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Most of the books you’re going to find on alchemy these days talk history, metaphor, or other theoretical concepts. This is one of the very few that goes into the actual practice of alchemy, step by step. Originally self-published by Bartlett, it’s now available more widely through Ibis, part of Weiser. You’ll have to look twice to tell the difference, though, at least at first glance, since the cover (which I happen to like) is the same. I haven’t read the first edition, so I can’t speak to the differences between the two, just so you know.

I’m not particularly well-versed in alchemy; it’s one of those topics that I think is interesting, but I haven’t had a chance to real sink my teeth into. So as an almost complete novice, I set up the challenge that the book was going to have to give me at least a basic understanding of the practice of alchemy. Thankfully, it delivered! From the brief historical treatment, to the explanation of what all that talk about sulfur, salt and mercury is about, I was able to get the jist of the very basics. However, the book doesn’t stop there!

Beyond the basic theoretical concepts, Bartlett goes into detail discussing what you actually do with all the arcane terminology and the processes they describe. Want to create a tincture or elixir? The directions are here. The author does make it clear that this should not be your only text on alchemy, but the instructables in this one should make it invaluable.

There are some interesting crossovers between alchemy and other disciplines. Astrology and qabalah are the two most notable examples of this, and those who are interested in either of these disciplines may well want to pick up this text for the relevant material. Additionally, as the book does give a basis in alchemy, astrologers and qabalists who were previously unfamiliar with the main topic should have little trouble finding context.

Overall, I found this to be a good way to give myself enough of an understanding of classic alchemy, particularly European, to get what the fuss is all about. Thorough understanding does require actually utilizing the practices, so armchair magicians and the merely curious will no doubt miss out on a lot. But it’s clear even from my novice perspective that this is an essential text.

~review by Lupa

 

Author: Robert Allen Bartlett

Ibis Press, 2009

pp. 178, $18.95

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