The Seven Faces of Alchemy Working
From the middle of February through to the beginning of April, I involved myself in a working I designed around the seven steps of alchemy. I had been reading Dennis Hauck’s The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal Transformation, and in it he suggested that the seven steps of alchemy could be applied via visualization. He described each step, including much of the imagery, so that the reader could get an idea of how the visualization was supposed to work.1
I don’t have much use for visualization, which I feel is a poor substitute for actual experience. Both Lisiewski and Frater Albertus argue that to really experience the transformational powers of alchemy, you need to do actual alchemical work in a laboratory (2002, 1974). I agree with this point, though I’d argue that what constitutes a laboratory can differ from person to person, depending on circumstances. I, for instance, have neither the money nor the space to have a proper working alchemy lab (in the classic sense of the word). I can, however, work with some forms of plant alchemy, which is a start on the physical lab work. But another laboratory exists, which I’ve been actively working in for the last ten years of my life. That laboratory is comprised of my body and my consciousness. My body provides the physical setting, and my consciousness provides the vehicle by which I explore and run experiments on both the laboratory of my body and the laboratory of my surroundings.
While I found Hauck’s concept of working with seven steps of alchemy to be interesting, I didn’t want to rely solely on visualization to interface with the different alchemical steps. I would read the chapter about each alchemical step only after I had already meditated once on the particular step I was going to work with for that week. Additionally, I decided to include several other magical techniques into the overall working so that I wouldn’t be relying on one technique alone. Finally, I wanted to externally manifest these steps into my life, so although much of the work occurred internally, the results also played themselves out in my life.
The seven steps of alchemy are as follows: Calcination, Dissolution, Separation, Conjunction, Fermentation, Distillation, and Coagulation. Each step of alchemy is part of a process of refinement that is meant to excise impurities, both from the substance worked with, and from the actual practitioner. This means that the practitioner comes face to face with hir own insecurities and issues, and through the process of alchemy, ends up refining hirself. The work on a physical substance in a laboratory is meant to refine the substance, but also act as a parallel reality that reinforces the internal process the practitioner is going through.2,3 Again, I note that I took a different approach in method, but the overall theory proved to be very sound, as I would intimately experience.
When I first decided to do this alchemical working, I was getting ready to move across the country to Seattle, Washington. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, and thought that it might be ideal to undergo this alchemical process to change my life while actually planning on a big life change. The move certainly contributed to the magical working, even as the working, in turn, contributed to the move.
I also decided to draw on the Dehara system of magic, based off of Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu series. In alchemy, various images show the hermaphrodite as the fully realized alchemist who is in touch with all aspects of hirself. I felt it appropriate to work with the hermaphroditic paradigm of Dehara, utilizing it to get further in touch with the alchemical principle of transmutation. On a personal level, I’d always found my workings in the Dehara system to be highly effective, and felt it could only contribute to the working I had in mind. I decided to mix the meditation on each alchemical step with some pathworking in the Dehara system, where I would find and work with a seven-faced Dehar godform who embodied the transformational mysteries of alchemy.
On a side note, I was also reading Don Webb’s Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path, and found his explanation of the seven steps of initiation to be strikingly similar to the seven processes of alchemy. His seven steps of initiation are Wandering, Shock, Daydreaming, Shock, School, Shock, and Work.4 I decided to merge Webb’s concept of initiation with Hauck’s steps of alchemy. I found that devising my own initiatory approach to express the end of a cycle of my life and the beginning of another cycle to be more effective than what was offered solely in their books. Sometimes a personalized ritual is more effective because you invest more personal power into it and the ritual is not entirely planned out. In other words, the ritual is a discovery, which emphasizes the idea that an initiation should be about discovery.
When I did my first week of meditation, I worked with the Dehar known as Aghama, who is the central godform in the Wraeththu Mythos. My purpose in working with him was to be introduced to the Dehara of Alchemy. This Dehara had seven faces and seven forms, but was one and the same. Each face and form represented one aspect of alchemy, and each week the Dehara of that week served as an initiator and guide into the particular step of alchemy I was working with.
The first week of my initiation was focused on Calcination, which is the first alchemical process. Calcination is a burning fire which destroys the ego, leaving ashes.1 Another way to consider calcination is that it shows you, through different incidents, how you create illusions of ego to protect yourself from harsh truths. In Webb’s model, this step would be Wandering — specifically, feeling the need to wander away from what is safe and to risk the unknown.4 In choosing to undergo this process, I was wandering from what I thought I knew about myself and the world around me. The Dehara of that week was named Areha. He had a muscular, ebony body that emanated heat. He wore a long headdress that flamed at the ends and his face was hidden behind a mask, but when the mask was taken away I found a scarred and pocked face. His voice rasped, a bare whisper, burned out by the fires contained with him. He would take me harshly to task everyday in my meditations, but also in moments after an incident had occurred that reminded me of calcination.
My experiences during the week of calcination involved either fits of temper or highly embarrassing situations. Upon reflection, I could see that I had sabotaged myself with my ego in each incident. This internal awareness seemed only to bring more incidents forth into my external environment, as if to fully force me to face the full extent of how my ego deceived me. The burning of calcination showed the single greatest fear of the ego: the feeling of loss and failure. But the ashes left behind opened me up to the realization that there was also growth potential to be experienced if I could just endure the fires of humiliation that calcination offered me.
The next week was Dissolution. The Dehar of that week was named Elolis. He had a blue body and was dressed as a clown or a jester, which was rather appropriate for the alchemical step of dissolution. This step takes the ashes of calcination and sifts away any lies that continue to cling, via the purification of water.1 In Webb’s model, this step is Shock — specifically, feeling the shock of your illusions being peeled away from you, exposing the truth underneath.4 I held tightly to the lies that were most dear to me, and that protected me from fully facing responsibility for my choices. The easy rationalizations and excuses I had didn’t hold water in the step of dissolution, as Elolis mocked me with the truth, showing me in a very harsh, somewhat funny manner how easily I lied to myself. This week of meditation was particularly hard for me, because I came face to face with a lie I’d told myself about graduate school: that it wasn’t my fault that I didn’t succeed. Over the course of that week I was forced to review and admit that much of the responsibility for not succeeding laid ay my feet. The actual meditations often had me feeling as if I were deep underwater, feeling an irresistible pressure shape me, much like a diamond.
The first two meditations and subsequent external experiences occurred right before Lupa and I moved. The week we drove out to Seattle was the third week, and it was rather appropriate that the third step of alchemy was Separation. I was being separated from every environment and person I knew. I had never even visited the state of Washington and had no idea what waited out there for me. I would feel, in the coming month, both homesickness and a sense of culture shock.
Lhah was the name of the Dehar of Separation. He had one black hand and one white hand. Separation is the alchemical process of removing any remaining impurities by bringing them to the surface.1 In Webb’s model, this process is Daydreaming, which was also appropriate for this trip as I felt at times as if I were in a dream.4 While my actual week of driving across the country went well, the process of being removed, being separated, brought many insecurities about the choices I’d made to the surface. Throughout this week Lhah manifested mostly in my dreams, a subconscious reminder of the process I was working through, and a gentle but insistent presence. My clearest memory was of my head in his lap, his hands gently reaching in and plucking out strings of energy that represented all of my fears.
Week four found Lupa and I in Seattle. We stayed with her aunt and uncle indefinitely. I admit that the following month and a half were stressful months for me. While they put us up, there was always a sense of tension. It wasn’t that they didn’t want us to stay with them, but I think no one anticipated how long it would take for us to find jobs and get our own place to stay. I would feel increasingly alone and alienated as I continually found frustration in my job searches. It never occurred to me that the alchemical process might be having an effect on the job hunt and on how people viewed me (more on this later).
The fourth process of alchemy is Conjunction. This is a process of bringing together what remains after the first three processes. The practitioner must choose whether s/he will follow through on the process or go back to the state s/he was previously in.1 I chose to move forward. In Webb’s model, this step is Shock. Although this step of shock has been experienced before, another experience of it is not unwarranted given that initiation is about facing new circumstances and new aspects of the self.4 The Dehar for this step is named Voorhalis. He is faceless except for a nose, and was frustrating to deal with for both the lack of a voice and the lack of features. In fact, I suppose he fits in that he illustrates the unfinished state and the hinted promise of becoming more. Likewise, his lack of a face leaves a lack of ego, which is often mistakenly assumed to be the identity of the person. And yet just as the nose is only part of a person’s face and not the whole of it, so too is the ego only a part of a person’s identity. I felt this process through a five hour walking meditation that left me feeling even more disconnected with Seattle and unfinished in general. This step was also the beginning of the most painful parts of this alchemical journey.
The alchemical process of week five was Fermentation. Fermentation is about new fertility, but also about experiencing putrefaction, which provides the manure for the fermenting process. Putrefaction is wallowing in the left over bits of ego, and challenging yourself to transmute them to something better.1 In Webb’s model, this step is School, about schooling and teaching yourself. I experienced the very painful realization that I likely wasn’t qualified for the jobs I was applying for. The Dehar was named Dvelin. He was golden in appearance, but had black hands. I recall that my meditations had a lot of yellow light in them, a sense for me of being purified, of facing the last deepest ingrained beliefs about myself and realizing how unfounded they were, but also knowing I could grow from them. I realized that I needed to acquire new skills and market myself differently, and to a broader potential job market, than I had previously thought. It was during this week that I fell into a very deep depression that wouldn’t lift until several weeks after the alchemical process had seemingly finished.
The sixth process of alchemy is Distillation, and the sixth step for Webb’s model of initiation is Shock. The process of distillation is cleaning out or washing away the final debris and making sure the person is ready for the final step.1 Likewise, the experience of shock in initiation is once again having the experience of the unknown. A person falls into a routine, even with initiation, but the process is about avoiding too much routine, so shock is necessary for bringing a person out of complacency.4 The Dehar for this step is named Baloor. He has a blue face, but from that face extends the faces and aspects of the other dehar that are part of the alchemical process, as well as their arms. He looks similar to an Indian god. My experience in this week during the meditations and external experiences was a deepening of the depression. On a Saturday morning, after wandering for four hours around downtown Seattle, I came back to my mate. She helped me see how far into depression I’d fallen, how I’d created a shell of negative energy that was blocking my progress. This was confirmed several days letter by a fellow occultist who’d shown my resume to a recruiter, who could feel the negativity and said that she wouldn’t interview me because of that energy. The distillation of the depression was my choice in no longer allowing myself to be a victim, but making active changes in my methods and goals for finding a job.
The seventh process is Coagulation, and in Webb’s model is Work. Work is appropriate, because initiation doesn’t stop. It involves work, and continuing the process of transformation even after the obvious ritual is done.4 Likewise, coagulation is only the beginning of more alchemical work. It is a condensation (and dissolving at the same time) of what is left of the person, a preparation for more alchemical work and for a rebirth of the person — a transformation into a new being.1 Oddly enough, my experience for coagulation was not a Dehar, but instead an entity that I’ve had intimate experiences with before: the Phoenix. The Phoenix did not do or say anything beyond telling me to wait, that my opportunities would line up shortly. I still felt rather devastated when, at the end of that last week of alchemical workings, I found a job as a house cleaner. In retrospect, I realize I still needed to purify myself — that although the obvious process was done, the actual working was far from over, and the house cleaning job was a sign from the powers that be that I needed to clean up my attitude to the entire process. I was too focused on getting an obvious result, as opposed to experiencing the process.
I only worked at the house cleaning job for a week, but that week gave me a lot of time to think and consider how I was presenting myself, and my attitude toward the move and everything else that had happened. Instead of blaming others and general circumstances, I started to critically look at my own behavior and examine how I contributed to the various situations I’d found myself in over the course of not just recent months, but also the past couple of years.
My condensation was the realization of how often I’d created situations that were unfavorable for me. My dissolving was letting go of my own role in those patterns, so I could remove myself from them. In the weeks after my alchemical working officially ended, I gradually became acclimated to my new environment. My attitude and energy also changed, and I found myself getting many more interviews. Eventually, Lupa and I moved into our new home, and although the process of that move was somewhat stressful (we moved into a house being renovated), nonetheless we found a home. Literally on the first day that we moved in, I received a call and was told I now had a job at Boeing as a technical writer.
I wouldn’t start this job for several weeks, which would actually be useful for the alchemical process that was still playing itself out in my life. Over those weeks, Lupa and I unpacked, and I had the opportunity to go through memories, reflect on prior experiences, and decide what I needed to get rid of, on both a physical level and a spiritual level. It was also during those weeks that Lupa and I presented at the Florida Pagan Gathering. While there, I was finally able to close what summed up a cycle of my life — a cycle of emotional chaos and uncertain circumstances. That weekend, I got my first tattoo — a phoenix — and in my dreams that night, Phoenix told me that my first cycle of my life was finished and I was now moving into my second cycle.
Since getting that tattoo, I’ve felt different. I’ve felt more confident about my choices, and about the direction of my life. I’ve felt reborn, and I’m still feeling this process of birth, of change. I have no idea where it will take me. I only know that the seven-week ritual I did was a gestation period, a period of sacrifice, and from that, renewal and transformation.
- Hauck, Dennis William (1999) The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal Transformation; New York: Penguin Compass
- Frater Albertus (1974) Alchemists Handbook: (Manual for Practical Laboratory Alchemy; York Beach: Weiser Books
- Lisiwieski, Joseph C (2002) “The Alchemical Teachings of Frater Albertus” in Christopher S. Hyatt (ed.) Undoing Yourself With Energized Meditation and Other Devices; Tempe: New Falcon Press
- Webb, Donald (1999) Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path; Smithville: Runa-Raven Press.
©2006 Taylor Ellwood. Edited by Sheta Kaey
Taylor Ellwood is the author of Space/Time Magic, Inner Alchemy: Energy Work and the Magic of the Body, and Pop Culture Magick, among other works. You can visit his blog at http://magicalexperiments.com/.