Alchemy is generally understood to be a primitive form of chemistry. However, there are deeper perspectives on it, for example that expressed by Italian esotericist Julius Evola (1898-1974) in his book "The Hermetic Tradition". Evola sees the conventional view of alchemy - creating gold out of base metals, the search for the Philosopher's Stone to enable this, and so on - as just a blind to cover the alchemist’s real goal, which is more spiritual in nature.
For Evola, real alchemy is the transformation of the body - especially in relationship to the spirit, to the life force. By this process the body goes from imprisoning the spirit to expressing it in a perfect way. The corporeal principles are elevated to a higher plane, and "the two are made one" in a spiritual corporeality - and this corporeality is the true Philosopher’s Stone, whereby "the body, as a completed, organised, and stable Nature is a "fixed" thing as opposed to the instability of psychic principles and the volatility attributed to "spirits"." This image evokes Christ’s parable that speaks of a man building his house upon rock rather than sand.
This state of balance between the corporeal and the spiritual is the true goal of alchemy, and it can only be fully understood through experience.
Evola mentions steps in the process: in the "albedo" (or "whitening"), the candidate undergoes an initiatory experience whereby he or she is brought into a kind of catatonic state that resembles death, except that he remains conscious during this process, and then returns to life, now aware of his or her immortality. This is an awakening.
After the whitening stage, there is the "rubedo" (or "reddening") in which the immortal spirit is reunited and reintegrated with the physical body. This is a becoming.
Alchemical legends often suggest that this "reddening" confers physical immortality. The Taoists legends of the Eight Immortals claim that "They are immune to heat and cold, untouched by the elements, and can fly, mounting upward with a fluttering motion. They dwell apart from the chaotic world of man, subsist on air and dew, are not anxious like ordinary people, and have the smooth skin and innocent faces of children."
Thus, alchemy is dual in nature. There is the outer (exoteric) mundane path, which attempts to transform the essence of a metal so that it reaches its most perfect form - which was always held to be gold. And there is an inner (esoteric) divine path aimed at transforming human nature. We should see the mundane outer alchemy as merely symbolic for the true inner alchemy, similar to the way that the Sun can be seen as a physical symbol for God.