Here is the alchemist, standing among the four classical elements – earth, air, water, fire. So what do you do in alchemy? You mix two things together and have them change into a new, different thing. And thus we have this card.
So wait a minute, is this just the Lovers again? Well, not quite. The Lovers is about having two people come together and compliment each other as individuals. Alchemy is about combining two things and having them change one another. This card is also called Temperance, from the verb “to temper”: to modify or strengthen by adding a new component to an existing substance or mixture. So in the end, this is a card about adjustment and balance… but it’s not necessarily a card about just refraining from extremes. If you look at the card, the alchemist is combining fire and water (which wouldn’t result in anything much but water and a bit of steam in real life, but it’s a metaphor. Shush). It’s an acknowledgement that you really need to experience the extremes of both sides before you can truly appreciate the moderate position. In the case of people, you need to really understand both of their points of view, before you can come to a center position that both can appreciate.
This is also an acknowledgement that trying to be completely pure – completely one sided, really, even if that side is “good” or something that seems like a great thing to aspire to – is not the best way to go. The world is a complex place, and being pure anything can prevent you from acting in the best manner, or from even understanding any viewpoint beyond your own. It’s only through through seeing and acknowledging both sides – the positive and the negative – can you integrate both into your personality, culminating in the creation of a centered and well-rounded being.
Sometimes, when you mix two things together, it just explodes in your face.
Or maybe you get poisonous chlorine gas, or spitting acid. Or maybe now you just have some oil and water. Or maybe one element completely consumes the other, and leaves you incredibly tilted to one extreme. Some things just don’t mix! Maybe it’s people whose personalities clash horribly, maybe it’s two internal ideals that aren’t compatible. Whatever the case, the end result is a whole lot of discord, stress, and competition, usually of a destructive variety. You’ve combined things that don’t work together, they only work to destroy each other. Slow down, take a different approach, and realize that whatever you’re trying to combine isn’t going to combine – at least, not in the way you want. You need to understand your “ingredients” before trying to combine them, be they internal or external.