Early in the 14th century, a movement of intellectual values, beyond the scope of any written history prior, and a new model of purpose and the world was shaped. This period of history, between the 14th and 16th centuries, is known as the Enlightenment and the Renaissance, a golden age of individual humanism, innovation, and an increasing importance was placed on mind and the psyche.
The reasons for the trend toward appreciation and wonder of the powers of the mind lie in the uncovering of the antiquities of the ancients. The cultures of the pre-Christian Greeks, Egyptians, Gnostic Pagans, Celtic, and bits of information from the Orient were now rediscovered and reassessed. The changing systems of technology, discovery, and culture spread throughout the western world in forms of art, literature, music, and science. All of these were breakthroughs of the mind, and filled the people with a sense of infinite possibilities and spiritual awakening. Unlike the last thousand years of the Dark Ages, the public was now becoming educated. The people that truly brought the innovation of thought to the average people were those who studied the ancient works of all kinds, many translating wisdom and knowledge from the old-world religions into a secret, abstract, and wholly encrypted systems of Alchemy, and less encrypted, less abstracted, and further away from truth systems of scientific theory or philosophy. The lower level the level of abstraction from the spiritual systems of alchemy blossomed into practical applications of the alchemist's thoughts.
In a manner quite like that of a great work of art, the divine inspirations embodied in the great thinkers of the time were then completely expressed, as it seems, through a series like multiple waterfalls, to the application of these thoughts in the real world. The thought patterns of the thinkers of the renaissance had completely vilified the world, opening gateways of possibilities for architecture, health & medicine, tools for scientific measurement, and astronomy. So, what was the actual practice of alchemy, and did they have any core beliefs?
Alchemy, in its purest form, is a divine language of the spirit. It's translation from ancient Arabic is "the science of God", and is believed to simply be a primitive version of what we now called chemistry. This could not be further from the truth, and the reason is because of the level of thinking as well as the level of abstraction necessary to understand the underlying meaning of any word that is written in an alchemical text. This type of science is not able to be understood with the use of pure logic alone, and so it has confused many seeing the works of the alchemists as related to anything purely physical. The use of intuition as the key to intuitive action is the only way to break the barriers of thought that alchemy uses to disguise itself to those who do not truly open their ears to understanding, having too much pride to shed their nobility and belief that they are secure in what they actually know, about themselves, and about reality.
Alchemy has many forms, and has been practiced in the European world, the Oriental/Russian world, and it's principles of truth are seen in every religion of the world. Those who have absolute complete understanding of alchemy would be able to construct a completely workable and true religion of their own, simply because all that is taught and understood through long contemplation over the meanings of alchemy's abstract symbol and interactions of ideas, one will see the simple truth of an aspect of reality, which can be taught as a parable or metaphor in an infinite number of ways, but would obviously change throughout periods of time as to the common symbols of the time.
The practice of alchemy is a purely contemplative or even spiritual pursuit upon the mind of one undertaking to meditate on the many writings and parables of alchemy, religions, philosophies, and beliefs of the world. The main beliefs of alchemy, which can simply be called philosophic ideas, are innumerable, but the core structure of alchemy is composed of the great duality of the sun and the moon, three main aspects or principles, four elements, . All of the 'objects' such as the elements and the sun and moon, are all philosophical or metaphoric objects, and should not be considered in a physical way, for they represent a meaning as well as a form.
The great duality can be seen as any powerful duo of opposing ideas; an example of this would be good and evil, light and dark, black and white, or, in alchemy, the sun and the moon. The Sun, which may be referred to as Sol, represents oneness, due to the presence of the sun and its ability to encompass all. It also represents the masculine form and active principle of the universe. The moon represents possibilities, from endless to fulfilled potential, which can be seen by the Moon in her phases to be empty at one point, and completely illuminated at another. The Moon, also called Luna at times, represents feminine aspects of the world, and the passive principle of the universe.
The three principles or triad of Alchemy are called the Sulphur, Mercury, and Salt. These, too, are philosophic objects. The Sulphur is most accurately represented as the Soul, and can be seen as the soul of a person, animal, plant, or even mineral level. This is the internal of psychic structure of the object or entity, what can be intuited. Salt is greatly appreciated as the body, or physical aspect of a being, what can be sensed. The Mercury, finally, is referred to as the Spirit, which is the inner flame, both the soul and the body working together to be 'alive'.
The practice of alchemy relies heavily on the interactions of each of the philosophic ideas and systems that are manipulated to explore meanings and truths of reality, whether physical or metaphysical. The four elements are said to be mixed together to form the creation of different things. The psychologist, Carl Jung, once said that there were four main principles of the persons temperament, or personality. There are four aspects, each having 2 possible preferences. Combing of these four ways of experiencing reality is now known as the Meyer-Briggs Personality Type, an accepted and widely used psychological personality typing system. The elements of alchemy are fire, air, water, and earth. Fire is the Hot mixed with the Dry; Air is the Hot mixed with the Dry; Water is the Cool mixed with the Wet; and Earth is the Cold with the Dry.
The practices of alchemy and the understanding of why these belief patterns occur are extremely difficult to comprehend without extensive research and study of authentic, original texts. There are so many reasons that are tied together within the system of alchemy one might think it is a religion itself, when it is not, but can be considered a spiritual map of the mind and the universe all in one.