Things to Emphasize Early On

When I prepared my first lecture for “Images of the Alchemical Art” class I hoped to make clear my focus on looking at what it means to call alchemy an art. Next time I want to put more class structure into the useful problems of understanding what an art was for ancients, medievals, Renaissance and Early Modern people. Alchemy was a proto-science before science was the term being used. Alchemy was an “occult science.” These terms are being used misleadingly by many of the dubious contemporary alchemy authors out there, so it is especially important to get straight which alchemists were using which terminology and to what effect

Next thing I wanted to make clear is that homework for an alchemy images class isn’t just reading. One must look at the pictures. Adam McLean in his “Alchemical Mandala” suggests gazing meditation practices. I recommend asking questions about what you see in the images, taking notes on what strikes you as strange or intense, and thinking about how this was intended as a learning aid for understanding medieval matter theory, in addition to any uses we might put it to in terms of spiritual inspiration or psychological projection and metaphor. The chemical meaning of the images, in addition to any spiritual or aesthetic value that exists independent of the chemical logic, is a powerful and important element of the artistry that must be taken into account. Alchemical images are all the richer when we keep in mind the chemical meaning as well as the mythological and symbological ones. Next time I want to spend more time in class looking at pictures, especially quiet time, make more effort to structure class time around the images. So many of the images are just so great, they each deserve a few minutes at least of serious in-class looking time, in addition to any discussions or interpretations of the images that are worth talking about.

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About teachingalchemy

I'm an MA student in Religious Studies working on Alchemy and Renaissance Magic. This blog is an effort to reflect on my experience teaching two academic courses on "Images of the Alchemical Art" and "Magical Traditions" at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, in 2005-2006.
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