Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 15, Vol. 2. Autumnal Equinox 2008
Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy, Robert Allen Bartlett. Lulu (www.lulu.com) – ID: 918221, 2007. 178 pages. $20.95 USD.
review by Samuel Scarborough
Recently, there has been resurgence in the interest of alchemy, both in the practical alchemy of the laboratory and in spiritual alchemy. Over the past couple of years there have been several books on the subject of alchemy that have been published – some with very good information and explanations, and many more that have been a waste of both time and paper. Even the New Age books have begun using the term alchemy to describe some touchy-feely concepts that have nothing to do with classical alchemy.
Opening with a bit of information about the author of Real Alchemy: A Primer of Practical Alchemy, Robert Allen Bartlett is a great way to understand where this author is coming from in his discussion of alchemy. Bartlett began his study of alchemy in 1974 at the Paracelsus Research Society (later known as Paracelsus College) which was headed by the late Dr. Albert Reidel, better known as Frater Albertus. Bartlett obtained a degree in chemistry in 1979 and was appointed Chief Chemist at Paralab – the commercial offshoot of the Paracelsus College. He headed Paralab until it closed in 1983. After the death of Frater Albertus in 1984, Bartlett continued working as a professional chemist and performing alchemical work privately.
In a number of ways Bartlett has improved on the publications of his former teacher Frater Albertus, especially The Alchemist’s Handbook. While Real Alchemy does not go into as much depth as Frater Albertus’ classic, Bartlett does manage to cover the basic information and concepts that are inherently difficult for many beginners in the field of alchemy to understand in a clear and very concise manner which leaves little doubt that he is not only very knowledgeable about the topics, but is also a good teacher.
Bartlett writes seventeen chapters on various topics relating to alchemy. The first five chapters cover basics of alchemy; the history of alchemy, basic alchemical theory, astrology, basic alchemical processes, and an introduction to laboratory alchemy. Most of the operations discussed in these chapters relate to spagyrics or alchemy relating to plants. He goes on to further explain plant alchemy and introduces the reader to the basic concepts of the Qabalah and how it relates to alchemy. After this, Bartlett goes into great detail concerning calcination – the burning of material to obtain the Salt Principle from the plant matter. Chapters ten through sixteen give the reader an introduction into mineral and metallic alchemy. Like the rest of his book, Bartlett writes clearly about the basics of this often misunderstood aspect of practical alchemy. The final chapter of the book is an overview of the Philosopher’s Stone, the Stone of the Wise, and how it is made and used. Again, this is just an overview chapter which should prompt the reader to read more and to perform actual experiments. After the final chapter, there are two appendices which contain information on various plants and a table relating the days of the week to a specific metal, organ of the body, and planet. The final few pages of the book are taken up with a fairly comprehensive bibliography relating to alchemy.
This book was something of a surprise when I read it. Lulu is not exactly known for the publication of esoteric books that have a great deal of practical value to the reader, but this book by Robert Allen Bartlett should go a long way to correct that impression of Lulu. Bartlett follows in the footsteps of such twentieth century alchemists and writers as Frater Albertus and Manfred Junius, as well as helping to expand the understanding of the modern alchemical practitioner. Here is a book that belongs along side of Albertus’ Alchemist’s Handbook and Junius’ Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy, and one which both experienced and novice alchemists will greatly benefit from reading and actually using the information provided.