Modern Day Magic

Alchemy, the soulful science of the Middle Ages that involves the investigation of nature by combining elements of chemistry, metallurgy, physics, medicine, astrology, mysticism, spiritualism, and art, has been rediscovered as an elixir for 21st-century transformation. Ever since court priests and physicians empowered and preserved Egyptian kings and queens, alchemy has brought inspiration, relief, and regeneration to its practitioners. Today, treatments inspired by alchemy, such as aromatherapy that incorporates such heady Renaissance scents as clove, frankincense, nutmeg, and sandalwood, can help spa-goers experience a true transformation.

A History Lesson

Although the practice of alchemy was pursued many centuries ago, the scientific principles that inspired the most renowned alchemists remain the same today. Two of the most important principles involved the study of nature and the willingness of alchemists to immerse themselves in experimentation. We still benefit from the scope and power of alchemic answers to human survival and the mysteries of the universe.

Curas (cures) practiced during the Renaissance using natural herbs, essences, and laboratory inventions for remedying despair and disease are now utilized by spas, doctors, and health-conscious consumers. The endless striving by alchemists to achieve their magnum opus (great work) has forever influenced modern medicine and chemistry. In the 16th century, legendary Swiss scientist and physician Paracelsus used alchemic techniques to discover the value of urinalysis to detect physical disorders. Sir Isaac Newton, whose laws of gravity and optics ushered in modern physics, was an avid alchemist. His methods serve as the basis of pharmaceutical research, which saves lives today.

Alchemists during the Renaissance experimented with natural elements and fragrances to help cure the body and soothe the spirit.
Alchemists during the Renaissance experimented with natural elements and fragrances to help cure the body and soothe the spirit.

Alchemists have always used a sensory approach to achieve the most complete and lasting cures. Sight, touch, and smell were awakened to strengthen the immune system, relieve stress, and promote growth. Wreathed in mystery, mythology, and fragrance and guided by the stars, these eccentric wizards sought to affect the total person—mind, body, and soul—for better and, sometimes, worse.

What was remarkable about the Renaissance period, which stretched from the 1300s to the 1600s, was the free pursuit of beauty and truth in art, music, science, and philosophy. During this period, alchemy reached its zenith in Italy under the sponsorship of the Medici family. Great alchemists, such as Marsilio Ficino, a physician, priest, and astrologer, used everything available to scientists and healers of the time— myth, music, colors, and elements of the earth, such as rocks, mercury, and sulfur—to relieve, repair, and rejuvenate. This was the beginning of modern-day integrative medicine.

Alchemy served as inspiration for much of today's modern medical science.
Alchemy served as inspiration for much of today's modern medical science.

Alchemy in Action

Today, the spa world is adding services that do more than relax muscles and increase circulation. As spa professionals, we turn to ancient and indigenous methods of treatment and touch techniques. Although the philosophy and formulations used today for alchemy-inspired treatments differ from aromatherapy to some degree, there is still a strong holistic relationship between the two. Aromatherapy becomes a more concentrated, deeply affecting, personal experience if you combine authentic Renaissance essences with caring client communication and touch. For spas seeking to provide their clients with a dramatically different renewal experience, alchemy is the perfect prescription with cures that transform psyche, soul, and body.

Linda Ardito, a massage therapist at the Riverside Club (Westport, CT), a fitness facility that offers spa services, says that clients who try the Alchemy Treatment ($110, 60 minutes) there are experiencing spectacular results. Upon arrival, guests choose from one of five Renaissance-inspired scents that are intended to help them achieve a personal goal. Athena inspires strength, Hestia provides nurturing, Luna promotes sleep, Mercury facilitates communication and career growth, and Venus inspires romance. Using these elixirs, the treatment combines a firm technique that involves working with the lymph system and using pressure points and smooth strokes. "My clients are loving the treatment," says Ardito. "The massage technique combined with ancient scents like frankincense, sandalwood, and vetiver promotes a deep kind of relaxation in my clients, kind of like meditation. The treatment takes them to another zone—they are really able to let go on the table. They are thinking clearer and want to immediately sign up for another session."

Nob Hill Spa at the Huntington Hotel (San Francisco) recently launched the Alchemy Transformation Massage ($140, 50 minutes; $195, 80 minutes) which incorporates Renaissance-inspired formulas. "We are very excited to bring a treatment to our guests that is based on centuries-old healing traditions," says spa director Jenean LaRoche. "During the training, our massage therapists experienced for themselves the transformation that is possible from the potent formulas that are so rich with heady scents that they really come alive in the treatment. This is not your typical aromatherapy."

At Water's Edge Resort and Spa (Westbrook, CT), an alchemy add-on ($15) to the Signature Lymphatic Massage ($105, 50 minutes; $145, 80 minutes) is available. "Therapists now have the option of adding the Alchemy experience to their guest's services for even deeper relaxation and meditation," says spa director Suzanne McCormick. "Many guests claim to feel completely rejuvenated and well rested. Some even state that they feel like they can think clearer after the service. It's been amazing to see how just a few drops from these magic little bottles can make such a difference."

We can all use a little magic as this millennium continues. The scientific, medical, and healing arts communities have become less personal and more reliant on technology and drugs. Perhaps it is time to balance the lack of human contact and caring with the factors that make each of us unique and use a more soulful approach when doing so. Alchemy has a profound answer for those willing to trust the teachings of ancient wisdom—to be free and unafraid to experiment, seeking transformation with unwavering dedication. The great work may be in our own magical hands.

Judith Jackson is a 21st-century alchemist, aromatherapist, and licensed massage therapist who recently launched Judith Jackson's Alchemy, a line that has been inspired by great alchemists of the 15th century. The intensely fragrant Body and Bath Elixirs for retail and use in spas are applied to the body in droplets on cura points or added to the bath. For more information, visit