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Experience and Authority

May 12, 2009

There is, in alchemy, a very pronounced tension between the need for and value of authority —whether embodied in texts or in the person of a guide— and the need for and value of first-hand experience and discernment. Either one without the other creates imbalance.

Count Michael Maier provides the balancing perspective:

If anyone will not acknowledge the force of reason, he must needs have recourse to authority.

The phrase ‘force of reason’, as Maier is using it, refers to the power of the rational soul to ‘remember’ (in the Platonic sense of anamnesis) true reality when exposed to it. The purpose of authority should be to awaken the ‘memory’ and ‘taste’ for the experience of reality in the soul of the disciple so that his/her practice is founded upon accurate theory, in order that theory may then be confirmed and further informed by accurate practice.

  1. xiaoyaoxingzhe
    March 12, 2010 at 1:49 am

    This, then, is another quality that a student must have: to be able to discern qualified authority, and be open to guidance from that authority, while not devolving responsibility for one’s own progress to that authority.

  2. March 12, 2010 at 5:43 am

    As it actually happens, the guide will often find the student. In fact, one with a mandate to teach will often (and entirely unknown to the student) already be in contact with that student. Observing, testing … assaying their gold. Then it is a matter of the student having basic trust, not necessarily well-refined discernment.

    Post-modern society places too much emphasis on ‘conscious’ discriminative ability. Often times what is more important are those ‘feelings’ and ‘intuitions’ we often discount. However, such feeling and intuitions should not be confused with fantasy. And here again sincerity leads the way.

    What you say regarding “not devolving responsibility for one’s own progress to that authority” is very important. One should never lose ones autonomy, or personal responsibility, through improper reliance upon ‘authority’.

  3. brkkuroi
    September 27, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    James, there does seem to be a tension here between the concepts of “teaching” “learning” “guiding” and “being guided.” There also seems to be a tension between the idea that “alchemy cannot be taught but rather caught and imbibed”(paraphrase) and the need for “qualified authority” . I realize that the words “teaching” and “learning”( which have associations with modern ideas of education which are probably inappropriate here) and the kind of “guiding” that you are describing. Can you give me a “starting point” for distinguishing between these two positions of ” finding out for oneself” and “being guided”.

  4. James Raedan
    September 28, 2013 at 10:40 am

    At no point was there mention of a dichotomy between “finding out for oneself” or “being guided”. This is a false dichotomy of the excluded middle. In the post it was clearly indicated that “either one without the other creates imbalance.”

    Yes, it is possible to go it alone but only for someone with very nearly complete and perfect sincerity and earnestness and deep and continuous contact with the suprahistorical source which gave life to the Tradition. I have yet to come across such a one. Therefore, for nearly all of the human race, it is a matter of the proper combination of self-investigation and disciplined guidance.

    In addition to what is given in this post and in its associated comments, the post ‘Context and Guidance‘ and its associated comments contains much material that provides quite a bit more than a ‘starting point’. My hand-picked successor, Xiaoyao Xingzhe, provides the lion’s share of the counsel in these threads. Not only does he supply the proper balance of adab (courtesy) and adhab (chastisement), but he also exemplifies how one makes use of the material on this site in combination with working with a guide to make the most of the Alchemystical Tradition.

  5. brkkuroi
    September 30, 2013 at 8:31 am

    James, I want to thank you for kind and generous reply. It is very interesting to me that I “fell into” a “false dichotomy of the excluded middle”. This was not my conscious intention…and yet I DID fall into that “false dichotomy of the excluded middle” I don’t like to think of myself as an idiot and yet…clearly, something more than intellect is involved here. that causes people to “fall into” their own traps.I also noted that your response answered several unspoken questions which I had which I am grateful for and which show that you are quite intuitive. I read your successor’s remarks( which I will also re-read) and was quite struck by the importance he placed on asking,formulating the correct question. Over the past two or three days, no matter where I turn, this topic seems to turn up again and again
    in multiple contexts. Hopefully, I have not showed poor (adab) or conduct here by what I have written today. If I have, please feel free to correct or “chatise” me as it seems that there is a real potential benefit.

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