Int’l Alchemy Conference: Why I Won’t Be There

We talk a lot about ‘literary alchemy’ here, the hermetic stream in the tradition of English ‘Greats’ from Chaucer and Shakespeare that Ms. Rowling draws on with special takes I think, from C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and Elizabeth Goudge’s Little White Horse. Alchemy is no small part of the Hogwarts story magic and the artistry with which Ms. Rowling uses traditional symbols as her scaffolding may be her single most important and certainly her least appreciated accomplishment as a writer.

Given my interest in the literary side of the alchemy story and the occult arts from which it draws its imagery and perhaps even its effect on readers, why won’t I be traveling this October to Los Angeles for the International Alchemy Conference? Good question.

The best reason is simply that I haven’t been invited — and I haven’t been invited because they already have Hans Andrea flying in from Holland to discuss the alchemical artistry of Harry Potter.

But Mr. Andrea’s being there is also my best reason for going. I’d love to meet him face-to-face after years of correspondence on this subject and I don’t doubt that he will say something profound and provocative.

I don’t think I’ll cross the country for a third time, though, this year. Looking over the roster of speakers, I didn’t see a single person listed, besides Mr. Andrea, of course, who will be talking about the alchemy of literature; it seems to be a gathering for psychologists and New Age scientists wanting to explore historical arts as present day realities.

As none of these Later Day Alchemists mention revealed orthodox spiritual traditions, a sacramental life, and prayer, I have to scratch my head and wonder that they think they can get the results the alchemists of old got without believing and practicing the things those alchemists, East and West, did. Their lack of interest in the one subject, literature, in which alchemy is very much alive and having the effect of profound transformation the alchemists pursued within their spiritual traditions, also, I think, speaks to their having missed the point of the ‘Great Work,’ however knowledgeable each practitioner no doubt is.

I don’t think this group would be interested, consequently, in my spin on things — and Hans Andrea will be there to introduce them to Rowling-Alchemy so I’m ‘off the hook,’ as they say!

Your thoughts?


  1. revgeorge says

    Perhaps at the least they’ll make a tape of Mr. Andrea’s presentation for purchase?

    A blessed upcoming Pascha to you & yours, John.

  2. Folks looking to hang their ‘beliefs’ on any convenient and apparently useful handle will glom onto anything. All they care to do is attempt to garner respectability. To actually have attained respectability by legitimately doing the practice before talking is asking too much, Professor.

    That and the fear of a real encounter with what alchemy is after. As Screwtape observed, “There is such a thing as getting more than you bargained for…..”.

  3. It would be nice to hear Hans Andrea. But I looked at the bios for the other speakers, and then at the ones from 2007 and 2008. About half were the same, so they seem to have a core group. It all looked a little too new-agey for me.

    (Sorry, I thought I’d posted this yesterday, but I must have been distracted by the phone or someone at the door.)

  4. Peter J. O'Leary says

    What follows is an excerpt of an email I sent to JG. I might add that I feel that any and all material alchemists are scurrilous mountebanks, and you were right for not attending.

    A little on alchemy. I must be careful, as this subject a contains a legion of personal demonic heresies. I was involved in a gnostic school; alchemical, kabbalistic, and nominally ‘christian’, for quite some time. I write as a matter of personal exorcism, possibly pre-confession, please forgive me.

    As you know, alchemy, the Kabbalah, gematria, astrology, and all manner of hermetic and occult arts can be seen as functional mappings of certain realities. The way I must view them is as a topologist more than a metaphysician. Any topologist, or metaphysician, for that matter, will tell you the map is not the territory. Pythagoras’s territory was sound, Newton’s was light and massive objects. Their hunger for hyper-ousia always left them wanting because their plate was contaminated with a gnostic ‘caustic’. At least they didn’t die of mercury poisoning, like many charlatan alchemists.

    I appropriately jumped disciplines with the term caustic, but please indulge, I’ll try not to get too geeky or abstruse.

    In mathematics (singularity study) and optics, a caustic is defined by a critical value generated by using a standard method of assigning measurements in Euclidean space (Lebesgue measure). It might be seen as an entropic or degenerating principle. Optically, you can observe a caustic in the separate concentric bands of a rainbow, or in the circle of confusion of a camera lens, no matter how perfectly ground.

    An acoustical caustic arises in the form of “wolf tones” when the musical scale is divided logarithmically, as Pythagoras did. The wolf tones become less apparent in well temperaments, but they’re always there. Arabic and Byzantine scales attempt to further purify the wolf tones out of the music.

    In dialectics, the caustic arises in the negation of the negation, the alchemical Ouroboros. Jung’s individuation produced a psychological caustic. Christian theology’s caustic is contained in Origen’s gnosis, the self-reflexive ousia. Culturally, the gnostic caustic can be seen as Dawkins’s selfish meme, replicating virally. As it relates to culture and philosophy, I call it the gnostic contagion.

    It seems that all energia is infected in some way with the gnostic contagion. It is the primeval source of all heresy.

    Where did it originate? I submit that it is the primeval original sin of pride borne of the will of the Evil one, replicated in the fall of Adam. It is a philosophy of singularity, and an error in individuation. Gregory Palamas warned that conflating ‘nature’ with the ‘things pertaining to nature’ causes a Christian to fall into heresy. Its tactics are to immanentize the eminent and it ends in abortion and destruction. It manifests in all manner of postmodern folly, from Oprah to Obama. I hope I didn’t offend any liberal sensibilities.

    Is there a Christian alchemical solution? Possibly. I would like to see it explored. I think it has to do with the salt and the light.

    The salt is the fixing agent between the alchemical cycles of insippation and condensation, between the volatilization and the sublimation. The charcoal burners used three main salts – nitre, soda, and potash. Each of these had corresponding qualities of volatilization, fixation, and sublimation respectively, but they were utilized as reagents, agents of becoming, not state.

    Alchemically, light was seen as the position of the planets, sun and moon. All alchemical work was done according to astrology. Have you explored this much?

    I submit that the salts represent the Church of Christ, the Orthodox Church. The light is that of the Holy Spirit. These may be the alchemical reagents between the Son of God, and the Son of man. Therefore this means that man is dead lead without the Church and the Holy Spirit, with no hope of transcendence by dint of his nous.

    I have questions regarding literary alchemy. I’m not all that settled on apologia for children. Polemics obviously isn’t an answer, either. On his deathbed, The elder Zossima (Dostoyevsky) appealed to his monks to simply read the Gospel to the children at least once a week; that they would understand it and love it. I tend to agree. The Gospel and music. My 2 year-old is very attentive to liturgical music and obviously enjoys it. The Harry Potter books have certainly been successful at smuggling past the dragons in most public school systems. For older kids, I suppose they’re great at getting past the more cunning psychic dragons and them to read more. I don’t know. By their fruits…

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