The world is full of Gods. As such, the divine essence and its qualities, synthemata (tokens), are already active down here within our material kosmos. According to the divine Iamblichus, invocation does not call down the Gods, which is katagogic, but instead raises our souls up towards Them, making it anagogic. The function of both sacrifice and alchemy follow this anagogic principle.
Sacrifices are more beneficial for ourselves than they are for the Gods, as the Gods are each infinite and thus need nothing. By performing a sacrifice, we release synthemata from physical form back to the Gods. The necessity of the sacrifice is shifted from the sacrifice to the sacrificer as they are the individual who is operating and connecting the junction of the two manifolds. This is because role the sacrificer performs brings Them into communion with the divine as the operator of the sacrifice, thus ultimately allowing the sacrifice and sacrificer to become identical by activating and elevating the same synthemata that are within us (Butler 2014, 13). Once those are gone the dross matter remains, but without its essence.
Alchemy, in contrast, is something of the opposite of sacrifice. Whereas sacrifice releases synthemata from matter back to the Gods from whence they came, alchemy, in contrast, distills the same object and removes the dross matter until the essence, the synthemata, is perfected to its most basic physical form through purification, illumination, and perfection. This form can then be consumed, if in a tincture, activating in us the same synthemata placed there by the Gods. The entire understanding of alchemy trying to purify “base metals into gold,” or finding an elixir for immortality, is in truth allegorical for this process of purifying our souls by taking a gross physical object, elevating it to its essential, perfect nature, and consuming it to elevate and purify our own souls. Physically, we can say the consumption of alchemical tinctures activates and purifies, illuminates and perfects the same synthemata within us, which is functionally anagogic. Metaphysically, we would say the laboratory process only achieves its ends because the spiritual states of purification, illumination, and perfection have been achieved in the alchemist. This would be functionally anagogic as well.
All that said, while the processes of alchemy and sacrifice are opposite ends of the spectrum of theurgic activity, their purpose is, ultimately, identical. This suggests that the spectrum of activity here is circular in nature, rather than linear. That, of course, makes sense, as divine movement is seen as being circular in nature, with linear movement being a mortal thing.
(Special thanks to Jeffrey S. Kupperman)
Butler P, Edward, “Gods and Daimons in the Platonic Economy of Sacrifice”, October 26, 2014, accessed August 10, 2017, https://henadology.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/platonic-economy-of-sacrifice-butler.pdf
Iamblichus. De Mysteriis. Translated by Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living Theurgy: A Course in Iamblichus’ Philosophy, Theology and Theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.