where the writers are
Nº28: Writer Grapples With Holy Grail – Grail Grapples Back

For the last few months, I’ve been wrestling with alchemy and, for the most part, alchemy has been winning. The subject is central to my next novel, so it’s fairly vital that I pin it down for a while in order to work out what’s going on behind all the retorts, athanors, and other arcane chymical paraphernalia. The trouble is, being too mean to shell out on a book, I’ve been doing all my research on the Internet. There is much madness in alchemy, more on the Internet. Put the two together and a trip to Bedlam begins to look like a quiet day in the countryside.

It has been particularly frustrating since alchemy is so fraught with multiple, overlaid metaphors that, often as not, I’d read about something on one site, then what I thought was something totally different on another site, only to discover, sometimes weeks later, that they were both allegorical depictions of the same bloody thing – and that didn’t make any sense, either. Even when I chanced upon what appeared to be a clear account of what alchemy was, there would always come a point when I’d think, “Hold on, what did he say there? This doesn’t hang together”, as once again something didn’t quite cohere or some vital part of the process was subtly elided, as if the writer was none too sure what he was talking about either.

Yet I refuse to believe it is entirely beyond my wit to understand the nitty-gritty of alchemical experiments. Many things are and I don’t mind admitting it. The glorious farce that goes under the guise of International Finance is hilarious, but I haven’t got a bloody clue what it’s about. Physics got a bit iffy as far as I’m concerned sometime in the sixteenth century, so when I listen to the surreal stuff they’re turning out nowadays, I soon have spiral circles spooling over my eyeballs and tweeting birds fluttering about the head. And why anybody should consider shopping a fitting way to spend their precious leisure time is a mystery on a par with the pyramids as far as I’m concerned. But I’m buggered if I’m going to let alchemy defeat me. Probably buggered either way, as it happens. But I’ve got my pride. I saw it here somewhere in the drawer the other day. I will not be defeated!

In an attempt to decrypt for myself the competing parables and codes that were threatening to overwhelm me, I wrote a brief essay about alchemy, summarizing what I knew, or thought I knew, or reckoned I had a sort of vague inkling I might halfway know. I’ve posted this essay on the articles page. I don’t doubt for a moment that it is full of alchemical solecisms, so if anybody out there understands this stuff better than me and is willing to remedy what may well seem like rampant witlessness on my part, please, get the red pen out and send me an e-mail . . . no metaphors, though, I beg of you; I’ve got enough of those blasted things to fill a poet’s lumber room.

If, after reading my article, you haven’t lost the will to live, and are inclined to explore further, here are a few links to some of the thousands of alchemy websites, which seem to proliferate like crystals flowering in a retort (Oh dear, there’s another one . . . you see what I mean about the metaphors):

http://www.alchemywebsite.com : an extraordinary site containing more alchemical literature than any sane person could ever wish to encounter.

http://www.alchemylab.com/directory.htm : practical (?) alchemy for the modern day alchemist covering both the rational and the mildly demented. It has a particularly good page explaining the chemical processes (reasonably coherent for at least the first four stages of transmutation) used to ‘realize’ the arcana of the Emerald Tablet.  
http://www.crystalinks.com/alchemyindex.html : the ultimate New Ager’s page, utterly barmy, but lucid barmy.

http://www.world-mysteries.com/awr_alchemy.htm : a striking mix of clear exposition and light to moderate derangement.

http://members.core.com/~ascensus/docs/jung3.html : concise academic paper about Jung and alchemy.

http://www.hyle.org/journal/issues/4/karpenk.htm : by alchemical standards, a sober, academic monograph tracing the development of the donum dei idea.