Alchemy is, broadly speaking, the transformation of one substance into another through the application of magical processes. Orthocosmically notable for its efforts to create gold and other magical substances from base metals and compounds, it survives in several paracosms as both profession and spiritual practice.
The notion of the "self-made automaton" or "self-crafted golem" is common among alchemists. With every pass through the Great Work, the self is molded to more closely match some idealized form, and the self-image shifts closer to a product of magical influences, often incorporating a transition over to a wholly artificial substrate such as metal, crystal, or fabric. After enough loops, the self that remains may look nothing like the self that began, even though there is a clear chain of connections leading from one to the other. This closely resembles the "Ship of Theseus" paradox and its attendant questions of identity and change. Rather than attempt to present an answer, however, the notion of the alchemist-as-self-crafted-automaton merely makes manifest what is usually hidden under the veneer of time, making changes explicit and visible. The automaton epitomizes change as an intentional process, tying particularly meaningful changes to alterations of self-image. Where some might commemorate a significant event or connection with a tattoo, the alchemist might replace a limb or add a pair of brass wings.
As a field of study specific within alchemy, Lapinian alchemy is primarily focused on what is known as the Great Work, a set of transformative steps that describe both the process of creating the philosopher's stone and of transforming the self through spiritual exercise. Lapinian spiritual alchemy is the most widely understood of the Classic Arts as taught by Hermes Trismegistus, the "thrice-great" of antiquity.
The Magnum Opus, also known as the Great Work, is the primary focus of Lapinian alchemy and refers at once to the universe in its slow progression and the alchemist in the role of "mover of the universe." This syncretism of the self and the universe is deliberate, as a statement of responsibility and accountability: "my role in the world is deliberate, and what I do matters."
In the alchemical sense, the Work is a series of processes aimed at producing the Lapis Philosophorum. In the spiritual sense, these same processes are used to describe the process of making changes to the self.
- Calcination, the declaration. The alchemist identifies the desired change. For instance, the alchemist may decide to get up at dawn and watch the sunrise.
- Congelation, the freeze. The alchemist, having identified the change, attempts it and fails. The alchemist sleeps through every alarm, or forgets to set one.
- Fixation, the longing. The alchemist, having failed at making changes, longs for the change to be over. The alchemist pines for the sight of the sunrise through the trees.
- Dissolution, the union. The alchemist, longing for change, seeks help and support. The alchemist asks others for reminders to set alarms and go to bed early.
- Digestion, the process. The alchemist, having sought assistance, starts to make progress towards the goal. The alchemist starts setting alarms and going to bed on time, and is waking earlier and earlier.
- Distillation, the success. The alchemist, having made progress, begins to see the fruits of the change. The alchemist rises in time to watch the sunrise and gets the first glimpse of golden rays at dawn.
- Sublimation, the setback. The alchemist, having seen limited success, experiences the unexpected setbacks of the change. The alchemist goes to a party that runs late and spends the next day groggy and miserable.
- Filtration, the refinement. The alchemist, having suffered setbacks, identifies the improvements needed to correct for them. The alchemist shows up at next party early and leaves in time to get to bed on time.
- Ceration, the doubt. The alchemist, having made these changes, questions whether this was the right change. The alchemist hears of great things that happened at the last party after having left and wonders whether getting up at dawn was worth it.
- Putrefaction, the grief. The alchemist, having questioned the wisdom of the change, mourns what has been lost to make it possible. The alchemist talks with friends and expresses frustration or upset at missing out on late-night social events, ultimately coming to terms with the decision and accepting that the joy of seeing the sunrise consistently outweighs the loss.
- Multiplication, the triumph. The alchemist, having passed through mourning, is now able to enact the change at will. The alchemist can get up at dawn and see the sunrise whenever it's desired.
- Projection, the new normal. The alchemist is no longer making the change, but instead has made it. This is the last step, and the first. The loop completes, one level higher on the spiral staircase of progress. The alchemist rises at dawn.
The above example could a be seen as trivial, but the process itself is the same, or similar, regardless of the scope of the transformation. Some steps are non-linear — a setback in Sublimation may require falling back to Dissolution to seek additional help, or doubts in Ceration may lead back all the way back to a refinement of the change to be made in Calcination — and some steps may not be hit on a given cycle — Sublimation and Filtration may get skipped on minor changes that have no setbacks to overcome — but on the whole the cycle remains constant, descriptive of the overall process.
In the classic "as above, so below," alchemy is strongly associated with the "so below," the transformation of self that in turn moves the universe. Its direct counterpart is astrology, the "as above" that reveals the alchemist's location inside the Great Work. The two are accompanied by theurgy, or ritual magic often involving the invocation or evocation of spirits.