Alchemy was not restricted to one culture or group. So among the many traditions it should be possible to find one that resonates for your personal alchemy. Any technique or practice the is going to be effective for personal change must be one you can feel comfortable with from he start.
For hundreds of years alchemists toiled in their laboratories to produce a mythical substance known as the philosopher’s stone. The supposedly dense, waxy, red material was said to enable the process that has become synonymous with alchemy—chrysopoeia, the metamorphosis, or transmutation, of base metals such as lead into gold. We now know that their efforts at the physical level were in vain but on the spiritual, philosophical and psychological levels, hey have left a rich legacy for us to explore.
The start of western alchemy is generally be traced to Hellenistic Egypt, where the city of Alexandria was a center of knowledge through most of the Greek and Roman periods. Here, elements of technology, religion, mythology, and Hellenistic philosophy, each with their own much longer histories, combined to form the earliest traditions. Zosimos of Panopolis was an Egyptian alchemist and Gnostic mystic who lived around the the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century AD. He wrote the oldest known books on alchemy, which he called “Cheirokmeta,” using the Greek word for “things made by hand.” Pieces of this work survive in the original Greek and Syriac and Arabic translations.
The use of the element mercury for alchemy is first documented in the 3rd– or 4th–century Arthashastra an encyclopedic volume on political economy, social issues and other subjects. Buddhist texts from the 2nd to 5th centuries mention the transmutation of base metals to gold.
The 11th-century Persian chemist and physician Abū Rayḥān Al-Bīrūnī, visited the province of Gujarat and wrote
“They have a science similar to alchemy which is quite peculiar to them, which in Sanskrit is called Rasayāna and in Persian Rasavātam. It means the art of obtaining/manipulating Rasa: nectar, mercury, and juice. This art was restricted to certain operations, metals, drugs, compounds, and medicines, many of which have mercury as their core element. Its principles restored the health of those who were ill beyond hope and gave back youth to fading old age.”
So there was a health and medicine component in Indian alchemy. Additional goals of alchemy in India included the creation of a divine body (Sanskrit divya-deham) and immortality while still embodied (Sanskrit jīvan-mukti).
After the fall of the Roman Empire, alchemical development moved to the Islamic World. The roots of Muslim alchemy came from the Greek. Arab scholars saved and preserved the Hellenistic works that were otherwise lost, translating them, creating commentaries on Greek authors and incorporating many of their theories and technical terms into Arabic alchemy works. This extensive writing is why much more is known about Islamic alchemy because it was better documented. This knowledge came partly through direct contact in Egypt, partly through the medium of Syrian Christian translators, and partly by way of Persia. Persian influence is evident through linguistic clues in technical terms and in names of minerals. Noticeably, many of the principal Muslim alchemists were Persians. The word alchemy itself was derived from the Arabic word al-kīmiyā’ (الكيمياء).
Whereas European alchemy eventually centered on the transmutation of base metals into noble metals, Chinese alchemy had a more obvious connection to medicine. The philosopher’s stone of European alchemists can be compared to the Grand Elixir of Immortality sought by Chinese alchemists. However, in the hermetic view, these two goals were not unconnected, and the philosopher’s stone was often equated with the universal panacea; therefore, the two traditions may have had more in common than initially appears.
Black powder may have been an important invention of Chinese alchemists. As previously stated above, Chinese alchemy was more related to medicine. It is said that the Chinese invented gunpowder while trying to find a potion for eternal life. Described in 9th-century texts and used in fireworks in China by the 10th century, it was used in cannons by 1290. From China, the use of gunpowder spread to Japan, the Mongols, the Muslim world, and Europe. Gunpowder was used by the Mongols against the Hungarians in 1241, and in Europe by the 14th century.
Chinese alchemy was closely connected to Taoist forms of traditional Chinese medicine, such as Acupuncture and Moxibustion, and to martial arts such as Tai Chi Chuan and Kung Fu (although some Tai Chi schools believe that their art derives from the philosophical or hygienic branches of Taoism, not Alchemical). In fact, in the early Song dynasty, followers of this Taoist idea (chiefly the elite and upper class) would ingest mercuric sulfide, which, though tolerable in low levels, led many to suicide. Thinking that this consequential death would lead to freedom and access to the Taoist heavens, the ensuing deaths encouraged people to eschew this method of alchemy in favor of external sources(the aforementioned Tai Chi Chuan, mastering of the qi, etc.).