Achieving immortality has been an enduring goal for legion upon legion of humans over the centuries. Tomes have been written hinting at the existence of wondrous elixirs and arcane rituals giving/offering the chance of eternal life and youth. To what end we may speculate, perhaps to abate our fear of dying, perhaps to prolong our contemplation of matters philosophical and metaphysical. Ultimately the real reason may only be known to the individual engaged in such a pursuit. Immortality is a fable retold century after century, our passion for it undiminished, our longing unquenched. We are born, live and die, a simplistic viewpoint of our existence on this material plane. Yet, there is so much that lies before us. At what point do we lose our sense of wonder about the Universe and our place in it? Continue reading
This story was revealed to me by an associate who chooses to remain anonymous, mostly due to embarrassment. She’s part of an exclusive community of characters residing in the Shed, a Tardis like building I’m fortunate to own. Our facilities are simple but homely. The house rules are a little strict due to an incident a while ago, involving two drunken dogs and several traffic cones. I can’t reveal who the perpetrators were (Cerberus and Anubis if you wanted to make a note). The POV is confusing, details are patchy and I started to get a nervous twitch halfway through. This tale is long and convoluted and for now has to be mercifully short:
“The Apothecary’s art is subtle and filled with mystery. See their phials of jewelled tinctures, resplendent on handcrafted drawers and cedar perfumed shelves. Beautiful in nature, yet edged with terrible power, nascent, silent. Nature provides but advises caution, She yields her secrets only to those with the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the heart to feel. For things not of just one world but many. Hers is the skill of artificer and alchemist”.
‘Ms A’ stopped typing and sat back. It’ll do, the local ‘newspaper’, as the rag liked to call itself wanted a short bio from her. She didn’t trust any of their muckrakers not to twist the facts, no insult meant, they did indeed clean the Squire’s stables.
This odd little community was unaware of her previous profession. The imbecile of a town council would choke on their sherries if it was ever revealed. Most of them had appeared on her ‘list’ and were still considered candidates. She opened the desk drawer and took out a document. The wax seal had been broken long ago, it was fingered nostalgically. What heady days they were, socialising with the cream of the profession. Their AGMs were riotous affairs (behind closed doors) and held in the most intriguing locations the organisers could find. The Guild of Dishevelled Assassins had a lineage going back to the early 8th century BCE. Their history was documented meticulously, it had to be as the auditors were quite particular. Fortunately or unfortunately they uncovered discrepancies in several documents, the issue appeared to start in the Dark Ages. One of their number had been falsifying ‘hits’ and transferring Guild funds into an unnumbered account in Mongolia. Not exactly one’s idea of a tax haven. Regardless, it was a dirty business, tainting the good name of the Guild and its Members. Luckily the tabloids hadn’t got wind of this affair.
The memories were rushing back like a bout of food poisoning. Poison, a subject close to her heart. Nature provided a huge assortment of raw materials with which to produce her elixirs. The mother tinctures were seven in number and guarded carefully, they had to be being extremely toxic substances. One even managed to eat through carbon fibre. What a result! Anyway, an undercover assignment ensued. It lasted about 600 years and the resulting admin paperwork was horrendous. For others perhaps, for her it was a dream. Everything was categorised and filed in alphabetical folders, which were backed up of course on an external hard drive and memory sticks. The files were cross-referenced as well. Sounds a little anally retentive? Not at all. The information was stored off-site in several locations. Security was of the utmost importance.
The trail lead to a cemetery in North London. One of their operatives, a necromancer, had their office/home in a perfectly presented mausoleum within the cemetery. They’d been tracking the rogue assassin for several years, finally locating them to an exclusive area of this part of London. Highgate was too obvious a place for this individual to escape to. Something was amiss, one of their number wouldn’t behave in such a slapdash manner. Their greed was resulting in mistakes and dulling their senses. (at this stage I was screaming inwardly wanting her to move on). He was followed to a local coffee shop, where he proceeded to drink coffee, a lot of coffee. It was evident that he was addicted to caffeine. The shots of espresso only aggravated his latent psychosis. If he carried on it would put everyone in danger. They managed to sedate him and get him into a sorry looking Robin Reliant which was parked round the corner. A hearse passed them slowly, the driver looked rather familiar. It was the necromancer’s associate who worked part-time in the funeral profession.
Everything was going as planned. They reached Highgate Woods and parked the cars in an underground carpark, one no one was aware of apparently. It had been excavated by their Roman colleagues as a garage for their chariots and to stable the horses. My friend and her companions soon got to ‘work’ on their quarry. The session didn’t last long, a hefty dose of atrocious 80’s music and bad poetry had him sobbing and pleading for them to stop the torture. It unravelled bit by bit. He was only small fry, the real culprits were higher up the echelon. This was unwelcome news, the Guild had suspected something like this but hoped it wasn’t true. The rogue operative pleaded for clemency in return for further information. He was put in the witness relocation programme and ended up managing a seedy nightclub in a less salubrious district of Tartarus. Apt punishment one would say.
(The White Rabbit fell asleep at this stage, at least I think he did. It looked as if he’d lost consciousness. Whatever, he looked unwell. I think my sanity was just about hanging on).
I dreamed of you last night Firebird, vision glimpsed in forests of cedar and myrrh. Flame garbed oracle, portend of endings and regeneration. My memories urged ‘sing the songs of living and yearning. Let Hope bathe the place of sacrifice and resurrection’. To what purpose the inner voice questioned. No answer came.
My song was thus sung, offered in temple of sky and earth. None other spoke, none other saw, save you. You called forth from a place I have been and shall go again. It exists in the place of Coming into Being. Three times you have called and three more times shall it be, three more to end.
What will you have me do? Mine eyes cannot see what the spirit will not allow. There is always a price to pay by the unwary and unready. Deep does your cry take the soul, beyond mere night and eternal silence. Beyond sight and knowing. Beyond grief and joy.
Hush, hush you whisper. Awake, awake you urge. The blood races, heart hesitates and tongue refuses. I scratch in earth, to prepare whose grave? You answer ‘grave or treasure, it is all the same. It is your destiny’.
Your eyes of memory and imagination watch.What appears is not, until I realize it, call it into being. The dirt beneath my feet undulates, breathes. The dragon moves, prepares. We both embrace this dance of possible desolation. The tongue yields and lulls the beast within, soothes and cajoles. It gazes, looks to my very depths and embraces yet again.
I dreamed of you last night Firebird, vision glimpsed in forests of cedar and myrrh. Flame garbed oracle, portend of endings and regeneration. My song was sung, my soul was freed, my answer given.
Time has moved on since the Alchemist and his infant daughter encountered the great angel Gabriel. The world has since fluctuated between tyranny and fear, settling down into a semblance of stability now. Their journey has brought them to a place that has seen the rise and fall of great empires. Knowledge and insight are to be found in many places, not all illuminated by light though. The lonely path is often strewn by jagged rocks and beset by hungry beasts, of the inner and outer. The path laid out for the child was always going to be challenging, for that is how she was to gain knowledge of the human condition. Both parent and divine being pour all care and attention into fanning the holy flame within the young woman. The omniscience is tempered by total innocence, for she is the Fool going forth into the world of matter. Her eyes mirror the totality of existence, worlds upon worlds emerging out of the great Cosmic Fire of creation. From out of Darkness and Silence do Light and Speech emerge. She knows ending and beginning and as her humanness evolves, an ocean of emotions tinged with sorrow and joy. ‘Is this wrong?’ she asks and they cannot answer. Her task is pierce the perception of what is real and unreal. Continue reading
My story of an Alchemist and his daughter was first aired in Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt Flames #writephoto, it was entitled Ignis. The short tale can be read on many levels, with alchemy at its heart. The simplest definition I can find so far of this venerable art comes from Cherry Gilchrist’s book “Alchemy: The Great Work”, obviously this is only one source. Adam McLean’s website at http://www.alchemywebsite.com is a thorough and comprehensive library on the subject, worth a look. Now for the definition from Gilchrist:
“Alchemy is the art of transformation. The work of the alchemist is to bring about succeeding changes in the material he operates on, transforming it from a gross, unrefined state to a perfect and purified form.”
There are several dimensions to the alchemist’s work, physical, psychological and spiritual. The physical involves the transmutation of base materials via various chemical operations into gold. On the psychological and spiritual levels this would involve a process by which the self engages in a quest to perfect it’s nature. Alchemical texts can be often shrouded in symbolism, mythology and allegory. This allows the texts to be interpreted on many levels. Although it doesn’t mean that the material is either easy to decipher or understand until further research and work is undertaken by the seeker. This can take a whole lifetime! Of course it’s always best to read the original alchemical tracts if you can. Production of a substance called The Philosopher’s Stone (variously called the Elixir or Tincture) is the aim of the alchemist’s work. It’s thought to contain the power of transformation on both material and spiritual levels. A key to knowledge and only to be used wisely and responsibly. A noble undertaking, although as human history has illustrated again and again, ‘wise’ and ‘responsible’ don’t always feature strongly on the agenda.
Apologies to any alchemists out there, this is a rather simplistic viewpoint but sufficient for this exercise I believe. What this exercise is, is an ongoing contemplation of my place in the Universe. Many, many years ago I met a man in a qi gong class in London who confirmed what I’d been feeling for years. He commented that once someone had begun a journey to seek answers they would be changed forever. It would be a lonely path and their loved ones would not either recognise who they’d become or accept the new person. The world can never be viewed in the same way again.
What of the main players in this story? Time has moved on and we find the father and daughter in a different place. Father may be an Alchemist primarily but he is also many other things as is his daughter:
The child stares at her reflection with great curiosity. Same eyes, same nose, same lips. The mirror remains silent, waiting. Her father watches with intense interest. Such curiosity and thirst for knowledge in one so young! Children like her are quite rare, for she is the attainment of the Great Work. The human spirit contains within it a seed of the eternal Sun. The man’s eyes reflect his temporary withdrawal from this world. How many lifetimes has it taken in the quest for knowledge and perfection? He would willingly live yet many more lifetimes to see and experience all that has gone before. Once the mysteries of the world have been glimpsed one cannot return to the old life and self. The world is not what we perceive it to be; its atoms being self-aware shift and remould themselves into, what they desire to be. They also reflect what we desire and choose to see. Much like the mirror the child is looking into.
He is brought back to the present by the gentle touch of the child’s hand and looks down at her with much warmth and love. She sits on the ground and beams a brilliant smile at him. Her young eyes are like two deep pools, bottomless and wise beyond her years. She contains the sum of all knowledge and experience in the Universe. There is no sadness within her. She knows of what lies beyond the human experience, for it has been transcended. That is not to say she has not experienced grief and loss, anger and pain. They have informed the eternal and immortal being within, tempered their distance with compassion and understanding.
The infant hands the adult a picture she’s drawn. Her father scrutinises it carefully. Adam Kadmon (“primordial man”), a divine blueprint. She looks at her father and waves a chubby little hand, he laughs in response at the numerous drawings spread out on the floor of the living room. She has been busy. A pillar of light materialises in the western corner of the room. It shimmers like a ray of moonlight, white interspersed with silver. They hear the sound of bells, delicate sounds swimming in a sea of light. Then the figure of a woman appears in its stead, youthful in appearance but emanating great wisdom and power. She looks directly at the infant. The child gives her father a knowing look. It now begins.
Here ends my discourse.
Sue’s writing challenge this week gave me a good kick up the bottom, in the nicest sense I have to say! The creative fires needed stoking, they craved an injection of oxygen. My enthusiasm for writing had been waning for a while, it happens now and again and nothing to worry about. As for the subject matter for this challenge, Ignis, it’s Latin for Fire. Elemental Fire was considered by Alchemists to be an element that was active in nature. It’s masculine, energetic, spontaneous and uniting in quality. It was considered to have a place at the centre of things and be a force of transmutation. Fire was seen to be the seed force of the Universe and had two purposes:
- Being an expression of spiritual energy
- Being a symbol of regeneration and transformation due to its ability to purify, destroy and burn. Due to such actions does the new emerge from the ashes of the old.
To pass through fire is to transcend the human condition. I speak of things symbolic of course. That most mysterious of animals, the Phoenix, must be mentioned at this stage. It’s a bird of rebirth and symbol of alchemical resurrection and has a part to play in my story and possibly my life.
The action takes place in an Alchemist’s laboratory. There are three participants in this drama, an Alchemist, his daughter and a Phoenix:
The Alchemist stoked the fire slowly and carefully. His face was pensive and tinged with a little sadness. This was the culmination of centuries of work, often filled with disappointment and danger. The charlatans had transformed these ancient mysteries and made them an object of derision and suspicion in these troubled times. Now only greed prevailed. He had the skill to transform base metal into gold but chose to use it sparingly. His real goal was the transmutation of gross matter into spiritual gold, a pursuit he and his ancestors had made the centre of their existence. A woman watched from the other side of the fire, it was his daughter. She was the heir and recipient of every drop of love his soul and heart were capable of producing.
They both stared deeply into the flames as if searching for a sign. Their blood quickened through the veins, its scarlet radiance shimmering with tiny sparks of golden light. Soon, soon would the moment be right. There it was. Both figures stood erect. The significance of this moment would be engraved upon their hearts forever. A tear slid down the Alchemist’s cheek. For all his life experience and wisdom he was still subject to emotions assailing the human condition. His daughter hugged him tightly; overcome by emotion she was unable to utter a word.
The Alchemist’s laboratory faded into nothingness and silence enclosed the two figures instead of walls. An extensive plain opened up before them, with mountains forming a crescent around the plains. Behind them rose a great fire and high above it shone a glorious Sun.
In silence did they make this parting and then the Alchemist’s daughter walked towards the fire. Her robe reflected the light of the Sun, each feather glinting with gold dust. Flames engulfed the human figure, an unearthly light blazing forth during this transformation, in her place stood a Phoenix. The bird’s cries rang across the Universe. The Alchemist’s eyes blazed with wonder and happiness. The Great Work would continue. Few had witnessed this transformation.
The ferocity of the flames died down leaving a mound of ashes in their place. He approached, keen eyes spotting the glint of an eggshell. Many days and nights did he spend guarding that egg. Then, on the ninth sunrise the egg began to move and the infant within increasing its efforts to break through the shell. He willed the infant to persevere. Soon a hatchling emerged, a baby Phoenix. She stared up at the human and flapped her tiny wings excitedly. The Alchemist bent down and gently lifted the hatchling to his breast. She listened to his heartbeat and after a while entered the realm of dreams.