Month: November 2014

Alchemy — the All-Purpose Metaphor

I’m reading a book with the rather lumpy title The Chemistry of Alchemy : from dragon’s blood to donkey dung, how chemistry was forged. The authors (Cathy Cobb, Monty L. Fetterolf and Harold Goldwhite) are chemistry professors, which accounts for the tone of amused skepticism toward their subject. They have given the history of alchemy its due attention, though, and explain the links between alchemical and chemical processes. The included “experiments” that readers may carry out at home mostly look worthwhile too (although I haven’t tried any of them myself — too lazy).

The thing that strikes me is the contrast between this approach and that of C.G. Jung and Mircea Eliade, both of whom wrote about the symbolic aspects of alchemy. Their writings were my introduction to the subject, so the mysticism and symbolism are what I find most fascinating, And the colours! Colour changes in the materials subjected to various processes would naturally signal transformation, which was the whole point of the exercise. The progression from black to white to yellow to red was fundamental. The successful conclusion to the long and torturous process was called by some the “red dawn,” represented by the phoenix. The magical substance which turned base metals to gold was often described as a red powder. Other colours are associated with intermediate phases — the green lion (vitriol) and the peacock’s tail, which is a flush of purples and blues that comes over certain metals when heated. The lion and peacock are only two of the alchemical animals; a full description may be found here.

With its colourful phases as a progression of transformations toward an ultimate perfection, it’s not surprising that alchemy serves as a perfect metaphor for almost anything. Gardening, for example, or writing, or spiritual self-improvement — anything that involves metaphorically breaking something down, burning it, washing and cleansing, joining and renewal, by prolonged effort bringing excellence from imperfect beginnings. When I started to write my first novel, the main character, Herbert West, was a dubious type in great need of improvement. I suppose it was inevitable that I should turn this into an alchemical process; alchemy thus became an explicit part of the book. It reappeared very explicitly in the final book of the series, Hunting the Phoenix.

B4 HtP

Here is a quotation from Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy (poached from Wikipedia):

“When the alchemist speaks of Mercurius, on the face of it he means quicksilver (mercury), but inwardly he means the world-creating spirit concealed or imprisoned in matter. The dragon is probably the oldest pictoral symbol in alchemy of which we have documentary evidence. It appears as the Ouroboros, the tail-eater, in the Codex Marcianus, which dates from the tenth or eleventh century, together with the legend ‘the One, the All’. Time and again the alchemists reiterate that the opus proceeds from the one and leads back to the one, that it is a sort of circle like a dragon biting its own tail. For this reason the opus was often called circulare (circular) or else rota (the wheel). Mercurius stands at the beginning and end of the work: he is the prima materia, the caput corvi, the nigredo; as dragon he devours himself and as dragon he dies, to rise again in the lapis. He is the play of colours in the cauda pavonis and the division into the four elements. He is the hermaphrodite that was in the beginning, that splits into the classical brother-sister duality and is reunited in the coniunctio, to appear once again at the end in the radiant form of the lumen novum, the stone. He is metallic yet liquid, matter yet spirit, cold yet fiery, poison and yet healing draught – a symbol uniting all the opposites.” (Part 3, Chapter 3.1).

The whole thing bristles with vivid symbols and images and is surrounded with an aura of mystery and ancient secrets. No wonder artists and writers pounce on it with glee.

Here is an excerpt from Apology for Bad Dreams, a poem by Robinson Jeffers (whose work I discovered at the impressionable age of 18):

He brays humanity in a mortar to bring the savor

From the bruised root: a man having bad dreams, who invents victims, is only the ape of that God,

He washes it out with tears and many waters, calcines it with fire in the red crucible,

Deforms it, makes it horrible to itself: the spirit flies out and stands naked, he sees the spirit,

He takes it in the naked ecstasy; it breaks in his hand, the atom is broken, the power that massed it

Cries to the power that moves the stars, “I have come home to myself, behold me.

I bruised myself in the flint mortar and burnt me

In the red shell, I tortured myself, I flew forth,

Stood naked of myself and broke me in fragments,

And here am I moving the stars that are me.”

 

Another Fall in the Garden– and a “Change Agent”

I love autumn for its colours — some subtle, others spectacular, always fleeting.

Two kinds of purple asters (names unknown to me) in the front garden

Two kinds of purple asters (names unknown to me) in the front garden

 

A favourite scene in the back garden

A favourite scene in the back garden

 

Cotinus "Royal Purple" in fall colours -- much better than its summer purple!

Cotinus “Royal Purple” in fall colours — much better than its summer purple!

Cotinus leaves often develop these artistic-looking patterns as they change colour

Cotinus leaves often develop these artistic-looking patterns as they change colour

 

A lone bloom on Gentian acaulis -- rare blue colour in the autumn garden

A lone bloom on Gentian acaulis — rare blue colour in the autumn garden

A windstorm last week blew most of the leaves off the maples. Raking awaits!

And the Change Agent?

Nelly by the pond

Nelly by the pond

Nelly the Newfoundland puppy (4 months old)

Nelly the Newfoundland puppy (4 months old)

The garden won’t be the same…

Imminent Danger Cover Reveal!

Michelle Proulx is reissuing her novel Imminent Danger and How to Fly Straight into It with a gorgeous new cover. Which is being revealed — right here and now!

First, the story behind the new cover:

In the far-gone year of two thousand and twelve, a naive young authoress with a trusting heart gave unto a company called iUniverse thousands of dollars with which to publish her novel. But alas! For this foolish young authoress did not realize the assisted-publishing path was fraught with peril, and the thousands paid were not in value received. Control was relinquished, prices did skyrocket, and the young authoress cried out to the heavens, “Woe is me! Would that I had done this publishing business myself!” And the young authoress did take it upon herself to publish the novel, commissioning a talented artist to provide her with a new cover that doth more accurately capture the spirit of her novel. And lo! The new cover is revealed!

Imminent Danger Cover Reveal

Now that you’ve seen the cover, here’s something about the book:

High school junior Eris Miller thinks she’s having a bad day when her roommate’s boyfriend catches her stepping out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel. Then she gets abducted by scaly six-armed aliens with a strange fondness for the color blue, and her day suddenly gets a whole lot worse.
 
Trapped on a spaceship bound for the slave markets of Sirius B, Eris fears she’ll never see her home again. But then fate whisks her away from her reptilian captors and into the arms of Varrin, a fast-talking space pirate who promises to deliver her safely back to Earth. He claims to have her best interests at heart, but Eris soon discovers that her charming rescuer has a hidden agenda.
 
As they race across the galaxy, outrunning a villainous figure from Varrin’s past, Eris begins to realize that their relationship is putting her planet, her life, and her heart in imminent danger. She knows that trusting Varrin could prove deadly … but what other choice does she have?
And here’s something about Michelle. See if you can guess which parts are true…
 Michelle Proulx was born on the market moon of Vega Minor where she spent her formative years reading, writing, and gambling at illegal underground jsgarn fighting rings. While en route to Alpha Centauri, Michelle crash-landed her space yacht on the planet Earth. She now lives in Canada and divides her time between observing the local fauna and repairing her star ship.
MP Author Photo
It’s absolutely true that Michelle will be doing a giveaway on her blog, so crank yourself up to warp speed and go check it out!