The International Alchemy Conference took place in Glastonbury this month. I caught up with Benjamin Turale, Director of Education at the International Alchemy Guild. We spoke about his alchemical journey, his music, about the links between art and alchemy and a whole bunch of other interesting stuff. Bury your ears in this…
Who are you, what do you do?
I’m Benjamin Turale, Alchemist and Hermetic Magician. I’m Director of Education for the International Alchemy Guild. I serve the Guild by running educational initiatives like the conference we just had here in Glastonbury. Running lectures and workshops for public education of alchemy for the Guild is within my brief. On the side I make medicinal & magical alchemical preparations and sell these along with Hermetic consultations to the public.
In my working background I’m a trained psychotherapist and I’m also a trained music producer, writing and perform ambient electronic music live under my moniker Primum Ens.
How did you first become interested in Alchemy?
I was interested in it from a very young age…the urges we have to do things when we are children are really important, I think an adult life of joy is directly connected to fulfilling our childhood interests. I’d play around at home trying to make up potions and practise magic.
Looking back I was trying to get entry into the Western Mysteries. It wasn’t until my 20s I walked through Philosophy in my undergrad, then quite a few years of hardcore meditation practice, then I became a counsellor and in my training found alchemy through studying Jung. I also went to a lecture by a man named Andrew Cargill in Melbourne who ran courses on soul-centred psychotherapy, he gave a talk on the Splendour Solis. From there I found the Guild and my mentor Dennis William Hauck and I have never looked back!
Probably another formative experience was actually my father. He was a gold prospector, and he used to find gold and all sorts of things in the earth. I can still remember seeing a chuck of gold the size of a fist for the first time. I was transfixed by it’s colour and it’s weight. Dad used to use acid to break down the quartz leaving the gold intact.
What’s your particular area of expertise?
I think that where I shine is in combining lab alchemy and spiritual alchemy into an embodied sense of being-in-the-world. Many alchemists are ardent about belonging to either one of these camps. But as I see it, both are really important. Alchemy has become a word used in common parlance, for example “Heston Blumenthal is an alchemist in the kitchen”. But in the spiritual communities it’s such a buzzword. Everyone calls themselves an alchemist. Walk down Glastonbury high street and you’ll find them anywhere. But few people are aware of the actual history and practical training involved in the Hermetic Mysteries.
So on the one hand, you’ve got people calling themselves spiritual alchemists, but they’ve never picked up a flask in their lives. They couldn’t tell you the first thing about making an elixir. I wouldn’t want to disparage these people because the cool thing about alchemical principles is that they can be applied to anything such as yourself, your relationship, a company, a nation, the world, a solar system etc etc.
However, I would also say that alchemy has an initiation system of practise that has been tried and tested for millennia. So any alchemist actually worth their salt, should at least attempt some of the praxis too.
On the other side, you’ll actually find a lot of lab alchemists who are actually really just doing chemistry with alchemical allegories (processes). They are obsessed with confecting pretty things and are dead certain that theirs is the only way of doing alchemy. Their lives remain Saturnian and un-rectified, no joy, no life. Some of these people I’ve met actually run schools of alchemy, and they are awful people to deal with. We call these people ‘puffers’. And surely this is another glaring point.
The processes, which themselves are the initiation, are what helps you to transform yourself and your life. If you can’t see that these processes are happening all the time all around you and that you can apply these principles to transform life itself then you are missing the bigger picture. Nature shows us what is possible for ourselves, because we are nature.
How do you understand alchemy in relation to creativity? / Can traditional arts be an alchemical study?
Most definitely it is an aspect of it. Actually the arts has always been intertwined with alchemy. The Renaissance yielded a lot of the enigmatic artwork that you see coming out of alchemy. Also one of the world’s first pieces of multimedia, Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier is a series of alchemical emblems set to a separate piece of music for each image.
Alchemy is the bridge between art and science, because we are examining that interconnection between the observer (science) and the observed (art). We want to combine these two.
Jung would have a lot to say about this. I’d mention again that some people never pick up a flask in their lives, and Jung was one of them. He did add a lot to alchemy and to the world though, actually most of his philosophies he lifted from alchemy. In any case, the language of the soul as we know is symbols, which one could argue is the language of any art. There is of course an alchemical order to symbols and to our psyches, this is the microcosm. It corresponds to the macrocosm. As Above, So Below as Hermes says in the Emerald Tablet.
I’d also remind people that alchemy is an Arte too. It’s not exact. Sure there are ways you can break it down scientifically, but ultimately a lot of it comes down to the operator and how they proceed. And oftentimes more ways than one are correct and can yield results. Alchemists are more about using philosophical principles to find our own ways through.
What is the best access point for newcomers to the subject, given it’s so broad?
That is going to depend on the newcomer, because everyone wants to get something different out of it. And we’re talking about a subject that is historically at least 4000 years old…so it’s a labyrinth at the best of times. It combines metallurgy, astronomy/astrology, theurgy (magical ritual), herbalism, meditation, chemistry etc etc so it’s a lot. There are books on the subject… My mentor Dennis William Hauck has some great books on the topic, including the Emerald Tablet and Alchemy for Dummies.
Robert Allen Bartlett, a master alchemist whom I have a tonne of respect for has written a book called Real Alchemy. It’s easy to read and outlines a lot about lab alchemy.
We also have the Guild Study Program – a correspondence course of 7 modules you can take at any time in any order.
Or you can study with me by coming to one of my talks or workshops or getting in touch here.
What the most intriguing / interesting/ laughable thing that alchemy has taught you about yourself / life?
That synchronicity is a real force governing the operation of the universe. The alchemist and the magician walk hand in hand with synchronicity. As we work on the matter, the matter works on us. Consciousness and matter are two different expressions of the same thing. Or as we say, “All is One, One is All”.
What’s next for the alchemist?
Probably move back into the shadows for a little while to recover!
I’m going to be attempting an aurum potable (drinkable gold) recipe from the 1700’s when I get back to Australia.
Questions from readers
Jelena Perisic: What does he consider the greatest challenge on his path to personal Transmutation, and what stage he’s at currently (roughly)?
The greatest challenge on my path has been my own ego. And I know that’s such a classic throwaway line in spirituality, but it’s true. It’s always so much easier to act from an automatic, at times triggered place. But that’s the work also, slowing down and having alchemy reveal our imperfections so that we can transmute. And don’t forget, we need an ego. We need boundaries, structure. So then the question becomes, how to work THROUGH the ego, not to try to annihilate it with some idealised fantasy about how enlightened you can be. It’ll just come back in nasty shadow ways.
The stage that I’m at?
Well I’d consider the idea that life has stages to be very unhelpful, especially the idea of enlightenment. I like to think of it more as cycles of exaltation. I’m actually in a fermentation phase right now following the conference. I’ve got some distillation work to do on myself to purify everything that I’ve learnt and gained from the conference. I also think that different works in alchemy connect you to different parts of yourself which are always there waiting in the wings.
Tania Mayela Palma: How to Master alchemy? Is it more mind, intention or faith?
It’s all of these. I’d say persistence and hard work goes a long way, combined with the continued application of attention, intention and a faith that it will all work out on the end…alchemy is not easy and failures are part of the learning because they reveal your own areas which need purification.
I’d say in a way people are probably fated to be alchemists or not… alchemy isn’t for most people, more like a certain set of personality traits, I think there is definitely a profile. If you’re into it you’re probably a bit of an outsider, a bit introspective, curious about meaning, wanting to know the mechanics of reality. You’re likely looking for ways to combine consciousness and matter into something you can make and likely consume. And you probably yearn to unite with Spirit. Which ironically is right here all the time if you know what it looks like.
Giorgi Rebel: Whats your favourite book?
Great questions. My favourite text I would say is the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. At the moment I’m really loving Gary Nottingham’s Foundations of Practical Sorcery. In terms of fiction I love Philip K Dick. Ubik is one of my favourite novels.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Best of luck in your alchemical endeavours! The best piece of advice I’ve ever had is from my teacher Dennis. He told me to “keep your mind mercurial”. Mercury can be a solid or a liquid. It can change form. If you want to understand and begin to unlock reality you need to have a mind that can apprehend anything. A mind that can embrace opposites. Be mercurial.
Find Benjamin here: benjaminturale.com