When I see stuff like this flyer, depending on my frame of mind, I either want to sign up immediately, pay my £35 and hope I make it before they run out of spaces, or I want to make fun of it mercilessly:
“Grounded research” that likely has been so synthesized it has lost its sense of self and is now, understandably, having an identity crisis. The tapestry of my “inner alchemy” is too “mystical” to be explored, thank you very much. You can take your Masters in Holistic Science and… yeah… and then I start to feel disgusted with myself because it’s all gluttonous self-indulgence. And disappointment. Scratch a cynic and find a disappointed idealist.
The thing is, really, we’re all trying so hard to make heads or tails of this weird existence called life, and there are so many strange and curious truths buried both in plain sight and deep within inexecrable bullshit. We still need to bridge the gap between secular and sacred and it’s going to take time and patience. And a good sense of humour.
So instead of being irritated or cynical, embarrassed or excited by the above, I’m going to look at it as baby steps toward a different way of thinking about the world.
It makes me wonder if, in several hundred years, we’ll look back on this sort of thing the way today’s more-informed readers look at Hildegard of Bingen’s description of how gemstones were made. The medieval world had a very incomplete and… unique… understanding of certain natural processes. So in 12th-century Germany, when she describes how gemstones were made, we now can look back on it with our 20/20 hindsight and say, well, she didn’t know, and it seemed correct enough at the time, and she WAS brilliant after all — have you heard her musical compositions?, etc. We find it easier to be more compassionate with her treatise and with other similarly naïve perspectives than we can be with our own modern-day fumblings.
What follows is an excerpt from her writings on Stones in her work, Physica:
Every stone contains fire and moisture. The devil abhors, detests, and disdains precious stones. This is because he remembers that their beauty was manifest on him before he fell from the glory God had given him, and because some precious stones are engendered from fire, in which he receives his punishment. By the will of God, the devil was vanquished by the fire into which he fell, just as he is vanquished by the fire of the Holy Spirit when humans are snatched from his jaws by the first breath of the Holy Spirit.
Precious stones and gems arise in the Orient, in areas where the sun’s heat is very great. From the hot sun, mountains there have heat as powerful as fire. The rivers in those areas always boil from the sun’s great heat. Whence at times an inundation of those rivers bursts forth and ascends those scorching mountains. The mountains, burning with the sun’s heat, are touched by those rivers. Froth, similar to that produced by hot iron or a hot stone when water is poured over it, exudes from the places where the water touches the fire. This froth adheres to that place and, in three or four days, hardens into stone.
Once the inundation has ceased and the waters have returned to the river bed, the pieces of froth dry up. They dry from the sun’s heat and take their colors and powers in accordance with the time of day and the temperature. Drying and hardening, they become precious stones and fall onto the sand, just like flaking fish scales. When they flood again the rivers lift up many of the stones, carrying them to other countries where they are later discovered by human beings. The mountains, where so many and such large stones have sprung up in this way, shine like the light of day.
And so, precious stones are born from fire and water; whence they have fire and moisture in them. They contain many powers and are effective for many needs. Many things can be done with them – but only good, honest actions, which are beneficial to human beings; not activities of seduction, fornication, adultery, enmity, homicide, and the like, which tend toward vice and which are injurious to people. The nature of these precious stones seeks honest and useful effects and rejects people’s depraved and evil uses, in the same way virtues cast off vices and vices are unable to engage with virtues.
Some stones do not originate from these mountains and are not of the same nature, but arise from other, useless things. Through them, with God’s permission, it is possible for good and bad things to happen.
Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica: The Complete English Translation of Her Classic Work on Health and Healing Translated from the Latin by Priscilla Throop Rochester: Healing Arts Press 1998, pp. 137-138.
If someone today proposed this as a valid and viable explanation of the geologic processes that form gemstones, they would be considered delusional. Even people in the New Age community would say as much.
Across the centuries, we’ve divorced ourselves from talk of the devil and of God and have taken up discourse with reason and science. Neither has been wholly satisfying for an undeniable portion of the population, which is why we keep searching. And now we’re trying to marry those two streams of sacred and secular perspectives on the world. Our disappointed but “grounded” cynics meet this marriage with derision, tension, or covert interest and curiosity.
These reactions mirror of our own lack of inner peace, and without inner peace we will never achieve the outer peace — the world peace — that we all hope for. Our inner alchemical tapestry is filled with infinite crucibles as we search for something brighter and more harmoniously congruent with our own individual sense of what is true about the world. When we are able to bridge the gap between these two worldviews and unite them into a seamless philosophy, we are at the same time, uniting important, valid, and worthy parts of ourselves.
It takes, among other things, time and compassion and a good sense of humour. We’re getting there.
Image credit: Tom Cox