Alchemy is an ancient science, so primordial that its practice assumes a unification between art, technology, and religion. Prior to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, these spheres were understood to be concerned with one and the same pursuit: the realization of the ends of spirit in earthly time. Distillation was never merely* a physiochemical process of purification, but a method for the instigation of psychospiritual transformation.
“Arthur John Hopkins [offers] a coherent picture of the alchemical procedures of the Egyptian alchemy in what he called ‘the standard method,’ a four step process aiming to impose, in a progressive way, on a chaotic matter of black colour, the so- called prima materia, the necessary water, air and fire to promote its evolution. A process which imitated the natural evolution process of the minerals they believed took place inside the mines, the “womb” of the Mother Earth…The abundant references to sulphur and sulphur-containing compounds in Graeco-Egyptian alchemy suggests that they were seen as particularly suitable for attracting pneuma: a concept adapted from Stoic philosophy, the vital spirit that pervades the entire universe and made possible the existence of life, associated indeed to fire and air. It is not surprising nor arbitrary the choice of sulphur-rich compounds as preferred pneumatic materials, we only need to recall the predominance of metal sulphides among the common metal ores, which were seen, according to extremely old metallurgical traditions, as mineral embryos, entities alive and maturing in the natural world” –Joaquín Pérez-Pariente summarizing A. J. Hopkins’ book Alchemy, child of Greek philosophy (1934).
The vital spirit spoken of above is the Logos of John’s Gospel. Without this active intelligence (which itself is neither mind nor matter), rocks could not have grown brains and earth could not have become fire. Earth evolution is an alchemical process: the metamorphosis of chaos into order, the entrance of the light into the dark. The Word speaks to the heart of the world, and out of its bones, tears, breath and eyes is born a God of flesh and blood, whose love is not of this world, but for it.
* Though, indeed, the whole point of the alchemical tradition is that matter is nothing less than the creative womb of spirit.