How to read articles and web material on Alchemy
There is now so much material now available on the subject of alchemy in the form of articles and web sites, that it can be very confusing to try and find any clear and consistent picture of what alchemy is about. In order to help you find your way though the mass of material, here are some broad guidelines as to how you should appraoch the information and misinformation presented there.
Firstly, try and identify what kind of article or website it is. The main two categories one immediately wishes to identify is whether the writer is adopting a scholarly or a speculative/esoteric approach to the subject.
A scholarly article will be written by someone who adopts a broadly evidence-based approach. Often these will be written by people associated with a university, but there are many people taking a scholarly approach who are not members of an academic institution. Scholarly articles are often characterised by their extensive quotation from or referencing primary source material. Although such articles can be difficult and very specialised, they allow the reader access to the reasoning through which the writer has come to their conclusions. This reasoning is not based on believing in the writer or in their philosophy. Scholarly articles are thus very valuable as they present alchemical material to us, as readers, which is the result of the writer researching original documents, books and manuscripts. Some scholarly articles provide us with the results of new and original research, while another type of article engages in a debate with other scholars about their differing views on the historical facts.
Here is an example of a scholarly article.
A speculative article is rather different in tone, though it may in some cases mimic the format of a scholarly article. The writer of such an article or web site material, usually has a definite belief in some underlying system, which they may or may not outwardly mention. They take various alchemical ideas and material and present it within their own belief system. We are, essentially, being led by the writer into his own beliefs. Many of these writers can be very persuasive, marshalling the facts to fit their arguments. Thus they may want to present alchemy in a particular way, with their own slant and perspective.
Here is an example of a speculative or esoterically based article.
Next, it is important for us to see what may be the agenda or sub-text of the article or web site material. A number of people, read some material on alchemy, perhaps some books, some modern commentary, or trawl through material from the internet, and then come to some definite fixed conclusion about what they believe alchemy is. They then decide to write something to promote their ideas. They have a underlying fixed idea, and gather material that supports such an idea and ignore other writings that might contradict or weaken their own views. As readers, we have to consider these articles rather carefully, and become aware of the agenda of the writer, otherwise we may find we have had, as the saying goes, "the wool pulled over our eyes". Alchemy is such an obscure subject that a writer, who appears seemingly confident and presents us with all sorts of information we are unable to easily assess, may be able to convince us that they have considerable knowledge and insight into alchemy, when the truth is quite the opposite. They might bluster and claim all sorts of special insight, but essentially they are trying to get us to believe in them, rather than giving us an opportunity to understand alchemy itself.
Here is an example of an author using alchemy (and other subjects) as sources for his own ideosyncratic idea.