What is an Athanor?

And what is one doing in the title of my blog?  (Not any more — in July 2013 I changed the title, eliminating the athanor, but it’s still there in spirit, keeping up the ferment of creativity).

The OED offers this definition: “A self-feeding digesting furnace used by the alchemists, capable of maintaining a steady heat for long periods.”

This is what one needs for anything that needs patience and persistence, such as gardening and writing novels. The fact that it derives from alchemy intrigues me also, because alchemy is such a great metaphor for transformations of all kinds, both physical and metaphysical.

Gardening is alchemy. So is writing.

I first discovered alchemy in the writings of Mircea Eliade, when I was doing research for a paper in university. More recently, alchemical ideas found their way into the novels of my Herbert West trilogy, in which an amoral scientist is transformed into a healer with supernatural powers. Alchemy appears in these novels both explicitly and implicitly. Charles Milburn, a principal character in the first and third books, studies alchemical texts and becomes interested in the subject. At the same time, the stories themselves parallel some of the alchemical processes of dissolution, decay, calcination, conjunction, rebirth and transformation.

When I began this blog, the image of the athanor seemed quite apt, since it’s meant to be a generator of ideas on writing (and gardening), requiring patience, persistence and a steady heat of enthusiasm.  A Philosophical Furnace, indeed!

This is what an Athanor looks like.