Transformation is either seen from a material perspective or a spiritual or both. Some use the analogy of alchemy to describe transformation from our material reality to a spiritual reality. But the best analogy is that of nature: the seed dying, falling to the ground, nurtured and forming something other than the original seed—a plant, fruit.
Of course this is an analogy for something greater than itself. These are analogies used to describe what occurs when one communes with God. Something changes.
Alchemy was a scientific process used hoping to change base metals into gold. It was believed that elements had the properties of the most pure, valued substance on earth. The philosophers hoped to turn anything into its purest form. In a way, this was wish fulfillment--magic. In another, a form of Gnosticism. Alchemy is reminiscent of Manichaeism. It was believed that light--the divine—was trapped in every living thing. It had to be brought out by enlightenment or a certain knowledge. In the same way, the belief that elements could become gold has the same special knowledge attached to it—alchemy. If we can only… if only we use this process… if only we can isolate the pure gold from this substance. Alchemy used as a metaphor fails as a metaphor of transformation because it never has been fulfilled and has no reality attached to it. But more importantly, it reeks of Gnosticism. Granted alchemy led to chemistry, but without the occult (yet I wonder if some occult influence remains or has tainted modern science).
The seed falling to the ground and dying still holds up. Alchemy prides itself in isolating the good part or parts and longing for transformation without any stipulations—or through a special process or knowing. The seed dying points to sacrifice, obedience, dying to self, repentance, love. Death has occurred in the cosmos. Where alchemy wishes to create the elixir of life—prolonging life on this mortal coil, it does not deal with the fact of fallenness or sin. If we were to live forever in this world, it would be hell on earth perpetually. The seed dying calls for the death of the whole self so that Christ may cloth you. God doesn’t ask for parts of us, but our whole self, which is killed so that we may become like Christ the fulfillment of humanity—the second Adam.
This process of dying begins at baptism. But its fulfillment is culminated at our physical death. We cannot take our sinfulness with us. But our bodies, minds, spirits are fully transformed when we are in union with God. The analogy of the seed falling and dying is literal and points toward something more than itself.
The elixir of life is not found in what has been created or it would have the potential of worshipping idols. The elixir of life is Christ himself, who assumed flesh and raised us with him. He transforms this body of death, not us for our own sake.