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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Seeking Dimension Dogs…

If you have a copy of The Alchemists’ Council or Flaw in the Stone, I’d love to add your #DimensionDog, #CouncilCat, or #PortalPic to the blog or gallery at NEWS FROM COUNCIL DIMENSION. Here are a few recent contributions:

Our latest #DimensionDog…

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INDY (SUBMITTED BY JESSICA)

Our latest #CouncilCat…

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OLIVER (SUBMITTED BY TAMY)

Our latest #PortalPic…

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JAMAICA (SUBMITTED BY ROD)

These recent pics all feature the ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of Flaw in the Stone, but the actual book is about to hit the bookstore shelves! So, if you have a photo to share, please use the blog CONTACT option, and I’ll send you an email address for submissions. As mentioned in a previous post, pics of Flaw near fire would be especially welcomed!

THANKS!


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#PortalPics from the Final Days of 2017

Pendant Sized Flaw CloseUpThough I have remained in Nanaimo over the holidays working, among other things, on The Amber Garden (yes, Book Three is underway), the ARC of Book Two continues its 2017 travels through dimensional portals.

Here, for example, we find The Flaw in the Stone at the headwaters of the Amazon–that’s headwaters not headquarters, of the river not the bookstore! Thank you, Tamy, for this glorious pic from Peru! (I have since been informed that a Rebel Branch stronghold is located within a few miles of this scenic locale.)

Peru with ARC (from Tamy)

Shortly thereafter, two #PortalPics from Jamaica arrived in my inbox thanks to “Reader Rodney”! Jamaica with ARC (from Rod) 2

Jamaica with ARC from Rod 1

Based on both the Peruvian and Jamaican photo evidence, I hypothesize that The Flaw is being drawn toward water. Though this attraction makes sense elementally, caution must prevail. In order to balance the alchemical elements in 2018, I therefore solicit pictures of The Flaw within reasonable proximity of fire. Otherwise, as Sadira well knows, dimensional chaos may ensue. (See Chapter Three of The Flaw for details.)

To compensate until the arrival of 2018 #PortalPics, we will assume that Fen (our latest #DimensionDog) is lounging beside a nearby elemental hot spot.

Fen From Chelsea 2017

Have a Happy New Year, one and all! (“One and all”–get it? If not, read the books!)


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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!

FromTamy2017

FromChelsea2017

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

FromFrances2017

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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Happy New Year Alchemists & Rebels!

Welcome to 2017! On New Year’s Day, a friend sent me these two photos taken at the Crowfoot Chapters in Calgary, Alberta:

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Observing that The Alchemists’ Council continues to be spotted in the wild in the same general habitat as Martin’s Game of Thrones, I have been inspired to update readers on events of the past few months.

In August I participated in Nanaimo’s first GeekCon! Held at the downtown branch of the public library, the event drew numerous participants for its games and cosplay, alongside a small but enthusiastic audience for my reading. Thank you to Janis (not pictured) for dropping by to assist me with book sales. And thank you to audience members Meg, Eric, Brandon, Nalia, and Lee for your active participation! Reconnecting with Lee was particularly welcomed since he is a former student of mine from many years ago.

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In September, as a contributor to Vancouver Island University’s Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series, I spoke about the influence of my academic research and writing on my creative writing.

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Comprising detailed commentary and over 80 slides, this hour-long presentation was one of the most difficult I’ve had to prepare yet one of the most fulfilling I’ve had the pleasure to present. Specific topics included The Philosopher’s Stone, The Emerald Tablet, The Alembic, The Alchemical Tree, The Alchemical Hermaphrodite, and Conjunction. The event’s question period yielded numerous insightful inquiries from engaged audience members. Thank you to all who attended, including VIU President, Dr. Ralph Nilson.

For now I can offer only one photo taken by colleague and audience member Melissa Stephens. Note, however, that the A&H Colloquium Series is filmed, so I will be able to add a link when it’s available. [UPDATE: The video is now available at the bottom of the HOME/BLOG page. My presentation begins after approximately 14 minutes of introductory remarks by other people associated with VIU.]

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September 30, 2016, Malaspina Theatre (VIU, Nanaimo) / Photo Credit: Melissa Stephens

In October I submitted the first draft of the manuscript of Book 2 (The Flaw in the Stone) to ECW Press. Both my publisher (David Caron) and my editor (Jennifer Hale) have now read the manuscript and provided initial feedback–all positive so far. Editing will begin soon!

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CLICK IMAGE FOR SOURCE

Fall 2016 brought one other exciting turn of events: The Alchemists’ Council trilogy has been optioned for television. Though I won’t be providing details of this development until we move further along in the process, I will say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my communications with the CEO of the company in question. The first time we spoke on the phone, the conversation lasted almost two hours. Since then, we have exchanged various emails exploring the philosophy, worlds, and characters of the books. Stay tuned for updates throughout 2017.

As I discovered during the Fall 2016 semester, my day/night/weekend workload kept me from adding regular updates to News from Council Dimension. Since the fast-approaching Spring 2017 semester may yield similar results, this new post for the New Year became a priority today. Though I may not be able to post at length again until the semester’s end in May, I hope you will enjoy exploring past posts and links in the meantime.

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