For the past fifteen years, I have gone back and forth about whether or not to continue to use the word “alchemy” when I talk about my work. I’ve always known that people have a lot of preconceived ideas about the word’s implications. Bearded wizards bent over flasks of odiferous concoctions … dusty books filled with weird pictures … heavy metal rock bands … expensive hair care products … small batch carefully brewed beer from rural places … these images did not really get at what I wanted to say about my work.
But just as early anthropologists stood for the sophisticated wisdom of “primitive” cultures and recent scholars and explorers have revealed the astonishing healing powers of tribal shamanism, I continued to feel a need to stand for alchemy. The more I delved into it, the more I saw that alchemy is not simply “failed chemistry” or antiquated magic but rather a way of understanding the world that can help us answer questions that modern science and psychology cannot. It is an integrated system of knowledge, a way of understanding the world, different from, but equal in value to our modern viewpoint.