Steiner taught that alchemy is for real,
but he put a backspin on the ball, as he usually did.
He said that “real” alchemy has to do with spiritual evolution;
specifically, it concerns a stage when humans will be able to perform alchemy within themselves,
creating and modifying their bodies as they choose.
However, Steiner also indicated that alchemists of old
— while primarily interested in spiritual realities —
truly were able to perform chemical wonders.
Here are some illuminating quotations.
"alchemy, pseudoscience: a form of speculative thought that, among other aims, tried to transform base metals such as lead or copper into silver or gold and to discover a cure for disease and a way of extending life ... [It] is an aspect of thought that corresponds to astrology, which is apparently an older tradition. Both represent attempts to discover the relationship of man to the cosmos and to exploit that relationship to his benefit. The first of these objectives may be called scientific, the second technological. Astrology is concerned with man’s relationship to “the stars” (including the members of the solar system); alchemy, with terrestrial nature." — “alchemy." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 11 Sep. 2009.
"Alchemy has always been known in its higher manifestations as a way to contact the deeper levels of reality, described as the superhuman ‘spirits; or guiding archangels of the universe ... [A]lchemy is finally seen in Rudolf Steiner’s presentation as a step towards the cosmic understanding we will need for our future role [in cosmic evolution].” — Andrew J. Welburn, introduction to Steiner's ALCHEMY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 9-10.
"In order to progress further, let us now come to a true concept of alchemy ... In Nature everything is ordered with infinite wisdom, with an infinitely wise economy. All living beings possessing Karma (astrality) — animals and men, and all etheric living beings — plants — are interrelated. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbonic acid ... From the Fifth Round onwards man will ... be able consciously to carry out the process which is now carried out by the plant. As the plant takes in carbonic acid and builds up its body from the carbon, so the human being of the Fifth Round will himself create his body out of the materials of his environment ... He will then transform matter just as today the plant transforms the air into carbon. That is the true alchemy ... When from the higher planes one studies consciousness as it functions in the beehive, one learns how later on man will produce matter out of himself. In the future the human body will also be built up out of carbon; it will then be like a soft diamond ... In the future only three organs will remain; the heart as Buddhi-organ , the two-petalled lotus-flower between the eyes , and the left hand as the organ of movement. This future state is also related to Blavatsky's  indication (of a second spinal column). The pineal gland and the pituitary gland organise a second spinal column which later unites itself with the first. The second spinal column will descend in front from the head." — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), lecture 4, GA 93a.
 Buddhi or Budhi is the “life spirit,” a higher stage of consciousness consisting of the transformed “etheric body.”
 A nonphysical organ of clairvoyance.
 Helena Blavatsky, a founder of Theosophy.
"The medieval investigators, in their alchemical laboratories, were no longer able, as humanity evolved, to reach up to the Cosmic Intelligences.  They could only get as far as the spirits of nature ... [T]hese medieval investigators made numerous experiments ... which should reveal to them the working and weaving in the processes and things of nature ... [W]hen these investigators approached the sphere of the Spirits of Nature, then certain Spirits of Nature came around them and told the investigators that there formerly existed human beings who stood in connection with the Cosmic Intelligences. It was a deep piercing pain to the investigators when the Spirits of Nature spoke to him of a former age in which man himself was able to come into connection with the Intelligences of the Cosmos ... [T]he Spirits of Nature came to them and told them about the secrets of carbon, the secrets of silver, that secret which again is closely connected with man. What was it then that man experienced in ancient times in this connection? He experienced not merely how gold is connected with the sun, but how gold works in man, how silver and carbon work in man, and how other metals related to the other planets work in man." — Rudolf Steiner, MYSTERY CENTRES (Spiritual Research Editions), lecture 14, GA 232.
 They had lost the ancient, instinctive clairvoyance.
"The plant-animals  grew out of this whole foundation, and above them, in the Moon's environment which may be designated as 'fire-air', moved those beings who were man-animals. Imagine the whole atmosphere filled with saltpetre, carbon and sulphur gases; the Moon-men lived in this fiery air which you would thus obtain. Occultists always knew of the existence of this fire-air, and under older conditions of the Earth it was even possible to produce this fire-air artificially. This is only possible today in a very restricted circle, but this knowledge has been preserved in genuine alchemy." — Rudolf Steiner, "Theososophy and Rosicrucianism" (ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET, No, 17/18, 1942), a lecture, GA 100.
 Creatures living on the Moon.
"About this truly moral, ethical, intellectual work nothing has been printed. What has been printed about alchemy concerns purely external experiments only, and was only written by those men who performed alchemy as an end in itself. The false alchemist wanted to create substance. When he experimented with the burning of substances he saw the material results as the only thing gained, whereas the genuine alchemist attached no importance to these material results. For him it all depended on the inner soul experiences he had whilst the substance was forming, the thoughts and experiences within him. Therefore there was a strict rule that the medieval theosophist who produced gold and silver from his experiments was never allowed to profit from it himself." — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC CHRISTIANITY AND THE MISSION OF CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 65.
"In the far future...Man will learn to extend his power more and more ... [He will build] his corporal frame himself. That is a grand perspective of the future, for in this way no more beings will be killed [for food]. In times to come man's body will consist of transparent soft carbonic matter. He will then have found the philosopher's stone ; he will have changed his own body into the philosopher's stone." — Rudolf Steiner, INVESTIGATIONS IN OCCULTISM SHOWING ITS PRACTICAL VALUE IN DAILY LIFE (Putnam and Sons, 1929), p. 184.
 The object of astrologers' search, the mineral that would convert base metals into precious metals. In Steiner's vision, this becomes the occult power to remake one's physical body.
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001.]
I hate to enrich Anthroposophical publishers,
but I've given them a fair amount of my own money.
There's no substitute for getting the book
and reading it for yourself.
At least occasionally, Steiner's followers are quite open about their faith in alchemy,
The following is from the website of an Anthroposophical medical service:
We prepare remedies using alchemical processes inspired by spiritual science, including especially the forces of morning and evening. By exposing aqueous plant extracts specifically to these times of day, we are able to produce remedies imbued with the mobile, breathing powers of sunrise and sunset, preserved without alcohol. Certain remedies are made using rhythms of the planets and zodiac.
[http://www.urielpharmacy.com/aboutus/: December 10, 2013.]
- Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings