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John Reid's Course on Practical Alchemy - Foreword

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In this age, we cannot help but be in awe of the exploding wave of discovery. Anyone who is old enough to read these words has seen the technologies and ideologies that were once in vogue replaced by successive generations of inventions, philosophies, and movements. One need only reflect on the magnificent developments in computers, global communication networks, and space travel to find out how voraciously we consume and then take for granted these new technologies.

At a social gathering, we might see an eyebrow raised and hear the delighted whispering when the most celebrated physicist of our age is introduced to the guest. Soon enough, they would be held in as little awe by the partygoers as their discoveries will be in another decade. Each announcement of innovative technology has its moment in the sun and is greeted with momentous excitement, and in the blink of an eye, it is assimilated by a society with a boundless appetite for more and tastier treats.

Let us imagine, however, that you are the next guest, making the obligatory round, meeting the little groupings of guests at our party. You are introduced to the host and hostess as -- an alchemist. Surely, the reaction would be quite interesting to observe. Perhaps, your hostess will smile uneasily, and take your extended hand, asking softly, "Did I hear correctly? You are an alchemist?" With practiced tact the host quickly assesses you, looking for signs of intoxication or worse. "How very interesting! Have you made any gold yet? If you have, then I have some investment opportunities that..." It is likelythat the room would become silent, waiting for you to answer.

I am acquainted with many students and practitioners of alchemy. They are not the sort of people who generally attract a great deal of attention. Among them are housewives, a psychologist, a retired test pilot, presidents of manufacturing firms, musicians, accountants, surgeons, nurses, computer programmers, steel workers, astrologers, and a chemist. They are from all walks of life, and yet in their basements, or the corner of a garage, they maintain a laboratory that seems quite out of place in this century. We are speaking of men and women of all ages who practice laboratory alchemy. We are not talking about a few lovable eccentrics who merit our tolerance, but rather, about serious students of an age-old tradition.

Our present-day technical wizardry has evolved to a state that is truly astounding. It is, mostly, an outgrowth of a generally materialistic science -- a science with no heart, seemingly obsessed with the kind of proficiency that is measured only in gigabyte-per-second transfer rates, and which seems unwilling to expend even a tithe of energy toward improving the spiritual well-being of humanity.

There have long been those traditions that embrace a more comprehensive or holistic approach to the development of technology. In such traditions, there is a basic recognition of man, and of all creation, as being at once material and immaterial. The scientist and religionist were reconciled and the adherents of such traditions recognized the need to deal with both the spiritual and mundane, for they viewed the endless variety of creation as expressions of the Absolute.

Perhaps, it appears natural for there to be a schism between the demanding disciplines of the hard sciences and the devotional path that is dedicated to the contemplation of the nature of being. There are many whose quest is to attain a unity of these two seemingly disparate paths. If either of these branches of human activity is to produce anything of long-lasting consequence, then they must do so in tandem -- the two must become as one. In this age of technical adeptship, in an age where we have become aware of the global community, we must seek a proportionate evolution of awareness, of consciousness. We must seek to become participants in the evolution of humanity. It is this that every sincere student of alchemy is seeking.

John Reid has permitted himself to be introduced as an alchemist, and has extended his hand to you. You have the opportunity now to pass it off as a jest. Perhaps, you assume there is some surreptitious financial scheme, gold-making plan, or medical quackery that is to be revealed. Certainly, others have encountered just this sort of pseudo-alchemist for centuries. This book has bloomed out of the compost of years of extreme trials and tests, sleepless nights, financial risk, failed attempts, and out of sincere prayer. The stamina and endurance required to see what others have not is monumental. John is self-taught mostly, and this makes his accomplishments more wonderful. It also has meant that his work has novel qualities, and originality will often draw criticism from those inclined to dogmatism.

I prefer to think of this book, and the author's gesture, in a different way, as though the book were a small window, just out of reach, that admits a few rays of the morning light into an otherwise unlighted room. Even if we sit and passively enjoy the light, itserves a purpose. Some, for whom the unknown is enticing, could not sit still, but would find a ladder upon which to climb so they might see the beauty that is out of doors. While a fair number will make such a personal effort, and will gaze upon a wondrous vista, only a few in each age will go in search for the door. It is those few, for whom the fragrance of Nature is an elixir beyond compare, those who will seek -The Portal, who will behold the treasure.

Russell House
at Winfield, IL
1 August 1992