When I joined the Peace Corps, I was allowed to bring two bags. I stuffed a Tarot deck in one, figuring learning it might keep me occupied. Little did I know I'd just fallen down a rabbit hole leading to alchemy, shamanism, hermeticism, neo-platonism, and Christian allegory.
The more I dug into the esoteric roots of the cards, the more fascinated -- and confused -- I became. I'd had no idea there were so many branches to the western esoteric tree.
So when I started writing the Riga Hayworth series, the idea of my heroine treading the same path felt very natural. In each of her books, she explores a different branch of magic.
It must have been my hairbrained optimism that led me to lead off with alchemy. It's one of the most confusing branches of magic.
Though alchemy reaches back to well before the Renaissance, it came into its own during that time period.
But the Renaissance alchemists were clearly conducting physical experiments, possibly projecting their subconscious onto the work. That said, there were also alchemists who never experimented in labs, viewing alchemy purely as a mystical practice.
Modern man may sneer at the alchemists’ early attempts to turn lead into gold, but the internal practice of alchemy is alive and well. Can we turn our spiritual lead into gold? Can we transform ourselves?
Depth psychologist Carl Jung spent the latter part of his life studying alchemy, relating the symbols in ancient alchemical texts to the images floating around our unconscious. Jung believed that alchemy was an entirely psychological process – no lab required.
The quest to purify our egos to make us worthy of our souls makes alchemy is more mysticism than magic. But if we transform ourselves, the world around us tends to change as well – we see things differently, and once our behavior alters, those around us react to us differently. Is that magic?
In the new edition of The Alchemical Detective, Riga explores the theme of a classic alchemical riddle:
“The key to life and death is everywhere to be found, but if you do not find it in your own house, you will find it nowhere. Yet, it is before everyone's eyes; no one can live without it; everyone has used it. The poor usually possess more of it than the rich; children play with it in the streets.
The meek and uneducated esteem it highly, but the privileged and learned often throw it away.
When rejected, it lies dormant in the bowels of the earth. It is the only thing from which the Philosopher’s Stone can be prepared, and without it, no noble metal can ever be created.”
What do you think the answer is?