akin to the training of a monk. The trials have to be endured, the lessons have to be learned, repect and skill have to be developed, before the pupose can be realised.
There is a great deal of symbolism, and perhaps metaphor or allegory. There are many aspects surrounding Alchemy that tie it to the elements (earth wind water fire), the planets (sun moon earth mercury venus saturn), male and female, colours (black yellow red white), and old elements such as the dragon, or serpant, and possibly understandings forgotten from pagan era. The serpant, and mercurial links are the most evident, and persist into modern symbolism, although it is unlikely that many recognise it. The common symbol for medicine, is the same as the symbol for mercury - the two snakes entwined about a staff, a mirror of the Alchemist's Caduceus (or vice versa).
There has been much work in many fields searching for a fundamental and unifying understanding of all that exists. It will essentially incorporate mystical, scientific, personal, and religious aspects, and we should expect no less of Alchemy. Many learnings have been abandoned or ridiculed in our modern and sophisticated world, but occaisionaly some learnings have proved their worth despite scorn from the "scientific" world (accupuncture survives and now flourishes, without a shread of scientific explanation). In sub atomic physics people are beginning to discover that your fundamental beliefs, and the questions you ask determine the answers you get, in a strange and circular fashion.
For some links to Alchemy try these to get started
www.levity.com/alchemy/ - A pretty good start point
Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica - A large collection of historical reference materiel
http://www.handpen.com/Bio/alchemy.htm - A large collection of interesting modern materiel
skepdic.com/alchem.html - A less generous viepoint
If that doesnt satisfy, then visit your favourite search engine, and try using any of the following to reduce the number of results (Alchemy finds just too much irrelevant rubbish - like my site - oops)
Alchemical Mercury Sulphur Caduceus Hermes Dragon Serpent
For a less trivial introduction to Alchemy, I would like to suggest reading :-
The Elements of Alchemy