Alchemy begins with a radical possibility. In order for some new possibility to arise, something old and outmoded needs to die. Through decline, stillness, and deep rest, energy accumulates so that something new can come to life.
I had my first astrology reading when I was 28 years old. Sitting beside me, my astrologer Steven Forrest looked me in the eye and broke the news to me that I was going to be a late bloomer. With my natal Sun in Aquarius in the 11th House, the House of Future Plans and Goals, he counseled me to be patient with the process of discovering my life’s purpose. He told me, in fact, that the age of 54 would be significant. I understand now he was looking at the time when my Progressed Sun in Aries would cross my Ascendant. Age 54 seemed then like a very long time to wait for my life to begin.
Throughout my thirty years of practice as an acupuncturist and alchemical healer, my interest has focused on the soul – my own and my patients’ as well as the soul of the world – the animals, plants as well as the elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal. Learning to understand and relate to the subtle energies that move and move through living beings has been the goal of my exploration.
That is why when my husband, Benjamin, suggested that we consider building a website and bringing our alchemical work to the internet, my first response was, “No way! Can’t be done!” Alchemy developed in organic, carbon-based reality where myth, magic and spiritual mystery rather than technology reigned supreme. Alchemy takes time. Its laboratory is the body and the natural world. It comes to life in relationship, in inter-active energetic fields of connection. And beyond all that, alchemy has traditionally been a secret teaching that was transmitted through symbols and riddles not well suited to the mini-bites of web communication.
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.
I just returned from leading a weekend workshop on Alchemical Acupuncture at Sugar Ridge, a retreat center in a cedar grove in Midland, Ontario. I will never forget the two-and-a-half days I spent with the graduating students of the Institute of Traditional Medicine in Toronto and Mona Bolton, the visionary Director of the program. The night fire, the morning walk, the grace, warmth and devotion to the healing process that I experienced with the students has energized and inspired me.
But there is another image from my journey that I will not soon forget – the gray carpeted room with the blue industrial chairs lined up against gray walls that met me at the U.S. – Canada border crossing. Standing in line with other travelers, waiting to show my passport to the uniformed customs official sitting beyond the shatterproof glass wall of his cubicle, I reflected on this space that felt so completely different from the spaces that Benjamin and I create to support our work, and the space I was to discover at the retreat in Midland. Here in this pass-through place, nothing but blank drab walls. No windows. No easy conversation, no laughter, no eye contact, no touch.