Introduction to the Second Edition (2019)
This book explores a simple but revolutionary idea: that the light of our spiritual nature, its energy and divine spark, can be a catalyst for global transformation. We live in a world that is dying, its species depleted, its air becoming more and more toxic, its oceans more acidic and filled with plastic. Our civilization and its governments, based upon economic progress and the false promises of materialism, are failing to fully address the need for radical reduction in carbon emissions, or the underlying issues that promote exploitation and inequality, that are pushing us into the abyss of irreversible global warming. Caught in the dreams of a dying culture we seem mostly unaware of the degree of this catastrophe, while we have long forgotten the "Original Instructions" given to the First Peoples, how we need to "get along" with all of creation. We have dismissed or forgotten the simple premise that all life is sacred, and that creation is a single, interdependent whole.
And yet in recent years, in response to this crisis, there is an awakening need to articulate a "new story" for humanity and the Earth if we are to have a shared future together. This is a story based upon oneness and real sustainability for all of creation, a story that cares for the Earth as "our common home," a living planet of wonder and beauty, rather than a resource to be exploited. Many individuals and groups are describing and enacting this story in different ways, reconnecting with the Earth, bringing care and mindfulness into their lives. And yet collectively we are still walking in the shadow-lands of an old story, of separation from the Earth, of domination of nature rather than cooperation. The simple truth is that the "new story" does not at present have the power to break the grip of this nightmare, the pull of consumerism that is devouring our souls and destroying life's fragile web.
One of the hidden tragedies of this old story is how it has censored an essential knowledge long known to shamans and Indigenous wisdom keepers, as well as to certain esoteric traditions. This knowledge, that was kept in libraries burned long ago,1 is how the Earth functions spiritually, and how within the Earth and within the spiritual body of humanity there is an energy and power to nourish the world and effect real change. Alchemy of Light is the final book in a series of six that explores the nature of this knowledge, that reconnects the reader with these teachings and shows their vital relevance today.
Belonging to these ancient teachings is the tradition of alchemy. Dating back to early Egypt, alchemy is about the transmutation of lead, or base metal into gold. Working with their retorts and crucible, alchemists may prefigure modern chemistry, but its essential teachings have a spiritual dimension—it is a science that is at once physical and spiritual. One of the early Sufi masters, Dhu'l Nûn, was also known as an alchemist, and other Sufis wrote about alchemy, including al-Ghazzâlî's Alchemy of Happiness, and Ibn 'Arabî who wrote, "On the inner knowing of the alchemy of human happiness."2
The alchemical gold is our true nature or original state, rediscovered, or reborn, through this opus. One of the central alchemical teachings is about Spirit Mercurius,3 the catalyst without which this transformation cannot take place. The reason this book is titled Alchemy of Light is that it describes how the light of our spiritual nature is this catalyst for real change—not only for the individual but also for the collective. Our awakened spiritual light can help constellate the energy needed for real global transformation.4 It can help the awakening story of oneness become fully alive, reconnect us to our true relationship to the Earth and its sacred nature.
The chapters of this book describe different aspects of this work, liberating the spirit hidden in matter, the light within the world. It begins by explaining the nature of the light of the soul, of our true self, and how to work with it; and then expands on how our individual light relates to the light of the world—how we can work with this greater light and welcome it into life, where it can help life to recreate itself. Our spiritual consciousness can then be a catalyst for real change, creating new images that can free us from our bondage to consumerism and help us to relate to the Earth in ways that nourish all of life. We can change the dream of our collective consciousness, the story of separation that defines our civilization, and awaken into a new way of being that is in harmony with our true nature and the sacred within life. Through the light of our spiritual consciousness we can enter into a real co-creative relationship with our world. Finally I explore the alchemy of the archetypal world, and how we can work to redirect the riverbeds of life and so help its waters flow in a beneficial and healing way.
And yet in the decade since I wrote the first edition of this book, the future looks increasingly bleak: the temperature continues to rise, more storms and droughts, more species depletion (such as the recent awareness of what is called an "insect Armageddon," with a 45-75% loss of insect biomass), and it is estimated in a few decades there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Meanwhile as consumerism continues to spread like a cancer over the face of the Earth, we appear to be becoming more divisive and isolationist. And our governments are unable or unwilling to act, even as a growing number of young people—who see their future that is waiting—call out for climate justice and the living planet.
Alchemy is about the transformation of a base metal, or prima materia, into a pure substance, gold. It is also about the liberation of spirit, or light, within matter. Around us is the prima materia of our present ecological crisis, rooted in a culture that has separated spirit from matter for so long that we have forgotten about its mystery and magic, its ability to transform. This is the Earth waiting to awaken, and we are the catalyst, our light is the Spirit Mercurius, the elixir.
I do not know what it will take for this transformation to take place, whether it will be the cries of our children as they look to the future, or the despair of the Earth Herself. I do know that there is another world waiting to be born, a return to a simplicity of self that honors the multihued unity of life and its sacred nature. This book contains some of the instructions that belong to this process, this mystery that is present within our own soul and the Soul of the World.
Inverness, California, 2019
(1) For example, beginning in the fourth century the early Christians banned or burned up to 90% of pagan or pre-Christian writings. Of some pagan philosophers only fragments now remain. See Catherine Nixey, The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World.
(2) The Meccan Illuminations, ch. 176. See The Alchemy of Human Happiness, trans. Stephen Hirtenstein, Anqa Publishing, 2017.
(3) In Jungian psychology Spirit Mercurius is the principle of individuation, by which the true nature or essential wholeness of an individual is revealed. Mercury was the messenger of the gods, and it is our inner light that directly connects us to our divine nature. This alchemical catalyst is also described as the "elixir" and "philosopher's stone," both of which also image the goal of the opus.
(4) In esoteric Christian terminology, our divine nature, the inner Christ, is "the light of the world" that can bring global transformation.