The number of books dealing with the ‘secrets’ of cultivating and enhancing personal power has increased enormously in recent years. With the huge success of such books as The Secret self-help has taken on a significantly mystical glow, and that has rarely been a good thing. On Becoming An Alchemist avoids the trap of ‘wishing will make it all better’ and provides a refreshing breath of fresh air for the reader interesting in developing the Self to its highest potential.

Using the principles of alchemy as her working basis, MacCoun names inner states and energetic patterns with clarity and freshness. The language can be dense, and at times was very rough going for this educated but not mystical reader. Many books on alchemy get caught up in labyrinthine discourses on laboratory practice (yes, lead into gold stuff), ceremonial mysticism (a la the Golden Dawn), or obtuse psychological dissertations linking the inner self with outer perceptions. MacCoun manages is to offer a fresh perspective into how we make choices and perceive the world around us. She does so by introducing us to an innovative blend of spiritualism and psychology, in much the same way that Alchemy itself blends scientific observation with objective mysticism.

MacCoun sees the world differently than I do: magic is not something that causes outer change but instead changes our perception so that we look at a situation differently than we did before. Therefore, changing our perception is the Great Work and the viewing of this new world is the magic wrought. This is an intriguing concept, one I found myself mulling over and struggling with throughout the book.

There are two parts to the book: principles and procedures are detailed. Throughout, thee explanations are clear, helpful, and concise. There are thirteen chapters covering unlocking secret codes; time, freedom, and magical intuition; commencing the Great Work; and sublimation. Two appendices give excellent instructions on how to meditate and how to use the dreaming mind to further the Work.

MacCoun unfortunately uses scenes from Rowling’s Harry Potter books to make some of her points, and that undermines her credibility. Moreover, she has a tendency to make negative examples – Blativisky did it wrong in such and such a way – that can come off as scoring points rather than providing helpful illustrations. This negativity gets in the way of her message at times, distracting this reviewer and obscuring the constructive points she is making.

In the end, if the reader is interested in a modern interpretation of alchemy, On Becoming An Alchemist is a good way to go.

Four philosopher stones out of five.


~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author: Catherine MacCoun

Trumpeter Books, 2008

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