Was Alchemy "Real"?
And what about witchcraft? (+ link for tonight's reading group)
IMPORTANT: FULL MOON RITUAL DATE CHANGE. Some of you may have noticed a typo in the monthly witch guide that said the Full Moon ceremony was on Tuesday the 29th. In fact it’s on Wednesday the 30th, as has been posted in the last month of emails. Sorry for any confusion. An updated version of the Witch Guide is available in the subscribers section below.
According to Morris Berman, in the ancient Greek text THE ILIAD, the word psyche should be translated as “blood.” One hundred years later, in THE ODYSSEY, psyche meant “soul.”
How would it change our perspective of the world if instead of being an immaterial ghost that departs for heaven when we die, our soul was something as salty and earthy and embodied as blood?
In this week’s reading group essay (meeting tonight at 6pm), author Morris Berman discusses the medieval alchemists, and how the end of alchemy sounded the death knell of the animist world view in Europe.
For the alchemists, and the animists before them, the world was permeated with meaning. All materials were numinous and alive.
The poetic understanding of the world WAS the world.
Copper was restless until it became gold.
Sulphur – the green lion – could create new forms.
We could not know the alchemical process of making gold until we understood the personality of gold. And to know gold personally was to transform ourselves, just as to get to know any person changes us as well.
In other words, we lived in a state of eroticism.
During the Enlightenment, the Church, philosophers (such as Descartes), and scientists collaborated to ensure that meaning was exorcised from the material world.
It wasn’t that the alchemists were wrong in believing that matter was inspirited. It was that believing that matter and spirit were indivisible got in the way of mercantile capitalism.
After the Enlightenment, only the measurable was real.
Facts were divorced from value. Mountains (facts) were no longer sacred (value), but mere objects that could be ground up with no cost or consequence to the human soul, which was controlled only by God.
For humans, the separation of soul from matter left us isolated in a mechanical and lonely world, animated and controlled by outside forces – much like the colonial system came to dominate and control indigenous lands across the globe.
Now, only in the heightened states of ecstasy and terror can modern people experience an undivided world. Times when matter and mind are one.
This week during Reading Group, we will contemplate the rekindling of an erotic sense of reality through our magical practice.
We will explore how our rituals work to re-enchant the material world, and our lives.
Hope you can join us!
P.S. We have Reading Group every month. We read essays, rather than books, because that’s all most of us have time for. Next month we’ll be reading the essay, Uses of the Erotic by Audre Lorde.
P.P. S. If you’d like to join our reading group, listen to the Audio Recordings of this newsletter, attend the Full Moon Rituals, get monthly Witch Guide downloads, participate in live chats, and more - all for the price of a yoga class - become a paid subscriber.*
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Guiding Questions for Tonight’s Reading Group
If re-enchanting the world is indeed possible, what processes might we imagine could help us do so?
If it is true – as Berman says – that the material world may have behaved differently for the alchemists than it does for us today, and that the alchemists may have been describing a “real” process rather than a symbolic one, does that mean that ANYTHING people describe doing is real? For instance, if alchemists really DID turn lead into gold, then is transubstantiation (turning the holy wafer into Jesus’ flesh), or the New Age belief that you can change the “vibration” of water to heal cancer, also real?
For medieval alchemists the inner purity or virtue of the practitioner largely determined the success of their endeavors. How does this relate to witchcraft? Does our intention, conviction, or inner power determine the success of our craft, or do we see witchcraft on a more scientific basis (i.e. that if we do the steps correctly on a physical level, the spell should work) or maybe a symbolic one?
Note: Some of our Mystery Cult devotees are already chatting about this! Here’s a link to read what they’re saying.