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rs:essays:initiation:death_of_the_alchemist

The Death of the Alchemist

Rubaphilos Salfluĕre

“… For [he] must die to the world, to the flesh and to all the senses and to the whole man animal, who would enter into the closest of secrets …”

The above quote is taken from a relatively well known book called “The Rosie Crucian Secrets” 1713.

The book is basically a workbook on alchemy. It contains a narrative description of a path to the Philosophers Stone, a comprehensive collection of serious lab recipes, a lexicon of old technical terms and some information about the Rosicrucian fraternity. Altogether it is a serious volume, compiled from various sources by someone who knew a lot of important truths about alchemy. Even though that text is largely a workbook for a lab alchemist, the author of the above quote obviously understood the inner and more esoteric side of alchemy. That little quote contains all of the key ideas that describe what 'initiation' in to the inner alchemical practice is all about.

That text, and the view it presents to the knowledgeable reader, is a sample of a teaching from an individual, or group, who were involved in both sides of the alchemical game. So we might ask ourselves … why would a man who had the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life be interested in the concept and practice of internal alchemy … of initiation … if he didn't have to, when he already has everything he needs to live a comfortable and productive life?

Before I explain the meaning contained in the above quote, I will take a moment to explain the schema of the initiatory plan in very basic terms. So that we can be sure you understand what it is we are considering in this section of my overall discussion.

As I have described earlier, the old Adepts of the Hermetic tradition knew that in order to be able to grasp the real meaning of alchemy, and to be able to Understand it to enough of a degree to solve its problems, and complete its work, the alchemist first needed to re-establish the link between the lower and the Higher Functions of the mind. They referred to the process of training someone to open that link as 'Hermetic initiation'. They also said that this process must be taught by someone who already had that link opened through his own initiation, and they called this passing down of the initiatory knowledge and experience … 'the ancient chain of transmission'. They called it 'ancient' because they knew, from experience, that this link could not be opened by someone, by themselves. So reason dictated that since this system of initiatory practice still existed today, that it must form an unbroken chain of training … “mouth to ear, hand to hand, brother to brother” … from the remotest period of human sentient existence. Since we know from historic record that people were practicing initiatory techniques as least as long ago as 4000 years.

The goal of initiation is not only to re-establish that link between lower and Higher Functions, but to push it, and push it, in the student, until its use as a tool of cognition has gained enough momentum that it would not wither and shut down again. It had to re-established as a habit of thinking. When that irreversible momentum had been established, the resulting condition of mind … the state of the Adept's personal psychology … was referred to in the Western tradition as … Spiritual Illumination. That is, the Higher Functions were now Illuminated by the light of conscious awareness … instead of existing in the darkness of the unconscious.

So the goal of Hermetic initiation is Spiritual Illumination, and Spiritual Illumination is understood by those who have attained it, as the true beginning of a life of Mastery.

Understanding this much, we can now look at that quote and describe what it means, and understand that description in relation to the work and goal of initiation.

Spiritual Illumination is a state of mind which is 'more than human'. The normal human condition is taken as the starting material, and it is altered in order to develop the state of Illumination. When a person has reached that state he, or she, has become something that developed beyond the accepted definition of human. What this means is that in order to attain Spiritual Illumination you cannot remain what you are today. You have to become something else. Not just on the weekends, or when you can be bothered, but permanently. Once that state is attained, it cannot be turned back in to normality again.

Many people who insist their sole desire in life is to attain that goal, also often have this weird almost unconscious belief that somehow they are going to walk the path of initiation, and hopefully become Illuminated, but essentially remain who they are today. Almost like they see esoteric initiation as being the attainment of information that will make their life esoterically funky, but which information they can use or ignore as the whim takes them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Illumination is something we 'become' … not something we have access too on a whim, like a facebook account.

This is the fundamental meaning of the part of our quote that says …

“… For [he] must die to the world, to the flesh and to all the senses…”

In other words, initiation is a process which kills-off our normal human behaviours and views. Dying to the world means that the purpose for the world's existence, and your need for a place in that game, no longer holds your attention. Your purpose for existence and your needs now become something else other than that which normal people require. To die to the flesh means that one of the fundamental tools that keep us immersed in physical life, the needs and impulses of our biological body, no longer dictate our focus. To die to all the senses means that we no longer are attracted by the things which stimulate our physical senses. Since the life of a normal person is greatly trapped in the habit of judging according to sensory experience, and of appeasing the pleasant sensations our senses are capable of.

All of these ideas together add up to dying to …

“… the whole man animal …”

The focus and concern of the Illuminated Adept is not that of pandering to his animal needs of shelter, food and reproduction. Something happens to the Adept, as a natural part of what he has become, which allows these natural requirements to be met automatically, without his constant struggle to obtain these needs. Because of this his focus can now be turned to Higher concerns, beyond the realm of seeking creature comforts.

Then the whole scenario is summed up in the motive for attaining this state where the old self has died, and a new self is reborn from the ashes. This is all done because it is necessary for anyone …

“…who would enter into the closest of secrets …”

Who would put themselves in a position to access the deepest secrets of nature, and therefore understand the mechanics of alchemy, which lead to a knowledge of how the Stone and the Elixir can be produced.

Since few people … few occultists even … really understand this concept of death of the old self, and resurrection of the self in a new form, and they have even less knowledge of how that process is attained in a practical manner … when a new student enters alchemical training as an initiate and insists he (or she) seriously wants to attain Spiritual Illumination … it is kind of humorous that in fact they really don't know what they are asking for. Again, if they really understood how to attain that goal in practical terms, and understood what the goal really was, they wouldn't need a teacher and guide. So the average new student often rocks up to the Threshold exclaiming that they desperately want this new state of Being, believing that they virtually have a right to possess it simply because they ask for it, when in fact they really have no real concept of what they are doing. We know this from experience because when novice students begin real training two things happen in about 80 percent of cases ….

Firstly, being exposed to real training is a self evident process. As we move through the tuition we quickly realise … OMG this is the real thing! … because almost completely unexpected, it works. It does all those things we have always secretly expected from serious initiation. So the novice suddenly finds himself in a weird situation where he can no longer ignore what is happening, nor deny that he is on an escalator to Illumination.

Secondly, that as soon as the reality of initiation hits them in the face often the first reaction is … STOP! … I want to re-evaluate my situation here! And that re-evaluation a large percentage of the time ends in the conclusion that … in fact … they no longer want Illumination. They are too comfortable with 'normal me'. Its a … “better the devil you know” scenario for most novices. The habitual comforts and discomforts of normal life suddenly seem much more inviting than the now stark reality that one's mind and life are, with increasing speed, chugging toward a completely unknown destination. The ego and its arrogance of believing it has all this occult training and initiation stuff in the bag, suddenly collapses … and the truth, if even only a small dose of it, is staring them right in the face.

What the Adept initiator knows about all of this, though, because he has walked the whole distance himself previously, and come out the other end, is that this 'fear' of initiation and Illumination is generated by the Nachash, as a ploy to bring the aspirant back into line with its mandate, to keep the individual as an active member of the herd … as a normal human. For about 80 percent of novices that is exactly what happens. After all, the Nachash … the Guardian of the Mysteries … has had a million years to become skilled at its plan of attack, so it is no idiot. On the contray … “the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field”.

For the remaining 20 percent, about half of them 'feel the fear and do it anyway' … not really understanding what they are getting into, but intuition drives them forward on the basis that they feel that is the only option they have. The last 10 percent are spiritually mature enough that they quickly recognise exactly what is going on, they recognise it is only the lower functions that are afraid … afraid of dying … and they walk through the Threshold with the compliance of the Guardian. It is from that last 10 percent, and maybe a small number of the previous 10 percent, that the alchemists who succeed in achieving the Stone and the Elixir, who understand what they have, and who make the most of it, are drafted.

In the final estimation anyone, almost, can claim a place in that last 10 percent. All it requires is: (1) to place the goal of attaining Illumination before *all else*, (2) to follow the expert initiator's instruction exactly, (3) to feel the fear and do what is required anyway. Ignore any one of these three conditions and it’s “game over”. It’s the same as telling nature … I'm not ready yet, other things are more important to me.

  1. Unconditional commitment
  2. Give up control, to gain control
  3. Do not give in to those things which maintain division

To 'live' these behaviours is to … “die to the world, to the flesh and to all the senses and to the whole man animal…”

Anyone who is familiar with training in any Masonic based magical fraternity will know that at some point they will find themselves as a candidate in a ritual in which they are expected to symbolically reenact their own death, and resurrection. Anyone who has passed the Golden Dawn 5=6 ceremony or been 'raised' a Master Mason, in the Masonic Blue Lodge Degrees, will be very familiar with this concept and experience. To take part in such a ceremony, as candidate, is to be guided through a sacred drama where many of the ideas associated with the things I have discussed in this essay are explained to you in esoteric symbolism. Many of the occultists or Freemasons who pass through these death and rebirth rites haven't the slightest clue as to what they mean, in fact. But the old Adepts, who instituted this kind of sacred drama, and who included the Death and Rebirth rite of passage in their schema, knew exactly what it means, because they themselves were links in the ancient chain of transmission, and those symbollic rites were their message to those who were ripe for the Understanding.

So what about the details of how this Death of one's old self, and Rebirth of one's new Higher Self, actually pan out in practice?

This essay was first published on the Hermetic Alchemy Forum on 24 April 2013, as post #135.


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©️ rubaphilos salfluĕre 2022

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rs/essays/initiation/death_of_the_alchemist.txt · Last modified: 2022/02/01 17:02 by Spiritus Libri