Mike’s Prattle

Miscellaneous

Book Review: Richard and Iona Miller / The Modern Alchemist

Posted by Mike on July 18, 2012

I’m finding it difficult to remember when I came across this book, I believe there’s a chapter or two of it on line. I’m on a bit of a project lately, something a couple of you know about, and while it’s still too early to talk about here, I wouldn’t be on this project if it wasn’t for books like this one.

No book review could possibly cover the connections among Jungian psychology, alchemy and magical traditions, but essentially my interest in this book was part of a personal revelation that the tradition I’m a part of was efficacious in a way I wasn’t expecting and didn’t recognize at first. Most Golden Dawn books teach you how to make it go, but very few are oriented at what happens after you make it go. That’s not to say there isn’t this type of information in some of the books – there is – but connecting the dots without guidance is a very difficult thing especially when dealing with changes that are difficult to communicate.

The Modern Alchemist is not a Golden Dawn book but it it deals with the process of spiritual initiation from the viewpoint of Jungian psychology via its interpretation of a sixteenth century alchemical text known as the Book of Lambsprinck. As such it’s likely to have a resonance for anyone who has embarked on a mystical tradition and struggled with the life changes such a tradition will initiate if one is serious about the work. Each chapter deals with an engraving (these have been redrawn by a different artist) and associated text from the Book of Lambsprinck as a stage in a long psychological process. However while these processes are often described in various Golden Dawn books, how they might manifest on a personal level in one’s material life is something not often written about, at least in this kind of depth.

The Millers manage to create a cogent work here, although it does seem like the format, a chapter for every plate, ends up stretching the information to the point where repetition occasionally sets in. Combined with what is some rather dense, Jungian language, one can imagine this to be a difficult read for those that haven’t started a process of initiation, because it is truly in the personal experience that the applicable language will resonate. When I first came across the book, I was almost in near shock how some of it had described what I had been going through over a year or two.

That’s not to say the process described in The Modern Alchemist will match up with any particular initiatic school, the order of elements differs slightly here from the Golden Dawn. And in some ways the book has the same uneasy marriage that any treatise combining science and mysticism will have. I felt through most of the book there was a real attempt to reduce the amount of esoteric concepts into plain language, an attempt I appreciate, but I felt that bringing more of these concepts in might have made it a little more accessible. It’s difficult to imagine the person outside of an esoteric school who would benefit from such a book,  particularly when the book itself insists on meditation as part of the process without being specific about it. However if you’re an initiate, it will be easy to take this in stride. On the other hand if your interest in the book came out of the changes caused by a personal trauma, you would need a lot more than this book to go from “nigredo” to the completion of the Great Work.

But it’s a start and after reading it I would think any initiate should take a look at it. Particularly as it’s out of print.

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