While magic might be about spell work and manifestation, alchemy is about making the philosopher’s stone. So what is the philosopher’s stone? The big mistake in alchemy is both in taking things too literally, and not taking them literally enough. The philosopher’s stone is not some thing that’s made from material outside ourselves. It is made from our hearts. We are the prima materia—the substance from which the philosopher’s stone is made. Here’s how alchemy actually works: You discover the “true” nature of your relationship with someone or something
Let’s say Sally meets a musician who gives her his number. We’ll call him John. John doesn’t call, and our wizard/alchemist Sally decides she’ll do spells and visualizations to make him call. She imagines him calling, but it doesn’t happen. Then she decides she’s not going to answer the phone. That’ll show him, and it will be a form of reverse magic. This also doesn’t work. In the midst of this frustration, she decides to do the real work of alchemy. She starts turning inward.
Sally tries to determine what is really going on. Why is she so obsessed with John calling her? She doesn’t know him at all. She just met him out one evening. The truth that Sally discovers is that she’s working a boring, corporate job, and sees John as an exotic, traveling everywhere and having a wonderful, carefree life. What she yearns for is that life, not John.
So now Sally can change her world by quitting her job, or changing it, or changing her attitude about it. But she is only in the position to to this after she discovered the true nature of her relationship with John. John has become unimportant, now. He never was that important, except to direct Sally to the thing she really needed to know.
This is the nature of alchemical inquiry.
Thanks to Catherine McCoun and her excellent book On Becoming an Alchemist for this excellent explanation of the alchemical inquiry. Get her book here.