Tag Archives: Spiritual alchemy

The Golden Art

Original artwork by Lorem Ipsum 2014

Original artwork by Lorem Ipsum 2014

I can’t exactly confess to having been afflicted with writer’s block this past year. For instead it’s truer to say I had totally given up on being a writer altogether.

Ironically, however, the circumstances leading to my complete abandonment of my craft, I believe, make for an interesting enough story, on reflection.

After having seen my debut novel sink beneath the waves of global public indifference, it was suggested to me I seek guidance in the form of mentoring from an already established writer.

And as an example of the adage “careful what you wish for”, through a series of seemingly synchronistic events, I soon managed to make contact with one of this country’s more celebrated and awarded writers.

What thrilled me most of all was the fact that this writer in question also claims to have been largely inspired to write by the very same 17th century alchemist I myself have been. Too mind-blowingly cool!

Anyway, now the story gets a little bit more complicated. Because my first real contact with this writer is actually with his wife. An amazing experience in itself. For, literally two or three days earlier, I had quite by chance read the book of poems written for her by her future husband to be, with which he had first wooed her. And now here was this great writer’s muse standing before me — in the hallowed recesses of his writing studio no less — sharing intimate details of the intervening 40 years of their married lives together.

“I think he really is happy at last,” she confessed to me, “now that he has decided to stop writing.”

It was the usual story. There’s no money in it anymore, the dumbing down of the reading public, the all-pervasive curse of political correctness. This is a man after all that can recite whole cantos of classical poems in their original Latin, from memory. I mean, I feel stupid even thinking of myself as a writer worthy of the name in comparison.

So I listen to how this great luminary has finally decided to call it quits and feel all conviction drain from my body. Still, I leave my details with his wife and arrange for a time when it would be convenient for me to make contact with the man I wished to be my writing mentor.

Soon afterwards, I do in fact next have a telephone conversation with the man himself. Although the problem is that I can’t seem to clarify whether he thinks he is going to mentor me as an apprentice alchemist or as a failed novelist. Argggh, it’s all so hopeless! I don’t know what the hell’s going on.

“Look, it’s very hard to talk about these things abstractly,” he says, “but I’ve got a book of essays coming out next month that explains everything. Give me your address and I’ll send you a copy. Read that, and then we can start from there.”

Fine. I’m totally confused. Not least because his wife has just told me he has quit writing, and yet now I’m informed he apparently has a new collection of essays coming out. Also, I don’t know if I’m ready to start an apprenticeship as a real-life alchemist any time soon.

A month passes. Nothing. No book of essays comes my way. Just as I suspected. The whole thing was an elaborate lie to brush me off. Okay, so this writer is no JD Salinger when it comes to reclusive writer types, but he’s not exactly the kind to hold literary soirées either. All right fine. I give up, I think to myself. Being a writer simply isn’t worth it. What’s more, I’ve made a complete golden ass of myself with this whole mentoring debacle already.

Two months pass. Three, four, five. Still nada. I turn my attention to honing my guitar playing skills, swearing to never write another stinking word. Alchemy is for the birds. What delusional world had I been living in? Synchronicity? Oh, brother!

Seven, eight, nine months go by. I haven’t written a single poem, stanza or word. But my guitar playing is off the chart. Woo-hoo, couldn’t be happier.

Ten, eleven, twelve months have now past, when I pull up in the driveway and see an envelope sticking out of the letterbox. I grab the oversized piece of post and open it distractedly in the front seat of the car.

Oh, shit. It’s the book of essays, but I can’t remember their significance. I’m finally happy being just another second-rate guitarist rocking the suburbs. Man, I’ve given up. Like really given up. What the fuck. I feel like someone has just dragged the needle back across the record of my life, and that the back-masked message I’m now hearing threatens to implode the very reality of my new simple, dumbed-down choice of existence.

“Read that, and then we can start from there,” my would-be mentor had told me almost exactly a year ago.

Start what? I can’t remember what it was I wanted so badly. Let me go back to my Wild Turkey and amplified heat haze. Fuck this, I was happy. I was happy for having quit.

I crack open the cover of the book, searching for answers. But it only gets worse. My mentor has handwritten notes to me in the margins of his own book. His tone is jovial and self-deprecating; his handwriting impeccably informal.

Don’t make me go back to being my old self, I beg the Fates. It’s too hard to contemplate. I’m a fraud. A master alchemist will see right through me. I’ve forgotten how to turn words into a golden phrase. I have fallen out of love with all language and it with me.

But still I hold this invitation in my hands.

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I Can Change Everything About Who I Am, Except Who I Am

Those of you who, like myself, possess a mercurial nature will know how stultifying it can be having to conform to other people’s expectations of who we should be from one day to the next.

While not burdened with quite the affliction or curse, say, that lycanthropy represents for its sufferers, those born with a mercurial bent are nonetheless unpredictable shape-shifters, prone to inexplicable changes of temperament and outlook as the mood takes them.

Within the context of Spiritual Alchemy, mercury or quicksilver is an essential ingredient in bringing completion to the Great Work. Being at once both fluid and a metal, mercury exists between worlds. It is made of the dense physical stuff of the terrestrial plane, but it is also “alive” or filled with Spirit (the quick in quicksilver, here, then, meaning alive, like as in the saying the quick and the dead).

Alchemists believed it was the marriage (or conjunction) ultimately of the terrestrial and celestial planes that led to the discovery of the philosopher’s stone or lapis philosophorum, to use its fancy Latin name.

And I feel we mercurial beings who have our heads in the clouds while are hearts are mired in the crazy machinations of the human world are simply alchemical works in progress. It makes us volatile creatures; we fizz and spit, and our heads fill with steam should someone try to put a stopper in who we are.

Don’t feel offended by us, though, if you are not of a mercurial mould yourself. We are slippery customers us mercurial folk, and we can be as changeable as the Spring weather.

As is the often the case, I believe there are some lyrics to a particular song that sum up what I am trying to say best:

I can change
I can change, I can change
But I’m here in my mold
I am here in my mold
And I’m a million different people
from one day to the next
I can’t change my mold
No, no, no, no, no
I can’t change
I can’t change…

“Bittersweet Symphony” – The Verve

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Let’s Be Frank for a Minute, Shall We? — Giving Eyebrows to What We Write

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa (Photo credit: Lord_Henry)

As writers, it’s our job (within whatever else we might personally be trying to achieve) to give readers the impression that what we write has never been put into words before.

This is, of course, something that has become increasingly difficult due to the vast collective output of the writers of ages past and present that already anticipates the subjects and themes of our own literary efforts.

Which is perhaps why it only makes sense that I should have found what I believe to be a solution to this problem, by looking beyond the world of letters and writing to other disciplines for help.

The solution, then? What is it? you ask.

Well, it is this: Give your written work eyebrows.

Let me explain. Frank Zappa had lots to say about lots of things. Don’t eat yellow snow, being just one of those things. But, also, according to his son Dweezil, Frank also said he never felt like he had finished working on a song until it had eyebrows. Which was really just his short-hand way of saying, “is this particular song going to raise any eyebrows?”

Now, we tend to think of things raising eyebrows when they are slightly scandalous. But if you have a go at lifting your own eyebrows as you read this, you’ll realize it’s also something you do when you’re surprised or intrigued by something new. Am I right?

Anyway, poets can produce this effect in their poems by putting together words or concepts (and images etc) that don’t normally fit together. Sylvia Plath’s poem Cut, is such an example:

What a thrill—
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge.

The concept of feeling a thrill doesn’t ordinarily sit comfortably with the idea of cutting off the top of one’s thumb. “Ouch, what the f&*#!” seems like a much more normal response. But then normally-speaking, “normal” doesn’t always cut it where making great art is concerned.

For writers of prose the task becomes more difficult, again, however. By its very nature, prose easily lends itself to becoming prosaic, or even worse pedestrian. And soon any likelihood of anybody’s eyebrows being raised becomes increasingly remote. Whereas a poet is allowed to jumble their syntax and mess with accepted word combinations and meanings, prose writers are obliged to stick to more socially-accepted parameters of what’s allowed within their writing.

The danger we writers of novels and longer forms of literature face, therefore, is a tendency to resort to overly-elaborate plot gymnastics, so as to keep our readers on the edge of their seats. I’m referring to the kind of books where the hero finishes wrestling a crocodile straight before being sent back in time to incubate the egg from which the crocodile he has just wrestled first hatches — and all this on the first page!

So how, then, should we non-“poetic-licence”-bearing writer-types go about raising our fair share of eyebrows?

Paradoxically, in my own case, it has been by appealing to the past that, I believe, I have found something new to say as a writer.

As I have already mentioned in previous posts, I describe myself as being a spiritual alchemist. And it is through the application of the principles of spiritual alchemy that I constantly seek to present my readers with something they have never read before. In a sense, I believe, it is therefore true to say I regard my own work as being visionary.

Whoa, I hear you cry. That’s a big call!

Regardless. I generate my work using lucid dreaming practices, re-birthing experiences, active imagination techniques and other visionary states. Because of this, whether you like what I produce or not, what I write can only be described as visionary fiction. In fact, I demand nothing less of my writing — that it be visionary — and neither should you of your own. However, it might help if I explain what I mean by visionary a bit further.

For a start, there are technical visionaries or innovators within all art forms. People like Frank Zappa within the world of rock music, for instance. Or Pablo Picasso, within painting, for another. These are the people who push the boundaries of the art form itself into new territories, seemingly just for the sake of doing so sometimes.

Whereas the kind of visionaries I’m talking about now (not that the two kinds are mutually exclusive) are those people who seek to enrich other people’s lives by delivering fresh meaning to them. Again, this is a very big call, sure. But for me there is no other purpose for art. Simply put, if you can’t supply this kind of fresh meaning then don’t bother at all. You’re just clogging the airwaves.

For me personally, my own inspiration (in respect to this idea of freshness) comes directly from the often surreal and otherworldly pictures that adorn many of the great alchemical texts of the Renaissance. Because while some of these illustrations and woodcuts are now well over 500 years old, I would argue they still exert an incredible hold over the imagination to this day. Without fail, each time I see one of these images, I can’t help but look at them with fresh eyes! They are as challenging, soul-stirring and “eyebrow-raising” as when they were first produced.

So the challenge I present to you is to create written works that will survive down through the ages, make them imperishable and like they’ve just been freshly-minted, forever. Or put in other words, mould them after the fashion of the fabled phoenix the alchemists were so enamoured with. For if you should succeed, the following lines from the Emerald Tablet reveal what rewards await you:

Thus you will have the Glory of the whole world.
Therefore will all obscurity flee from you.

aurora consurgens

Aurora consurgens (illustration) — a medieval alchemical treatise, in the past sometimes attributed to Thomas Aquinas, now to a writer called the “Pseudo-Aquinas”.


“Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood!” — Spiritual Alchemy and the Creative Process

Citrinitas — The 3rd Stage of Spiritual Alchemy (original artwork by Lorem Ipsum)

In an earlier post I gave a description of what I (along with many others) term spiritual alchemy — see here for that previous article.

Anyway, today what I wanted to focus on was how my own personal approach to spiritual alchemy informs and helps shape what I create as an artist.

For this purpose, I will be talking today in this context, in particular, about the novel I have written called Missing Zero. The subtitle of which reads thus, “an alchemical account of one man’s dissent from madness”.

A work of satire primarily, the novel incorporates many of the techniques of spiritual alchemy within its pages. And I will set about now trying to throw some light on what exactly some of those are, as well as what they entail.

First off, the most prevalent technique I use is one that is most widely known as dialoguing. My experience with this idea comes from what Jung called “active imagination” exercises. The basic gist is that you take a dream figure or absent party and you talk with them. The only twist is that you also supply the other person’s responses, by imagining what they would say if they were actually physically present.

So, you see, as an adjunct to the creative process of writing itself, I then took this technique of dialoguing to the next level and started having conversations with my novel, just as if it were another person in real life. In my imagination, therefore, I would picture myself, sitting on a beach talking to my book, only my book had the form of a woman, and I would ask it questions.

“But why on Earth would you do that?” I hear you asking incredulously. “Are you crazy?”

Well, crazy is as crazy does. Although what I really mean to say is that within a discipline like spiritual alchemy the division between sane and crazy often becomes quite fuzzy. But there is nearly always a benefit to be had from blurring the line in this fashion, believe me.

Let me explain further. The exact reason why I wished to talk to my novel was so I could ask for its help whenever I came to an impasse in the writing of it. For instance, by way of my asking the novel (it obviously still being in the form of a woman) what it wanted to be or why I couldn’t finish a certain section of the story, I was able to get unexpected insights into whatever it was I was currently struggling with.

Of course, the key to this process rests entirely in any given person’s ability to suspend his or her disbelief. And, I suppose, it’s equally obvious to say, like anything, it gets easier the more you do it. But most importantly of all, does it actually work?

Well, yes, in my case, I would have to say it worked for me. Not because I now have an option with Hollywood for a three-film deal against the novel’s book rights. But rather instead because I got through the process of writing my debut novel relatively in one piece.

Take a quick tour of other people’s blogs and one of the first things you’ll see is how many of them have bucket lists. And so, then, let me tell you, I’m not really all that different to anybody else. I’ve got my own version of one of these lists. Moreover, guess what, writing a novel pretty much headed my list.

For some people it’s bungee jumping, while for others it’s climbing to the base camp at Everest. But we spiritual alchemists are mountaineers of the soul, and so therefore my bucket list was always going to be about internal challenges and triumphs.

Whatever. Ultimately what all of this means is that I am am now free to move onto the next entry on my list, namely “securing an option with Hollywood for a three-film deal against the novel’s book rights”…hey, you’ve got to remember alchemy has always been about turning stuff into gold, right? So why not a little Oscar gold, awarded for Best Adapted Screenplay created from an original story, as well?

So, anyway, check this out, soon after I finished writing my novel I dreamt that Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi played two key roles in the dream version of just such a film of my book. It was a brilliant piece of casting, and one that I would never have been able to come up with on my own.

Portia played the role of Dualia, a much-maligned and misunderstood hermaphrodite, whereas Ellen played the role of Dr Marie Louise von Auerbach, her “attention-shy but brilliant” superior within the ranks of a clandestine sisterhood of political anarchists. The “urst” between them was palpable.

I know, I know, you don’t care about that, because what you’re still really itching to find out (from earlier on) is what my novel said she wanted to be when I asked her that very question. Ok, I’ll tell you. In essence, then, just like everybody else, she said she felt a need to make a connection with other people. And the exact words she spoke to express this feeling were these…”I want to be understood”.

This is an image of the Ellen Degeneres and Po...

This is an image of the Ellen Degeneres and Portia DeRossi wedding cake topper sculpture by Michael Leavitt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)