Review: Real Alchemy

In my quest to prepare for my next Mage: the Awakening game, I decided to delve into some real world occultism. I forget how I found this book, but it manages to remain readable while outlining the subject of alchemy.

Real Alchemy

by Robert Allen Bartlett

Real Alchemy provides a nice primer on alchemy as a modern practitioner might use it. The problem with many books on the occult is the amount of navel gazing and general craziness you need to slog through. While this book has its share of such “philosophical” chapters,  the author balances them out with step by step instructions on the major processes used in the Great Work and other creations.

The book runs through the major alchemical beliefs (“as above, so below”, day/planet/herbal correspondences and so forth) as well as the various processes (digestion, fermentation and so forth). It provides instructions on creating the philosopher’s stones and lesser works. There is a fair amount discussion of the intersection with other aspects of the occult from Astrology to the Qabalah.

The writing is clear and easy to read. The book is actually quite slim and quick to read while still feeling complete.

I particularly enjoyed the modern take on some of the classic alchemical methods. In addition to using modern methods of temperature measurement (alongside descriptions of historical tools) and purification methods, the book details how the author uses hot plates to heat ingredients and nylon socks to strain them. I will definitely be using such details for my next modern alchemist.

If you want to provide your fantasy or modern-day alchemist a level of realism, you could do worse than use the imagery described in Real Alchemy. I’d recommend it to any players or game masters of Mage (either version) or Promethean: the Created.