The Rebis or Alchemical Hermaphrodite

Conjunction Definition 1

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“The Great Hermaphrodite” by Aaron Stewart Lewis Knapp

Recently, I wrote to Aaron Stewart Lewis Knapp regarding the alchemical artwork on the website Chemical Marriage and my intention to write a blog entry about the Rebis (or Alchemical Hermaphrodite). I received a timely and gracious response including the generous offer to “use any content I’ve made.” Thus, I have chosen to feature two of Knapp’s original pieces–“The Great Hermaphrodite” and “The Engagement of the Rebis“–to begin my exploration of this ancient alchemical concept.

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“The Engagement of the Rebis” by Aaron Stewart Lewis Knapp

As Knapp explains, “The alchemists, in their quest for philosophical gold, considered the world to be influenced and manipulated by a multitude of paired forces: wet and dry, cold and hot, sun and moon, male and female, proton and neutron, etc. When these opposing forces are harmonized and balanced through synthesis, creation is commenced. The Great Hermaphrodite is an amalgam of this union.”

Rebis One Quote Cropped

In various medieval and early modern alchemical texts, conjunction is one step on the varied and lengthy path of the Great Work. As explained by Gareth Roberts in The Mirror of Alchemy, conjunction may result in an androgyne (an alternative term for the Rebis).

Conjunction Definition 2

Described as “the much coveted goal” of alchemy, the Rebis has repeatedly been “identified with the philosophers’ stone” and its sacred coincidence of opposites (Fabricius 90; DeVun 199). To many alchemists, alchemy is integrally connected with their understanding of divinity. To give one example, English alchemist Thomas Norton calls the practice “blessid & holye” in his 15th-century Ordinal of Alchemy (line 144). This and other such statements have led scholars to explore the complex connections among the Philosopher’s Stone, the Rebis, and the figure of Christ.

For example, in an article focused on alchemy and the “Jesus Hermaphrodite,” Leah DeVun argues, “Like Christ, the philosophers’ stone was a combination of nature and divinity, of corporeality and incorporeality, of opposites united in one subject” (203). Mark J. Bruhn likewise explores a sacred or religious connection with alchemy noting that “[t]hrough the Middle Ages the elusive Philosopher’s Stone came to be seen as a metaphor for Truth, or Christ, the Logos” (293).

(For readers interested in examining these concepts further, I’ve included a list of full citations near the end of this post. Also, please note that I have replicated DeVun’s plural possessive form of “philosophers’ stone” when quoting from her article.)

My Hermaprhodite ArticlesHaving explored such connections among mysticism, alchemy, and the Rebis in my own academic work, my intention when transmuting alchemical concepts to fiction was to ensure that conjunction and the Rebis were central features in The Alchemists’ Council.

The following images from the Rosarium Philosophorum (University of Glasgow, MS Ferguson 210) provide an example of the traditional alchemical processes on which I based my fictional Sacrament of Conjunction:

Rosarium Three Images

Within the Rosarium Philosophorum, opposites conjoin to symbolize perfection.

Perfection

Within The Alchemists’ Council, conjunction is not used to create the Philosopher’s Stone. Instead, the Council’s Sacrament of Conjunction maintains the Stone’s power. Without conjunction, the Stone (or Lapis) would gradually lose its Quintessence and, eventually, cease to exist. Since their existence depends upon the Lapis, both Council and Flaw dimensions would likewise cease to exist. Additionally, the elemental balance of the outside world is ensured by (and therefore dependent on) the Alchemists’ access to the Lapis. Thus, Council alchemists must participate in the Sacrament of Conjunction in order to maintain all three dimensions and the millions of people residing therein.

Council Conjunction involves a complex ritual performed by the Elders. If the ritual succeeds, two alchemists conjoin into one body. Unlike images of the Rebis as depicted in real-world alchemical manuscripts, the conjoined alchemists of Council dimension appear as a single body with one head. Generally, only one of the two participants survives; the other is dissolved. Understandably, new Initiates to Council tend to find the sacrament appalling; they see it as a form of ritual sacrifice.

In this excerpt from Book One, Novillian Scribe Cedar explains an aspect of the conjunction to Initiate Jaden, who expresses her dismay in reply:

Cedar and Jaden Conjunction Discussion

Despite her early objections, Jaden later bears witness to the process:

Jaden Rebis Smaller

The Flaw in the Stone (Book Two of The Alchemists’ Council) focuses in part on the mutually conjoined couple Ilex and Melia. Unlike most conjoined pairs throughout Council history, both of these alchemists survive the Sacrament of Conjunction and must learn to cooperate as two people within one body.

Though I will refrain from spoilers at this point, I will acknowledge that Ilex and Melia, like the Lapis itself, are flawed. But as readers of Book One already know, the flaw in the Stone is the feature that allows for free will. Alongside other characters in Book Two, Ilex and Melia illustrate that despite sacred tradition, rules of Council dimension can be broken and protocols must be renegotiated in the pursuit of a more equitable world.

Adam M Purchased Image Framed

The preceding engraving from the Rosarium Philosophorum has been coloured by Adam McLean. His images of the Rebis are available to view and purchase here: Esoteric Prints–Alchemical Hermaphrodite.

To conclude this post, I call again upon Leah DeVun. As she reminds us, “The hermaphrodite in alchemy was of course a purely intellectual conceit. . . . Nevertheless, there was something transgressive about them. The fluidity of sexes in the alchemical hermaphrodite hinted at the fluidity of boundaries between metals, which alchemy argued could be changed through the art of the alchemist. Whether the boundaries in question divided the sexes or the categories of humanity and divinity, the hermaphrodite of alchemical literature indicated that such boundaries were crossable” (DeVun 217).

WORKS CITED

  • Abraham, Lyndy. A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery. Cambridge UP, 1998.
  • Bruhn, Mark J. “Art, Anxiety, and Alchemy in the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review, vol. 33, no. 3, 1999, pp. 288–315.
  • De Pascalis, Andrea. Alchemy The Golden Art: The Secrets of the Oldest Enigma. Gremese International, 1995.
  • DeVun, Leah. “The Jesus Hermaphrodite: Science and Sex Difference in Premodern Europe.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 69, no. 2, April 2008, pp. 193-218.
  • Fabricius, Johannes. Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and Their Royal Art. Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1976.
  • Norton, Thomas. Ordinal of Alchemy, edited by John Reidy, Oxford UP, 1975.
  • Roberts, Gareth. The Mirror of Alchemy: Alchemical Ideas and Images in Manuscripts and Books from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century. U of Toronto P, 1994.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Find artist Michael Maschka’s painting and explanation of his work at Transmuthatio:

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Find visual media artist Laura White’s collage of the Rebis at Laura White Illustration:

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Find a video briefly summarizing the symbolic elements of the Rebis on YouTube:

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Holiday Alchemy 2017

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Happy Holidays!

If you’ve been reading this blog, you already understand the importance of bees to The Alchemists’ Council. Here are two recent seasonal photos, both of which feature bee embroidery. One is of my favourite holiday ornament; the other features my new footwear, which a friend immediately dubbed “alchemy shoes!”

Bee Shoes

Content Warning

As I posted last month, Advance Reading Copies of The Flaw in the Stone began to circulate during November’s World Fantasy Convention. Along with the bees, December therefore brought with it a few early reviews. My heartfelt gratitude extends not only to Frances (at materfamilias reads) but also to Brenda, Rebecca, and Jason (at Goodreads).

Needless to say, I greatly appreciate each of these reviews, but I’d like to draw attention to one in particular. Last month, Jason Henry contacted me via Goodreads to offer feedback on a review written by someone who hadn’t yet read The Alchemists’ Council (i.e. Book One in the series). He asked whether he could attain an ARC of The Flaw in the Stone (Book Two) in order to review it from the perspective of a reader who had enjoyed the first book. The resulting detailed and thoughtful review contains a passage that I adore — so much so that I plan to frame it for my office wall:

Content Warning 2Yes, readers, Jason’s description is accurate: alchemical baby-making is indeed crucial to the plot of Book Two! As with most alchemical practices of The Alchemists’ Council series, this one is a revision / adaptation of a concept from real-world alchemy: the alchemical homunculus. Alchemists of the outside world may never have succeeded at creating miniature human beings in the laboratory. However, according to The Flaw in the Stone, certain Rebel Branch alchemists have discovered a manuscript containing a potentially world-changing recipe: “Formula for the Conception of the Alchemical Child.”

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SOURCE: http://www.alchemywebsite.com/Emblems_Donum_Dei_1582.html

If you’d like to see what the rebels do with this knowledge, please place your pre-order of Book Two at ECW Press or at your favourite online bookstore. Publication is in March!

Council Cats and Dimension Dogs

December has also brought with it the first #CouncilCats and #DimensionDogs pics of Flaw! Thank you Tamy and Chelsea for these wonderful shots!

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Here I must again thank and acknowledge materfamiliasreads, this time for the #DimensionDog featured at the beginning of her review:

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If you would like to submit a #CouncilCats or #DimensionDogs pic, please contact me for details.

Happy holidays and happy reading everyone!


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From Academic Article to Fantasy Novel

A&H YouTube ScreenCap via Picasa

Back in September 2016, as part of Vancouver Island University’s Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series, I presented a lecture entitled “From Academic Article to Fantasy Novel: Medieval Alchemy and The Alchemists’ Council.” Thanks to VIU and the Media Research Lab, that presentation is now available on YouTube. Thanks specifically to Harlen Bertrand, the recently uploaded version has been reedited so that all the slides/images are visible.

The video begins with introductions to VIU and the Colloquium Series by Timothy Lewis (Professor of History) and Ralph Nilson (President of Vancouver Island University). These words of welcome are followed by a brief introduction to my presentation by Marni Stanley (Professor of English). I then begin speaking shortly after the 14-minute mark.

My talk opens with an introduction to alchemy in general. I then discuss a few specifics of my academic work, especially regarding alchemy. Thereafter, I outline several key alchemical concepts (including the alchemical hermaphrodite) that I transformed from my academic study of medieval alchemy into the fictional world of The Alchemists’ Council. Along the way I read several brief passages from Book One (The Alchemists’ Council) and preview a passage from Book Two (The Flaw in the Stone).

My hope is that those people interested in alchemy and/or the world and concepts of The Alchemists’ Council trilogy will enjoy watching and learning more about alchemical images, manuscripts, and texts–the facts and the fictions.

Click here to reach the entire VIU Colloquium Series page. Or click here to reach my presentation.

A&H YouTube ScreenCap


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Adventures at World Fantasy Con 2017

 

ProgramMy first experience at World Fantasy Con truly was fantastic! I enjoyed every moment! Attending panels, hearing authors read, wandering around the art displays, and talking with various writers, publishers, and other people interested in fantasy literature were pleasures through and through.

The CrowdsOne highlight was the opportunity to meet folk who stopped by to chat at either Friday night’s “signature event” or the ECW booth throughout the convention. Special thanks to the people who came to my reading of The Flaw in the Stone Saturday–a small but enthusiastic group!

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Conversations with fellow writers Michael Wigington and Timothy Ray were both inspirational and delightful. Both of these generous authors provided me with one of their books, and Tim even gave me a second book to pass along to a colleague who teaches zombie literature at VIU. Thank you Michael for The Bloodstone Reckoning (Book One of The Earth Mother Saga) and Tim for both The Acquisition of Swords (Book One of the New Age Saga) and Charon’s Blight: Day One (Book One of the Rotting Souls series)!

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Spending time with David Caron and Jessica Albert, from ECW Press, was especially gratifying. Between events we shared stories and laughter, delicious Texan meals and San Antonio-style margaritas. One of our dinner-hour discussions notably brought us to develop a plot point for The Amber Garden (Book Three of The Alchemists’ Council).

David and Jessica

For those of you who picked up a copy of the ARC of The Flaw in the Stone at the convention (or elsewhere), keep in mind that the new book is a continuation of the story established originally in The Alchemists’ Council. So be sure to read (or re-read) The Alchemists’ Council (Book One) prior to venturing into The Flaw in the Stone (Book Two). In a future blog post I plan to expand on this topic, but for now let me simply say for readers to fully appreciate the characters, worlds, and ironies of Book Two, reading Book One first is paramount.

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Thank you ECW Press and World Fantasy Convention for making this adventure possible! And thank you, people of San Antonio, for hosting us all!

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World Fantasy Con 2017 Announcement

Hello Alchemists and Friends! I’m pleased to announce that I will be reading from The Flaw in the Stone at World Fantasy Convention 2017. In addition to attending the Friday night Signature Event, I will be signing books on Saturday morning (beginning at 11 a.m. at the ECW booth) and reading on Saturday afternoon (beginning at 3 p.m. in ExecSalon 3). If you attend WFC, please stop by and say hello–I’d love to meet readers!

WFC 2017 Banner

The Flaw in the Stone

After a summer of revising Book 2 and writing (as much as possible of) Book 3, the new academic year is upon us. For now, I must set aside the fantasy writing and turn my attention to teaching courses in medieval literature and composition.

But today, before venturing into The Canterbury Tales, I wanted to announce that Book 2 will be published in March (with ARCs available within the next few months to reviewers). Until then, here’s the cover image followed by a brief teaser from the Prologue. I’ll be back here with updates as soon as possible!

Flaw in the Stone RGB Final Cover

From the Prologue to The Flaw in the Stone:

Genevre trembled. Once again, she removed a piece of glass from her pocket, reopening her wound for the second time. She held her bleeding finger above the first folio while applying pressure with her thumbnail to ensure the release of large drop of blood. At first nothing happened as the blood hit the page, and she suddenly feared the repercussions if anyone were able to trace the manuscript defacement to her. But, as the minutes passed, the folio began to bear forth its message. The illumination emerged first, rendered in dark crimson and gold. It featured what appeared to be a small being within an ancient alembic, or some kind of transparent vessel. Shortly thereafter, a few words appeared above the image. Their size, style, and placement suggested they formed a title, but Genevre could not read the ancient script in which the words were written.

“Congratulations.”

Genevre spun around. Dracaen stood directly behind her.

“You have done what no High Azoth, including myself, has ever managed to do. Your bloodline alchemy truly is extraordinary.”

Genevre blushed, ashamed at being caught but simultaneously proud of her accomplishment.

“You are no mere outside world scribe,” continued Dracaen. “But neither are you, as yet, an alchemist — rebel or otherwise. Thus, as High Azoth of the Rebel Branch, I must ask you to leave this chamber immediately.”

“But—”

“We will return here together one day, but for now — for your own safety and that of the entire Flaw dimension — you must leave and allow the manuscript to mature.”

“I don’t understand.”

“One by one, over the years — three decades if the scriptural enigmas have been correctly interpreted — the words and illuminations on each folio will emerge. We cannot risk contaminating the sacred process with our impatience.”

“At least tell me what these words say.” She pointed to the letters inscribed above the image of the alembic, now fully revealed and spectacularly vivid on the first folio.

Dracaen moved closer to the manuscript. He smiled and sighed. “Finally.”

“Finally?”

Finally, the Rebel Branch has gained an advantage over the Alchemists’ Council. Even if you choose to leave us on your Day of Decision, today you have repaid our hospitality beyond measure. The Rebel Branch will be forever grateful. With this manuscript, our greatest potential has begun to manifest.”

“What do the words say?”

“Roughly . . .” Dracaen began but then paused as if pondering the best translation of the manuscript’s title. He announced it solemnly: “Formula for the Conception of the Alchemical Child.”


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The Alchemists’ Pendants

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The pendant featured above was given to me a few weeks ago by Cheryl Morrison, an avid Alchemists’ Council reader. She commissioned an artist to design this piece: a tree in the Amber Garden growing out of the Lapis. I gasped when I saw it and thanked her profusely. It truly epitomizes the spirit of the book. The Lapis therein even houses a flaw. Watching the light glisten through the amber, I stood astonished.

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According to Cheryl, the artist who made this gift not only listened to Cheryl’s description of the Amber Garden, but she later read the book herself while designing the pendant. She also read through this blog, including the post I wrote almost a year ago on the significance of amber.

If you would like to explore more of Hailey Sacree’s stunning pendant art, visit her Etsy shop or Facebook page for WOUND TO EARTH.

woundtoearthlogoCouncil Initiates may begin seeking their pendants here rather than making the journey to Santa Fe.

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Since writing the earliest notes that would eventually transform into Book One, I envisioned alchemists wearing pendants. In 2009, just as Jaden does near the end of Chapter Two, I purchased a pendant from a woman named Florence in Santa Fe. This exquisite piece of “blue turquoise flecked with black” inspired more than only a geographically specific scene. Thanks to this pendant, inspiration for specific Council pendants began. An alchemist’s pendant holds not only a fragment of the Lapis, but the accumulated power of the alchemist, without which one’s bond to the Council ends.

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I have written every passage of Books One and Two wearing the same pendant — one of elaborate silver repoussé wrapped around a green stone. Feeling its weight around my neck immediately transports me into the books’ multiple dimensions, into a state of mind conducive to writing. As a gift for my editor after we completed Book One, I chose an amethyst pendant. The stone is set back into the silver and boasts a streak of rebel red.

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pendant-ssThe silver and stone pendants worn by the alchemists may eventually outshine even the official Council logo as an overarching symbol of The Alchemists’ Council. If you are a potential Council or Rebel Branch Initiate, don’t worry — you will inevitably recognize your pendant when you cross its path.


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Slayage, “The Hive,” and The Alchemists’ Council

Close Up

Last week I took a break from writing Book Two of The Alchemists’ Council to attend the ‘Euro’Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses in London, UK. If you are a fan of Joss Whedon, you likely already know about Slayage. If not, let me simply say for now that Slayage is a conference that brings together both fans and scholars to present academic papers and round table discussions on all things Whedon. Since first attending in 2006, I would name Slayage (in its various incarnations) as significant highlights of my life. Attending the conference and reconnecting with all my friends every two years fills me with utter joy.

If you would like to learn more about this year’s conference, here is a brief article, including a few details about Michael Starr who, among other contributions to the conference, designed 2016’s fabulous poster:

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From my perspective, Slayage is integrally connected to The Alchemists’ Council. Joss Whedon changed my life as both a scholar and a writer; among other things, he taught me the inherent value of the fantasy genre. And my work in Whedon Studies over the years was a major influence on my decision to write the book. Most significantly, though, I met Jennifer Hale at Slayage in 2008. Jen not only recommended the book to ECW Press in 2014, but ended up becoming its editor. Indeed, it was at Slayage 2014 in Sacramento that she informed me ECW had accepted the book for publication. What a pleasure to be able to attend Slayage 2016 and explore London with her only a few months after the book came out! Here we are enjoying yet another fantasy world a few days before the conference began:

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Onward now to “The Hive”! Given the prominence of bees in The Alchemists’ Council, I wanted to spend the day before the Slayage conference began at Kew Gardens in order to see a spectacular bee-themed art installation created by Wolfgang Buttress.

Hive Sign

According to the official description at the Kew Gardens website, “The installation is made from thousands of pieces of aluminium which create a lattice effect and is fitted with hundreds of LED lights that glow and fade as a unique soundtrack hums and buzzes around you. These multi-sensory elements of the Hive are in fact responding to the real-time activity of bees in a beehive behind the scenes at Kew. The sound and light intensity within the space changes as the energy levels in the real beehive surge, giving visitors an insight into life inside a bee colony.” Fortunately for me, several of my fellow Slayage friends, including Jen, joined me for this unique experience.

Hive Edited

When walking toward “The Hive,” seeing the metal as it glistens against the bright blue sky, one is initially impressed by the installation’s size and intricacy. The architecture alone thrilled me. The ability to view the structure from various angles added to the overall visual and sensory effects. Here are a few shots taken from underneath the structure (i.e. at the end of the path featured above), as I stood looking up into the hive.

From Ground 1

From the Ground 2

Those people are Jen and another friend (Tamy Burnett) looking down at me from above! The path continues upward past a wildflower garden meant to attract actual bees. This shot is taken from the path on my way to the top of the structure:

From the Path

Once inside, one is met not only with a variety of sights based on the hive design, but also with the sounds of bees humming and buzzing, which fill the space. Though impressive and moving, the sounds were muffled by dozens of human voices. I would have preferred to lie down on the floor to listen and observe in silence.  And a nighttime viewing would have allowed better appreciation of the flickering lights. But what can one do at a popular tourist attraction open only during the day? We made the best of it, and the experience was fascinating.

From Inside 1

From Inside 2

The exhibit also included information on local bees, including this one whose Latin name–readers of the book will note–resembles “Lapidarian”!  Perhaps Kew Gardens is actually a protectorate that the Council simply had no need to use in Book One.

Bee Info

Of course, Kew Gardens offered other treasures for someone who has built a world of characters named after trees. Jen and I spotted several of the namesakes from Book One, including Ilex and Cercis:

And at least one great name was suggested for a future volume: Fraxinus (clearly a member of the Rebel Branch).

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Of course, the gardens were full of exquisite trees, including this glorious weeping beech, under whose beautiful leaves and branches my friends and I spent quite a bit of time.

Weeping Birch

A few days later, the book and the conference conjoined at the banquet. Here are AmiJo Comford and Ian Klein posing with their door-prize copies of The Alchemists’ Council at ‘Euro’Slayage!

I will also take this opportunity to once again congratulate Ian for winning not only a door prize but–even better–the award for best paper at the conference! Here he is with Mr. Pointy! (Yes, non-Slayage folk, we’ve heard the jokes for years.)

Ian and Mr P

And on a final note, I would like to offer a special thank you to Bronwen Calvert, one of the conference organizers. Amidst all the work she had to do to prepare for the conference and her own paper, she somehow managed to make me this beautiful bee bag as a “congratulations on the book” present. Thank you, my generous and talented friend!

Though I’ve been back home only two days, the countdown is already on for Slayage 2018! See you again then! In the meantime, as of tomorrow, I’m headed back to writing Book Two of The Alchemists’ Council which, by the way, is tentatively titled The Flaw in the Stone. So, as Whedon’s Angel would say, “Let’s go to work!”


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Reading the Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 3 (Part 2)

[UPDATE: As of November 2017, Matthew Graybosch provided updated links to The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide. Though all of Matthew’s material can still be accessed via these new links, Eric’s contributions are not currently available.]

In Part 1 of my response to the Chapter 3 segment of The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide to The Alchemists’ Council, I focused on a few key elements made by both Graybosch and Higby. Part 2 will focus primarily on one particular aspect: Dragons!

Matthew’s exploration of dragon symbolism and its potential association with the Rebel Branch is interesting and diverse. I particularly appreciated learning of the Dragon Rouge, of which I was previously unaware. This and other connections Matthew has drawn between the Rebel Branch and the Left-Hand Path throughout the Chapter 3 analysis are much appreciated given their remarkable similarity to my concept of the rebels of The Alchemists’ Council.

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For those of you interested in further exploring the connections between alchemy and dragons, you can find extensive information on this page at Circle of the Dragon. For those of you interested in a quick overview in relation to its presence in alchemical literature, see the entry for “dragon” in Lyndy Abraham’s A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery.

Abraham Book Picassa

My concept of Dracaen, the Dragonblood Stone, and Dragon’s Blood tonic come primarily from the Dragon’s Blood (or Dragon Blood) tree. As I mentioned in an earlier post regarding the origins and pronunciation of names, most of the characters in The Alchemists’ Council are named for trees or tree-like plants. Here is the excerpt about Dracaen from that post:

DRACAEN is named for the Dragon’s Blood Tree or Dracaena cinnabari. As the narrator of this video states, the tree is “so named because of the drops of red sap which ooze out when it’s cut.” (What other name would I give the High Azoth of the dimension in which the Dragonblood Stone resides?) An array of photos of the tree and its landscape (taken by Michael Melford for National Geographic) can be found here. The pronunciation of the word dracaena can be heard here. In contrast to that pronunciation, I prefer to say the name as DRA-KANE.

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This particular tree was first introduced to me by Jessica Legacy, who was a student research assistant of mine at Vancouver Island University back in 2010. (Indeed, she is one of the VIU research assistants to whom Book One is dedicated.) Jessica brought me information about Dracaena cinnabari, suggesting I consider using it as one of the tree names. As explained at Archive.org, the Dragon’s Blood tree is “named for its dark red resin, known as dragon’s blood, a substance which has been highly prized since ancient times.” The entry at Archive.org provides extensive information about the tree, stating among other details that “[t]he dragon’s blood resin of this tree exudes naturally from fissures and wounds in the bark, and is commonly harvested by widening these fissures with a knife.” References such as this to the tree’s bleeding fissures fit perfectly with my concept of the Flaw in the Stone. Thus were the names for the Rebel High Azoth (Dracaen) and the Flaw (Dragonblood Stone) born.

And one final point for today… In addition to his detailed work on dragon lore, Matthew created a Matrix/Morpheus meme that I adore–I can only hope it hits the Twitter feeds shortly! Be sure to check it out under “Dracaen’s Pitch” in the Chapter 3 segment of The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide to The Alchemists’ Council.

Farewell for this week, or as the rebels might say, “Long live the Dragonblood Stone!”


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Reading The Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 3 (Part 1)

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[UPDATE: As of November 2017, Matthew Graybosch provided updated links to The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide. Though all of Matthew’s material can still be accessed via these new links, Eric’s contributions are not currently available.]

Before delving into this week’s extraordinary Graybosch & Higby Reading, I would like to mention something that has been on my mind of late: reviews of the book. Fortunately, most of the reviews have been positive. I extend my sincere gratitude to everyone who has taken the time not only to read The Alchemists’ Council but to post a review. Of course, like any writer with a newly published book, I am thrilled with the positive reviews, but I find the less-than-positive ones can sting (bee pun intended). Notably, however, the stinging variety appear to be variations on a theme: the book is dense and difficult.

Yes, I agree.

The book is indeed dense given the philosophy and vocabulary of its subject matter and the background material upon which it is based. Alchemy is one of the most complex subjects ever presented to readers. Take a look through the material at Adam McLean’s The Alchemy Website to gain a sense of its vastness and complexity. Alternatively or additionally, take some time to watch Adam McLean’s YouTube videos in the 3-part series How to Explore Alchemical Symbolism. Mr. McLean is a preeminent scholar of alchemy whose body of work and dedication to the field are extraordinary and, often, utterly breathtaking.

Alchemy Website 2

If you indeed are “worthy to turn the page” (xiv), once you embark on reading The Alchemists’ Council, you need thereafter to consider yourself an Initiate willing to immerse yourself into a complex and challenging world. By the end of your journey, you might just find yourself–whether literally or figuratively–in possession of the philosopher’s stone.

I will end this opening segment by highlighting two recent reviews. One dubs the book “A Lacanian Fable.” In doing so, Rhonda Wilcox offered me (and other readers) not only extensive commentary but also a new way to approach the book! Thank you!

The other review, from Goodreads, I post here in its entirety:

Parker Review

Thank you, Mr. Parker! And in case you or others are wondering, I am indeed working on Book 2 at the moment.

Onward now to The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide to the Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 3, this week’s contribution to the Graybosch & Higby Readings. (If you have not yet read it, click on the link and take a look before continuing here.) As regular readers of this guidebook series will note, Matthew has made recent revisions to the layout. I admire the new format; for me it’s aesthetically pleasing and thus easy to read. This week’s bee image at the top of the page is also quite stunning. I certainly appreciate these bee shots as the visual link among the posts.

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When Matthew told me that he would be dividing his Chapter 3 analysis into two parts because of the extensive length, I sent him an email expressing my concern–not about his plan to divide the chapter, but about the time he must be spending dedicated to this project! He wrote me a reassuring message in return saying, among other things, “It’s a good, meaty book that deserves support.” Honestly, Mr. Graybosch, if I were to live as long as Azoth Magen Ailanthus, I would remain forever grateful for your work and support.

As with my previous response posts to Graybosch & Higby, I will not discuss every aspect of the latest edition but instead will highlight a few items that particularly resonated with me this week. To start, I must say I found Eric Higby’s story of his childhood chemistry pursuits quite endearing. Many of us can trace the hobbies of our youth to our current interests or careers. My favourite books as a child were fantasy driven: The Witch Family; A Wrinkle in Time; Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth (to name a few). It’s no wonder I pursued graduate work in mysticism and alchemy. It’s no wonder I became a fan and scholar of the fantasy worlds of Joss Whedon. If only every adult who ever dabbled in magic, mysticism, alchemy, or chemistry as a child would pick up a copy of The Alchemists’ Council, all would be well (to paraphrase medieval mystic and author Julian of Norwich).

Wrinkle in TIme

This week, both Eric and Matthew focus in part on the conflict between the Alchemists’ Council and the Rebel Branch. Eric contextualizes the conflict using Yin vs. Yang and Order vs. Chaos, concluding, “I personally believe that a balance between chaos and order is the answer.” Note, however, that Eric also admits to being swayed toward joining the rebels! (Matthew seems to have joined the rebels a while ago if the title for this reader’s guide is any indication!) Matthew discusses similar concepts in the section entitled “The Rebel Branch: Walking the Left-Hand Path.” He contextualizes the conflict using Michael Moorcock‘s model of Law vs. Chaos. Each of these comparative systems has at least one aspect in common: they, like The Alchemists’ Council, emphasize the idea that both sides must exist together. Matthew’s explanation of the Kabbalistic tree, accompanied by a glorious illustration thereof, indeed depicts almost precisely the way I visualized the dimensions when writing the book. I literally gasped when I saw it.

YinYang
CLICK IMAGE FOR SOURCE

I also appreciated Matthew’s comparison of Jaden’s first alchemy lesson with “the ‘hello world’ program many first-year computer science and software development students are taught to write.” Yes, all adepts–whether alchemists or computer programmers–must begin at the beginning. Jaden’s transmutation of lead into gold was in fact a late addition to the book; I added it during the substantive edits stage when my editor suggested I include a few more scenes of characters actually doing alchemy. In retrospect, I see this scene as important for the very reasons mentioned by Eric and Matthew. As Eric puts it in relation to his childhood memories, “Jaden’s adventure takes us through a mix of the immersion of those feelings”; and as Matthew puts it, “transmuting lead into gold is child’s play for the Alchemists’ Council.” Overall, the scene simultaneously allows folks to relate to the meta-narrative of the alchemist in the laboratory and suggests that the alchemy of Council dimension extends far beyond this age-old stereotype.

Alchemy Symbols
CLICK IMAGE FOR SOURCE

I must also give props to Matthew for one particular comment made in the section “Jaden’s Distrust and the SNAFU Principle”: “No doubt Cynthea Masson’s drawing on experience from her day job as a VIU English professor as she describes Sadira’s supervisory duties.” Ha! I laughed aloud when I read that sentence! Though Magistrate Sadira has some unique challenges as an Initiate teacher, I imagine that teachers from all dimensions–including right here in Nanaimo–can relate to certain aspects of this scene.

On a final note, I would like to remind readers that both Matthew Graybosch and Eric Higby have their own blogs, which have been up and running for years. I encourage all of you to click on their names here and check out their other posts, information, and news.

See you next time for a response to Chapter 3, Part 2. In the meantime… “Long live the Quintessence! Long live the Alchemists’ Council!” Or as the rebels say (in Book 2), “I am the Blood of the Dragon! I live as the Flaw in the Stone!”


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