Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 15, Vol. 2. Autumnal Equinox 2008
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy, Dennis William Hauck. Alpha Books; NY, 2008. 311 pages. $16.95 USD
review by Samuel Scarborough
As has been pointed out in my other book review on alchemy, there has been resurgence in the interest of alchemy in the esoteric community over the last few years. One of the more prolific writers on this topic in recent years has been Dennis William Hauck, who has written such alchemical books as The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal Transformation and The Sorcerer’s Stone: A Beginners Guide to Alchemy has contributed to this renewed interest within the esoteric community.
Mister Hauck once again adds to the teachings of modern alchemy in his latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy. As the name implies, the book is part of that successful series of books, The Complete Idiot’s Guide, that have those bright orange covers. Do not let the concept of Complete Idiot’s Guide fool you, though. The material is not too watered down, but worded in such a way that anyone can read it and come away with at least a basic understanding of the topic presented in the book. Hauck does just that in this book – he reduces many of the most complex subjects in alchemy to easy to understand concepts and definitions.
The contents of the book are broken into six parts. These parts are: Part 1: Introduction to Alchemy; Part 2: The Principles of Alchemy; Part 3: The Operations of Alchemy; Part 4: Practical Alchemy; Part 5: Spiritual Alchemy; and Part 6: Modern Alchemy. There are also two Appendices; one on Resources that covers a basic bibliography, as well as websites; and one that is a Glossary of useful alchemical terms.
Each of the various parts of the book is broken down into chapters that cover the different topics that relate to the overall theme of the part. For instance, in Part 1: Introduction to Alchemy, Mr. Hauck covers some basic history relating to alchemy and some of the legends associated with ancient alchemy and alchemists. Part 2: The Principles of Alchemy covers such topics as the secret language of the alchemists, what the First Matter is, the Four Elements, the Three Essentials, and the Philosopher’s Stone. Part 3: The Operations of Alchemy discusses the Planets and the three phases of alchemical work. Part 4: Practical Alchemy takes a look at what is inside the alchemist’s laboratory, the process of Spagyric (plant alchemy) work, working with the metals associated with the Seven Planets, and how to set up a basic alchemical laboratory in your kitchen. Part 5: Spiritual Alchemy covers the broad range of topics associated with uniting your spirit with the divine in the Magnum Opus (Great Work), and finally in Part 6: Modern Alchemy, Hauck discusses how alchemy applies to medicine, magic, and social uses of alchemy.
Alchemy is a broad subject that cannot be condensed into a single book so that every person can pick it up and begin to practice the Royal Art. What Dennis Hauck does with this book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy, is give the long-time student and the new seeker the basics to understand alchemy. For the long-time student he presents the material so they may be able to look at it in a new light, and certainly be able to explain it to anyone, especially a new person seeking information on alchemy. For the new student seeking to understand alchemy, or to even begin practicing alchemy, here is a book that gives the new student a firm foundation in alchemical thought and practice.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy is not a pretty book to sit on your shelf, with its bright orange cover. It is a case for not judging a book by its cover, though as the material inside that bright cover has many great points to help both the new person and the practiced hand. Aside from one point in the historical section where the material is ambiguous in relation to a person and event, the overall material is very clear and concise. While I do not like some of the New Age ramifications that Mr. Hauck includes in the latter chapters of the book, these sections will appeal to some people interested in alchemy in one form or another. The book has pointers and helpful hints throughout that are great additions to the material, the material is clearly discussed by someone who has more than a clue about this difficult and often misunderstood subject. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any form of interest in alchemy whatsoever.